Sergeant Marcus was a little man who had earned his bars saving the regimental colors at Antietam. The 113th Tennessee Volunteers knew him well enough to call him "Sarge Mark."
Corporal Bill Brount was a big man, immense shoulders, wide arms, thick hands. He was a lumberman from the forests and the high mountains, and he was about the toughest, loudest man any of the 113th had ever seen. He wrote to his mother, little brother and fiancee every week, and had a tiny picture of his fiancee which he would show proudly to his friends. She was a small girl with haunted hungry eyes, and anyone who saw the picture wondered how strange Bill would look next to her.
He wrote ponderously on the last day of his time with the Army of Tennessee, the tiny pen smearing his meaty fingers with ink:
It is very cold and wet here. I've walked a thousand miles in ankle deep mud if I've walked ten feet in it. Gen'l Hill told the Captain that we will be moving soon on the Yanks to push them back from the Petersburg works if we win out here. We will have them beat yet, US Grant or no US Grant and I will come home to work again. Enclosed is my pay I wish I had more to send. Say hello to Billy and Frederica and Mr. Holmes for me."
He put the letter in his pocket to finish later (he never did) as Sarge Mark rushed up. "Bill," he cried, "We're moving. Sound it off."
Bill nodded and bellowed "113TH, FALL OUT!" His voice boomed and rolled and echoed across the camp, startling the crickets momentarily into silence. A low groan, quickly stifled went up from the tents. Bill picked up his rifle and ammunition box. They looked like toys in his hands. He fished a piece of paper out of his pocket. It read: "Cprl William B. Brount, 113th Ten. Volun., Inf., 16th, III." He handed it to Jeff Wingate, who pinned it to his back. He pinned a similar paper to Skinny Fefter's back. In this manner, if they were killed and unable to be identified, their bodies could be shipped home.
General A.P. Hill rode past and a cheer went up for the hard-faced man who Lee and Jackson would call out to on their deathbed.
Sarge Mark, standing at attention said, "We're on picket today, boys. Bill, strike the colors and hand it over to the Captain." Bill nodded and moved to the red flag, folding it up carefully and giving it to the bearded man with the crutch, who saluted him and the regiment.
The Captain, whose name they did not know, said "Good luck, 113th." Sarge Mark gave the order to begin the march. As they moved out of the outskirts of Chattanooga, he said "Sherman's boys are right across the river."
Skinny Fefter gave a horse laugh. "Let 'em come." he said with bravado.
Chattanooga disappeared behind them: before them was wilderness, choked with brush and bramble. The ground was wet and sucked at Bill's boots, but at least they were new: someone had shot a Yankee spy, and the boots were too large for anyone else in the outfit. They were to move through the wilderness to the plank road and spread out to flank it on either side, moving until they sighted the Union columns, but when they were still pushing through the brushy woods, a shot rang out, the whiz of a ball rustling through the trees like a frightened insect, and the shout of Union soldier, in a direction none could tell.
Sarge Mark cursed. "Move!" he shouted, but the men had already spread out, taking cover in the low bushes. Another shot rang out.
"How many?" said Bill.
"I don't know," said Jeffrey. "I can't see none of them."
"That way!" shouted Skinny, and fired his rifle at something which might have been a blue tunic before it was obscured by the smoke from his gun. Jeffrey fired that direction, too. The Yankees returned fire. Someone in the distance shouted "The Rebs is over here!"
Sarge Mark swore again. "How _many_?" insisted Bill. Nobody knew. Now it seemed the woods were alive with the crashing sounds of Union soldiers approaching the hollow where they crouched. Sarge Mark grabbed Skinny's collar.
"Fefter, run like the devil back to the lines, tell them that blasted Sherman's flanking us to the left again." he snarled.
"Yessir." said Skinny and got up in a hunched crouch and ran as fast as he could away from the hollow. Shots whizzed through the trees above them as he went.
"This way! They's on the run!" a Union soldier shouted. They were close now, and Bill could suddenly see one looming up out of the smoke. He aimed and fired his rifle, then quickly reloaded, not looking or caring if he hit. The fusillade of bullets tore through overhead.
"When they're on top of us, give them the steel, boys." said Sarge Mark, "Then get ready to fall back." They fumbled with their dull bayonets. Just then a Union man appeared at the edge of the smoke and fired his pistol. "Over here!" he cried, and was cut down by a shot fired by Hungry Mike.
Then they were on them. Bill half-stood to get a better angle with his rifle and a shot thumped into his arm. He shouted and dropped the gun, spinning around from shock and surprise and slumping to the ground. His arm throbbed and he let out a bellowing wail of pain, pushing himself to his hands and knees. "Fall back!" cried Sarge Mark. "Fall back!"
Somehow, he was running. He had long strides. He heard someone breathing behind him, then there wasn't anyone behind him anymore. Ahead he saw Skinny Fefter draped over a stump, the back of his uniform caked in blood. He heard something go past his ear. He felt something on his face. It might have been tears. It might have been blood. Behind him someone screamed a long familiar scream that ended in a short familiar gurgle. He lifted Fefter to his shoulder, his good shoulder, and pressed on. A bullet cracked and splintered a young sapling near him. He didn't know where the Chattanooga lines were, he might have been moving for the Union lines for all he knew, his ankle turned in the new boots which hurt suddenly. He stumbled and fell, and changed his mind: he would not run away from the Yanks, he would run towards Hill, to warn him. Run towards Hill. And then he picked Fefter up, unconscious, but now somehow lighter. The forest seemed realer, more alive, more colorful, and the lead balls sang out around him like buzzing insects. Suddenly he was in a clearing, and he shouted across to the men still milling aroung their tents:
"Sherman's coming! Where is the General?" He smashed through the arms of those who reached out for him. "Where is the General?" he bellowed.
Hill quickly came, looking up at Bill. His voice was mild, "What news, Corporal?" Behind Bill the camps were a confusion of rifles, orders and motion.
"Sherman's on the march, General." Bill said. "We run into them when we was on picket. Flanking to the left."
Hill's aide cursed. "Sherman will never go to hell. He'd flank the devil and get into heaven despite him." Hill himself paid no attention, looking at Bill's wounded arm and the dead man he carried.
General Hill pointed at his surgeon. "See to this man." he said. "He has saved Chattanooga."
He hadn't, as it turned out. But he lay quivering, awake in the hospital that night, his wound dressed, his arm mercifully intact, afraid of the strange power that flowed through his limbs, that had flowed through him since he decided to run towards something rather than away from it.
The nurse was small and plump, a rounded little woman with curls pressed tight under her cap. She came to him that night and laid a cool hand on his forehead, leaving a small sprig of holly by him. In the morning, the ancient magic had worked it's way, and he was more alert and less confused. In low tones, she told him what had happened, and what he now was.
"A troll?" he echoed once. She nodded. Then the doctor entered and announced that the lines had broken. Chattanooga had fallen, and he would not be allowed to go home.