The Flag Boy This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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The cold lump of steel that rested on my shoulder made me feel a deep chill that reached down to my soul. I stood straight and stiff, the perfect image of a Confederate soldier, but I knew that my eyes were unfocused because inside I was quaking with fear. My eyes traveled ahead the rolling hills below the large rugged mountains they had already traveled through. I almost lost the grip on my gun when my fingers began to tremble again.

I didn’t know why I as standing here. I wasn’t an army boy. I was a short, amiable Georgian farm boy that helped out at an indigo plantation. The simple sight of blood and bruises scared me, and I’d always made sure to be docile enough to not get into any sort of fight. I couldn’t shoot straight because I couldn’t bear the thought of some poor squirrel losing its life for the sake of target practice.

Why was it that I was here then, amidst so many whooping boys who were cheerful to set eyes on their first real gun? I wasn’t like them. They called me soft-hearted, and I couldn’t disagree at all. I haven’t fired this gun, and I wasn’t planning to if I could get away with it. It was easy in a group of so many boys. I kept my head low during practices and avoided conversations with everyone. Maybe I could spend the whole war without every having to use it.

I didn't know how long it took, but at some point in the night the wisps of smoke appeared in the distance. The other boys celebrated at the thought of finally getting to shoot some northerners, and I crawled into the corner of the tent and prayed I would never have to.

Eventually the sun came through, right on time, and we set off when she began to poke her head over the mountains in the west. It did not take long for us to hear and see the enemy. I felt my stomach sink when I saw the boys on the other side. How could they be the enemy? They were just boys. Some were city boys and others seemed to be farm boys like me. Under the rigid uniforms and guns I could see the mixture of excitement and fear.

The orders came. We had more boys, and it was simple for us to push them back towards the river. They were screaming and crying, but the cold voice of my officers rang clear. I felt one of the officers rest their gaze on me. They were telling me to shoot. I looked around wildly. I shot the first thing I saw. It was the Star Spangled Banner. She’d been my flag too before this had all started. My shot was off, and it hit something else. I watched him fall. It was slow, and it seemed almost like he was acting. That was the day I saw a man die for the first time. The light left his eyes, and he fell back into the raging current of the river.

My hands froze. Was it really me? How could I have taken a life with such little effort? I didn’t think it could be so easy and quick to steal away a life. Overwhelming guilt consumed me. That boy had a family. He would have a mother who would weep for him, and a father who would hide his tears. He would have a brother or sister, or maybe both, would be told they’d never see their beloved brother again. Perhaps he even had a sweetheart whose dreams would be shattered.

The worst part was that it could have been me. I felt numb as we turned back. The thoughts of death lingered on me. I looked at my hands. They were still alive and moving, but the hands of that boy who had waved his flag were still and cold. I allowed the salty tears to run down my cheeks. If this was what real men were made of, I didn't think I wanted to be one anymore.





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