Joe Tote takes a trip home from the Civil War with some of his hometown friends. On the way back to their unit, they come upon some Union soldiers and take them prisoners. None of the men thinks twice about doing their jobs until the war is over.
The Yankee prisoners are sent to Andersonville Prison, the most notorious of all Confederate prisons, known for its extreme harshness and cruelty. After the war, when the prisoners are released, they make a pact to get even with the men who took them prisoner.
Trying to get over the untimely death of his wife, and deep into the bottle, Joe is surprised when the Yankees show up and his friends get murdered. Unable to make a stand for himself, he makes a break for it, intending only to make it into the mountains. However, two of the Yankee soldiers will not stop until all of their captors are dead. They manage to follow Joe all the way across the continent, finding him outside of Fort Benton, Montana.
Along the way, Joe Tote has learned that he is running from himself as much as from the pursuers, and when the final conflict comes, he is ready to make a last, fighting stand, freeing himself to head back home with his head held high.
Running From Me
The War of Northern Aggression is a weight upon all of us. On the one hand, its stories need to be told and re-told for as long as generations exist so that it does not happen again, yet on the other hand, those stories can never be told accurately.
The depths to which all of us were taken, young men on both sides, blue and gray, swept up from our homes and land and the young girls we loved, taken to the hell of battle and never quite returning is our own personal story. No two are the same. Our bodies, at least some of us, returned, but our heads and our hearts did not. What we saw and heard and felt on the battlefields is in us and a part of us now.
When we were first called, we all had our own dreams. None of us wished to go fight a war, but few of us were cowardly enough to refuse. Some old men somewhere, mostly rich and powerful I suppose, decided that they wanted what someone else had. They of course didn’t call it what it was, which was greed for more money and more power. They called it “patriotism,” and “duty.” They sent calls out throughout the land for young, brave men who would do the actual fighting. When that call came to Pendleton County, Virginia, young men like myself could not refuse, especially when the promises of fame and adoration were upon us. Like the other young men in Pendleton County, Hubbard Vossler, Albie Morse, Tobias Aadland and myself signed on for the duty in the 25th Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
We then thought that we would be gone for but a month or two, and that no one would actually get hurt. That, of course, is not a realistic expectation for war, yet not one man who ever marches off imagines that he, nor his friend next to him, will be one of the casualties. It will only be them, the other men. It will be an adventure.
The fantasy lives only until the first shots of the first battle, when real bullets fly, and real cannons boom, and real men are hit and real blood is shed. The sounds of bullets whizzing by your head, of men crying out, some for help and some for their mothers, the smoke and the dust choking what breaths you can force into and out of your lungs, all of these things chase out all of your previous thoughts and dreams, and never give way back to them, ever.
As the war progressed, men on both sides became more and more hardened to the harshness of battle. We closed off all places in our hearts and minds which might remind us of the civilized life, of a time long ago passed into the darkness. We focused on only two things: doing whatever it took to stay alive, and doing whatever it took to inflict the most pain and damage on the invaders. Our humanity, first little by little, and then in giant steps, was stripped from us.
As far as the calendar goes, the war was but a small part of our lives, a wisp of a breeze in the journey. Yet, it is what defines us, what we will be remembered for, if indeed anyone does remember us after we are laid to rest. Perhaps a mother or a wife or a sister— men do not do such things— might occasionally come to our grave and pick a weed or two, and lay a flower or two, and say they miss us, but while we live, they will never again know us.
As for me, I have become a person who does not deserve to be remembered fondly. I no longer wear a uniform, but I am still a soldier, and I will die as one. I cannot avoid it. You are a friend or an enemy. If you are a friend, I shall die trying to defend you. If you are an enemy, I shall try to do the same to you. Sooner or later. Sooner or later.