Journey to Gettysburg is a dramatic replay of the events leading up to the most important battle of the Civil War. It is seen through the eyes of a Quaker boy who is first, a bystander and observer. Then, he is drawn into the conflict and becomes a participant in Pickett's Charge, the climax of the three day conflict.
Matt Mason is a 15 year old boy who was raised on an isolated farm in rural North Carolina. With the untimely death of his mother it becomes necessary for him to find his father who is fighting for the Army of Northern Virginia. Much of the story is involved with the trek of the young man through war-torn Virginia in search of the Southern Army which is on the way to Gettysburg and the climactic battle that proves to be the turning point of the war.
During the trip north Matt matures from a boy to a young man in what becomes a "coming of age" story. The experiences on the trek, the challenges he faces day to day as he searches for his father, and the friendships he develops make the book memorable and hard to put down once the story begins. That is especially true in the developing relationship with the beautiful Ami-Ruth who provides a new dimension to his life as the conflict surrounding them threatens to consume them both.
July 3, 1863
“Son, do you have a gun?” the officer asked.
“No sir. I had one but the firing pin blew up and burned my face,” Matt said. He pulled the hair back on the side of his face so the officer could see his scar.
“Well, I can’t have you going into battle without a gun,” the officer said. He left the line and in a moment he was back with a flag in his hand. “Do you know anything about using a signal flag?” he asked.
“No sir. I’ve seen them used, but I don’t know what the signals are,” Matt responded.
The officer said, “Well, you stay close to me when we get into action and I will tell you what to do with the flag. I swear, if you run, I will shoot you in the back. Do you hear?
Matt said miserably, “I understand, sir. I won’t run.” The officer left, and Matt began marching down the road with the rest of the men, his mind spinning. How in the world did he get into such a mess? Less than an hour ago his Pa had sent him away from the battle lines to escape the mayhem that was to occur. Now he was marching right back into it. He looked over at the man to his left. “What outfit is this, sir?” he asked.
The man responded, “ This is General Isaac Trimble’s Brigade, but it don’t make no difference because we are all going to be dead in a little while anyway.” Matt started to respond to the man but he was looking away, and Matt could see tears in his eyes.
The marching column came to a halt and all of the men turned and walked off of the road into the woods. Matt soon became aware that there were many other men already in the woods. His unit kept moving down the hill until bright sunlight began filtering in between the trees. As the woods opened up, he could see the cannons of General Heth’s artillery lined up toward the south of his position. He strained his eyes to spot his Pa, but it was hard to make out any individual while looking out into the bright sunlight.
On the ridge off in the distance more than a half mile away, there was an endless sea of men dressed in blue stretched as far as he could see from left to right. Matt could also see their cannons lined up along the ridge facing the ones of the Confederate forces, and he began to feel a tightness in his throat that seemed to slide all the way down to his stomach. He began feeling sick, but fought the nausea by taking very deep and slow breaths. His thoughts were interrupted by the bleat of a bugle, followed by a voice yelling something he couldn’t distinguish in the distance. Suddenly there was a deafening roar as all of the cannons fired at once. The air was so full of smoke that he could no longer see the ridge where the Yankees were. In a matter of minutes, the Yankee big guns answered shot for shot. He heard the Yankee cannon balls landing in the woods all around. When one hit, he heard the yells and cries of injured men, quickly followed by the sounds of medics rushing to help them.
After two hours of the big guns firing over and over, silence fell. Matt heard the bugle call again, and the men around him stood up and moved forward to the edge of the trees, like sleepwalkers. Almost as a single man they left the shelter of the trees and lined up side by side. They stood there for what seemed to be the longest time, their coats forming a long gray line. The officer who had given Matt the flag arrived just as the order came to move out.
Matt was at the far right of the second line of Trimble’s unit, a line stretching a quarter mile up the line of trees along the edge of the ridge. To Matt’s right was a long double line of men that a man he had talked with earlier identified as General Pickett’s brigade. They stretched out of sight to the south. All were moving forward purposefully, marching in one great double line.
As they moved forward, the Yankee cannons started up again, but the sound they were making was different and they were not lobbing cannon balls up into the woods. He heard the man beside him curse and say the dreaded words, “Grape shot.” He knew from conversations with Pa and the others in camp that grape shot was composed of rip rap, metal, chains, rocks--anything hard and destructive that could be fitted into the muzzle of a cannon. When it blasted out, the grape shot scattered and cut down the marching men in a swath several feet wide. As quick as a gap opened in the line, men moved up to fill it, and the wave of soldiers continued walking toward the ridge where the Yankees were waiting, leaving the wounded and dead men behind them.
All around Matt, men were falling and blood was everywhere. Not far ahead he saw a stone fence with dead and dying men lying behind it. When he was a few feet from the fence, he felt something hit him hard and he felt his body falling toward the ground. He looked down and his heart jumped. His bare feet were covered with blood and he wondered if he had been shot, but he felt no pain. Matt turned over and looked toward the blue coated soldiers on the ridge one last time as he closed his eyes and lay still. Finally, completely exhausted, Matt drifted off to a restless sleep.
His mind wandered back to the chain of events that brought him to this point. His Ma’s face appeared to him over and over. Sometimes she was like she used to be before the illness. Sometimes, it was the face of death that was the last vision he had of her before he buried her under the rocks just north of the farm house. He had heard that before death your life passes before your eyes and he wondered if he was dying. His life of the past several weeks was moving though his mind like pictures in a book with a narrative that included the voices of his Ma, the banker from Mt. Airy, and even the braying of his mule, Ol’ Mose, who had been a part of his family since before he was born. The pictures seemed alive. In his mind they were.
About The Author
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins is a mid-westerner by birth and a southerner by choice. He holds three degrees from Missouri universities. He taught history for several years and is past president of four colleges, one each in the states of Iowa, Illinois, South Carolina, and California.
Dr. Hopkins writes a weekly column that is syndicated by GateHouse Media and is regularly published across 26 states in more than 400 newspapers. He likes history and humor, and both are reflected in his columns. Dr. Hopkins has written academic papers, magazine articles, chapters for books, and many articles for newspapers. He is enjoying his first effort at writing fiction and hopes to continue writing in the field of fiction in future years.
Dr. Hopkins' wife Ruth is a professional artist and they have three grown children, Sara, an Optometrist, Amy, a college administrator, and Steven, an attorney and insurance executive. They also have six grandchildren that range in age from 21 to 6.
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