Photo Prompt Story: When Johnny Comes Marching Home

My thanks to Fraggle, from https://fragglerocking.org/ for this photo prompt. It has taken me a long time to getting round to using it.

Michigan was a long way from the south, and young John didn’t recall ever seeing a slave. But those rebs had started a ruckus by firing on a fort somewhere, and he had a mind to join in before it was all over. He talked to Caleb about it, and that boy was as keen as mustard. “Reckon we’ll have to lie about our age, John. But pa says they need a lot of soldiers, and they needs them now. Can’t see them bothering too much about a year or two”.

The recruiting sergeant shook his head as they stood in front of his desk. “You gotta be joshing me, boys. Why don’t you go home to your mommas afore they wonder where you got to?” The boys faces coloured red, and they put on their hats and walked off in a sulk.

His older sisters teased him when he got home, and mom cuffed him around the head. “What d’you think you’re playing at, boy? I never heard of such a thing. Soldiering at your age? And your pa dead but a year after that accident. Now get washed up for dinner!”

Things changed after Bull Run. Despite being the same age, they took Caleb. Well, he was a head taller, and they ignored the lie.

December was as cold as always, and John made up his mind. Come the new year of sixty-two, he would try again. The Federal Army was losing all over, and didn’t seem to have the sand to stand against those rebs. Some said it was bad generals, ’cause the rebs had better ones. John would read the newspapers he found thrown down in the streets, and became more determined he just had to go.

When the news came about Caleb, he was shocked. Hard to imagine Caleb gone, and in some place in Missouri that he had never heard of. Truth be told, John didn’t even know where Missouri was.

Two days later, he got up when it was still dark. Sneaking out, he took a spare shirt, and some bread from the larder, before making the long walk into Detroit. It was still cold, so he walked fast to stay warm. Someone at the edge of the city told him how to find the recruiting office, and he managed to keep the directions in his head in the city he had only been to once before in his short life.

The queue was small, and once the doors opened he was soon inside. This time, nobody mentioned his age, or that he was so short. Some doctor in a white coat looked him over, pronounced him fit for service, and he was sent to wait in a wagon with the others. Sitting on the rough plank, he swallowed hard. He was in the Union Army, 15th Michigan Infantry.

For the rest, it was mostly a blur. Training to march, training to carry and shoot the heavy rifle, trying to get on with the others who were mostly city boys from Detroit. They ragged him a lot, and made him do the unpleasant jobs. It was no never mind to John, as he would soon be fighting the rebs, and avenging Caleb. Then he had the blue uniform, and felt he stood taller in it. The rumours were all around the camp. They were heading south and west.

Mississippi.

The next few days were all about marching, wagons, and trains. Sergeant Kraus pushed him awake as he dozed on a station platform. Kraus laughed, his teeth stained dark from chaw. “Hurry up and wait, little John. Hurry up and wait boy”. On the last train, John felt the heat down south. Packed into the carriages, it felt hotter than hell for October, and then they had to march to the defences at Corinth. He sweated right through the stiff uniform, and his backpack and rifle felt like they would drag him down to the ground. He saw his first artillery shells exploding as they dropped onto the works around the town.

Rebel shells.

Inside the dugout, they had to parade for Captain Stagle. He set his jaw, and told them the worst. “Boys, Van Dorn is out there with his rebel army. He reckons to attack soon, and we are going to be waiting for him”. He waited for the ragged cheer that followed. “I am pleased to tell you that we will be at the front. We are going to be outside the earthworks, and give those rebs a nasty surprise. Come on the fifteenth!” The next cheer was heartier, but John knew they were all hungry and tired.

All they had that night was hard biscuit and beans. And they had to sleep on the ground between the rebs and the trenches. Sergeant Kraus roused him at first light, and all he had was the water in his canteen. The humidity was awful, and he could not even recall the last time he had washed himself.

When the enemy artillery started just after nine, the only relief was that that death was falling on the defences to the rear. It was close to lunchtime when John saw his first reb, as they swarmed in front of him screeching that terrible yell. Sergeant Kraus shouted at him, “Fire your rifle, boy!” Then Kraus fell dead with a minie ball through his head.

John fired without seeing a target, and reloaded. But the rebs were upon them, and the company was running back to the trenches. He ran with the others, and didn’t see the man who fired the bullet into his back. Just felt the earth in his mouth as he fell, screaming in pain.

The Union Army won the battle of Corinth, after a hard fight.

But Johnny never marched home.

37 thoughts on “Photo Prompt Story: When Johnny Comes Marching Home

    1. I have been reading about civil wars since I was at junior school, and always had an interest in your one. Also the civil wars in England, and the one in Spain. I am happy to know that comes across in this story.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It really comes across in your writing, Pete. Civil wars have more passion and more at stake. I will email you some family stories (when I have time) of this time period. There are always many perspectives. You will enjoy the stories. Best to you.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. “Caleb gone, and in some place in Missouri that he had never heard of.”
    I had ancestors who fought and died at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, just outside Springfield, Missouri (my birthplace). I’ve been to the battlefield. I’ve also seen the cannonball hole in the courthouse column in Lexington, Missouri.
    https://visitkcd8.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/styles/slider_850x400_/public/30-b3d3da7e5056b36.jpg?itok=YZpFZEeQ

    Liked by 1 person

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