Riders In The Mist

Tyler and his family were taking a nap. His dad was a Civil War buff and the family had spent the day touring Antietam Battlefield. They had made reservations at a very popular place right on the battlefield, a bed and breakfast that had been the headquarters of Confederate General James Longstreet and his staff.

It had been a long day and when they had checked in Tyler was disappointed that the room didn’t have a television.

“Dad, do we have to stay here? There’s nothing to do at all, no radio and I can’t even watch my favorite shows!” complained Tyler.

“Tyler, you knew before we came that there wasn’t going to be a tv in our room. How about this, If we all take a nap we’ll go to your choice of a place for supper,” offered his dad.

This seemed to satisfy him. After taking a nap and going to his favorite fast-food restaurant, the family played Crazy Eights until bedtime. As he slept an uneasiness came over him. In his mind, it seemed as if he was hearing things. Whispers seemed all around him as he tossed and turned on his bed. Finally, he quit fighting it and got up. Arising, he glanced out the window and was startled that a haze had settled over the battlefield. It was almost spooky! Checking on his mom and dad, he saw that they were sound asleep. He decided to go outside for a better look and what he saw terrified him.

In the midst of the evening, he could see movement. Looking closely, he saw horses racing about, ranks of men, and flags flying high in the sky. He even thought that he saw cannons and In the distance, he could faintly hear bugles blowing. Awestruck and afraid, he pressed himself against the building and tried to understand what was happening. Coming to his senses, he raced inside to wake up his parents, but it was no use. As much as he shouted and shook them, they wouldn’t wake up.  There were no phones to call for help, and when they had checked in the people who operated the bed and breakfast, said that they were going home and wouldn’t be back until morning. Tyler didn’t know what to do.

Stepping outside, again he hid behind a small shrub and watched the proceedings. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of riders coming his way. He was so scared he couldn’t move. As they approached he saw what he thought was an officer leading his staff. It was a large man, wearing gray, who was leading them. He had a full, black beard and was wearing a slouch hat. There were stars on his shoulders which caused Tyler to think that the man was a high-ranking officer. His staff clustered around him, gesturing, shouting, and pointing in different directions. As they talked a rider approached and the man wrote something on a piece of paper and handed it to the rider who raced away at full gallop.

Slowly, the man turned and looked at Tyler. Their eyes met and suddenly all fear left him. The man seemed to have such kind eyes, which seemed so strange because of the hurt and anguish that etched his face. Suddenly the man motioned for him to come to him.

“Come here, son, there is something that you must see. Don’t be afraid. Trust me,” he said.

Casting fear aside, Tyler approached the black horse the man was riding. Leaning from his saddle, the man offered his hand. Moments later he was seated behind the man and riding off into the mist. In the far distance, they could see campfires and Tyler knew that it was the Union Army campsites. They skirted the area and rode through Confederate campsites along the way. Men were cooking, and officers were gathered, around candles, discussing the next day’s tactics.

Going further, they approached a place that still makes him cry when he thinks about it. Earlier in the day, the tour guide told them that it was called the “Sunken Road” and that it was the site of the fiercest fighting at Antietam. But this time it was terrible because there were strewn dead horses, broken cannons, equipment, and worst of all the bodies lying in every imaginable position. As they watched there were burial details, from both sides, collecting the dead.

As Tyler sat behind the man he suddenly felt him crying. Silently at first, but it increased into great sobs. His staff backed away to leave him alone for a few moments. After a few minutes, the man regained his composure and turned away from the scene. Turning in his saddle, he looked at Tyler with glistening eyes and Tyler knew who it was.

“My boys! Look what I’ve done to my boys! They fought so bravely here today and so many fell. How can I go home and tell their families that their sons are dead?  How can I live with it? So many lives lost because of anger and pride,” he sobbed.

Not knowing what to say, Tyler hugged him close as they rode back to the bed and breakfast. The man gently lowered him to the ground. Their eyes met once again and they seemed to bond together at that time. Slowly the General nodded, reined his horse, and he and his staff rode off into the mist.

As Tyler watched them leave he heard his dad call his name. Going inside, he suddenly realized that his parents would never believe him if he shared his adventure. It became his secret and he kept it for many years. After all, who would believe that he had spent an evening with General James Longstreet!

February 25, 2021