The collection in my hand
is five objects, four dented, malformed
from impacts, white with oxidation.
The pristine one is conical, white lead,
three grooves from Minié’s design,
fifty-eight caliber, probably dropped
while loading during a fire fight,
purchased from a curiosity shop
near Hagerstown, Maryland.
Three of the dented ones are flattened,
probably hit trees, stuck, maybe in the West Wood,
since it is not too far away. Or one
plunked off the stones of Burnside’s Bridge
and into the muddy bank of Antietam Creek.
The last… The last pinches a sliver of bone,
Some poor fellow who suffered a surgeon of the day—
at a field hospital, if he was lucky,
barnstable or outdoors if he wasn’t.
Maybe he was tended by Clara Barton.
Maybe she tipped a canteen for him to drink.
This collection in my hand
has not helped me figure myself out,
has not helped me grow into a man
or better fight the social injustices of our time.
This collection in my hand
allows me to hold history up close,
learn some lessons from others’ sweat and blood.
Teaches me to wash my hands thoroughly after handling
so the lead doesn’t poison me.
copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney
I spent a year of my life living in Frederick, Maryland so I could be closer to civil war sites to indulge my history passion for that era. The battle of Antietam has always fascinated me, so I spent 107 days of my year walking the battlefield, bicycling the battlefield, reproducing the marches of units from their morning starting point out to where they fought.
I did purchase five lead Minié balls from a local shop that sold civil war curiosities. The Minié ball was conical in shape. The back is hollowed a bit so the explosion of the gunpowder upon firing expand the back end of the cone to engage the rifling of the barrel. This allowed bullets to travel 1000-2000 yards after 100-200 of smooth bore muskets that could fire a maximum range of 300 yards. The thing was, most soldiers were only accurate out to about 125 yards and most civil war battles (the firing part) took place at the ranges of 150 yards or closer. When I say accurate, it is subjective. Civil War author Paddy Griffith calculated that approximately 1 out of 150 fired bullets hit someone. This does not take into account how many men were hit multiple times.
note: When lead oxidizes it turns white instead of remaining the bluish-gray the metal is normally.
There is something inspiring to me to visit historical places. Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the civil war battlefields, the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, the Tuskegee institute, Sequoia’s Oklahoma cabin, any famous person’s home preserved by the national park system or state historical societies, and so on. Because I am from Illinois (the land of Lincoln) anything having to do with Abraham Lincoln fascinates me. I have been to Springfield, IL where he lived as an adult with all the tourism and history built around Lincoln. I plant to go to his childhood home in Kentucky and his boyhood home in Indiana.
I hope you have the time and wherewithal to visit historical sites as you proceed through your life. Then again, if your heartfelt interests take you in a different direction, great. You know what is important to you.
Love & Light