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- Aladdin O'Brien - 30/32 -


of poor lads will lie on this field forever. And here, one way or another, the war will be decided. I have not the heart to write to you any more, my darling. You will come to Peter, I know, and all will be as well as it can be. I pray to God that I too shall live to see you again, and I ask him to bless you and keep you for ever and ever. Always I see your dear face before me in the battle, and sometimes at night God lets me dream of you. I am without dogma, sweetest of all possible sweethearts, but this creed I say over and over, and this creed I believe: I believe in one God, Maker of heaven and Margaret.

Angels guard you, darling.

ALADDIN. GETTYSBURG, July 2, 1863.

XXXIV

On the morning of the third day of July, young Hannibal St. John shaved his face clean and put himself into a new uniform. The old nth Maine was no longer a regiment, but a name of sufficient glory. On three occasions it had been shot to pieces, and after the third the remaining tens were absorbed by other regiments. Hannibal's father had obtained for him a lieutenancy in the United States artillery, Beau Larch was second lieutenant in another Maine regiment, and John, the old and honored colonel of the nth, was now, like Aladdin, serving on a staff.

The battle began with a movement against Johnson on the Confederate left, and one against Longstreet on their right.

That against Longstreet became known in history as Farnsworth's charge, and Aladdin saw it from the signal-station on Little Round Top.

It was a series of blue lines, whose relations to one another could not be justly estimated, because of the wooded nature of the ground, which ran out into open places before fences and woods that spat red fire, and became thinner and of less extension, as if they had been made of wax and were melting under the blaze of the July sun. In that charge Farnsworth fell and achieved glory.

Aladdin held a field-glass to his eyes with trembling hands, and watched the cruel mowing of the blue flowers. Sometimes he recognized a man that he knew, and saw him die for his country. Three times he saw John St. John in the forefront of the battle. The first time he was riding a glorious black horse, of spirit and proportions to correspond with those of the hero himself. The second time he was on foot, running forward with a-halt in his stride, hatless, and carrying a great battle-flag. Upon the top of it gleamed a gold eagle, that nodded toward the enemy. A dozen blue-coated soldiers, straggling like the finishers in a long-distance race, followed him with bayonets fixed. The little loose knot of men ran across a field toward a stone wall that bounded it upon the other side. Then white smoke burst from the wall, and they were cut down to the last man. The smoke cleared, and Aladdin saw John lying above the great flag which he had carried. A figure in gray leaped the stone wall and ran out to him, stooped, and seizing the staff of the flag in both hands, braced his hands and endeavored to draw it from beneath the great body of the hero. But it would not come, and as he bent closer to obtain a better hold, the back of a great clenched hand struck him across the jaw, and he fell like a log. Other men in gray leaped the wall and ran out. The flag came easily now, for St. John was dead; but so was the gray brother, for his comrades raised him, and his head hung back over his left shoulder, and they saw that his neck had been broken like a dry stick.

Aladdin had not been sent to that place to mourn, but to gain information. Twice and three times he wiped his eyes clear of tears, and then he swept his faltering glass along the lines of the enemy, until, ranged in their center, he beheld a great semicircle of a hundred and more iron and brass cannons, and movements of troops. Then Aladdin scrambled down from Little Round Top to report what he had seen in the center of the Confederate lines.

At one o'clock the Confederate batteries, one hundred and fifteen pieces in all, opened their tremendous fire upon the center of the Union lines. Eighty cannons roared back at them with defiant thunder, and the blue sky became hidden by smoke. Among the Union batteries horses began to run loose, cannons to be splintered like fire-wood, and caissons to explode. At these moments men, horses, fragments of men and horses, stones, earth, and things living and things dead were hurled high into the air with great blasts of flame and smoke, and it was possible to hear miles of exultant yells from the hills opposite. But fresh cannon were brought lumbering up at the gallop and rolled into the places of those dismantled, shot and shell and canister and powder were rushed forward from the reserve, and the grim, silent infantry, the great lumbermen of Maine and Vermont, the shrill-voiced regiments from New York, the shrewd farmers of Ohio and Massachusetts, the deliberate Pennsylvanians, and the rest, lay closely, wherever there was shelter, and moistened their lips, and gripped their rifles, and waited--waited.

For two hours that terrible cannonading was maintained. The men who served the guns looked like stokers of ships, for, such was the heat, many of them, casting away first one piece of clothing and then another, were half naked, and black sweat glistened in streams on their chests and backs. As sight-seers crowd in eagerly by one door of a building where there is an exhibition, and come reluctantly out by another and go their ways, so the reserves kept pressing to the front, and the wounded maintained an unceasing reluctant stream to the rear.

A little before three o'clock Hannibal St. John had his right knee smashed by the exploding of a caisson, and fell behind one of the guns of his battery. He was so sure that he was to be killed on this day that it had never occurred to him that he might be trivially wounded and carried to the rear in safety. An expression of almost comical chagrin came over his face, for life was nothing to him, and somewhere far above the smoke a goodly welcome awaited him: that he knew. Men came with a stretcher to carry him off, but he cursed them roundly and struggled to his well knee. The cannon behind which he had fallen was about to be discharged.

"Give 'em hell!" cried Hannibal.

As he spoke, the piece was fired, and leaping back on the recoil, as a frenzied horse that breaks its halter, one of the wheels struck him a terrible blow on the body, breaking all the ribs on that side and killing him instantly. His face wore a glad smile, and afterward, when Aladdin found him and took the gold locket from his pocket, and read the inscription written, a great wonder seized men:

July 3, 1863. Nunc dimittis. Te Deum laudamus.

Thus in one battle fell the three strong hostages which an old man had given to fortune.

XXXV

Three o'clock the Union batteries were ordered to be silent, for it was well known to those in command that presently there would be a powerful attack by infantry, for which the cannonade was supposed to have paved the way with death and disorder, and it was necessary that the pieces should be kept cool in order to be in efficient condition to grapple with and suppress this attack. Sometimes a regiment, stung to a frenzy of courage by bullets and the death of comrades, will rise from its trench without the volition of its officers, and go frantically forward against overwhelming odds. A different effect of an almost identical psychological process is patience. Men will sometimes lie as quietly under a rain of bullets, in order to get in one effective shot at an enemy, as cattle in the hot months will lie under a rain of water to get cool. It was so now. The whole Union army was seized by a kind of bloody deliberation and lay like statues of men, while, for quarter of an hour more, the Confederates continued to thunder from their guns. Now and again a man felt lovingly the long black tube of a cannon to see if its temperature was falling. Others came hurrying from the rear with relays of powder, shot, shell, and canister.

It seemed now to the Confederate leaders that the Union batteries had been silenced, and that the time had come for Pickett, the Ney of the South, to go forward with all his forces. Only Longstreet demurred and protested against the charge. When Pickett asked him for the order to advance he turned away his head sorrowfully and would not speak. Then Pickett, that great leader of men, who was one half daring and one half magnetism and all hero, said proudly: "I shall go forward, sir." And turned to his lovers.

Silence and smoke hung over Gettysburg.

Presently out of the smoke on the Confederate side came three lines of gray a mile long. Battle-flags nodded at intervals, and swords blazed in the sun.

Very deliberately and with pains about aiming, the Union batteries began to hurl solid shot against the gray advance. Soon holes were bitten here and there, and occasionally a flag went down, to be instantly snatched up and waved defiantly. When Pickett, Pettigrew, and the splendid brigade of Cadmus Wilcox had reached the bottom of the valley, their organization was as unbroken as a parade. But there shell, instead of round shot, met them, and men tasted death by fives and tens. But the lines, drawing together, closed the spaces left by mortality, and the flags began to approach each other.


Aladdin O'Brien - 30/32

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