J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “cavalry”

More on Old Douglas

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A Special Honor

The Civil War created many tight bonds between soldiers, between comrades and enemies, as well as soldiers and animals. Cavalrymen were so reliant on their mounts that they often treated them as pets and became emotionally attached. This also happened with some of the soldiers’ mascots, which included an eagle, numerous dogs, and in one rare case, a camel. Douglas the camel was an especially revered mascot. He was killed at the Battle of Vicksburg. I have had the opportunity to see where Douglas’ headstone is located (his body isn’t in a grave), and it was quite moving to think that the soldiers who knew him loved him so much that they made him a marker.

Douglas

GRAVE OF DOUGLAS THE CONFEDERATE CAMEL

The final resting place of the camel who served with the Confederate Army during the Civil War

Among the 5,000 grave markers for Confederate soldiers in the Soldier’s Rest section of Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi, one pays tribute to Old Douglas, the camel of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry, Company A, nicknamed “The Camel Regiment.”

It is not known how Douglas, a dromedary (one hump) camel, came to serve with the 43rd Mississippi infantry during the Civil War. He was a gift to Colonel W. H. Moore, who assigned him to carry the instruments and knapsacks for the regimental band. Douglas participated in the Battles of Iuka and Corinth under Major Generals Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn, respectively, before being shot by a Union sharpshooter on June 27th, 1863, during the siege of Vicksburg.

Douglas was well loved by the humans of his regiment, less so by the horses. On one occasion, Douglas is said to have spooked one of the horses into stampeding through a camp near Iuka, injuring horses and soldiers, possibly killing some of the former. Soldiers climbed trees to get out of the path of destruction.

Douglas routinely broke free of his tether, but usually used his freedom to graze, never wandering too far from the regiment. On that fateful day in 1863, though, he wandered into no man’s land between the Union and Confederate armies, and paid the ultimate price.

The Union army responded to the camel’s death, according to legend, by eating him, since food was scarce, and making war souvenirs out of his bones. The Confederates responded by making a point of severely wounding the sharpshooter who had killed their beloved camel. His gravestone, however, states that he was eaten by his own Confederate regiment who were suffering under the Siege of Vicksburg.

Douglas was not the only camel in the United States during the Civil War. Before he became president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis was the U.S. Secretary of War, and implemented the Texas Camel Experiment in the 1850s to see how useful camels would be in the American Southwest where horses were beginning to have trouble on long trips. Camels can carry immensely heavy loads for long distances with little water. They are also not nearly as tamable as horses, though Douglas was called “faithful” and “patient” by those who knew him best. 

Camels were brought over from the Mediterranean and North Africa, and used for exploring the Southwest. The Civil War took the steam out of the experiment, and the camels eventually dispensed. Many were sold at auctions in 1864 and 1866 to work in circuses and mines, as postal carriers and pack animals and racing camels. Some even escaped or were set free, and feral camels were occasionally spotted roaming the American Southwest for years after.

Lest the contributions of camels in the Civil War be forgotten, the Texas Camel Corps promotes their stories with reenactments and hosts camel rides. Two of the camels are descendants of Old Douglas.

Know Before You Go

To find Douglas turn into the cemetery at Lindsey Street from Sky Farm Ave. A bit after the first cross street you will see a group of graves with Confederate flags on the left. Douglas’ marker (the one with the camel on it) is on the right side of the group, second row in.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/grave-of- douglas-the-confederate-camel

(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Private Samuel A. Hughey Camp #1452 Sons of Confederate Veterans, Hernando, MS, vol. 43 issue 5, May 2019)

Excerpt from A Beckoning Hellfire

Today marks the 156th anniversary of the death of the great Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The general was hit by friendly fire at the Battle of Chancellorsville. His left arm was amputated and buried at the Ellwood House. Jackson was improving, but suddenly, his health took a turn for the worst. He contracted pneumonia and died on a Sunday, which he said he always wanted to do. His last words were, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, describing how his soldiers reacted when they heard the news.

ABeckoningHellfire_LRG

Suddenly, a loud cry went up behind him. He hurried to camp, where chaos was everywhere. The men looked distraught, their faces wrought with anguish. He found Alfred Crawford, one of the soldiers he wrote letters for, and asked him what had happened. 

“We jist received word,” Alfred said woefully. “Stonewall Jackson died yesterday.” He wandered away. 

David stood dumbfounded for a moment. Returning to his campsite, he found John sitting under a tree, puffing on his pipe, and staring off. Michael was weeping. The death toll continued to climb, and there was no end in sight. Now the Confederacy’s beloved general, “Old Jack,” was dead, too. 

In the morning, General Lee issued General Order #61, which Lieutenant Colonel Waring read to the men during roll.  

“With deep regret, the commandin’ general announces the death of Lieutenant General T.J. Jackson,” Lieutenant Colonel Waring orated. “Let his officers and soldiers emulate his invincible determination to do everything in the defense of our loved country.”  

One of the buglers, Charles W. Peters, played “Taps.” The men stood in solemn mourning with their heads bowed and their hats held in their hands. 

Overwhelmed by the tragedy, David felt completely powerless and alone. His heart ached, and with each day, he grew more despondent and depressed. He didn’t have anyone to express his sorrow to except his horse, and Renegade could only communicate so much. One by one, he was losing everyone he loved. The romantic dream he had shared with Jake only a few weeks ago was now crumbling down around him, smothering him. It was like a smoldering fog surrounding them all and suffocating them. He longed for his family to write. The memory of their dear faces was the only thing that gave him hope. Painful, heartbreaking loss was all around, but somehow, it gave him more resolve. He knew he had to defend his homeland and family by repelling the Northern tyranny, at any expense. 

Fear the Ramrod

It is difficult to imagine what a soldier who fought in the American Civil War endured. Firearms were virtually relics at the start of the war. Soldiers fought with arms they brought from home, which were typically muskets used for hunting. These firearms were very slow to fire and were usually ineffective, and sometimes dangerous, because they were difficult to aim, load and fire. During the course of the war, increments became far more effective and deadly. Here’s an explanation of how the early muskets were used.

solders

Civil War soldiers were taught to load and fire their muskets using the “Nine-Steps.” They were drilled for hours to ensure every soldier would know each step without thinking. Step No. 6 was “return rammer” and while all of the steps were important, this one could have serious consequences if it was skipped.

Pvt. Arminius Bill of the 66th Illinois Western Sharp Shooters, recorded an incident in his diary about a man who skipped step No. 6. It was on Dec. 2, 1861,during a “sham battle” between Union forces at Benton Barracks near St. Louis. Artillery roared, cavalry galloped, and tens of thousands of blank rounds were fired. “One infantry man was killed by the man behind him in the rear rank who became excited & forgot to withdraw his ramrod. The gun went off & drove the ramrod through the head of the man in front.”

At the battle of Tupelo, July 14, 1864, Captain Theodore Carter cheered on his men of the 14th Wisconsin as they fired while lying down. Suddenly a private rose to his feet and began to hurl curses across the open ground to the Confederates. A rammer had streaked across the field and skewered his bicep, and he paused to pull out the long bloody piece of steel. “It was ludicrous to see hear him use strong invectives against the ‘rebel’ who was so careless as to leave his ramrod in the gun after loading.”

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned, “I shot an arrow in the air, it fell to earth, I know not where.” A beautiful poem, he was certainly not thinking of Pvt. Alexander Downing of the 11th Iowa Infantry, and an incident on April 6, 1862, during the battle of Shiloh.

“My musket became so dirty with the cartridge powder, that in loading it the ramrod stuck fast and I could neither get it up nor down, so I put a [percussion] cap on, elevated the gun and fired it off. But now I had no ramrod, and throwing down my musket, I picked up a Belgian rifle lying at the side of a dead rebel, unstrapped the cartridge box from his body, and advanced to our company, taking my place with the boys.”

Longfellow’s arrow was found unbroken in an oak; whatever happened to Downing’s?

soldier

Shiloh National Military Park

(Thanks to Trent Lewis)

(Article courtesy of the Southern Comfort, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Samuel A. Hughey camp #1452, Volume 43, Issue 5, May 2019 ed.)

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 11)

Nancy Hart

Nancy Hart

“The Rebel in the Family” 

The life of Confederate spy Nancy Hart is shrouded in mystery. Old documents refer to her with a mixture of fact and folklore. It is believed that she was born in Raleigh, North Carolina to John and Rebecca Hart in 1846. Her mother was a first cousin of Andrew Johnson, who later became president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The Harts were devout Christians, and her father frequently held family worship services. While Nancy was still an infant, they moved to Tazwell, Virginia. 

Nancy was tall, lithe, and black-eyed. She was a middle child who had six, or possibly twelve, siblings. In 1853, she went to live with her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and William Clay Price, in Roane County, Virginia, which became West Virginia in 1863. The family lived in the wilderness, so Nancy learned how to be an accomplished hunter and rider, but she never learned how to read and write. When the Civil War began, the Roane County held divided loyalties. Friends, neighbors, and families were separated by opposing beliefs. William was not a Confederate soldier, but he did his part by assisting them. After drawing suspicion, Union soldiers confronted him at his farm and ordered him to go to nearby Spencer to take the oath of allegiance. He departed with the Yankees, but never made it to Spencer. His body was discovered three days later. He had been shot in the back and left in the road. 

The murder of William spawned Nancy’s loathing for the Federals. She revered the Southern Cause, even though two of her brothers went to fight for the North. In early 1861, her neighbors, the Kelly’s, held a going away party for their two sons who had joined the Confederate Army. While the party was commencing, Union officers marched past the house in the moonlight. Nancy hollered, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!” Four rifle shots rang out in response, and four minie balls struck the front stoop, one of which lodged in the door. Three days later, Nancy joined the Moccasin Rangers, who were pro-Southern guerrillas, and rode with their leader, Perry Conley (or Connolly) at the head of the column, leading the Rangers while working as a spy, scout, and guide to the local region. She travelled alone at night to deliver messages between Confederate armies, and slept during the day. She also saved the lives of many wounded Rebel soldiers by hiding them with Southern sympathizers and nursing them back to health. Posing as a farm girl, she peddled eggs and vegetables to Union detachments to obtain information, and scouted isolated Federal outposts to report their strength, population, and vulnerability to General Stonewall Jackson. She even led Jackson’s cavalry on several raids. In the fall of 1861, Conley narrowly escaped the Federals, but Nancy was captured. Deciding she didn’t know anything, they released her, which was a big mistake, because she reported back to Conley with valuable information about the Yankees. 

Nancy married one of the Moccasin Rangers, Joshua Douglas. Conley was mortally wounded in an engagement with Ohio Infantry in early summer, 1862. He fought off his attackers until he ran out of ammunition, and then the Yankees clubbed him to death. Afterward, the Rangers disbanded. Nancy’s husband joined up with the 19th Virginia Cavalry, and she moved into the mountains of Nicholas County, where she continued her work as a messenger. A reward for her capture was issued, and it wasn’t long until Union Lieutenant Colonel Starr recognized “Peggy,” as Nancy was known by both armies. She and a female friend were discovered in a log cabin, crushing corn. They were taken prisoner, and confined to the second-story of an old, dilapidated house in Summersville.  Soldiers were quartered downstairs, and a sentry was posted to guard them in their room.  

While there, 20-year-old Nancy was allowed to roam the jail grounds of her own free will. She gained the attention of several soldiers, including telegrapher Marion H. Kerner, who convinced Starr to transfer the young women to the Summersville jail, and supplied them with sewing materials and illustrated papers. When an itinerant photographer showed up to hone his trade, Kerner persuaded Nancy to pose for a picture, although she said that she didn’t have clothes “fittin’ to be pictured in.” Kerner requested clothing from some Union women, and fashioned a Yankee officer’s hat by folding the bill and inserting a plume. The resulting photograph is the only one in existence of Nancy Hart, who, according to legend, refused to smile because she had to wear Yankee attire.  

Here is where the story differs. One version states that, later that night, Nancy tricked a naive soldier. After talking to him extensively, she convinced him to show her his pistol. The young, enamored Yankee willingly obliged. She promptly fired into his heart, killing him instantly. Nancy jumped headlong out of a second-story window into a clump of tall jimson weeds, and escaped bareback on Lieutenant Colonel Starr’s horse.  

A week later, on July 25, she returned with 200 Confederate cavalrymen. She was still riding Lieutenant Colonel Starr’s horse. At 4:00 a.m., the Rebels burned three buildings, including the commissary storehouse. They also destroyed two wagons, and captured eight mules and twelve horses. In all, only ten shots were fired, and two soldiers were wounded. The Confederates easily arrested the slumbering Yankees, including Starr, who was shipped off to Libby Prison with his officers. Marion Kerner was also captured, but Nancy convinced the Confederate officers to release him because of the kind treatment he had shown her. He was immediately arrested, however, after attempting to send a telegraph to Union forces. 

Nancy faded out of the picture as an active partisan, no doubt knowing that, if she were to be captured again, a rope would be waiting for her. After the War Between the States ended, her husband returned, and they lived in Greenbrier County, raising two sons. Nancy’s last public appearance was in 1902, when she testified at the Courthouse in Lewisburg on behalf of her son, Kennos, who was charged with killing a man at a dance. Nancy died in either 1902 or 1913.  

The other version of her story isn’t nearly as colorful, and is much sadder. According to Hart family legend, Nancy was born to rebel, and paid with her life after she was arrested and confined in Summersville. Because Union troops didn’t want the locals to know, her hanging on Cold Knob Mountain was kept a secret. Nancy remained calm, but once allowed to speak, she hollered out the Rebel yell, as well as “Wahoo! Whoop! Hurrah!” and “Yay for the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis!” However, there is little or no evidence suggesting that Nancy was executed by hanging. On the other hand, there is little or no evidence stating that she ever married, either, and no official record of her killing a Union soldier. Census records are sketchy at best, as are family records. 

She is buried at Mannings Knob Cemetery in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, near Richwood, where the Mannings family buried their slaves. The cemetery is also known as Nancy Hart Cemetery. She was originally buried with only a pile of stones to mark her grave. Years later, Jim Comstock, a publisher and Civil War buff, decided that she deserved a proper marker, so he and Nancy’s granddaughter found the top of Mannings Knob, but the area had been bulldozed to make room for a beacon tower. Her grave was never located. However, a marker was erected in the cemetery in her honor. 

Hart Grave 

Marion H. Kerner, the Union officer who convinced Nancy to pose for a photograph, said that the last glimpse he caught of her was shortly after the Summersville raid, and he never “heard of her since. She may be dead.”  He later wrote about her, making her story famous in Leslie’s Weekly Magazine. The article was published in 1910. A large rock, known as “Nancy’s Dancing Rock,” still exists on the West Fork of the Little Kanawha River, near the place where Nancy grew up. 

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 10)

Mary Surratt

The only woman convicted and hung for the role she played during the War Between the States. 

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Mary Elizabeth Surratt became a widow at age 42, during the summer of 1862. Her husband left behind 287 acres in what is now Prince George’s County, Maryland. He had constructed a two-story house on the land that became known as Surrattsville. The house was converted into a tavern that served as a way station for the clandestine Confederate network. Mr. Surratt also left his wife a boarding house on H Street in Washington D.C. In October 1864, Mary and her three children permanently moved to that location and rented out the tavern to a man named John Lloyd.  

Over the course of the next few months, 541 H Street would become the focal point in what is considered to be one of the most influential crimes in American history. John Wilkes Booth, who frequented the Surratt home, hatched his original kidnapping conspiracy there. Other players who were involved included Mary’s son John, George Atzeroldt, who was supposed to assassinate Vice President Johnson, and Lewis Powell (aka Lewis Paine), who was responsible for the vicious attack on Secretary of State William Seward the night of April 14, 1865, (the same night that President Lincoln was assassinated). David Herold, who was a friend of John Surratt and John Wilkes Booth, rode with Booth following the assassination. He was later captured at Garrett’s Farm, where Booth was shot to death by Sergeant Boston Corbett, who was part of the 16th New York Cavalry that cornered the two men inside a barn. Also participating in the conspiracy were Samuel Arnold, who was an original plotter in the kidnapping scheme, Michael O’Laughlen, who was had been sent to kill Secretary of War Edwin Stanton but failed, and Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated Booth’s injuries after he escaped from Washington.  

Booth intended to kidnap President Lincoln in order to force the Union to surrender captured Confederates. His plans were solidified by March 1865, but were postponed for various reasons, and proved futile once General Lee surrendered on April 9. Mary Surratt traveled to her tavern on April 13, where she allegedly told her renter, John Lloyd, “to have the shooting irons ready; there will be some parties call for them.”  

Following the assassination, a woman whose niece worked for Mary contacted police, saying that suspicious men had been seen at Mary’s boarding house. Subsequently, everyone in the house, including Mary, was arrested. Before leaving, Mary was caught in a lie, denying that she knew Lewis Powell, who just happened to show up with a shovel, claiming that she required his services for digging a ditch.  

At the trial, several eyewitnesses testified to her involvement in the assassination scheme, including George Atzeroldt. Some claimed that they had seen Mary conversing with Booth, who gave her a wrapped package containing field glasses that she was to leave with her tenant, John Lloyd. Although her son escaped conviction because he was in New York at the time, Mary was not so lucky. Tried before a military commission, the conspirators were found guilty. Mary was one of four sentenced to death by hanging. No one believed she would actually be put to death because of her gender, but regardless of her lawyers’ issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, the federal judge’s order to have her delivered to his courtroom on the morning of her execution (which was ignored), and pleas from her daughter, Anna, President Johnson refused to commute Mary’s sentence. Two days before her execution, the judge advocate general delivered a plea for her clemency to President Johnson, who later claimed that he received no such request until after the hanging. 

Mary Surratt died in Washington’s Arsenal prison yard on July 7, 1865 with Lewis Powell, David Harold, and George Atzeroldt. As army personnel crowded into the yard to watch, the first woman to be executed by the U.S. government fell through the gallows’ trap doors alongside her co-conspirators. Whether she was actually guilty of the crimes she was accused of committing, or whether her sentence was unjustified and unfair, remains a topic of debate.  

A film directed by Robert Redford, entitled “The Conspirator,” tells the story of Mary Surratt, and is set for release in March 2011. If you have the opportunity, visit Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. In the basement is housed a unique museum containing descriptions and artifacts surrounding this inauspicious act. 

 

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 5)

Laura Ratcliffe

Laura_Ratcliffe_Portrait

If it wasn’t for Laura Ratcliffe, Colonel John Mosby, the infamous “Grey Ghost,” might have been captured by the Yankees. Not only did she aid Mosby in his mission to serve the Confederacy as a Partisan Ranger, but she also provided valuable information to Confederate cavalry commander Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart. 

Laura Ratcliffe was born on May 28, 1836 in Fairfax City, Virginia. Her parents were Francis Fitzhugh and Ann McCarty (Lee) Ratcliffe. Laura was a distant cousin to General Robert E. Lee on her mother’s side. When her father died, she moved with her mother and two sisters to Frying Pan (now Herndon) in Fairfax County, just south of Washington D.C. Once the Civil War broke out, the area bore witness to numerous raids and encampments from both sides. 

Laura and one of her sisters volunteered to serve as nurses. During the winter of 1861, while they were assisting wounded soldiers, Laura met General J.E.B. (James Ewell Brown) Stuart, and the two became friends.  He wrote several personal letters and four poems to her, imploring her to continue with her espionage. In return, she provided him and fellow cavalryman Colonel John Singleton Mosby with valuable information concerning Union troop activity in the county. 

A year later, Stuart led his cavalry on several raids in the area, and he visited Laura at her home many times. While at the Ratcliffe home, Mosby asked if he could remain there and continue operations instead of going into winter quarters. Stuart consented, and departed the area. Mosby and nine other soldiers from the 1st Virginia Cavalry continued to use the Ratcliffe home as their headquarters. Oftentimes, Mosby met Laura at a large rock near the top of Squirrel Hill to exchange information. Following one particularly lucrative raid, he requested that Laura keep the Federal greenbacks he had confiscated for safekeeping, so she stashed them beneath the rock. 

In February 1863, Mosby captured several Federal soldiers, and returned their plunder to local citizens. Laura discovered that the Yankees had set a trap for Mosby, so she warned him of the intended ambush. Because of her valuable information, Mosby avoided arrest and captured a sutler’s wagon.   

Captain Willard Glazer with the 2nd New York Cavalry complained that Laura “is a very active and cunning rebel, who is known to our men, and is at least suspected of assisting Mosby not a little in his movements … by the means of Miss Ratcliffe and her rebellious sisterhood, Mosby is generally informed.”  

In March, Mosby managed to capture Union Brigadier General Edwin Stoughton by surprising him in his sleep. Arriving in the general’s room, Mosby asked him, “Do you know Mosby?” 

“Yes,” replied the general. “Have you captured the devil?” 

“No,” Mosby responded. “The devil has caught you.” 

Mosby captured the general, two of his captains, and 58 horses without firing a single shot. When President Abraham Lincoln heard of the event, he reportedly said that generals are replaceable, but he deeply regretted the loss of so many good horses. 

Although it was obvious to the Federals that Laura’s house was being used for Confederate headquarters, she was never arrested or tried for any crime. After the war ended, she lived with her mother in an old farmhouse named “Merrybrook.” In 1890, Laura, who was now 54 years old and destitute, married a neighbor, Union veteran Milton Hanna. She became wealthy because of it, but her husband died in an accident seven years later. 

Laura was a very private person, and never sought or received recognition for her courageous contributions to the Confederacy. Instead, she directed her attentions to the poor and unfortunate. In 1914, she fell and presumably broke her hip, but because she refused to receive medical treatment from a male doctor, the diagnosis was never verified. However, the accident left her an invalid for the rest of her life. Before her death at age 87 on August 8, 1923, she requested that “a neat grey granite stone” be placed at her gravesite with the names of Ratcliffe, Coleman, and Hanna carved into them. In 2007, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Laura Ratcliffe Branch, erected such a marker.  

Merrybrook is now under direct threat. The current owners are striving to have the home preserved, but development is encroaching. The rock where Laura and Colonel Mosby exchanged information still exists, and a monument on the country highway nearby has been erected with an inscription that reads: 

This large boulder, located just south of here, served as an important landmark during the Civil War, when Col. John S. Mosby’s Partisan Rangers (43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry) assembled there to raid Union outposts, communications, and supply lines. Laura Ratcliffe, a young woman who lived nearby and spied for Mosby, concealed money and messages for him under the rock. Mosby credited her with saving him from certain capture by Federal cavalry on one occasion. She also was a friend of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. 

Among the items discovered in her effects after her death was a gold-embossed brown leather album, which contained several poems, as well as the signatures of General J.E.B. Stuart, Colonel Mosby, and Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee, son of Robert E. Lee. A gold watch chain belonging to Stuart was also found with her possessions. 

For more information, and to learn how you can help with preservation, please visit:  

www.lauraratcliffe.org. 

 

 

 

New Review for A Beckoning Hellfire

ABeckoningHellfire_MED

A new review was recently posted on Amazon for my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire. The author of the review, An Ordinary Mom, apparently didn’t see the fine print, check out the book on Amazon, or see on the cover that A Beckoning Hellfire is the second book in the Renegade Series. She posted in her review that she didn’t like the ending. But the story doesn’t end there! (Spoiler alert: the protagonist does survive and is a prominent character in the third book.) Here is the review:

December 14, 2018

I really liked the book and I did some fact checking on a couple of things. I was pleased to see that everything I looked up was accurate. However I did not like the end. You spend the entire book getting to know a young man and his struggles and then he just dies at the end? That kind of ruined things for me. Such is war I suppose.

Full Disclosure- I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thank you, An Ordinary Mom, for your review!

A Grand Review

As I stated in my previous blog post, General Lee is one of my favorite personalities of the War Between the States. In this excerpt from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, protagonist David Summers, age 18, meets the general for the first time, and is awestruck by his encounter. This event takes place shortly before the Battle of Brandy Station, which took place on June 9, 1863, and was the largest cavalry battle to ever take place in North America.

ABeckoningHellfire_MED

Later that evening, the men were informed that another Review was to be held, because General Lee had been detained from attending the day’s events. The troopers were required to polish their tack and metal two days later for the benefit of the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.

On June 8, the Review was held between Culpeper and Brandy like before, but no civilians were present this time. General Hood’s infantry came to watch the military exercise. While the cavalrymen rode past to take their positions on the open field of the Auburn Estate, the suntanned foot soldiers jeered at them.

“Come down off’n that horse!” one yelled. “I can see your legs a-danglin’!”

“Come out from under that hat!” another hollered. “I can see your ears a-wigglin’!”

“They’re jist jealous of us because we git all the pretty girls’ attention!” Michael yelled over at David and flashed a grin.

The horsemen reached the open field and lined up in columns, their regimental colors rippling above them. Ordered to halt, they sat with all eyes on their commanding officer. 

General Lee rode the two-mile line at a brisk trot. He searched out saddle-sore horses and deficient carbines, mandating corrective actions as he carried out his inspection. He came to a halt in front of Renegade. 

brandy station

“Is this the little horse that won the race I heard tell about?” he asked.

Stunned that the magnificent general was speaking to him, David’s heart leaped. He found it difficult to reply, let alone comprehend that General Lee was actually addressing him. The general, dressed in flawless brass and gray, his white beard and entire appearance immaculate, gazed at him intensely. He didn’t know if he was required to salute, so he just sat there, stupefied.

“Yessir,” was all he could finally manage to say. 

General Lee nodded, glanced over Renegade once more, and spurred his gray steed away. The cavaliers surrounding David turned to gawk at him. He looked at John, who winked at him. 

“Reckon he’s got plans for you!” Michael said, grinning as he raised an eyebrow.

David wondered what those plans were, and couldn’t help cracking a smile. Although he’d given up on his fantasy of becoming a Pony Express rider, he hoped now to be chosen for some dangerous, daring mission on behalf of the Confederacy, since the adventure he and Jake had dreamed about seemed to have eluded him thus far. His utmost desire was to receive a perilous assignment, one that no one else was willing to take, because he was prepared to lay down his life for his beloved country. If that happened, there would be no doubt that he would acquire exoneration for Tom’s death. He wanted to die in honor and glory, just like his father and Jake had done. But he hoped, most of all, that he wouldn’t be sealed in an unmarked grave and forgotten.

Sitting astride Traveller, General Lee watched from the top of a hillock. General Stuart, with his usual flamboyance, wore a long, black ostrich plume in his hat, and his horse, Virginia, was adorned with a wreath of flowers around her neck. Stuart signaled; the bugles blared. Twenty-two cavalry regiments wheeled into columns of four, and three bands commenced to play “The Bonnie Blue Flag” while General Stuart led the parade of prancing horses. The cavaliers walked their mounts down the length of the field before turning into a trot. An immense cloud of dust billowed up from the ground. There was no mock charge against the guns this time, so following the reviewing maneuvers, the men were congratulated and released.

They led their horses back to camp, and celebrated the splendor of their review. The supply and baggage trains had been loaded, awaiting the cavalry’s departure across the Rappahannock with the infantry, which was now encamped on the other side of a hill. Unbeknownst to David and his fellow cavaliers, however, an ominous presence lurked in the shadows. Morning would come much sooner than expected. 

Another Christmas Story

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. It is a joyous, sacred occasion, and has always been a special holiday for me, filled with happiness, celebration, and time to spend with family and friends. But the holiday season can be difficult for so many.

There have been many instances in our nation’s history when the holidays presented sadness and difficulty, along with the unknown perils of what the future might hold. This excerpt, from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, shows just one example of how a rural family from Alabama dealt with such a blow.

ABeckoningHellfire_MED

But what a cruel thing is war. To separate and destroy families and friends and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world. To fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world¼My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.

Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife, December 25, 1862

 

Chapter One

“Here it is! Come quick!”

David sauntered across the dead grass toward his little sister. Amused by the way she was jumping up and down like a nervous flea, he couldn’t help but grin. Obviously, she was too excited to care that her petticoats were showing from under the brown coat and green calico dress she wore, or that her long auburn hair had broken free from its bondage as her bonnet slid from her head and dangled down her back.

“Which one, Josie?” he asked, stifling a snicker.

She planted her feet and pointed to a small yellow pine near a cluster of sweet gum and ash trees. “Right here!” she exclaimed.

Glancing down at the sapling, he gave her a crooked smile. “Well, that’s a mighty fine tree, but ain’t it kinda scrawny?” He estimated the pine to be three feet tall at most.

Josie frowned at her older brother, who had one eyebrow cocked from under his slouch hat. His hands were tucked into his brown trousers, and his linen shirt hung loosely on his tall, lanky frame. “No,” she said, “ it’s jist right. We’ll string some corn on it, hang some nuts and berries on it, and it’ll look right smart in the corner of the front room.”

With a shrug, he said, “All right. If you reckon this is the one.”

She nodded, her bright blue eyes reflecting her elation.

David relished the moment, for he knew Christmas was her favorite holiday. He had only heightened her anticipation on the way out to the woodlot by reminding her what would happen that evening, how Santa would be stopping by later when she was sound asleep. Of course, he had no explanation as to how eight tiny reindeer could pull a sleigh all the way to Alabama. Josie promptly informed him that she wasn’t a child any longer. She was all of thirteen, and didn’t believe in those farfetched stories anymore, but he knew better. She would be lying in her bed tonight, listening and waiting.

“Well, go on now, cut it down!” Josie insisted.

He put his thumb and forefinger to his lips and gave a high, shrill whistle. Noticing how the gray sky was growing darker, he looked over at the edge of the clearing where they stood and saw the underbrush rustle. Suddenly, two hound dogs bounded out of the trees, followed by a gangly young stallion.

“Come on, Renegade. Over here,” he called out to the colt, who responded by cantering to him.

Josie giggled at the sight. “Your dumb horse thinks he’s a dog!”

“He ain’t dumb. I’ll wager he’s a lick smarter than you are, li’l sister,” David teased.

The horse blew and stomped his front hoof.

“Why, that’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of. And not only is he dumb, he looks right silly, too. He can’t decide if he should be spotted or palomino!”

David observed his horse for a moment. Renegade’s face was piebald. His dark chestnut coat was highlighted with white spots and patches concentrating on his underbelly, and his mane and tail were light flaxen. He had white socks up to his knees. His unusual eyes were brownish green. David remembered how he had heard that a horse with strange-colored eyes like Renegade’s was considered sacred and chosen by the Cherokee Indians. Several people had noticed the strange coincidence, and his other sister, Rena, also frequently commented that he and his horse had the same colored eyes.

“I reckon he knows what he is,” David remarked. “Besides, he’s unusual, and that makes him unique.”

“Oh, he’s unique all right,” Josie said, giggling again. She pulled her hair back from her face and replaced her bonnet.

David untied a saw from a leather strap attached to Renegade’s saddle. He knelt down, quickly sawed through the little tree’s trunk, picked it up, and tied it across the saddle’s seat. His two black and tan dogs sniffed around the tree’s sawed off stump. Suddenly, they both lifted their noses into the air with their ears pricked. They bolted across the open clearing, baying at an unseen curiosity as they disappeared into the woods.

“Caleb! Si!” David hollered after the two hounds. “Well, there they go,” he observed wryly. “All right, Renegade, take it on home.” He patted his horse on the shoulder.

Renegade nickered softly, shook his head, and trotted off in the same direction as the two hounds.

Josie gasped. “Look, David! It’s startin’ to snow!” She tilted her head back and stuck out her tongue, trying to catch snowflakes on it.

He chuckled.

“Come on, you do it, too,” she coaxed him.

He obliged his little sister by imitating her.

Josie laughed, spinning around with her arms extended while snow fell silently down around them.

“Oh!” David clasped his hand to his face. “One fell in my eye!”

Josie giggled.

He couldn’t help but smile, although he was careful not to let her see, and snorted to cover up his delight. “Well, I’m right glad you think it’s so funny.” He looked at her, trying to keep a straight face. “Come on, Josie girl. We’d best be gittin’ on back.”

He allowed her to go ahead of him as they started on the bridle path that cut through the woods.

“Let’s sing Christmas carols!” she said. “That new one we heard last year. Jingle Bells!”

“You start,” he prompted.

“Dashin’ through the snow…”

He joined in. Their voices grew stronger in unison.

“In a one-horse open sleigh…”

They came to an empty field, and trudged through, stepping over mud puddles while they continued singing.

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…”

Their house stood quaintly at the far end of the field. Smoke circled from its two chimneys, dissolving into the gray sky. The sweet smell of burning hickory reached out, inviting them closer. From a distance, the structure appeared to be two separate cabins sitting side by side, but upon closer observation, one could see that they were connected by a covered breezeway. Each section contained two rooms and a fireplace. A wide flat porch on the front of the split log building served as an entryway. The tin roof, which seemed to expel heat in the summertime, also managed to repel snow during winter months.

The cold, damp air encroached upon brother and sister. As they sang, their breath escaped, floated out across the fields, and vanished in phantom gusts.

“Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!”

On the last note, Josie’s voice jumped an octave. They laughed at their grand finale and walked around to the front of the house, where Renegade was waiting patiently for the tree to be removed from his saddle. A buckskin horse stood beside him.

“Whose horse is that?” Josie asked.

“It looks like Bud Samuels’ horse.”

David and Josie looked at each other, wide-eyed. “Pa!” they both exclaimed.

Josie sprang onto the porch, burst through the front door, and went inside while David untied the small yellow pine. He set it aside, pulled the saddle from Renegade’s back, and removed his bridle.

“Go on into the barn, Renie,” he said. “Or you’ll be one big ole snowball in a minute.”

The colt blew and trotted around the side of the house.

David carried his tack into the breezeway. He placed it on a horizontal board, which was supported by a plank on each end. Collecting the tree, he heard the sound of Bud’s voice coming from inside.

“I had some trouble gettin’ here,” Bud was saying as he entered. “But I convinced the Home Guard to follow me home so’s I could show them my furlough paper.”

David produced the tiny tree. “I know it’s small,” he said with a grin, “but Josie insisted, and…” The sight that befell him inexplicably filled him with dread. His smile faded. He looked around at the faces before him and let the tree fall onto the wooden floor. Warmth from the fireplace did nothing to relieve the chill that grasped him. “What is it?” he asked.

“Come in, darlin’, and close the door,” his mother said from her high-backed chair, which sat near the empty corner they had readied for the Christmas tree. Her brown skirt encircled her like a puddle. Her dark brown hair, streaked recently with gray, was parted in the middle and contained in a white cotton hair net. She clenched her hands in her lap, and her lips were pursed. The flickering firelight accentuated the grooves on her face, which, for some reason, David had never noticed before. After closing the door behind him, he looked at Rena, who was sitting beside the hearth. She vacantly stared back, her violet eyes welling up with tears.

“Rena?” he asked her.

She looked away and hugged Josie, who had taken the chair beside her.

David walked across the room to their neighbor, Bud.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Samuels,” he said, shaking the man’s hand. “How’s Pa? Is he comin’ home for Christmas, like he wrote?”

“Have a seat, David.” Bud’s eyes filled with concern. He scratched his straggly, graying beard.

Obeying the command, David slowly sank into a chair, keeping his eyes fixed on Bud’s face.

“I’m afraid I have bad news.” Bud cleared his throat, then slowly, deliberately said, “Your father’s been killed at Fredericksburg.” He looked down at the floor. “A little over a week ago. I know he was lookin’ forward to seein’ y’all. I’m…immensely sorry.”

He pulled a folded piece of yellowed paper from his coat pocket. The gray coat was torn and tattered in places, not at all like the beautiful piece of clothing that had been provided to him nearly two years earlier. His trousers and the kepi he held in his hand were weathered, too.

“Miss Carolyn, Hiram wanted me to give you this here letter…in the event of his death.” He solemnly handed her the note.

Squeezing her eyes shut, Carolyn held it to her mouth. Tears streamed down her weathered face. “Thank you, Bud,” she finally said. “You’ve been a good friend to my Hiram. I know he appreciated you dearly.”

Bud nodded. “Please let the missus or me know if there’s anything we can do,” he offered, and walked toward the door.

“I surely will.” Carolyn wearily stood, followed him to the door, and walked him out.

Bud placed his kepi on his head, untied his horse, mounted, and galloped off down the lane. The rhythm of hoof beats faded.

Turning from the doorway, Carolyn somberly gazed at her children. Her two daughters came across the room to hug her. The three of them burst into tears. Carolyn gazed at her son, who was sitting motionless across the room, his handsome young face drained of color, his hazel eyes growing a darker brown.

“David,” she said, her voice filled with the sorrow that had now overtaken the room.

He looked over at her, his face blank with grief-stricken shock.  Finding no comfort in her anguished expression, he glanced up at the ornately-carved mantle clock, the one his father had given to her as a wedding gift. It read ten minutes past five. Beside it sat a framed tintype of his father, adorned in Confederate glory, ready to march off to victory, but now he was never to return. David’s eyes wandered, and he noticed things he’d taken for granted before: the raised oval portrait of his paternal grandmother on the wall, the paintings of flowers his mother liked so well that hung on the opposite wall, the fieldstone fireplace that his father had built, and the pine furniture that had been there ever since he could remember. Somehow, all of it seemed irrelevant.

Moving numbly, he rose and walked across the room to pick up the little tree he had dropped earlier. A tiny pool of water remained where it had fallen. He carried the tree outside, leaving a trail of moisture that splattered onto the floorboards. The cold winter air, uncluttered with snow, barely whispered, its breath deathly quiet and still. Dusk was rapidly approaching.

David hurled the tree as hard as he could. It landed with a rustled thud out in the yard. Without pausing, he walked into the breezeway past his mother and sisters and grabbed a kerosene lantern. He carried it outside, lit it, and threw it at the pine. The glass shattered upon impact. Kerosene trickled out onto the tiny branches and within seconds, flames engulfed the little tree. He stoically watched tongues of fire consume the sapling. Slowly, he turned to face his mother and sisters, who were standing on the porch, watching him while they wept.

“I reckon we won’t be celebratin’ Christmas after all,” he said, his voice raspy with distress.

Impending darkness engulfed his heart. Feeling the need for solitude, he walked around the house toward the barn, vaguely hearing his mother call out to him. The sky opened, releasing icy rain. He stomped past the pigpen and the chicken coop. Upon reaching the old wooden barn, he went inside and blinked several times before his eyes adjusted to his dim surroundings. He caught glimpses of shadows dancing off the walls and up around the rafters. A pungent combination of dry, clean hay and musty wood enveloped him. The rain rattled down upon the barn’s tin roof and sounded like a thousand tiny drums. Three cows studied him with soft brown eyes. One mooed a welcome as he walked past them.

Sidestepping bales of hay stacked near the stall door, David paused to shake off cold drops of moisture that clung to his shirt and ran his hand over the top of his head, wiping the rain from his dark brown hair. A large Percheron, standing in the stall next to Renegade, gazed at David with his ears pricked.

“Hey, Joe Boy,” David said softly to the tall white gelding.

The draft horse sniffled at David’s pockets but seemed to lose interest and shuffled to the other end of his stall when David didn’t offer a treat like he usually did. Renegade looked up from his fodder and nickered softly. David walked over and gently stroked his muzzle. “I’m sorry I put you through all that trouble of bringin’ home a tree.” Anguish and anger welled up inside him. Searing-hot tears streamed down his cheeks. His hatred seethed. His grief was overwhelming, and he could hold it back no longer. Sobs escaped him. He grasped onto his horse’s mane, burying his face in Renegade’s neck. The colt stood quietly, seemingly to console him.

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