The Tale of Harold Leggs (Fiction)
Glory cast his mantle about the South in the Spring of 1861. In that tumult, it was cry of war which pierced the heavens and stirred in every breast of man the need to lay upon the altar of his country the particular gift of which he was gifted - his own life in the service of his fellow man and the principles to which they subscribed. Many marched away proudly wearing the fearsome frock-coat of the coming carnage, though Harold Leggs was not one of these. Of course, he paraded when it suited him - many a free meal and loving lady might be had by the gold-buttoned uniform he now possessed - but in every other instance he limped like a lame turkey.
A man of slight build and straggly proportions, Leggs was more motivated by an easy camp living than by vying for deeds of valour. He was content merely to wait for battle which never came, for cannons in the distance which never approached his line, and for the counterfeit glory which this short war could afford him.
He had, by crook or cunning, at times escaped the combat's call. In one instance the cannon-balls hurled about his camp with such ferocity that Leggs' memory was jogged as to his inability to walk - he had hurt, in a twist of fate, his leg the prior day (though none could remember the incident he told) and was unable to muster out with his musket. So he lay in his tent, staring at the white canvas above him while his fellow Southerners swung their blades on the battlefield. At night they returned ragged and weary to a waiting Leggs, who had, in their absence, regained his vigour and fury for a fight, but his foe was now long absent.
Elsewhere, when the next-day's battle was brewing, Leggs had received orders to conduct information from scouts to the General's quarters. All who asked while he passed to the back of the line would receive the same curt response, "Orders from the front to command - courier's business." None of the pickets on duty around the General's staff, when later asked, could ever recall seeing Leggs. When confronted by a sergeant with the discrepancy, Leggs would smile a broad smile and say, "They are bad sentinels, and I a good scout."
It was at another's place and time, in a call too close for Leggs' liking, where his whittled wits were unable to rescue, and his person pressed into the line of soldiers. His fortunes, as all fortunes follow, were unexpectedly strong prior to this turn for worst, when he cheated a considerable amount of money from members of another company and consumed in excess an amount of liquor. His head still ached from this over consumption as his band traversed through some low-lying bramble, down a small gully, and into the withering fire which poured into the grey line from across a field a ways. Upon reaching the now-fleeing bluecoats after a struggle, the captain of the company called out with conviction, "Never has such gallantry be seen by mortal men on this continent!" As the minie-balls ceased to sting the air, across the field from whence they had come could be seen a butternut-clad jacket making its way with deliberate steps across the field. The lanky figure of Leggs fell in behind the troop, now rallied around their captain.
"Who is that man?" came the query from the captain.
Some of the others turned to spy the lanking Leggs, who did not favour the attention he was now given.
"That's Harold Leggs, private, sir," came the response from a Lieutenant, "As cowardly a cur as ever walked the earth."
Leggs could not hear the conversation which centred around him, back of the pack as he was. It was just as well, however, for he thought it not good, with the snickering and occasional glances given.
The Captain sat askance his horse and squinted with one eye. With the telling of that sixth sense which a liver-lilly gives, Leggs felt that fate, like the Captain's eye, was soon to lower its lid down upon him and the liberty he so cherished.
The Captain righted himself in the saddle and sad with gust of his lungs, "Private Leggs!"
The small gray pool of soldiers parted and Leggs passed through them with the frailty of a fleeing Pharaoh. As he reached the breast of the Captain's horse (the animal only served to magnify the rider's grandeur), Leggs nerves started to rattle in his feet and lodge in his knees.
The Captain regarded the man now before him, and thoughts rose in his mind. A thought of better judgement nearly supplanted the dominant, but the captain was certain that not all men are deserving the title coward. Sometimes, he thought good-naturedly, a little push to glory is all that is needed.
"Private Leggs, I need a man to go up to that hill," he motioned to the green horizon, "Do you see that hill in the distance?" Leggs narrowed his eyes towards the point, but, in truth, the only thing he was searching for was an escape.
"That hill lies directly between our line and the enemies. I'm to send this company to take that hill, provided it be practicable. I wish for you to run ahead and spy from the top of that hill the enemy, and tell us if it is safe to advance."
"Ah," the private began, "I would, Cap'n, but that last barrage of artillery threw me when I was in the ravine back there and-"
"And what a soldier you are! Still standing!" The Captain lauded, "A hundred men more like you, Leggs, and our fighting fate would be more certain!"
"Yes, well," the man continued, "I think -"
"Good," the officer clapped his gloved hands, "You will make your company proud!" The Captain reached into his breast-coat and produced a small flag, the Stars and Bars.
"Take this with you. An admirer gifted it to me, assuring me that blessings would follow in its holding. Waive it from the hilltop, once you've crested it, and we shall begin our advance."
The small flag, no more than a foot at its farthest, left the gentle, gloved hand of the horsed figure and rested in the fingers of Leggs.
"Onwards, my good man!" the captain commanded, and with a few pushes from his comrades, the Leggs was ushered (or expelled) from the gathering. In a daze, Leggs stumbled his way along, every once in a while glancing disbelievingly back at the gray group standing in the light green grass.
"For having such long legs," the Captain remarked to his aide, "he certainly doesn’t travel too quickly."
Leggs lumbered his way through the matted turf, absentmindedly and automatically beginning his ascent of the hill.
"I thought death would come with more clarity," his befuddled head noted with horror.
At the hillcrest he spied into the opposing woods some mile away. His eyes fell out of focus, and he began to sway a little. Turning round, he could see his own gray line, perhaps an inch tall standing in order, with their company colours pointing out like a match-head. He pulled his own little flag from his breast coat pocket and waved with a superficial motion.
Back at his lines, The Captain spied through his eyeglass, though Leggs could be seen with the naked eye.
"Advance to the hill, men!" came the call, followed by a courageous cry from the company.
Leggs continued waving the flag, as the sound of a cannon came from behind him, and a fragmenting blast of Federal artillery sounded at his feet.
The single shot halted the company's advance as they looked on towards the hillcrest, spewing dirt like some clay volcano. As the one puff of dust was pulled into the wind and the cannon's echo faded in the distance, the hilltop shown bare - Leggs was gone.
Christopher J. Carter is an Alabama native. He graduated with a B.A. in History from Aquinas College, Nashville, Tennessee, and a J.D. from Ave Maria School of Law, Naples, Florida.