Following the battle of Chickamauga, the war was over for Lidge and me. Our next battle would be getting back on our feet. We spent the remainder of this lamentable day, jarred, jostled, and semiconscious, in the back of a wagon. Nightfall found us halfway back to Tullahoma, awaiting treatment in an overcrowded field hospital. Field hospitals were easily recognizable, from some distance, by their enveloping clouds of blowflies, the agonizing moans from tent after tent of dieing and demoralized men, and the sickening stench from pungent piles of putrefying feet! Sanitation was abominable, disease rampant and medical care mortifyingly crude! Advances in the dispersement of death and dismemberment having been vastly improved since the Mexican/American conflict, .58 caliber minie balls, now administered through rifled muskets, could be dispatched from three or four hundred yards away, with great precision and unprecedented effect. Shattered bones were generally the result. For want of disinfectant, the best hope of preventing infection, gangrene and an excruciating death was immediate amputation. Surgical kits bore a striking resemblance to carpenters’ tool kits; surgical saws were the instrument of choice, and the slang “sawbones” for field surgeon, struck terror in the hearts of battle hardened veterans.
War has always been an enigma to me, an irreconcilable amalgamation of glory and godlessness. Even now, after my baptism of fire and a near death experience, I view it with a strange mix of abhorrence and wonder. It’s as though, despite its revulsion and abomination, war has some redeeming quality. I can tell you this about war. If war possesses any redeeming qualities, they’re not apparent on the battlefield, where gallant young men are killing and being killed. The redeeming qualities of war are pretty illusive to those who observe its horrid stench first hand. Wars finer facets, in order to be fully appreciated, must be polished, politicized, and refined, by some well-bred, manicured, articulate, gentleman back home. Back home the less desirable aspects of war may be overlooked. One may sip their brandy, smile benevolently, and observe, “Isn’t war inspiring.”
In the case of our Civil War, both sides sought peace. The north was bound by the patriot’s sense of E PLURIBUS UNUM, and the south was bound by home and hearth, and their ancestral way of life. Few would argue that either was served by war. Death and destruction may quell revolt, but they rarely result in peace. Don’t get me wrong. I realize that freedom requires commitment, commitment requires perseverance, and perseverance requires the will to act. When freedom and just causes are threatened, honorable men respond. But surely war is the last resort of those who know its grief. Surely for reasonable people there’s a better way. Freedom is every heart’s desire and every just government’s goal, but it’s a mighty illusive concept when you’re at war. Freedom is nearly impossible when you don’t have peace. OBIE”S QUEST