I don’t claim that this is believable. I merely claim that it is true. In July 1994, when I knew a lot less about this stuff than I do now, I interacted with Joseph after he had been wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. I wrote about it in Muddy Tracks, but here Joseph tells it from his side.
[Thursday, February 2, 2006]
(4 a.m.) I reckon you can hear it now, maybe. We’ll give it a try anyway and if it don’t work out, nothing much lost.
I was wounded at Gettysburg, you know. At least you sort of know. Back in ’94 you contacted me – the uncompleted me, a version of me that was in the battle at that time. You well remember but you never figured out what was going on, and how could anybody tell you? You didn’t have the concepts, you didn’t have the experience, you didn’t have the ability to overcome your own fears and just listen. Don’t mean any of that as chastisement, just pointing out the situation. In those days more than a decade out from where you are “now” – you were still thinking of individuals and hadn’t much idea of things being more organized over here, more all together, than
[Sorry, lost the beam, day-dreaming.]
9 p.m. Joseph, I deliberately stayed away all day, thinking perhaps I had overdone yesterday – though I must say, the work I did on the sins and virtues was hard enough, and no doubt involved contact with you all. Why were you contacting me so early in the morning? Were you thinking I’d be more open to influence then?
No, you had recharged your batteries, as you say, so I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity when you decided to clean off your computer. [Taking off Free Cell and other games.] But that helped drain your energies, and there wasn’t any reason for you not to go back to sleep.
I missed some dreams that I had had and didn’t record.
Faithfulness is all, you won’t lose by noticing and forgetting; dreams ain’t aimed at your consciousness necessarily. But that ain’t what I want to talk about – if your energy level is good enough at the end of another long day.
We can try, anyway.
All right. Well, when you contacted me on July 4, 1994 – or 1863, whichever way you want to look at it – I was out of my head with pain and fever and fatigue and all. We had won the battle but I didn’t know it. I saw this Johnny coming straight at me – one of a mob of ‘em – and he lifted that rifle of his about a mile in the air and came down with it like chopping wood, and if he’d hit my head I’d have been done for, on the spot. Not that it would have been a bad spot to die – on the crest of the ridge, stopping Pickett’s Charge, dying among so many of my friends—
Well, he missed my head – I was occupied with somebody else and couldn’t get all the way out of the way, though I tried – and just plowed into my back. It felt like I’d been shot. Thought I had been shot, in fact! Can’t quite figure out even yet why he didn’t break my back, I really can’t. You know where he hit me, or you used to, because you felt it. That was one of the things that passed across lifetimes, till you fixed it for me, and I thank you sincerely. I don’t expect you can figure it out, but I suffered from the thing the rest of my life – and then I didn’t, because you fixed it.
But to tell it in order. He hit me and I went down, pole-axed sure, and that is the last I remember of July 3, 1863. It was night when I woke up and I had a dead body half on me and I was still lying there. They had thought I was dead, and they was still too busy picking up wounded to do much sorting out for burying. I had to croak a couple of times when there was somebody near enough, and they found me and got me to the boys. They didn’t bring me to the field hospital, being as I wasn’t bleeding or nothing.
Well, the boys was pretty surprised to see me still among the living but I knew somehow – I had senses I didn’t know I had till then – that they wasn’t sure I was going to stay long. I asked ‘em for water, and after a while I got a little whiskey, but wine was better, easier, and then a while later more water, a little at a time.
My God, that night! I never want to spend another night like that one. The screaming was only here and there, mostly around the hospital tents, but the moaning and the calling out, that seemed to come from all directions, and the sheer concentrated misery of it! Like I say, I had extra senses that night; being hurt had stripped off a layer of skin, and what was left was all raw nerve endings. You understand, I’m talking in a figure of speech here. My actual back had a huge swelling to it, and I am told it turned amazing colors, the next few days, but that durn rifle never even broke the skin. The nerve endings I mean is how I felt everything. It was like I personally knew everybody who was getting an arm or a leg sawed off – or like I was the one holding ‘em down. And my mind somehow was holding the whole battlefield in it, three days’ worth. You know Lee said “it is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.” That was at Fredericksburg, I believe – while our men were getting just killed like sheep or cows, slaughtered with no chance. But that night I wasn’t thinking war was terrible or that we’d grow fond of it. I wasn’t thinking anything – I was feeling, and I don’t know how any mortal man can feel what I did, and live. I believe Mr. Lincoln did, some, and probably it was killing him right along.
I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t find a position that was even tolerable. I had to ask a couple of the boys to move me when I needed to turn over onto another side, and I tell you then I was scared in a way I’d never been scared when the Virginians were coming up at us. Getting killed is one thing, it’s too bad, but at least it’s over, you know? But if I was crippled? How was I going to live? How would I get back to my family? What exactly use would I be to anybody? If I was going to be paralyzed, I decided I’d help myself along when I got a chance. In the army it ain’t that hard to come across firearms! And I was an officer, I owned a pistol, wherever it had got to. But I thought I’d give it a little time, see what developed, see what the sawbones said. If it came to it that I had to take myself off, sooner or later the chance would come, and who knows, maybe I’d get better.
[This is so long that I broke it into two posts for the reader’s sake .]