He stood at the end of Grove Street just as he had always done. He watched and inspected all that passed. A young man dressed in a military uniform with a pistol on his hip. He was responsible for holding the line. He was hired on by Pemberton and he took his position very seriously. Anyone who came through was to be searched and if they were retreating, they were to be shot. He was nervous in the beginning and often talked to himself while running through different scenarios. This was the most important battle this war would have, and he was a gatekeeper.
On the first day of fighting, he was scared. The thunderous roar from cannon fire and booming from the guns made his knees weak and his stomach uneasy. He knew in his heart, and in his mind, that his brothers and sisters were out there fighting tooth and nail. As the fighting intensified, he knew the time was coming for when he would be needed. He paced impatiently back and forth, eagerly scouring the area for anything out of place, questioning every sound.
The days and nights passed, and the battle raged on. What he thought would be over in a matter of hours had turned into a month of fierce fighting. Wounded soldiers and those carrying out the dead passed him by more than anything else. He saw the turmoil of the war but could only sit and maintain his post. His heart grew heavier as each wounded or dead soldier passed through his post.
Just as the battle was starting to feel like it had become normal life, the fight shifted to his post. Men were coming from all directions, firing their guns, and screaming. Some of the men were screaming to charge, and others screaming to retreat. Cannon fire began to blast around him, and the chaos called him into action. He knew this was it. This was the moment he had been waiting for.
Today, a cemetery sits at the end of Grove Street just inside the Vicksburg National Battlefield and some say you can still hear this sentry shouting “Who goes there?” throughout the night.
About the author
My name is Sidney Courtney. I am a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and proud Mississippian. I am married to my best friend Donna Courtney. Together we have four children and five grandchildren.See a typo? Report it here.