Soldier’s Heart

“Cap’n,…Cap’n,… where‘d they go?”

“Shut up, an keep watchin,” barked Captain Titus Barnes as he crouched behind a dead horse, looking around nervously over the grassy plain below.  “They’re out there, in the grass, waiting, watching.”

“Don’t see ‘em,” said 19 year old recruit, Private Archer as he rose to a stranding position to look down off the small ridge where the soldiers had taken refuge in a hollowed dip, a now dry buffalo watering hole  that collected water in the rainy season.  Hoof prints made by buffalo in the rainy season now made bumpy ridges in the hard soil that caused the soldiers to squirm uncomfortably as they tried to hide behind a slim three inches of soil and grass.

Whiff. Whiff. Two arrows flew by.  “Huuh,” gasped Archer, as one arrow sunk into his stomach, its barbed arrowhead protruding from his back. The young soldier looked numbly at the arrow and his now bleeding mid-section. Blood trickled from his lips, his face turned whitish gray, and he collapsed into the circle of six fellow soldiers who huddled behind tufts of grass in the small hollow,

“Stay down, you idiots! Stay down!”  BAM, click, click, BAM. Captain Barnes fired his lever action Henry repeater down the hill aimlessly at the waving blades of prairie grass.  “Dammit!” Barnes cursed as he saw young Archer writhe in pain. Another young recruit, Tibbets, began sobbing as he lay next to his dying friend. Tibbets’ shoulder was bloody, having been nicked by an earlier arrow when the troop had been ambushed by the Indians.

It was spring of 1867, a few short months after Ogala Lakota chief Red Cloud had massacred a cavalry troop from Fort Phil Kearny under Captain William Fetterman, an uprising that was now referred to as Red Cloud’s war.  As the young soldier gurgled his last painful breath, Captain Barnes cursed his own stupidity, for pursuing a small band of Indians who had attacked the supply wagon train being escorted by troops under his command, only to be drawn in to an ambush. Though remaining hidden in the surrounding prairie grass, the Indians now yelled taunts to the entrapped soldiers.

Barnes mind flashed back, some two and a half years before,  to a crowded entrenchment on the southern fringe of  Franklin, Tennessee.  Confederate General Hood had engaged the dug in federals, in a fierce onslaught.  Then Lt Barnes, directed a company of soldiers manning a forward outpost, in front of the main lines defending the city.  Barnes’ 80 soldiers had fought valiantly, against persistent day-long  infantry assaults, and exploding artillery fire. Memories of the deafening noise, smothering smoke, and anguished cries of wounded and dying solders flooded into Barnes consciousness as he closed his eyes and hung his head into the dusty prairie soil.

“Cap’n,…Cap’n,  they’re coming.”  Tibbet’s high pitched voice projected his paralyzing fear.

An Indian warrior, popped up seemingly from nowhere, and came screaming, charging towards the small huddled circle of blue clad soldiers.  Wearing only leather leggings, a breechclout and moccasins, the Indian’s face was painted in reds, yellows with black marks.  The muscles of his chest and arms flexed as he raised a spear, running and screeching towards the cowering shocked soldiers. In a flash, he leapt into the huddled circle, smacking the wide eyed frozen Tibbets on the face with the spear, making a large gash across his cheek, then stabbing the broad brimmed cavalry hat from the head of Archer, and in a continuous motion sprinted with his prize over the dead horse and back into the cover of the tall grass.

BAM, click, click, BAM. Captain Barnes had now risen from his momentary stupor, and fired his Henry repeater in the direction of the now disappeared warrior.

“Wha,…why didn’t he kill me,” mumbled Tibbets.

“Counting coup,” answered the Captain, as his head turned around to survey the location of the Indians.

“What?”

“Counting coup.  It’s a demonstration of a warrior’s bravery, that he can come into our midst, touch us, and escape unharmed,” explained the Captain. “And now he has a prize, Archer’s hat.  The others will now demonstrate their bravery as well.  Their prize will be your scalp.”

“Keep shooting,” growled Corporal Davis, a soldier who had experienced battle against the Confederacy, and now on the plains. “Find a target, make ‘em pay.”

Whiff, thump.   An arrow flew into the huddle and stuck into the shank of the dead horse.  Captain  Barnes flinched and gasped uncontrollably. Then scattered gun fire erupted from the Indians on three sides.

“Aaahh! I’m hit.”  Captain Barnes rolled into a ball and clutched his thigh, now bleeding from a bullet wound.  “Ooww!  Ooww!”  Barnes’ body twitched uncontrollably.  His mind flashed again to the devastated entrenchment near Franklin, when a cannon fired round of canister instantaneously killed three Union troops and put multiple shrapnel wounds into Barnes’ body.  Now, Barnes gasped for breath, wheezing as he instinctively tried to get air into his lungs.

Next, a flaming arrow dropped into the dry grass and the flames took hold, fed by the winds, and began to blow smoke and fire towards the huddled soldiers. The thick smoke began to choke the soldiers, now trapped by fire on one side and a stream of bullets and arrows from the other side.  The Captain’s wheezing, now lead to a coughing fit because of the thick smoke.

“Captain Barnes! Captain,…take hold,” called the Corporal. The Captain continued to shake, in his tight curled position. “Captain,…take hold,” repeated the Corporal. This time he jammed the butt of his Spencer carbine into the Captain’s fanny. The jolt seemed to startle the Captain back the present reality.

“Franklin, … Rebs killed my squad,…happening again.”

“Here, take my kerchief,…bandage your leg,” said the Corporal to his superior.  Taking charge, Corporal Davis turned to the others and barked an order. “Check your ammo, reload,…watch your field of fire, make each shot count.”

Following the direction, the soldiers intensified their fire, holding the Indians at bay. The flames were drawing nearer to their small circle, and the smoke was thickening. Suddenly, there was a gust of wind downhill, pushing the smoke and flames in the direction of the Indians.

“Captain, winds turning in our favor,  I see a horse yonder uphill.  I propose we make a break for it, Sir,”   Corporal Davis suggested. “Perhaps, Sir, if I used your Henry, I’ll cover our escape.”

Captain Barnes grimaced in pain, glanced at his huddled troopers, and at the blowing smoke and fire. He gritted his teeth, nodded, and then handed his 15 shot  lever action repeating rifle to the Corporal. “Load your weapons, boys, Corporal’s gonna cover our escape.”

The soldiers reloaded, and at the Captain’s “GO,” they scrambled from the low trough up the rolling hill towards the loose cavalry horse standing in the distance. The Captain hobbled, favoring his injured leg, using the Spencer as a walking stick. Davis cut loose a barrage of fire with the Henry as his fellow soldiers ran through the smoke.

By evening, the soldiers had returned to the supply train.  Corporal Davis stopped by the wagon where Captain Barnes was now resting his re-bandaged leg.

“I’ll take the eleven to two watch, sir.  How’s your leg?”

“Flesh wound, Corporal.  I’ll live.” The Captain hesitated momentarily, then spoke in a hushed tone.  “About today,…” the Captain gestured with his hand as if to push away a flying insect, “you performed well today, Corporal. Demonstrated leadership under fire, we won’t speak of it further.  When we get to the fort, I’m recommending you for promotion to sergeant.”

“Yes sir, thank you sir.”  Davis looked down towards his feet and spoke softly, “Soldier’s Heart, sir, I been there too.”

“Cap’n,…Cap’n,… where‘d they go?”

“Shut up, an keep watchin,” barked Captain Titus Barnes as he crouched behind a dead horse, looking around nervously over the grassy plain below.  “They’re out there, in the grass, waiting, watching.”

“Don’t see ‘em,” said 19 year old recruit, Private Archer as he rose to a stranding position to look down off the small ridge where the soldiers had taken refuge in a hollowed dip, a now dry buffalo watering hole  that collected water in the rainy season.  Hoof prints made by buffalo in the rainy season now made bumpy ridges in the hard soil that caused the soldiers to squirm uncomfortably as they tried to hide behind a slim three inches of soil and grass.

Whiff. Whiff. Two arrows flew by.  “Huuh,” gasped Archer, as one arrow sunk into his stomach, its barbed arrowhead protruding from his back. The young soldier looked numbly at the arrow and his now bleeding mid-section. Blood trickled from his lips, his face turned whitish gray, and he collapsed into the circle of six fellow soldiers who huddled behind tufts of grass in the small hollow,

“Stay down, you idiots! Stay down!”  BAM, click, click, BAM. Captain Barnes fired his lever action Henry repeater down the hill aimlessly at the waving blades of prairie grass.  “Dammit!” Barnes cursed as he saw young Archer writhe in pain. Another young recruit, Tibbets, began sobbing as he lay next to his dying friend. Tibbets’ shoulder was bloody, having been nicked by an earlier arrow when the troop had been ambushed by the Indians. 

It was spring of 1867, a few short months after Ogala Lakota chief Red Cloud had massacred a cavalry troop from Fort Phil Kearny under Captain William Fetterman, an uprising that was now referred to as Red Cloud’s war.  As the young soldier gurgled his last painful breath, Captain Barnes cursed his own stupidity, for pursuing a small band of Indians who had attacked the supply wagon train being escorted by troops under his command, only to be drawn in to an ambush. Though remaining hidden in the surrounding prairie grass, the Indians now yelled taunts to the entrapped soldiers.

Barnes mind flashed back, some two and a half years before,  to a crowded entrenchment on the southern fringe of  Franklin, Tennessee.  Confederate General Hood had engaged the dug in federals, in a fierce onslaught.  Then Lt Barnes, directed a company of soldiers manning a forward outpost, in front of the main lines defending the city.  Barnes’ 80 soldiers had fought valiantly, against persistent day-long  infantry assaults, and exploding artillery fire. Memories of the deafening noise, smothering smoke, and anguished cries of wounded and dying solders flooded into Barnes consciousness as he closed his eyes and hung his head into the dusty prairie soil.

“Cap’n,…Cap’n,  they’re coming.”  Tibbet’s high pitched voice projected his paralyzing fear.

An Indian warrior, popped up seemingly from nowhere, and came screaming, charging towards the small huddled circle of blue clad soldiers.  Wearing only leather leggings, a breechclout and moccasins, the Indian’s face was painted in reds, yellows with black marks.  The muscles of his chest and arms flexed as he raised a spear, running and screeching towards the cowering shocked soldiers. In a flash, he leapt into the huddled circle, smacking the wide eyed frozen Tibbets on the face with the spear, making a large gash across his cheek, then stabbing the broad brimmed cavalry hat from the head of Archer, and in a continuous motion sprinted with his prize over the dead horse and back into the cover of the tall grass.

BAM, click, click, BAM. Captain Barnes had now risen from his momentary stupor, and fired his Henry repeater in the direction of the now disappeared warrior.

“Wha,…why didn’t he kill me,” mumbled Tibbets.

“Counting coup,” answered the Captain, as his head turned around to survey the location of the Indians.

“What?”

“Counting coup.  It’s a demonstration of a warrior’s bravery, that he can come into our midst, touch us, and escape unharmed,” explained the Captain. “And now he has a prize, Archer’s hat.  The others will now demonstrate their bravery as well.  Their prize will be your scalp.”

“Keep shooting,” growled Corporal Davis, a soldier who had experienced battle against the Confederacy, and now on the plains. “Find a target, make ‘em pay.” 

  Whiff, thump.   An arrow flew into the huddle and stuck into the shank of the dead horse.  Captain  Barnes flinched and gasped uncontrollably. Then scattered gun fire erupted from the Indians on three sides.

“Aaahh! I’m hit.”  Captain Barnes rolled into a ball and clutched his thigh, now bleeding from a bullet wound.  “Ooww!  Ooww!”  Barnes’ body twitched uncontrollably.  His mind flashed again to the devastated entrenchment near Franklin, when a cannon fired round of canister instantaneously killed three Union troops and put multiple shrapnel wounds into Barnes’ body.  Now, Barnes gasped for breath, wheezing as he instinctively tried to get air into his lungs. 

Next, a flaming arrow dropped into the dry grass and the flames took hold, fed by the winds, and began to blow smoke and fire towards the huddled soldiers. The thick smoke began to choke the soldiers, now trapped by fire on one side and a stream of bullets and arrows from the other side.  The Captain’s wheezing, now lead to a coughing fit because of the thick smoke.

“Captain Barnes! Captain,…take hold,” called the Corporal. The Captain continued to shake, in his tight curled position. “Captain,…take hold,” repeated the Corporal. This time he jammed the butt of his Spencer carbine into the Captain’s fanny. The jolt seemed to startle the Captain back the present reality.

“Franklin, … Rebs killed my squad,…happening again.”

“Here, take my kerchief,…bandage your leg,” said the Corporal to his superior.  Taking charge, Corporal Davis turned to the others and barked an order. “Check your ammo, reload,…watch your field of fire, make each shot count.”

Following the direction, the soldiers intensified their fire, holding the Indians at bay. The flames were drawing nearer to their small circle, and the smoke was thickening. Suddenly, there was a gust of wind downhill, pushing the smoke and flames in the direction of the Indians.

“Captain, winds turning in our favor,  I see a horse yonder uphill.  I propose we make a break for it, Sir,”   Corporal Davis suggested. “Perhaps, Sir, if I used your Henry, I’ll cover our escape.”

Captain Barnes grimaced in pain, glanced at his huddled troopers, and at the blowing smoke and fire. He gritted his teeth, nodded, and then handed his 15 shot  lever action repeating rifle to the Corporal. “Load your weapons, boys, Corporal’s gonna cover our escape.”

The soldiers reloaded, and at the Captain’s “GO,” they scrambled from the low trough up the rolling hill towards the loose cavalry horse standing in the distance. The Captain hobbled, favoring his injured leg, using the Spencer as a walking stick. Davis cut loose a barrage of fire with the Henry as his fellow soldiers ran through the smoke.

By evening, the soldiers had returned to the supply train.  Corporal Davis stopped by the wagon where Captain Barnes was now resting his re-bandaged leg.

“I’ll take the eleven to two watch, sir.  How’s your leg?”

“Flesh wound, Corporal.  I’ll live.” The Captain hesitated momentarily, then spoke in a hushed tone.  “About today,…” the Captain gestured with his hand as if to push away a flying insect, “you performed well today, Corporal. Demonstrated leadership under fire, we won’t speak of it further.  When we get to the fort, I’m recommending you for promotion to sergeant.”

“Yes sir, thank you sir.”  Davis looked down towards his feet and spoke softly, “Soldier’s Heart, sir, I been there too.”