He kept the can­vas tourni­quet strap Canklin used to ampu­tate his right leg at Chicka­mau­ga beneath the mat­tress of the twins’ crib. Anna saw him at night, lean­ing on the crutch, kept from his days of com­mand, his right hand slipped through the crib slats, search­ing, stop­ping, his numb left hand laid on Otho’s round­ed, ris­ing and falling bel­ly, the arm ruined at Get­tys­burg hang­ing there slack over the top bar.

He told her every time that every­thing was fine, to go back to bed. “I’m with my boys,” the dis­graced ex-gen­er­al said every time. “You’re still not well, Anna. Go back to bed.” She wait­ed in the door­way until he slipped his hand from beneath the mat­tress to stand as straight as he could to look into the mir­ror hang­ing over the crib. “Good night.”

She was down­stairs in the kitchen with the oth­er one, try­ing to spoon some rice boiled to paste into him, when her hus­band trapped the wolves run­ning wild and fiery in his son’s head. The fever had burned for days, the child wail­ing until his throat gave out, when he real­ized what had to be done. He watched Otho’s scar­let­ed face, the child’s mouth wide, lips cracked, tongue white and foul-smelling, the dried snot bone yel­low on his cheek. Then he knew: Wolves could be penned like lambs. You just had to get them where they couldn’t escape. Wolves to the slaugh­ter, that’s what came next.

And there they were: the boy’s skull was like a caul­dron burned dry. He could hear the bones in it crack and split from the heat. He could hear the wolves snap and snarl inside his boy’s brain. Saw fur­rows high up inside the child’s skull from wolves leap­ing to escape the white flames that burned all the blood to the sur­face of the child’s skin. They were there and they were his.

The gen­er­al lis­tened. Anna was singing to the oth­er one. Be Thou my vision, Lord of my heart. Naught be all else to me save that Thou art. He licked his dry lips and reached beneath the mat­tress. They were his now.

He held the can­vas strip in his teeth while he lift­ed the child’s head up. His hair was like scorched grass on the Texas plains he had chased Comanche over 20 years ago. He leaned awk­ward­ly to his left, dan­gling his usless arm that now had a use down by the child’s head. He tugged at it with his right hand until the child’s head rest­ed on his left wrist.

There was enough space between the bent neck and mat­tress to slide the strap through. He worked the strap over the pudgy throat and into the buck­le. Pulled the strap until the buck­le pressed into the child’s throat and lift­ed his chin. The boy’s eyes tight­ened, relaxed. He was still asleep.

He’d kept the screw key in his pock­et since the war end­ed. He took it out and slipped it into the thread­ed hole in the mid­dle of the buck­le. He turned it, low­er­ing the fit­ted hor­i­zon­tal bar set into the buck­le against the strap. He turned it more and the wolves scrab­bled furi­ous­ly for escape.

The day before he had asked Anna if she had ever seen a vic­tim of yel­low jack. She was from New Orleans, after all. But for once he was lucky, so he told her after she found the child that the fever could leave its vic­tims’ eyes bloody, their tongues black and swollen from their mouths.

It was so fast.”

I know.”

We can’t let any­one see at the funer­al, John.”

No one will come. They’re too much cow­ards to face me.”

He dreamed of wolves the morn­ing of the funer­al. Wolves pour­ing from the trench­es ring­ing Atlanta that burn­ing sum­mer of 1864, end­less wolves that swal­low end­less lines of can­non, end­less miles of trains, end­less wolves that kill and run on, Hood rid­ing among them, whole again, his per­fect com­mands like wind roar­ing in their ears and it was per­fect obedience.

His wife told them it was his grief that kept him home. She had found him before dawn, sit­ting in a bro­ken slat chair leaned against the open win­dow, rain flick­er­ing sil­ver, cool­ing his neck and face. I was dream­ing of him, he said. For a long time she held his head against still-sore breasts. The late morn­ing sun made the ground beneath his win­dow steam after she left for the church.

Thom Bas­sett is from South Car­oli­na but now lives in Rhode Island. He is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to "Dis­union," The New York Times' online series about the Civ­il War ( He also teach­es writ­ing, lit­er­a­ture, and human­i­ties cours­es at Bryant Uni­ver­si­ty and is at work on a novel.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.