The Courage of Hettie Shriver

July 17, 2012
Bullets rained down on us as we ran and everything was shrouded in a hazy, gray smoke. I seized the cold hands of my two daughters and we bolted for my parent's house that stood just over the hill. The only sound I could hear was the beat of my racing heart.

After a minute more of near death, we reached the scratched, wooden door. I hustled Sadie and Mollie into the farmhouse. "Hurry! Hurry!" I shrilled. I slammed the door shut and slid the lock into place. We darted through rooms and tripped over furniture, but we reached the back of the house where it was safest--where it was farthest possible from death.

It hurt for me to see my fearless daughters cowering in the corner, holding each other with such a strength that their knuckles were white, but I put on my mask that hid the terror that was growing inside of me. For three days, we stayed there and heard nothing but war: the screams of the wounded as they took a hit, the crack of gunshots, the voices of generals as the hollered their orders. With every fire of a cannon, the frail house shook and I feared its very bones would shatter. I was certain that we would be blown to bits, for surely my luck would run out eventually.

Finally, the battle ended, but it seemed as though its mess was far worse than the struggle. Dead bodies littered the gory hills and wounded soldiers lay in the dust, moaning in torment. Bullets were scattered across the ground, carcasses of horses cluttered the battlefield, and body parts were sprawled all over. From the top of the hill, I could see that houses lay in ruins, their walls blown to nothing but bits of brick and wood. It seemed as though my family and I would have to begin the clean up.

For another three days, I acted as a surgeon, nurse, and doctor. I stitched, amputated, bandaged, and nourished soldiers. Most had little life in them to the point where they could barely swallow the thin broth I fed them.

To see my young children have to listen to the earsplitting shrieks of pain emitted from the dying soldiers drowned me in sadness. Bloody rags were hanging on clotheslines all throughout the house and the smell of sickness and decay was overwhelming. Amputated arms, legs, feet, and hands were thrown into piles on the battlefield and pools of blood lay in puddles on the floor. At only the ages of five and seven, my children had already endured what I had hoped they would have never seen in a lifetime. They had witnessed too many deaths and not enough recoveries.

After we cleaned up the ugly mess the battle had left behind, we trudged back home, our lives forever changed after seeing the horror of war. But it wasn't just our house anymore. Neighbors reported to me that Confederate soldiers had used our house as a place to prepare for war and after the battle, it was used as a hospital. Blood was spattered all over the walls and stained the floors. The Confederates had made a sniper nest out of our attic in order to shoot down at the Union army. Bullets were cemented into the outside of our house and crimson towels were the remnants left behind by the wounded soldiers that had been hospitalized. All around us, the skeletons of my neighbor's houses were all that remained, and ours was the only one still standing for miles. As I surveyed the damage, I prayed that my husband was still alive.

My prayers were answered when Christmas arrived a few months later. George came home for four days to celebrate with us. I found out that he had not been in the battle Sadie, Mollie, and I had witnessed. Unfortunately, those days quickly passed and before we knew it, he was off to Virginia to fight in the war again.

Two years went by and one day, I found a man at my doorstep.

"May I help you?" I inquired.

He looked down at his feet and said, "Mrs. Shriver...I'm afraid I carry bad news."

At that moment, my heart stopped and my throat closed. I could just barely get out the word, "George?"

The man glanced up at me with sorrow and quietly replied, "I'm very sorry, ma'am. Here is a letter that expresses our grief and concern."

I don't remember accepting that letter, but I must have because it still lies on my trunk, unopened and collecting dust. Every day, I try to forget the war, but I always fail.

I won't ever forget the sound of a bullet hitting its target, a soldier screaming in agony, the puddles of blood that pooled at my feet, or the way my daughters and I were impacted by all of the death and destruction.

Those memories will forever taint my future.

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