The passing late afternoon tempest left muddy puddles and dripping equipment in the wake of the relentless downpour. The fierce lightning strikes and roaring thunder matched the intensity of some of the cannonades experienced by the 83rd on their brutal campaigns. Gilroy was amazed his men dodged the storm unscathed as indicated by a smoldering tree a scant fifty yards away. He wrung his hat dry, fixed the bayonet on his musket, turned it over, and stuck the triangular shaped steel into the mud. Once the rifle was secured, he draped his coat over the butt of the musket and placed it next to several others roasting by a fire pit. “I haven’t seen a storm like that in many years,” Reynolds said, trying to find wood dry enough to start the blaze. “It was enough to drown me if I played my harmonica.” “Maybe the army needs to issue us some pontoon boats, so we can wade across the field to get at the rebs,” Samuel said, grinning. “Or a steamboat,” Adams added. “You’ll need the paddles to push through that brown muck out there.” Berwell chewed his chaw as his hair dripped fresh droplets. “Drowning wouldn’t be bad, it’d get me out of this misery.” “Yea, but your tobacco would get wet,” Youngblood said. “Now, where would you be in eternity without your chew?” Berwell placed his hands on his hips. “Hmm, you got a point. It’s about time you spoke something with sense.” Youngblood slapped his forehead before continuing to prepare the fire with Reynolds. The momentary coolness of the thunderstorm ebbed as the sun broke free of the fading clouds. It began the tedious task of drying up the water and hardening the soil into a brown plaster. Unfortunately, the puddles and mud holes would have to wait until morning before the task of drying could take place. Gilroy looked at the blazing sunset stretching its last rays of light from underneath the dissipating dark clouds. “Sad, even the fiery sunset reminds me of cannon fire and explosions.” Youngblood and several others glanced at the distant horizon aglow with an eerie red hue. “It does,” Reynolds said. “You could say devilish.” Cooking fires grew in abundance, adding soft scented aromas of burning wood, frying fatback, bacon, vegetables, and cornmeal into the damp air. The Confederate positions, invisible in the growing dusk, loomed as an unpredictable threat while Federal pickets sat their post in low profiles along the continuous muddy Union barricade. Gilroy enjoyed the wisecracks and smart-alecky remarks appearing to intensify the darker it became. Musket fire down the line increased from the occasional sporadic discharge to a growing crescendo. “Something is going on,” Gilroy said. O’Connell stared, saying nothing. He shuffled toward the earthen mound to his front, next to John Marks who kept a stern vigil through a gap in the logs. “Anything?” Gilroy asked, looking up at his sergeant. O’Connell looked back at Gilroy, giving him a silent head bob. Gilroy shot a quick stare at his sergeants and spoke in a terse whisper. “Company A to the works, on the double. Fix bayonets, and be silent about it.” Gilroy turned to William Kain, an eighteen-year-old comrade and friend of Samuel, and garnered his attention. “William, run to Major Carlisle. Tell him we are about to be hit on the right flank. At the double quick. Go.” William nodded and ran off as fast as he could. The Captain then grabbed Corporal Adams by the arm. “Notify Company B, tell them the same. Move.” Adams saluted Gilroy. “Yes, sir,” and he bolted as fast as William had done. As quiet as possible, Company A made for the muddy wall with their muskets loaded and primed. Gilroy eased his way next to O’Connell, peering under one of the head logs. O’Connell placed a finger to his ear then pointed to the open field. “Listen.” Subtle sounds of whispered voices and an occasional plink of metal traveled through the air, soft enough as to be indistinguishable, but it was there. “Them deviant buggars removed their gear to deaden their approach, and they are usin’ the mud to do the same,” O’Connell said. “How many do you think?” “A good enough number to take these works,” Gilroy said. “They mean to break us.” O’Connell placed a fresh cap on his musket. “It can mean only one thing: all or none, life or death. They are runnin’ out of options.” O’Connell rubbed the amber colored stubble on his face. “They’re desperate, Captain.” As the sounds grew more distinct, Adams and Williams returned and took positions on the works. Gilroy, more adept at using his musket than a sword, eased his hand up along the stock toward the cheek plate until his thumb web rested on the half-cocked hammer and his index finger near the trigger. “Gilroy! Who gave you the orders to take arms?” Carlisle asked, his poorly timed bellow shattering the perfect silence. Gilroy and O’Connell turned their heads to see Carlisle standing by one of the smaller fires, his face contorted in anger with one hand on the pommel of his sword. Before Gilroy could respond, the rebels did. A singular piercing wail shot from the darkness, setting off a howling madness from the open ground before the Union positions. Muzzle blasts erupted from down the line and in front of Company A, ripping the air with hissing miniè balls, curses, and the sharp cracks of rifles. Gilroy ignored Carlisle and focused on the attack. “A Company! Fire by rank! Rear rank, Aim!—Fire!” The front of the earthworks glowed a wicked yellow-orange from the muzzle blasts. Screams of agony and the thud of bullets hitting flesh and bone filled the humid air. The onrushing rebel yell, the wicked sunset, and the harsh sounds of battle made Gilroy think the contents of hell were pouring forth out of a demon’s portal. “Front rank! Aim, Fire!” Gilroy commanded at the top of his lungs. By keeping the front and rear ranks alternating their fire, he maintained a steady volume of lead pouring upon the exposed enemy. Yet the rebels, determined to gain the works, returned fire with lethal aim. The smack of lead on the logs and dirt forced men to duck. Some were not so lucky, rolling off the earthen mound clutching an arm or shoulder, blood spewing from the cruel gashes in their flesh. Others toppled lifeless into the mud, parts of their necks or heads shattered. “Load, quickly!” Gilroy yelled.