The Long Road Home, Chapter 4: Dead End (Jasper)

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Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. This is a Twilight fanfiction work. All efforts were made to keep the story as in canon as possible, and to make it historically accurate. I hope you enjoy.

Chapter Note: This chapter is from Jasper's POV, and picks up a bit over a year after he left home, in 1862.

Chapter 4: Dead End

I was so tired I swayed in my saddle.

A cold blast of wind struck me square in the face, whipping the stench of death all around me; burning wood, blood, mud, gunpowder, human and animal filth, dirty wounds...it was all there, swirled into a cloud so thick you could almost see it. If I hadn't become so accustomed to it, numbed to it by constant exposure over the past couple of days, it might have turned my stomach. As it was, I hadn't eaten in two days, so even if the smell had nauseated me...well, nothing would have come of it.

Overhead, crows and vultures circled, coasting on the thermal breezes as they surveyed the remains of the battlefield below, where there were easy pickings. Even now, four days after the battle, there were still unburied dead. The Union gravediggers weren't hurrying to bury our fallen men. The sounds of the birds calling above and the flies buzzing below were constant, mixed with all the noises of the scene stretched out below me.

I was perched up on a rocky ledge above Pittsburg Landing, which had come to be called the Battle of Shiloh.

We had lost. Lost bad. The Union was advancing, crossing the Mississippi River. We'd failed.

Re-wrapping my reins around my numb knuckles, I shifted, squeezing Star's ribs with my knees. She obediently backed up a few steps, away from the edge of the gorge, and wheeled around to take me back into the cover of the trees. I'd been up there too long, taking a chance someone might spot me and send a reconnaissance party after us, to capture any Confederate fugitives. Such as us.

There were a few of us left over from our division, seventy-five men to be exact, camped along the little creek, under heavy tree cover about ten miles from the Fallen Timbers battlefield.

We'd been cut off from the main forces once Coronel Nathan Bedford Forrest had been wounded and everyone had scattered in retreat, confused and dejected by the realization of defeat. We'd seen one of the best military commanders on our side cut down like a dog (though he'd lived, we found out later), musket balls taking his horse out from under him, we'd seen so many men dying...

When the Union forces raised their flag of victory over the battlefield at Shiloh, we could do nothing but keep withdrawing into the cover of the trees, and try to keep from being captured, until we'd gathered enough strength to return west again and reunite with the rest of the Confederate Western Theater army.

Over twenty thousand men had died down there, I thought to myself sadly, letting Star have her head as we cantered through the dappled shadows beneath the towering oaks and maples. She knew where to go. Her hooves scattered showers of dead leaves, making crunching sounds as we went, but even those were quiet: she was a true war horse, careful in every step. Spring was late coming this year, as if even the seasons were hesitant to trespass on our bloody human affairs.

No battle on American soil had ever claimed so many lives, up until that point. I learned later that if you added up all the deaths from all the other wars (the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican American...) the States had been involved in up until that date, April 6, 1862, you'd still have fewer deaths than the number that Shiloh claimed. Eventually the number of the fallen topped twenty-three thousand. So many souls perished.

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