Blue and Gray



By Penny McQueen




Captain John Cannon shifted position against a rock and listened to the wind shaking leaves in the treetops. A black snake, mouth full of tree frog, slithered just beyond his boot toe and into the undergrowth. Peering through the darkness, he counted his men ringed around a small fire, voices murmuring softly. Reinforcements arrived at Little Round Top late in the night, allowing Captain Cannon to withdraw his company for a brief rest. He leaned his head wearily against the rock, counting the cost of holding the hill against rebel forces. Half his command lost in one day, but they’d by-God held the line.


The sound of trickling water came to him from the broad creek, along with a different set of voices. Slow as sorghum vowels drawled against the velvet blackness, identifiable even as the words were lost. John hitched himself higher against the rock and spoke loudly across the water. “Johnny Reb?”


A voice drifted back across the night, painfully young. “Yes, sir. I reckon you ain’t wearing gray.”


Chuckling, he answered, “No son, I’m not wearing gray.”


“Sir, you reckon we kin figure this here creek’s the Mason-Dixon line for the rest of tonight? We-uns spent all day a-marching at two big hills and are plumb wore out.”


Cannon rested his head against the rock, trying to see stars through the overhanging trees. Gettysburg won’t be won at this creek. “I think we can.” The boy sounded young. Five years older than Blue? Staring into the dark, his thoughts drifted. Two years, boy changes in two years. He shook himself, clenched his jaw. No time to look back, time enough later to look ahead.  “You got a name, Johnny Reb?”


“Private Tyler, sir.” A rustle of dead leaves and sticks followed the voice. “You a private, too, Yankee?”


Staring at the men huddled around the fire, John Cannon counted the dead and wounded, pictured in his mind tomorrow’s battle, calculated a likely total. “No, Private Tyler. Captain.” He leaned forward, barked an order for his sergeant. “How many men on your side of the Mason-Dixon line, Private?”


A low laugh, followed by, “More’n you got, Cap’n Yankee.”


His non-com arrived and listened to Cannon’s whispered instructions. The grizzled veteran argued in low tones, finally assenting at his Captain’s sharp, “That’s an order, Sergeant.” The soldier melted away into the cover of night as Cannon called across the water, “Private? You send someone to the big rock, middle of the creek. Now.” He stood quickly, striding away from the creek and into the night.


“What you got in mind, Cap’n Yankee? Hey, you there?” Snapping twigs popped in the night, then the young voice, fainter, “Sergeant! Yo, Sergeant!”


Long minutes passed, the quiet of the woods broken by the wind in the branches, the musical spark of water over stone. Night frogs splashed in the creek, croaking happily, unaware that tomorrow the water itself would run red with blood. A voice, flatter than the pure molasses of Private Tyler, called across the night. “Mister Captain Blue-belly? Them’s good bacon an’ beans and I do appreciate yore consideration. I was thinkin’, if you was to get captured tomorrow, might be you could ask for me. Sergeant Buck Cannon. Might be I could return the favor.”



2005 Penny McQueen