THE SOLDIER WHO CAME TO DINNER.
OR, A VERY STRANGE TALE ABOUT A VERY STRANGE JOURNEY,
TO A VERY STRANGE LAND WITH VERY STRANGE PEOPLE.
THE FOLLOWING STORY IS TRUE, and through the gift of language bestowed upon me and my firm knowledge of letters, I shall attempt, to the utmost of my ability, and with all honesty and solemn attestment to my sobriety and clarity of mind, to now commit them to paper. I am under the regrettable impression that many young skeptical readers among my dear audience shall begin to doubt my sanity upon reading the first few pages, and by the end may perhaps think I am even stark raving mad. Could it perhaps be that thinking oneself to be sane is a symptom of the onset of madness? Such a pondering has kept me up these many nights.
I shall do my best to illustrate the wild adventure that befell me just a few weeks ago, my best account of which no one in my town will believe. I write this from the desk of my grandmother’s residence, at her summer home where I have spent many seasons as a young boy. It was the most sincere hope of my concerned mother that the good mountain air and the hard labors of life on the farm will cure me of this mysterious ailment; and within a few month’s time, I will be able to return to the city a new man. We will see about that!
Of the reader, I humbly ask you to be transported into my own thoughts, as I make the utmost of my ability to put them into words. I must enjoin of the reader to have an open mind, and consider all of the evidence before jumping to any hasty conclusion as to the moral integrity of the humble author. I must write. It is all I can do to stop my thoughts from reliving this horrible tragedy and most incredulous situation which befell me this last month. So the reader thus being hopefully assured of my presence of mind, my perplexing and disturbing tale must now begin.
Perhaps I should first interject a description of myself here and relate where I come from, so those of the skeptical persuasion among my readers will not doubt my honesty.
My name is Ignatz Heinrich Gangloff. My Americanized name is Ignatius. I am an emigrant of Alsacian German descent; meaning, my family traditionally hails from the city of Alsace-Lorraine, a German-speaking community in the town of France. My ancestry in Germany is much deeper, though I do not have any surviving relatives in that country. In 1861 when our noble flag was torn in two, and our nation divided in this most terrible conflict, I found myself conscripted into service in the Union Army of the Potomac, in Company K of the Twenty-First Infantry Regiment of New York, of the Second Corps under Lieut. Colonel Drew’s Brigade.
From the first day in the Corps, I quickly grew to despise Army life. The endless unshifting burden of my ten-pound musket weighing down my right side... The long marches, sometimes up to twenty miles a day; my bootees getting so tight and my aching feet demanding that I remove them, unless of course I find myself mired in mud, so that I may walk for a time free of the crippling misery of poorly made shoes. My canteen drained to its last drop before a march is halfway over, my victual effects in my haversack going rotten and slimy and moldy, and doing everything; eating, sleeping , toiling and fighting, all under the watchful hawk eyes of my officers. Men who herd and treat us like cattle, and put us to pasture to “forage” like cows. I cannot recall the time prior to my writing of this account in which I ate a warm cooked meal. I had been living off the land, mostly on what the other men could steal or hunt for themselves. Some squirrels and chickens, an old cow here and there, or at the absolute worst, horse meat.
I am not a soldier. I despise war. War is a tool of the mighty, to unleash power and exert influence over the weak. He who has the most might wins. But does that make him right? I think war is a terrible business, and I would very fervently wish to be far away from it. I almost got my wish.
It was a cloudy yet very hot day in September, of the year of our Lord Eighteen Hundred and Sixty-Two. I held the rank of Private in Mister Lincoln’s grand Union Army of the Potomac, and the name of the town nearest to the ground upon which we were encamped was called Sharpsburg. It is my first and most reverent prayer to be offered to the Almighty that I be delivered in one piece and be borne far, far away from this conflict forever more.
Not to say that I disagree with what our glorious Union stands for or believes in, or that I am on the wrong side of the country, or that I am an unpatriotic person; I moreover believe that I am simply not cut out for military life. I hate it with a fervent passion; and it hates me back. It seems determined to make me miserable.
And what fright! To be ordered to line up like Redcoats and march like toy soldiers, against such deeply entrenched Confederates that their position is all but impermeable, and here we are running like jackrabbits across a flat field with no cover in sight! You would think us to be a group of suicidal maniacs. Men being overturned like ninepenny pins as the shrieking cannon-shells burst on the ground. Running forward at the “double quick” pace into a charnel house of gore. Clashing bodies. Screaming horses. Clattering bayonets skewering men like stuck hogs. A hailstorm of hot lead whizzing by my ear like angry hornets, the deafening crack of a man’s musket aimed over my shoulder. And going down next to men who lay covered in their own blood, calling out to their mothers. Clutching oozing, bleeding stumps where their arms or legs were.
And those who refuse to fight are called cowards. “White feather men,” to some we are called by. Cowardice is punished in this army. We have the file-closers on either end of our military line of battle, prepared to shoot with their pistols any man who turns away from the carnage, or wishes to fall to the rear without being seriously wounded. If any man deserts and is found, he is taken back to camp, bound tightly and blindfolded, and shot by a firing-squad.
Well, one could say I am psychologically wounded. My sore, aching belly has had quite enough of the bitter soup of the Tocsin of War; and I remember at the moment in which I lost myself, wishing above all else, to be home.
General Ulysses Grant was right. War is Hell. My last hope is that, should it be my turn to give my life for my country, I should go down fighting for a better cause than some X drawn on a map, perhaps to free the poor and long-suffering Negro, and establish equal rights for all men under the glorious stars and stripes of this Union.
It was one such miserably hot day in Hell when I found myself embroiled in the midst of another such bloody conflict, near the rambling water-course known as Antietam Creek, nearby to the town of Sharpsburg; Maryland.
How unpleasant these Mid-Atlantic summers are! I have heard tell of “Virginia mud,” so they call it; in which wagons and carts become inextricably mired and poor army mules get stuck so deep, that nary but their ears protrude above the muck. I have heard of cannons disappearing into the mire, never to be seen again. Well, after a warm summer downpour, Maryland Mud is no less an obstacle. Our camp looked like a pit of quick-sand, and after a day’s march myself and my fellow men were so thoroughly slathered with mud that, I dare say, the lot of us could have passed as a Colored Regiment from a distance of ten or twenty yards. The less couth among us one more than one occasion were known to blurt out: “B’gawd, I look like a damned Darkie!”
On this particular day I was forming the rear guard of a line of battle, being on the far right end of the rank and rear of the file; as the other men said I am such a “tall drink of water.” We were advancing up yet another steep hill, where yet another motley assembly of Rebs, hiding like rabbits behind yet another stone wall, were waiting to mow us down like stands of wheat before a scythe, when the most peculiar thing happened.
I remember the Colonel riding before us on his horse, saber held high, shouting, “ONWARD, MEN! TO GLORY OR TO DEATH! NO RETREAT!”
To insure against defeat, he left no line of retreat! It was as the song went in my old campfire favorite. He was galloping full tilt up this hill at the wall, and the rest of my Company in the rear doing our best to keep up and not fall behind.
We were not a hundred yards away, and the cannons opened up. A line of fifty or so cannon, all firing upon us at once. You can scarce imagine the smoke and sound alone, dear young readers! I will spare your ears from all other lurid details for now. There was a tremendous earth-shattering sound as of the ground opening up, and a quake under our feet as if the Earth was moving. I had nothing better to do, than to clutch my rifle in an iron grip, charge blindly ahead, and care not if I ended up dead like so many of the blue-clad husks of men heaped upon the ground. I remember I shut my eyes tight and screamed like a madman. I felt the earth tremble and shake. Then, I had the horrifying sensation that the ground was opening up at my feet, and I was being swallowed by the earth.
The next thing which befell me was truly strange. I opened my eyes, and the rest of my men were gone. I was lying on the ground, staring up at the grey sky. Somehow, the battle was over! Had I missed it? What, in the name of Beelzebub and all his infernal demons, could have happened?
I heard no groans of men around me, there were no wounded. I was lying abandoned in this field, forgotten and alone.
I remember my belly felt so empty; my throat was parched. Where my ears were formerly deafened by the thunder of battle, there was silence. Had I gone deaf? I was lying in the mud, my blue suit was filthy. I was sodden to the bone, my clothes were soaked in sweat and wet filth. I felt the warm mud beneath me, soaking into my blue blouse and trousers. And all around me, there were still clouds of smoke and the smell of burning gunpowder. I felt very weak, as if my every motion took a Herculean effort. I was looking up at a grey dreary sky, with no sun in sight. It was so hot, I was drenched from head to toe in sweat. I was baking out there on that field.
And then a face leaned over me. A very old-looking man, with white hair, looked down at my prostrate form. He was wearing a Union uniform, his hat was cocked. He was gently nudging me with his foot. His first words he spoke to me were in the form of a simple honest question.
“Are you wounded, sir? Do I need to take ye to a hospital, lad?” he enjoined. I could not speak out, I was so weak. I somehow managed to croak, with a voice like a frog as I attempted to turn over. “…Water. I need…water.” The man reached for his canteen, and hastily uncorked it. He knelt down and picked half of me up, cradling me like a babe in his arms. He put the canteen to my lips and I drank heavily of it. It was ice-cold water that would have chilled me, but oh, did it soothe my parched throat. I found the strength to ask of him,weakly. “What happened?”
The perplexing nature of the man’s response was a first indication that something was amiss. He treated me as if I knew nothing. “We lost! We lost the Tactical, it was all in the script for the weekend. I saw you go down. You took a very realistic hit. You alright, sir?”
I thought…Tactical? Script? …Weekend? Realistic?? What the Beelzebub was he talking about? Had he gone completely mad? Did this man regard this horrible bloody battle we had survived as a game?? I said to him, when I had recovered enough strength, “Where am I?”
“Antietam. In the infamous Bloody Lane. The Sunken Road.”
“Oh…so I am not mad after all. Where are all the other men? How long have I been out?”
“Oh, only a few minutes.” His tone of voice seemed rather nonchalant. “The rest of your company is all back in camp. They are getting ready to go. Come on, lad, I can take ya back to where ya belong. What’s the name of your unit, my boy?”
I finally regained my voice, and spoke to the strange man. Something about him just seemed strange. It was his accent. Or rather, the lack of it. Yet I could not quite place him.
“Twenty-first New York, sir. Company K. Third battalion.”
“Hey, I'm from New York too. Come, can you stand? We are running a tad bit late, I’m afraid. I hope we can still find the camp.”
“Late for what?”
“Come on. Sure you’re okay?”
I could not answer. Because I did not know if I was dreaming this or not. The odd man helped me to my feet and led me away from the site of the battle. I noticed there was no one else on the field. No dead bodies. No dead horses, or shattered wagons, or ruined cannon. No blood stained the green grass.
This actually felt like a dream. I was increasingly under the impression that I was dreaming. I pinched myself hard on the cheek in an attempt to wake myself up. When that did not work, I slapped myself harder. The man looked over at me and asked me why I had just done so. I could not tell him; for I was under the impression that dream-people do not know they are in a dream. So, thinking better of it, I merely said, “Mosquito… on my face.” The man chuckled in an odd fashion.
We walked for some distance, and before long the fog of war had lifted. We saw a rather large host of men clad in Union blue marching ahead of us. By quickening our pace, we were able to overtake them and fall in at the rear. They carried no standards, no flags; no identifying colors of any kind. I was not under the impression they were of my company, my regiment, or even my battalion. I recognized no faces. I heard the old familiar sound of the canteens banging against their bulging haversacks, their clomping feet like horse-hooves, their tin dippers clanking like cow-bells. These men are Union, I presumed, so they must be from a nearby camp. Not wishing to draw undue attention to myself; I kept quiet and followed them. The march lasted about two miles, over hills and through shallow valleys. As the leagues wore on, I unbuttoned my coat somewhat, fished out my pocket-watch from my blouse and checked the hour. It was three o’clock in the afternoon.
Half an hour later, up ahead we saw a very large encampment as the sea of white tents came into view. With some puzzlement, I noticed none of the very large mess tents or hospital tents I was accustomed to; nor did I see any of the smaller shelters. There were no Sibleys, even. There were nothing but the “A” tents, more commonly known as “Wedge tents.” What a strange Regiment, indeed! Where were the Sutlers? The hospital? The Officer tent? The mess tent?
And where were their wagon trains of supply? I saw not a mule or horse in sight. There were no cannons, or caissons, or limbers. They were simply perhaps a hundred tents in the middle of a green grass field, and some very strange shiny objects. The sun finally broke through the clouds. I remember shading my eyes and squinting hard at the camp. The white of the tents was almost blinding. Try as I might, I could not identify the large, insect-like objects clustered around the camp. They looked like giant beetles, or lady-bugs. They crawled over the ground and their legs were not visible under their shining carapaces. They were various shapes and many different colors. I could not make out any detail, except their glistening bodies, glinting at me in the sunlight. I saw tiny dots moving between these white tents and the lady-bugs, and some tents were struck down. I saw them collapse. Men were folding them up and carrying them over to these lady-bugs, which appeared to devour them. Imagine that!! A swarm of giant beetles, devouring white tents! With little blue men feeding them! I was absolutely mad, beyond a doubt.
Surely this must be a dream, I thought! Not for the last time did I speculate that. And with very good reason.
In the space of about fifteen minutes, we at last reached the camp. Some things seemed perfectly normal about this camp: the men sitting around the fires and drinking from their tin dippers, stewing pots and kettles steaming over them on iron-work contraptions, talking, playing instruments and laughing. Some had fiddles, some had bones, and some had fifes and drums. I still could discern no flags, except a single Union one on a tall pole.
The strange lady-bugs on closer inspection looked like machines of some sort. They stood on four wheels resting about a foot or so above the ground; the wheels were not wooden with spokes like we all know wagon wheels to be. They were metallic, and had metal discs where the wood spokes should be. Their rims were not wood or iron, but a tar-like rubber of some kind. Like the gum blankets our men carried. They smelled the same as they baked in the hot summer sun. As I grew closer and inspected one of these bizarre contraptions, I saw a familiar name on the sides of some of the wheels. Goodyear! So these odd machines where made by Goodyear…the same company that manufactured my gum blanket! How odd. They must be man-made.
Still carrying my rifle, I walked up to one of these odd things. Its outer skin was smooth and mirror-polished, I could gaze upon my reflection in it. It had either two or four dark black squares on each side of its flanks, these appeared to be made of some very dark glass. As I walked around one, I saw there were small silver or gold medallions affixed to the front and the rear. The first one I saw said FORD. The next one, a larger blue beetle, said CHRYSLER. Then there was a different-looking machine with a flat back, onto which men were loading their tents and provisions. This machine was obviously some sort of mechanical beast of burden. Its medallion was a small gold one, shaped like a flattened cross. It had a badge or emblem attached to its body, and it was a Union flag. So it was definitely and undoubtedly a machine of Union manufacture. But, on close scrutiny, the flag looked strange. There was a wrong number of stripes and stars. I painstakingly counted fifty stars on the tiny flag. Fifty! And there were two additional red stripes. How odd!! It appears whoever painted that tiny emblem wasted all his careful effort; he depicted our Union’s flag incorrectly. As if the artist had never seen a Union flag before. I had seen many variations of the Union star-spangled banner, it seemed for every Regiment they were different, but never one in such a configuration as this.
The man who must be the machine driver or engineer, came over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “You alright, sir? You seem tired. Like my new truck? She’s a Chevy. Built like a rock. Where’s your car, man?” His mode of speech was so strange.
I had a look of puzzlement on my face. I slowly asked, “What is a ‘car’? Is that this machine that I have been admiring?” The man merely laughed. “Nice one, pal. Very convincing. You don’t seem from around here. What did you say your name was? Private…”
“Gangloff, sir. Ignatz…Ignatius Gangloff. I am Alsacian- German. Guten Tag” I removed my hat and bowed most politely.
He laughed again. “That’s a funny name man. Well I’m John-Jacob-Jingleheimer-Schmidt. The second.” There was more cynical laughter from the soldiers sitting around the fire.
“The weekend’s over. You don’t need to pretend anymore, friend. We’re back in the Twenty-First Century now.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. I thought I had misheard the man. “I…I beg…beg your pardon, sir? What century did you say we are in?”
“The Twenty-First Century. You know…Twenty-twelve? The year two thousand and twelve. You know, a hundred and fifty years after the war between the states. Are you alright? Did you get bumped on the head?” He took me by the shoulders and shook me. He looked me in the eyes and seemed genuinely concerned.
“Two thousand and twelve? But…sir…”
“…Is it not 1862 anymore, sir? Have I positively gone mad?”
The man tilted his head back and laughed heartily. The other men in camp turned around to look at him and began laughing as well. I began to feel rather uneasy and feared I was ill. I knew not what to say. I was flabbergasted.
“I…I…I think…I need a doctor.” I suddenly felt very weak again. My became knock-kneed and looked about to fall over. My face was bright red; either from the heat or from exhaustion, or from embarrassment, I could not tell which. I shakily took a handkerchief out of my trouser-pocket, took off my forage cap and wiped my moist forehead. I was quite distraught and out-of-sorts.
The man took a very shiny object out of his trouser pocket. It was shaped roughly like a cigar tin, but had rounded corners. He did something thoroughly unexpected. He hinged it open, pushed his finger into it a few times, and then raised it to his cheek and began to speak into it!!
“Hey, park security? We have a very…tired…and uh…confused young man here. I think the fatigue and the dehydration’s gotten to him. He doesn’t seem to know his name or where he’s from, or what year it is. Please advise. Uh-huh. Okay, no problem. Thanks. Bye.” He snapped the cigar case shut again.
He had a look of kind concern on his face. “I arranged for an ambulance. They’re coming to get you and take you to a hospital tent. Have a seat, stay away from the fire. Got any water in your canteen, soldier?” I looked down and my canteen was uncorked. It was very light and empty. The canteen must have emptied itself on the march.
“Here, tilt your head forward. I’m gonna pour this on your head.” I did so. He emptied his canteen over my head. That made me feel much better. Then he unbuttoned my coat and vest, and even my shirt collar. He poured the remainder of the canteen down the front of my tunic. I felt my aching body, fatigued from the exhaustion of heat, begin to revitalize itself. The chill spread like ice throughout my body. I was brought near to the point of wanting to shiver. “Thank you very much, kind sir.” That seemed to clear my head, somewhat. I obviously was not dreaming. I believe the coldness of the water flowing over my head and down my shirt would have awakened me.
Just then, a small beetle, this one without its shell, came rolling over. It appeared almost as a coach or farm wagon, but it moved under its own power! Without wind, steam or horses. What a curious contraption it was. It appeared to have no smoke-stack like a locomotive should; it was very quiet as well. All that was heard was a faint chugging sound. And small puffs of smoke coming from a pipe sticking out of the rear. What marvelous machines, these!
A man climbed out of the self-propelled cart. He was dressed very strangely, in that he was almost naked! He wore what seemed to be only a pair of drawers, his legs and arms were bare. I had to look away in shame. He had a black belt around his waist, and a shiny rounded object that looked almost like a cap pouch, with a strange stubby rod protruding out of it. And the black object spoke! A disembodied voice emanated from his belt. It sounded like a person shouting over a waterfall. No words could be discerned. Then what sounded like a blast of a horn, or one note from a bugle, and it was silent again. My head was spinning. Men talking into inanimate objects that talked back to them! What sort of devilry was this?? Was I hallucinating?
The knelt down beside me, for I had fallen to the ground, nearly insensible from exhaustion. He checked my pulse, and took out another white object from his belt. He held the object up to my forehead, and dragged it across my brow. The white object emitted another brief bugle note. He studied it as if it was telling him something important. Then he replaced it in his holster and unclipped the black pouch again. He held it up near his face and talked into it once more. It sounded as if he were trying to describe the poor figure that lay crumpled at his feet.
“E-M-T squad. Uh…subject is a white male, early twenties, doesn’t appear to be oriented to person, place or time. Subject seems very confused. Showing signs of bad dehydration and heat fatigue. Body temp of 103.5 degrees. I’m taking him over to the hospital tent. Over.” The black box chattered again, this time a clearer voice came from it. “Roger, we’ll get him some ice and water and sit him in front of one of the big fans. Got a stretcher and I-V ready if he needs it. Over.” The unit emitted a shrill train whistle and fell silent again.
A talking black box that emits such odd sounds as train-whistles, bugle calls and waterfalls? Seems like something a drunkard would invent. A a matter-of-fact, all this rather seems like the product of a deranged imagination, does it not?
I was short of breath. I felt myself lifted up bodily, and sat in one of the chairs on this odd white self-propelled cart. I heard its chugging start up again, and the cart began to shake and move. Slowly at first, then it accelerated! The grass sped by underneath my feet dizzyingly fast. I wanted to faint from exhaustion, but I struggled to stay awake. Before I knew it, I was surrounded. The cart-wagon was surrounded by teeming throngs of people. And they were all half-naked. I even saw a few ladies, they were almost naked as well! Good heavens!! They did not even appear ashamed! I politely shut my eyes and apologized to everyone within earshot. What savages these people were. They did not look like Indians. I wonder if they even knew they were naked!
The women and girls had hairstyles of the most fantastic descriptions. Some were unnatural colors: orange, green and even blue! They were all wearing very dark glasses that hid their faces. A teeming crowd of oblivious, half-naked Syphilis victims!? with unnatural hair! Many of them had brownish skin, as if they had been in the sun too long, though I ascertained their skin was naturally pale. Some of them had bright red faces, as if they were even embarrassed at their nakedness. Yet they were still prancing around in public! Some of them were drinking from these odd transparent containers. At first I thought they were glass, but then a man crumpled his. It made a strange crinkling sound that was like the sound of a fire. He threw it on the ground and left it there. The man behind him stepped on it and crushed it with one foot.
The cart slowed down as it tried to push through the mass of people. The man at the tiller-- who must have been the driver-- pressed his hand against the wheel-- that must have been used to steer the vehicle-- and a sharp, loud bugle horn sounded. The crowd obediently parted and made way to let us pass.
As we passed, I cast shy glances at some of the half-naked devils. They were wearing light-colored garments that had inscriptions and pictures on them. One said: 150th Manassas/Bull Run. Civil War. Another said PROUD AMERICAN With the bold image of an eagle. The woman following him had a bare midriff, the shirt was tied above her hips! She wore no skirt or petticoat either. Just what looked like twill trousers that were ripped off well above the hips. I had never seen bare thighs before. I wondered if she was sick. She was very thin, almost sickly; and she looked pale as a ghost. The garment that just barely covered her upper half appeared torn and frayed. It had a very large Confederate Stars and Bars on it.
These devils were mingling with the enemy! I was very distrustful of them. And the oddest thing: in their midst were some negroes who must have been their slaves or servants. But they were walking freely without chains! Indeed, there were whole families of negroes walking around freely. They had most unusual hairpieces as well. Some appeared braided almost into blackened ropes, others were small and tight to their heads like rows of corn. Some of these odd women’s heads were enveloped in a puffy ball of hair that looked like a black powder explosion. One young lady wore almost nothing! Just a few tiny triangles of fabric over her…Gott im Himmel!! They were held together by strings. She appeared rather bountifully well-endowed by her Creator of the gift of nourishing babes, indeed she appeared top-heavy, and I could not imagine she could walk upright without a corset. Abashedly, I found myself staring at her. She looked like one of those African natives, walking around in the desert-- with almost no clothing on. I had never seen a naked African negro before. My eyes moved up and down her figure, and then I forced myself to look away in shame. We were approaching the very large white hospital-tent before us.
I tried not to further ponder the absurdity of my situation, and merely resigned myself to the fact that there was no escape from it. I supposed I would have to learn to live among these very strange people, in this very strange land with its strange, fantastic contraptions, its talking boxes and self-propelled carts.
We pulled up alongside the tent. I felt myself lifted up out of the cart by two blue-clad men who did not look like soldiers from any army I had before seen. They had rankings, however. One of them was a Sergeant, the other was a Corporal. They wore black slouch hats, and had shiny metal badges that said SHARPSBURG E.M.T. Another man who must have been a hospital steward had the Caduceus on his sleeves. He escorted the men inside the tent. Another man removed my weapon, and said, in a tone that was non-military and almost apologetic: “Sorry, sir. Firearms are not allowed inside the tent. May I have your last name and rank?” I proceeded to tell him. I saluted, as was necessary for his rank of Sergeant Major. He made an odd face and noted my credentials on a small strip of paper with a pencil. He slipped the paper through the trigger-guard of my rifle and leaned it against the tent wall outside. There were many other guns stacked in the same fashion.
As we entered the interior, I noticed first how brightly lit the inside of the tent was. The lights were painful to look at. It was also cold. The temperature dropped sharply as we crossed the threshold of the tent flap. Men behind me buttoned the flap to keep the cold air in. I was carried bodily and lifted onto a stretcher, that was supported by some odd brightly-colored metal framework on wheels. The stretcher was rolled into a space where many other beds were.
I became disturbed and began to cry out loudly. “I’m not wounded, sirs! Please do not amputate any of my limbs. I can still walk!!”
The men laughed and held my hand, and said, “Don’t be afraid, okay dude. We just need to start a fluid line in you. Nurse, get this soldier some Gatorade and a bag of ice.” A very pretty looking dark-haired nurse nodded and walked away. What was Gatorade? I remember thinking to myself. Perhaps it was juice made of alligators?
One of the men took out a white packet made of this odd metallic material. He bit it open with his teeth and took out a cotton swab. There was a strong smell of spirits. He proceeded to apply this cotton swab in a circular motion on my forearm. The spirits were cold, and made my skin tingle. The men noticed how filthy I was. But where this man had swabbed my arm, a patch of clean pink skin was made apparent! The cotton ball became discolored with the grime and sweat; he threw it in a small receptable labeled trash. Another man then firmly held my arm, and felt it. When he located one of my large, bulging veins, he took out a vial or tincture of some kind. On the end was a needle. A very thin, sharp needle, no thicker or longer than a sewing-needle.
Gentle ladies or the weak-of-heart; I politely ask that you please skip reading this next paragraph.
The man stuck my skin with the needle-tipped tincture! I cried out in pain; it felt like a bee had stung me. He then unscrewed the tincture from the needle, and left it in me! The bee sting began to fade, and then it only hurt if I moved my limb. Then another man attached a clear tube to this needle-point embedded in my flesh. He wheeled over an upright metal rod with a hook, which had an odd clear bag of some fluid suspended from it, above my head. He squeezed the bag, and the water-like fluid traveled down the tube into my arm! I jerked as I felt the cold fluid enter my vein. My body began to shiver slightly. I shifted my arm. I felt a sharp sting again, and some red fluid traveled up the tube the wrong way. It must have been my own blood!
The man who had stung me tried to reassure me, and said “Calm down, man. Lay still. We’re just hydrating you with some saline. Salt water. It feels cold. That feeling will pass. Nurse is comin’ in to give you some Gatorade.”
Apparently, the doctor wanted me to drink some alligator-juice. He thought this tonic would somehow cure whatever he perceived my ailment was. I had never heard of alligator-juice curing anything before. How very strange. What a bizarre people!
The man arrived with the aforesaid tonic, and it was bright red liquid in another one of those lightweight glass-looking bottles. It had a bright orange cap. He unscrewed the cap, and offered it to me. I looked at this very brightly-colored label on the container. It had an orange lightning-bolt on a green field, and red stripes. It said, in odd blocky letters, GATORADE. This must be the Alligator-juice he wanted me to drink. Too polite to decline his offer, I took the potion from his hand and raised the bottle to my lips. I tilted it, and the red liquid poured down the front of my flannel, staining it red. The man looked concerned and took hold of the bottle, and tilted it slightly into my mouth. The red Alligator-juice entered and touched my tongue.
It was very sweet! And yet thin and watery. I had never tasted anything quite like it. It was not bad. Reminded me of the juice from a water-melon. I gulped it down, and felt different. I had to drink quite a lot of it to get the taste. It was not bitter like most tonics. In fact, I quite liked it. I asked politely for another bottle. The nurse came with another one. This one was bright orange and smelled different. I drained that, and it tasted much sweeter than orange juice! Oh, it was heavenly! I highly recommend this elixir known as “Gatorade,” even if it is made from alligators.
I had drained the bottles of their sweet nectar, and felt much more content. I asked if some whiskey was ready to hand, as my flask was empty. The white-clad men told me whiskey or other forms of alcohol were not allowed at these events. They told me to lie back and relax, and recover my strength. I was very pleased to oblige them. I felt so cool and calm, as if I was immersed in water. The clear fluid flowing into my arm helped almost to relax me. After perhaps an hour, I told the surgeon I was feeling much better and asked if I could sit near the tent entrance, with the other soldiers who seemed to be having a merry time. The “E.M.T.” man came and pulled the needle and tube out of my arm, and helped me off the stretcher. I found the aches and muscle pain that troubled me were no longer quite as severe; I could walk of my own accord. I thanked the doctors who wished me well, and went to join the other men on the wooden chairs who seemed to be talking about the battle that had earlier taken place.
I sat down beside a young man who looked about my age, and deposited my leather gear and accoutrements on the grass at my feet as he had done. The man immediately offered me a greeting. “Hi.” We began to make some small conversation. He asked of me what Regiment and Company I hailed from. Of course, I replied with my same answer as before. He told me he was from a group known as the First Pennsylvania Rifles, commonly known as the “Buck-tails.” He proceeded to take off his cap and show me the rather large, frilly deer tail that was thereupon attached. It was, indeed, the bushy tail of a white-tailed deer. His mode of dress and mannerisms seemed quaint enough; he however possessed that same odd lack of an accent, and his speech-patterns were most queer. He spoke with contractions and shortened words like a Reb, and yet he was clearly not Southern. He did not sound like a Pennsylvanian either. I asked him if he was born in the town in which he enlisted. He said a most puzzling statement: “Re-enactors don’t need to join a specific Company unique to where they live. Re-enactors come from all over the country.” Re-enactor. So he was not a soldier, but an actor? I inquired of him. He responded to the negative. “Wait, aren’t you a re-enactor too?” he asked of me.
I was perplexed as to what this unfamiliar term meant; and, as best I could, told him the odd story of how I found myself there. He asked me to lower my voice so others could not hear. I dropped it to a whisper.
At the conclusion of my story, having brought him back to the present, he did not seem shocked, nor did he seem to doubt the verity of my claims. He asked me once more what I had said my name was.
“Ignatius Gangloff. 21st New York, company K.” I repeated. His eyes grew wide. His face held more than a mere glimmer of recognition. It was more as if the brilliant rays of a sunrise had bathed his face in light. He grabbed my hand and said to me in low tones: “I need to get you out of here. I know this might seem very unfamiliar to you. Somehow, you, my friend, are a real Union soldier that ended up in the year 2012, at a re-enactment of the same battle you were fighting in 1862. I know this must all be very confusing and alarming. You can prove it by showing me something no re-enactor would have. Do you have anything on your person that dates from the time in which you live?”
I thought for a few moments. I thought of showing him my pocket-watch, but he told me that all re-enactors carried pocket-watches. Then, I remembered the small bible I carried in my front vest-pocket. I produced said item for him, which he examined very carefully. It was a small Bible my German father had given to me, it was printed entirely in German. On the small brown cover it said, “Die Biebel.” He was shocked, and told me that he had a small bible just like it in his father’s study. Though his copy was very old and torn. He asked me what the publishing date was. I opened up to the first page, and it said the book was from 1860. Imagine, the shock on his face! He asked if there was anything written in the back. I showed him the small neatly printed name that was in it, that of my father’s. His look of interest became bewilderment; then it gave way to dumbfounded amazement. “I must get you out of here before anyone suspects. Get your rifle and everything that belongs to you. We don’t want it to be mistaken for reproduction items. Come with me. Please, be careful who you talk to. I don’t want to attract more attention to us. I think you should come to my Aunt’s house. She lives not far from here. We’ll figure out what to do from there.”
As I continued to study this young man, I began to see something in his features. He was definitely German himself, or of the Germanic blood; and something in his eyes. I was unable to assuage my nagging suspicion that we might be in some way related. Perhaps distant cousins? What a small world we live on indeed!
I resolved to keep to myself as much as possible, so as not to arouse undue suspicion of my origins; while my new friend— (distant relative?)—tried to secure me a way out of the tent. He helped me up and straightened out my uniform, and, leading me by the shoulder, went over to talk to the guard. He thanked them congenially for the shelter and rest--and refreshment—and stated that the two of us would be on our way. He was sure to speak with the blue Sergeant outside, the one wearing the badge, and ask him to return my rifle to me. The man respectfully obliged. He gave each of us a bottle of clear liquid and instructed us to put them in our haversacks. I studied the label on it. It was printed very brightly in such vivid and beautiful colors. It had a green mountain on it and said DEER PARK. Natural Spring Water. I still remember holding that bottle in my hand and turning it all about. It was so lightweight and flexible. I could squeeze it, and yet it looked like very thin glass. It could not be broken. I thought it was one of the most beautiful and purely functional containers I had ever seen. Its sides were finely sculpted and conformed exactly to the shape of my fingers. And yet, people were throwing them away and not recycling them! They were littered all over the ground. It seemed these people of the future were very careless in some aspects of their life, and not in others.
For one, their sanitation and hygiene seemed much better. I was becoming rather painfully aware of how filthy I was, when everyone else was so clean-shaven and pale. How did these men and women keep so clean under such conditions?
My newfound companion led me by the arm through the throngs of curious people and back to the camp, which seemed to be in the process of disappearing. Many of the metallic beetle-wagons were gone. I aided my young compatriot in taking down his tent and packing up the rest of his belongings and personal effects. I inquired of him why these “re-enactors” do not like to use the familiar dog tent. He simply stated, “They’re not roomy enough. The Wedge tents provide more shelter from the elements. We do’t sleep six men to a tent like they did in your time. We just have one man assigned to a tent. We’re a curious bunch. Sometimes we care a lot about authenticity, other times we just… let things go.”
From what I could glean from this fellow’s very odd mode of speech, he was part of a nationwide cadre of people; mostly men between the ages of twenty-five to fifty-five, who enjoy living as my people lived “back then” and fighting mock battles the way they were fought in my time, to better understand military history. He also tried to explain that the “modern” life that he enjoyed was nothing like our own, being so far advanced technologically. He himself rather preferred the simple life of a Nineteenth Century soldier, because according to him, life was too fast-paced and crazy in “his” time. This gave him time to relax and simply enjoy being alive. He told me the idleness of camp life appealed to him so much for this reason. He did not have to think or care for himself. Men of superior rank looked out for his own interest; they fed him, told him when to drill, when to fight, when to sleep and when to relax. He had so little responsibility.
Of this I could definitely understand. My young friend also warned me that many aspects of his personal life and living habits I may find a tad bit shocking. And while some experiences may seem very unfamiliar and strange to me, perhaps even objectionable; I must pretend that I am an intrepid explorer like Christopher Columbus, stumbling upon a new civilization for the first time, and retain an open mind. I must remain receptive and uncritical of everything I see; and above all, not be afraid.
TO BE CONTINUED.
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