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What a Difference a Day Can Make
By C. W. Harper
The summer of 1862 had been hot and dry. Hugh could feel the heat radiating from the dry earth beneath him as he lay atop the small hill overlooking the military encampment. The tents and campfires seemed to go on forever in the darkness. He had snuck out, against his momma’s wishes. She thought he was asleep in his loft room in the barn, his room since he had turned twelve and his two-year-old brother moved out of his parents’ room and in with Levi and Abner.
Hugh focused his attention back to the camp as a lone fiddler began a lively rendition of Turkey in the Straw and several men started a lively jig that resembled a poorly executed square dance. Hugh smiled and stopped himself from laughing. He didn’t want to get caught and taken back to his momma in shame. He watched until he had trouble keeping his eyes open. He then crept back to his bed never realizing a sentry had watched him the entire time and had followed him home to ensure he was not an underage enemy spy.
A rooster crowing and a simultaneous cannon blast awakened Hugh. He made his way to the house, where the rest of the family were just getting up, and ate a quick meal of leftover biscuits and ham. He washed it all down with coffee and then started his daily chores. As he continued his daily routine, he was startled now and again by a volley of gunfire or a cannon shot.
After the midday meal, Hugh snuck away to see what he could see. The smell reached him before he was close enough to see the carnage. It smelled like the farm on hog killing day times ten. The stench of blood and shit made him gag but he couldn’t stop himself from going on. When he could see, he regretted it; the dead littered the field and he could hear the moans of dying men and horses. Some were missing limbs and others had been decapitated. Hugh retched and vomited until he had nothing left in him. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up into the dirty, bloody, sweaty face of a soldier. “Go home, boy. You don’t need to be here.”
Hugh somberly finished his daily chores and, close to sunset, went back to the hilltop overlooking the camp. A lone bugler played taps to signal the end of the day; the mournful notes traveling to Hugh’s ears and then lingering even after the soldier had put down his instrument. Just as Hugh was getting up to go back to his bed, the fiddler from the previous night started playing Amazing Grace. The haunting melody touched Hugh to his core and, when the song was finished, he got up to go to his safe bed and family, wiping tears from his face, as did the sentry who silently saw him home. As he walked, the heavens opened and shed much-needed tears on the thirsty land.
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