Killed at Resaca - Ambrose Bierce
Killed at Resaca
The best soldier in our regiment was Lieutenant Herman Brayle. Brayle's home was in Ohio. None of us knew him well, but our general liked him.
Lieutenant Brayle was a tall and handsome man. He had gray-blue eyes and long blond hair. His shoulders were wide and he had long legs. He always wore his best uniform, even when he was in a battle. He was a well educated gentleman, and he was about thirty years old. Artists like to paint pictures of soldiers who look like Brayle.
Brayle was either very brave, or very foolish. He did not behave like other men.
Soon after Brayle joined our regiment, we fought a big battle. Men were killed on his right, and men were killed on his left. But no weapons injured Brayle himself. He never tried to find a safer position. He walked, or rode his horse slowly, as the bullets and cannon shells flew through the air.
Everyone noticed him. The fighting was terrible but Brayle did not care.
During that battle, the general sent a messenger to Brayle He ordered Brayle to, «Take cover». This was unusual. The general had many things to think about during a battle There was no time to worry about the safety of one man. But the general liked Lieutenant Brayle. He saw Brayle's foolish behavior, and he did not want him to die
In the next battle, Brayle behaved in the same way. He sat his horse where everyone could see him-including the enemy. Ballets and cannon shells did not touch him. Brayle stood like a rock in the center of the battle. He did not move, and nothing hurt him.
After that, we decided that Brayle was neither brave nor foolish. He was simply very lucky.
The general also believed that Brayle had good luck, so Brayle became his messenger. Other messengers were killed, but Brayle was never in trouble. He always delivered the general's messages to our front line successfully.
Our front line was often less than one hundred yards away from the enemy. Our men lay flat on the ground as bullets and shells flew over their heads. But Brayle did not lie on the ground, and he did not keep his head low. He simply walked up to the front line, and delivered his messages to the officers there. Then he returned to the general, to give his report.
Other officers in our regiment spoke to him.
«Don't be a fool, Brayle,» said one captain. «Take cover. Every enemy soldier is aiming his gun at you. Your head will be shot off.»
Brayle smiled. «Thank you for that advice, captain,» he said. «If my head is shot off, you can say, 'I told you so.' I won't mind.»
The captain was killed in the next battle. He was hit by many bullets as he stood in a roadway. Brayle was on the road too. He was going to deliver a message. He got off his horse and pulled the captain's body to the side of the road. The enemy was still firing its guns. Brayle placed the captain's body carefully on the ground. He put the captain's hat over his face. Then he got back on his horse and delivered the message.
After that day, everyone liked Lieutenant Brayle. Brayle was brave and foolish and lucky. We were pleased that he was in our regiment. When he was with us, we felt safe. We wanted his luck too. But Brayle could not be lucky forever.
He was lucky now, but luck does not last.
The regiment reached Resaca, in Georgia. There was only one obstacle between us and the state capital, Atlanta. The enemy had built a line of earthworks at Resaca. The Confederates were behind these earthworks. They were going to stop us reaching Atlanta. The earthworks ran through flat, empty ground and along the top of a ridge. There were trees at each end of the flat ground.
Our regiment stopped moving forward and we camped.
We knew that we were in a good position. Our picket line was in the shape of a half-circle. It went between the two groups of trees. In front of us, there was a big field. The around was soft and wet and had many stones. It was the kind of rough ground that horses cannot cross easily.
The trees were not a problem. They gave us plenty of cover. But we could not move forward easily across the field. There were too many Confederate guns behind the earthworks. We waited for the Confederates to attack us. We expected them to attack at night.
Our general was in the trees at one end of the half-circle. He wanted to send a message to Colonel Ward, who was at the other end of our picket line. The general spoke to Brayle.
«Lieutenant, take this message to Colonel Ward,» he said. «Tell the colonel to move his men forward. They must get closer to the enemy's earthworks. But his men must stay under cover. And they shouldn't fire their guns, unless they can see who is shooting at them. You may leave your horse here.»
Maybe the general's order was not clear. Lieutenant Brayle heard the first part, but he did not listen to the last part. Brayle took no notice of the words, «You may leave your horse here.» The general wanted Brayle to walk through the trees and deliver his message. This would take longer, but it was safer.
A straight line is the shortest distance between two places. Brayle went the shortest way. He got onto his horse, rode out of the trees, and across the rough field. He rode in front of the enemy's guns.
«What is that fool doing?» shouted the general. «Stop him!»
A cavalryman rode after Brayle. Ten seconds later, both the cavalryman and his horse were dead. Their bodies were torn open by hundreds of bullets.
Brayle did not stop or turn around. He galloped his horse slowly across the rough ground. Brayle was less than two hundred yards from the enemy's guns. He smiled as he rode through the smoke and bullets. His hat was shot from his head, and his long, blond hair lifted and fell as his horse moved forward. Brayle sat straight in the saddle. He was holding the reins gently in his left hand. His right hand was down at his side. He looked very handsome and brave and foolish. It was like a scene from a dream, not a scene from real life.
Brayle almost reached the trees on the other side of the field. Why had none of the bullets hit him? I do not know. But there was an obstacle that none of us had seen. There was a stream in front of the trees. Brayle's horse could not jump across the stream. The stream was wide, and the water was deep. The horse stopped. And as soon as it stopped, it was shot.
Brayle and his horse fell to the ground. Brayle stood up. He was all alone and there was no cover. I will always remember that scene. The handsome lieutenant turned toward the enemy's guns and he was hit by many bullets.
Brayle fell to the ground once, twice. Each time, he stood up again. I will always remember the expression on his handsome face. He smiled.
When he fell for the last time, all the Confederates stopped firing their guns. Four men from our regiment walked onto the field. They followed a sergeant who carried a white flag. They picked up Brayle's body.
As our soldiers walked back to our picket lines, several Confederate officers walked toward them. They took off their hats, and helped our men to carry Brayle's body. They carried Brayle back to his own picket lines.
The general gave Brayle's belongings to the other officers in our regiment. He gave me a small book with a leather cover. It was Brayle's notebook.
«Remember Herman Brayle,» the general said. «He was foolish but he was very brave.»
There was a letter inside the book. It was a love letter. It had been written by a woman called Marian Mendenhall. The address was in San Francisco. The last paragraph said:
Lieutenant Winters has visited me, but I don't want to see him again. He was injured in a battle at Virginia. He said that you were in that battle too. Lieutenant Winters told me that you weren't hurt, because you hid behind a tree. I'll always hate him because he said that. He wants me to think badly of you. I don't believe his words. It's better to hear of a lover's death, than his cowardice.
A year later, the war ended and I went to California.
One evening, I visited Miss Mendenhall in San Francisco.
I met the young woman in her fine house on Rincon Hill.
Marian Mendenhall was beautiful and charming. Only a brave and handsome officer should be her husband.
«You knew Lieutenant Herman Brayle,» I said. «He was killed at Resaca. I was in that battle. This letter was in his belongings. It-it's a private letter. I'm returning it to you.»
She took the letter, but did not read it. «You're very kind to bring it to me,» she said. «But it isn't important.»
Suddenly she looked at the letter and her face became pale. «Uh! There's a stain on it,» she said. «Surely, this stain isn't...? It's not blood, is it?»
«Madam,» I said, «I'm sorry, but that is the blood of a very brave officer.»
It was a cold day. A fire was burning in the fireplace. Marian Mendenhall threw the letter into the flames.
«Uh! I cannot look at blood! It makes me ill,» she said. «How did Herman Brayle die?»
I stood up. I was shocked. The letter meant nothing to Miss Mendenhall. But it had been written to a brave man, whom I had liked. I could not save the letter from the fire. It was completely destroyed.
Miss Mendenhall repeated her question.
«How did he die?» she asked. She turned her face toward me. The light from the burning letter shone in her eyes. Now her cheeks had become red. The color reminded me of the stain on the letter. She looked very beautiful.
«He was killed by a snake,» I replied.
— THE END -