The skirmish fire increased to a long clattering sound. With it was mingled far-away cheering. A battery spoke.
Directly the youth could see the skirmishers running. They were pursued by the sound of musketry fire. After a time the hot, dangerous flashes of the rifles were visible. Smoke clouds went slowly and insolently across the fields like observant phantoms. The din became crescendo, like the roar of an oncoming train.
A brigade ahead of them and on the right went into action with a rending roar. It was as if it had exploded. And thereafter it lay stretched in the distance behind a long gray wall, that one was obliged to look twice at to make sure that it was smoke.
The youth, forgetting his neat plan of getting killed, gazed spell bound. His eyes grew wide and busy with the action of the scene. His mouth was a little ways open.
Of a sudden he felt a heavy and sad hand laid upon his shoulder. Awakening from his trance of observation he turned and beheld the loud soldier.
"It's my first and last battle, old boy," said the latter, with intense gloom. He was quite pale and his girlish lip was trembling.
"Eh?" murmured the youth in great astonishment.
"It's my first and last battle, old boy," continued the loud soldier. "Something tells me — "
"I'm a gone coon this first time and — and I w-want you to take these here things — to — my — folks." He ended in a quavering sob of pity for himself. He handed the youth a little packet done up in a yellow envelope.
"Why, what the devil — " began the youth again.
But the other gave him a glance as from the depths of a tomb, and raised his limp hand in a prophetic manner and turned away.
skirmish/skirmishers a brief fight or encounter between small groups of troops/ the troops who take part in a skirmish.
perambulating veterans strolling troops.
the colors the flag.
the Question the question which all soldiers face: What will death be like?
the generals the highest-ranking officers, above the colonels.
the lieutenant an officer ranking above a second lieutenant and below a captain; here, a first lieutenant.
battery a set of heavy guns; cannons.