This is a continuing story, if you would like to read the from the beginning, the letter A : Aces and Eights
The wait, it was the worst part of war. Ben and his men had held their current position in the wood since well before dawn.
Younger inexperienced soldiers were apt to get antsy, but it had been long enough in one spot the more experienced men had begun to shuffle feet. Ben dismounted his horse to walk among them.
One of the men moved his musket from left to right as he let out a nervous breath. Ben walked down the line and clasped the man’s shoulder. “Stay strong, the time is near.”
As if on que rider barreled through the wood to their position. “Lieutenant Benjamin Mason.” Ben stepped out of the ranks and nodded. The rider tipped his hat to him. “You have orders to support the 22nd, sir.”
Ben mounted his horse and gave the order. The wait was over they were to fight. The men fought to keep their lines as anticipation grew with each step. Ben’s hand slipped into his pocket one more time before they reached the field.
He pulled out the photo of his wife and son to look upon them. He hoped it would not be for the last time. With a breath to steady himself he pushed the photo back into his pocket.
A priest rode across the front line. He recited a prayer of absolution to prepare their souls in case they fell during the battle. Some of them crossed themselves others muttered personal prayers, or made promises of what they would do if God let them live through this day.
The sound of gunfire and men’s shouts began to fill air as the moved closer. Soon the sound of the wounded could be heard, the thump of some of them falling to the hard earth. One of the mounted officers near Ben took a shot in the throat.
Ben dismounted to blend with his men; officers were always the first picked off if Johnny Reb could manage it. His pistols in hand he ordered the men to take positions in the trenches and fire at will.
Several fell before they could get to the lower ground. They cried out as lead tore into their flesh. Ben felt something hot burn through his coat into his shoulder. Then his shirt being soaked with his life’s blood.
He pressed his bandana to it as he continued to call orders down the line. He looked out into the wheat field in which they fought.
He could hear Confederate officers shout orders to their troops as they took more of the field. Ben could see them fully now they were in a greater number than when he had last met them. He waited for the volley to begin.
The twelve-pound Napoleon cannons would settle the odds in favor of the blue. The Federals were out of range for the Rebs artillery, one fact of the day Ben was more than thankful of.
The enemy still approached, but no volley had begun. Ben looked back, the two cannons were unmanned. His heart fell, he knew this battle would be over quickly if they couldn’t thin out that line.
Ben turned to the trenches as Confederate fire began to rain down. “Charlie, Dawson with me.”
The two men, didn’t hesitate to move away from the trench. Ben ran with them to the artillery wagon. He pulled the sack of primers and attached it to his belt as he gave orders. “Charlie, you’re on the nose.
you run munitions. Do not pause, gentlemen. I want as constant a fire as we can
Both men nod. Charlie ran up with the first ball. He set it into the tube then shoved it back with the rammer. Ben punctured the powder bag through the vent before he dropped in the friction primer.
Charlie watched Ben hold his shoulder as he set the sight in place and take aim. “Lieutenant, are you hit?”
Ben moved back cord in hand. “I’m fine.” He let go of a deep breath as he nodded to the men. “Ready! Fire!”
He pulled the cord. There was a hiss as the powder ignited. A second later came the blast, sulfur and smoke filling the air. The ground shook under their feet. Ben shook his head to combat the ring in his ears from the explosion.
With in seconds they were rewarded with screams and calls of the wounded. Ben called out. “Reload!”
They readied again, and again, they caught an easy rhythm as if they were a full crew. Smoke billowed through the wheat field, made it hard to visualize targets. Ben focused on the light of the enemy’s muzzles and the sound of gunfire.
The battle felt as though it had gone on for days, instead of hours. The day had faded into dusk when they heard the Confederate officers recall their men. When they were out of sight, the men cheered. More for the joy that they still took breath than for the victory.
Ben surveyed the damage. He was thankful the cannon had dulled his hearing. This night he would get a reprieve from the cries of those fatally wounded, as they called out for someone to take their final words home.
Ben took count of his men as they began to slowly emerge from the trenches. Their number appeared reduced, but most were still with him. He could see many had been wounded. It brought memory of his own injury and the pain back to his conscience mind.
He attempted to push it back as he joined them, though loss of blood made him unsteady. He swallowed hard as his eyes landed on a fallen rebel. A deck of cards had fallen from his pack and been scattered through the blooded wheat around him by the fighting. Next to the dead man’s hand lay two aces and two eights.
Ben’s omen, he knew it was a taunt. He turned toward the surgeon’s tent and spoke to the omen, fate or whom ever was listening. “I owe nothing, I carve my own fate.”