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Private McKinney's most memorable moment on picket...

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Private McKinney's most memorable moment on picket...

Post  Father General on Sat Jul 19, 2014 5:01 am

Private McKinney wasn’t doing much, but he was still sweating fiercely. Without shade, picket duty was awful work, filled with boredom and all too often searing sun or freezing cold. But not today.

Today Private McKinney would have the most interesting detail of his entire war, and he would remember it more than any battle.

It was ironic that Private McKinney was admiring a flower growing in the grass next to his feet, imagining its scent when he smelled them. The odor ambushed his senses and his eyes watered at the noxious fumes. He looked into the treeline and saw nothing. Still, the overpowering smell was something he’d never experienced before.

Were there Rebs in those trees? Was something dead?

The feeling of confusion and overpowering smell was so tremendous that he felt the only thing he could do was call it out. “Corporal of the guard!” he shouted. He repeated the call, and looked north to his next nearest picket many yards distant. That man too appeared ill, but he came running anyway.

Private Dale reached McKinney in a moment and both men had a quizzical look on their face. They couldn't describe what they were experiencing. Did the Rebels have some new weapon?

The corporal of the guard came up quickly from behind, along with his detail. He too was immediately overpowered by the odor. No words were passed for none were necessary. The corporal put a whistle to his lips and blew for his life.

The whistle alerted the sergeant of the guard who could tell from his distance that something terrible was happening. He fired his rifle into the air to rapidly alert the troops behind him.

Lounging men took to their feet and quickly donned their jackets. Captains shouted the order to form line facing east and to load.

“Fall in! Shoulder arms! LOAD!” screamed badly shaken officers.

The ripple through the camp was swift and within minutes General Georgia was alerted. He was under attack!

Lines formed with professional speed and entire brigades were marched into battle line at the double.  The forward pickets seemed to struggle to find their place in formation and they brought the odor on their heels. Soon entire ranks were gasping for air.

Scanning the treeline, no man saw a thing.

General Georgia had his wits about him, having refrained from drink for an epic stretch of a morning, although this was mostly because he was meeting with the Goldbergs who just completed their tally of goods.

Riding swiftly to the front, he noticed the strange sight and shouted, “Lie down!” The command was relayed with speed and like wheat before a scythe, lines of men hit the ground. The men welcomed this diversion for it meant they could bury their noses in the earth.

General Georgia dismounted himself, fully expecting a volley from the Confederate bushwhackers in the trees. It had to be the 1st Mississippi!

Then the smell struck him too, and he knew what it was.

From the trees came the distant sound of a drum, pattering faintly like a murmuring heart.

General Georgia screamed for Palmer.

General Palmer was slow to form his brigade of savages, mostly because they were lounging half-naked at the time the alarm was raised. Palmer galloped up well ahead of his men, and saluted only to be hit by the stench himself. His eyes opened wide at its power.

“Rise!” General Georgia commanded without explanation. Everything would be apparent in a minute from the sound of the approaching drum.

As Palmer’s savages came up, one let loose with a war whoop, then others copied him. Then a chorus of whoops came from the trees. A second later, a mass of men clad in blue spewed from the road in the wood as water gushing from a broken bottle.

A moment before, these men had been marching in an ordered column, next they were running across the field, letting rip with bloodcurling cries and shedding their uniforms. Now, Palmer’s men were doing the same, stripping as they ran, holding only their rifles and leathers, brandishing knives and tomahawks as well as captive scalps dangling from their belts.

The smell permeated everything as General Georgia’s savage reinforcements arrived.

Within minutes an unknown officer, some unfortunate lieutenant presented himself with a handkerchief over his nose. “General Georgia, I am pleased to present you with fresh men for your Colorado brigade.”

Georgia chuckled as replied, "Fresh?"

General Georgia quickly processed the formalities with him and dismissed his battle formations. The transaction took only a few minutes and soon Georgia and Palmer were surrounded by chattering savages.

“They were no doubt persuaded to join after hearing word of the richness of these lands from their brothers,” Palmer informed Georgia.

“Just give them a bath,” the general replied. “We can’t have them alerting the enemy of their approach because they stink. Although, I must admit, there is something intimidating about it.”

General Georgia was pleased. Eight hundred Indian reinforcements were welcome. So too would be the other mass of troops that kept a more dignified, ordered pace far behind them.

Palmer said to a fresh aide, “Don’t worry lieutenant, you just have to know how to handle them. They’re like monkey children, that’s all. Just monkey children.”

Georgia thought to himself, “Monkey children who think of nothing but murder all day. Not bad!”
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