The Boys from Kalamazoo Excerpt

They were five companies strong, about 270 men. The two largest companies being the ones from the 12th Michigan.
Quietly, they marched southwest of their camps towards the Corinth Road. In the pitch black, only the sound of rustling uniforms and the occasional jangle of a cartridge box and canteen broke the stillness of the night. Unconsciously, James stroked the smooth octagonal barrel of his Dimick. Patrick fussed with the cartridge box, and Ezra Lampkin sniffled and wiped his running nose on his sleeve.

They were only three quarters of a mile from their camps when each man snapped erect and alert at the crack of two muskets, and then a few more. In the dim light, James could barely make out the shadowy form of two mounted sentinels.

"Skirmish line! Skirmish line!" Major Powell ordered frantically, and the men reacted as best they could in a state of confusion in the darkness, stumbling and tripping but forming a thin staggered line.

The fire of the vedettes was soon joined with that of a couple Confederate pickets in the trees. The hastily formed skirmish line turned slightly and advanced into Fraley Field.

"My word, they were close to camp," Ainsley Stuart said behind James.

"Sir!" James growled, knowing that an officer had more important things to do than give commentary. "Sir," he repeated less harshly.

"They are close," Joe Tucker observed.

"I cain' hardly see a thing," Ezra Lampkin complained.

Patrick raised his rifle and took aim at where he had just seen a flash.

"Not yet," James whispered to his friend and reluctantly Patrick returned the rifle to a ready position across his body. In the dim light of the early morning, James thought he spotted dark forms moving in front of the trees on the other end of the field.

"When do we get to fire on these bushwhackers?" Seth Dreyer said impatiently from down the loose line.

"When the major gives the word," James said, his voice sounding gruff and threatening without even trying, "And not before!"

Behind them, Ainsley Stuart peered into the middle of the patrol's small skirmish line, searching for Major Powell's silhouette. Taking his family sword out of its scabbard and pulling out the pistol with his other hand, Ainsley looked odd, even with the darkness hiding his gaunt and awkward frame.

But also hidden was the determined look on his face. To himself, Ainsley quietly recited Colonel Peabody's orders, "Drive in the guard and open up on the reserve." They were in the process of doing just that.

Suddenly, the stationary figures 160 yards ahead changed the peaceful dawn with an eruption of noise and flash. Ainsley wasn't the only one startled by the small volley. Seth Dreyer halted in his boots only to be unceremoniously shoved forward by James.

"Come..." James began, only to be interrupted by Major Powell's order to return fire. On this far end of the line, James and the others never actually heard the command, but it was clear enough that the order had been given, a ragged volley ran down their line.

"Independent fire! Independent fire!" James heard the echoed order after they had all emptied their weapons.
He was already reloading his Dimick when he noticed some of the other men slow to do so. "Just like we drilled before," he said in a calm voice that was still loud enough to be heard by those around him. With individual cracks and flashes, the Confederates fired.

Slowly, James' ears became deadened to the crack of rifles and the occasional zing of a bullet, but it was the thump of a musket ball meeting flesh that caught his attention.

With a puzzled look, he looked to his left where the peculiar sound came from and saw a pair of boots and a form lying in the grass. His eyes followed the boots up to the trousers and uniform. Although it was still too dark to see a face, he knew exactly who it was from the full stomach that strained the uniform.

"Ezra," Patrick said matter-of-factly as he rammed another minie ball into his Dimick.

"Keep up the fire, boys," Ainsley interrupted from behind them. Aware that a few men were gawking at the company's first casualty, he shouted encouragement to them with a voice that none of them had heard before from his skinny body. A resonating tenor shouted at them with a calm presence. "Hot and steady, boys! Hot and steady!"

The fire picked up pace again, and despite the seriousness of their actions, James knew he was smiling a little. Ainsley was going to make a good officer after all.

James took aim at what he guessed was a Rebel, although it might have been a tree. As if in answer to his question, a flash appeared from the spot, and James instantly answered it. Although he was sure the shot had been true, and with his Dimick it was well within his range, he could not tell if the silhouette was still there or not. As he took another paper cartridge from his box and tore the end off with his teeth, he wondered how the Wisconsin boys at the other end of the line were faring. He knew that they had been equipped with heavy Belgian muskets, and it would take an excellent shot and a little luck to hit anything with a musket from this distance.

The black of night slowly turned to a dark blue and in the growing strands of light, James lost count of how many times he had fired.

The change in daylight and the rate of fire from the Confederates was almost imperceptible, but slowly, the patrol was getting the upper hand and though there were a number of blue coated men down, they were maintaining a higher rate of fire than the Rebels.

Major Powell noticed it also and gave the order to advance. Obediently, the patrol edged closer.

Even the cry of pain from his left did not shake James' attention as he focused on the Confederate pickets.

"Forward, company! Forward!" Ainsley urged above the intermittent firing.

A few more bullets whizzed by overhead, and the patrol stopped in its tracks but not because of the bullets.

It was the sight of an entire Confederate line of battle emerging from the trees - thousands of men all shoulder to shoulder in two rows, stepping off in near unison.

"Oh, my God!" Joe Tucker gasped.

James' eyes flashed from one end of the line to the other. The butternut line stretched as far as could be seen. James didn't even want to know what was hidden beyond sight in the trees to the right. It was obvious to every man in the patrol that this was more than anyone anticipated.

This was Johnston's army! Stunned, James realized that they had bumped headlong into a massive Confederate assault. No army could organize so many so quickly. The only way that so many men could be in a line of battle already was that they had already been marching. The Confederates had planned a surprise attack!

 
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