Geoffrey Brock

Cold Harbor: June 3, 1864

My grandfather’s grandfather died at one a.m.,

eight hours (the army letter says) after a minie ball

entered behind his left ear and ranged up,


and four hours (the letter does not mention this)

before seven thousand Union soldiers were killed

in seven minutes. He had, we know, seen oak trees felled


by musket-fire, but nothing like what he’d have witnessed

had he lived those few more hours: blue coats

emerging from the cool foreshadows of dawn,


wearing the faces of men trying only to die

as men. Pinned to each back: a name and address

on a fresh slip of paper. By the order to fire,


they had come so close he would have seen the breaths

of dust, at impact, fogging out of their uniforms.

A few more days, and he might have stuffed


his nostrils (many survivors did) with green leaves,

as the entrenched living, awaiting further orders,

stared at each other across the ripening field of dead.



“Cold Harbor: June 3, 1864” first appeared in Sewanee Review, fall 2000 (vol. 108, no. 4).