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Spectators

May 01, 2015

 The date is July 21, 1861. Today there will be a battle, the first meeting of the Northern and Southern armies and surely the last. You are a northern legislator looking forward to seeing the union restored. You order a picnic packed, for it is a long journey from Washington D.C. to where the battle will take place. Your wife is just as excited for the Northern victory as you are. You see no reason why she should stay behind, so you allow her to come along for the seven hour carriage ride to the place called Bull Run.

 You arrive near the location and join some acquaintances atop a hill which offers a perfect view of the battleground. You leave the women to unpack the meal and stride off with your field glasses to watch the battle, disappointed to have missed the start of the fight yet still hoping to see some action. Instead, all you see are clouds of smoke from the gunfire. Some other gentlemen approach, discussing the option of finding a closer vantage point. You join the conversation, suggesting a grove of trees some distance below where you are standing. Too excited to eat, you and the gentlemen you are with call back to your wives, telling them not to wait on you as you descend the hill.

 Gunshots ring louder in your ears as you catch your breath in the shade of the trees. Cannons boom, and the men around you holler and cheer with enthusiasm. You look through your field glasses again, but the view is no better. The smoke has only grown thicker.

 You decide this new vantage point was a waste of time. You begin the climb back up the hill. The weather is hot and muggy. You are hungry, having eaten little since leaving home, and frustrated to have come so far and seen so little.

 All at once over the sound of the battle, you hear frantic hoof beats approaching. You turn to see a horse barreling past, dragging behind it a slain Union soldier. You stare, stunned, at the red trail it leaves behind. Suddenly, this expedition seems more gruesome than you had imagined.

 Forgetting the heat, you begin to run to the top of the hill. To your surprise, the hill is full of confusion. Your carriage is nowhere in sight, and the people around you seem to be in a hurry to leave. You wonder if the horse you saw is the cause for their distress, but in another moment you see the cause.

 Union soldiers are riding toward you, yelling for the carriages to vacate the hill. As they thunder past, you see a wash of blue coats flooding toward you. Over the clamor you discern one word being repeated: Retreat! 

 A man nearby is knocked to the ground by the oncoming horde, and you realize the danger of the present situation. Your chest is aching from fear and from breathing the smoke which fills the air. With hardly a second’s thought, you throw yourself in the nearest carriage. The other passengers protest your presence, and you are pushed out as the carriage rolls away.

 Frantically, you struggle to stand, fearing for your life as hundreds of men stampede toward the river on the other side of the hill. You take the only chance you see, and run with them. Gradually, you make your way to the edge of the mob and fall to the ground, gasping for breath. This was not how you had planned to spend the day.

 A carriage rumbles toward you, and you catch sight of a friend driving it. Your friend calls out to you, motioning for you to get in. You gladly climb aboard, squeezing onto the seat between two strangers. You wonder where you wife is and whether or not she is safe. You regret bringing her along. In fact, you regret being here at all. What a foolish venture this was! How could it all have gone wrong? 



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