The Last Battle  

By Jo Anzalone

(This is also from a long time ago and is about just one brief moment in time)

      This was the last battle for James Andrew Fielding. Tomorrow his enlistment was

up and he was going home to Ohio. Home to Ma and Pa...home to his little brothers,

Robert and Caleb. Home to the the land he'd been born on 19 years ago. Ever

since that old ladder broke, his Pa hadn't been able to work the farm by himself. If he

closed his eyes, he could see the wide fields sloping gently down to the creek, could

almost hear the evening wind rustle the tall corn. Home.

        The War Between the States was winding to its finish. His job here was done.

They needed him at home. And there was Peggy, his pretty Peggy, waiting for him

on a near-by farm. Going home. Tomorrow. He noticed his palms were all sweaty.

Must be nerves. He hadn't been so nervous before. The end of all this hell was so

near. So near. He had to make it through one more more day. He HAD

to survive this day!

        A shot whined past, grazing his cheek. Quick blood dripped down his chin. He

ducked behind a bush. Where was his corporal? The gunsmoke was so thick he

couldn't see the rest of his company. Exploding into the ground 20 feet away, a

cannonball showered him with dirt and debris.  His heart was pounding, sweat

poured down his forehead, into his eyes, making it even harder to see. Was that his

corporal up ahead? He dashed out across a small clearing. A shot slammed into his

left hand, breaking three fingers. He kept running several more yards, then threw

himself behind a log. Holding his hand close to his face, he just stared at it in shock.

Even now, all he could think was that the plowing would be harder to do. Home.

Going home...tomorrow.

        It was such a struggle to breathe. It seemed even more of a struggle to get to his

knees, then his feet. He tried to reload his rifle. His left hand was useless, though. His

bayonet. He guessed it would have to do. He would survive. He would head home in

the morning.

        He squinted his eyes, peering through the smoke-filled woods. There had to be

more Yanks near-by. He couldn't be alone. Fear rose up inside his stomach, clutching

at his being. There! That was Corporal Thomas for sure! He wasn't alone! He almost

laughed with relief. Keeping low, he ran quickly toward his corporal. Thomas was

crouched behind a rock, firing at a point on a small hill. James was only a few steps

away when a huge Rebel sergeant burst out of the underbrush, rifle aimed at Thomas'

back. James' own rifle wasn't time even to yell. Thomas was a dead man,

 for sure. Maybe James could get between them and use his bayonet? But James was

going home tomorrow! One thought bumped into another in his brain. Thomas or

home? The last battle...a split second struggle in his own mind. Home or Thomas?

       Corporal Thomas heard the snap of breaking twigs, the pound of a few footsteps,

then a deafening crack as a rifle was fired point-blank behind him. He whirled around,

firing himself as he turned. A Confederate sergeant was in the act of falling, Thomas'

bullet between his eyes.  The corporal looked down. Lying at his feet was Private

Fielding, blood flowing from a gaping wound in his chest. Instantly, Thomas knew

that Fielding had stepped between him and the Confederate. He bent low over the

dying private as James mumbled, "Home...going"