[I've not posted fiction before, but I figured, for kicks, why not something a little different? I here post the first scene of a short story I wrote long ago, based on the experiences of the colonel of the Twenty-first Massachusetts Infantry during the Antietam campaign.]
Chantilly, Virginia. September 1, 1862.
A flash of lightning lit the forest around him for an instant, revealing a line of dark figures directly ahead. Colonel William Smith Clark stopped and lifted a hand. “Halt!” he shouted. Officers down the line repeated the order. “Dress!” He turned to the officer next to him. “Rice! Was that the Fifty-first?”
The lieutenant colonel sputtered as the rain washed over his face. “I couldn’t tell, sir. Perhaps we’ve obliqued too far to the left…Too damn dark, sir…”
Clark shook his head. “We would have seen them…” He glanced back at his regiment to see that the line was dressed. The soldiers of the Twenty-first Massachusetts Infantry extended on either side of him. Four hundred men stood with rifles at the shoulder and heads downturned against the rain. The line bent around trees. Difficult to keep good order in such a forest and this storm.
Clark inhaled and wiped a hand across his wet mustache. Rain dripped like a small waterfall from the leather brim of his cap. He again faced the front and tried to spot that body of men through the darkness. “It must be the Fifty-first…” he said to Rice. “We could not have passed them by without noticing.”
“We’ve been marching for some time, sir. Perhaps half a mile. They might have gone to the right and we to the left…”
“Send Adjutant Willard forward,” Clark said. “Tell him to give Colonel Potter my compliments and to let him know we’re here…”
Lightning tore at the treetops with a crack and Clark flinched as timbers crashed to the ground behind their line. The flashes again revealed the line of men ahead. Dark uniforms. A long line. Too big to be the Fifty-first?
Rice stepped forward. “Colonel, sir,” he said, “if you don’t object, I’d like to go myself.”
Clark paused. “By all means, Rice.” He suddenly felt aware of the emptiness of the half-mile of woods behind them. No support.
Rice advanced, slowly nearing the shadowy wall of men ahead. It looked as if he were about to call out to them when several scattered shots sounded on the right.
“Hold your fire!” Clark bellowed over his shoulder. He could hear his men down the line shouting, “Cease firing! We’re friends!” His boys. Being shot at. He realized what was happening and screamed out to Rice.
A sheet of flame burst from the rebel regiment in front. Rice’s form became a silhouette for an instant, arms instinctively shielding his face. Then blackness.
Clark heard bullets hit trees and men. Behind him, soldiers went down with rifles still at their shoulders. He saw Rice’s body crumple to the ground a few yards directly in front of him. He fumbled for his pistol and strode back towards his line, pushing his way through the men.
“Firing by battalion!” he shouted, staring at Rice’s body lying in the mud. “Ready!” Rice did not appear to be moving. “Aim!” As the men leveled their muskets, Clark realized that Rice had shielded him from the volley. He gathered himself. “Fire!”
The volley was weak, spattering. Line officers cursed at the men to reload. Men fired independently but the shooting did not last long. As he had feared, the rain was so heavy that the men could not reload without wetting their powder. Both sides were soon silent.
White smoke everywhere, clinging to the ground. In this wet air it was like a solid wall, unmoving. He could not see the regiment in front of him but heard a loud, metallic clatter. “God…” he whispered. Then bellowed, “Fix bayonets!”
As the men fastened their bayonets, the combined screams of hundreds of rebels sounded from beyond the smoke.
“Hold fast, boys!” Clark commanded.
Standing amidst the front rank, wedged between two privates, Clark spotted the first of the rebels appear. Then hundreds more, bursting through the smoke at a full sprint. He aimed his pistol.
The regiments collided. Gunshots, screams of impaled men, and the crack of rifle butts against bone all in one quick instant. Clark fired directly into the face of a man coming at him. The rebel tumbled into him and as Clark hit the muddy undergrowth, his head struck something hard. His vision clouded. No, he thought, cannot…
Lightning. He spotted frozen forms of men grappling. His mind cleared and he pushed himself up. The next flash revealed a small line of rebels in front of him with rifles leveled. He looked around, saw only a tiny handful of his boys. Dear God, aren’t there any left? One of the rebels called to him. A strange drawl, “Put down your pistol, sir…”
He glanced behind him. The remains of his regiment were retreating into the darkness. He was stranded, an easy target if he ran to the rear.
He turned back to the line of rebels.
“Colonel, I won’t say it again…”
Clark ran straight for them. Shots cracked out. Something tugged hard on his frock coat. He smashed through the group of surprised Confederates and kept running.
Beyond there was nothing but trees and darkness.