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The High Price of Victory MAG
The sun beat down mercilessly on the 500 men in the meadow. Sweatdripped from their brows, soaking their gray wool uniforms as they waited for orders. The woodssurrounding the field had gone strangely quiet. Something was out there.
Matthew Winthall stooduneasily with his musket over one shoulder. He knew those cursed Yankees were out there. That was whyhe and his Confederate comrades were at the mercy of that blasted sun.
"Those Yanks'll berunnin' fer their lives after they get a couple doses o' lead," a man beside him laughed as he loaded hisgun. The men standing around him broke into uproarious laughter.
"And if they don't, we'llmeet 'em with a wall of blood an' steel, won't we, Jim?" Matthew said, grinning and polishing hisbayonet to make his point. The first man nodded and chuckled.
A middle-aged man turned to thegroup, a grim smile on his face.
"It's your first time, ain't it, boys?" heasked.
"Yes, sir. How did you know?" Matthew asked.
"By the wayyou're actin'. You seem ta think war's a game," the man chided.
"You don't think we'llwin?" Jim shouted at the man.
"Of course we'll win," the older man repliedconfidently. "But victory carries a high price, a price that, though easily met, will never be worthpaying."
Jim spat bad-temperedly, "Yeah, well, I'll see you inHell."
"That's the idea," the man sighed under his breath and walkedaway.
Matthew let the man's words sink in, his voice echoing in hismind.
"Charge!" The Union captain's voice brought Matthew back to reality. He watchedgrimly as 150 soldiers charged across the open field. Putting his musket to his shoulder, he looked down itsbarrel.
"Fire!" his captain commanded. Matthew's finger pulled the trigger, and heheard a bark as the bullet left the barrel. He watched in horror as a soldier collapsed, slain by hisbullet.
Matthew swooned when the soldier to his left was felled by Yankee lead. He wanted to curlinto a ball and pretend none of this was happening.
"Look out," Jim warnedhim.
Matthew stared wide-eyed at the pitiful corpse in front of him. He looked at Jim, who hadspeared the soldier with his bayonet.
"That'll teach you to try to kill my best friend,"Jim screamed at the body, who was wearing an expression of rage, terror and surprise all atonce.
Matthew gurgled and passed out.
When he awoke, it was night. His arm throbbedwhere someone had stepped on it, and his hat had been trampled, but he was none the worse for wear. Hecould hear voices behind him and see campfires.
He groaned and rolled over. There, staring himin the face, were the bloodied features and misty eyes of a dead man. He gasped in surprise and leaped up. Itwas the older man who had scolded them the day before. Too high a price, Matthewthought.
"Hey, Matthew! Glad to see ya ain't dead!" Jim shouted from the fire. Matthewwalked numbly to where his friend was sitting.
"What happened to the Yankees?" heasked.
"We killed 'em all," another man said matter-of-factly, looking up from hissupper.
"They fought pretty good, but we got 'em in the end," Jim laughed. Henoted the displeasure on his friend's face. "Somethin' the matter?" he asked.
Matthewstared at him, his face white as a sheet, muttering, "Too high a price, too high a price." Jimtook a flask from his uniform, popped the lid off and forced it between Matthew's lips. Color slowlyreturned to his face as the warm brandy flowed down his throat. When he had had enough, Matthew pushedhis friend's hand away and gave the flask back.
"What's the matter with you?" Jimasked. Matthew sank to the ground.
"I don't know," he replied. "I was fine untilthat old man reprimanded us for taking death too lightly. Now I don't think I'll ever be able to fightagain."
"I'm disappointed. You said you'd follow me and now you've turned yellow!You've turned your back on me, scum," Jim shouted.
"Scum?" You call me scum?You're the one who enjoys hearing the screams of dying men as your bullets find their innards. You're theone who relishes the look of horror on the face of a man you've just driven your bayonet into. Scum? I'msure God looks more highly upon scum than heartless murderers like you. I hope more Yankees come tonightand slit every last one of your throats!" Matthew screamed at the shocked assembly. Tears coursingdown his cheeks, he turned and ran for the woods.
A bearded man stood up and aimed his gun at thedeserting soldier.
"Let him go," Jim whispered. The man didn't falter.
"Isaid, let him go," Jim shouted, leaping up, but too late. The weapon fired, and Matthewcollapsed.
A horrified scream leapt out of Jim's throat. He unsheathed his knife and turned to theman who had shot his friend. Then he remembered Matthew's words, and the words of the old man. He putaway the knife and ran to where Matthew had fallen. His friend lay in a puddle of blood, his eyes mistingover in death.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Jim cried into Matthew's uniform.
Theold man had been right - the high price of victory wasn't worth paying.