They were moving on the Corinth Road. They’d marched past General Hurlbut’s headquarters and stopped just forward of the flag tent where General McClernand was headquartered. Soon they were ordered into position behind another regiment at the edge of the review field. For a moment, John thought that it was all just a different kind of Sunday drill, that it was actually practice for a surprise attack and not the real thing. He wondered if they’d be parading any minute before General Grant and his horse and that, later in the day after all the inspections and reviews, they’d be out hunting wild onions in the muddy woods where the johnny-jump-ups were in bloom and the cockleburs stuck to everybody’s sleeves.
Then he scanned the wider scene and knew he was wrong. On their left, a battery of artillery had started firing across the field. Below the middle distance of amazing blue sky, the woods flashed with the splintery light from musket barrels. Lines of men in gray and brown—guns at right-shoulder shift—pushed out into the open. A relentless mass of them moved steadily and quickly toward the field. John saw them fragmented between the shoulders of the regiment in front of the 25th. Parts of torsos. Caps. A feathered hat. Marching legs. He saw the silk banners of regiments lifting and falling against the blue of the sky, and the raised heads of officers’ horses. And most of all, he saw guns. Men with their guns.