1112 words--- Thoughts and feelings of this dedicated and heroic Civil War soldier.
| Broad shoulders with a rolling walk that ate up the miles during a pushed march, Sergeant Gabe Horton wasn’t afraid to push his men to the point of thirst and hunger if he achieved his superior’s orders. The men in his patrol did not see him as cruel and uncaring. Gabe pushed himself as hard as he pushed his men. He drank the same water and ate the same food. As a result, Gabe Horton carried the same lice and dysentery as his men. His mustached face, bright red and hardened by the sun, dirt, and gunpowder, rarely smiled. The death and tragedy of this war did not escape him. The weight of every man lost in his patrol caused his broad shoulders to stoop as on an older man. At the age of 23, Gabriel Horton, seasoned and tenacious soldier, felt mentally and physically aged beyond years.
As a volunteer in the Union Army of New York State, 1st Infantry Battalion, Gabriel Horton knew why he volunteered. As a school teacher and historian, he realized the sacrifices made by the citizens of the United States. He studied the dangers concerning the separation of North and South. He, also, knew the world, particularly Great Britain and France, waited behind the scenes, as vultures over struggling, dying carrion. The vultures of the world contributed to the efforts that split the young nation. The British and French, each country with agendas of their own, plotted and schemed behind the political scenery, covertly assisted the Northern Union. When the young Confederated States fall to the North, then the South becomes open for invasion and pillaging. The South would be nothing more than a deserted swamp with mosquitoes and malaria.
Sergeant Horton talked and taught his men as they marched, keeping pace with the rhythm of his baritone voice. Horton was a natural leader knowing his men needed nourishment for their brains and hearts more than their bodies. He taught them of Aristotle, Copernicus and Leonardo Da Vinci. He taught them to triangulate and read the topography of his maps. He endeavored to educate his men so that he would not lose them because of ignorance. The “schoolteacher” as he was sometimes known recited Shakespeare, Thomas Paine and the Declaration of Independence as a way to free their minds from the toils and tragedies of war.
Sarge carried the souls of every man in his patrol as he carried the souls of his family. The family he held close to his heart survived without him for the last four years. The New York homestead in Platteville is his reality; his legacy is his land, not this God-forsaken war. The small farmhouse, hay barn, hay fields and orchards will outlive the remains of this war’s folly.
His wife, blonde and endowed, relieved his mind from the war when he allowed himself a few moments. The children she raised on her own, for now, were his pride and joy. He waited impatiently for the time he would walk through the front door of his home and breathe.
Three red-headed boys blessed with the hair of Gabriel’s ancestors worked beside their mother until the day of his return. Until their father’s return, the boys practiced many of the old Irish sports, jousting and swordplay, with weapons forged by their father’s hands before his leave. Reading filled the quiet moments for the sons of a schoolteacher. Even as a farmer and homesteader, Gabriel allotted abundant space for the book collection that traveled miles on ships, wagons and horses. In their father’s home, the boys were expected to understand the rudiments of arithmetic, English grammar, German and Latin. They practiced also the art of handwriting. Sergeant Horton believed that a farmer had no need of ignorance. Learning the basics of civilized education always guaranteed against money shortages and crop failures. Gabriel believed that a man’s book relieved the darkest solitude and loneliness.
The man known as Gabriel Horton rearranged his union cap, which barely harnessed the curls and frizzes of his knotted red hair. Rarely cutting his hair as in the tradition of his warlike Irish ancestors, Gabriel appeared as a combatant from the fields of Erin. His battle cries, heard above the fighting, rallied his men in the New York infantry. Many close to him said that if Gabe’s war cries did not scare the Rebs, his fiery bush of hair did.
One thing, however, always brought the Sarge to his knees and that was the sight of a young Johnny Reb lying dead on the battlefield. How many of these children must he kill before the armies withdrew and counted the losses of such young minds?
Gabe heard through the grapevine that the Government Accounting Office counted at least 750,000 casualties1 and expected a higher number of dead. Most of the enlisted and conscripted soldiers were not privy to such information. The desertion rate was high enough already. The faces of dead children haunted many of the deserters. Gabe knew it was a matter of time before the dead children, counted by men safe in their offices with counting machines and gentlemen’s clothing, would be haunted by the faces, also, all but that bastard Sherman.
General William Tecumseh Sherman failed to impress Sergeant Horton for many reasons. Sherman, considered a heartless and ruthless tactician, wiped away regiments and battalions with a nod of his head. Family homes and crops were leveled without mercy in the name of the Union’s war effort. General Sherman began his “march to the sea” through the South to Atlanta, Georgia with a “scorched earth policy” that rivaled any civilized nation’s tactics. And all this was against his fellow Americans.
Sergeant Gabriel Horton did not understand the destruction of Southern lands without plans for reparations. Horton, a decent man with a mangled heart and soul, suffered. His oath of loyalty would not allow him the freeing choice of desertion. Yet, he understood the men’s needs to protest the atrocity and waste brought by the decisions and actions of General Sherman.
However, Gabe Horton was a soldier. He marched his men over every patch of grass that came between them and their orders. Each blade of grass, covered with blood; each tree riddled with bullets was a reminder that brothers died side by side. The marching soldiers of Horton’s company moved past these signs with haggard faces, pain filled eyes wondering when the end would come; for the war and their souls.
Sergeant Gabe couldn’t answer their eyes. He wouldn’t answer his own heart’s cries. The end would come. The next field, the next bend in the road, the next war; the end would come.