Twenty minutes into the Battle of Deep Creek on Saturday, I knew it was time to die.
In this re-enactment of America’s bloodiest war, death is the only thing that wants for realism.
You wear the same itchy pants, bear the same muzzle-loading muskets. You use the same paper cartridges that spray acrid-tasting gunpowder into your mouth when you bite them off.
But mortality here is dictated by sportsmanship. You respect the volleys that the enemy throws at you. You die because it’s the right thing to do.
And now it was my turn. I looked across the field at the Rebs, busy pouring powder down their barrels. I hoped for a pair of eyes.
Then I found him. He was a young guy, eyes narrowed, looking for someone to hit. Someone like me.
Our gazes locked.
As the stream of smoke and flame jetted from his gun, I did my best to die like I meant it: a cry and a drop downward, falling on my back with my knee cocked upward.
The gunfire streamed over me, and I hoped for a medic to come and drag me back into the fight with my comrades in the Third Michigan company. But soon they were behind me.
Instead, I saw the flag of Dixie fly above, and the boot of a gray coat soar over my upturned face.
I hoped for a counterattack. Or at least some company.
But the shots soon stopped. The bugler played “Taps.”
I stood up, one in a sea of grays and blues, our uniforms streaked with grass strains, a few former enemies exchanging handshakes.
Then the columns reformed for a final ritual: a moment of silence for those who, 150 years ago, didn’t choose to go down, and couldn’t choose to stand back up.
For more info on the Third Michigan Company, visit their website.