Excerpted from That Deadly Space. In the aftermath of the Southern victory at First Manassas, Confederate Lieutenant Conor Rafferty, the novel’s main character, comes upon a wounded Union officer:
The wounded were being moved to a makeshift regimental hospital behind the ridgeline. Many of the lesser wounded were walking or being assisted by others as they made their way to the tents for treatment. Ambulance wagons were collecting the more seriously injured.
Conor came upon a wounded Federal officer, lying on his back with his head propped against his dead horse. He was drifting in and out of awareness, his face as pale as a granite slab. He appeared to be in his late-thirties, dark-haired, bearded, and heavyset. His right arm just below the shoulder had been badly mangled by bullets and his left wrist had also been hit, partially severing his hand. He was among several dead Federal soldiers which Conor took to be troops of his own regiment.
“Can I offer you a drink of water, Colonel?”
“I’d be much obliged,” he said in a tired voice.
Conor pressed his own canteen to the man’s dry mouth and poured until he received an appreciative nod in return.
The colonel moaned slightly and shifted to his left, his acute pain apparent, his blood loss excessive and still seeping. He turned his head and spoke to his horse. “Sorry about this, Flatbush. Hell of a way to end the day, huh ole fella?”
“We’ll collect you up and any of your wounded and get you to our regimental surgeon soon,” Conor said after he had also taken a drink from the canteen. “It seems the rest of your army has skedaddled back to where they came from.”
The colonel let out a loud sigh. “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.”
“You might want to keep that to yourself, sir. There are plenty of us here who have a different view.”
Conor noticed the finely crafted Colt Model 1860 pistol on the ground near the Union officer’s feet. He leaned forward and took hold of the pistol, giving it an admiring glance and wiping the dirt off the barrel. He then took the old, well-traveled Starr revolver he had bought from another lieutenant in camp, and shoved it inside his belt, in the back. “Apologies, sir, but this will have to go with me,” he said as he placed the Colt in his hip holster.
“It’ll go with you only because I can’t pick it up and shoot you in the damned forehead, Lieutenant.”
Conor noticed the two cigars in the colonel’s front uniform pocket, and when he leaned forward to claim them the Federal officer turned slightly to avoid his hand.
“Well since you’re unable to shoot me in the damned forehead, sir, these will also have to go with me,” Conor said, reaching around him and claiming the cigars.
Conor then eyed the colonel’s fine leather boots.
“You’re an officer, son. For crissakes start behaving like one,” the colonel said brusquely.
Conor stared at the man for a moment and then realized with chilling, absolute certainty that only minutes before this Yankee officer would have killed him without hesitation or remorse, and with the same pistol that was now in his own possession. Despite the colonel’s evident pain and the gray clamminess of his features, his face became stern, unblinking, like that of a schoolmaster eyeing an errant pupil.
“You’re quite right, sir,” Conor finally said, slipping one of the cigars back into the colonel’s pocket.