Excerpt from The Springfield Overland Trail |
by Husam Sweileh

From pages 165-168

Although Sam was on a watchfulness duty, he could not help thinking of his feelings about the American Civil War.  Since July 13, 1864, Sam had continually marched for long seven days with his regiment before he participated in battle.  Later on he would become truly weary with long marching, gun battles, and the sights of the dead and the wounded among soldiers and civilians.  He felt it essential that the war be over.  Still, he had been lucky not to have sustained a single battle wound during his service at the Civil War. 


Sam had been uncomfortable since he put on his Union soldier uniform. The uniform’s thick-cloth coat or jacket was dark blue buttoned up to the neck.  His thin-cloth pants were light blue with a dark-line running down along each external side.  His laced shoes were black and hard on his feet which were sour with long marching.  


Although the jacket and pants provided a becoming contrast in color, the uniform was wholly made of wool.  Therefore, the uniform was rather warm and was not comfortable in warmer climates like that of the State of Georgia.  As a soldier, Sam was also not permitted to appear in public in his issued cotton shirt but he had to have his jacket on.  While marching in rather warm weather towards Atlanta, Sam was constantly feeling that he was about to have a heat stroke. 


The Civil War had started three years before Sam was drafted into the war effort.  By that time the States had been divided between the North Union and the South Confederacy.  Many more states had however supported the Union, including the State of Illinois.  As part of the first major Union army attack on the defenses of Atlanta a week on, the Battle of Peachtree Creek would be fought in Georgia in the afternoon of the twentieth day of July, 1864. 


In their night watch-and-ward duty at the edge of the campsite, Sam and his veteran comrade soldier William O'Neil were privately talking about the rumor that a battle was close at hand north of Atlanta.  It later became Sam's first battle.  Unlike his comrade Sam, William had a passion for heroism and killing the enemy.  William told Sam "I should be given a hero's medal because in the last four battles, I shot and killed four enemy soldiers in the back while they were fleeing from the battlefield." 


Trying to make more sense, Sam said, "Under the legal and moral principle of self-defense, one may kill or injure only armed fighting soldiers, not soldiers fleeing the battlefield.  Also, war is not heroic because one army of the two armies participating in the conflict will necessarily outnumber the other." 


In the interest of clarity, Sam added, "Our task as soldiers is to end the war by defeating the enemy's army, not killing non-fighting fleeing soldiers." 


William argued, "The south has started the war." 


Sam promptly retorted, "A started war must be ended; who started the war is not a moral or legal justification to wage war forever.  No country has ever won a civil war; everybody loses in a civil war." 


Sam went on to say, "Under the self-same principle of self-defense, a country may wage a war against a foreign army which has first resorted to armed conflict." 


William said, "A civil war is a regular war, and a civilian must be killed if he assists an enemy soldier." 


Careful not to encourage civilian bloodshed, Sam retorted, "The soldier may have forced the civilian to help him at the gun's point." 


Having no arguments left, William confirmed, "I will hold firm and fight back no matter what happens at the frontlines." 


Sam believed that William thought that he was a hero because he had been marching with the victorious army and because he had killed four fleeing soldiers.  Sam thought that if the situation had been the other way round, William would have noticed that his comrades had been outnumbered.  Had William retreated before a superior force, he would not have felt heroic. 


On the following day to Sam’s first battle, Sam was unable to talk to William who was asleep.  When Sam asked an army surgeon about William O'Neil, the field-hospital surgeon told him that during the battle attack, William had been shot twice by a rifle in the left hand at its outer edge.  Sam figured out that William had to have been fleeing when he had been wounded. 


What immediately came to Sam’s mind was the possibility that William's hand was no longer usable and that his wounds might develop gangrene later on.  Also, Sam thought that after William had been shot while fleeing, he had to have changed his standing with regard to shooting fleeing soldiers. 


After a short rest, Sam went to visit William again in the field hospital ward.  Protruding from under the blanket, William's left hand was wrapped in bloody bandages, yet he was covering his head with the blanket in his bed.  So Sam went to see the army surgeon again.  The surgeon told Sam that William would most probably lose the use of his hand and could infect with gangrene. 


On that day the commanding officer ordered that the regiment remain in the same place for a week.  The soldiers were assigned the usual tasks of collecting equipment, guarding the encampment, burying the dead and caring for the wounded. 


When Sam went to see William in the afternoon of the following day, William looked sullen, pitiful, hopeless, and weak.  After all, he had been fleeing the battle field when an enemy rifle had shot him twice.  His wound proved his perceived act of cowardice while William himself advocated shooting fleeing soldiers.  His hand was now swollen and dark with gangrene. 


Sam consoled William with few encouraging words.  He told William to take care of himself and to prepare for his civilian life now that his fighting days were over and done. 


The regiment in which Sam served and the other regiments’ soldiers were ordered to prepare for marching the following day.  So Sam went to see William for the last time before leaving with the army regiments.  Sam was with William when the surgeon came to examine William before the operation. 


The surgeon examined the gangrene course up the forearm.  It was clear that it had to be amputated from the elbow down.  William asked, "Doctor.  Am I going to lose the arm from the elbow down?" 


"I'm afraid yes.  Many soldiers have lost arms," replied the surgeon. 


"One does not lose for his country; one sacrifices for his country," Sam corrected. 


The surgeon nodded his head twice in approval and said to William, "We ran out of pain-killers for the amputation.  So we must do without." 


William said, "The amputation will not give me pain half as much as it had after my hand was gunned." 
 Hussam Sweileh holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Language& Literature and an Associate’s Degree in Clinical Laboratory Science.  He is scheduled to study Medical Laboratory Science at the University of Illinois Springfield. 

    His bookThe Springfield Overland Trail, is a single, non-series novel whose main characters are (1) Sam Hudson, a livestock rancher, (2) Ben Norton, his crop-grower friend, and (3) Georgia Hudson, the 14-year-old daughter of Sam’s cousin.  The novel’s main storyline takes place along the Chicago-Springfield Overland Trail in the early summer of 1868.  One can purchase a Kindle edition of the novel from www.amazon.com.  At present  am working on editing his 88,000-plus word collection of eighteen short stories titled Under Our Frontier Skies.