Good Men: Journal of a Union Soldier

July 2, 1863

Gettysburg, PA

The fighting has finished for today. I've never seen it so bad before. I can still smell the gun smoke. That smell of burnt powder is making me sick, just as I am sick of this damned war. I hope God won't let it go on too much longer. Everybody here does.

I count myself lucky. My regiment received orders to launch an attack on the center of the Confederate army line. We got ourselves into quite the nasty situation. Most of us didn't come back from that one. We can't hardly call ourselves a regiment anymore, thanks to those Johnny Rebs. Now, with most of my regiment still out there on the fields, I can't help but wonder if the General knew what he was doing, sending us at them like that. I'd still follow him anywhere, though. General Hancock is a great commander. In fact, I spoke with him, not an hour and a half ago.

I was staring across the fields at the Confederate camp, thinking about that attack today, when I heard him coming along the ridge behind me. I turned and saluted him as he walked up. He gave me a nod and said, "It was rough out there today. Ol' Lee ain't gonna give this one up so easy." He sat a small ways away from me, taking off his hat and looking out 'cross the fields, like I was.

"Sir", I asked him, "How much longer do you think this war will go?" He didn't answer me strait away. He just asked me what my name was and how old I was. I told him my name and that I was 12 years old.

"God, only twelve…" he said, looking up at the sky. Then he looked back at me saying, "Boys your age shouldn't have to see stuff like this. Shouldn't have to be involved in stuff like this. I don't know when this'll end. For all I know, this fight could be it. The final confrontation." he said, with a kinda dreamy look in his eyes. Then he asked me, "Son, do you know what the worst thing about this war is?"

After seeing some of my best friends from back home in the North get killed horribly, right before my eyes, I already knew my answer to that question. "Well, sir, I should say it's all the good people dying out there on the fields", I said.

The General nodded slowly. I thought it was because he agreed with me, but I wasn't entirely right. He told me something that I'd never thought of before. He said, "It's true that it is a shame so many good men die in this war, but if you ask me, it's the fact that the good men are getting killed by other good men." I frowned at that and asked what he meant. I didn't understand. He looked at me, saying, "This war has a nation pitted against itself. Brother against brother, father against son, friend against friend. All of them good men, fighting for something they believe to be worth fighting for, and this damn war has them killing people they would've proudly fought alongside not six years ago." He got that dreamy look in his eyes again and turned to look out at the Confederate encampment again. "I find myself fighting a friend of mine in this war. His name's Lew Armistead. He's probably over there in that camp right now. Neither one of us wants to fight the other, but we have our own respective countries to serve. I keep hoping that we can survive this war. Then everything will be as it should be." With that he stood, told me to get some rest for tomorrows campaign, and walked back to camp. I still sat there for awhile yet, thinking about what he said.

General Hancock himself had a friend, who he called a good man, in the Confederate army. Surely that means that at least some of the Confederates are still good people. And if some are, who's to say they all ain't good people? The General's right. War is a nasty little devil that's got us fighting our own. There ain't nothing worse than that. Good men fighting good men.

John C. Richards

1st Minnesota