Fire and smoke. That was the life of these two generals. For they were born of similar blood and cast into the same war at the right time. Only what made this significant was their affiliation; they were cast unto opposing forces:
General Charles Florence was in command of the 124th Regiment Musket Division of the North.
General Samuel Shlater was bound into the elite 50th Artillery regiment of the south.
In the height of the civil war, both Generals knew their confrontation was imminent. With their past in mind, Samuel started the secret messages via telegraph. Charles accepted the segment chains at first as a mere curiosity. It soon became a necessity. At this point in the war, both were quite fond of the head-on action due to take place. The blood that would wreak of both sides was imminent. The telegraphs purpose was to obviate any possibility of them fighting each other. Their worst nightmare was being left alone, amongst the trenches and bloodshed, where they would have to fight. With precious cunning from both sides, the two Generals found excuse after excuse to not advance their armies. From malnutrition, to disease, and even at times fear of night raids from Native Americans, their regiments would see the least action.
One night, while General Florence was away from his tent, a corporal whom was simply doing his job accidentally intercepted a message. From the implications of the segment, the assistant passed the message down the chain of command, avoiding Charles’s approval, in fear he was a spy for the south.
General Phillip Pastor, a superior and advisor to the President himself, intervened once he heard the news. Fortunately, Pastor sympathized with Charles as he too had a close relative fighting in the south. Charles’s last message to Sam was this:
Chivalry between us will never be disparaged. They know my plight but will never understand yours. Hopefully our paths don’t cross but if they do, may the fight be fair and heroic!
General Florence never received any messages following.
Towards dusk of July 1, 1863, Pastor himself sought for Charles to advance his army to the front of an awful incident: A simple skirmish uprooted into a poorly planned assault in Gettysburg. Charles prayed he wouldn’t find his awol best friend amongst the conflicting arms of their men.
Within the midst of the battle of Gettysburg, the two familiar yet foreign generals fought brutally. Fire and smoke. That was the life of these two generals.
5 years after the war
Unannounced, Samuel arrived in his carriage to make his presence. A score had to be settled, given five years of dissatisfied rage. But this wasn’t too hard for Schlater to attend, for Charles’s new estate resided on what used to be a plantation; Charles was known as the town ‘Carpet Bagger’. Sam just happened to live in the same state of Virginia. Using his leverage, he took what ‘needed’ to be his. In return, Sam came with an agenda.
“What a surprise, to see a brethren like yourself here,” Charles announced to a confidently striding Sam.
“I hope you don’t mind the barging of my presence,” Sam said, prompting a strategic bit of bate to trigger vulnerabilities of an emotion.
“Nonsense! My dear friend. Please sit with me,” says Charles with a twitch in his stance.
A non-move; something Samuel wasn’t expecting. Sam shakes his hand and embraces Charles with an endearing hug. An unnerving energy wavered between the two embracing guns. Which would fire first?
They sat on Charles’s grand porch. White and black workers labored together planting trees in the blistering heat.
“So… no cotton?” said Samuel surprised at the sight.
“No need for it,” says a proud Charles, “This land was scarred. It’s now ripe with life… and plus, I get free apples on demand.”
“That you do, sir. That you do.”
A moment of silence passed over them. A worker’s chantey began to chime throughout the fields. The sun began to sink into the horizon. The breeze rustled through the trees as whispers of fallen friends and foes gathered to see the confrontation.
“Why are you here, Sam?” asked Charles.
“For good news and cheer, of course!” exclaimed Sam.
“Is that so?”
“Indeed,” Sam says with a mask, “I’m getting engaged. It’s official.”
“Congratulations good sir.”
“Thank you!” Sam said… allowing the silence to overcome once again. The spirits took note of this.
Charles then looked deeply into Sam’s ‘proud’ face.
“Now,” began Charles with a leap of curiosity, “What’s the the real reason for why you’re here?”
“That’s all I wanted to say.”
“So you’re asking me to attend?”
“If you’d like,” Sam manages to stumble out of himself.
“‘If you’d like’? Why Sam,” Charles shifted in his chair confidently, “If you were really here for that, you’d have thought this out far more attentively,” Charles looks into his eyes and into his retina and within to the soul, “what are you really here for?”
Sam fell silent. Uncomfortably he shifted as the gears in his head seam to be jammed, “You are welcome to be my…. best man?”
“Harken here, shit-fire!” Charles boasted in his chair bombastic, “‘Two opposing generals deliver the bride and wine and dine and find true happiness from each other’s solace in love’! What a read for the New York pamphlet!”
“That’s all in the past, Chaz!”
“Is it now? You mean you’re not here to berate me with knowledge of the sub-human, negro humanities like you always did? You’re not here to tell me about Lincoln’s, may he rest in peace, poor qualities as a man?”
Sam retreated to the back of his chair. Charles continued, “You’re not here to find ways to veer my assets to your benefit?”
“None of that’s true.”
“Then what is? What is true dear sir?” Charles leaned in drawing his dagger-like view closer and closer as he seemingly planted to this unforgiving wall.
The blood now began to rush to Sam’s head. His muscles tensed as he saw the trap. A familiar feeling… the sensation of adrenaline one might feel in a close-encountered ambush ,”You captured my men! You terrorized all hope. You closed in and after I sent the telegram to avoid all possibility of confrontation you double crossed me!” Sam jolted upward and began to point a belligerently furious finger into Charles’s face, “You took my land. You took my neighbor’s land. You tore apart my neighbor’s property and completely bought the south from the spoils and riches of our losses. For every man of mine killed, an acre to you! For every nigger of ours freed, another dollar into ol’ Abe’s hat! I came here to tell you your faults. I came here to tell you the great regret that is to be of your life. I see a shrewd murderous man. I see a manipulative, greedy, snake! Fuck your life and the horse you rode in on!”
Sam had lost his breath. His body convulsing as it tried to ground itself back to a rational state. He tried to find that state but was too surprised in himself that he let it out like that.
Below, the workers obviously took notice. Some of them had their hands hovering over holstered pistols, ready to help their paying master if necessary. Even the spirits now leaned back in awe of the hostility.
“I deny none of this,” Charles finally broke the silence. He clapped twice and motioned to a white butler to come over, “Rupert, grab the grand chess set and a small table for us to play. Thank you,” he shifted his attention to Samuel, “I deny none of this…. but let me ask you. What do you know of snakes?”
“Don’t reify what I’ve said.”
“Oh, but I will. Let me ask you, “Charles looked up again, “which is a more genuine snake? The snake that hides or the snake that presents himself before taking the bite?”
Sam stayed silent, seething in his stance.
“The answer,” Charles continued, “is obviously the clear and present danger. I’ve always presented myself because I always had an answer. I always identified with the identity. But you were the talkative and radical at the worst of times. Yes, we’d play our games, but you blindsided all of us when you announced your plans. We thought they were fairytales – a passion ridden dream that only fools would pursue. But you dwindled down, dear brother. Yes, your southern minded, but you’re northern raised. Thank God you were a part of my life because you taught me what not to be.”
Rupert, the butler, emerged with the assistance of one other butler, carrying both the chair and the chess set with a case for the pieces. While setting up, both Charles and Samuel had stopped staring into each other. Samuel remained too livid to do so. Charles, reserved, patient, and wicked decided to give Samuel a breath. The butler’s left and attended their respective places.
“Won’t you join me?” Charles asked out of character.
“We’re not actually playing. I just would like to demonstrate something.”
Samuel, once again caught off guard, felt no choice but to oblige this and let his guard down.
“Remember how you always won in chess when we were little? I want to let you in on a little secret: Despite all the lessons my father provided, you taught me everything I know today. We played war games before even knowing the fate of our great conflict.”
“This is boyish and silly,” revoked Sam.
“You see,” Charles continued, ignoring Sam, “You had a greater impact on my life than you could have ever imagine. I learned, telegram after telegram, that this fate was unavoidable. So all I could do was embrace this inevitable result no matter how reluctant I was to do it. The world isn’t made of fairy tales Sam. You chose an unjust life even you could see unfit. You treat it as such and you develop the attitude you’ve set for yourself; righteous yet misleading. You’re right. I did kill many of your men. I imprisoned more of them too. But looking at this set,” Charles motions to his chess set, “I want to show you my analysis properly.”
The general flattened his hand and in one swift motion, swiped all the pawns of his side off the table. The pieces of wood crackled to the ground and rolled astray in the uncontrolled environment of his porch.
“Within hours, you shred apart my first line of defense. I was scared. I was isolated. I, as king was left completely vulnerable. The men to which I was left responsible for were sent to their deaths by your unforgiving barrage of cannonite. You were relentless and yet you could see me on the other side of the valley through your telescope. Yes you knew damn well who you were firing at… as did I. Yes, you warred away the bulk of my front, but you could not find my snipers,” Charles moves his bishops into offensive positions,” You did not foresee my cavalry, “he positions his knights into position, ” and you certainly never foresaw general reinforcements coming in from other units in the area,” Charles leans down, scoops several of the disparaged pawns and sloppily drops them across the board, “You see, Sam… Checkmate. You lone wolfed your attack just like you lone wolfed your ego.”
Ex-General Schlater looked up to Charles’s eyes.
“You push. We push. People who undermine their heritage tend to lose, Sam.”
Sam tried to find what words to say. At a loss he forced himself to weakly shake his hand.
Charles looked over to his butler on standby, “Rupert,” who took notice and hastily approached the two generals, “Please escort my long time friend off the property. He is tired and needs to think.”
Rupert stood by, loyal and ready to assist. Sam stood, faking his pride, and strolled off ahead of the butler with a swagger of mere facade.
Charles watched the carriage trot off into dusk.
“Check mate, old friend.”