My mama always said I should be seen and not heard. Sometimes I still wake up and hear her. It stuck, not to mean that I lived my life saying nothing, but most of the words stayed in my head. I like them there, and everyone else seems to as well. It works most of the time. I have a good memory, and think that’s because I haven’t spilled everything out. But Mama says it’s time to tell.
We heard rumors of Lee being around, and there were Union scouts in our town, soldiers moving in and out. Still, it was just a rumor, and I had things to do. Like most kids, I knew the ground like the back of my hand, and could probably find my way around the big rocks with a blindfold on. We played on those all the time, Mama always telling us to watch out for rattlers. I knew a hidey place in there, but so did the snakes.
On the first day of fighting, out on Seminary Ridge, Mama said we needed to make ourselves scarce. We took off with my brother and baby sister. There were lots of people looking for ways out of town when in truth there weren’t many ways out. Mama said if we could get out we could find her sister’s place up in the hills. In the crowds of people, I somehow got separated from them, and tried for a long time to find them, but couldn’t do it. I thought of those rocks, and of my hidey hole, and figured that was as good a place as any to go, as it was getting on towards dark.
I found a big branch that had fallen off a pine tree, and made my way in, sweeping the spaces before me to scatter those snakes. I got to my hidey hole, a small opening in those giant rocks that led to a bigger space inside, and ate the bit of biscuit I put in my pocket. I wondered where mama was, and hoped she knew I’d find my way to her again. I fell asleep, pretty sure my spot was good.
The next day, all hell broke loose in those rocks. I used my branch to cover the opening to my hiding place. Soldiers filled the spaces between the rocks and bullets flew and ricocheted everywhere. Blood flowed and the heat near to suffocated me, but I pressed tight to the cool dirt. I was hungry and tryin’ to figure a way out of the mess I’d found myself in. I don’t scare easy, and heard my papa say not to panic in a situation. It was and is good advice.
So I kept my head down. Pretty soon someone else did too, way down. He’d been hit and fell over near the opening where I was. He moaned and called for his mama. Maybe he knew where his was, which wasn’t here, just like mine wasn’t. I peeked over my branch, and his eyes locked on mine. I closed my eyes, just like that, hoping he’d think it was a dream, or a vision maybe. I opened one eye, real slow, just enough to see him through my lashes. He wasn’t looking at me anymore, but looking up to the sky, his wound seeping blood right into the ground, and I wondered what would grow there, or what the snakes would make of it later on.
He was still calling for his mama and trying to sing bits of some song, and then more soldiers were there, stepping on him and crying out, and the bullets kept coming and then night did too. I poked my stick out, carefully, poked it right into that soldier, who was stiff and dead. There were a couple other dead ones that I could see nearby. I was powerful thirsty, and wondered about dragging one of the dead rebel’s canteens into my hole. I popped a stone into my mouth and while I was sucking on that I fell asleep and heard the bullets again, and then I heard my mama calling me home. I knew my way, I knew all the ways in those rocks that would be called the Devil’s Den. I woke up then, and crept my way through, and wore blood that wasn’t mine. I said some silent prayers for those dead men, and finally found my way outta there.
My mama is old now. I guess I am too. It’s a long time since Lee was chased out of town, a long time since he surrendered. President Lincoln came to town, and we heard his speech—almost missed it because my baby sister had her needs.
I walk over to those rocks now and again. I guess my grandkids will go there now too—they could fit into that spot—I’ll warn them about the snakes. I wish I knew that song the rebel was singing.