Brother Against Brother by Sadie Gladstone
I just don’t understand how all of this has happened so fast. I suppose I should start when everything changed. It’s been about four months since the succession, but it feels like almost no time at all. We were the first state to succeed, and once the other states saw it was actually possible, they all followed suit. All the other Southern states had threatened to do it, once in a blue moon, but South Carolina was bold enough to try. We’ve always been known for that bravery.
It serves the Northerners right, though. Everyone knows that they’re the enemy, and it was noble of us to coexists with them for this long, anyway. My older brother, Christopher, he always would say “How can you hate the Northerners, Jack? You’ve never even met a Northerner!” That was besides the point, though, wasn’t it? Just because I’ve never met a criminal, I still know he belongs in jail.
We used to argue about that all the time. It was annoying, but at least he treated me like an adult with my own opinion. God knows no one else here will even do that much. That was before he ran away. I don’t know where he went, or if he’s even alive, but things have been boring without them.
Or, at least they were boring, until I joined the Confederate army. That was two months ago, but it still feels like yesterday. I was offered a spot as a soldier under General Beauregard, in Charleston. Normally, you needed to be eighteen to join, but the army was new, and they wanted as many new members as possible. I was still living in a small rural town near there with my folks, and I was ready to join up. My ma, however, had a different idea. Ever since Christopher left, she had become even more protective of me, which I hadn’t thought possible. She didn’t want me to go, but luckily, Pa stepped in.
“A boy of sixteen years is practically a man, and it’s high time Jack made his own decisions.” Ma had to concede, and before I knew it, I was in the army. Truthfully, I was a little scared at first, but I remembered that I was a proud South Carolina man, and I was going to be brave, and make my state proud.
Army training was hard, but soon enough I was handy at shooting, and especially firing the cannons. The food was good, not as good as Ma’s, but still good. My uniform fit right, and I was even making friends. Everything was going perfectly. Until April rolled around.
Everyone knew about the fort. Sumter was the only fort in Charleston still owned by the Union. It was a big insult to every right-minded Confederate. In the barracks, if you even mentioned it, you would get dirty looks from every soldier there. So it was to the surprise of all of us when we got marching orders there.
Beauregard wanted us to attack the fort. We deployed in small groups. I was with Benjamin Smith, and my friend Adam Miller. We were waiting in position for the signal to attack the fort, when a Union ship sailed into the harbor. We aimed our guns, and then Smith noted “It’s a supply vessel. See the size of the thing? It’s carrying goods.” Wait, a supply ship?
“Doesn’t that mean it’s unarmed? Are we allowed to shoot it?” Smith nodded. “It’s carrying supplies to Sumter. If it gets through, they’d have everything they would need to attack us.” Right, just liked we’d trained. No hesitation. We fired. The other squadrons must have had the same idea, because the ship was suddenly being fired on from every direction.
And just like that, the ship turned around and sailed out of the port. The entire militia breathed a sigh of relief. We waited in silence for a while, until we heard the sound of a shotgun going off. That was the signal! We moved closer to the fort and started to fire. We were close enough to see those Union soldiers shaking in their boots, before they came to their senses and fired back.
Time seemed to slow down. The chaos of the fighting swirled before my eyes in a mess of gray and blue and red. I could hear insults being yelled across the water from both sides. As I was shooting, I watched the faces of the men I was shooting at. They were all full of anger, except one. One soldier had a sad, focused expression on his face. I did a double take all of a sudden. I knew that face.
“Christopher?!” I yelled. I wasn’t sure he could hear me, but he looked in my direction. “Jack! What are you doing here? You’re sixteen! You’re too young to be in the army!” Huh. He had left in February, back when I was still fifteen. He had been keeping up with my birthday?
And the real question, what was my brother doing in navy blue? Wait. Had he run away to join the Union? I recalled just how many times he would talk to anyone who would listen about his “Big Ideas,” like “is slavery wrong?” We would discuss that one a lot, mainly because no-one else would talk with him about it. I always thought it was stupid, though. Why ask questions if the answers are obvious?
“But why are they enslaved, Jack? What did they do?” Seriously, why did he always ask that? “They didn’t do anything, they’re just slaves.” He started to laugh. “You’re right. They didn’t do anything. We brought them here, and now they have to do our work. It’s our fault.” There he went too far. “It isn’t their fault, but it definitely isn’t our fault! That’s like blaming a master for being more evolved than his dog. It isn’t anybody’s fault that we’re better than them. That’s just the way it is.”
“But why are we better than them, Jack? What makes us better than them?!” I never could answer that question. “Jack?!” Huh? “Jack, who is that guy? Why is he yelling at you?” Adam? Oh, right, the battlefield. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I lost focus on the battlefield, the number one thing they told us never to do in training, unless you wanted to be a dead man, that is. “T-that’s Christopher. My brother.”
Adam looked incredulous. “You never told me you had a brother in the Union army!” Smith turned from the action to join the conversation. “Talk about the war pitting brother against brother, huh?” Sometimes that guy opened his mouth to talk at exactly the wrong time. “Quiet, Smith. I didn’t know, honestly. He ran away a few months ago, but I had no idea this was why he left!”
“Listen, Johnson.” Adam was using my last name, which meant a serious military talk was coming up. “He abandoned his country to work for the enemy. He is a traitor. He is not your family. He is an enemy soldier.” I knew what he meant. I was a Confederate soldier. This was war. This was no time to be worried about brothers or how the very ideals you were fighting for might be wrong. Nevermind all that. He was just another Union soldier, and if I had to shoot him, it was no different than if he was a stranger. Still…
I went back to firing. Gunshot sounds were all around, and I had gotten used to them a while ago, but suddenly I heard the loudest sound I had heard in my entire life coming from my gun. It sounded like a normal gunshot, but… Then I saw who fell to the ground. It was Christopher. Oh, God. I had done what I had sought out to do. I had killed a Union man.
I was frozen. People were dropping all over the field, dying for what they believed in. And no-one believed in a cause more than Christopher. I thought I was being brave, joining the army, but he was the courageous one. Funny how a Union soldier could embody the spirit of South Carolina more than anyone else I’ll ever know. My face felt cold, and I realized I was crying.
After that, everything else was a blur. The fort was lit on fire, and the heat was almost unbearable. The Union general surrendered, and we took possession of Sumter. There was a huge celebration for our victory, the first victory of the war. Not that any of it mattered. I told the general about Christopher, and he gave me a few days leave to see my family, and go to the funeral.
It turns out he didn’t get a burial. He was treated like a war criminal, and deserved his death. Pa was furious, and Ma was a sobbing mess. I just sat there. I couldn’t reconcile what had happened. I shot my own brother, and for what? Pride, stubbornness, a need to be right? I don’t know. All I do know is I can’t go back to the army. Maybe Christopher was right, or maybe no-one was. The whole thing was messed up. So much had happened so quickly, and only one thing was clear. The war had just begun.
A Union Soldier by Ruqayah Mahmud
The skies were clear and I heard the shout of my commander as he yelled at us to get to work. I took a quick swig of water, and continued to fix a cannon that had not been working. The past few days had been oddly quiet and the anticipation was building up in the fort. Supplies were running low, and a layer of nervousness had settled. I, myself, was especially anxious of the upcoming events. We had sent a message to our president, but had yet to receive a reply. I continued to work diligently, for I was loyal to the Union and truly believed that the south had no right to leave the Union. It was obvious now that slavery was a wrong practice, but the South were too stubborn to listen. In the distance, I was sure I heard gunfire. It may have been my imagination, but I quickly hurried over to my commander to notify him of the news. When I told him, his face turned pale, and he started sweating profusely. He muttered something about “unarmed supplies” and quickly gave me the directions to tell everyone to be ready for attack. By that point, my commanders fear had rubbed off on me and I quickly went around, warning everyone of the upcoming attack. Suddenly, a boom was heard and everyone panicked. We fired our cannons, but the whole fort caught on fire. We grabbed our rifles and ran out of the burning building. Thick smoke filled the air, and the sound of coughing was everywhere. We shot aimlessly at the figures of confederates running toward us. I heard screaming and crying all around me and rubbed the ashes out of my eyes. I had a few more bullets left in my gun and hid behind a huge crumpled piece of building. I wiped my face and washed away my tears. Just as I almost fired at another confederate, I saw the man’s face. He was pretty young, and ashes covered his face. There was something about him, that was almost familiar, but then the truth dawned on me. He was my younger brother. Just then, I heard large explosion, followed by blackness
Dearest Jane by Solveig Keat
I suppose you’ve heard about what happened at Fort Sumter, but I shall tell you anyways. The Union Troops were being SO unreasonable. We sent groups to ask the Union solders residing there for the Fort which is rightfully ours, but they refused. We even promised to safely bring them out of Charleston with all of their belongings AND be allowed to salute to their flag. But they refused, and so we were forced to take things to an extreme, because if we can’t show that we have power over our land, then no one will respect us. I would have very much rather that we not have fought, but it was inevitable, you must agree. The battle started at 4:30 am in the morning, and when the first shell hit the brick fort, everyone close enough could hear it. It waged on for 34 hours, and you just KNOW that I was up for all of it. My house is on the water, and that helped, because there was so many spectators that I would not have been able to get myself a clear view. There weren’t many cannons mounted-only about 14 or 15-so their loss was inevitable. Some guy-Charleston Mercury, I think it was-said “that federal power was ‘a wretched humbug—a scarecrow—a dirty bundle of red rags and old clothes’ and Yankee soldiers just ‘poor hirelings’ who would never fight.” He also said that your President Lincoln was “a ‘vain, ignorant, low fellow.” I know you won’t be happy to know that, but I did promise to tell you anything I felt you should know, and I intend to keep that promise. I heard from my friend that some others were cowering in their beds, but not me. I know that God is on our side, and we will win. Than, dear sister, maybe you will move more down south. Someone told me that your President sent supplies to the Fort, and it never reached it because our troops were bombarding it, and I am truly sorry about that. At 1:30, or something like that, the flagpole was shot down, and a little while after that the fire from the Fort started to dwindle. I think it was because the men fighting at Fort Sumter ran out of cartridges. The men defending the Fort surrendered, and were taken back. I hope this letter finds you in good health.
Love From Your Sister,
The Surrender by Imogen Claire
The stones beneath my hand were cracked and crumbled, and ivy creeped in through their pores to sniff the air. I hissed as a corner cut against my skin, careful to check my hand for a cut. Infections can be deadly.
“Artemus! What do you see?” Officer Henry Johnson’s voice cut through my thoughts, shaking my eyes awake as I strained to see across the rabid blue expanse of water. It was frightening to image to imagine boats lined against the pale sun, artillery gleaming in the light. The flames that had eaten away at the Fort were forever built into my mind, and now my only wish was to leave the island so that I could fight another day. I was lucky enough to get into the army as a girl, not that anyone knew. I could be hanged for impersonation, but my cropped tawny hair served me well.
On the horizon a small vessel flying a long white flag was approaching, and I could make out six figures on the boat. The spyglass pressed against my eye, I still couldn’t see who they were, but I was able to guess. “There is a boat flying a white flag, sir. Around six people in it, sir. Some seem to be rowing.” Turning, I saw him nod grimly, and followed him back, farther down into the Fort to report back to Anderson. I had yet to meet the man, but had heard much about him and had seen him in small swipes from the sides of my eyes. The officer reached out a hand for the spyglass, and as I gave it to him, he whispered, “You are about to be in the presence of the commander. Don’t speak unless spoken to. Remember your rank.”
With that he opened the door, revealing Robert Anderson, ten other officers, and two other soldiers at my rank. “Sir, they are approaching the fort in a boat waving the white flag. Shall I have my soldier escort them up when they reach the bank?”
The man was clean-shaven and imposing, his long creased face paired with his staring, sharp raven black eyes made him a sight to behold. His hair was slicked back to the side of his head, and his ears stuck out shockingly. I shifted my gaze to the floor, twirling my fingers in and out. “Yes, that would be ideal. You are dismissed.” In the second it took me to realize he was referring to me, I stuttered out, “Y-yes sir.” and left the room, careful not to let the door slam.
When I reached the door and gave my pass to the guards there, The boat was already docked. Lieutenant Jefferson Davis was there to meet them, and I reached out to help tie the final knots. Helping the envoys out of the boat, I resisted the urge to glare at the men who had betrayed our country. I love our nation, it gave my something to feel apart of, something greater to contribute to. But these men had destroyed our nation, had started something that I knew could not be resolved with handshakes and ink. I let them disappear into the gate then ground my teeth and kicked the sand.
Under Fire by Maia Kovaleski
This war has been hell. Fiery streaks crash down, sending rubble and soldiers flying. Shouts from both sides can be heard over the defining rumble. I run, stumbling over lifeless bodies, breathing heavily. Behind me officers give the order and a cannonballs are launched into the distance, sure to harm a poor soul that is fighting for the right thing. How I envy them. Soldiers here speak of their rights and their duty to the commanders, who they claim are doing the right thing. But I feel I have not a duty to my commanders, but a duty to myself. I hate everyone here. I hate slavery. I hate the entitlement of Confederate soldiers. I cannot rightfully be on this side. I have betrayed myself.
Scurrying out of view, I press myself against a stone wall, shaking. I remove my hands from my arm, which I had been clutching violently. I had been shot and I can only stare at the dark blood, staining my hands forevermore. This war had brought the worst in all of us. I had been stationed at one of the forts surrounding Fort Sumter the day this war had begun. The image of the fort exploding into flames has scarred my conscious. The moment I saw that, I knew that I belonged over there. Although the situation was unfavorable for the Union soldiers on that side, I knew I would stand my ground, standing tall and proud. But on this side, I hide here, cowering from battle.
As the horrific sounds of screams and gunshots surround me, an even worse battle is swirling in my head. My desperate need to switch sides is pushing and pushing. But, like always, fear always creates a stronger wall. Fear that I will be despised and hunted. Or perhaps something worse. Suppose I travel to the Union side without conflict. What will happen upon my arrival? I may be shunned and despised for even conversing with the enemy side. They might even think me a spy and kill me. I can’t live this way. I’m blocked. Every way I may try to turn sends me falling to my doom.
And for one moment, perhaps only to me, there was silence. But the sound of a bomb slicing through the sky breaks that silence and lands a mere foot from me. And as the tower of debris and shock waves from the landing of the bomb crashes through me, I feel something unexpected. Fear no longer clouds my mind, and the black just slices through me. It’s releasing. I’m finally finished.
truce by Julia Cohen
(In the perspective of Major Robert Anderson, Union Commander of Fort Sumter)
i can see their ship in the harbor
the slaves turning the oars
the rocks crumble under the envoys’ feet
they want us to leave
my head says yes but my Honor says no
they say they will grant us Peace
as they leave i admit i will soon starve if their cannons don’t get to me first
i can hear the clocking ticking down until shots are fired
as they sail away i know i am looking at the men who will soon
aim to kill me and the men around me
hours later, we fall asleep
i wake up to the screams of others around me
the sky is a bright red and quickly filling with smoke
the war has begun
Abraham Lincoln by Jonathan Perpinal
“I’m afraid my efforts to make peace with the southern states have been ignored, for I have received notice that Jefferson Davis has launched an attack on Fort Sumter after we took the fort by night only days earlier. This can only mean that Davis wants war, and that is what he will get.” I signed it off and left the room. I asked myself, why me? I am the only president that’s first months as president include half the country leaving and declaring a war we knew was coming. I suppose I should have known this was what was bound to happen. I continued walking, almost pacing around my room. I assumed that any minute the fort was going to fall, as I had also received the news that the supply ship I had sent had been warded off. I knew Fort Sumter was to fall in a matter of days simply because it was unfinished and surrounded. I left my room and was immediately told that I was to go to some room on some floor, I was still new around here but I knew the system well enough. Soon I arrived in the room where I was due. Dull conversation and scared men was all I was greeted with. Sumter had fallen after only a day or two. I was expecting that. I was not expecting that war had already began. The walls of the carefully designed room were draped with maps and more maps. As soon as I walked in everyone went silent. The next few minutes were blurry. All I knew was that I ordered a blockade around Charleston. That is where I now stand in the battle room as I speak the words “go ahead and leave. Attend to your personal matters.” I paced around the room nervous, knowing that the war just started, my efforts as president over the last few months had been for nothing. Where I stand was as the president in wartime.