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Alex Opryszko

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What They Did Here

I often wonder if the soldiers who fought in the war that tore this nation apart ever

realized what an impact their actions would have one hundred years later, whether

Lincoln realized the impact of his Gettysburg Address as he spoke. As I crouch, hidden in

the dense brush that seemed to cover the entire forest, I again wondered. I look around

me, at the trees, the rocks, the ground. One hundred and forty five years ago the army of

the Potomac was moving through these woods, about to engage Lee’s Army of Northern

Virginia in what was known as the Battle of the Wilderness. Now, it is only us who seem

to remember what happened here; one of the most terrifying and horrific battles of the

war, and even we have no idea what they went through. The 7th Maryland walks carefully

forward, in skirmish formation, leading the long union line, eyes peeled for any sign of

motion. Someone to my left spots something, there is a shot, silence, and then answering

fire bursts from in front of us.

“Private Tyler,” Captain Mobley hurries over, after a few minutes, to me saying, “Take a

few men and try to get around their flank, find out what we are dealing with, and cause

some disturbance.”

“Yes sir,” I replied, beckoning the three men on the end of our line to follow me as I slip

quietly away from the fighting, and up the slope of the hill. The four of us spread out so

that we can barely see each other, and work our way around the side of the Confederate

flank. Just behind the Confederate lines one of us is spotted. Several rebels redirect their

fire towards our position advancing to drive us off. Hoping I hadn’t been seen, I ducked

down and began to work my way forward, away from the fire. As I crept through the
Alex Opryszko
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trees, I noticed a patch of grey and stop. Looking closer, I realized that another whole

regiment was making its way through the dense woods, and if they kept their path they

would flank the entire union force. I also realized that two skirmishers, deployed in front

of the regiment were working there way right towards me. As I… fall, mayhem reigns.

Fires burned along trees where artillery had hit, throwing up bright patches against the

smoke choked forest, trapping the wounded that were too slow. All I could here was the

crack of muskets, the screams of dying men, and the shrieks of the wind. There was no

control; there were no sides, no lines, no order. All that could be seen were dark shapes

moving in the shadows, making the forest seem to shift and move. I struggled to focus, to

remember. My name is John Wood, I am 19, my older brother Joseph serves alongside

me as a private in Company E of the 7th Maryland Volunteer Infantry, I was grew up on a

farm outside of Fredrick, it was May 5 1864, it was a battle in the Wilderness. With

effort, I lifted myself off the ground, feeling my side, where there was a dull pain. Hot

blood ran down my side, staining my dark blue coat. I dragged my self across the

ground, escaping the ever-growing fires, when a voice stopped me. I saw a dark shape on

the ground, slumped against a tree. It was moving slightly, one arm reaching out towards

me, pleadingly.

“Water” the shape whispered, in a voice stained with pain. I looked back at the fire, now

racing along a toppled tree just behind me, and decided.

“Here” I said, tilting my half full canteen back to allow him to drink. He was a Reb I

now saw, with a ragged homespun uniform and bare feet, he was the enemy, a traitor, on

e of the ones I had volunteered to fight and bring to justice. It hardly seemed to matter

now. Now we were both just men, wounded in battle, no different from each other.
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“What’s your name?” I asked, my breath now coming in painful gasps, but he was dead,

just like whom new how many thousands already in this war. I couldn’t move, my were

not legs not responding anymore. I propped myself up against the tree, knowing it would

be useless to call for help over the noise of the battle still going on around me. For the

first time, I wondered what the future would entail. Would The Union hold, or would

America proceed as two separate countries? Would new generations scorn our actions

here, or will they thank us? And most of all, will we be remembered as President Lincoln

said we will be in his address last fall in Gettysburg? Will others even know what we had

to endure, to live through, to fight? I smiled as the fire spread to the tree I leaned

against; I wouldn’t get to find what would happen, but do I want to know? The last thing

I see is the fire, burning brightly against the darkness that was growing at the edges of

my vision, as I…as I…fall to the ground, I hide behind a fern, hoping the rebels haven’t

spotted me. I lay very still, trying not to rustle the plants or leaves nearby. My blood was

pounding now, and I was running on pure adrenaline. Every second seemed to last an

eternity, as I watched the skirmishers walk, muskets ready, past were I was hiding. As

they moved away from me, I made my decision. I raised my rifle, aiming just over their

heads, and fired. The shot sounded extraordinarily loud next to the silence that had been

present for so long before. The confederates turned, one of them falling, as they could tell

I would have hit them, and the other opened fire at my already fleeing shape. There was

no room for thought, no time for stealth, only movement, as I rushed down the hill,

dodging trees and rocks, snagging the plants all down the slope. Behind me, I could here

three or four rebels following, the occasional shot emphasizing their presence. Up ahead

of me, I hear more shouts and gunfire; I briefly wonder whether the rebels had somehow
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gotten around me, but hen I see the dark blue coats, Union soldiers, I had made it back to

our line! “3rd Maryland!” I call to them relief, recognizing their unit “Another regiment is

just up the hill, we need to secure the flank”. My heartbeat slows as I reach their line

panting. The battle, only one hour, has drained all the energy from me, and it’s not over

yet. I rejoin the battle slightly different, seeming to look at things different. I was

reminded of a quote from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “The world may little note, nor

long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here,” and I was

determined to prove him right.