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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBefore The Dawn: A Story Of The Fall Of Richmond - Chapter 17. The Wilderness
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Before The Dawn: A Story Of The Fall Of Richmond - Chapter 17. The Wilderness Post by :Refugee Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph A. Altsheler Date :May 2012 Read :2604

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Before The Dawn: A Story Of The Fall Of Richmond - Chapter 17. The Wilderness

CHAPTER XVII. THE WILDERNESS

There is in Virginia a grim and sterile region the name of which no American ever hears without a shudder. When you speak to him of the Wilderness, the phantom armies rise before him and he hears the thunder of the guns as the vast struggle sweeps through its shades. He sees, too, the legions of the dead strewn in the forest, a mighty host, and he sighs to think so many of his countrymen should have fallen in mutual strife.

It is a land that deserves its name. Nature there is cold and stern. The rock crops up and the thin red soil bears only scrub forest and weary bushes. All is dark, somber and lonely, as if the ghosts of the fallen had claimed it for their playground.

The woodchopper seeks his hut early at night, and builds high the fire for the comfort of the blaze. He does not like to wander in the dark over the ground where vanished armies fought and bled so long. He sees and hears too much. He knows that his time--the present--has passed with the day, and that when the night comes it belongs again to the armies; then they fight once more, though the battle is soundless now, amid the shades and over the hills and valleys.

Now and then he turns from the fire and its comradeship and looks through the window into the darkness. He, too, shudders as he thinks of the past and remembers the long roll, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania and the others. Even the poor woodchopper knows that this melancholy tract of ground has borne more dead men's bones than any other of which history tells, and now and then he asks why, but no one can give him the answer he wishes. They say only that the battles were fought, that here the armies met for the death struggle which both knew was coming and which came as they knew.

The Wilderness has changed but little in the generation since Grant and Lee met there. The sullen soil is sullen and unyielding still. As of old it crops up here in stone and there turns a thin red tint to the sun. The sassafras bushes and the scrub oaks moan sadly in the wind, and few human beings wander over the desolate hills and valleys.

At Gettysburg there is a city, and the battlefield is covered with monuments in scores and scores, and all the world goes to see them. The white marble and granite shafts and pillars and columns, the green hills and fields around, the sunshine and the sound of many voices are cheerful and tell of life; you are not with the dead--you are simply with the glories of the past.

But it is different when you come to the Wilderness. Here you really walk with ghosts. There are no monuments, no sunshine, no green grass, no voices; all is silent, somber and lonely, telling of desolation and decay. To many it is a more real monument than the clustering shafts of Gettysburg. All this silence, all this abandonment tell in solemn and majestic tones that here not one great battle was fought, but many; that here in one year shone the most brilliant triumph of the South; and here, in another year, she fought her death struggle.

When you walk among the bushes and the scrub oaks and listen to the desolate wind you need no inscription to tell you that you are in the Wilderness.

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