The weathered wood walls, splintered and cracked, still vibrate

with the spirit of the New Jersey Blues. They were a volunteer militia

of farm-boys with muscled arms, hardened by stacking lichen-encrusted stone walls,

who walked away from weeping mothers for a chance to test their courage.


I still hear the echoing thump of boots mired in dried cow dung

marching in close-order drill. A sergeant with mutton-cheek whiskers

barks out a jumble of orders: Shoulder arms! Lock and load muskets,

fix bayonets! Forward march!

Seeking relief from the drudgery of dawn to dusk farm routine, soldiers cheerfully

march off, singing “Hang Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree…” Innocent, they have no

idea of the baptism of fire that lies ahead in the unspeakable carnage of the battlefield.

But canteens rattle as empty as the will to fight. Terrified and homesick between

tedious stretches of boredom, they wait for orders. Nothing ever works as planned.

blistered feet refuse to walk another step.

They are soon immersed in a mystic sea of smoke and blood facing violent

skirmishes and rolling crashes of engagement under a blazing sun.

A deserter hides on his back in a field of Queen Anne’s Lace, comforted by a glimpse

of an opalescent milky-blue sky.

Each must struggle with the fear-driven impulse to run the other way,

as many do, shamed with a load in the back of their pants.

Behind the whir of bullets from a Gatling Gun, steel ramrods clank and clang,

jammed into hot rifle barrels. The pulsating thunder of cannons unnerve even

those who choose not to flee. Scarlet flames envelope trees in a whirling wind,

scorched leaves float down on bodies unable to move.

Violence ensues in perfect pandemonium. Volleys of musketry leave blood-spattered men

falling like snow down on warm ground. The entire world’s pain is squandered

on the stillness of an open field, tawny ghosts hover over

survivors, grave-diggers for each other under an indifferent sky. Meandering

hogs feed on the un-gathered dead. A gangrenous stink of putrefaction lingers,

ignored by swarms of mosquitoes and a plague of flies. Vultures scavenge on

torn bodies and rivulets of blood. Survivors limp home with missing limbs,

eyes, and no way to describe the shared incommunicable experience of war.


Milton P. Ehrlich 199 Christie St. Leonia, N.J. 07605