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Battles

How a Man Feels in Battle.

Although copied from a Springfield, Mass., newspaper, the correspondent probably isn't a Vermonter, but the sentiment is still the same.

Caledonian, 6 February 1863

There can be nothing more puzzling than the analysis of one's feelings on a battle-field. You cannot describe them satisfactorily to yourself or others. To march steadily up to the mouths of a hundred cannon, while they pour out fire and smoke and shot and shell in a storm that mows the men like grass, is horrible beyond description--appalling. It is absurd to say a man can do it without fear. During Hancock's charge at Fredericksburg, for a long distance the slope was swept by such a hurricane of death that we though every step would be our last; and I am willing to say, for one, that I was pretty badly scared. Whatever may be said about "getting used to it," old soldiers secretly dread a battle equally with new ones. But the most difficult thing to stand up under is the suspense while waiting, as we waited in Fredericksburg, drawn up in a line of battle on the edge of the field, watching the columns file past us and disappear in a cloud of smoke, where horses and men and colors go down in confusion, where all sounds are lost in the screaming of shells, the cracking of musketry, the thunder of artillery, and knowing that our own turn comes next, expecting each moment the word "Forward." It brings a strange kind of relief when "Forward" comes. You move mechanically with the rest. Once fairly in for it, your sensibilities are strangely blunted--you care comparatively nothing about the sights that shocked you at first--men torn to pieces by cannon shot become a matter of course. At such a time there comes a latent sustenance from within us, or above us, which no man anticipated who has not been in such a place before, and which most men pass through life without knowing anything about. What is it? Where does it come from?

Those who say they would like to visit a battle-field seldom know what they are talking about. After darkness has put an end to the struggle, a hush settles over the field; such a contrast to the roar of the fight! Never is silence more oppressive, more eloquent. You hear the cries of the wounded, which are never distinguished while the work is going on. A stray shot hurtles through the darkness overhead. You hear the ambulance wheels chirr heavily along, grinding through the soil with a sullen, muffled sound, like some monster crushing the bones of his victims. You see the outline of forms gliding through the gloom, carrying on litters pale, bloody men. You stumble over--perhaps your friend--with his hair matted in blood over his white face, and his dead eyes staring blindly up to the sky. You are startled by the yells of those lifted about, after becoming cold and stiff in their blood. Follow to the hospital, and see those, whose lives clung to them on the field, dissected alive, and butchered. They writhe a few hours or days, are tumbled into a trench, their graves unknown, forgotten forever. Then talk about the horrors of war.

-- C. H. in Springfield Republican.