By Richard Fescue
It was a warm spring morning in the gently rolling hills of central Tennessee, and a large crowd had gathered to watch the annual reenactment of the Battle of Blood Mountain, one of the most horrific conflicts of the Civil War.
At precisely nine o'clock, the Union reenactors proudly hoisted aloft the Stars and Stripes and charged down a grassy bluff toward the Confederate line with cries of Huzzah! and Remember Ol' Mildew! In the wink of an eye, the battlefield roared to life with cannonade and withering musket fire, tooting bugles and impassioned Rebel Yells.
Soon the famed Confederate reenactor Rutherford Pickling, a private in the 134th Alabama Volunteer Infantry, lay down his musket and clutched at his stomach with Shakespearean intensity. The crowd watched with growing anticipation as Pickling emerged from behind his earthen fortification and staggered toward a small copse of magnolias a short distance away. This was what everyone had been waiting for ― the performance that had become the pièce de résistance of the reenactment.
“There he goes,” a father told his son excitedly. "Now you're about to see history come alive!"
Imaginary projectiles whizzed through the air, shredding flesh and pulverizing bone. Cries of anguish from Yankee and Rebel alike mingled with the multitudinous explosions. But Pickling, now practically doubled over and groaning as if mortally wounded, seemed oblivious. He dropped his canteen and threw off his burlap jacket. Then he yanked down his woolen trousers and squatted beside an old, stout tree. There was a rubber bladder surreptitiously taped to his thigh, and Pickling uncorked it with a flick of his thumb, releasing a homebrew of dark, fetid sludge that splattered on the ground beneath him. And thus commenced Pickling's reenactment of horrific Civil War diarrhea.
The crowd fell silent. In his sweat-drenched face, twisted in gastrointestinal agony, the crowd saw ― no, they could almost feel ― how a diet of hardtack, rancid salt pork and pond water could lay low even the proudest fighting man. Pickling crouched beneath the tree for only a minute, but in the heat of reenacted battle, it seemed like hours. And when he could befoul the soil no more, he wiped himself with a shiny magnolia leaf and pulled up his musty grey trousers. Now the crowd erupted with wild applause and cheers of Attaboy, Johnny Reb!
Pickling doffed his cap in gratitude. Then he buckled his belt, took a deep breath and headed back toward the swirling smoke, the thundering salvos, the carnage.
(Author Richard “Ricky” Fescue, distinguished professor of southern literature at Cyprus City Community College, last thrilled readers with Bunky Takes Flight, his dark epic of spiritual rebirth and all-terrain vehicles.)