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Judgement Day

I'm not exactly sure why I'm trying to do this, writing down my memories.  I've never been much of a writer even though I've gotten a lot better over the years mostly thanks to Lou.  She's probably one of the smartest people I know.  She always was reading books and writing in that journal of hers even when the boys and I still thought she was a boy.  Never dreamed I'd be married to a teacher one day.  Guess it's true what they say about married folks, they start to rub off on each other.  I suppose it's because of her that I'm finally facing the nightmares that are part of my past, that disaster that was "the glorious war for Southern independence."  I've carried the guilt and horror alone for too long, but I can't bring myself to tell her about it face to face.  I couldn't stand to watch her horror as she learned what I once was, me and a thousand men like me who thought that war would never change us.  We were wrong, so wrong.  So, I will write what I can and when I'm finished I will let Lou read my words and hope she understands.

I never wanted to be a captain, never wanted to wake up my wife and children for years afterward with my screams, never wanted to smell the phantom scents of gunsmoke and blood and sickness on an ordinary spring wind that carried the smell of flowers for other people.

The only reason they promoted me was because there was no one else.  They'd all been sent home in a box or crippled for the rest of their lives because the docs had no time to heal.  All the surgeons did was amputate.  It was widely whispered that you were better off lying on the battlefield for days praying for death than going to the surgeon's tent.

Funny thing is, I heard that the same thing happened to George Custer in the Union army that happened to me.  He'd graduated at the bottom of his class at Westpoint and ended up a general at the end of the war.  Go figure.  He loved the position.  I was only a captain and I hated it.  It's only now, years after I've returned home and the Confederacy has surrendered and been dissolved that I can even think about what I saw and did.

I'd only been enlisted about three weeks before I forgot what had made me leave my beautiful Louise, who was already expecting our first child, back in Rock Creek to seek out some outdated and stupid idea of honor on a battlefield.  Even the beauty of Virginia wasn't enough to keep me going.  My home state had changed in the time I'd been gone.  Southerners all over the state were taking up arms against an enemy who was really themselves.  Anyone who wasn't one hundred percent behind the war was seen as a traitor to the South, and if it's one thing Southerners know, it's vigilante justice.  Class differences were forgotten only if you were willing to throw your life away for a way of life that most of us had never enjoyed.  For those of us fighting to preserve our memories, we soon found that the very fighting we thought would save our homes would actually destroy them and rape the land we'd hoped to farm.

My adventures with the Express seemed like child's play after my first two battles.  I watched in horrified fascination as one young private next to me in the charge had his head nearly blown off his neck from the force of the shrapnel that struck him.  I'd barely ducked in enough time to avoid becoming the shell's second victim.  It was nothing like even the worst of our adventures while we were riding for the Express.  At least then we could see our enemy.  We'd gone after them because they were outlaws or murderers.  This enemy you only saw if you were lucky, or unlucky depending on how you looked at it, to stay alive long enough to reach their front lines.  Even victory was hallow as you walked away from the battlefield, the stench of blood and gangrene and any other manner of human sickness burning your nostrils.  We never camped far enough away that we didn't hear men and boys calling for their mothers and loved ones or the women's weeping and screeching as they found the body of a lover or a husband or a son.

Battle after battle I watched friends die, men younger and older and better than me.  I'd lie awake in the bivouac and wonder what made me better than them.  Why was I still alive while they had died?  Even more men died from the countless fevers that seemed to sweep through the camps.  I was a lieutenant in no time and as an officer, I was transfered into the mounted corps.  It was a relief to finally have the familiar routine of caring for a horse to alleviate the boredom in between battles and take my mind off the death and destruction.

My only other distraction from war was the letters I constantly wrote to Lou, knowing full well that she may never receive them until after the war.  I got few of hers, but I knew she wrote faithfully.  The ones that had reached me, I kept tucked in my shirt and reread them often trying to imagine her as she wrote and the things she wrote about.  One long one I still have to this day.  It was four pages of detail after detail concerning the twins' birth, all of her thoughts and sensations and wishes.  That letter became more precious to me than a Bible and a couple times I rushed blindly back into the fray after realizing I had dropped it.  It was the emblem of all the reasons I wanted to stay alive.  I'd long ago stopped fighting for ideals.  Now, it was simply because I was beholden by an enlistment and because there was a whole army of Union soldiers who wouldn't think twice about running me through.

I wanted to go home to Rock Creek, to hold the sons I'd never seen, to make love to the wife I loved and missed so much.  Lee's army wanted to promote me for being a killer and for staying alive any way I could.  I did everything I could to talk my way out of the promotion to captain knowing that as a captain I'd be forced to order men to their deaths.  Finally, the general himself was called in to talk some sense into me.  Needless to say, I was out voted.

In my sleep, I saw every one of my men, each one accusing me of murder before God and man.  I agonized over every decision I made carrying the guilt for their deaths like a cloak over my shoulders.  The worst part was having to take orders from men who'd bought their commissions with no idea of what the men faced on the battlefield.  Many a time I was forced to order some of my men into a formation or maneuver that was pure suicide because some arrogant planters' son wouldn't listen to my suggestions.

The men's faces and voices haunted my dreams so often that I even tried to desperately drown them away in liquor, but it wasn't long before I discovered that whiskey doesn't really work.  It doesn't take away the memories and after a time it didn't even numb my senses anymore.

Hardened and disillusioned after three years of fighting, I no longer bothered making friends with the men under my command because they never lasted long. Somehow they loved me anyway.  I heard one of the other officers once comment on how my men would run through the gates of Hell if I told them to.  And, God help me, they did with me leading the charge--leading them to their deaths.  I dare not hope their souls or their families will ever forgive my part in their massacre.



He looked up with a start smiling as his diminutive wife walked into the small den where he'd sought refuge to write in private.  It had been her idea to write down his experiences, believing that writing about them would do the same thing talking about them would.  He'd never been able to speak completely about his war memories, not even to Lou.  No one had understood the continuing nightmares but her.  Her own nightmares of the night Wicks had raped her continued even after over ten years of marriage to Kid.  When he awoke screaming, Lou merely held him, stroking his hair gently until he fell asleep again.  She'd made no demands on him when he returned home despite her curiosity.

Kid watched her grinning as she waddled towards the desk where he sat, one hand on her lower back while the other rested gently on her swollen belly.  He could hear the ten-year-old twins, Jamie and Adrian, trying to entertain five-year-old Billy and two-year-old Mary Emma in the parlor.  Four children and ten years together and now they were expecting another baby in two months.  As Lou stopped next to his chair, Kid could see the lines of weariness on her face even in the dimness of the room.

"How can you even see to write in the dark?" Lou asked with a smile.  Lou'd felt the tension in the room and knew he'd been too involved in the memories to even notice the beautiful sunset that cast its purplish light through the window in front of him.  She moved to light the lamp on the mantle and brought it over to place it on the desk where it illuminated the pages covered with his small handwriting.  "There!"

My angel, he thought emotionally.  When he'd first come home to Rock Creek the town was still as divided as it had been before he left.  No one wanted to understand the reasons he'd fought for the South, all many of the townspeople saw was a dirty Rebel.  They talked about the McCloud family viciously and for a time even refused to allow Lou and Kid to patronize some businesses.  The school board even tried to oust Lou from her teaching position as Rachel's assistant.  When she'd found out why, Lou at eight months pregnant had been furious and marched straight into the school board meeting.  You could hear her shouts clearly outside the school building and a crowd gathered outside to hear her harrangue the board for their ignorance and hatred.  The crowd had listened as she emotionally told them how their hatred was manifesting itself among their children.  Kid had never been more embarrassed, emotional, and proud than he was as he struggled to contain the tears threatening to spill while he listened to Lou's defense of him.  The crowd had parted in silence as Lou stormed out of the schoolhouse slamming the door and headed to the relative safety of Teaspoon's office.  The town may have forgotten Kid but they hadn't forgotten Louise McCloud and after they found out what the school board had intended, during the most delicate time of a woman's life, they rallied around her and got her position back.

Kid pulled her close, his large hands caressing her belly as he kissed it.  Her hands wove into his sandy curls as he spoke to the child within her who lurched and kicked beneath his lips.  "Hey in there, Baby McCloud.  Go to sleep and stop kickin' your mama so she can relax, okay," Kid coaxed.  He looked up into her face.  "How's your back today?"

She smiled as she felt the baby's kicking ease.  "Not bad.  It kind of goes with the territory," Lou replied.  "It's incredible how you do that. She's not even born yet and you've already got her obeying your every word."

Kid was such a good father.  It was like he was making up for the time he was away from the twins.  When Billy and Mary Emma were born, he'd been in the room with her refusing to leave even when the doctor threatened him.  He'd gotten up with her every time she woke to feed or change the babies, often changing them himself or bringing them to her to nurse.  When she stopped nursing, he always made time during the day to give them their bottles at lunch.  Kid would drop anything in the world if his children needed him.  Many were the days he turned down business that had come to their small ranch in favor of taking the twins fishing or going picnicking with his family.

"She, huh?  You think we're gettin' another little girl?" he asked with a pleased grin.  He loved his boys, but it was Mary Emma that had him wrapped around her little finger.  She looked exactly like he'd imagined Louise looked as a child except with his curls.  "Memma" as Billy called her was Kid's baby girl and she adored her father.  The sheer unadulterated adoration was evident even as she climbed up on his lap for stories or to show him a butterfly she'd caught.

"Don't know," Lou replied, letting him pull her onto his knee.  Kid's hand still stroked her stomach as she wrapped her arms around his neck.  "This time doesn't feel like when I was expectin' Mary, but it doesn't feel like when I was carryin' the boys either."

"Maybe we're havin' three," Kid joked.

Lou's eyes widened in horror.  "Bite your tongue, man!  Don't you dare even speak it 'cause every time you make a guess about the babies when I'm carryin' them it comes true.  On our weddin' night we were talkin' about children and you just had to mention twins.  So, what happens?  I have twins!  I refuse to believe that I'm carryin' three children inside me."

"Ya never know, angel," Kid said rubbing her lower back.  "Anythin' could happen."

As if on cue, there was a loud crash from the parlor and three voices called, "Mama!"  Lou groaned and leaned her head against his.

"See what I mean," he continued flashing her a grin as she rose awkwardly from his knee.

Louise started waddling toward the door.  "Well if we do have three, we're sellin' two of them to the gypsies 'cause I refuse to feel like a milkcow again," she complained.  "It was bad enough with the twins.  I can't imagine nursing three babies every three hours for six months.  I'd never sleep!"

Kid laughed as she left the room.  Trust Lou not to mince words.  Looking back down at the pages before him, he picked up the pen he'd laid on the desk and dipped it into the inkwell.  He paused to glance out the window before him at the beautiful sunset casting its colors over the land and hills.  With a moment's thought, he set the pen to the paper and began to write again.


Many a day went by when, in the midst of fierce battle, I'd look up and scan the horizon for some sign of the sunset.  An army can't fight in the dark and the sunset was the signal to the officers of both armies that there had been enough fighting for the day.  Many a day went by when it seemed the sunset would never come and it took all my strength to keep from hiding amongst the dead until the battle was over.

War makes savages of good men, even me.  It bothers me more than I can say to admit that.  No, I didn't rape any women we ran across like some others, I didn't rob the dead or mutilate them or any other number of horrible things that happened in and out of camp.  But I hated. I hated like I'd never hated anything or anyone before.  I hated the enemy, I hated the war, I hated the politicians in Washington who'd refused to compromise and started this war, I hated the women who sent their men out to "come home on their shields or not at all," I hated the papers that glorified the fighting, I hated honor and duty, but most of all I hated myself.  I hated myself for abandoning my family for a piece of land I hadn't seen in six or seven years.

I hated myself for fighting against the ideals the people I loved held dear.  It got to the point where I felt like I was fighting to keep Noah in chains even though he'd died before I'd even decided to enlist.  His face and Jimmy's and Cody's began merging with the faces of the men I'd sent to die, their fingers pointing at me as they shouted, "Traitor!"  Even in the midst of it all, I still prayed for their safety.  I prayed they were still scouting in the Western Curtain where the fighting wasn't as fierce.  God, I hoped that they could all at least understand why I'd done the things I did if they couldn't forgive me.

The cold and damp and fatigue and illness and hunger only added to the tribulation we felt.  Some men just couldn't deal with it all and went crazy.  Others went AWOL only to be found and hung for abandoning their posts.

When I finally started back home after the signing of the treaty at Appomatox, I felt twenty years older.  As I stared at the reflection in the glass of the train window, I looked twenty years older, my hair longer than I'd ever let it get, a beard I'd never worn hiding the scar on my jaw.  Even after I'd shaved and gotten my haircut, there was a haggard look to my face, my eyes sunken and wild looking.  How Lou knew it was me when I rode out to the farm is beyond me.  Rachel and Teaspoon still lived at the old waystation and had kept Katy there just waiting for my return.  I nearly broke down as she greeted me enthusiastically like I'd never left.  Having Katy beneath me as I headed toward the reunion that had me nervous as hell granted me a small measure of confidence and reassurance.

I remember it was a Saturday the day I came back.  The boys were out playing in the yard and were about four at the time.  They heard me ride over the hill and looked up, fear and curiosity in their eyes.  I knew they recognized Katy even if they didn't know me.

Jamie ran to the open door of the house and called for Lou.  "Mama, come quick," he'd called.  "A man's stolen Papa's horse!"

By this time I'd ridden close enough to dismount and Adrian watched me with wide eyes.  I stood at the bottom of the steps and watched as Jamie pulled Adrian onto the porch.  My eldest son placed himself in front of his brother as if to protect him from me.  Even though the action hurt, I knew that Lou had done a wonderful job as their mother instilling in them the meaning of brotherhood.

A girl with long blonde hair held back by a ribbon stalked out onto the porch, a look of annoyance on her face.  "James Isaac McCloud, what has your mama told you about hollerin' in the house?"  She looked up, absently wiping her hands on an apron, as she saw me.  She stared for a moment before I saw the light of realization dawn on her face.  her jaw dropped and she brought both hands up to her face.  "Oh, my God!  Louise!  Louise, get out here!" she exclaimed.

I heard Lou running through the house to the front door.  "Theresa, what in the world..."  She looked up as she reached the doorway, her face going blank in shock.  I'd never seen anything so beautiful in all my life.  There she was real and whole before me and I was suddenly so aware of how shabby and strange I must look to her.  She hadn't changed....No, that's wrong.  Her bosom and hips were just the tiniest bit fuller than they'd been when I left her, her hair longer and pinned out of the way on top of her head.  I blinked hard, my heart refusing to believe it was real.  After what seemed an eternity of us just staring at each other, I finally heard myself whisper her name.

At the sound, Lou burst into tears and ran down the steps nearly tripping in her haste.  She stopped short just inches in front of me as if she too wouldn't believe what was before her.  Her eyes perused my face searching my eyes for something.  Slowly she brought one small hand up to trace the scar running along my cheek and jawline.  I flinched involuntarily at the contact not having felt a woman's gentle touch for three years.  I could see the hurt in her eyes and quickly grabbed her hand and kissed her palm, closing my eyes against the relief her scent and touch sent through me.

"Kid?" she sobbed.  At my nod, she launched herself into my arms and clung to my neck desperately as she sobbed.  I couldn't speak, couldn't even cry as I held her tightly just drinking in her smell, the feel of her clutched against me, the sound of her sobbing my name over and over again.  We held each other forever until suddenly it hit me.  I was home and it wasn't a dream or fevered hallucination.

"I'm home," I whispered into Lou's hair.  She looked up at me quickly as I began to laugh.  Lou must've thought I'd lost my mind for a moment.  Realizing that I wasn't crazy, Lou smiled that beautiful smile I'd dreamed about for so long and joined in my laughter as I lifted her and swung her in circles until we were both dizzy.

Lou wouldn't let me stray far from her for months after that day so it was no wonder that we were soon expecting another baby even as I was getting to know my twins.

The nightmares were really bad for the first couple weeks I was back.  I'd wake up not knowing where I was, thinking I was on the battlefield.  A couple times I even got out of bed and walked outside thinking it was time to march on.  The habits ingrained from three years in the army emerged in my sleep.  I slept deeply when I slept, my knife within reach.  The first morning I awoke in the house, Lou had come upstairs to wake me for breakfast.  I'd awakened quickly at her touch and unconsciously pinned her against the wall with the knife at her throat before I was completely awake.  I still tremble at the memory of what I might have done.  To counteract the instincts, I started telling myself that I was home and not at war over and over before I fell asleep.  I made Lou lock up all the weapons in the house.  She insisted that she trusted me, that I was overreacting but I wouldn't listen.  There was no way I wanted even the possibility of me hurting her or the children to exist.  Over the days, my brain learned to recognize Lou and the twins' touches when they woke me.  However, if anyone else tried to wake me by touching me, I was still more likely to choke the life out of them first.


He wrote furiously for hours as if once he'd started he wouldn't rest until it all came out.  All his frustration, fear, anger, and guilt came out upon the pages beneath the pen.  Kid wrote about his reunion with the other riders Cody and Jimmy granting him the forgiveness he'd searched for in his dreams.  He sought refuge from the death in his dreams in the life he struggled to build and live, the farm he worked, the children he fathered and raised.  Ironically, war had taught him the value of life, of his life that somehow he'd been found worthy to live.

Kid looked up and rubbed his eyes wearily.  The house was silent, darkness showing through the window and he realized that his family must have all gone to bed without him realizing it.  In the stillness, he could hear not the screams of death that had been such a part of his life, but rather the singing voices of soldiers.

His memory replayed a specific amazing incident that had been buried beneath all the death and destruction.  It had been Christmas Eve and both armies had ceased fire until after the New Year.  As happened often, the Union and Confederate forces were camped very close together sharing the same small creek as their water supply.  Kid had walked down to the creekside to wash up and write a letter home.  He was sitting under a tree when he heard some Union soldier on the other side begin singing Christmas carols.  It wasn't long before men on both sides of the creek had joined in, temporarily forgetting their differences and the color of their uniforms.  Some men exchanged gifts of tobacco and homemade carvings, while other asked after loved ones serving on the opposite side and sent messages to them.  Kid remembered thinking that some things were universal and not even war could kill--the love of family and the peace found on Christmas Eve in the observance of a holy day.

In his mind, Kid couldn't help but think that he was hearing men who'd finally found peace somewhere beyond this life.  It struck him that by writing about his memories, the men within them were not forgotten, their deaths were not in vain.  And in that moment, he felt a reconciliation with his memories.  Kid wasn't innocent enough to believe that they would ever go away, but he knew that now he could live peaceably with them.

He gathered the sheets of paper together and dug in the desk for piece of string to tie them together.  He pulled out a clean sheet of paper and scribbled a quick note.  In the note, he explained what he'd written.  Kid wrote two last lines at the bottom before signing it. "Angel," he wrote, "you'll never know or understand how your idea has become the instrument of my salvation.  Hopefully as you read these memories, you will understand why I couldn't tell you about them."  Folding it, he addressed it to Lou and placed it on top of the bound sheets.

Blowing out the lamp, he quietly left the den and walked upstairs.  He peeked into the boys' room and found them sound asleep in their bunk beds.  Adrian had kicked the covers off again and Kid softly replaced them.  He quietly placed gentle kisses on each warm head.  They were too old for holding and kissing, they kept telling their mother, so Kid took advantage of the time he took to check the house and the children.  They were growing so fast, all of them.  All too soon they'd be gone and it'd just be him and Lou again.

Pulling the door closed, he walked down the hall to the nursery where his baby girl slept.  He peeked in to see her sitting up in the middle of her crib jabbering to herself.  When she saw him, her face lit up.  "Papa, I'm up," she said loudly extending her arms to him.

He strode to the crib and lifted her out to cuddle her.  "I see that, sweetie," he said softly.  "What're you doin' up while everyone else's sleepin'?"  Kid put a finger to his lips indicating that she should whisper.

"I waitin' for you, Papa. No kisses," she whispered loudly indicating that she hadn't gotten to say goodnight to him.

He chuckled at her kissing her forehead and brushing the damp curls back.  "You're just like your mama," Kid said.  "She won't go to sleep until she gets kisses either."

Mary Emma yawned hugely.  "I know," she said.  Her long lashes came down to shutter her eyes even as she tried to fight the sleep claiming her as its own.

Kid gently replaced her in the crib, pulling the blanket up under her chin and setting her favorite doll next to her.  He smiled as she immediately popped a thumb in her mouth.  Lou was trying to break her of the habit, but Kid couldn't bring himself to tell her not to do it.  She'd grow up quick enough he knew, might as well let her stay a little girl just a while longer.  He patted her back before heading toward the room he shared with Lou.

The lamp was still lit and Lou was sitting up in their bed snacking on a sugar cookie from the batch she'd made that afternoon.  She looked up from her book with a slight grimace as he came in and began undressing.

"What're you doin' up?  You know you're teachin' our little girl some bad habits, don't ya?  She was sitting up waiting for me too," Kid said with a laugh as he crawled beneath the covers.  He leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on her lips tasting the sweet remnants of her snack.  "Hmm, sugar cookie.  Every time I kiss you it's another flavor.  Guess it's better than the pickles you craved carrying Billy," he joked.

Lou ignored his comment as she framed his face in her hands, her shrewd eyes searching his.  "Are you okay?  I checked in on you when I was getting the children ready for bed and you were writing so furiously that you never heard me.  So, I decided not to let them bother you.  I wanted to make sure you were alright," she replied.  Lou's eyes took on a haunted, far away look, her brow furrowing slightly.  "Besides, you know I never sleep when you're not here."

Kid kissed her again in reassurance.  Her insomnia when he was gone from his side of the bed was legendary amongst their family and friends.  It was the one scar she still carried from their time apart, her one outward sign of her dependence upon him.  "I'm fine," he assured her.  "No worries, now.  It's not good for the baby."  He reached across her and turned out the lamp before pulling the book from her hands and laying it on the stand.

"Listen to you, the expert on babies now.  You'd think you fathered all twelve tribes of Israel the way you talk," she giggled as she snuggled down next to him.  "So, when do I get to read the big project?"

He settled her against his side, his hand unconsciously moving to rest on her tummy.  "Tomorrow, angel. It's waited this long, it can wait another night.  Now, go to sleep."

Lou stroked his bare chest absently as she yawned.  "Sweet dreams, Kid," she wished him as her eyes closed.

"For the first time in years I think they will be...thanks to you," he murmured against her hair.


Judgement Day
as sung by Shiloh on the CD The Civil War: the Nashville Sessions

(liner notes:  A battle weary Confederate Captain faces the consequences of the field decisions he makes, on both the lives of his men and the condition of his conscience.)

...And sometimes it's too much to bear
The dead and dying everywhere
And every day, for me, is Judgement Day
Every day, for me, is Judgement Day....

I sit among my charts and maps
And hear the lonely call of taps
Like the wind across the moon
I pray to God that I am right
And then I send boys off to fight
And travel home in boxes far too soon

May God have mercy on my soul
For all the years that I have stolen
From the men who follow what I say
And may their families all forgive
The orders I so calmly give them
As I march their sons into harm's way

And out there on the killing floor
I hear the bloody sounds of war
And watch a thousand more souls slip away
And sometimes it's too much to bear
The dead and dying everywhere
And every day for me is Judgement Day
Every day for me is Judgement Day

I write to mothers of their sons
And say "They were the bravest ones,"
And then I pour a drink and sleep
But sleep is only filled with drums
A slice of death 'til morning comes
The heart of darkness
Where my soul can weep

Come walk a mile in bloody shoes
And lose the men that I am losing
Watch them pay the piper for my tune
Come walk among their ghosts with me
And look through eyes too used to seeing
Faces who have joined the lost platoon
Come Judgement Day God only knows
If man will reap the pain he sows
And what will be the price he has to pay

But down here on the killing floor
Among the crimson rags of war
For me, each day I live is Judgement Day
Every day for me is Judgement day

May God have mercy on my soul
For all the years that I have stolen
From the men who follow what I say
And may their families all forgive
The orders I so calmly give them
As I march their sons into harm's way

And out there on the killing floor
I hear the bloody sounds of war
And watch a thousand more souls slip away
And sometimes it's too much to bear
The dead and dying everywhere
And everyday, for me, is Judgement Day
Every day, for me, is Judgement Day
Every day, for me, is Judgement Day