This is something I've been working on for months and finally got it finished in a burst of creativity. XD
July 5, 1863, Evening.
Winfield Hancock sat gingerly at a low table in the Union headquarters, his knees bumping the edge as he looked over the figures of the battle not two days past. He ran a hand through his hair wearily, his wound suddenly giving an unbidden protest. He tried to hide a wince, pressed his lips together in a thin line for a moment before the pain passed. A nail, he reflected with a brief, wry grimace. What on earth do they use for ammunition over there?
Over there. His smile faded. Lo had been one of the men 'over there', he knew. He'd had no word yet of what happened to him after the battle yet. Where he was now, if he was even still... He shook his head abruptly.
There are times when a corps commander's life does not count. He'd said that and meant it. Not just his life, but the things he'd done with his life. The memories he shared with Lo... All that had had to be cast aside for this battle. He would do his duty to the end, whenever it might come.
Bootsteps approached the table, audible despite the bustle of headquarters, and he looked up. "Captain Bingham," he greeted. "What can I do for you?"
The 22-year-old judge-advocate's face wore a wearied expression that Hancock suspected was not unlike his own. They'd all been through a lot in the past few days, and that was putting it mildly.
"Sir, I've just returned from the field hospital. I was given something to be delivered to you."
Hancock nodded, inviting the younger man to show him. Henry Bingham withdrew from an inner pocket several items. Among them, a pair of spurs and a pocket-watch with the Masonic square and compass upon it.
Winfield suddenly felt as if a block of ice had entered his chest, despite the stifling atmosphere of the house in the summer heat. He tried to steady his breathing, glanced up at Bingham, whose face was set in a solemn expression as he carefully laid the objects on the wooden tabletop. "Who gave you these, Captain?" he asked softly, barely trusting himself to speak, almost having to force the words from his throat.
"A Rebel general by the name of Armistead," Bingham replied quietly. "He did say you were old friends, sir, and that he felt he had done you a most grievous injury."
Win nodded, paused and swallowed, needing to ask. "Where– where was he taken? Is he– alright?"
"The Spangler Farm, sir," Bingham replied. He paused, trying to break the news to his commander. Hancock waited, his stomach lurching slightly at Bingham's hesitation. He already knew the answer that would come.
"He died, sir. Not an hour ago."
Winfield closed his eyes for a long moment, gripping the table edge until his hand began to hurt. He took a deep breath, carefully holding onto his composure, feeling as if any second, it would shatter and scatter to the winds. Looking to the objects on the table, then back at Bingham, he nodded. "Thank you, Captain," he said quietly, surprised at the steadiness of his tone.
Bingham nodded, sensing his commander's mood. "Is there anything else I can do, sir?" Hancock shook his head. "Excuse me, sir," Bingham said quietly, saluting. Win returned the salute and after Bingham had left, he looked back at the papers on the table and the watch and spurs atop them, thoughts tumbling through his mind like a child's runaway marbles.
After another moment, Win stood, carefully steadying himself at the flash of pain that came from his wound again. He needed to get out of the building; the air seemed too close now. Carefully pocketing the belongings he'd been given, and motioning for an aide to take over the paperwork, the general limped out to the small porch, leaning heavily against the rail.
It was early twilight now, the sky at that point between darkness and sunset, the colors mixing in a strangely beautiful way. He recalled being able to see this exact same phenomena when he'd been out West, in California, but it had been much more vivid there, so close to the ocean.
The thought brought a sharp pang with it. That night in California, after Fort Sumter, seemed to be the sunset on their old lives, of everything they'd known before then.
He took a heavy breath, let it out in a long, shuddering sigh, closed his eyes for a long moment. Lo, gone. It hardly seemed possible. In his mind, he saw his friend, the graying hair and high forehead, hearing the dry sarcasm in his voice as he replied to a joke from a comrade. Old Lo.
He shook his head, looking towards the stone wall barely 500 yards from where he stood, suddenly remembering the events of two days ago, the wild swirling colors, the flying shells and bullets. Mounting the horse, riding behind the lines, encouraging the men, being hit– it all seemed to melt together in a whirl of images, so vivid they stole his breath for a moment and he choked on air.
He stumbled off the small porch, waving off the aides who tried to stop him. He knew he shouldn't be walking, his leg was agony, but he had to get away from the headquarters. He limped past the artillerymen tending their guns, most of them having been removed from the stone wall already. Saw the burial details moving everywhere; how many dead? How many his boys? How many for the Rebs? He had to stop and lean against a caisson's wheel for a moment, catching his breath. The young lieutenant looked at him in surprise, began to salute, but Hancock waved it off. "It's alright, son. Just resting a minute."
"Yes, sir," the young man answered after a brief hesitation. He followed Win's gaze across the field, was silent for a long moment. "Sure seemed to be hell on earth out there those past few days… And I was helping create some of the hellfire, too." He looked towards his cannon, a 10-pound Parrott, as though it was a loved pet. But there was regret in his eyes, too, as if watching that pet die from an incurable sickness. Winfield nodded. The disease of war.
The lieutenant glanced at Hancock, not certain if he should have said anything, but he seemed to take Win's silence as an invitation to go on. "I mean… We saw 'em comin' over the wall like that, and we all knew what we had to do… But it was a slaughter, sir." He removed his red kepi, crumpled it in his hand. "Who would think men could do this? To each other?" He coughed, cleared his throat, replaced the kepi, suddenly self-conscious. "Apologies, sir… I may have spoken too boldly."
Win shook his head. "No. You've spoken a truth many of us, perhaps most of us, would agree with, son." He looked back over the field. "This'll go on until it's over, though. And who knows when that'll be. But I'll do my part to make sure we win. And to try to ensure as many men come out alive as possible in the end." He shook his head. "But the cost'll be high, regardless. It always was." He straightened, leaned more weight on his good leg, the other still alive with pain, began to turn away.
The lieutenant nodded. "Yes, sir… Thank you." After a pause, he saluted, his gaze showing his deep respect. Returning the salute, Win limped back to the small white house.
Stepping back inside, he sat back at the field desk, the aide who'd been writing practically springing out of the chair to let him sit down. Winfield had to smile slightly, the smile instantly turning into a grimace as his leg gave a painful stab. He took a breath, gritted his teeth slightly, waiting for the pain to pass. Don't go pushing yourself too much, Win… The wound would heal, if he let it. Pulling out the old pocket watch for a moment, he nodded slowly. All wounds did in time.
Henry Bingham was a real person and did serve on Hancock's staff at Gettysburg. His meeting with Lo Armistead is immortalized in the Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial at Gettysburg National Cemetery.
Hope y'all liked it! R&R, please :)