She wore gray.
He wore blue.
But their love defied the boundaries of war.
On a lonely road in the Tennessee woods
August 26, 1862
Even before she saw the swath of blue moving through the trees, Pauletta Sue could smell them. Yankees. The raw odor of unwashed Federal soldiers made her nauseous. She pushed her horse harder.
“Faster, Savannah Lady, faster!”
Crack! came the sound of her whip hitting the mare’s flanks. Her scarlet-gloved hand trembled as she repeated her command, louder now. The animal sensed her urgency, snorted, and then raced down the dark, country road. Its hooves made dull, thudding sounds on the hard dirt as horse and rider went deeper into the woods.
She chewed on her lower lip. What came over her? She never struck the beautiful bay mare before. She preferred to ride her with a tight bit and an easy hand, but she had to get through the Yankee pickets. Nothing must stop her from carrying out her mission.
They won’t catch me.
Her gray silk skirts, frayed at the hem, whipped at her ankles. Pauletta Sue rode sidesaddle, her long, hooded cloak made of fine black wool billowing behind her like heavy smoke, shielding her face from the demons in blue hidden around her. Federal officers ready to strike her down if she dared to stop.
She couldn’t. Wouldn’t.
The danger of her mission chilled her. She dared not think about what lay ahead. She feared dying before she found the revenge she sought, for only then could she release the madness and torment of her broken heart.
The man she loved was dead.
Shot as a Confederate spy.
She kept going, the sounds of the forest—the squeal of a trapped pig, wagon wheels rumbling in the distance, a faraway cannon firing—were muffled by the loud beating of her heart.
I won’t allow you to die in vain, Colton, my love.
She looked up, hopeful. A lone bird creased the early morning sky with its silent wings, soaring upward and out of sight. She watched it disappear into the heavens. Like a soul in flight.
A single streak of indigo bled through the grayness, startling her. It was too much to bear, the loneliness that dwelled in her too much to endure. They planned to be married next spring when the roses bloomed and the fields were thick with plump cotton. The war would be over by then, everyone said, but she couldn’t wait. They were married in a secret ceremony by the magistrate, the paper not yet filed.
They had no time for a wedding night. Colton received orders to report to his regiment in the middle of the ceremony, making her pent-up passion for him even more intolerable.
For a moment, she became lost. In her mind, her heart. A humid breeze kissed the back of her neck as she breathed in the dawn so deeply her lungs hurt. Tears welled in her eyes. Was it only a fortnight ago she trembled at his touch?
Two weeks? Or a lifetime?
What if something happened to him? What if he was killed in battle? No. She couldn’t bear to live. Something told her to go to him that night.
She’d waited until the sky turned a deep navy with nary a star, then, brazen as a cheeky farmer’s daughter, she slipped past the sentries down to the river where the Confederate troops were camped, defying all authority to meet him. Alone. Where the thick woods would hide them from prying eyes.
At first, she thought it terribly unladylike to seek out her beloved for a goodbye kiss. To her way of thinking, a belle didn’t throw herself at a gentleman, he came to her. But the more she thought about the days, weeks without him, the more she couldn’t stay away.
“I can’t send you on a mission without telling you how much I love you, my darling,” she whispered in his ear, leading his hand to her breast. Daring, unladylike, but Pauletta Sue was beyond acting like a lady. Times like these called for bold measures. She hadn’t been this close to him since the wedding. The heat of their bodies stripped away the heavy cottons, whalebone, and silk ribbons of her garments separating them, the hardness of his chest crushing her soft breasts.
Her hair blowing free as a restless wind.
She didn’t care what anyone thought.
“You crazy female,” Colton said, laughing. “You’re as soft as a magnolia petal, but as strong as an oak tree. Let me see your beautiful face.”
Pauletta Sue lifted her wide‑brimmed straw bonnet, a long black sash tied under her chin, and smiled. She was proud of her small waist set off by a black cummerbund, her full silk skirts floating up around her, her breasts outlined by a tight bodice. She winced as he squeezed her and then swallowed hard when she heard him moan.
“I had to see you, Colton…touch you…love you,” she said, trying to make him understand what she wanted from him, needed to get through this war.
“You must go, my love,” he said, catching her gaze. The glint she saw in his eyes captivated her, told her he wanted her, but he hesitated. “Before I take leave of my senses and do something to harm your reputation.”
“You do me more harm, sir, by leaving me unfulfilled,” she whispered with an urgency he couldn’t ignore. “We are married.”
He grinned. “I was a fool to rush off on our wedding night.”
“Leaving behind a very unhappy bride,” she teased, biting her lip.
“My bride,” he exhaled. She shivered at hearing the expression of longing in his voice. There was passion in his deep, throaty tones, unleashed it would match her own.
“I couldn’t stand being away from you another minute, Colton. I had to come.”
“I want to love you as you should be loved, Pauletta Sue, but not here with the smell of death still settling upon the ground.”
“It’s hallowed ground, my love,” she whispered. “And we have but a few hours to live a lifetime.”
“Even a lifetime isn’t long enough to love you.” He pulled up her skirt, the urge to have his hands on her taking her breath away. The rounded hoops bounced up around her, the fine French lace on her underskirts flitting through his eager fingers like frightened butterflies.
Pauletta Sue waited, her nerves twitching, but she felt no embarrassment. No silly schoolgirl blush tinted her cheeks as he pulled his faded muslin shirt up over his head, the broadness of his shoulders ripping apart the hastily-sewn seams.
Every inch of him taut and muscular.
Seizing her imagination and making her want no other man.
Why must I wait till the war is over to make love to him?
“I want you, Colton,” she whispered, taking off her bonnet. She didn’t remove her netted gloves—her fingertips were already exposed. Tingling, impatient, she ran her fingers up and down his bare back, unexpectedly emitting a soft mewling low in her throat.
“The ground is hard and cold,” he said, his direct gaze challenging.
“It’s heaven if I’m with you.” She smiled, gazing at his concerned face, the angular planes sharply shadowed against his golden blond hair. His blue eyes searched hers. He was puzzled, but also aroused, his groin nudging her flat belly.
“The war has taken so much from us, Pauletta Sue. What if something happens to you?” His breath was hot in her ear. “I couldn’t bear to lose you.”
“You will never lose me, Colton,” Pauletta Sue whispered, pressing her lips against his unshaven cheek. She couldn’t move, didn’t want to. “We don’t have much time. Kiss me.”
“I can’t…not here,” he said, breaking away. “It’s not safe.”
“No one will see us,” she said, smiling. “I have solicited the word of the sergeant-in-charge he’ll stop anyone from coming down to the river bank tonight.”
“How can you be sure?” Colton said, fumbling with the ribbon fasteners on her pantalettes.
“Gold and silver buy time.” She pressed a coin into his palm. “For the Confederacy. And for us.”
He turned over the coin and grinned. “This old silver piece has a bow and arrow engraved on the back surrounded by stars.”
“A token of my love.” She smiled. “When your mission is done, send me the coin and I’ll know you’re safe.”
“I’ll deliver it in person,” he said. “First, let me show you how much I love you.”
She let out a deep sigh as he picked her up in his arms and laid her down on his heavy wool jacket to protect her from the damp earth. Then he lay down beside her, his lips curving in a smile. She felt his muscular arms close around her, hugging her tight, his mouth claiming hers in a big, wonderful kiss.
Petticoats rustled, stays flew, buttons popped.
The heat of their bodies so intense, nothing existed but that moment. She would remember tonight always. Floating in a strange state, drifting somewhere between delicious pleasure and the fear she might never see him again. She let go with a strangled cry. Soon, so very soon, his kiss would be only a memory.
No, it doesn’t have to be, her heart cried out. No one could take this man away from her. She wanted him with her always. She loved him that much.
When he entered her, she cried out, praying he would be safe. She had a secret fear their love would be tested, fraught with uncertainty in this terrible times, but she believed in him. What other man would risk his life when the Yankees tried to burn down her plantation? The South needed more men like him, even if he didn’t wear the butternut and gray of the Confederacy. Colton was a Texas Ranger. Proud and strong, with his Mexican serape flapping over his broad chest, his wide‑brimmed hat with a big, fat Texas star pulled down low over his face.
Despite the threat of danger, Pauletta Sue spent a night of pure joy in his arms. The intimacy of their union settling low in her belly, a warm, blessed heat that thrilled her.
In the morning, he left. Then she waited and waited.
No word came.
No silver coin returned to her.
Then news of his whereabouts arrived by special messenger.
Captain Colton Trent was captured, trying to save a man in his regiment from hanging. Two days later, he was killed trying to escape from a Federal prison.
He was a spy, they said. No trial, no evidence against him but the captured Yank overcoat he wore and the stuttered words of accusation from a frightened Secesh aiming to save his own hide.
Pauletta Sue knew the truth. It lay in her heart.
Colton knew the danger he faced going in alone, trying to save a Ranger’s life. But that wouldn’t stop him. It was so like him, following his credo of honesty, commitment, and duty. What else did she expect from a man who fought bravely in the surprise attack on Grant’s army at Shiloh? Then attacked a Union supply train belonging to General Grant?
Colton was willing to die for what he believed in.
I, too, am not afraid to die, my darling.
I will do anything to help the South win the war.
Anything. Even sell my soul.
She set out on her daring journey before dawn, her only way to avenge his death. She kept a steady pace, riding Savannah Lady long and hard. Cold sweat curled down the back of her neck. She shivered as she watched the gray mist dither against a pale blue sky, blurring the image of the bird gone from her sight.
Blurring her thoughts of him, but she couldn’t let them go.
Let him go. Never.
The sweet remembrance of his touch would stay with her always, but she refused to give in to the dread seeping through her. Before the sun rose proud and tall in the sky, she must get through the pickets.
“We mustn’t give up, Savannah Lady,” she whispered, urging her horse to pick up the pace. “We’re in Yankee territory now.”
The color in her cheeks was high, every muscle tense. The South lost Tennessee after the Battle of Shiloh. Reports said more than twenty thousand men on both sides fell during the battle, either dead or wounded. All Confederate attention was now focused on Virginia. She smiled, knowing the document hidden in the reticule tethered to her saddle would help her cause. She had personal business to attend to in Falmouth. A scheme that would allow her to avenge Colton’s death the only way she knew how.
Spying for the South.
Her sense of duty didn’t stop the fear from growing inside her. Everything depended on her mission, her anger keeping her alive. She headed north, a bad feeling riding her when the cotton-thick fog lying low over the road dissipated. It kept her and her mount hidden until now. The rising sun dissolved the mist like butter melting in a hot pan.
Now it was but a soft echo of the dark night.
Which meant the sentries could see her.
The Yankees placed guard posts up and down along the river and were not letting anyone through without a pass. Pauletta Sue had no pass. How could she? No lady would venture out alone, but that didn’t stop her. It was the road that would take her to her destiny. The hard ground beneath the mare’s hooves gave way to soft mud, slowing her down. Cold sweat trickled down the back of her neck when she saw a battered fence looming in front of her less than fifty yards away. Its spiral wooden fingers formed a barrier to her freedom. She held steady, weighing the chances of getting through, but they didn’t look good. An urgent need to right the wrong done to her husband made her risk it.
She held the reins tight. The fence was at least three feet high.
Savannah Lady wasn’t a trained jumper, but her horse could make it. She could make it.
She had to.
Pauletta Sue sucked in a deep breath, summoning her courage. Then she struck the animal with the whip again, harder, harder. It pained her to do so. She could hear the sound of her mare blowing, but she didn’t slow her pace. The warm sun shimmied off the horse’s shiny coat drenched with sweat. The distinctive star marking above Savannah Lady’s eyes gleamed white, as if lighting the way. She’d been riding her hard and prayed the horse didn’t miss a step.
“Halt! Who goes there?” a voice rang out, startling her. She didn’t slacken her hold on the reins. She didn’t stop, couldn’t, even if her whole body ached. Her limbs grew heavy, her eyes sunken back in her head from fatigue.
Pauletta Sue pulled in her courage something fierce when she saw an army of soldiers in blue appear out of the woods like fearsome ghosts. Aiming their rifles at her and threatening to shoot.
“Go, Savannah Lady!”
She kicked her heels into the flanks of her bay mare, bent her head down low and, with a rebel yell and bullets whizzing over her head, she jumped over the fence.
An open farm field near Sharpsburg, Maryland
Liberty Jordan put her fingers in her ears as fire burst from the barrel of the canon. Damn, that was loud. The screaming artillery fire shattered her nerves, shaking her, making her teeth rattle in her head. Really, it was a miracle she was still standing.
She died three times today and it wasn’t even noon.
Her legs ached from crouching down low in the trench, her neck stretched out, trying to see what was going on. She didn’t give herself time to think, just settled in for the next round as the Federals in blue and the Confederates in gray met in a re-enactment of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.
September 17, 1862.
Her fifth period history class stood on the sidelines, waiting to capture her big moment during the climax of the battle on their cell phones.
Whoever thought a foster kid like me would make it this far?
She was here to make a difference. She had one aim today, one goal. Make her students proud of her. Getting it on and acting like a real Confederate soldier meant more to her than she thought it would. So would it hurt her to scream and yell, and then fall down and pretend to be dead?
One more time?
Liberty pulled the wide brim hat down low over her face washed clean of makeup, her strawberry‑blond hair hidden from view. Even wearing a wool uniform too big for her, she could feel her stomach clenching. Not surprising, the sticky humidity made her neck itch. God, she must have sweat through the heavy cotton white shirt, soaking the armpits of her jacket. A long, plain shell jacket that came down to her knees. Two rows of shiny brass buttons. Deep inside pocket. Unfortunately, her pants dragged on the ground. She gave the flimsy, braided belt a big tug to make it tighter.
There. She was ready. Almost giddy. Her senses stretching beyond the re-enactment taking place on the three-hundred acre working farm. She felt a magical anticipation about wearing the uniform and walking the walk. If no one looked down at her modern hiking boots, she could pass for a real Confederate officer.
She poked her head up to get a better view. For a moment, everything moved in slo-mo. Except her. Her heart was beating way too fast in anticipation. She could only imagine the horror the soldiers suffered back then. The sense of heightened danger at all times, the fear of a bullet slamming into their arm or leg or chest.
She dug in, ready for the next go-round. She drew each breath slowly. Waiting. The fog lingered and the air was filled with black dust from the gunpowder settling over the grass and rich, dark earth.
Like a feathery mist shrouding the past. Covering the buried bones of fallen soldiers.
She settled back into a crouched position. The odor of male sweat permeated the sunken lane with its crisscross fence rails running up and down each side. She thought she would find it filled with ghosts. Apparently not. Liberty held her breath, ready to sprint as a wall of blue marched across the field, exchanging volley after volley of gunfire. She squared her shoulders, determined not to give herself away when two infantrymen jumped into the trench and saluted her, then reported troop movements. She mumbled a few words, then saluted back. So far, so good.
She was too good.
Someone shoved a breech loading rifle into her hand and explained how to load the gunpowder inside the barrel. And the powder-filled paper cartridge. She was still trying to figure out what to do with a ramrod when another cannon exploded next to her. Liberty covered her ears. Again. Now she knew why her rented uniform came with a set of earplugs, along with a bottle of aspirin, an elastic bandage, a tube of antibiotic ointment, and small adhesive bandages.
Everyone kept shooting off their guns and shouting orders to each other. Charging down the hill, picking off opposing soldiers, some refusing to die no matter how many times they faced a rifle aimed at them.
It was such a crazy scene, she wished she had her cell phone to take a selfie to show the class. But she’d locked it up in her van parked in the lot along with her clothes, purse, and lucky coin. Using phones was frowned upon except in emergencies.
Liberty prayed the storm of artillery would end.
She shut her eyes a moment, recalling the details of the battle. How the Rebels held off the Union troops until they were overrun.
Oh, God, what have I gotten myself into?
She didn’t have long to wait.
Licking her dry lips, she squinted hard. She never saw anything like it. The earlier skirmishes this morning didn’t compare to the big finale.
Smoke, fire, shell explosions, pyrotechnics.
And hundreds of canons.
Union soldiers, marching, marching, fifty to a hundred steps a minute, keeping the rhythm of the drum, yelling, flags waving. Their muskets and rubber bayonets drawn, they were on a dead run, heading straight for her.
“They’re coming! They’re coming!” came the yell from somewhere behind her. “Fire!”
She raised her rifle, aimed, but it wouldn’t fire. “My gun’s jammed,” she cried out.
“Fall down and play dead, kid,” said the soldier next to her. “They don’t call this Bloody Lane for nothing.”
Of course. A half‑hidden country road sunken by erosion turned into a fortress. Five thousand six hundred casualties.
Liberty suddenly felt overwhelmingly pumped. The crowd, the noise, the excitement got to her. She didn’t want to play dead. Again. She wasn’t ready to surrender, no way. A part of her squirmed at the thought of joining that wild ruckus, but she forced herself to rev up her courage—and her nerve—and go for it. The kids wanted a photo finish. Well, then, she’d give it to them.
Yankees, here I come.
She climbed up out of the trench and took off.
Her pants dragging in the mud.
Chaos surrounded her. Confederate soldiers scrambled in every direction. Panicked, excited, yelling. Losing all sense of direction and order.
She ducked low, trying to keep out of harm’s way. Men intent on scrapping and jostling with each other, picking up rocks and pretending to throw punches.
Taking some hits, they called it.
She kept going. Splashing through puddles of water hugging the damp ground. The field was wet and muddy from the prolonged rainy season. Mud splattered her face, her hands. She wiped the slime out of her eyes and picked up her pace. The grit in her mouth tasted awful, but she had no time to spit it out. She must be insane, running through the storm of shell and musket fire. Loud, more intense. Four, maybe five hundred cannons shooting off. One after another without stopping, the battle raging without anybody raising the white flag.
Damn, where are those earplugs?
Fumbling through her pocket didn’t help. She couldn’t find the earplugs and hold up her pants. She kept going, zigzagging around Union soldiers, when a rough hand grabbed her by the ankle and jerked her to a stop.
Crying out, she stumbled and fell. “Let go of me.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” yelled the soldier in blue, his eyes wide. “You sure look like a man in that uniform.”
Liberty exhaled, suddenly feeling very vulnerable. She had nothing but admiration in her heart for the five female soldiers who fought in the real battle. She yanked up her pants and pulled her hat down low over her eyes. My God, what was she thinking? That she could play soldier with the big boys?
You’re damn right I can.
She got to her feet, huffing and puffing, her chest hurting, but she was determined not to let her students down. Teaching was her life. Standing in front of a whiteboard every day, she fueled her passion for helping kids get ahead in a world determined to keep them back. She worked hard to get past her own fears. The pain and hunger attached to growing up as a foster kid made her tough, but she never forgot crying herself to sleep at night. Clutching the one thing she could call her own.
Her lucky coin. A gift from her mom.
To get ahead, Liberty learned to use her wits as well as her brain. And somehow she made it. College scholarship and then her teaching credential two years ago. To pay it forward, she counseled kids after school and took them on extended field trips. Like this one. The day started out as a once‑in‑a-lifetime journey to Washington D.C. for kids from the wrong side of the tracks in her small California town. It quickly turned into a wild adventure down a very fascinating rabbit hole.
Her cheeks flushed. Now it was matter of personal pride. She had to finish what she started or she’d never be able to stand in front of a classroom again.
Liberty whooped and hollered with the rest of them, hoping her students got her mad crazy run on their phones. Running, running across the field when—
She tripped over her long trousers and landed hard on the bedrock. That hurt. Her butt stung like she’d raked her bottom over a big nail. She turned and saw something sharp sticking up out of the ground.
Cracked, tinged with gray.
She pulled out a long stick, the damp earth sticking to her fingers like moist coffee grounds. She looked it over. No, it wasn’t a stick, it was—
“Bones,” she whispered with reverence. Human bones eroding out of a crack in the bedrock exposed by the recent, heavy rains. A chill came over her as she held it up to the sun overhead as if asking God permission to hold it in her hand. A relic from the past long buried here.
Wait, there was something else sticking out of the dirt. Coppery and bright.
Something that wasn’t human.
Scrapping away the earth with her fingers, Liberty dug down into the wet ground and pulled out a piece of metal, rectangular in shape with three letters engraved on it: NCR.
A belt buckle.
Union or Confederate? Did it matter?
The buckle lay smooth and cool in her palm. The prongs on the back intact, not broken off. She stared and stared, a strong sense of the past gripping her with such intensity she couldn’t catch her breath. As if she freed a battle-weary spirit whose presence was so real to her, she couldn’t let it go.
She wondered what went through the soldier’s mind when he fell in battle. Were his last thoughts of his beloved? Was he afraid? In pain? His pulse becoming slower and slower until—
“Watch out, Lieutenant!” someone yelled behind her
Rrroar! came the tremendous sound in her ears as a big, heavy lead ball screamed past her.
She hit the ground. Hard. Every fiber in her being on fire.
Damn, that was close.
I could have been killed. My brains blown out.
She dared to raise her head and saw the huge cannon pointed straight at her, ready to fire again. Her heart beat faster, the terrible realization of impending doom sending a chill through her. She must be lying down in a blind spot on open ground.
The soldiers can’t see me. I’m gonna die.
Liberty jumped to her feet and started running in the opposite direction when she heard the cannon fire again. No! She dropped to the ground and closed her eyes tight. My God, she never felt so helpless. The odds were against her.
Run and she’d be mowed down like a toy soldier.
Wait here, lying on her belly, and she’d be covered in white-hot lead, suffocating her, the smell of sulfur poisoning her lungs.
A horrible way to die.
Shaking uncontrollably, teeth chattering, Liberty couldn’t stop the sounds echoing in her head. Soldiers running, fighting. Yelling, their mad gibbering getting louder and louder.
Damn it, if she was going to die, she’d go down fighting.
Yelling at the top of her lungs, Liberty raced down the field with the belt buckle clenched tight in her fist. Waving her arms wildly about, hoping they’d see her.
“Stop firing, stop!” she cried out, a crazed frustration shooting through her, every instinct sharpened. The next blast was more deadly than the last, the vibration slamming through her and ripping through the cold, damp earth.
Liberty let out an anguished cry and dove to the ground. She could hear the hot canon ball speeding toward her like a torpedo amid a shower of bluish-gray smoke. Feel the heat. There’s no way out. She put her hands over her head and braced herself for the end, muttering a prayer but begging to live.
Then the unthinkable happened.
A haunting sound like the eerie wail of a ghost filled her ears…making the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Then a wild vibration shook her to the core…jarring every nerve in her body. Hot fire poked her in the eyes. Her teeth felt like they were being pulled out by their roots.
She cried out in horror.
Pain, unbearable pain jabbed her, pinching her everywhere. Wracking shudders gripped her, making it impossible for her to control her movements. Hands, arms…legs flying in all directions. An unknown force pulling them from their sockets.
Liberty closed her eyes and tried to make the pain stop by sheer willpower, but it was so vicious, so deep, it made her torment worse. Ripping her apart, pulling and twisting her body into awkward, painful positions. Tearing the flesh from her bones.
Before she could take another breath, a great wind blew in her face. Twirling her round and round like an out-of-control comet hurtling through deepest, blackest space. A tumult of dizziness made her sick to her stomach as she fought back the bitter taste of bile rising in her throat.
I’m going to be sick.
Then, when she thought she couldn’t take it anymore, an unbelievable cold grabbed her. So cold she swore her heart stopped.
Yes, stopped. And a blankness settled in her.
No pain. No feeling.
Her desire to run…so urgent and heated…gone.
This was maddening, but what could she do? She swore a long, dark shadow swelled around her, claiming her soul.
She couldn’t speak, could move. Her thoughts slipping away…tempting her to let go.
No, I don’t want to let go…I want to live.
I want to—
Oh, God, I must be dead.
* * * * *
A Union Army battlefield hospital
September 17, 1862
Major Flynt Stephens hated this time of day. Soon twilight would descend over the white hospital tent like a greedy devil waiting to claim the men he couldn’t save. For hours, he labored on the wounded, his hands cutting, sawing, suturing. His skill diligently needed to put these men back together, God willing. The long line of wounded and dying hadn’t stopped since the shooting ended. A new patient was brought in every few minutes and laid down on the blood‑stained operating table—a door ripped from its hinges and laid across two barrels. His eyes narrowed. Surely, there’d be an end to it.
Not tonight. Not while I can still see.
He continued his work, cutting away the soldier’s bloodied sleeve, stripping away the ripped fabric, pieces of skin sticking to it. Frustration stretched his nerves taut, his fingers digging into the wound, afraid of what he’d find.
The incessant, loud flapping of the red flag outside the tent echoed in his ears as he worked on his patient. Loud, haunting sounds taunting him, whispering to him that their souls had moved on to a better place.
Leaving their shattered, torn bodies behind.
He wondered if the poor bastards weren’t better off, far away from this rotten hellhole of pain and suffering. Here they could still feel the pain.
But not this boy.
Saying a silent prayer, Flynt closed the young private’s eyelids. He was at peace now. The boy wasn’t more than seventeen. His abdomen split open by a screaming minie ball, his right arm shattered, the bone in his right leg splintered open by the lead.
Infection had set in, probably from skin and dirt and bits of clothing the bullet carried into the wound. He laid aside the small bowl containing the pain‑killing morphine used to dust into the wound. He wouldn’t need it now. The boy was lucky he’d been spared the horror of losing both an arm and a leg. He was brought in too late to save him. That made him angry. So many young lives taken.
He shook his head in disgust. The survival rate dropped to half so long after the battle ended. Still, from early daylight till dark he worked to put together what other men ripped apart with their canon balls and lead bullets.
Flynt clenched his fists when he dipped his hands into the water basin, the slime and blood sticking to his fingers. Damn nurse. He asked for clean water, not this putrid mess. He firmly believed filth lessened a man’s chance of survival.
Agitated, he reached for a small bar of brown soap. It slipped onto the dirt floor.
“Fresh water, Nurse,” he called out, “and more soap.”
A dowdy, older woman grumbled and fussed about changing the water. Straight from the creek it was, she protested. Flynt ignored her complaining. He didn’t know which was worse. What man did to his fellow man on the battlefield—tearing apart limbs, slashing flesh, breaking bones—or what he did in the operating room.
His job was to amputate what was left.