I’ve been working for years on the story of David Patrick. There are three known Civil War soldiers in my family. David was our casualty. His life is tragic to me.
I am taking classes and workshops this year with the Family History Writing Studio. Right now I’m enrolled in How to Write a Family History Scene. I plan to blog my progress and assignments.
What follows is a first draft I worked on during the February Family History Writing Challenge.
MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY
David’s belly had been empty for the last two days. It was cold coffee breakfast and a cold coffee supper as the soldiers marched out of Camden, Arkansas.
The 40th Iowa and General Steele’s Brigade had been scurrying back to Little Rock for the past 10 days. The big plan had been to capture Texas, but hadn’t made it out of Arkansas. They had run out of supplies. The troops had been instructed to forage the countryside, but the countryside had already been thoroughly foraged. The supply trains had been captured. The Army skedaddled out of Camden at midnight and had been running for Little Rock ever since.
With the Confederates in hot pursuit, the Union troops slogged their way through the mud, their wagons sinking up to their axels. The weary soldiers dropped knapsacks, blankets, clothing, “property and plunder” along the military road. When they finally made it to the Saline River the banks were overflowing and water rushing so fast the men could not ford across. The troops deployed a pontoon bridge and commenced moving the supplies, artillary and soldiers across the water.
To protect the retreating army, David’s company was holding the line in a swale right smack in the middle of new corn just germinating. David knew all about corn fields, he never thought he would be running across a mucky field of baby corn during spring rains. It made no sense to him as a farmer, he was a soldier now. Yet, in his farmers heart he knew that any sensible person stayed out of a wet field so the soil didn’t get all mucked up.
David had wanted to be a farmer and here he was laying in another farmers field. He knew all the toil, hopes and effort the farmer had put into plowing the cornfield. He knew the farmer would have to replant if he would have any crops that year. A farm boy can’t help but turn toward farm matters. Farmer knows.
There’s no reason for anyone to be in a muddy field. But now, in this field, there are 10,000 soldiers converging on the farmers fields right before Jenkins Ferry.
This was where they would make their stand. The soldiers were ordered into defensive formation. David crouched down in the standing water rising in the plowed furrow. They were holding their line when they heard the call to fire. They had drilled in Iowa City and all winter in Columbus, Kentucky and in Little Rock for this day. David started firing. They all started firing at each other. There was nothing to see but fog and gunsmoke mixed that hung in the air. The rain kept the air from rising. The only sight lines were from stooping below to aim and fire.
The “firing, now incessant, was terrific and the struggle desperate beyond description…the severest fighting I ever witnessed.”
With the rain beating down, soaking wet and hungry. David felt a sharp pain and fell.
The battle continued on around him as he lay in the mud. The bullets cracked around him but he didn’t move or run anymore.
The rain beat down as he heard the bugler call retreat. As he lost consciousness, the rest of the troops made a successful crossing over the river and were on the way to Little Rock, food and safety.
The Union dead and wounded were left behind on the battlefield. They left a bloody mess of men in the cornfield. The cries and moans of hurt and dying soldiers mixed with the hard rain soaking what was left of their clothes. Some were dead and blown apart. Many more wounded and laying in pain and terror. The rain didn’t stop and they were cold, wounded and hungry.
Pain was everywhere the soldiers had fallen.
Finding the wounded men and getting them out of the rain fell to the surgeons who stayed behind. The men who were wounded and left behind enemy lines were prisoners of war. The were no hospitals to care for the wounded men. Hospitals had to be set up in the homes of the people where the battles had taken place. The supplies to care for the wounded were limited and had to be rationed.
It kept raining. Collecting and protecting the wounded men took all day and night after the battle was over. The locals took care of their own boys first. David was just another wounded farm boy far away from home. Finally, he was brought in from the rain and transported with the other wounded men to a local farmhouse. David was wounded but still alive.
The horrors of the Rebel prison and lack of sanitary hospitals were well known to the soldiers. David was just a private, he didn’t rank for a prisoner exchange. David was transported to Tulip, Arkansas from Jenkins Ferry. It was a journey of about 20 miles, to a make shift hospital. But it was a temporary measure. The primary Enemy Hospital was set up in Camden.
The 40th Iowa had just left Camden as occupiers and now David was returning as a wounded enemy soldier.
There were few supplies and food in Camden The area had been scavenged and foraged by the raiding Union armies. Everyone was hungry. The wounded might be fed, but their wasn’t enough nutrition to go around to keep healthy people healthy, much less to keep the wound ill soldiers enough nourishment for healing.
David was far from home and hurt badly. He was wounded in April and nursed in the Enemy Hospital in Camden all through the summer and the harvest season.
How long does it take to die from gangrene of wounds? At some point his wounds didn’t heal but became infected.
Medicine was in short supply behind confederate lines. Pain relief was not readily available.
At what point do you know your wounds are not going to heal, but are just getting worse?
As the harvest season came to a close, David knew he was not going to heal. In that Enemy Hospital 500 mile from his home and family, David faced that he was not going to hold his wife again.
David would not own a farm, build a barn or teach his son to plow a furrowed field.
He died alone, in pain and left behind.
He never saw his son.
Photos from Civil War Daily Gazette