The General's Mount
by Jack Knox

 

THE BLOOD from deep inside
Began to color flecks of foam about the bit.
And pink the moisture in his heavy breath.

And yet the pain,
Sharp and searing hot,
Appeared to make no difference in his stride.
For this great chestnut gelding,
Dark with sweat,
Was all a war horse;
In his pace
And in his sinew,
Bone and blood . . . and in his heart.

The towering General, light-reined horseman
- Light in the saddle, too-
Felt the shot
That hit the horse beneath him.

There is
Some indescribable communion
Between a man and horse
Who've shared the roughest roads,
The longest hours,
The hardest battles;
A singleness of spirit, faith unflagging.

The General felt the pain
As though the gelding's wound was in himself;
It tightened muscles in his jaws and throat.

AND then the second shot
Struck hard the chestnut's side.
And then the third.
Stunning.
Staggering.

His powerful and easy stride
Became a labored lunge,
Steadied only by the General's balanced weight
And sure band.
The war horse gathered-
With every ounce of courage in his heart-
To carry on,
To fight the mission through.
Calmingly, .
The General reined him in.
And stepping down
He loosed the girth
And lightly slipped the saddle to the ground.

THE GENERALS young lieutenant,
Aide de camp-
His son- Reined up,
Dismounted;
Took the General's horse and gave his own.
Scarcely a word was passed,
No orders given-
None bad to be-
As the General,
With one backward glance, rode on.
And Willie led
The wounded war horse from the field
And to the rear.
Away from powder smoke
And battle strain.
Into the chill of early March,
Into the quieter countryside
In Tennessee.
To the horse holders beyond the second hill.

AND in the cutting chill
The war horse ached.
Ached under his drying sweat
And drying blood.
A once alert,
Clearheaded "General's mount,"
Stunned and trembling
From the shock and pain.
Jaded.
Limping to the holders In the rear.
No bugles
And no drumbeats here,
Only fading sounds across the field.

THE HOLDERS slipped the bridle
From his lowered head,
Wiped the sweat marks
From his cheeks and neck.
Bathed the blood-red foam
From mouth and nostrils,
Sponged his wounds,
Applied a stinging ointment.
They washed his knees
And hocks
And pasterns.

"It's Roderick! The General's mount!
Bring the water bucket to him."

Roderick,
The General's mount
Trained in his master's ways.
Trained to jump
A fence or wall or gulley,
To back and wheel,
To follow where the General went,
To follow closely,
Ready for an instant need.
And he followed him from training,
But he followed, too,
From love.

THE stinging ointment touched a spark of feeling.
The water gave refreshment
To his spirit.
He raised his head a little,
Cocked an ear,
And listened . . .
In the distance
There was shooting
And it echoed in the hills.
The General always rode
To the shooting.

HE TURNED to face the sound.
His ears were up and pointing.
His head was clearing now.
He moved a little,
Toward the sound,
The holders started to him.
Shouting "whoa"

He moved a little faster,
Stiff and aching,
Toward the shooting.
"WHOA" they shouted,
"Head 'im!"
He broke into a trot.
To a painful, labored gallop
To the General.

THE GALLOP warmed his blood
Loosened stiff and aching muscles.
Ahead,
A fence,
He cleared it
With a mighty surge of effort.
He was warm
And he was running,
A painful, awkward stride,
But running hard
To the General.

THE next fence-
Up and over-
He almost lost his footing;
But he could smell the powder now.
The General smelled of powder.

NOW he could see the men and horses,
Nervous horses,
Ready for the charge.
Now he could see the General.
One last fence before him
And the field.
He cleared it as the bugles blasted "CHARGE!"

HE was racing with the shouting horsemen now.
He was straining hard
To reach the General's side,
Five good strides ahead.
Bleeding.
Straining hard.
Three good strides . . .
When the killing bullet hit him in the chest.

THE keen ear of the General caught a sound;
Inaudible, almost, against the din.
Half a plaintive nicker,
Half a choking scream;
Like the scream of horses "bad hit" on the field.
Amid the shouting and the shrieking and the fire
The General heard it.
He stiffened,
Half turning in his saddle.
And there behind him
In the charge,
Stumbling, plunging, dying,
His war horse
-On his feet, but dying
In the charge.

THE feared
And fearless,
Battle-hardened General
Spurred ahead;
To fight more awesome battles for his cause.
But the man-the horseman-
Underneath his honored uniform
-Bedford Forrest-
Died a little there
On the field near Spring Hill,
March the fifth,
1863.

Submitted by: Ken Kerckhoff

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