Author Note: Titled after the beautiful piece by Randy Edelman. I had always wondered what the day following Pickett's Charge could have been like. Let me know what you think.
He wasn't sure how long he had sat in the rain the night before, to long obviously. The ache in his knees was telling him he was getting to old for this, to old for this soldier business. It hadn't been that long had it? Only over a year. Chamberlain glanced up at the chair across from him, feeling his stomach fall when he remembered that Kilrain would never sit there again. There was no use in using it now. He stared into oblivion, remembering Tom's words.
"He said to tell you goodbye, and that he was sorry."
He rubbed his eyes hastily. He'd never again see the witty spark in the old Irishman's eye. That divine spark, it was gone forever and Chamberlain had never said goodbye.
He turned his attention to the account in front of him, the charge on what he now knew to be called Little Round Top. A tally of missing, wounded, and killed sat at the top of the page in his neat small script. He frowned at it, remembering Kilrain's words.
"If he's an angel then he damn well must be a killer angel."
He had found Buster's cynicism interesting at the time, now he began to realize the feeling behind it. Man very well may be capable of wonderful things, but this war was a testament to how evil man could be as well. He stood slowly, feeling the pull in his legs. Buster had been right, he should have ridden the horse.
He stepped out of the tent quickly, his report in hand and noticed Ellis Spear speaking quietly with Tom. The conversation seemed to end, Ellis nodded his head slightly and walked back into the myriad of tents. Chamberlain noted how his brother waited quietly for him, uncharacteristically patient. Not something he would have expected from the 23 year old at home. He felt Buster's resentment rising in the back of his mind. This war was taking too much, his health, his brother's liveliness, and most of all the lives of countless men that now lay in shallow graves dug in haste on either side of the lines.
He didn't even slow as he passed Thomas, and wasn't surprised when his stride was matched easily by the younger man. They hadn't spoken since the day before, other than mentioning that today was Independence Day, July 4th and that no one had felt much like celebrating.
He limped his way up the steps of the little white farm house, his foot still painful from the battle on Round Top. He glanced down at the tattered boot as they stood on the porch. Wondering to himself if maybe he should have cleaned up before coming to speak with Hancock. He highly doubted the General cared much of what his men looked like at this point. If he had heard correctly from Tom the man was nursing a bullet wound to the side, but had refused to sit in a field hospital.
The thought made him realize Tom was still there, hanging slightly behind to his left. He furrowed his brow in question, though before Tom could voice an answer the door opened and they were ushered into the cramped house that served as Meade's Headquarters. Both saluted quickly, it was such a normal gesture anymore no one really ever thought of it consciously.
Hancock greeted the two cordially, "Chamberlain! I've been waiting for your report, I have quite a bit of reading material now though. Yesterday was the worst I've seen since Fredericksburg."
Chamberlain nodded, "Yes sir, it was."
Hancock became almost wistful, taking the cigar from his mouth he looked out the window at the burial details. "This war needs to end Chamberlain, I'm afraid I can not see one though."
"Everything ends sir, but I think it will be up to who can hold out longer, not who has the larger numbers."
Hancock barked out a laugh, cringing at the sudden pain the movement caused. Putting a hand to his injured side he pointed his cigar at the Maine man. "It is definitely not numbers Colonel, we have had superior numbers far too many times and been beaten soundly. I agree, whoever can hold on will determine this."
There was a lull in the conversation, Chamberlain studying his boots, Hancock staring out the window, and Thomas standing awkwardly with his hands behind his back. He'd learned military etiquette very well, a Lieutenant did not move unless invited to do so when in the presence of a superior officer. He waited silently for his turn.
Hancock spoke suddenly, "Did you find the story of the two brothers Chamberlain? I am still wondering where such irony can be found."
Chamberlain was surprised at this, "I'm sorry sir I have not, I have been rather busy."
Hancock smiled tightly, eyes shining. "My apologies Colonel, we all have more important things to deal with right now."
An image of Buster flashed behind his eyes and Chamberlain spoke quietly, sympathetic. "May I ask his name?"
Hancock shifted, easing the pressure from his right side. "Lo Armistead commands one of Pickett's Brigades. He was out there yesterday. I hear rumors he was wounded."
From the corner of his eye Chamberlain noticed Tom look away sharply, he felt his stomach turn.
Hancock continued to look out the window, "I'd like to speak with him again."
Chamberlain leaned heavily on his good foot. "I haven't heard anything sir."
Hancock looked away from the window and back at the two men in front of him. He smiled again, though it was very forced. "Do you often bring a party Colonel?" He slapped the arm of the youngest man good naturedly, "What brings you to headquarters Lieutenant…?" He paused, not knowing the young man's name. Tom finally spoke and Chamberlin was very surprised at how formal his brother was. Considering he pleaded not to be addressed by his first name on a regular basis.
"Lieutenant Chamberlain sir."
Hancock looked between the two, no likeness at all other than eye color. "Brothers?"
They answered together, "Yes sir."
He looked at Chamberlain knowingly, "You have more than your share to worry about Colonel." He turned back to the younger brother, "Well then Lieutenant Chamberlain, what can I do for you?"
Thomas looked at the ground before meeting eyes with the General again. "I was given a message to relay to you sir."
"It's from General Armistead sir."
Hancock's eyes brightened, "How is he?"
Tom removed his kepi, holding it in the same manner he had when telling Chamberlain about Buster, when listening to Armistead. He disliked this job of messenger greatly. He repeated what the Confederate General had told him word for word. "General Armistead sends his regrets, and he wanted you to know how very sorry he is."
Hancock rubbed his eyes roughly, "Was he wounded? What farm was he taken to?"
Chamberlain noted how tensely his younger brother stood, it was a habit he'd had since they were very young. He would become very rigid and uncomfortable when being asked for information he was unwilling to give. His heart sank, he knew what was coming, and suddenly realized why Tom had been so distant. For the past two days the youngest Chamberlain had been forced to be the bearer of bad news.
Tom twisted the hat in his hand, looking the General in the eye. "I'm sorry sir, General Armistead was wounded, he did not make it."
Hancock stared at the young man in shock, before limping his way to his writing desk and sitting heavily. No longer noticing the pain in his side. Regaining his composure he looked back at the Chamberlain brothers, both had their caps off now, watching him quietly.
Tom's voice was barely above a whisper, "I wanted to tell you personally sir, I was with him."
Hancock nodded but said nothing, he looked at the papers in front of him blankly. When he did speak again his tone was very quiet. "
"California, the last time we spoke was California. He vowed, to never raise a hand against me." He looked out through the window again. "God I wish I could have said goodbye." He nodded again to Tom in thanks and stood slowly, still in apparent shock. Both brothers gave their condolences and took their leave. Hancock moved to the door and held it for them, thanking them once again as they exited.
Walking up the path past the barn Chamberlain heaved a sigh, in the darkness surrounding them it was easy to spot the lanterns moving about the fields. Even easier to hear the cries of the wounded and dying. He attempted to block it from his senses, wishing to hear Buster's friendly advice right now or to hear Tom talk about the 2nd Maine boys. His brother was silent, though, and that bothered him just as much as the cries from the fields.
They were both alive, that's all that mattered at this point. The familiar presence at his side was the most comforting feeling during these times. He couldn't imagine writing home if the worst had happened here, if Tom had been wounded on Round Top he would never forgive himself, he wondered if he'd forgive himself for merely placing the boy in the line. It had been the most terrifying moment of his life. He never worried about himself and realizing he had thrown Tom into enemy fire without a second thought made his stomach lurch. Hancock was right, this needed to end.
They stopped along the stone wall, one of those instances where neither of them needed to voice a thought. Tom spoke out into the darkness suddenly, startling Chamberlain.
"It's not rats."
Chamberlain looked in his direction, unseeing and confused. "What's not rats?"
"It's not rats, it's rights. Fighting for my rights."
Chamberlain didn't understand, "Tom what are you talking about?"
"It's what they're fighting for," He gestured towards the enemy lines. " I spoke to a prisoner the other day and for the longest time I thought he said he was fighting for rats. You know how they talk down there, I hadn't thought back on it till now."
Chamberlain was silent, they'd discussed this subject before. There were too many different reasons.
"We did agree on one thing."
Chamberlain was surprised, Tom agreed with a reb? "What was that?"
"That we've seen enough of this war. What about you Lawrence?"
He let the name slide, just hearing Tom's voice at this point was a comfort.
"I've seen enough, we all have. We can only hope it ends soon."
"We're no different Lawrence, they're just like us."
Chamberlain was silent, remembering Buster's words.
"I'm Kilrain, and I damn all gentlemen."
The lanterns floated through the fields, macabre fireflies dancing in the darkness. A symbol of the catastrophe that had taken place there. A heaviness hung in the air, the damp mist from the days rain only adding to the thickness that surrounded them.
Chamberlain began walking again, his pace much slower than before. He reached his tent and turned back to the Lieutenant of the 20th Maine. Grabbing the younger man by the shoulders he pulled him into a crushing embrace. Tom was surprised but returned the gesture, said goodnight and disappeared into the darkness. The Colonel stood at the entrance of his tent until he could no longer hear the younger man's careful movements through the muddied ground.
Chamberlain eased himself onto the cot, unbelted his sword and propped his injured foot onto the end board. Before lying down he reached behind the makeshift bed and pulled a confiscated flask up from the ground. It had been Buster's.
He placed it on the chair his old friend would so easily make himself at home, turning down the lamp he spoke aloud to the emptiness surrounding the tent.
"You were a true gentleman Buster Kilrain. You will be remembered the way you deserve, not the way your father deserved."
The lanterns continued to perform their dance over the bloodied fields, and they would continue for another two years.