by Paul Rogers
Rolling farmland. April. An invigorating snap was evident in the air. Daisies danced in the breeze. Blue skies and white clouds, fluffy and dreamy. The sun, bright and yellow, beamed down onto the fields of Appomattox and bathed them in soothing light. A cardinal sang forth happily from the blossoming branches of an apple tree. It was a special day. A day like no other. A day to drink in and savor because the likes of it would never, ever roll around again, though the earth might spin forever. The gentle wind rustled through the quiet fields and orchards. It traveled down the hushed country lanes. It ruffled the hair of the multitude of silent, stony men whom Destiny had drawn to this peaceful burg.
Column upon column, rank upon rank of these uniformed warriors occupied the fragrant fields. They leaned expectantly upon their muskets and tried to affect an indifferent look, but they were excited. Deep down inside, they were exuberant. The enemy was to surrender today. A stillness filled the air.
Private Benjamin Sherwood of the 122nd New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry whispered to his pard in the ranks. "Will you but look at those with whom we have battled for the past four years? They are not fit to be properly called soldiers." Private Joseph Smith muttered back. "They are abject tramps and ruffians. Surely, for such miserable specimens of manhood, their own mothers would fail to recognize them." The two comrades, veterans of many a bitter contest, stood motionless in amongst the ranks of their fellows, brass buckles and buttons shining even through the dust that coated their faded blue uniforms. They watched the procession of dirty, tired men pass by, slouching and shuffling, steel-shod heels striking sparks every so often.
Some of the proud Federals struck an aloof, snobbish attitude, refusing even to look at their foe. Others looked angry. Most were just plain exhausted and wanted to go home. Sherwood surveyed the motley congregation of blue and grey. "Barely a dry eye in the house", he mumbled. The cardinal continued to serenade the troops. "Accursed traitorous fowl. I ought to..." Smith disgustedly began, but the oaths had barely cleared his mouth before he was cut off when his regiment began its last march - The Last March, he numbly thought. His mind whirled - and he and old friend Sherwood were caught up in the current and drawn inexorably along, tramp, tramp, tramping, Glory Hallelujah, down the dusty lane with its rich, earthy smell of Virginia's sacred soil stained by so many Union men with their sweat and frustration. And then they were entering the yard of the McLean House where the river of soiled blue rolled and flowed, solemnly stacked arms, rolled their state flags, and turned over the torn, cherished banners of unity - the Red, White, and Blue of the National colors - and then turned and marched away
away Down South in the Land of Cotton
and the brass eagle turned an expressionless eye to see them pass through the now obnoxiously loud, jeering ranks of grey. And like a river, they rolled and flowed on and on until, as will occasionally occur in nature, the source dried up - and all the men went away - and Appomattox fell silent again.
...Until that evening when the full moon had risen and the Joe Ayres Band had gotten fired up and the stump dance began in earnest. Then, one could drink of Jack Daniels and Sour Mash to his heart's content and bray forth such time-tested salutations as "YEE-HA" and "HOO-EE" and cackle insanely and endlessly repeat "YEEEE-OOOOOO! AH TOL YOU WE ALL'UD WIN AT APPERMATTOX!!! YEEHEEHEE HEEHEEHEEHEEHEEHEE!!!" And over it all would flow the sweet strains of right honorable Southern ballads like "Dixie" by Dan Emmett, "Camptown Races" by Stephen Foster, and "Sweet Home, Alabama" by Lynard Skynard. The screams of passion from the rednecky camp women in their flowing Scarlett O'Hara ball gowns with the low cut busts did not cease until morning, and the local farmers of the area still relate how hard they labored to clear the mounds of alcohol-induced vomit from their fields even as sultry August buzzed and hummed about their ears in the soft summer twilight.