A Life in the Civil War

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Nolan's historical fiction story for Black History Month in February. The district's theme this year was African Americans in the Civil War. What a great kid we have.


A Life in the Civil War

By Nolan O.

 Wham! John ran into a pine tree when he frantically glanced behind him. He had been running from his master for a long time. John was an African American slave from a plantation in Virginia, and his master was a cruel man who was known to starve, beat, and even kill his slaves. The minute John hit the tree and fell, he knew he would be caught, and as he got up he could hear men crashing through the forest. But even though he knew it was worthless to run, John forced himself to go on. Thud! The men had seen John and started throwing rocks at him. Thump!  A rock flew from behind and hit John in his right calf. He fell over in pain and totally blacked out.

When John woke up, he was in the back of a rickety wagon with some other slaves. A stern white man with a shotgun was sitting on a barrel in the wagon and looking at them. When John tried to sit up, he heard a low muttering. The sound came from a woman sitting on the wagon floor, nursing a baby. He caught a few words like "liar" and "backstabber" when suddenly the white man kicked the woman and shouted at her to shut up. Then with a sudden jerk, the wagon came to a halt, throwing John sideways. Laughing, the man got up and kicked John, too, as he climbed down from the wagon.

The white man ordered the slaves out of the wagon. John hobbled out with his leg stiffly trailing behind him. John could hear gunshots from far away and wondered what was happening. Another white man was walking in front of the slaves, saying either "take" or "keep." When he got to John, he paused. After what seemed like a long time, he said, "Take." The man from the wagon got up and roughly grabbed John by his arm. He led John and the other "takes" to what looked like a wooden fort. The closer they got, the louder the gunshots were. Inside, John saw white men shooting at targets. "Grab a shovel and start working," snarled the man from the wagon. "You're in the army."

Days later, water fell on John's face as he looked up. It had been sprinkling for a long time and almost as long as he had been walking. The white men watched from horseback while the slaves marched. The white men looked queasy, and John knew why. They were going to battle in Maryland, a Union state. When the army stopped, the slaves built the camp, and everyone went to sleep. The next morning, they had just taken down their camp and started to move on when a gunshot rang out. The Union army attacked.

The Confederate army was thrown into chaos but quickly regrouped and fought back. During the battle, John saw his chance to escape, but as he was running away, he saw a Union colonel get shot in the shoulder. No one was looking at the colonel because of the battle. John ran toward him. When he got to the colonel, the Union man was covered in blood and unconscious. Ripping his own shirt, John made a bandage around the wound. As two soldiers fell dead to the ground right next to them, John started dragging the colonel to safety in the trees. Near the edge of the woods, a bullet came whizzing by and hit John in the calf, exactly where the rock had hit him. This time he didn't faint. He got the colonel to the trees with his leg searing painfully, and in a daze he fell unconscious because of the pain.

When John woke up, he was in a Union hospital. Sitting up, he heard a kind but stern woman's voice. "Sit down or you will injure that leg even more!" she said. Looking over, he saw a plump and kind woman measuring a cup of medicine. "What happened?" asked John. "Well, you saved Colonel Joe Pinkerton's life and lived from a shot in the calf. That is what happened," replied the woman.

It took a few months for John's leg to recover from his gunshot wound. The colonel visited John often to check on him. When the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in January of 1863, the colonel asked John to be a soldier in the war. John agreed to help the Union and protect his new freedom. He and the colonel fought in the same battles against the Confederates. Once, John even saved the Union flag from the Confederate army. In another battle, John saw his old, cruel master get shot in the heart by a well-placed bullet. Both sides sustained great losses, but the Union came out on top, and the war finally ended.

          Years later after the war, Joe helped John get an education and start a business. They remained friends until they died. They both believed that skin color didn't matter, and what was on the inside of a person did. That belief led them to each other. War and slavery had shown John death, cruelty, and pain, but he was awarded with freedom... and a friend.

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