June 1862
Elizabeth Daniel
The Texas Brigade had stopped for an hour or two to rest. Four officers, their grey uniforms covered in the dust of the march, sat together and watched the men go about their business. They had been marching hard all day, intent
on pushing the foe back across the Chickahominy River and away from Richmond. Everyone knew there would be another battle soon.
"Where do you think we'll be, Colonel?" one of the young majors asked. Scarcely nineteen, he had volunteered straight away as part of the 4th Texas, and his zeal and charisma had propelled him quickly up through the ranks. Even after a year of war, after seeing his brothers fall, he was eager to charge the enemy. He swirled the cold coffee in his tin anxiously as they talked.
"Well, I haven't got all the details," the colonel began, "but the Yankees have a nice spread laid out up by Gaines' Mill. I think the general wants to surround them and try to break their line. It'll be difficult, what with the marsh and all, but not impossible. As long as we keep on the offensive and don't let them put too many holes in us, we'll be just fine."
The junior officers murmured their assent, ready for open combat. The young major sipped his coffee and thought about the oncoming turmoil. He couldn't wait to get back into battle, to wrestle with the enemy and prove his mettle. He remembered listening to his father tell stories of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma when he was a little boy, and thought how grand it would be to return home to Houston with a scar to prove he had fought in the front lines for their freedom. A battle scar was the greatest honor a man could win, better than medals or ranks. His parents would be so proud when they saw him marching triumphantly back home in his neat grey uniform.
He would fight valiantly with his men tomorrow, and maybe, once they had thrown the Yankees out of Virginia, the Northerners would know what they were dealing with and the war for independence would end at last.
Early the next morning, the Confederate army made its first move when Brigadier General A. P. Hill's men crossed Beaver Dam Creek; however, it wasn't until several hours later that the major's division arrived at the site of the battle. Their guide had misunderstood Brigadier General Jackson's directions and marched them on the wrong route first, so they had to double back and then find their way again. As if that weren't enough, the retreating Union army had left sawn-off trees in their path, and lurking sharpshooters forced them to fight their way through to join their fellow soldiers. It wasn't until nearly nightfall that the exhausted young major and his regiment finally saw action, and by that time they were confused, tired, and not altogether happy to have been late in arriving for the second time in two days.
It was all the major could do to try and follow the puzzling instructions he had been given and begin to arrange the men according to Jackson's plan, but none of the other officers seemed to be following the same instructions as he was, and they were held up for yet another hour before everything was worked out. The moment was approaching, at last, and his stomach seemed to be twisting itself into a large knot as he gripped his gun.
Tha-thump, tha-thump went his heart in his chest. General Lee and General Jackson were preparing to lead the charge now. Tha-thump, tha-thump. Any minute, his division would begin their difficult descent down the golden field and across the marshes towards the enemy. Tha-thump, tha-thump, tha-thump. They charged.
He could hardly breathe as they raced across the field, grimaced as he picked his way through the marsh, all the time avoiding the bullets of the enemy. Men fell around him and they were forced to back up again and regrouped. Again this happened, and again. He was out of breath, his feet felt dead inside his shoes, but still he strove with his comrades to break the line. Would they ever make it?
At last, just as the sun was setting over the horizon, the Texas Brigade broke through the Union's defenses. With a shout the major climbed the opposition’s hill for the last time, mercilessly spearing three, four men with his bayonet. He looked around wildly, and saw what he had been waiting all day to see. There was a hole in the adversary's line and the Union troops were retreating.
Caught up in the sudden fortune, he forgot about the other men firing at them. He hardly took in the sharp, yet somehow hazy reports of gunfire through the smoke, and suddenly there was blood all over his leg and a ball of lead in his calf . . .
He collapsed, more from shock than from pain at first, clutching his leg, watching numbly as liquid heat poured out from between his fingers . . . he did not know how long he lay there, or when they moved him back to camp. He only had vague recollections.

He didn't remember the surgeon telling him the leg would have to be amputated, but as he felt the saw cutting through his skin, muscle, bone, more painful than a thousand Union bullets, and clenched the leather in his mouth trying not to swallow his own tongue, he wondered what the hell he had done to deserve this. The agony, so intense, drowned out everything around him . . . and still, the war was not over.