“The Devil in a Blue Dress”

gettysburgAn excerpt from Chapter Four of Ronnie McBrayer’s Wild Wild Walton:

Samuel and Joseph Walden, with stern faces astride lathered horses, cut a formidable trail through the sea of blooming cotton. The brothers had ridden hard all day long, stopping only to water their mounts and to rendezvous with various members of the former 8th Florida Infantry; at least those infantry members who were still living.

The 8th Florida Infantry had been comprised of young men from the northern part of the state. Formed almost as immediately as the shots fired at Fort Sumter, the Confederate unit was active for the duration of the war and endured nothing short of hell on earth. Manassas. Sharpsburg. Antietam. Fredricksburg. Chancellorsville. Spotsylvania. Cold Harbor. The Florida 8th was in almost every major Civil War engagement, including Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

But for the Walden brothers and the hard-riding veterans now riding across the Florida savanna, the war had ended at Gettysburg. They were all members of Company E and had been attached to General George Pickett’s division on that fateful July afternoon in 1863. Of the more than 12,000 confederates who stepped toward the Union entrenchments that day, more than half would be killed or wounded in a decisive defeat from which the South never recovered. Samuel and Joseph had survived Pickett’s Charge, but were among some 3,000 prisoners of war taken by the Yankees.

Shell-shocked and exhausted, the brothers were transferred to the Fort Delaware Union Prison. The conditions were abysmal. The Waldens, no longer in fear of life and limb on the battlefield, now had to fight off smallpox, pneumonia, dysentery, and malaria. Samuel, the older of the two, very nearly succumbed to death in prison. His health had so deteriorated after one year, he was released as part of a prisoner exchange, the Union doctors concluding that Samuel was probably going to die anyway. But he didn’t. He was taken down the coast by ship and released in Savannah. He recovered, then walked the nearly 400 miles home to Walton County. A few months later, the war having ended, Joseph returned home as well.

The reunion at home, however, was not to be a sweet one. The summer that Samuel and Joseph had been charging up the railed Emmitsburg Road at Gettysburg, their older brother – Morris – was in his own battle at home on the Shoal River…

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