Smoke seethed through the trees like a living thing, thick and choking, until people became nothing more than vague shadows. The heavy pounding of mortar shells punctuated the ragged roar of musket fire. Shrill screams of men and horses sliced through it all.
Rivers of sweat carved runnels of mud through the caked dirt on Ichabod’s face. His shirt clung damply to his back. His aching feet felt every pebble under the thin soles of his boots, burst blisters burning like fire. The commander’s horse flicked his tail at a buzzing fly.
Colonel Hale observed the combat from his saddle. Somehow, Hale was able to see what was happening and occasionally gave Ichabod a command to beat out on his drum. Other drummers relayed the command through the lines.
A gust of wind shredded the curtain of smoke. Men in homespun lined the slopes of the ravine seeking cover behind trees and logs firing round after round into the British ranks. Many of the colonials no longer loaded their weapons, instead clutching shredded clothing, red stains spreading from beneath their fingers. Others lay still, broken and bloody. The redcoats fired back, but their dead and wounded already littered the ground.
As Ichabod watched, the big artillery lobbed mortars down into the already pockmarked road. A British officer tried to pull his mount away from the blast, but the pair went down. The horse screamed as its shattered legs twitched uselessly. The heartbreaking cry echoed through the woods until the officer raised himself up on one elbow and ended the beast’s pain with his pistol. Then he lay back and did not move again.
The breeze died once more and the smoke drew its veil across the ghastly scene. But the images were emblazoned forever on Ichabod’s memory.
Is it worth it? The question drifted through his mind. Is Freedom worth the price we paid in this bloody battle?
Yes, Freedom is worth it all.