The War Between the States was over. It had been since April of 65 and Hollister, like many, were either heading home to a land and families devastated by the war or leaving it because there wasn’t anything to go back to. In Hollister’s case he had no home or family to speak of, so he was on the move which worked well with his nature.
At thirty, Jack Hollister was considered handsome by most, tall and aristocratic with a hint of cruelty to his face. The black eye patch covering his left eye, compliments of an exploding Yankee shell at Gettysburg, had not softened his appearance. He had been an infantry captain under General Lew Armistead, CSA, one of the brigade commanders in General George Pickett’s division.
Perhaps it was the loss of the eye, he was never sure, but of all the battles he had participated in those four days in Pennsylvania never left his thoughts for any lengthy period of time. The dead in “Devil’s Den”, the Federal and Confederate bodies spread upon the field like broken toys, the distant fire from Union guns on Little Round Top, the cries, groans and curses of the wounded, their flesh torn, punctured and slashed. The prayers of men about to go into battle, the cheers of men about to die.
The faces were always there, stained black with dirt and powder, gasping for breath in the heat of the day, sipping and sharing water when they had it, the smell of sulfur and cordite, blood and the dead. To Hollister, those were the worst four days of the war. It was the evening that the men began to both dread and delight in. At night, the men would learn who didn’t survive the day, which friends were gone and which were maimed for the remainder of their lives. Those that were able would sit around the light of campfires eating a late supper of coffee and hardtack, listen to some fiddle music maybe write a letter if they had anyone to write to.
The first two days of the battle, the casualties for both sides amounted to 34,000 making it the most costly two days of the war thus far, but the fighting was far from finished near that Pennsylvania town.
On July 3, 1863, General Longstreet’s men formed up. General Pettigrew’s division was formed on the left flank behind him General Trimble and his men. On the right flank Pickett’s division, General Garnett’s brigade on the left and General Kempler’s men to his right, Armistead’s brigade behind Garnett’s.
At around 3:00 PM General Pickett rode out before the division to give a glorious speech which without a doubt concerned sacrifice, love of the south, the glory of God and their womenfolk or something along those lines. Hollister was too far back to hear and anyway it didn’t matter much to him. He cared little for speeches before a battle. It was hot and he wondered if he would live to see the finish. His mind flashed to Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, the end of act V, scene 1.
“Why then, lead on. O that a man might
Know The end of this day’s business ere it Come!
But it Sufficeth that the day will end,
And then the end is known.
“What was that sir?” asked Corporal Barry, a Virginia farm boy.
Hollister shook his head, “Nothing Corporal, just a schoolboy memory.”
Barry grunted, he’d never been to school.
Pickett finished his speech, the men were anxious to move. Pickett raised his sword, the order to advance coming down the line. Armistead pulled his sword and in a horse voice called out to his men. “All right boys, for your wives, your sweethearts, for Virginia! Forward!”