The smell of pork fat cooking with crushed hardtack over the supper fires is in the air, mingled with strong coffee and a hint of chicory. A chorus of frogs wafts in from the Chicahominy River and Boatswain’s Swamp. A harmonica is softly playing a tune that reminds the boys of life back home – a life many of them have not known for three long years of bloody fighting. There are other sounds in the night air; sounds that chill their souls. They are close enough to hear the Rebel axes and shovels building breastworks. It is no secret that they will be ordered to attack those works at dawn – ACROSS THE OPEN GROUND.
Why are several of them hunched over in their shirtsleeves, fiddling with their jackets? Is it mending time? No, they are pinning bits of paper or cloth to their backs with their names and home towns written on them. You see, there were no dog tags back then. In the morning, as they offer themselves up to be shredded by minie balls and canister, they don’t want their last thoughts to be that no one back home will know what happened to them. For there was a multitude of brave boys in grey and butternut on the other side who were willing to die for the idea that there was no such thing as the UNITED States of America, and no “Yankee government” was going to tell them how to live, or tell them they had to stop holding African Americans in bondage. So they built their ramparts that night and waited – ACROSS THE OPEN GROUND.
The next day the attack would fail to take the Rebel works, and and over 7000 Union soldiers would be killed or wounded – going ACROSS THE OPEN GROUND.
The man who called this nation “the last best hope of earth” admonished us to “take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their last full measure of devotion.” Our unique way of life was purchased at a dear price; by men who somehow found it within themselves to get up, form up, and go ACROSS THE OPEN GROUND.
image via shutterstock / steve estvanik