Read CHAPTER IV of An Echo Of Antietam 1898, free online book, by Edward Bellamy, on

The day came.  The dispatches in the morning papers stated that the armies would probably be engaged from an early hour.

Who that does not remember those battle-summers can realize from any telling how the fathers and mothers, the wives and sisters and sweethearts at home, lived through the days when it was known that a great battle was going on at the front in which their loved ones were engaged?  It was very quiet in the house on those days of battle.  All spoke in hushed voices and stepped lightly.  The children, too small to understand the meaning of the shadow on the home, felt it and took their noisy sports elsewhere.  There was little conversation, except as to when definite news might be expected.  The household work dragged sadly, for though the women sought refuge from thought in occupation, they were constantly dropping whatever they had in hand to rush away to their chambers to face the presentiment, perhaps suddenly borne in upon them with the force of a conviction, that they might be called on to bear the worst.  The table was set for the regular meals, but there was little pretense of eating.  The eyes of all had a far-off expression, and they seemed barely to see one another.  There was an intent, listening look upon their faces, as if they were hearkening to the roar of the battle a thousand miles away.

Many pictures of battles have been painted, but no true one yet, for the pictures contain only men.  The women are unaccountably left out.  We ought to see not alone the opposing lines of battle writhing and twisting in a death, embrace, the batteries smoking and flaming, the hurricanes of cavalry, but innumerable women also, spectral forms of mothers, wives, sweethearts, clinging about the necks of the advancing soldiers, vainly trying to shield them with their bosoms, extending supplicating hands to the foe, raising eyes of anguish to Heaven.  The soldiers, grim-faced, with battle-lighted eyes, do not see the ghostly forms that throng them, but shoot and cut and stab across and through them as if they were not there,-yes, through them, for few are the balls and bayonets that reach their marks without traversing some of these devoted breasts.  Spectral, alas, is their guardianship, but real are their wounds and deadly as any the combatants receive.

Soon after breakfast on the day of the battle Grace came across to the parsonage, her swollen eyes and pallid face telling of a sleepless night.  She could not bear her mother’s company that day, for she knew that she had never greatly liked Philip.  Miss Morton was very tender and sympathetic.  Grace was a little comforted by Mr. Morton’s saying that commonly great battles did not open much before noon.  It was a respite to be able to think that probably up to that moment at least no harm had come to Philip.  In the early afternoon the minister drove into Waterville to get the earliest bulletins at the “Banner” office, leaving the two women alone.

The latter part of the afternoon a neighbor who had been in Waterville drove by the house, and Miss Morton called to him to know if there were any news yet.  He drew a piece of paper from his pocket, on which he had scribbled the latest bulletin before the “Banner” office, and read as follows:  “The battle opened with a vigorous attack by our right.  The enemy was forced back, stubbornly contesting every inch of ground.  General ------’s division is now bearing the brunt of the fight and is suffering heavily.  The result is yet uncertain.”

The division mentioned was the one in which Philip’s regiment was included.  “Is suffering heavily,”-those were the words.  There was something fearful in the way the present tense brought home to Grace a sense of the battle as then actually in progress.  It meant that while she sat there on the shady piazza with the drowsy hum of the bees in her ears, looking out on the quiet lawn where the house cat, stretched on the grass, kept a sleepy eye on the birds as they flitted in the branches of the apple-trees, Philip might be facing a storm of lead and iron, or, maybe, blent in some desperate hand-to-hand struggle, was defending his life-her life-against murderous cut and thrust.

To begin to pray for his safety was not to dare to cease, for to cease would be to withdraw a sort of protection-all, alas I she could give -and abandon him to his enemies.  If she had been watching over him from above the battle, an actual witness of the carnage going on that afternoon on the far-off field, she could scarcely have endured a more harrowing suspense from moment to moment.  Overcome with the agony, she threw herself on the sofa in the sitting-room and lay quivering, with her face buried in the pillow, while Miss Morton sat beside her, stroking her hair and saying such feeble, soothing words as she might.

It is always hard, and for ardent temperaments almost impossible, to hold the mind balanced in a state of suspense, yielding overmuch neither to hope nor to fear, under circumstances like these.  As a relief to the torture which such a state of tension ends in causing, the mind at length, if it cannot abandon itself to hope, embraces even despair.  About five o’clock Miss Morton was startled by an exceeding bitter cry.  Grace was sitting upon the sofa.  “Oh, Miss Morton!” she cried, bursting into tears which before she had not been able to shed, “he is dead!”

“Grace!  Grace! what do you mean?”

“He is dead, I know he is dead!” wailed the girl; and then she explained that while from moment to moment she had sent up prayers for him, every breath a cry to God, she suddenly had been unable to pray more, and this she felt was a sign that petition for his life was now vain.  Miss Morton strove to convince her that this was but an effect of overwrought nerves, but with slight success.

In the early evening Mr. Morton returned with the latest news the telegraph had brought.  The full scope of the result was not yet known.  The advantage had probably remained with the National forces, although the struggle had been one of those close and stubborn ones, with scanty laurels for the victors, to be expected when men of one race meet in battle.  The losses on both sides had been enormous, and the report was confirmed that Philip’s division had been badly cut up.

The parsonage was but one of thousands of homes in the land where no lamps were lighted that evening, the members of the household sitting together in the dark,-silent, or talking in low tones of the far-away star-lighted battlefield, the anguish of the wounded, the still heaps of the dead.

Nevertheless, when at last Grace went home she was less entirely despairing than in the afternoon.  Mr. Morton, in his calm, convincing way, had shown her the groundlessness of her impression that Philip was certainly dead, and had enabled her again to entertain hope.  It no longer rose, indeed, to the height of a belief that he had escaped wholly scathless.  In face of the terrible tidings, that would have been too presumptuous.  But perhaps he had been only wounded.  Yesterday the thought would have been insupportable, but now she was eager to make this compromise with Providence.  She was distinctly affected by the curious superstition that if we voluntarily concede something to fate, while yet the facts are not known, we gain a sort of equitable assurance against a worse thing.  It was settled, she told herself, that she was not to be overcome or even surprised to hear that Philip was wounded,-slightly wounded.  She was no better than other women, that he should be wholly spared.

The paper next morning gave many names of officers who had fallen, but Philip’s was not among them.  The list was confessedly incomplete; nevertheless, the absence of his name was reassuring.  Grace went across the garden after breakfast to talk with Miss Morton about the news and the auspicious lack of news.  Her friend’s cheerful tone infused her with fresh courage.  To one who has despaired, a very little hope goes to the head Eke wine to the brain of a faster, and, though still very tremulous, Grace could even smile a little now and was almost cheerful.  Secretly already she was beginning to play false with fate, and, in flat repudiation of her last night’s compact, to indulge the hope that her soldier had not been even wounded.  But this was only at the bottom of her heart.  She did not own to herself that she really did it.  She felt a little safer not to break the bargain yet.

About eleven o’clock in the forenoon Mr. Morton came in.  His start and look of dismay on seeing Grace indicated that he had expected to find his sister alone.  He hastily attempted to conceal an open telegram which he held in his hand, but it was too late.  Grace had already seen it, and whatever the tidings it might contain, there was no longer any question of holding them back or extenuating them.  Miss Morton, after one look at her brother’s face, silently came to the girl’s side and put her arms around her waist.  “Christ, our Saviour,” she murmured, “for thy name’s sake, help her now.”  Then the minister said:-

“Try to be brave, try to bear it worthily of him; for, my poor little girl, your sacrifice has been accepted.  He fell in a charge at the head of his men.”