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'The Enemy and Me'

November 06, 2011|By Martha Tolles
  • "The Enemy and Me"
"The Enemy and Me" (Ken Min )

Our Yankee feet are marching through Georgia. Thousands of us from the North are here to beat the Southern Rebels. But our supplies are running low. We have to live off the land and that means forage for food wherever we go. A while back we found plenty — chickens and hams and sweet potatoes at the farms and plantations. But there aren't any along here, just swampland, and I'm mighty hungry.

When my ma heard I wanted to sign up she said, "Jeremy, you're only fifteen."

"President Lincoln needs him," Pa said. "He wants to save the Union. Slavery is a curse."

Today we covered another fifteen miles, carrying bedrolls and knapsacks on our backs.

Night comes on and it's dark as black cats in a cellar. At last we stop to make camp. We build a fire and we shake our clothes over it. For supper we have only hard tack with coffee and sugar. Afterward a soldier named Eddy plays his harmonica and that helps Billy and me fall asleep.

The next day is the same, more marching on a hungry stomach. When we come to some railroad tracks the sergeant orders, "Tear it up. No supplies for the Rebels are coming through on those tracks." We set fire to the wooden ties and twist and bend the steel.

That night the Sergeant lets us make camp early. At last he says, "We'll hunt for food."

"Let me go," I urge.

"And me," Billy adds.

"Keep a sharp look out then," the Sergeant says.

We set out in a big group to go through the shadowy woods. But Billy and I decide to split off so we can be quieter.

Suddenly we come to a clearing and there are the blackened walls of a large house, burned to the ground. The chimney still stands.

Billy shakes his head. "I hope the owners aren't around."

Billy and I circle around to the back and come to some small sheds and cabins. I spot a hen house, half hidden by bushes. "I'll go there," I whisper to Billy.

I slip through the bushes, quiet as a fox. Something moves. I freeze, cold with fear. But there's only silence. I breathe and move on. I creep over to the hen house and pull open the wooden door. Two hens cackle noisily and I see fresh eggs in the nests. I grab the two hens by their legs. Squawk squawk! I struggle to hold onto them.

The door creaks sharply. I whirl around, my heart jumping. There in the doorway is a girl, bone thin. She clutches a shawl around her shoulders and her eyes are filled with anger.

"My mother and I need those hens," she says through tight lips.

"We have to eat." I say. I start past her, carrying the hens.

She grabs at the two squawking hens. "Let go." She pulls harder. The hens cluck wildly.

Suddenly through the dusky air comes a squalling cry. "Is that a baby?" I exclaim.

She nods. "My brother. He's just born."

I stand there, stunned for a moment. A new baby? The mother and this girl? Are they the enemy? Such a strong feeling sweeps over me.

"Here, you need these worse than we do, I reckon." I let go of the hens, but I put the eggs in my cap.

"Oh, thank you." She sounds grateful.

I step outside. Darkness is creeping over the sky as I head back to Billy. I wish the war would end soon.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Friday, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day.

Special thanks to Ken Min for his illustration. To see more of his work, visit kenminart.com

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