A Soldiers Story
An American tale of Heroism and the true cost of freedom
Jack Smith stepped up to sign his name, barely able to contain his excitement! Jack was a stocky boy of 16, with dark hair and green eyes He was enlisting in the continental army along with his best friend Daniel Williams, a tall, lanky boy with an unmistakable air of confidence.
“What’s your name son?” the man collecting the signatures asked,
“My name is Jack Smith sir.”
“Well Jack, why do you want to join the Continentals?”
Jack replied, “Sir, I want to enlist because I believe that we have rights that are being violated by England, and I will not stand aside and let King George have his way!”
“Those are good reasons Jack” the man said, “But before you sign, be sure you know what your getting in to”
“Well I can see you have made up your mind Jack. Daniel, your father already talked to me about you joining young. Sign here please, the both of you” the man said. “Report back here before sunrise tomorrow to begin your training”
“Thank you sir” said Jack as he and Daniel started to walk home.
“You ready for tomorrow?” Jack asked his friend.
“Are you kidding? I was born ready!” exclaimed Daniel
They walked in silence until their paths split. Each contemplating the meaning of what they had just done.
“I’ll see you tomorrow!” said Daniel.
“See you Daniel” replied Jack.
Jack whistled as he walked up the path to his house. He could smell the blossoms that filled the orchard orchard, their perfume born to him on the warm breeze. He could hear the cows lowing in the pasture, their bells tinkling. He went to the barn and finished the chores he had put off all day. As he worked he realized how much he would miss this beautiful place.
“I will come back” he told himself, “and when I do, we will be free!”
When he finished his chores, the sun had gone down. He walked back up to the house opened the door, and let himself in.
“Jack! Where have you been?” asked his mother. “I told you we needed your help to fix the roof today! You know we have been short handed since you father--” she got suddenly quiet.
“I’m sorry mother.”
“What were you doing anyway? Running around with that Daniel? He’s a bad influence, what with him wanting to join the Continental army and all. He’s only 15!”
Jack looked down at his feet.
“Jack what is it? You’ve gone pale. You didn’t go and join the Army now did you?” she stopped.
He felt his already white face lose even more of its color.
“Of course you didn’t, I'm only joking!”. Jack felt his heart begin to relax its pounding. “You must be hungry, come now we saved you some supper.”
That night Jack couldn’t find sleep, he tossed and turned his conscience raging. Part of him felt guilty for not telling his mother what he had done, and another part of him was scared of what was to come. Still, he was excited. In his heart, he knew he had done the right thing. England was in the wrong. This he knew for sure.
“And they will regret the day they decided to control us” he said to himself. “I’ll make sure of that!”
The next day he woke up to hear Daniel in his living room.
Daniel you idiot!, he thought. He could hear Daniel telling his mother about enlisting the day before. Jack slipped into his mother’s room and grabbed one of the muskets hanging on the wall. It had belonged to his grandfather and Jack’s father had promised that when the time came, it would belong to Jack.
“Looks like now is the time” he said as he scooped up the rifle cradling it lovingly in his arms, “I’m gonna be relying on you now ok?” he said partly to the rifle and partly to his father “So don’t let me down”.
He snuck out the window and went around to the front door so he would not have to walk past his mother. He knocked and Daniel opened the door
“Hey Jack! You want to say goodbye before we go?”
Jack reluctantly stood in the door frame looking at his shoes “Goodbye mother” he said, “I love you and I will come back to you.” He looked up at his mother and saw that she was fighting back tears. She was struggling to speak torn between rage and anguish. All that she could get out was “Why Jack?”
“I love you mother, and I will come back” he said again as he turned and followed Daniel down the path.
“Recruuuits! Form, a line next to this post.” Shouted a grizzled old man.
“You have ten seconds! Move!”
“My name is Robert Miller, you will call me Trainer Miller.” he began to pace back and forth in front of the line.
“I am tasked with giving you enough knowledge to be able to function in the continental army. I will teach you basic formations and how to transition to and from them efficiently and QUICKLY!” he said, the recruits to jumping as he shouted the last word.
“This is more important than it sounds so pay attention!” He glared at them, daring them to move.
“Under normal circumstances, I would also train you in marksmanship, but I received a message today that all recruits in the area are required at Boston tomorrow” he began to pace again.
“Colonel William Prescott has learned of a probable British attempt to break free from our siege and requires more troops in the area to help fortify and defend Bunker hill and Breed's hill, as well as the Charlestown peninsula.”
“Therefore, you will have today to learn basic tactics and you will move out tomorrow, any questions? Good, now let’s FIX THIS LINE!”
The next morning they began their march to Boston. Jack looked over at Daniel as they marched in double file, “Do you feel ready?”
“Of course not!” Daniel snapped back
“No need to get so touchy, I was just asking”
“I'm sorry. The reality just hit me that I may have to kill a man in a few days”
“It’s okay. I had the same thought. Just remember, they are in the wrong.”
“I know,” replied Daniel
“Quiet back there!” growled the old trainer as he led the recruits.
Jack woke up from three hours of sleep to the sound of shouting. “C’mon Jack!” yelled Daniel, “The British are forming up!”
Jack had spent the last two days digging and building fortifications outside of Boston on Breed’s hill and he was stiff. He got up, stomping his feet and waving his arms to get his blood flowing. He grabbed his Grandfather's musket and took up a position next to Daniel. Further down the line he could see Colonel William Prescott preparing to command the troops.
“Men” said Colonel Prescott. When he spoke, Jack felt renewed confidence. This was a man who knew what he was doing.
“Men, many of you are about to die. I will not sugarcoat it. But, as we fight and die together, let your minds rest on what we are fighting for.”
“You must be sure of the cause. If you are not then you will die in vain” He paused to let his words sink in.
“We are short on ammunition so make sure every shot counts. In fact, don’t even think about shooting until you see the whites of their eyes! Are you ready men?”
A thousand voices roared in response.
“Then make ready!”
Jack looked over and saw that Daniel was not loading, “What's wrong?” asked Jack.
“I don’t know if I can do this”
Jack was stunned, Daniel had always been so confident, so sure of himself and the cause of freedom.
“You can”, replied Jack, “think about the freedom our families and friends will have once we win”
Daniel thought for a second, than began loading. “Your right, I can do this!”.
They could hear Colonel Prescott’s raised voice “Men, make those shots count. After the first volley, fire at will until they retreat and don’t panic!”.
The next thirty seconds felt like an eternity, Then, Jack heard the command he was waiting for “Fire!” He raised his musket, but than he realized that the command was given by the British commander! He heard the rattle of thousands of muskets and heard bullets flying all around, but there were few hits. The British were still too far away for consistent accuracy. The British kept marching forward, the sound of their boots ominous in the still, early morning air. “Take aim” Colonel Prescott ordered, then quickly shouted “take cover!” as another British volley came in. This time, several British bullets found their mark and screams began all around as men began to be evacuated from the battlefield.
Daniel looked at Jack, a horrified expression on his face.
“Why are we not returning fire?” he asked, trembling.
“Daniel,” said Jack, “trust the Colonel. He has done this before. He knows how to minimize losses and conserve ammunition. Remember the cause”
“You’re right. Thank you for being my friend.”
“Men! Now let’s give them a taste of their own medicine!”, shouted the Colonel “Take aim!... FIRE!”. Jack saw his shot as if in slow motion, he watched the spark from the flint as it fell into the pan, the brief flash in the pan followed by the bang, and the smoke of his musket as it joined in the chorus of a thousand others. He saw the bullet in his mind as it sped toward its destination, and he saw the spurt of blood from the young soldier’s chest as he fell. Part of him felt like cheering, he had just taken his first step towards freedom! Yet another part of him couldn’t believe that he had just taken a human life. His friend’s shouting woke him from his thoughts
“Jack, you need to reload, they’re still coming!”
Already some of the soldiers around them were firing their second shots. He once again heard the rattling from the British side. They were too close to miss. He saw a middle aged man he had worked with on the fortifications go down, shot in the head. Screams filled the air.
“Take aim!” He heard the Colonel shout again. Only half of the line was ready to fire, they raised their rifles in unison. “Fire!” Their rifles rattled out a beat that, for a second, Jack imagined was the heart of freedom beating, thrashing, pushing them ever onward. The British line began to break! They were retreating The revolutionaries had won!
Jack’s heart was pounding in his chest. It had been easier than he expected. He looked up after he loaded his third shot and his heart sank. The British had reformed their line and were marching up the hill again. As he watched, they stopped and made ready. “Fire!”. He heard the order as he looked at their line he saw that several soldier were targeting their position! He heard the whizz of bullet around him and several of his fellow soldiers fell. Again the screaming began and soldiers began leaving their positions to carry the wounded to safety. Jack Looked around and saw Trainer Miller on the ground gasping for breath, blood spurting from a chest wound. Jack had come to see the old man as a father figure. He ran to help him.
“No son. Leave me.” Commanded the old man. “There is nothing to be done. The cause is more important. Stand strong! Stand strong and fight! Here, take my ammunition, you need it more than I do”, he paused.
“No! You’re not going to die.” said Jack, Trying to keep his voice from breaking while tears streamed down his face. “You will be fine. Now sit up so I can drag you back to camp.”
“And if you get a chance could you give this letter to my wife?” The man continued as if he hadn’t even heard Jack. “She lives in Boston. I don't even know if she is safe.”
“I will try to find her sir.”
“Thank you lad. Now fight With everything you've got!” The old man laid back and looked up at the sky with a smile on his face.
“The cause is worth it” Miller said, more to himself than to Jack. Through his tears Jack saw the man breath his last, looking up at the beautiful morning sky.
Jack took up his position again with a fire inside of him. No longer did he have any guilt about killing the redcoats. He would kill them all if that is what it took to gain freedom. All around him people were giving their lives for the cause. He would no longer fear death. The only thing he could think about was how it would feel to know that generations to come would live in freedom from tyranny. He took aim and fired off another shot. “one step closer to freedom” he thought as another redcoat fell. “Retreat!” The order came from the British commander. And as Jack watched, the British turned and ran! Cheering erupted all around, and Jack joined in, shouting with all his might.
“Stay alert men,” the Colonel commanded, “They’re not done yet!”. As he spoke, the British line began to advance a third time.
“Jack, I'm out of bullets!” said Daniel.
“I have two more from Trainer Miller Take one”
“Thanks,” said Daniel as he loaded his musket.
“No problem, we’re in trouble of we run out before they give up.”
“Hold fire until my command” Ordered the Colonel
The British line kept advancing.
Once more a thousand musket raised in unison
The now familiar rattle had a devastating effect on the British line and the redcoats confidence began to waiver. “Onward men, for King and country!”, the British commander cheered his troops onward. They were less than 10 yards apart when--“Bayonet charge!” the British commander ordered.
“Retreat!” Colonel Prescott ordered “Get out of here!”
Jack and Daniel stood up and turned to run. Bang! Jack felt an impact in his lower back. Strangely there was no pain. Daniel turned and ran back to him, limping. A shot had grazed his calf.
“I'll carry you!” he shouted
Jack was barely able to reply “No Daniel, save yourself”
“I'm not leaving you!”
“There is nothing they can do to save me. You know that”
“No! I'm carrying you!”
Jack mustered gathered his last breath “go, take this letter and give it to Trainer Millers wife. Tell my mother I love her, and that the cause was worth it.”
He saw Daniel turn and run, tears streaming down his face, He looked over and saw the Colonel desperately parrying bayonet thrusts so that the last few men around him could get to safety. Then he also, turned and ran, seemingly protected from bullets by some invisible force.
Jack turned his eyes to the sky as the world faded, he now understood why the old man had smiled. The sky seemed more beautiful than ever, he tried to absorb as much of it as he could. He could faintly see redcoats streaming past him now, his only regret was that he could no longer fight. But he knew in his heart that others would take his place. They would be victorious with or without him and his spirit would cheer them on from heaven until they defeated the British. The world went black, and his last thought as his spirit left him was that he would now get to see his father again, much sooner than he expected. He looked forward to his embrace knowing that he would be proud of Jack, his son who died for freedom.