The Bodies of Perryville
Thomas Winslow sighed as he stared out at his cornfield. “Destroyed,” he thought. “My entire harvest is completely destroyed.” The Battle of Perryville had occurred a week ago, and much of the fighting had taken place on his soil. He wiped the sweat off his brow and retreated inside, where his wife was trying to fix supper with limited supplies.
“It’ll be ready in just a minute,” she called from the kitchen. Walking up behind her and putting his arms around her waist, Thomas fought back tears as he wondered what they were going to do.
Supper was much quieter than usual. Samantha, the couple’s five-year-old daughter, had not seen her friends since the battle, so not even she had an exciting tale to relate. The table was cleared and the dishes washed, and then the entire household retreated to bed.
“Sarah,” Thomas said quietly to his wife as they prepared for sleep, “Do you smell that?”
She smiled at him wearily. “Yes, dear,” she replied, “It’s just the smell of the drying blood sinking into the soil.”
A week passed. The family continued on in gloomy despair, but at least the soldiers were moving away from the town. The smell, however, remained and actually seemed to intensify as the days passed. Three weeks after the battle, thunder could be heard in the distance, and the small Winslow family rejoiced.
“Maybe it will finally wash that horrible smell away,” Sarah said excitedly. “It’s so hard to eat or wash with that smell always lurking about.”
Oddly enough, the smell continued to intensify as the rain poured and the night progressed. It was almost unbearable by the time Thomas arose in the morning.
“I have to find out what that is,” he complained to his wife. “I can’t take it another minute.”
Opening the door, Thomas prepared to step out when he gasped, stepping back at the horrendous sight. His entire backyard was covered in bodies. When the battle had broken out, Thomas and his family had retreated to shelter, and while they were gone, the Union army had used his backyard to make a shallow grave for their dead. Because it had been newly plowed in hopes of readying the soil for a new garden next year, the family would never have noticed the disturbed ground if the rain had not washed the thin layer of dirt away.
Sarah grabbed a chair, nearly fainting, and quickly covered the eyes of her small child. Thomas stepped out into the yard, amazed at the scene before him. He counted 21 dead men before returning to the house. Three paces before the doorstep, Thomas heard a crunch beneath his boot. Looking down he realized he had stepped on toes sticking up through the ground. Disgusted, he raised his number to 22 and walked back into the house. His family packed up all the belongings they could carry and left through the front door, never to return to their house and the mass grave they had been given.
Joy Beth Woods