"The Sentry "




The small fire crackled in the dugout as the two Confederate infantrymen fed some twigs to it. They were looking forward to a hot cup of what passed for coffee in the Confederate Army these days.

They had to keep the fire small as there were some Yankee troops somewhere across the small creek and they didn’t want to give their position away.  To do so would invite certain fire from the enemy.



"Lawd, Emory, but I shore would love to have a fer real cup o' coffee, with some suhgar an’ a big ol’ slab of ham and a mess o’ eggs.”


"I know whut ya mean Josh, but if wishes were hosses we'd all be in th'

damned Cavalry." he replied to his friend.


Emory Callaway was about 20 years old and six feet tall. He had a full dark beard that a lot of the men had these days. He’d grown it for the additional warmth it provided against the harsh cold wind.               He'd been with the Sixth Artillery Brigade since the start of the war and had seen hard fighting for the past two years.

Even though he was only twenty, the two years of hard marching, seeing the death of many of his friends and the destruction caused by the battles, had turned his once youthful face into one of a man ten years older.


His uniform was threadbare and patched and he adjusted the blanket tighter around his shoulders. He shivered as the cold penetrated the blanket as he gazed over the small creek that separated the two opposing armies.


His breath was like a cloud around his head in the cold air. It had

snowed a few hours earlier and a light coating covered the ground and the trees surrounding the depression in the creek bank. He

shifted his Enfield rifle to his arm and blew onto his hands.


"Ah hope it don't get much colder tonight Emory. I'm liable to throw some more wood to this fire and to hell with them Yanks.” The other soldier said in a quiet voice.

He added another small stick to the fire and it blazed up again as the branch caught fire.


"Josh, it's going to get worse afore it gets any better. Now, I tell ya

whut, let’s get some of those branches and make a lean-to. At least it'll hide the fire and give us some shelter from the snow.” Emory replied.

"Snow? Again?" Josh asked incredulously.

"Yup, can’t you smell it?” Emory asked as he reached for the pine branch. "At least this will keep us a little warmer and maybe a little drier.

Now c'mon and get it done." Emory ordered.


The two set to work without any more conversation and soon the lean to is up and a small earthwork hides the small fire. It couldn’t be

unless you were really looking for it.                                                                        

The lean-to was a method of surviving that they learned to do as boys

when caught out hunting in the winter. The snow would cover the branches and soon insulate it from the wind as well as hiding it from unfriendly eyes.

A cabin it wasn’t, but it would do. 


It had a good view of the creek and the area around it. Emory smiled and nodded to himself. If nothing else, at least he knew his counterpart across the creek was as miserable as they were.


"Josh, git that coffee pot going an' I'll see if I kin find something for us to eat. Be right back.” Emory turned and walked over to the tree stump where they had placed their haversacks and brought them into the lean-to.


He opened up his pack and removed a skillet and some battered tin that

contained his ration of bacon and some hard tack. "Well, it aint much but at least it'll keep our bellies from grumbling.” He laughed softly.


Soon the air is filled with the aroma of the bacon and the coffee. Both men ate their meal quietly and quickly. If the Yanks were to probe their position, it would happen suddenly and with out any warning and it would come while they were eating.


Luckily, it was still quiet.


Emory picked up his rifle and looked over at the other soldier.

He saw a young man of 16 years. He had a fuzz of a beard on his face and the blond hair peeked out from under his gray kepi.


"Say, Emory, you know what day it is today?" Josh suddenly asked.

"I reckon it be the 24th.Why?" he replied.

"It's Christmas Eve! Amazin' how it slip up on ye.  Boy, what I wouldn't give to be back home in Houston right now.” Josh said.

" An’ just whut would you be doin? " Emory replied sarcastically.

" I'd be down at Amanda Jones's place. We'd all be sittin' around the piano and singin’ Christmas songs-“ Josh stopped as Emory made a face.


"I can just hear you too. I’ll bet they handed out cotton balls the size of apples to shove in their ears. You Do know you can’t carry a tune in a doggone bucket, don’t you?” Emory laughed as he described his friend’s singing prowess.


"You're the only person I know that can run a bear out of th' woods with just a single “me, me, me!” both men laughed softly.


"Anyway, we'd be a sittin’ there an’ drinking’ some hot cider, an’ then we'd exchange our presents.

Then we'd all go into the kitchen and boy, we'd put away some

vittles!" he smacked his lips as he imagined the food. "Smoked ham, some turkey, sweet ‘taters, corn bread, molasses and some butter... oh my goodness. NOW that is some kind o’good vittles!” josh finished.


"How about you Emory?" he asked. “How do you celebrate Christmas?”


Emory was quiet as he looked at the youngster, who waited with an expectant look on his face.

Josh hadn't been with the unit long and his uniform showed it's newness- there wasn’t any patches on the elbows yet.

I wonder how long you’ll be with us. he thought.


Emory had been lucky at not being wounded in spite of being in the thick of the major fighting of the past two years, including the past

July at the Pennsylvania village called Gettysburg. He had watched as

Pickett's Division made it's advance across the open field and saw so many fall in the hail of bullets and shell.  I wonder if I will be here come Easter. Emory thought.


“Well, to tell you the truth, Josh, I'd probably be sittin' in the Saint Luke Church listening to Preacher Black telling the Christmas story with all my family.” He answered softly. “And then after we got home, we’d put the baby to sleep and then get the toys out and put them under the tree. Then go to bed.” He finished his story.


He could see his home and the tree and the fire in the hearth. He could also hear the carolers coming down the street, their voices blending in a wonderful chorus.


Emory suddenly felt a deep longing in his heart to be home and he shook his head to clear the thoughts away. It seems like a lifetime.


"Look heah, Private. I wish you a happy Christmas, but it's time to make the first rounds. Have to make sure those people across the creek don’t sneak up on us. I’ll take the first watch and you get some sleep.”


"Shore thing Sarge." Josh snuggled into the branches and pulled his blanket tighter around him and added another piece of wood the small fire.

Emory slipped out quietly into the dark woods and walked softly along the bank towards the next post.


He hadn't gone far when he heard the snap of a stick being stepped on.

Quickly, Emory dropped to the ground, thumbing the hammer back on his rifle and started looking toward the sound.


He could see a shadowy figure drift in through the rising fog from the ford.

The snow had started falling again as well, obscuring the figure even more.


Emory's mouth suddenly became dry and his finger tensed around the trigger.

One squeeze and all hell would break loose and this Christmas Eve would

suddenly become like any other day in the war- someone's blood would spill

and somebody would die or be wounded. And as sure as the sun would rise in a

few hours, there would be a small engagement roaring through these woods.


Emory hissed out " Halt! Don't go any further, Yank. It's Christmas Eve, and

I really don't want to kill you nor anyone else on the Lord's Birthday."


The figure stopped suddenly and tried to make out the Confederate in the darkness.

He couldn't see Emory, but he replied in a quiet yet gentle voice.

" Don't be frightened soldier. I am lost and I would like to find my way out of this thicket. Can you help me, Sergeant?” The shadowy figure replied.


Emory stayed still and replied even as he sighted down the barrel of his rifle at the figure.

" Well, I tell ya this Yank, I suggest you turn right around

and go back across the creek there. That's where your lines are. Do that and you may live to see the morrow. Or you can stay right there and wind up dead or headed to Libby Prison in Richmond. I don’t know which is worse to tell you the truth.”


The shadow laughed. It was melodic and light and sounded as if spring had come. It felt warm and happy.


The shadow then began to speak in a quiet voice.


"Sergeant, I know how you are feeling tonight. I know the trouble and worries, and the sadness that you have felt since this war started.

I know that you wonder if you are right in fighting for this cause of your country. I know to you it is right and I say to you that in away it is right. I know you wonder if all the sacrifice is necessary.” The figure said.


“I know you wonder if the blood that has been spilled has been spilled in vain. I tell you that it hasn’t been, because from the fire of war, a new nation will arise from the ashes of the old. It will be a new nation that will be mightier and stronger. It will be the light of freedom to the world. It will stand the test of time and the furnace of wars far more terrible and bloodier yet to come.” The figure said.


“I tell you that there will be many Christmases to come where men like

You will ask these same questions. Just as you ask if you will live to see another Easter or return to your home, they will ask the same thing. For some, it the answer will be no. It is in the Lord’s time that these questions will be answered and they will be answered truly.” The shadow finished.



Emory was startled and for some reason couldn't speak to the shadow in front of him.


How did he know this? Emory thought.


"How did I know, Sgt? I know the hearts of all warriors. We fight and die so that those we love back home will be safe.

We are warriors, you and I. We know the face of war and despise it.

Yes, I know what is in your heart Sergeant, as it

is in my heart as well. I come to you lost and to tell you that peace WILL come to you and this troubled world. "


The figure stepped closer towards Emory and extended a scarred hand toward him.



"Put down your rifle, I bring you good tidings and peace this night. It is the grace of our Lord and of His Son that was born this night so long ago.”

“ There will NOT be any fighting tonight. Go back to your position and wait.” 

The scarred hands touched the tread bare sleeve and pushed the rifle muzzle away from the shadow. Suddenly the fog roiled in on the wind and the snow blew harder.

When Emory looked again, the shadow figure had disappeared.

Emory, shaken, went back to the lean to and shook Josh awake.


"Whut., Is it 1200 already Sarge? " Josh asked.

Emory said nothing but mentioned him to come out of the shelter.

The snow had stopped and the fog had lifted and there was stillness along the creek.

The two soldiers looked up into the sky and saw a mighty star shining

brightly in the sky, it's light illuminating the entire creek bed.


Emory looked back across the creek and was startled to see several Union soldiers staring up at the wondrous light and pointing at it.


"Hey, Yank! Don’t shoot! Aint this something??" Emory called out.

"Yeah Reb, funny thing too. Someone told me to come out and look. " was the Yankee's reply.

"Well, then I guess we won't be shooting at each other tonight. Say, you got any coffee you’d like to trade?” Emory called.


"Yep, you got any of that good Virginia tobacco? This stuff they call tobacco tastes like some kind of tree bark.” the soldier asked Emory.



The four men walked across the river and shook hands and exchanged the

items. They began to talk and soon were laughing like they were not wearing different uniforms and that they wouldn’t be trying to kill each other in a few more hours.


All too soon, the star's light began to fade and they stood up.


"Well, I guess we'd better be getting back on to our side of the creek, Reb.

The Captain will be coming by to check on us and I don't want to be caught out here.” The Union soldier said.


"I reckon so. Well, A Merry Christmas and I hope we don't see each other for a very long time.” Josh said as he shook hands with the other soldier.

They turned and walked back across the creek and in to the lean to.


It was quiet and both men wondered if it actually had happened.


Emory started to sing a favorite Christmas song softly, then louder.

Another voice joined in and soon the air was filled with the sound of voices singing in a battle of song instead of bullets.


Emory smiled to himself. It would be a good day and the only damage done was to his ears as Josh Turner destroyed another verse.


“Josh, why don’t you just rest your voice and listen.” Emory laughed.




"Peace on Earth, Good will to men."

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.



Col. Lloyd H. Cole

3rd Va. Cavalry, II Corps. ANV