My name is Finn McCauley, and I died on June 12, 1864, on a battlefield as hot and as bloody as I had ever seen. As a scout and reconnaissance officer in General Custer’s cavalry, my role was more lurking, skirting, and alerting about all things to do with Death, not confronting the beast face to face.
The camp, while less convenient, and starker, than the one previous, was still orderly, with rows of tents in precise lines, and avenues between wide enough to accommodate artillery or two horsemen riding side by side. When your surroundings have order, so then does your spirit, the General once said, and I found it to be true, as the men, even surrounded, had faith in their leader and in “Custer’s Luck”.
I was the man who alerted the General about Hampton’s Confederate cavalry brigade approaching on our right flank, albeit late, as we suffered casualties, but the General was determined to prevail, and when our flag-bearer was shot, he took the flag and hid it in his jacket, so the enemy could not claim it.
I remember well the heat, the kind of profound and airless heat that would comfort the Devil himself. Yet my thoughts were not of the Devil, or Death, even then. I thought of Laura, whom I was to marry upon my return. Perhaps all doomed men dream of their loved ones. Or perhaps all men, doomed or not, dream of the moment of return, away from a merciless sun, mud, dust, insects, the stench of a thousand men and their blood and their waste, the futile cries of the wounded and broken, the scent of fresh dirt, dug to bury the fallen.
Was I buried? Or left behind during our retreat?
And I remember another, searing heat, not from without but from within, and praying that my horse would not suffer. Yes, that was my last thought.
Are all men so trivial, so banal, so inconsequential? Do all such men deserve to die?
- The Battle of Trevilian Station
- Image: Cavalry Orderly, Rappahannock Station, Va., 1864, Edwin Forbes