The Better Country by Stephen Johnson

The rhythm of the katydids calmed the weary soldiers and ushered in the night. The forest smoldered from the horrific battle along the Orange Turnpike. The cries of the burning wounded had finally ceased, rescue attempts complete. On the far corner of the camp, a harmonica played a soft melody. The flickering campfire magically glowed against the blank paper as the Yankee chaplain struggled to pen his thoughts.

“You gonna stare at that there paper all night? Get some sleep, Brother Web. You earned it.”

“What’s that, Billy? The minister was exhausted. “You say something?”

“Who are you writin’?” asked the sergeant.

Brother Web stuck his finger in his ear and shook it. “Darn cannons! This confounded ringing just won’t go away. If you must know—and it’s really none of your business—but if you must know, it’s a young lady.”

“A lady? But I thought you took a vow,” said Billy.

“I’m no priest, boy. Don’t you know that? I’m allowed to fall in love, even get married. Just afraid the married part’s not going to happen.”

“What do ya mean by that?” asked Billy.

“Nothing. Never mind. I’m trying to think,” he said impatiently. Reverend Webster Cole gazed at the paper some more, but the pen never moved. Between Billy’s questions and the moans of the wounded men, Brother Web just couldn’t focus on his letter.

“Put up a good fight today, didn’t we, Brother Web? Whipped some Johnnies somethin’ fierce!”

“Now, that you did, my boy! I watched you carry the flag bravely, most bravely. By the way, how’s that wound? I can change the bandage if you need it.” The reverend felt guilty for snapping at the young man.

Billy grimaced as he re-examined his left arm just above the elbow. Fresh blood had seeped through the dressing, leaving him a crimson badge of honor.

“Still a might tender. Thanks, but I’ll be fine.” Billy paused and threw on a stern look. “Those dogs! They’re demons I tell ya! Hope we sent a few more Rebs to hell today. Felt like I was gettin’ really close myself.”

“Come on, you don’t want to see anyone go to hell—do you? I don’t like what they stand for, but I’d like to think I’ll see some in the heavenly country. I will see you there too—right?”

“Sorry, Reverend. They won’t get sympathy from me. They’ve killed too many of my friends here lately.” Reverend Cole smiled at the young man and admired him. Billy reminded him of his 21 year-old nephew. The young soldier returned to his usual, pleasant demeanor. “The ball just grazed me. Doc said I’d do fine. Just need to change this dressin’ every so often.”

“It hasn’t hurt your music abilities. Why’d you stop playing? Come on now! This war could use a little reprieve. How about ‘Rock of Ages’?”

Billy blew softly on his harmonica, and the reverend laid down his pad and pen. Times like this had to be savored, times of tranquility sandwiched between chaos and killing, battle cries and screams of death, sounds of a world spinning to a stop, a slow death. The war had been a bloody one, no end in sight. Many young men lay sprawled across the battlefield, too many to pray for and comfort. He was overwhelmed by the impossible task of trying to be everywhere at once. He wanted to hold every hand as their bodies went limp. He wanted to hear every dying man whisper his final words. He didn’t want them to be alone as the light in their eyes burned out.

As much as he wanted to fulfill his duties as a minister, tending to the wounded and the dying, he wondered, Is it enough?

The answer came without any hesitation. No!

I must join the fight!


As Billy played, Reverend Cole picked up the pen and began writing his letter.

My Dearest Samantha,

I hope this letter finds you well. I miss you My Love, more than you can know. I realized that today would have been our wedding day. It’s been a year and five days since I left you. Sadness fills my heart. I know I didn’t give you fair warning. You may have very well talked me out of the idea.

I couldn’t bear to look at my congregation any longer. My words felt empty as I stared into the questioning eyes of widows and orphans. Most of the men of my flock—sons, fathers, and grandfathers—would never be coming back. I pray I left them in good hands with Reverend Blanchard. He seemed to be a caring fellow. I trust that you still feel at home in that loving church. Their love for you reveals a strong commitment to our Lord.

I feel that God has led me here. I like to think I’m not just preaching that God’s will be done. I truly believe that He’s involved me in the execution of His plan to unite our nation. And I sincerely hope that our actions, according to His plan, will remove the cruel darkness and injustice of slavery. You know how I’ve dreamed of a better nation that will embrace equality for all men. Oh, Sam how I have prayed and prayed! I cannot pray any longer. I must go beside these men and join them on the smoky fields. I can no longer watch from the safe-haven of the hilltops and spectate through the glass.

Surely you will notice my tear stains. The ink has not yet dried. This war will never end, and I fear I shall not return. I suppose that our union was never meant to be in this life. Therefore, I release you from our short-lived bond.

Go in peace my love,



Billy finished playing the ageless hymn and then set the harmonica down. He stood up in pain and walked to the campfire where he grabbed a coffee pot. The aroma filled the air, beating back the scent of conflict as the young man poured a cup and then a second. He handed one of the cups to Cole.

“Thanks, Billy. You got a gift. So, how does someone so talented get caught up in such a crazy war?”

“Volunteered. I joined August 10th, 1862. The 24th Michigan’s a fine unit. Don’t let anyone tell ya different. There ain’t no better fightin’ men. I’m proud to carry the colors for ‘em—darn proud.”

“I’ve seen you in action. You’re a brave young man, and you’ve held many battles together. You should be proud.”

“Don’t get too carried away, Brother Web.” Billy stared at his beloved Union flag standing proudly in its cradle. He stroked one of the worn, white stars, dropped his head and trembled slightly.

“What, Billy? What is it?”

“Brother Web, ya got to keep this between you and me. You swear?”

“All right,” said Cole.

“I’m not as brave as ya think. Heck, the first time or two, I wanted to run like a coward; thought I was goin’ insane. I still get scared. The fear won’t go away.”

“I get scared too, Billy. The way I see it, bravery doesn’t imply the absence of fear,” the reverend paused and asked, “What can I do?”

“Pray for me,” said Billy.

“Okay. For what?”

Billy pulled off his blue hat, revealing short curls of red hair. He slowly sat down by the fire, streams of tears running down his cheeks. “Look, my luck’s runnin’ out. I’m a big target on the field.” He stopped to take another sip of coffee and wiped away the tears. “Those Johnnies want to take my flag. They want to steal it and rip it to pieces. Those blasted Johnnies.”

“Death stares us all in the face sooner or later. I’m more afraid of how I’ll die than the actual dying,” said Cole. “Just praying it’s quick.”

“You’re sayin’ you’re ready to die?”

“Well, I’m not trying to hurry it along, but yes, I’m ready to meet my Maker. I’m sure of that.”

“You may be ready, Brother Web, but I’m twenty-one years old. I want to get married, have some kids and start me a farm. No disrespect, but you haven’t seen the dangers up close, like I have. Every stinkin’ battle too. I’m lucky to have come this far.”

“No luck about it, Billy. God’s with you. And I’m praying for you. You’ll have your farm—you’ll see.” Reverend Cole patted his side pocket, feeling for a different letter he had written two days back. This letter was addressed to his brother whom he longed to see one last time. Cole often dreamed of the times the two of them fished from sunrise to sunset. Those peaceful days seemed like they’d last forever. His brother had also drawn him into much mischief, and he tried to suppress memories of those rebellious years when all the pleasures of life seemed ripe for the taking. But where had the time gone? Though a good bit older than Billy, he too wanted to get married, start a family, and create another generation of brothers and family bonds. It seemed now that time had outrun his wants and desires, bringing him closer to life’s great divide.

Cole rose, walked a few steps and kneeled beside the downhearted soldier. For several seconds, the Yankee preacher twisted and fiddled with his black, handlebar mustache. “Billy, I’ve got something I need to tell you.” Billy looked at him, puzzled.

“What’s that? Jesus comin’ back tomorrow?”

The reverend slapped Billy’s shoulder and laughed hard. “Oh, how I wish that were true.” He stopped a minute and lifted his face toward the stars, thinking that maybe it could be true. Then he folded his arms and looked earnestly into Billy’s eyes. “No, what I was going to say is: I’m joining your color guard.”

“You’re doin’ what?” Billy looked shocked, angry and slightly pleased, all at the same time. “You don’t know the first thing about fightin’, Rev! Are you insane?”

“I know, I know. But I’ve given it a lot of thought. Got permission from Nelson earlier this afternoon. It may be hard to believe, but I’m a darn good shot with a musket.”

Billy was standing now, the tears gone, the night sounds had suddenly hushed. “Try bein’ a good shot when half-crazed men are bearin’ down on ya. Try bein’ a good shot when you can’t see three feet in front of ya. It ain’t easy, Brother Web. It’s stupid. You sure you want to do this? Downright stupid, I say.”

“Yes, I do. Of course I do. Now, Billy Harris stop trying to talk me out of it. My mind’s made up, and there’s not a bloomin’ thing you can do about it!” Reverend Cole calmed his shaking finger, as he quietly collected his fire-and-brimstone emotions, his mouth and jaw still quivering in the glow of the campfire.

His mind flashed back to his wandering years; the years before he met the Savior. Cole was an able wrestler and boxer. He drank, cussed, and caroused, and he could easily beat any man in his home state. He prided himself on keeping a calm head and his skills—skills that always won out over strength and brute force. He wondered if those skills would serve him in the setting of battle. But no one needed to know about those times. Those days were gone. The mighty Wrestler of old had pinned him down and subdued his soul.

Billy’s questioning scowl eased into a smile. Across the fading campfire, he extended his hand to the preacher. “Welcome to the color guard, Brother Web. Let me guess: you’re one of those Pentecostal preachers.”

The reverend rolled his eyes and sighed. “No—Methodist actually.”

The campfire diminished into faintly glowing embers, and the coffee grew cold. Both men yawned and quietly walked to their tents. Tomorrow would be a big day. The regiment would be on the march. General Grant would continue to fight; he would see the war through to the end.


Tomorrow came sooner than they expected. At 1:30 a.m., the call went out for the men to fall in. They quickly gathered and packed their gear. Billy, Reverend Cole and the other members of the color guard walked to the front of the procession.

Billy offered Cole a plug of chewing tobacco, but he kindly refused. “It’s mighty odd seein’ you carry a gun. You know how to load that thing?” asked Billy. The young man spewed a volley of tobacco juice on the ground.

“Billy, I’ve told you once already. I know how to handle it. Now, where in the blazes are we going?”

“Can hardly see him in that lantern light, but I think I see Captain Nelson just ahead. Maybe he’ll give us the skinny. Looks like the 24th is a leadin’ the march.”

The captain looked impatient and eyed the men strangely as they fell in. “Harris.” He regarded Billy by tipping his hat. I see you made it, Mr.—I mean—Reverend Cole.”

“Morning, Captain Nelson.”

“You boys need to get moving because we’re leading this march. You’ll set the pace. And be on the alert, by God!” said Captain Nelson as he checked his revolver. The horse’s withers twitched with a curious anticipation. The young, proud commander holstered the pistol and then firmly tugged on his gloves.

“Where we headed, Captain?” Billy spoke up, as he held the flag steady.

“Spotsylvania, a ten-mile march from here. Hoping to get around Lee and move closer to Richmond.”

“How about the rumor goin’ round?” Billy asked Captain Nelson.

“What rumor?”

“I heard General Longstreet was shot bad.”

“That’s no rumor; it’s the honest-to-God truth,” Nelson responded proudly. “Ought to take the wind out of Lee’s sails—at least for a while.”

“Captain?” Billy was being fairly bold with the questions.

“What, Harris? We need to get going.” The Captain readied his horse for the march.

“You sure Brother Web needs to do this?” Cole frowned and leveled an offensive stare at the assertive soldier.

“Cole’s made his decision. I need every available man to get in this fight. What the devil you complaining for? He’s goin’ to be protecting your hide.”

Billy kept his focus on the Captain, avoiding Cole’s steady glare. “That’s just it, sir. Who’s goin’ to protect the reverend’s hide?” With a warped smile, Billy glanced at the flustered Yankee preacher.

Nelson gave a short chuckle, and the reverend relaxed. “He’ll do fine, Harris. Don’t you feel the odds improving? He is a reverend last time I checked,” he said, sarcastically. “Harris, not that I’m much of a religious man, I just hope God, fate or something’s on our side this morning. We need all the help we can get.” The Captain turned and ordered the march to begin.

“So, no vote of confidence,” said Cole.

“Don’t get riled up Rev. Just lookin’ out for ya, that’s all. But now that you’re goin’ a do this thing, I expect ya to keep those Grays off me … and maybe send a few to hell ... or heaven, but I doubt it.”

“Don’t worry, Billy. I have your back—and your front. And don’t listen to what the Captain said. God’s in control last time I checked—not fate. He’s got a purpose in everything; you can bet on that.”

“If you say so, Brother Web. You’re not fixin’ to preach a sermon are ya?”

“Why … I just might. Nothing you can do about it either.”


Through the night, the march grew more difficult. Rain pummeled the advancing Fifth Corp as it slithered slowly along the Brock Road, winding its way toward its prey. The sacred Virginia soil caked to the men’s boots, the weary feet shriveled and soaked inside them. Several soldiers collapsed along the way, exhausted from the marching and the previous battles. The cavalry encountered many challenges as they cleared the way for the infantry, but the Fifth Corp pushed through, and just after dawn they approached a place called Laurel Hill.

“Do something for me, Billy? Would you?” The reverend slipped his hand inside his coat pocket and pulled out an envelope.

He handed the envelope to Billy who, reluctantly, took it. “What’s this?” he asked.

“It’s a letter to my brother, my only brother. I’m hoping he’s still alive.” The 24th Michigan continued to march; the intensity of battlefield noise grew stronger.

“Why didn’t you put it in the mail?” asked Billy.

“I can’t trust it on this one. Someone’s got to hand deliver it or make sure he gets it.”

“What’s his name, and where’s he live?” Billy asked.

“Joseph Cole. Goes by Joe. He joined the Confederate Army in January, 1863.” The reverend paused and tried to read Billy’s expression. “You heard me right.”

Billy furrowed his freckled brow. “What?”

“Look Billy, I guess you should know this: I’m a native Virginian. Now, don’t jump to any conclusions. Listen …”

“You’re from Virginia? And your brother’s a Johnnie? Now aren’t you full of surprises? No way! Can’t help ya. Not goin’ to aide a Reb. No, sir!”

“Come on, Billy. Would you do this for me? He’s my brother for heaven’s sake. We’re on the same side here, okay. Michigan’s my home, always will be.” The reverend’s eyes begged Billy to reconsider.

The young soldier looked forward and marched silently for a hundred yards or so. The chasm of hate between Blue and Gray seemed infinite. Soon, Billy’s conscience pricked him as he rethought his last words. Friendship can be much stronger than hate. “I guess I’ve heard that happenin’ before, brother against brother. But … I’ve never met anyone who fell into that pickle. You guys close?”

“Use to be. Had a huge argument—well, actually a fight—and then we parted ways. My uncle told me he was fighting in the western campaigns. Can’t confirm it, but I think he may have been captured by the Federals, somewhere in Mississippi.”

“Sounds like a whopper of a fight. Course, I can’t picture you fightin’,” said Billy.

“It’s not something I’m proud of, believe me. Billy, he beat a slave to death—right in front of me. And I didn’t lift a finger until the deed was done. Then, I lost it. I laid into him hard, real hard—nearly killed him with my bare hands.”

“So let me guess,” Billy said, “you ran away from home.”

“You got it! And I never looked back. I did stay in touch with Mom and Dad. But I had no interest in farming or slavery. My parents died about five years ago. Then my little sister passed.”

“You think you two can patch things up? asked Billy.

“Doubt it. Seriously doubt it. He’d never accept my fiancé, Samantha. Not in a million years!”

“What’s wrong with your fiancé?” asked Billy.

The reverend paused and carefully considered that last question. “That’s another story for another march.”

Billy looked down at the envelope and stuffed it inside his coat pocket. “Anything I need to know about this here letter, Brother Web?”

The reverend fiddled with his mustache. He then adjusted his blue hat and said, “Got to make my peace with him. You know, just in case …”

Billy interrupted. “Nothin’s goin’ to happen to ya, Rev. You’ve got to protect my skin, remember? Heck, your chances of gettin’ through this got to be better than mine.”

“Just promise me when this war’s over, you’ll get him the letter. Look for the Cole family farm in Duffields, Virginia, a few miles north of Charlestown. Of course, I’ll pay you for your time and expense.”

“Hold your money, Brother Web. No, I bet ya … I bet ya money I’ll be giving this here letter back to ya when it’s all said and done. You watch.”

“Billy, I’m not a gambling man.”


As the 24th Michigan rounded the bend, a great clearing opened before them. Great plumes of earth rocketed to the skies as both sides shelled the other’s position. The scenes of carnage made the reverend’s heart quake. Sharp injections of doubt filled his mind. Could he really take another man’s life? For years he preached staunchly, “Thou shalt not kill.” He comforted himself with other scripture that condoned killing for the right reason; however, did his reasons fall into this category? After all, the other side had concluded that they fought for the right reasons.

Then the ugliness and wickedness of the slave trade came to mind: the sight of scourged backs; the merciless hangings; the separation of families; and unimaginable cruelties. Why hadn’t his brethren in the clergy—especially the southern preachers—taken a greater stand against slavery? Somehow he knew this senseless conflict was part of God’s judgment on the nation.

Suddenly the answer was clear. Of course he could take another man’s life, if that’s what it would take. The cause was just. Evil practices must be stopped. And the Union must be preserved. A new country would rise from the ash heap of war.

“You ready, Brother Web? Here comes Captain Nelson, and he has a mission written all over that cocky little face.” Billy stood at attention as Nelson brought the horse to a sudden, sliding halt.

“Listen up men! I need you to move to the crest of that hill and form a line! Stay low! Don’t make a move until I give the order!” Nelson’s commands were hard to hear over the artillery blasts.

The men hustled over a brushy hedgerow as hot lead whined above their heads. The battle boomed louder and the earth rattled their bones a little harder with each step. They crouched in a line along the lengthy, grassy berm. Just ahead of them, other companies were charging the Confederate’s line, not more than 40 rods distance. Captain Nelson galloped back and forth behind his men, yelling orders, trying to rally their courage.

“Get ready men! Fix bayonets!”

Minnie balls were now skirting across the berm’s surface. One soldier let out a short, gruesome scream as a .58 caliber ball sailed through his eye socket, blowing out the back of his skull. His suffering was brief. Cole remained focused and fought back the urge to minister to the soldier. He must guard the colors and prevent them from hitting the ground.

“Ready! Company—CHARGE!”

Cole stayed to Billy’s left as the whole company swept across the body-strewn field. The Union flag led the way like a mighty raptor with out-stretched wings. Each man’s battle cry amplified into a unified terror, a terror that flew ahead of them, making the Confederates weak-kneed. Already diminished by the previous charge, a few Rebs began to retreat. Cole fell behind his swiftly running flag bearer. He was letting Billy down.

Another member of the color guard, private Mathews, took Cole’s place beside Billy. Running behind Mathews, Cole glided through a spray of blood, the taste of it mingled with his salty sweat and saliva. A bullet had blasted through the private’s neck, toppling him face down into the ripped-up ground. Cole jumped nimbly over the fallen soldier and sped up, joining Billy’s side, his body being flooded with pure adrenaline.

Billy’s so-called demons stood fast and greeted Cole, along with the already diminished color guard. Without thinking, Cole fired his one shot into the gray wall. One man fell and another took his place. A rifle butt caught him just under the ear, knocking him down. He rolled to his feet and jabbed the bayonet into the shoulder of the relentless Reb. Blood ran down the cold steel, lubricating it for more unfortunate lads. He quickly blocked another aggressive strike, dispatching two more Grays. Hot lead grazed his side, making him cringe and unleash an agonizing cry. Pain and anger awakened old memories, and the skills of prior seasons raced back into his veins. In the wake of his survivalist instincts, bodies lay reeling across the killing fields. This was not a boxing match, but a fight to the death.

“There, Rev! See the break in the line? They’re fallin’ apart!” Billy yelled.

“I’m here, Billy! I’m here—no worries! Keep moving forward! We’ve got ‘em now!”

The enemy entrenchments lay just a few yards ahead. Billy aimed the flag proudly toward the Rebel stronghold, streaming it majestically, turning it into a beacon of victory. To the Federal’s dismay, the cannon fire began to increase. Clods of fresh clay rained over them. One explosion came too close.


“Billy ...” Cole whispered the name and stirred, opening his eyes to face a dead soldier with no lower jaw. It was not the man he sought. He couldn’t tell if he was dazed, dreaming, or dead. There was Samantha in all her beauty, reaching out to him, the smooth ebony skin contrasting with the pure white dress. She sang a well-known spiritual, her angelic voice drowning out the chaos. He stretched out his hand, and it passed through her hand as if she were an apparition. The bullets had no affect on her. As the shelling subsided, the visions disintegrated, revealing the bleak truth.

“Billy! Billy!” He yelled the name as he shook off the dizzying, percussive assault. His sparkling brown eyes fell into focus, and a portal opened within the swirling, noxious fumes. Intuition told him to look back. A soldier rarely looks behind him on the battlefield, and what the reverend saw next sent a wave of panic down his spine. Men in blue were retreating. Something had gone terribly wrong. No, he must not look back, only forward.

He turned, again finding the opening in the man-made storm. He could just barely make out Billy’s ever-forward thrust toward the Confederate line. But something wasn’t right. The flag was no longer charging forward, and it wavered, as if to kiss the ground. Picking up his rifle, the preacher catapulted forward, leaping toward his unprotected friend. A ghost in a gray suit reloaded, intent on finishing off the flag-bearer. Thick layers of smoke hid the Rebel’s face.

“I’m coming, Billy! Hang on!” shouted Cole.

Billy was alive, but disabled from the shot to his right leg. As the tattered Union flag angled closer to the Virginia soil, he came close to passing out.

“No! No! Billy!” The reverend screamed like a mad man, and rushed to inflict all his fury upon the lone Confederate soldier.

“No … you … don’t!” Cole thrust the crimson bayonet into the chest of the surprised Rebel. The skewered soldier crumbled, and his knees hit the ground. Cole gaped as the wounded Reb’s face fell from the war clouds. It was familiar—much like his own—with a dimpled chin, long pointed nose, and wide, prominent cheekbones. They were the unmistakable Cole family cheekbones.

“Joe …” The reverend whispered in disbelief, “Joseph … no … no. It can’t be. Can’t be you.” Cole pulled out the bayonet and gently laid his brother back, propping his head against a cold corpse. Quickly, he took a handkerchief and pressed against the wound, now a free-flowing fountain.

“Web … that you, Web?” Joseph stared dimly into the eyes of his brother.

“Yes, it’s me, Joseph. I’m so sorry. This can’t be happening.” The tears were streaming down the preacher’s cheeks, washing clean channels through the dirt, sweat and dried blood.

“No, don’t blame yourself, Web. Don’t you dare.”

“I forgive ya, Web. Forgave ya a long time ago…” He paused and coughed. “Just look at you …” Joe grabbed Web’s forearm tightly and wept.

“I can’t feel my legs, Web. Why … the sky’s already dark. Is it evening?”

“Hold on, Joe. You’ll be okay.”

“Don’t lie to me. We both know...” Joseph coughed up more blood. His unsteady breathing rattled his pierced chest.

Web stroked his brother’s grimy hair and tried to give him whiskey to dull the pain. Joseph couldn’t hold it down. His body began to relax.

“What’s to become of me, Web?”

“Try not to talk, Joe. Here, take some more whiskey.” The Confederate private pushed the flask away.

Joe continued, “I’m no good, ya know. Never have been.”

“I will see you again, Brother. Just believe!” Web held Joseph’s hand firmly, assuming his chaplain duties once again. “Remember the thief, that blessed thief who hung by our Savior’s side. Remember what our Lord said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’ Think on those simple words, Joseph and believe them.”

“Listen, Web. Ya hear it?”

“What, brother … what is it?” Web looked perplexed.

“Music … I hear music.” Web broke down with a wail, punching the ground, hugging his brother tight. Having witnessed the last breath of many soldiers, he knew the calling card of Heaven, of angelic hosts, the escorts to that distant, glorious land.

Kissing Joseph on the forehead, he said, “Goodbye, brother. See you in Glory.” Joe breathed his last, and the reverend closed the soldier’s eyelids. A faint gladness and glow rested on Joe’s face.

Decades before, they had played war together, equipped with toy guns and infinite imaginations. They had harmed each other with sounds and invisible blades, pretending to die a thousand times. Then they had fantasized about real battles and thought of death and destruction as glorious things. If only life remained innocent child’s play, but all men eventually grow up, leaving their immature notions behind. Cole now realized that life is always about growing-up and moving toward something better, to realizing a larger and more majestic reality, to experiencing true freedom and change.


A battle gives a man very little time to think, much less to grieve. Cole suddenly remembered Billy, only ten yards behind him. Billy was now unconscious as cannon fire escalated. The mangled and dirty Union flag laid on the ground. Cole quickly tied a tourniquet just above the soldier’s ghastly wound. Within seconds, a new rally of battle cries sounded behind him. Looking back, he saw a wave of unscathed blue uniforms heading his way. He reached down and picked up the unguarded stars and stripes. As the brave chaplain waved the flag before the fresh troops, a new energy invaded the field. Cole faced his enemy and raised his eyes to the heavens. He remembered the words of Samson, “Oh Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, Oh God.” A soft, but growing melody trailed behind Cole’s last words. He could barely make it out, but it sounded like a lone harmonica playing “Rock of Ages.” Reverend Cole leveled his gaze to the oncoming assault. He then smiled and marched towards the better country.

The End


Stephen Johnson lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s an engineer by trade but loves history and writing short stories in his spare time. His story, “But It Worked For King Solomon” was published in The Story Anthology sponsored by Family Fiction Magazine. He’s currently working on publishing a collection of his short stories.