Tuesday, February 09, 2010
LUKE SALISBURY: A Bagel Bard's Novel Approach to the Civil War.
Bunker Hill Community College English professor and a member of Somerville's Bagel Bards Luke Salisbury has written a number of books about baseball, as well as assorted novels, etc.... His latest work-in-progress is the novel "No Common War." I decided to use this passage from his manuscript that concerns a Union soldier the night before Antietam as a teaser for you readers and literary agents out there. You can read about Salisbury's impressive background at http://lukesalisbury.com.
The night of the 16th was rainy, misty, cold. Men remember it differently. The Pennsylvanians thought no battle imminent. Black Hats and Yorkers didn’t agree. General John Gibbon remembered the night was solemn, dismal, silent. David Hamer remembered how close the lines were. I remember pickets firing sporadically. Occasional artillery echoed through rain and mist. McClellan could have attacked Tuesday and destroyed the part of Lee’s Army camped at Sharpsburg, but McClellan was McClellan—he waited, finicking with details, laboring with anticipation, parading before subordinates, worrying about his men. The day delay doubled Lee’s Army as Jackson arrived and A.P. Hill started from Harper’s Ferry.
No one forgets the next day. The 17th, the bloodiest day in American history. More men would die on a Wednesday in Maryland than in all the wars Americans had fought. Those remembering, commemorating, making meaning, sanctifying—know the stakes—British recognition of the Confederacy, peace Democrats agitating to settle with the South, the Emancipation Proclamation—the document that gave the war the moral clarity of Lincoln himself. All this was only suspected, guessed or wished for by those shivering and chewing coffee beans the night before. No fires. Food cold. Sleep difficult. Sergeant William Harris of the 2nd Wisconsin—he’d be in the second wave—tried to pray himself to sleep and failed.
Many Yorkers and Black Hats got stomach aches as we helped ourselves to apples in the Miller and Poffenberger orchards. The Rebs had been eating green corn and apples for weeks. Ten thousand straggled—those remaining had a variety of ailments. McClellan, with the help of over-cautious, over-estimating, overpaid Pinkerton, inflated Lee’s number ten times, and decided a phantom army lay in reserve behind South Mountain.
Each army had moments of panic. A Zouave from New York City tripped over the regimental dog, fell into a stack of rifles and two regiments scrambled wildly, banging into each other, cussing and running amok until they discovered they weren’t under attack.
In the West Woods, the other side of D.M. Miller’s cornfield, a line of Rebel horses spooked. Sentries remembered it was quiet, too quiet, when something or Something—it was later described as a Spirit—frightened horses who broke their tethers and ran into the night. Major Sorrel and his men chased horses till dawn.
The night was noises, blunders, palpable fear. Later there was a desperate need to make sense of it.