A Civil War Soldier’s Diary: Seeing the Elephant of War

Brotherton Cabin, Chickamauga, Site of Longstreet’s Breakthough, September 20, 1864

A Battlefield Illusion: A Soldiers Hell

While I was at the front, most every day, I would recollect about the good old days on the farm; everything that was beautiful, peaceful, and familiar; the rolling green acres, the fresh smell of a garden, the sounds of the barnyard, and the joy of sitting down to a home cooked meal. Such thoughts brought some comfort to a mind that was fatigued and tired of war. After I was wounded, I dreamt of my childhood running over the hills and dales chasing butterflies and fireflies, hoping to catch one, and making a wish. I laid for hours on end trying to fall asleep with a panged gut feeling of being homesick. I wrote often in my diary to remember the war and my days as a soldier.

I always volunteered for dangerous duty, because I was so scared, and I didn’t want anyone to guess that I was afraid. On a night when I volunteered for sentry duty, there was a foggy mist that covered the evening ground that made it impossible to see. Suddenly out of the mist, a Johnny Reb came a crawlin’ towards me. As he got closer to me, his face drifted out from behind the fog, he was a few feet away when I saw him clearly. I shortened my bayonet and let him have the point just under his ear. He stared at me idiotically, like he had sat on a tack. His eyes dimmed and went out. It was my first kill. My heart thumped, as I turned to return to camp, then out of the darkness jumped another rebel, I had to kill him in the same way. It felt like I murdered the same man twice, it was a queer moment. I was lost for words. Did the killing of war mean the murdering of the same man over and over again? I leaned against a tree far from the sounds of battle, alone with my thoughts. Then it dawned on me, that in the end those men being killed by my bayonet turned out to be me.

From that day forward, each  face of  the slain soldiers, kept coming back into my dreams.  It was to my horror, that their faces flashed  into my face, time after time.  It a was nightmare from hell.
On the morning after such a dream, with a clear head, I realized that the joke of war was on me. What if I dropped my weapon, and the rebels did the same, we could walk together and shake hands. In my moment of insanity, I foolishly dropped my gun and walked toward the rebel lines, when suddenly an enemy bullet took me to the ground with a wound to the head. I was groggy for a short bit, then I regained my vision and consciousness. I realized, that I had been wounded, it was in an instant, when I turned into a raging bull, wanting to kill again. The men around me, felt my anger and they charged alongside of me toward the rebel line. We took no prisoners. The code of war hates a coward, but the reason(s) for war break many codes.

All I want is to return to my “home sweet home.”

The account and descriptions are fictitious, although such an experience could have taken place during the Civil War.

I wrote this piece in honor of those who have served our nation.

Leave a Reply