The Soldier, Athlete, and Farmer
By Timothy W. Tron
2 Timothy 2:3-7
Caelan stood still, holding one handle of the plow with one hand while wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of the other that held his hat. The mule stood before him, her tail twitching at the few flies that tormented her backside. The soil beneath the plow’s blade was deep, rich topsoil, remnants of the glaciers that had pushed the fertile ground so many millenniums before now. This part of southern Indiana, just north of the Ohio and east of the Wabash Rivers, was some of the richest farmland in the Midwest. It was where Caelan wanted to settle down and start a family, but the war had changed that. Here it was the spring of 1864 already. Inside, he needed stability, something that would give him a sense of permanence and peace. From his youth, he knew working in the dirt often did just that, so he returned home hoping to regain something of the past – anything to cover up the memories of those many battlefields of death.
The furrows behind him were like black ribbons in the otherwise dull landscape. “Progress,” he thought to himself. He put his wide-brimmed hat back on, threw the leather leads over his shoulder, and said in a low voice, “Giddy up, Daisy.” Instantly, the mule obeyed, and the plow jolted into action, the silver blade catching the dark soil and began turning over the old winter grow beneath the surface. Slowly Caelan could feel the past, like the dried leaves of another season, turn beneath the blade. The sod of death flowed like endless loaves of bread beneath him as he straddled it, walking carefully to avoid falling while keeping his eyes on the tree line before him. His gaze seemed to go beyond that immediate border.
Caelan joined the army to support his newfound country and to show that he was a good American. Having recently immigrated from Europe with his two older brothers from the Alpine regions, he found himself serving their country as so many of his family before him. Yet, they were assured this was different. This civil war, they were told, was in defense of freedom, tyranny, and from the oppression of a lesser people group. Yet, this wasn’t the same as his ancestors, who fought for their right to worship God. This was something of a dispute that was difficult to understand. Fighting to serve God was easy to comprehend for Caelan, but this war had felt much different. His brothers were too old to serve, so they stayed behind with their wives, raising their families. It didn’t seem fair in some sense. Caelan had yet to marry. He only had this small plot of land and his cabin. He sometimes felt alone, even though his brother’s farms were nearby. His solitude just made him lean more on God. But the more he prayed, the more he felt abandoned. In a way, the war gave him a momentary escape from the reality of being alone – the camaraderie, the sense of purpose. Yet, there he was on the front lines facing an enemy he could barely understand, let alone the reason for their secession from the Union, for which he fought.
Across the field, his eyes peered for a target. In his sights, he could make out a form. His eyesight was so sharp that he could easily take down the man within the open iron bars of his scope, but now, Caelan peered into the woods beyond his cleared ground. He didn’t see the trees. Instead, he saw men ready to die, following the rules of their commanders. In war, you are trained not to think but to act. If you don’t, you won’t survive.
About that time, the tip of the plow hit a stone, abruptly stopping his forward progress. It shook Caelan out of the trance, suddenly realizing he had gone beyond the length of the small field. Daisy stood in the tall weeds, her head down, reaching for a mouthful of succulent grass. She was happy they stopped. But, suddenly, her ears perked at a noise before them, her head immediately lifting in alarm. She gave a quick snort. Caelan, already aware, instinctively reached for his sidearm but realized he had left it by the edge of the barn across the field. A feeling of being vulnerable washed over him. His heart began to pound in his chest.
“Could he make it to the gun before the enemy appeared?” He shook his head and tried to get control of his mind. Speaking within, he tried to calm himself, “The war is over for you. Get over it. You were discharged because of the mortal injury that you miraculously survived. God has a plan for you. You’re not going to die.” Before another thought would come, he knelt with one hand on the plow, the other still holding onto the mule’s reins, and began praying. “Lord, from the beginning as a young man when we trained as athletes to when we trained in the military, everything was done to serve you, not men. Yet, this fear, those memories of death that trouble my soul. God, reach down and calm my soul. Abide within me so that I may live again. Make me whole. This much I pray, Amen.” Yet, he couldn’t shake the feeling in the bones of the warrior within. He quickly unhitched Daisy from the plow and turned her, preparing to make their way back across the field. Before they had gone halfway, a trio of riders emerged from the woods. His fears were not unfounded. They wore long coats of gray. The emblems on their hats sent shivers down Caelan’s spine. Now his mind raced, “Why were they here? What were they doing this far North? Was this a scouting party, or were these deserters? Why now?”
Thankfully, the soldiers didn’t ride up to Caelan at first but paused, looking at the small farm as if debating amongst themselves. Caelan couldn’t move as fast as he once did. The lead ball had passed through his upper leg, breaking his femur and barely missing his femoral artery. He should have died that day on the battlefield at Gettysburg, but thanks to the quick actions of the medic and field doctor, his life was spared. They marveled that such an injury was survivable, let alone that he was able to keep his leg. Caelan knew God had saved him, so he was happy to come away with the limp that now slowed his progress across the field. He had barely made it to the edge of the field when the men came riding intentionally toward him, moving across the freshly plowed rows, their horses kicking up little tufts of soft soil as sprays of water on the shore. Caelan put Daisy just inside the barn next to a pile of hay and reached down for his Colt, slipping it into the backside of his pants hidden beneath his vest. He then turned and faced the oncoming men.
Their horses halted abruptly just within a few yards of Caelan. The late morning sun was in their faces, giving away the youth beneath the scraggly unkempt beards. They wore the insignia of Confederate Cavalrymen, yet their rank was inconsistent with what one would expect of a scouting party – one a captain, one a lieutenant, and one a corporal. Each uniform was bloodied and torn. Instantly, Caelan recognized unsavory behaviors unbecoming of men of their station. The hair stood up on the nape of his neck. They moved their horses in an increasing arc before him as if preparing for something they had already done before; something practiced and evil.
“You the owner of this here peace of land?” The older one in the captain’s uniform seated on the horse in the middle of the three-spoke first.
“Who wants to know,” Caelan answered, his eyes watching every motion of the men before him. The one on the far right, the supposed lieutenant, had already pulled his cape back over his shoulder to free up his gun arm, his hand resting on the hilt of his weapon.
On Caelan’s far left, the corporal answered before the captain could respond, “We ain’t gotta take no crap from this yank,” he said, looking at the man in the middle. “Shut up, Levi,” the lieutenant shouted, “Your mouth always gotta be runnin’ when it should be still.”
Meanwhile, the man in the middle had not left his glare on Caelan since he arrived. Inside, part of Caelan wanted to die. He was ready to be over the torment of war, the nightmares of men dying, and their cries lingering in his ears. Perhaps these men were here to do just that – take him out of this world and his suffering.
“Well, you see,” the captain began to answer, ignoring the other two, “We’re the ones asking the questions today, yank.” He leaned forward with one elbow on the saddle horn spitting out a wad of tobacco juice on the ground, “You see, we asked if you were the owner, and seeing as you don’t want to answer, then we’ll just assume yous ain’t. And if memory serves me correctly, then that means we can just take up here as it is now our place as much as it is yours, if it is yours at all, seeing as you don’t wanna answer my question.” The other two laughed.
The lieutenant was tired of waiting and pulled his sidearm, “Get down on your knees with your hands behind your back.” The corporal had dismounted and swiftly moved toward Caelan, who had yet to respond. Inside, he was fighting the urge to pull his weapon. He wanted to fight, but then he had resolved to walk away from war, from killing, to serve God fully. But how could he serve anyone if he was dead? About that time, the butt of the corporal’s gun crashed against the back of his skull, momentarily blinding him as he fell to his knees. “Now, put your hands behind your head before I git tired of this mess and just blow your brains out.” He patted down Caelan and found the gun tucked in the back of his pants, removing it and throwing it a few feet away in the grass.
“Now, you stupid ignorant Yank, I’m only going to ask you one more time, is this your place, and if so, are you alone? You’re wearing my patients thin.”
Caelan’s head was pounding now. He could feel a warm trickle of blood oozing from the wound the corporal’s blow had left. He knew his answer would only save him time in the short run, that is if he lied and said no. Meanwhile, he really didn’t care if he lived or died. But again, the thought returned of “How could he serve God as a dead man?”
“No, I’m not alone,” he hesitantly answered. Then, he silently began praying, “God, you allowed me to live through all those battles, through all that death. Surely, this is not how or why it is to end. God, if it is your will, then I am ready, but Lord, if it’s not, then give me a sign, something to show me that you want me to fight. Anything God.”
“I’ll go check inside,” the corporal said, running into the Caelan’s small cabin.
“If you’re lying, we’re gonna know right quick,” the lieutenant said with a smile.
Bursting out of the cabin’s front door, the corporal came, laughing, holding Caelan’s Union blue coat up. “Well, well, well, looky what we got here, boys. We got us a tried and true Yankee soldier.”
“Anybody in there, Levi,” the captain interjected.
“Nope, this ol’ boy’s just another sad sack of lonely horse crap.”
The lieutenant smiled.
He could hear the corporal walking up behind him. His footsteps were sure and bold. The click of the hammer pulling back on his gun was undoubtedly the last thing he would know. But before he felt the bullet pass through his skull, he heard the sweet, tender voice of his brother’s little angelic daughter, Sarah call out, “Uncle Caelan?”
There by the edge of the barn, stood the little seven-year-old. Her blond curls hung about the shoulders of her calico dress.
The corporal paused.
Caelan’s mind raced. “Was this the answer? Did God send little Sarah to tell him to defend himself, to live for more than just himself? Why would God put this child in danger? Now, he had to act, for her life was in the balance, not just his.”
“Grab the kid before she goes and tells someone else,” the captain yelled at the corporal.
Levi was about to give chase, but before he could take a step, Caelan, from his knees, pulled the hunting knife from his boot and drove it into the top of the boot of the corporal. Levi screamed, reaching down for his boot, his foot momentarily grounded by the blade. The lieutenant fired, missing Caelan and hitting the corporal in the leg. As he did, Caelan spun, grabbed the corporal’s gun hand from behind, and brought it up, shooting the lieutenant from his mount before he could get off another round.
Sarah raced off, screaming at the top of her lungs, but the captain had already pulled his revolver and shot. By then, Caelan had the corporal in a choke hold, his hand controlling the corporal’s gun hand, using the confused criminal as a shield. The captain’s shot penetrated Levi’s heart, killing him instantly. Caelan pulled the revolver from the dead man’s grasp as the captain fired again, grazing Caelan’s cheek with his next shot. Caelan returned fire from his knees, hitting the captain in the chest with two shots before the corporal’s gun jammed.
The captain’s horse stood still as he fell forward, still mounted but not yet dead. His gun arm hung down beside his leg, still holding his weapon. Blood dripped from the cold steel making a tiny pool of crimson on the dark sod.
Caelan began looking for his own Colt where the corporal had tossed it. He frantically scoured the grass on his hands and knees, waving his arms in sweeping motions. Finally, his hand found the solid form of the revolver when he heard the shot ring out. The feeling of the slug tearing through his side was a searing pain that was too familiar. He felt his breath give out as he pulled the weapon to his side and looked up. The captain was sitting up again, blood oozing from his mouth as he smiled a grizzly smirk. “You thought you killed me, you little Yank. But I ain’t dead yet, but you’re about to be,” he said, trying to lift the weapon in his hand. The loss of blood slowed his response just long enough for Caelan to pull the trigger of his own gun as the captain pulled his.
The shots rang out.
Another searing pain and his breath was gone.
The sound of horse hooves racing toward him was all he could remember. Then the blue sky above went black.
The sound of voices was the first thing that came to him before he could open his eyes. Slowly, he lifted the eyelids that had been shut for days. At first, in the brilliant, blinding whiteness of the room, he first thought he had gone to glory, for everything was white, the clothes, the sheets. Then, as Caelan slowly became aware of the images before him, he realized they weren’t angels but people, most of them in hospital uniforms. Nearby, his brother Conrad sat with his daughter Sarah upon his lap; their smiles said it all.
“Brother, I’m so happy to see you are still with us. We thought we had lost you once and for all.”
Caelan tried to sit up, but the bandages across his body told why the pain was still there. “You should be dead,” the doctor standing nearby said as they looked on. We rarely see an injury of your kind, a bullet wound so near the heart that anyone survives.”
“Yet, you have,” Conrad cut in before the doctor could continue. “It is truly a work of God Almighty.”
Caelan smiled in return.
Then one of the other men standing at the foot of his bed spoke up. “Yes, and we are grateful for what you have done.”
“Caelan,” said the doctor, “I want you to meet the Sheriff of the Southern Indian Region, John Carson, and Brigadier General, James B. McPherson, commander of the Union forces under General Tecumseh Sherman.”
“Our pleasure to meet you, Caelan,” they both said in unison.
“You’re a hero, Uncle Caelan,” Sarah gleefully chimed in.
“Yes, she’s right,” Sheriff Carson answered. “You managed to kill three of the most dangerous criminals we have ever known. We had been tracking them for months. They had left a trail of death and destruction across a three-state area, masquerading as Confederate Cavalrymen.”
The general continued, “Caelan, you managed to take them out single-handedly. A feat we can only be in awe of, seeing as they had been surrounded more than once by some of our best soldiers, only to shoot their way out.”
“You have done the impossible,” the sheriff answered.
“I’ll agree to that, too,” the doctor seconded.
Everyone in the room laughed at the last.
“Well, thank you all,” Caelan finally spoke. Looking over at Sarah, he smiled. Then a roll of memory, like thunder falling off the mountainside, returned to him. All those years of training, the injury on the battlefield that sent him home early, and being there when those criminals rode up; it was all part of God’s plan. If he hadn’t been there, little Sarah might not have survived. The trail of death would have continued at the hands of those evil men. He finally realized God had saved him for a time such as this. His smile broadened a little further as he continued, “But from what I can recall, Sheriff, it was God that made it possible. You see, he was just answering my prayers. And for that, all I can say is, “Thanks be to God.”
And all God’s people said, “Amen.”
Timothy W. Tron lives in Collettsville, NC. with his family. He is currently the Systems Administrator for the Computer Science Department at App. State. Timothy is the former Director of the Trail of Faith in Valdese, where he still volunteers and helps with tours. He is the author of a new Christian series, “Children of the Light”, with the first book being, “Bruecke to Heaven”, revised as “Bridge to Heaven”, and his recent book, being the second, “The Light in the Darkness”. He is an active blogger, artist, and musician. Timothy also has a BSEE from UF, and is a Lay Speaker. He is currently acting as the Faculty/Staff Liaison for the Ratio Christi campus ministry at App. State. He can be reached at email@example.com You can visit his website at //www.timothywtron.com/ or see more of his writings HERE