The Effective Weapon

The Effective Weapon

A Story by Fictioneer

Ten year-old, Miles Moore, runs away from home to join the army during the Civil War. He finds out that carrying gun powder and shot is not what makes a good soldier.


The Effective Weapon


Streams of sunlight pierced the darkened clouds they threatened to splash water onto the sparse countryside, as the temperature flourished to a comfortable seventy-five degree.  The sounds of birds singing their beautiful songs to the morning dawn were just as exciting as when I first witnessed a self-propelled motorcar.  Sunday mornings are one of the most glorious days of the week for me.  People dressed in their Sunday clothes passing by our house on their way to church, most chatted with one another about their friends and families.  Children scurrying by, in the opposite direction, also dressed in their Sunday clothes; they dodged and weaved the motorcars, the horses, and other people; all in order to keep away from church and the likes of Sister Mary Catherine.  Ah!  The days of carefree frolicking are some of the times I miss the most.

I sat in my old maple rocking chair, on our aged porch, waiting for my favorite person in the entire world: my great-granddaughter, Cherry.  She is the only child that I have ever had contact with that has more questions than a scholar does at Harvard University. Her questions range from: “What makes the clouds move across the sky?” to “How does a motorcar move?”  She drives her parents loopy with all her questions.  I sit back and chuckle to myself at the expressions upon my grandson’s face when she asks a question when he has no clue what the answer is.

“Papa, Papa!”  Cherry’s voice rang out as she climbed the wooden steps.  “I’m here to spend the day with you!”

The sound of her sweet voice broke my daydreaming of a bygone era, and looked to see my Cherry propel herself toward me.

“Oh, my little Cherry blossom, you are getting to be such a big girl,” I said, wrapping my large arms around her small body.

“Papa, I’ve missed you so much,” Cherry replied, trying to wrap her small arms around me.

“Oh, Cherry, I’ve missed you too,” I said, then held her at arms length, “How is school?”

I let go of her and she climbed up into my lap, she looked deep into my old gray eyes, and then paused for a moment. The look upon her pudgy face was one that great philosophers used when asked a complex question that needed an answer with an in depth reply.  When the answer had formulated into the child’s mind, a smile had returned to her eleven-year-old face.

“We’ve learned a whole lot of new things, Papa,” she replied.

“Like what?”  I took the bait like a fish, knowing she could not wait to tell me.

“The eight parts of speech,” came her excited reply, “you know Papa, nouns, verbs, and adje…adje…” the words drifting into the morning air.


“Yes those.  I told you, you knew,” she replied giggling.

“Is that all that you’ve learned?”

“Oh, no Papa,” her tone became more serious, “we learned about math, history, and we even get to go outside for recess.”

“I bet you like recess better than math.”

“Yes sir, but not better than history.”

“Oh, really, what have you learned in history?”

“Well, George Washington was the first President of the United States.  The Revolutionary War was fought here in Massachusetts.  And…and the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts was the first all black regiment that fought in the war of Northern Aggression.  Before you even ask Papa, Mrs. Littles said there was nothing civil about that war.”

“Mrs. Littles is right Cherry,” I said.  “What else did your teacher tell you about the fighting Fifty-fourth?”

“She told us that the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Regiment were a part of the Second Calvary, and enlisted only the bravest of men in the whole Union.  Colonel Robert Shaw, who showed great respect for the soldiers, commanded the Fifty-fourth.  The soldiers treated the colonel as if he were the President himself.” She replied,

I leaned over, picked up my coffee cup that my granddaughter Margie had placed there earlier, took a sip, and then replaced it without much thought.

“Cherry, Colonel Shaw was a great man,” I said, pulling her closer to me.

“How do you know Papa?” she asked.

“I am proud to say that I fought with the Fifty-fourth regiment of Massachusetts.”

“You did?” her eyes grew wide in surprise, as if it was impossible for me to be a part of the local history that she had been learning.

“Oh yes, I had a very important job with the Fifty-fourth, a job that had been appointed to me by Colonel Robert G. Shaw himself.”

“Oh, papa please tells me about it,” she pleaded, “I can’t wait until tomorrow when I tell Mrs. Littles that my Papa, Miles Moore, fought with the Fifty-fourth.”

“Slowdown Cherry, before you go telling tales out of school, first hears me out.  War is not as glamorous as some people want to make out to be.  Many young men had lost their lives during that time, and as Mrs. Littles told you, it was a war of Northern Aggression; that was the result of men, in higher positions, in Washington D.C. who couldn’t handle it any other way but through bloodshed.”

“That’s what Mrs. Littles had said,” she said.  “Will you tell me how you came to be a part of the Fifty-fourth?”

Once again, I picked up my coffee cup, took a sip, and then stared into the eyes of a young lady who seemed to be filled with questions. In one gulp, I drained the cup, and placed onto the small table.  I paused, allowing my lungs to clear, and to think back to a time that was not gruesome for her young ears.  After contemplating a timeframe that would show her about Colonel Shaw and how the soldiers respected him, I would have to start at the beginning, or at least the beginning of when I came to know him.

“How about we take a walk, Papa’s old bones need to move around a bit,” I said, as Cherry slid off my lap.

“Will you tell me about the war?” she inquired.

I stool up, firmly gripped my cane, and then slowly moved towards the stairs.  “I refuse to tell you about war or anything that will give you the impression that war is in any way a cure-all for population control.  War is as evil as the Devil himself.  What I will tell you is about the very first day I arrived at Camp Meigs.”

“Yes, Sir,” she replied, holding on to my hand as we strolled along the stone walkway that led to the backyard.

The threat of rain had passed and now the sun kissed our faces with full force. The morning dew lay on the green grass and on the wooden bench swing, where I was making my way.  Cherry let go of my hand, trotted to the bench, and began to wipe the seat with a dry rag.  By the time I arrived at the swing, the seat was dry, and my little cherry blossom waited for me to sit down.  The wooden swing slowly moved back and forth, as I paused to catch my breath, from the walk.  Cherry stood by peacefully, as if time had stood still, waiting for me to begin my tale.  I titled my head back allowing the sun to wash my face with its warmth.  After a few minutes, I turned toward Cherry and began my tale.


¯                     ¯                     ¯


In February of 1863, a new regiment was formed, at Camp Meigs in Readville, Massachusetts.  This regiment was to be a unit of all black volunteer soldiers.  People were going to talk about these men for many years to come.  When I heard about the regiment, it was the middle of February.  I overheard men down on the docks talking; they claimed that it was just another ploy to get the black men from the commonwealth to fight the white man’s war.  I even heard some talk of how, if they send all the black men to war, it was just another way for population control.

However, for all the negative talk about the new regiment, there was a lot more positive talk to support President Lincoln’s reasons why every man was needed no matter their color. I overheard Sam Cassidy, a wharf laborer, who lived nearby in Dorchester say: “This will be a great opportunity to show the people of the southern states that you can only corner a scared dog for so long, before he comes out fighting.”

At ten years old, living in the large city of Boston, everything was important.  Sam’s words were the last I heard before I had made the decision to find a way to Camp Meigs.  That night, I thought about what I would say to my Aunt Bebee and Uncle Roy, if I told them about joining the new regiment.  Uncle Roy would say, “If you go and join, just make me proud, boy.”  Now for Aunt Bebee, she would be a nervous wreck.  “Your dear momma would turn over in her grave if she only knew you wanted to fight in this here war.”  I weighed my options, to tell them in person or leave a note, mapping out my plans.  I chose the latter of the two.

Early the next morning, before the sun decided to open its eyes, I woke up, grabbed the small package that I prepared the night before, and crept out of the house without a sound. I left a note, scrawled with my chicken scratch, for Uncle Roy.  He would be more understanding of the two.  I know Uncle Roy would break the news to Aunt Bebee; that this was just something I had to do.  As I let the darkness of the city swallow me, I made my way to the railroad tracks for the Boston and Providence railway and followed them until I arrived in Readville.

Later that morning, I arrived at the camp and stood in line with many other wannabe soldiers from around New England.  We faced the open area, come to find out it was called the parade field, and watched a stocky white man wearing a blue Union uniform, and with three gold stripes sewed onto the sleeve. He glared at each one of us with a critical eye.  A thick, broad mustache covered his lips, which made it hard to understand what he was saying.

“So you think you can be soldiers, huh?” the man bellowed.

I kept very still and quiet; every thought that entered my mind was the true reasons why I have made this trek thus far.

“You believe you have what it takes to become a Union soldier?” he continued.

Some of the men beside me murmured an answer; I held my ground when it came to be yelled at; keeping my mouth closed was the best policy. I turned my head to the right and noticed two things: first, I was the last person in line. Second, I was the only one of my height and age. I averted my eyes in the other direction and noticed a man wearing a blue uniform, standing in front of a large red brick building.

His uniform was a different style than the man who kept yelling at us.  It was dark blue with gold epaulets and cleaner than Aunt Bebee’s kitchen floor on Sunday morning.  He stood ramrod straight, wearing a matching blue hat with a large brim.  The crown encircled with a braided gold cord that knotted in the front; a white leather belt wrapped around his waist; white gauntlets covered his hands, which held a black leather-riding crop.  His dark blue trousers ballooned at the top of his shiny black leather-riding boots an aura of authority that surrounded him.

“For you to become a Union solder, you must first think like a soldier!” the man with the three stripes yelled, as he patrolled the long line.

I averted my eyes away from the man in the distance and now gave my full attention to the stocky white man who seemed to know only how to scream. He moved along the line slowly, looking at each man, then came to a stop in front of me. He sized me up and down, as I stared deep into his emerald eyes.

“What’s your name…boy?” he yelled.

I continued to stare into his eyes. I was too scared to speak. Why was he yelling at me? What did I do wrong?

“Well, you do understand English, don’t you…boy?” he yelled, moving closer to my face.

I nodded my head slowly and felt tears start to burn in my eyes, but I refused to let them spill over.

“Well answer me…boy!” he screamed, now only an inch from my nose.

“Miles…Miles Moore…Sir” I replied, with fear caught in my throat.

“Miles Moore,” he said, letting my name drip from his mouth as if it was poison. “What makes you think that you can be a soldier at your age?”

“Be…cause it’s the right thing to do,” I replied, staring at his pockmarked face.

A couple of guys beside me chuckled at my answer, but all that interested me was a man who did not think I was too funny.

“How old are you Moore?” he bellowed.

“T…ten,” I managed to squeak.

“Sergeant!”  A boisterous voice sounded from behind the man in front of me. “Sergeant, may I have a word with you!”

The sergeant straightened, turned and replied, “yes, sir,” then quickly walked over to where the sharp dressed man stood just a few yards away.

I watched the sergeant and the officer speak to each other, turn to stare at the line of men, and then back to the quiet conversation they were having. No one spoke as the line of men waited for this important conversation to be completed. When the final words were said, the sergeant turned on his heels, and strode across the grass. He came to a stop somewhere in the middle of the line and began his speech.

“Gentlemen, welcome to Camp Meigs! Today we will be going through a series of drills. You will learn how to walk, talk, and use a weapon just as good, if not better, than any Union soldier serving in the war to date.”

As the sergeant droned on with his speech about what the government expected of us, I averted my eyes to the officer with the sharp uniform. He seemed to have watched us with a critical eye. I stood still, waiting for the sergeant to ask more questions, but none came. The speech continued with, how the men of Company B will learn the proper way to make camp, and be able to work together as if we were one.

“Take a good look at the men beside you,” the sergeant yelled. “Look deep in his eyes. What do you see? Is it courage or fear? Whatever it is that you see your counterpart in the South will have that same look. Remember that look!”

I turned to look at the man next to me. He did not seem to look any older than I did, only taller. His ebony skin, slick with sweat, glistened against the warm sunshine. His eyes showed the fear that engulfed my body, but there was no way I was going to back out now. I turned away from my partner and gazed around the parade field. I tried to take in the meaning of it all; but none was made yet. I wondered if this was the right decision, when the man in the sharp uniform, I had watched earlier, strolled across the grass to stand before me, and then stared deep into my eyes.

The bright sun shone over his shoulder and streamed into my eyes, as I stared back at this powerful man. He moved slightly to his right to block the sunshine and that was when I got my first real look at the young face of the man responsible for this new regiment.

‘What’s your name son?” he inquired with a voice as smooth as silk.

“M…Moore, Sir…Miles Moore,” I replied, fear creeping into my throat.

“Why are you here?”


“If you plan on being a part of the Fifty-fourth, you will learn that I do not like to be questioned by enlisted men, nor do I like to repeat myself; now, your answer to my question!”

“To be a soldier…Sir,”

“What makes you think, you will be an effective soldier?”

“My size will be a great help to our regiment in any situation…Sir.”

“Oh really?” Cocking one eyebrow, “How will that benefit the Fifty-fourth?”

“Sir…Those rebels will not expect a ten year-old to be a secret weapon.”

“Really, What if you are captured?”

“Won’t happen…Sir,”



From the corner of my eye, I noticed that the line of men had turned and started to march away. I held my ground and talked with the officer.

“Should I expect great things from you Mr. Moore?”

“You will not be disappointed…Sir.”

“Let’s see that I’m not.”

“Yes Sir.”

“You better move along and keep up with your company.”

“Yes Sir,” I replied. I turned and quickly caught up with the last man and fell into step.

The day passed by rather quickly; the sergeant showed us how to properly march and how to greet a superior officer. All morning we marched back and forth until our feet hurt. Some of the men did not have shoes and others had shoes that had more holes than Swiss cheese. Standing next to these men, I felt rich with the second hand clothes that Aunt Bebee gave me for Christmas. However, today, I am a man. I am a soldier for the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Colored Volunteers.

Around noon, we stood in line once more, but this time it was for lunch. The line moved along quickly, and in no time, I was standing before an older portly man with a dirty white apron. His black hair hung below the jaw line in disarray. His face pockmarked and age lines creased the area round his eyes and mouth.

“Hold up your tin…boy!” he stated.

I held up the small tin bowl was handed to me at the beginning of the line. He filled the bowl with a brown liquid that looked more like water from a puddle than food; it had a slight smell of beef and spice. He handed me two slices of stale bread, which he claimed, baked fresh that morning. Nevertheless, I knew better than to listen to the men who wore dirty clothes.

After we ate, we were to muster in front of the Quartermaster’s building. So there we were standing in another line, but this time I stood with a man on either side of me. The sergeant approached us once again and began to pace in front of the long line.

“This afternoon you will be given a bunk assignment, a uniform, and issued a weapon. For the next, six too ten weeks, or until Colonel Shaw and Major Hallowell decide that the time has come to move on we will learn to work together as a team. As of this moment, we will put aside any differences that we may have for each other. Does anyone not understand?”

Not one man spoke. I did not dare to look any which way other than straight ahead. I did not want the sergeant to yell at me as he had with Charlie Michaels earlier. Charlie stepped onto a sharp stone with his bare feet and began to bounce around as if he was on a pogo stick, but that just made the sergeant extremely angry.

“Since there are no questions, we will go around to the back of this building and get you men dressed,” he said, then turned to his right, and began to walk.

Being the obedient soldiers that we had spent all morning learning to become, we turned in unison to the left and followed our sergeant like trained puppies.

One-by-one, we walked around the red brick building and came to a stop in front of a wooden door, with the single word “ISSUE” painted across the face. The top part of the Dutch door opened and a man with blond hair, blue eyes, and a blue uniform, like the sergeant has, appeared. The sergeant stood next to the door and called men by name to step forward to receive their habiliments. When I heard my name called, I walked up to the door and waited for the man with the blond hair to speak first.

“Shirt size?”

“Small,” I replied.




“Size 6…Sir.”



“Hold out your hands…boy,’ the blond man said.

I did as I was told and the weight of the wool uniform felt heavy in my arms. The last item that he placed on top of my pile of habiliments was a white leather reticule, which carried my mess kit, white gloves, and a collapsible drinking cup.

“Go get dressed…boy,” then the sergeant called the next man. “Brian Watermen!”

I followed the men who had already received their habiliments to a small tent that was set up about twenty yards away for all of us to try on our new uniforms. I stood in line and waited for my turn to change as I watched another company practice marching. When it became my turn, I walked up to the tent and disappeared into the small area.

All of my habiliments were too big, but as Aunt Bebee would have told me, if she were there, “Boy…those habiliments are just fine. It will give you room to grow.” I stripped down to my birthday suit, and began to pull on the one-piece underwear, that fit, within reason; and then I pulled on the wool trousers, then attached the suspenders to the waist and adjusted the leather straps that held them in place. I sat on a small patch of grass and pulled on the soft wool socks, then slid my feet into my new leather boots and tied the laces tight. I stood up, stamped my feet to see if the boots would stay in place, and discovered that the trousers were too long.

I bent at the waist and began to roll up the cuffs until they were even with the bottom of the bootlaces. I stood up, stamped my feet once more and the cuffs stayed in place. I proceeded to pull on the blue tunic with a single row of brass buttons. The sleeves were a little long, but they were not too long that I could not deal with it. I picked up the black leather belt, laced it through the three loops around the waist, and then attached the brass U.S. buckle. I picked up my white leather reticule, placed the strap over my head, and let it rest across my body. Finally, the best for last, I placed my new Union hat upon my head.

“Alright boy, let’s get going. We still have a lot of work to do,” the sergeant bellowed from outside of the tent.

I picked up my habiliments from the grass, and stuffed them into my reticule. I moved quickly out of the tent, and fell into line with the others. When everyone in our company was dressed, we followed the sergeant to the next building. As I watched the other soldiers of my company receive their weapons, I had a feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that something was wrong.

At the corner of the building, I watched the sergeant and the sharp dressed officer talking again. As each man received his weapon, they he to make his mark on a piece of paper, and then move on to receive another small leather reticule that contained gunpowder and shot. When it was my turn, I stepped up to the old wooden table and a man in a blue uniform, like the one I was wearing, looked down at me, then averted his eyes to the sergeant.

“Give him his weapon Corporal,” the officer stated.

“Yes Sir!” the Corporal replied, then disappeared into the building behind him.

When the corporal emerged, he placed a large wooden drum onto the table. I stared at the grinning corporal, and then turned my gaze toward the sergeant and Colonel Shaw.

“Here is your weapon…boy,” the corporal sneered.

I slowly moved my head, and once again stared at the smiling corporal. “This isn’t a weapon, it’s an instrument,” I coolly stated. “What would you like me to do with this, let them dance themselves to death?”

“This is the weapon that has been assigned to you Private Moore,” Colonel Robert Shaw’s voice thundered over the murmuring men.

I quickly turned to face the man whose voice seemed to have stopped everyone from talking. Slowly, he strolled across the gravel walkway and stood before me. His angry brown eyes bore holes deep into my soul. I did not know if he was going to hit me or scream until he lost his voice.

“What’s wrong with this weapon, Private?” his silky voice inquired.

“Colonel Shaw…Sir, this is not a weapon,” I replied calmly. “This is nothing more than a musical instrument.”

“You think so?” he said smoothly. “Why do you not believe that this drum cannot be an effective weapon, Private?”

I turned my gaze to the large wooden drum on the table, then back to the colonel. “The only thing that I can see, all this will do is warn the rebels where our location is.”

“I can see where that may be a problem, but I see that this job is one of the most important there is to offer.”

“How so?” I inquired, remembering that he did not like to be questioned, but the damage was done.

“This drum is a communication line to other companies. We can send messages to that close enough to hear. It also sets the cadence for marches, charges, and sometimes " I hate to say " retreats. This is a very important job, even if you do not carry gunpowder and shot. In addition, for a boy your age, your family will be proud to know that you have earned your striped while helping others in their line of duty.

“You Mr. Moore will be the first drummer that the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Colored Volunteers will ever have. I would like you to set the standard for others that come after you. Will you accept the offer that has been brought before you?” he paused, “If not son, I’ll have no other choice but to send you back to Dorchester.”

The only sound that I heard was the wind starting to howl above me. No one in my company made a sound; they all awaited my response to Colonel Shaw’s question. I turned my gaze to the men, who just this very day, became close as family. Hundreds of pairs of eyes stared back, then my eyes locked with the sergeant’s and my head began to nod. However, when I realized that my head was moving, my eyes moved to the powerful man who asked the question, Colonel Shaw. As I continued to nod, a broad smile stretched across his face.

My voice broke the silence of the area occupied behind the armory. “Yes Colonel, I will be honored to beat this drum for the fighting Fifty-fourth.”

“Thank you, Private Moore. I shall expect great things of you from this day forward,” Colonel Shaw replied.

I turned and picked up the drum from the table, and as I did, the men of Company B let out a great cheer. I placed the large object on the grass, and then turned back to the corporal. He handed me a pen and pointed to the piece of paper. I signed my name as if I was John Hancock signing the Declaration of Independence, and next came the actual weapons: the two drumsticks.

From February until May, Camp Meigs became my new home. I practiced morning, noon, and night learning different tempos, how to march and run with the heavy object. When Company E had formed on March Twenty-eighth, Captain Emilio enlisted a young musician from Quincy to play flute. Corporal Peterson introduced me to our new flute player, John Gooseberry. On May Thirteenth, Company K, formed and Captain Simpkins enlisted an older boy, William Netson from Brookline, who played drum, flute, and piano, to be our principal musician.

By the middle of May, Sergeant Henry Stewart of Company E and Private Robert Jones of Company I had replaced Corporal Peterson. Each was musicians in their own right and taught each of us how to be more effective with our weapons. As for Corporal Peterson, he moved on to the medical unit that formed and was now in need of help.

On May 28, 1863, at six-thirty in the morning, the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Colored Volunteers formed a line for the last time in Readville. The regiment marched to the railroad station and climbed aboard cars heading to Boston. When they arrived in the city, the streets were lined with thousands of men, women, and children of all races waiting to see the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts parade by on their way to Battery Wharf. All nine hundred and fifty soldiers save for the musicians, carried gunpowder, shot, and brand new Enfield Muskets.

John Gooseberry, William Netson, and I, Miles Moore, marched with our brothers who held their heads with pride. As we moved through the streets, people cheered. I even saw Uncle Roy and Aunt Bebee standing with Governor Andrew on the steps of the State House on Beacon Hill. Uncle Roy gave me the thumbs up and a broad smile, and Aunt Bebee, with tears in her eyes, mouthed the words: I love you.

At that time, I did not understand why we were going to war against our brothers of the Southern States, just that we were. I heard stories about the slave owners and their treatment toward the black slaves, the name-calling, the whippings, and the torment with the women. Did the stories make me mad? Sure they did, but I ensured myself that I would not forget those stories, whether they were fiction or not, I heard when the time came to fight the enemy. You may ask yourself why a ten year old wanted to go to war. Because I am a soldier of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Colored Volunteers, even if I did not carry gunpowder and shot.


¯                     ¯                     ¯


“That was a great story, Papa,” Cherry said, holding my frail hand.

“It is a story that is seldom told. It’s about people who are often forgotten, like the shadows of the night,” I replied, wiping a single tear from my eye.

“Why are you crying Papa?”

“Because I’m the only one who survived…”

”What do you mean?” Cherry inquired.

“Let’s save that for another time,” I replied, remembering my dear friend John Gooseberry.

“Cherry, Papa!” Margie yelled from the kitchen door. “Lunch will be ready in ten minutes.”

“Okay, Aunt Margie, we’re on our way!” Cherry replied.

Cherry helped me to my feet, and slowly made our way to the house.



“Will you tell me about the time you took Nana to the World’s Fair in Europe?”

“Ha-ha-ha, let’s save that for another visit when I’m not so tired.”

“Okay Papa, maybe next week.”

“It’s a date, my little cherry blossom it’s a date.

© 2012 Fictioneer

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Very Well written :-)

Posted 11 Years Ago

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Added on October 19, 2012
Last Updated on November 12, 2012
Tags: Civil War, Short story, Historical Fiction



Orlando, FL

I have been writing freelance for ten years and taught Language Arts to adult students for the GED program in the state of Florida. In addition, I also developed a Creative Writing program for adult s.. more..

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