J.S. Pennell: The History of Rome Hanks

J.S. Pennell: The History of Rome Hanks

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      Starkly realistic in its portrayal of Pickett's Charge, this excerpt from Joseph Pennell's novel The History of Rome Hanks and Kindred Matters is a graphic answer to the question William Faulkner poses in his description of the moments before the charge in his novel Intruder in the Dust. Pennell's book, published in 1944, includes the episodic retelling of the Civil War experiences of narrator Lee Harrington's ancestors, who fought on both sides of the conflict. Most notably Lee recounts the adventures of Romulus Hanks, an officer in 117th Iowa, and "Uncle Pink" Harrington, a North Carolinian, whose participation in Pickett's charge is described here. Pennell, a newspaperman, a World War II veteran, and the grandson, great-grandson, and great-nephew of Confederate and Union veterans probably drew heavily on his knowledge of their participation in the Civil War in fashioning the novel.

      This document is reproduced in its original form; spelling, grammatical, and usage errors are maintained.

      I quit listenin' to the feet and I heard maybe a battery limbered—it had a lumbery sound like a springless wagon, but it jingled like a battery. The dust got thicker, but nothin' seemed to happen except we was goin' for a walk. Just a damn' fool walk in the sun when we could've been lyin' under a tree asleep. I looked up toward the opposite ridge and saw smoke break loose.

      It must have hit the line about ten, fifteen foot to the right of me, for there was a gap there—and Jud and Reese were still there beside me. Down at the end of the line I caught a glimpse of Sion with the flag—opened out and rippling slow on the hot air. I could see the holes and still all the names of the battles.

      Now that they had us out in the middle of the field, the Yankees opened right up with their cannon. Another solidshot or a shell that didn't explode hit Abner Snead in the right leg and tore it off. The blood spattered on Jud and Reese. Behind Abner a diagonal line of men went down—maybe six. Lige Boggs—Lacey said later—got that solidshot or unbursted shell in his belly. It went clear through him and rolled and skipped away on the field as Lige lay bloody and flopping with his guts spillin' out—but already dead, like a chicken with its head cut off. I saw Abner jump up from the ground and hop up and down on the leg he had left. He hollered once, then he fell oveh with the blood spurting from his thigh stump—and then he toppled oveh. . . .


Source: Joseph Stanley Pennell, The History of Rome Hanks and Kindred Matters (1944).

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