The Magnolia Tree Photo of a Magnolia Tree.

Mike West
© Copyright 1999 by Mike West

There was a time I didn't believe in reincarnation. That was before my visited to the battlefield in Gettysburg Pennsylvania. There I learned this phenomenon was in fact a reality.

My wife and I traveled to Gettysburg in July of 1963. Which happen to be the 100th anniversary of the battle. The battle at Gettysburg was one of the major turning points in the war between the states.

The first day of our visit started out uneventful. That is until we arrived at a place called, The Confederate Road. This is where General Pickett began his faithful charge toward the center of the Yankee's defenses. It is also where on that day more than 6,000 men perished. The Confederate Road runs about one and a half mile to the South toward a place that became known as the Peach Orchard. The Peach Orchard was the main reason for my visit. I wanted to see where the Mississippi Brigade made their charge on the second day of the battle.

I was looking across the field where Pickett's men made their charge when Mary my wife asked, "What are you thinking John?" I turned from looking at the open field, and she saw tears welling up in my eyes. "Oh John. Are you ok?"

I walked toward her wiping my eyes saying, "I never thought I'd feel so deeply about this place."

She looked at the old battlefield I was pointing toward, and only saw the corn growing there now. Seeing that I was upset she reached and gave me a hug. " It was a long time ago John."

"I know, but it seems as if I can see it all happening again right now, odd, very odd."

There was something else that seemed odd, as we walked down Confederate Road, I could smell magnolias. I had always thought they couldn't grow this far North, yet I was differently smelling a strong odor of them.

A few minutes later Mary said, "John, I know it sounds strange, but I smell magnolias, and I haven't seen a magnolia tree anywhere."

"I was thinking the same thing a minute ago." I said looking around for the familiar big flowered tree.

We walked past the Virginia monument which is one of the most beautiful monuments at Gettysburg. On the base there are Virginians making their attack, one holding a flag and the others with their rifles at the ready. On top of the monument is General Robert E. Lee sitting on his horse Traveler. His expression is what you would expect, him to have with his men giving their lives for the cause they were fighting for.

Half a mile farther along we came to the monument for the Mississippians. Being from Mississippi, I take great pride in the performance of my fore fathers in this battle, and of the war. There's a saying back home, 'Once a Mississippian always a Mississippian'.

We in the South still feel deeply about the war between the states, because we're the only Americans to have lost a war. For an American it's difficult to lose something that is fought for so hard. You can ask most men from the South if they would fight for the confederacy even knowing what they know now. The answer you will get most of the time is, "Yes sir I would." Ask them why, and they get a strange expression on their faces and looking straight at you they will say, "Why, for freedom." Well enough of that I'm getting off the subject.

When we got close to the Mississippi monument, the odor of magnolias got stronger. " The smell of magnolias is almost over powering." Mary said. "Yes, it is strong here."

An older man was standing in front of the monument reading its inscription. I walked up to him, "Sir, I hate to bother you, but I would like to ask you a question?"

He turned and with a New England accent said, "Why sure. How can I help you?"

"Have you ever smelled a Magnolia flower before?"

"Sure have. I visited the Vicksburg battlefield last year. Why do you ask?"

"My wife and I are smelling them here. Do they grow this far North?"

"Yes I think they do. I can't say I've seen any here in the park though." He raised his nose and took a whiff of the air and said, "I don't smell anything."

I thought it strange that Mary and I did, and this man said he didn't.

"Your wife must have some perfume on."

I knew she didn't, but said, "Yes that must be it. Sorry I bothered you."

"No bother son. Where're you from by the way?"

"I'm from Mississippi."

"Ah this is a proud place for you."

"Yes sir, it is." I said with a break in my voice. The old man smiled then returned to his reading.

"What did he say?" Mary asked.

"He doesn't smell them."

After walking over the Peach Orchard for an hour Mary asked, "John, are you all right?"

I was thankful Mary hadn't asked a lot of questions about what I was feeling. For the simple reason, I didn't understand my own feelings. As I walked through the Peach Orchard I was sacred of something, but what it was I didn't know. The sky was blue, not a cloud showing, the Sun felt warm and cozy on me. Yet I had a great fear, of something. Mary must have seen the fear on my face which provoked her question. "Yes I'm ok." I answered.

"You look like something is about to jump out and get you. Do you want to leave?"

"I think that might be a good idea." I said looking at the clump of trees that stood in the center of the Yankee's defensive line during the battle. In a low voice I said to myself, "Damn trees."

"Did you say something?" Mary asked.

"No I was just thinking, and it slipped out."

Mary looked at me with a question on her face.

"I'm not crazy." I said with a smile. The trees I had been looking at were the trees Pickett's men tried to take the third day of the battle.

I took Mary's arm and we walked back to the car. The funny thing I noticed on the walk back was that I didn't smell the Magnolias anymore. I didn't mention it to Mary, because she was already worried about me as it was.

On the way back to the Motel we had decided to leave for home in the morning. It was five o'clock when we parked the car at the motel.

"You hungry?" Mary asked still with a worried look.

"Yeah, I could eat." I said with a reassuring smile.

After supper we went to our room. I was quite tired. I took a shower and then laid down on the bed, and fell asleep. I had a nightmare of the fear I felt at the Peach Orchard that night. I woke hearing a voice calling my name. I first thought it was part of the dream, but then I heard it again. I sat up and looked around the room to see if somebody was there. Not seeing anybody, I got up and looked at our travel clock. I saw it was only five o'clock. I then heard the voice again. This time it asked me to come back to the Peach Orchard. I shook my head, thinking I was imagining the voice. I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth.

The voice called out, "John York I need you at the Peach Orchard, please come!"

I stuck my head out of the bathroom and looked at Mary. Still sleeping she had heard nothing. The voice had been very loud the last time it spoke. It was not a question. It almost sounded like an order from a soldier. I had no recourse but to go back to the Peach Orchard.

I dressed, then kissed Mary on the cheek. She stirred and asked, "Where you going?" Half asleep she didn't even open her eyes.

"I'll be right back. I have to do something."

"You want me to go with you?"

"No, you get some more sleep it won't take me long."

"Ok, when you get back I'll be up, and we can get some breakfast before we leave for home."

"Yes ok. Now you go back to sleep."

When I stepped outside there was a thick mist. It was about two feet up from the ground. It gave the whole area a mysterious appearance. On the drive to the battlefield the voice spoke twice more with the same message. The last time it spoke it was more pleading than an order.

When I arrived at Confederate Road, I saw one of the Rangers that worked at the battlefield. I asked him if it would be ok if I went to look at the sites. He said it would be all right even though it was 5:30. The battlefield park didn't officially open until 6:00 a.m.. I thanked him and started to walk the mile to where the voice said it wanted me.

As I walked along the road, I started hearing sounds that I'd never heard before. Every time I heard a sound I looked back to see if there was something getting close to me. I saw nothing at all. Then I heard somebody yelling, "Get out of the damn way, will you Captain." I also heard what sounded like a horse and wagon coming up behind fast. I wheeled around to see where it was so I could get out of the way. As I turned, I saw a caisson coming right at me. I jumped off the road and when I looked up it was gone. There was no dust and the mist was not disturbed. I got up, dusted my self off and looked around making sure there wasn't anything else about to run me down. Satisfied that it was safe I started my walk again.

All the way there I kept hearing men yelling orders, to form up for the attack. I also heard cannons being set into their places. There were men cursing like the devil, about how hot it was so early in the morning.

I finally reach the Mississippi monument. As I got closer to it all the sounds, stopped. It became very quiet again. Sitting on a bench right next to the monument was an old gray-haired man. At first I thought I was seeing things, because he had a confederate uniform on. I also could see that his gray hair almost came down to his shoulders.

As I walked toward him, he turned smiled stood put his hand out to shake mine. "John York, I'm surely glad you made it here." He talked to me like we were old friends.

"Sir, do I know you?"

With a hurt look he said, "Why sure, you're one of my captains serving in the 13th Mississippi. My God, boy, you lost your mind?" He said with a larger than life smile. "You going to shake my hand or not?" He asked with that commanding voice I'd heard in the motel room.

Taking his hand, I felt a charge of energy running through my body. After shaking the General's hand I looked down and saw I was wearing the uniform of a confederate captain. I then looked up to see thousands of confederate soldiers getting ready for battle.

The General smiled and said, "Your men ready Captain?"

The only thing I could think to say was, "Yes sir, they're ready."

Just then a flower petal fell at my feet. I looked up and saw, we were standing under a magnificent magnolia tree in full bloom.

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