When Lead Meets Blood

             It was early July in an army camp near McPherson’s ridge.  There wasn’t a courthouse, nor a real judge, so Harry Heath had found an abandoned pavilion near Cashtown pike.  He wanted to make it a quick trial; General Doubleday could take the ridge any day.  The trial was to begin immediately.  

             Heath was more interested in making an example of this “pathetic scoundrel” than in seeking justice.  He had his ways, be they wrong or right.  Jacob Barton was to be led to the pavilion they called a courthouse immediately; Heath’s patience was pending.  

              Two corporals had led in the accused man and seated him on a wooden bench at the front of the pavilion.  Two more soldiers stood at the back, ensuring no other men saw the trial.  The general and his top colonel were awaiting the start with anticipation, but still wanting it to be speedy.

               Jacob was confused at the aspects of the trial.  After spending the night in a small holding cell, he was already irritated with the chain of command at the camp.

               “Sir, are we ready to begin?”  asked an officer once everyone was seated.  “Proceed” grunted Heath.  “Very well.  This is an account of theft and deserting the confederate army.  The general, Bartholomew, is our acting judge.”

              Bartholomew nodded, and his brown eyes arose to meet the view of Jacob.  “Who is the accused?  What is his name?”  “Jacob Barton, sir.  Found last night with another soldiers Springfield.  He was trying to leave the camp, for he was heading away from the ridge.”

              Bartholomew didn’t say anything.  He glanced at Heath and his cabinet.  

             “Yes, yes, this man was obviously trying to desert.  He steals a mans rifle to get past the centurions, then starts out away from McPherson’s ridge and Gettysburg town, correct?”

             “Yes sir.  Might I add that he resisted the guard as he tried to arrest him.”  “Where is the guard?  Is he currently at his post?”

             “I…” he paused “I don’t know.”  “Very well, it is not important.  Young Barton, may I ask if you were deserting?”  

             “No sir, I was just going on a little sightseeing trip, to the ridge, sir.”  “With a stolen Springfield?  Yes, if you ask me, that sounds a bit peculiar.” Blurted the judge.  “A sightseeing trip with a rifle, which was most likely loaded, in the opposite direction of the camp?  I can’t allow deserting your duty to be unpunished.  I would hate to wrongly accuse a man, but we have no time for these petty trials.  The usual punishment for this crime is either hanging or being presented to a firing squad.  We have no proper gallows, so on the morrow, you will be shot at Herr’s ridge.  It’s far enough from the Yankee camps that they won’t hear the shot.”

             Jacob froze in his seat.  His face turned pale white.  At the mere thought of execution, he gasped.  Lead.  Cold, then burning hot, ripping at him like brimstone out of the Devil’s eyes.  He wasn’t deserting.  He had taken the rifle, yes, but the man was asleep, and what if he was attacked at the ridge?  His own rifle had been broken for some while now.  Was he really heading in the opposite direction of his destination?  If he was, the fault was on the dark.  And he didn’t resist arrest; he accidentally hit the guard out of fright.  How could a trial so short condemn a man to death when it was less than three minutes long?

             Bartholomew and Heath talked over the sentence for a few seconds.  Eight thirty, he had heard them say.  He was to be shot at eight thirty.  


             When Jacob awoke in the morning, his back had been aching from the position he had been sleeping.  He looked out the dilapidated bars of his holding cell.  A crude, but efficient cell for holding a man, he thought.  It was not light yet, so it could not be near eight thirty.  The guard to his cell was dosing, a crime, Jacob thought, that would be punishable of death.  There was something about his cell, some cold, eerie thought of the last person this cell held.  It was probably an old union prison, abandoned like the pavilion.  

              Jacob wanted to find a way to escape, but it would be useless.  The old bars, however rusted they were, wouldn’t budge.  “Well,” he said to himself, “This will be my last chance to catch another hours sleep before I die.”  Jacob slowly began to fall asleep, and he had his last dream of his life…


              Jacob was ten.  He had been with his father fishing at Owl creek, and they were returning home from their trip.  The weight on both of their shoulders had equaled near fifteen pounds each; Owl creek was the best spot to find a good meal.  

              He and his father had talked about the day, how the sun was just now setting against the golden hills, how the water of the creek had glinted as the rays shone down on it, how the trees rustled as they walked.  Father was telling him that if he could make enough money from the crops, he would buy Jacob a flintlock musket.  His brother had always promised to take him hunting some day, only when father bought him a gun.  That was his big chance!  

               Little did he know at the time, he would be using that gun years later to fight for the Confederacy!  The same gun that broke and made him steal another soldiers weapon and get him into trouble!  

               They had just crossed the hills that led towards their home.  They still had to cross a meadow, another creek (dormant of fish), a pasture, and yet another meadow!  To his surprise, the trip took shorter than he thought.

                They were in town now, just about a mile away from their home.  The steeple of the church stood up to meet the last glaze of the setting sun.  That was one of the things so certain in life: the sun would always set.  The sun would come up in the morning, linger in the sky, and then set.  A mans life was certain to set, too.  That was always for sure.

                The dirt road they walked on was certain to be trampled on.  The dirt was sure to be placed somewhere out of its origin.  A mans life could be unplaced, as well.  

                The leaves on the trees always fell.  They shrivel and die.  Why were things so sure to happen?

                They walked on for another twenty minutes or so until they reached their home.  It was all to quiet.  No smoke coming out of the fireplace, no birds, and the leaves on the trees had stopped rustling.  Father had noticed this too, and gave Jacob a grim look.  They were certain that something very bad had just happened.  Certain.

                Father wasted no time.  He walked up to the door, and without knocking, opened it.  Silence.  They took a look around.  Then they heard it.  

                A noise came from outside, loud, but growing fainter.  It was the sound of horse hooves.  They had just been robbed by thieves.  

                Father checked the back rooms; no one was there.  Jacob checked the kitchen; his mother was not cooking.  She was gone as well.  In a panic, Jacob searched the back yard.  He searched the ransacked rooms for some sign, but it was in vain.  His father ran into the living room where a musket hung above the mantel.  Jacob could not stop him as he loaded and rode off into the sunset.  A short time later, he heard a single shot ringing in the distance.

                A trumpet had just sounded.  Jacob looked around, and realized he was in his cell.  The thoughts of the dream scared him, but not as much as the guard opening the cell door.

                “Eight twenty four.  My orders are to take you to Herr’s ridge at once.” Said the guard.  Jacob gave him a grim look, and followed him along the path.  He could see a mass of soldiers near a hill, and a long pole was being put into the ground.

                “Colonel, get me four soldiers with good guns.  Tell them to load up.  Don’t tell them why.”  Barked Heath.  “Four percussion cap rifles, on the double!”

                Minutes later, Jacob saw four men with rifles, percussion cap rifles.  He had an old flintlock, nothing like the guns his executioners had!  He heard that a Minnie ball could be shot 300 yards using a percussion cap!

                 “Bring in the prisoner!” yelled Heath.  He was held in place next by two soldiers.  They kept him at the bottom of the hill until given the order to commence the execution.  “Secure the prisoner!” ordered Heath.  Jacob was led up to the pole.  His arms, feet, and legs were tied with cloth.  He looked around.  It was then he saw the four soldiers forming a line.  “Aim at the chest, boys.  Aim at the chest.  No need to waste a shot.” He heard one whisper.  An officer blindfolded Jacob and secured him to the pole.  So this was it.  His last breathes.  If only his brother or father was here.  “Shoulder arms!” yelled an officer.  Time lingered.  “Make ready!”  He heard the rifles clicking.  Then he heard the ramrods.  “Take aim!”  Jacob was about to faint.  He could not bear this.  His last thoughts drifted towards his lost mother.  They would shoot any second now… “Fire!”

                  Jacob’s body leaned lifelessly against the pole.  The soldiers did not re-load, for he was dead when the shots hit his chest.  Lead met blood, and he was gone.

                 Shortly after Jacob Barton’s execution, Union troops stormed over McPherson’s ridge.  Bartholomew was wrong.  They heard the shots, and they thought a battle had started.  Heath was forced to retreat, although he later re-advanced.  Some say that if Jacob Barton had not been executed, the battle of Gettysburg may have been a loss for the Union.  Casualties from the first predicament turned the tide, and a few days later, the Union won the Battle all because of the execution at Herr’s ridge.  Although the confederates won a few minor skirmishes, the main fighting was a loss for Heath because he had not been prepared for the attack.  He lost so many troops that he could not give men to Lee at Pickets charge.  

Author's Notes/Comments: 

This is a fictional story I wrote about the execution of a soldier in the civil war.  Most (as in 99.9 %) of the names and places mentioned in this story were true.  The events in this story never happened, save the battle of Gettysberg.  If you like the Civil War, read on, brother.  I wrote this short story because one similar to this inspired me: An occurance at owl creek.  It is about a man who is accused of treason in the civil war, and he is hung.  If you compare the two stories, they are very similar.  Execution.  And again, we must open our eyes.  Too many inmates are executed each and every year who were falsely accused.  How would you like to ride the lightening because of false accusations?  Even if a man DID murder someone, it isn't setting a good example to the rest of us by teaching people that violence is the sollution.  

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