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Of Dice and Men

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Of Dice and Men

Post  Father General on Wed Sep 05, 2012 6:00 am

Just as the clash of arms was about to begin, it ended. Thunder echoed from down the ridge. Father General paid no mind to the weather, although large raindrops fell from the sky, plopping with great splashes on his hat. At first the drops were a mere nuisance, and few enough so he ignored them. However, with each new peal of thunder they seemed to increase. Soon, Father General quieted and his orders became fewer and curt as he tried to listen, for to him, Providence was speaking.

Still on horseback, he turned his head to the heavens and outstretched his arms. His more sensible commanders managed to sneak in a good roll of their eyes at the spectacle.

Looking up, the clouds appeared to boil, and now the rain fell in earnest.

At first, the thirsty ground swallowed the rain, but soon pools began to form and feed tiny rivulets along the roads and trails. Dust vanished which greatly relieved the men who were also cooled by the shower.

But their comfort was short-lived. As the rain became steady, the dirt turned to mud and soldiers began to slip as they struggled to maintain formation. It became a chore to keep both ranks and balance. Lines wavered and became deranged, frustrating commanders.

A grim silence overcame the men as only the shouts of angry sergeants, struggling to keep formations in line could be heard between peals of thunder.

The beautiful boots worn by the Father General’s elite 1st Mississippi Volunteer rifles became muddy. Upon seeing the sight, the Father General knew the rain would pose a serious hindrance to his men. Still, he urged his officers forward.

It wasn’t until hailstones began to fall upon both sides that the Father General gave way to the notion of a pause. The stones were tiny at first, but soon they grew in size and began to sting. Men were now more concerned about being pelted from the heavens than being hit by long-range artillery.

On their own accord, officers double-quicked men to shelter, crowding under eaves and in ditches, using their hats and rifles for cover. The stones grew to be the size of bullets. Father General took shelter under a tree, a questionable move given the lighting that flashed every few seconds, but he was unafraid.

With evident anger, he gave the order to countermarch.

As soon as the hail turned back to rain, men dashed from cover and route marched in gangs all the way back to where they started. The entire Third Division was a disorganized crowd of men, all out of control until they reached that day’s starting position. This might have spelled disaster for the Confederates, except the same was happening on the Federal side.

For his part, General Georgia could do nothing, and he was quite comfortable with that. After all, his men were green and another day might mean more reinforcements. Maybe even a higher-ranked commander! That would save the war for him, or so he hoped.

It was a Confederate loss, no matter how anyone looked at it.

Father General was an angry man. “Why?” he lamented aloud, “why, why why!?” Had the hailstones fallen solely upon the Union, he could have understood. Yet it appeared the stones prostrated both divisions alike. What sign from Providence was this? Surely it could not be that Jackson was right about battles on Sunday? No, it wasn’t that, for certain.

It took awhile, but soon the Father General settled on an answer. There was a sinner in the ranks whose infraction remained unpunished. Clearly, there could be no other cause of this setback. Providence required discipline, and now he would have to instill it.

By the time Third Division arrived back at their starting location, the rain had softened to a slow, intermittent shower. Captains and lieutenants took personal charge of their companies and restored discipline to the ranks. The grizzled veterans knew what to do, without needing to be told. They immediately cleaned their rifles for the moisture, then pitched tents and went to sleep.

All except the men of the 10th Mississippi.

Once it was evident the Federals were not pursuing them, a sign the Father General took as further bona-fide proof of their moral degeneracy, he gave orders to the 10th Mississippi to form a three-sided square.

The weary soldiers did this, and they stood in their new formation as the rain slacked until it was but a sprinkle. There they waited.

It was perhaps half-an-hour before they saw two privates with spades digging a hole in the open space of their formation. Everyone watched as they dug the hole with such energy that it was joked by one lieutenant to his captain that the men were badgers clad in gray. –Nobody found this amusing.

In a few minutes, the requisite hole was complete and more men arrived carrying a post. This was carefully set into the hole and the dirt filled in and packed around it. Soon, the demeanor of the formation became just as somber as the gray clouds above.

Men next delivered a long table with its attendant bench and set opposite the post. Men from other units who elected to stay awake, gathered on the fringes of the formation hoping to catch a glimpse of what was about to happen.

The rain ceased and the sun began to peek through the clouds. Father General took this as an affirmation that he was doing the right thing.

An old, worn Bible was set upon the otherwise barren table.

“Attention Regiment!” The old discipline returned in an instant and the men snapped audibly to attention as though a bolt of lightning had coursed through their muscles.

“Shoulder arms!”

Father General appeared with several of his staff.

“Present arms!”
The men held their salute until the bench was scooted back and each officer took his appointed spot. Father General saluted the formation, and then sat.

“Shoulder arms!”

“Order arms!”

“Parade rest!”

Silence hung heavily in the air upon the formation. A faint roll of thunder reached their ears from beyond the once-again distant ridge.

Now entering the box from its open end came the provost marshal and his grim detail of guards. In the middle of four guards walked an unfortunate private with a guilty posture.

They walked steadily past the waiting post and stopped respectfully before the long table. Already, the Father General was deliberating the case with all the sobriety and solemnity of a Supreme Court justice.

The provost marshal saluted. Father General returned the salute with a wave of his hand.

“Sir!” the provost barked. I present to you Private William F. Harrah, of company B, 10th Mississippi Infantry Regiment!

“Present the charges,” Father General growled.

“Sir, private Harrah was caught on Tuesday, during routine inspection, in possession of dice!” A hushed gasp rose from the formation. Each man knew Private Harrah had been arrested, but nobody had mentioned why. Now they knew this was deadly business.

“Present the evidence!” Father General bellowed.

The provost produced a small leather pouch and approached the table. Emptying the pouch into his hand, he held the dice as though they were hot coals. Quickly, he cast them before the General and wiped his hands on his coat as though he had touched slime.

The Father General looked at the dice, then up at Private Harrah. Then, back at the dice again. He drummed his fingers on the table. He rubbed his bearded chin. He shifted his weight uncomfortably in the chair, but he said nothing. He sat and pondered.

Finally he spoke. “Private Harrah, how do you plead?”

A fearful, but inaudible squeak came from the downcast and fearful solider. A guard sharply elbowed Private Harrah.

The unlucky private had only enough time to pronounce the first syllable of the word “guilty” before the Father General declared it loudly for all to hear. The condemning word was heard as a gunshot throughout the camp.

Now, the Father General pondered again. After a period of silence not less than five minutes, he began to thumb through the Bible before him. Now he was in his element. His fingers skillfully danced over the pages of Deuteronomy and Leviticus as though they were playing a piano. He shifted between chapters, and turned the pages quickly, but never tearing a single sheet of the thin-papered Bible. Up and down, left to right, he scanned the pages with his eyes, muttering to himself as he made mental notes. He skipped between books, and spirited betwixt chapters. The verses wove together in his mind as naturally as an old woman knitting a stocking.

Suddenly he slammed the Bible shut and pushed it away, back to its appointed place on the table.

Another period of silence. The General rose.

Without orders, every hat came off at once. The officers along the bench rose and bowed their heads. Father General proceeded to deliver a long, rambling prayer that as equal parts condemnation for sin, a warning for the faithful, and a beg for forgiveness. When the prayer concluded even Private Harrah, the victim in this case, was relieved.

Now seated once again, Father General pronounced the sentence.

“After careful consideration and review of Holy Scripture, I pronounce the following sentence: Private Harrah, you are to come before this table and roll these dice. Should thou roll a seven or an eleven, thou shall be spared. However, should thou roll a two or a twelve, thou shalt be immediately flogged with two or a dozen lashes respectively. Should thou roll a different number, thou shalt continue rolling thy dice, until thoust repeatith thy number, or roll a seven or an eleven. If thou repeat thy number before thou cast a seven or an eleven, thou shalt be spared. But if the number be seven or eleven, thou must receive a like measure of lashes. This I have calculated as the means of discerning justice in accord with Sacred Scripture, the Will of Providence and the Uniform Military Code of Justice for the Confederate States Army!”

There was a pause as everyone absorbed the amazingly elaborate sentence. Then, emerging from the protection of his guards, Private Harrah stepped nervously forward. He stopped at the table and with a trembling hand, picked up his dice.

He made an effort to shake them, but it was difficult as every eye was upon him. These watchful eyes followed the dice as they cascaded back onto the wooden surface. The first landed immediately as a one, but the second spun in place like a top for an interminable length of time. Finally, it settled on the table and came to a stop. It was also a one.

“Crap,” Private Harrah uttered under his breath, just loud enough for the Father General to hear. At once he was aware of his slip. Father General gave him a piercing stare.

“Provost! This man has rolled a sum of two. In accord with All Holy Justice, immediately issue this man two lashes for the possession of dice, and a third lash for cursing while a member of Third Division!”

Two of his guards came forward with lighting step. Taking Private Harrah by the arms, they half-dragged him to the post. A jumble of elbows and hands produced the private bare-backed holding himself against the upright beam. As the guards stood back, the sergeant major of the regiment stood ready with a short whip.
There was no hesitation. Crack, crack, licked the whip, raising welts on Private Harrah’s back. The men winced as Harrah screamed in pain. A third final stripe produced the result Father General expected. The whip had tasted blood.

Private Harrah, having survived his punishment crumpled to the ground. As he collapsed, Father General rose and hats came off again. Another prayer, this one of thanksgiving was rambled.

Finally, the affair was concluded and Father General strode away with his staff, Private Harrah still sobbing in the mud.

Oddly enough, Private Harrah needn’t have been so upset, for later in life he would be quite thankful to the Father General for his punishment. You see dear reader, Private Harrah would survive the war, quite intact, and he would later make his living on a steamboat plying the Mississippi river, generating a fortune on his newly invented gambling game he would affectionately dub, “craps.”


Last edited by Father General on Wed Sep 05, 2012 6:10 am; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : It was the Will of Providence that this entry be edited.)
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Father General

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