combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 02 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2004

Boy in Battle

          The young boy had never seen or experienced combat nor anything like it before. On the mushy, wet battlefield the fifteen year-old stood inexperienced and a little scared, but extremely dutiful and dedicated to the cause of liberty. Indeed, as the Redcoats approached, Master Thomas Oats still dreamed of an independent America, one like his dad spoke of before taking a fatal British musket ball a month earlier. The Carolina Militia provided an immediate opportunity to help him win this desired freedom from the selfish King George, while also avenging his father's death in the cruel ambush. That's why he joined.

          Now Thomas firmly gripped his rifle while the lines of the opposing armies viewed, maneuvered, and converged upon each other in the otherwise tranquil meadow. This moment was several days in the making. There were countless hours spent preparing ammunition, helping artillery men stage their cannons, nervous camping, and routine surveys of the land. The mud from the last rain made extra maintenance necessary on the firearms. War was certainly complicated.

          Still, regardless of the circumstances, in only minutes he would kill or possibly be killed; there were no other options available except retreating or fleeing in cowardice and shame. It was time to be a man. This fight would be his defining life-moment, one way or the other. He hoped that all the humidity, cuts, bruises, and pre-battle preparations would soon pay-off.

          A half dozen crows suddenly took to flight from the lone pine tree amid the center of the grassy green field. Perhaps the black birds sensed the upcoming struggle. Unlike young Master Oats, they'd seen and heard it all before. The futility of human warfare, with its inevitable crippling and killing, was nothing new to them, nor were its noise and violence throughout their natural countryside. The birds themselves waged no wars.

          Loud bursts of cannon fire commencing from the rear of the regiments did little to deter the advance of either army. The soldiers emerged and walked steadily forward, moving almost mechanically as a few of their less fortunate brethren fell face down around them. No living man was allowed to stop or leave the moving formation. Though shivering, Thomas played his role as pawn in this traditional pageantry. Step by fateful mushy step he advanced upon the unknown men he was supposed to kill. With the battle begun, he wondered if he really wanted to hurt anyone. His racing mind was full of questions... Did any of these men actually murder his father? Were these enemy troops even here by choice? Of course they did, and were. Now was not the moment to think stupidly; it was the time to kill. As such, he put these thoughts aside.

          Like some simple form of children's school yard game, each army suddenly stopped as if on cue. The cannons fell deafly silent as the lines stood eye to eye, only forty yards apart. In an ungentlemanly manner, the British raised their weapons first, aimed, and fired in unison.

          Many of the militia's men collapsed when the initial volley was unleashed. Thomas was shaking but physically unscathed, holding his position. He'd lived.

          Yes.... Alive. Invigorated. The startled young boy was overwhelmed with a sudden sense of relief and thankfulness. There remained a purpose for him after all. Thomas shook his head, accepting of his duty.

          The militia's commands came loudly. In a split-second he too must fire. Would he kill? Did God measure the merits of men and give them their just rewards in combat? Doubtful. Regardless, someone who'd failed to eliminate Thomas only seconds before might pay dearly for that choice. But, who? Who must be killed? There was a fat gray-bearded Brit in front... How about the young British man he seemed to relate to, the sad-eyed one crying on the far right? Or... What of the officer close by to the left? Someone had to be shot; it was the rules. "Damn these Redcoats," he thought. They needed to die, and feel the fires of Hell for taking his father.

          Despite the immense dark smoke settling amid the battleground, Thomas' sight and mind were clearing. Adrenaline took over. This was it. A mere instant of decision seemed like an eternity; current emotions outweighed the logical application of the laws of physics. Amid the mess and mutilation around him, in some unexplainable way the young boy recognized himself in the face of the crying enemy soldier farthest away. It was a face gone bad, sad for the wrong reason. Yes, evil found vulnerable, caught helpless. That Englishman harbored a share of Thomas' own inner vengeance.

          Master Oats pointed his well-kept weapon toward the right. He held his breath; then gently let out a little. Then it happened. The boy discharged his weapon, sending a fiery metal ball directly at his alter-ego's trembling trunk. The deed was done.

          As a Continental Calvary unit from nowhere simultaneously stormed into the scene, the British retreated. Thomas moved aside to collect conflicting thoughts. Looking back over his shoulder, it appeared that the bullet had fatally connected with the British lad, possibly stopping his tears. Fortunately or unfortunately, he would never know for sure.

          As the field began to rapidly clear, Thomas Oats understood one undeniable fact. It was always possible that an enemy soldier may one day do the same for him. I guess many good soldiers hide an insatiable private quest for death ....

by Jimmy W. Hall
... who is a freelance writer, with works appearing in the Dana Literary Society's Online Journal, the Storyteller, the Circle Magazine, Paris Tempo, Discover, the Douglas Neighbor, MotorSport America, the Signal, and the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. Mr Hall also writes a regular political column and articles for two local publications in his native state of Georgia.