ELA final May 25, 2016

Our family were slave owners. We were also a very Catholic family. You may think the two didn’t fit together very well, but we didn’t do anything too terrible to our slaves, like whipping, or beating. They often did their job just fine, and sometimes if they didn’t, they wouldn’t eat for a day or two. We had a plantation in Virginia. Our parents had 3 children. Jeb, who is my brother, and Elizabeth, my sister. My name is Robert, the oldest son. Our plantation was quite small, only about forty acres of tobacco crop, but it was the only source of income our family had. We had about twenty slaves all together, if you count the house maids. My brother moved away a few months ago, to the western part of Virginia, and was studying at a University. My father was a veteran in the Texas Revolution, against the Mexicans. He only participated in one battle though. He later moved to Virginia and bought the plantation. My uncle, lost his life at the Alamo, when Santa Anna took over the fort. Nobody made it out of that fort alive.
I felt nervous about what I was going to tell my family at dinner tonight. I just could not figure out how to say it. Virginia just recently joined the secession. They say war finally broke out between the Union and the Confederacy, after that attack on Fort Sumter. Virginia has been on the brink of breaking from the Union for quite some time. Although our family is mostly neutral on the North and South matters, our family would lose our estate in a heartbeat, once the new President, Lincoln, passed his bills, putting taxes on cotton, and taking away state governance over slavery. Something was calling me, I just had to join the Confederate States Army.
I was just finishing splitting the firewood, when my mother called me down to the house for dinner. Our servant, Marjorie, brought out the food, and set it out on the table for us. I hastily finished my meal, and quietly waited for the others to finish theirs. “That was a delicious supper, but I do have something I would like to share.”
“What would that be, Robert?” Asked my mother.
“Well, as we all saw in the paper a few weeks ago, Virginia recently seceded from the Union.” I told them. “I’m thinking of joining the Confederate State Army.”
“Excuse me?” My mother said. “Now why would you go ahead, and have a silly idea like that?”

“I don’t believe what the North is doing to us is right, Ma, if they have their way, our entire life would have to change!”
My father then asked everyone to leave the room, but me and him. I could already feel the heat emanating from him. That’s when my father spoke up. “So you think this war will make anything better? Son, all it’s going to do is get good young men like you, who believe in their own cause, killed!”
“Oh, c’mon father! You fought the Mexicans and still came back didn’t you? I believe this conflict will come to an end quickly, maybe a small battle or two. If you joined, why won’t you let me?”. I snapped back. “Are you telling me you support what the Northern states are doing?”
“There is a big difference between what I did, and what you are planning to do. I was defending my country from invaders, you on the other hand, are planning to kill your own brothers, fighting against your own country! Of course I don’t agree with what has been happening lately, but sometimes you have give up what you believe, to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. This war will be a long and bloody one, if kids like you don’t accept what you’re given. That goes for both the Confederacy, and the Union.”
“I am not a child anymore, father, I have already considered that, this could be the next war of Independance! I’m heading for the train tomorrow, that’s final. I have already signed up anyway, so I have to go.”
On that note my father stood up, and left, leaving me alone in the room.
The next morning after packing my bags, I searched the house for my family, so I could say goodbye to them. The only person I found was Marjorie, our house maid. “Excuse me, Marjorie, do you know where my parents went by any chance?”
“I’m sorry, Robert, them all left to Richmond, to pick up a shipment of some kind. I don’t know where your sister went, but I reckon maybe she went with ‘em.” She told me sincerely. “They told me to tell you goodbye.”
“Thank you, Marj, I’m headed off to the station.” We exchanged farewells, and I headed off.

I met with a load of other Virginia volunteers at the station. We were all heading by train to a camp somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley. We all loaded up on the train wagon, and it did not seem anything like what war should have looked like. People just like me, rowdy, telling tales, and singing songs the whole train ride to the camp, filled with pride. I joined with them, and it gave me some hope that I was probably right, this war is going to be over in a flash, I thought. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, why my family wouldn’t at least stay to say goodbye personally. Maybe they were in a hurry, I did get up kinda late anyway, tired of the event that unfolded last night. I felt kind of ashamed of myself, but I knew I was right about what I said. Our whole southern way of life was at stake here. It was getting dark, and finally I could see the valley lit up with campfires, and illuminated smoke rising from the garrison. We arrived at the camp, and unloaded the train. Our camp was massive, and tents lined the bottom of the valley. The whole Army of Virginia was camped here. 27th Virginia Volunteers. That’s the regiment I joined up for. I headed down to the south end of the camp where the rest of the Regiment was stationed. There was a short briefing NCOs (Non-commissioned Officers) were giving us. They gave us camp schedules, and we headed off to bed.
The next few days consisted of some basic infantry training. We didn’t learn to much, just how to load our rifles, stab a man with a bayonet, and listen to our officers. I guess they thought that’s all we needed to know. I met Wyatt Roberts, during one of our marksmen sessions. He was ringing pig sized targets at 200 yards.I introduced myself to him. “That’s some nice shooting you got there.” I said. “I’m Robert Watson, where did you learn to shoot like that?”

“Pleased to meet you, there, Robert. I’m Wyatt McLocklin. Well, my father was a trapper, and I took the trade from him. I’ve been shooting coons and feral pigs since I was just a little man. It’s all about knowing your gun, that’s all.”
From then on I got to know Wyatt pretty well. We had breakfasts together, and we shared the same interests. He had a story very similar to mine, except his family downright kicked him out. He was from Western Virginia, a well known pro-Union area of the U.S.. He spent a lot of time with his gun. It was an impressive set-up, he had. An old Hawkens percussion rifle, that he brought from home. I was simply issued the standard Springfield ‘61. While I let mine sit in the barracks, rusting from the residue, he wiped it down every time he shot it. Almost obsessed I’d say. Every single one of us at the camp couldn’t wait to get to the action.
We were just having breakfast when one of our Captains, told us our whole army was to be sent by train heading to Manassas junction, to reinforce our army, that was currently waiting there to battle the Yankees. This would be our first action, and also the first action of the whole war. A huge wave of silence covered the mess camp. Until one of the boys in the back got up and cheered. The train ride there was the same as the train ride to the camp, singing, yelling, and a bunch of proud men serving our Dixie.
Our regiment quickly deployed on the left flank of the Confederate Army, and we settled in an area of brush so we would have cover. Our regiment was one of the smaller ones, and they stationed us here knowing the Yankees would attack the right flank. The boys in my regiment seemed fine with that, once they saw the main Union lines, marching over the hill. We didn’t think much of it. The Northern Artillery batteries were already hammering our right flank, so we knew we wouldn’t see much action here. Our cannons were firing back. I could see the Union army wasn’t any better than we were when it came to their training. They marched in uneven columns, and looked as poorly equipped as we were. We stayed there for hours, waiting for the Union to engage our right flank, when one of our scouts pointed out something that made our entire regiment shudder. The Union attack on the right flank was simply a feint. They were marching hidden columns straight for our position. We quickly sent messengers as fast as we could to field command, but we knew they wouldn’t make it in time, with our reinforcements. We were going to see conflict here. One of our NCOs attempted an inspirational speech, but you could tell he was as scared as we were.
“Remember boys!” he yelled, shaking at the knees.  “This battle rests on our shoulders, so let’s make sure we at least give the Yanks a good fight.”
It sounded like he knew we wouldn’t make it. The Union forces quickly got closer and closer, until you could start to make out their facial features. I didn’t know what to expect from this. As they got closer, I started to get a different opinion, now that I was faced with the risk of death.

“Make ready boys!” Our NCO exclaimed. We put the percussion caps on our guns and cocked back the hammer. I aimed the muzzle somewhere at the line of blue coats.
“Open it up!” I pulled the trigger and huge puff of smoke filled the air, and the familiar musky smell of black powder reached my nose. The Union quickly returned fire, and although I didn’t see, I could hear chunks of lead, breaking up into the flesh of our boys. We were massively outnumbered, and were only getting out two shots a minute. I flinched every time I saw the puff smoke from their side, or heard a bullet, whizzing through the air toward us. Tree limbs were torn up as bullets reached our line, missing us by inches. It felt like hours of torment, of a possible stray ball, having the possibility to hit me any second.
Bugles then rang loud over the gunshots, and you could hear a great cheer coming from the blue coats. They quickly charged into our line. I stood there, waiting to defend myself from one of them coming to kill me. I saw one of them catch my eye, and we both knew we were enemies. We approached each other, and I quickly plunged my bayonet into his abdomen, with the full weight of the rifle behind it. His eyes quickly went lifeless, as they stared at something in the distance that wasn’t me. For a second, an image of my brother behind the blade stuck in my mind. This man looked strikingly similar, I thought. He probably wasn’t to different than me, actually. I realized I couldn’t get my bayonet out of him. The bayonet was stuck. Of course. My adrenaline took over my mind and I dropped my rifle, and took off running, as far away from that graveyard as I could. Hours passed as I wandered around the back of the line, when a few Confederate Cavalrymen approached me, rounding up the stragglers that routed. Great, I thought. I deserted my line, we probably lost, and these men are coming over here to punish me.
“You, soldier, get over here!” The messenger yelled, as I approached him. “You’re from the 27th aren’t ya?”.
I nodded.
“We won! Thanks to your boys holding off their attack, it bought us time to send forces from our reserves to fight ‘em back. You boys sent ‘em running all the way back to Washington D.C!” The messenger said excitedly.
Although that news was great to hear, I didn’t think about it much, about three quarters of force lied dead on the battlefield, or lie wounded, awaiting death on the battlefield. It certainly didn’t feel like a victory to me, maybe a few hours ago, I would be yelling, drinking, and singing all night for this victory. No one won this battle, I thought. Our regiment was regathered on the train, and we were given the option to drop out of our service. I decided to head back home. Me and the rest of the men who decided to do the same, loaded up on the train wagon again. It seemed strikingly similar, to how we used to load cattle up for the slaughterhouse. The ride back was quiet. I had no idea where my friend Wyatt was, but I assumed he made, it, and is marching North with the rest of the ‘Heroes’ to Washington. I gathered my stuff up at the camp, and in a few days,  headed back on the station back to Richmond. As shocked as I was, I knew I wasn’t the worst off. I did make it, after all. Those who fell around me, those who didn’t run, were the true heroes. They truly believed in a just cause. The headline on the paper was already made. ‘First Manassas-A True Confederate Victory’. Both sides of the casualties list published. I was relieved when Wyatt was not on the list. I quickly scanned the rest of it, and saw too many names I recognized. I decided to look at a few names on the Union side. ‘Jeb Watson-NCO of the 1st West Virginia Infantry.’ I stared at the name for a second. Must be someone different I thought. Then, that image of the Union soldier dying in front of me, flashed again. I knew that wasn’t him however, it just didn’t look like him.
I arrived back home to see my family there waiting for me. The moment I saw them, I felt a tear running down the side of my cheek. I saw my father, expressionless.
He said “Apparently the University of West Virginia drafted a bunch of University students to the  Union Army of the Potomac.”
I knew the Army of the Potomac didn’t truly engage in battle, so at least he was alright. I didn’t care that he was fighting for the other side.
My father, who was reading the paper, knew he was right about our argument, and knew what I was thinking. This war was pointless. War apparently brings glory and fame to some, but certainly not to those who bear the true weight of it.

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