J.D.R. Hawkins

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

Archive for the tag “cavalry”

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!

Advertisements

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.

An Insight into the Confederate Cavalry

battle-of-brandy-station-counter-attack

I find it interesting how Civil War soldiers, especially those from the South, managed to sustain on what little food was provided to them, yet still had the strength to fight and survive during the harshest climates. Most soldiers lived on hardtack, pork belly, and cornmeal. There were various names for their concoctions, including slush and cush.  My novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, describes some of the situations Confederate cavalrymen went through during the War Between the States.

CAVALRY COOKING

The rations on which the Confederate army subsisted were from the first scant, and often of poor quality. They would have been bad enough even if properly prepared, but were usually rendered worse by poor cooking. The cavalryman’s most valuable cooking utensil was his ramrod, on which he broiled his meat, and even baked the flour bread that he “made up” in his haversack. As a dishrag a corn shuck was invaluable, and was also a good substitute for paper in which to wrap cooked rations. While in camp, of course we had camp-kettles and frying- pans, and could then enjoy the luxuries of “boiled and fried vittles,” but this was not often.

One of the “old gang ” tells an amusing story of how the cooking was managed in his mess: “Our rule was,” said he, “that each member of the mess should cook a week, provided nobody growled about the cooking; in which event the growler was to take the cook’s place. As may be imagined, this rule was not very conducive to good cooking, and some of the revolting messes we uncomplainingly swallowed would have destroyed the digestion of any animal on earth except that of a rebel cavalryman.

Once the cook, finding that he was about to serve out his week in spite of his efforts to the contrary (consisting of sweetening the coffee with salt, salting the soup with sugar, etc.,) grew desperate, and proceeded to boil with the beef a whole string of red pepper. Of course it made a mixture hot enough to blister the nose even to smell it. John got the first mouthful, and it fairly took his breath away. As soon as he could speak , he blurted out, ” Great Caesar, boys, this meat is as hot as hell — but (suddenly remembering the penalty of complaining) it’s good, though..”

 

http://civilwarcooking.blogspot.com

Southern Historical Society

(Source: Campaigns of Wheeler and his cavalry.1862- 1865 by W.C. Dodson, Historian, 1899)
Link to free e=book: https://archive.org/…/cu319240309…/cu31924030921682_djvu.txt

(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Private Samuel A. Hughey Camp 1452, Hernando, MS., Vol. 42, Issue 10, October 2018 ed.)

Dog Days of Summer

43513294571_659a7fd3f4_b

By the time July starts winding down, the heat is beginning to wear on everyone, and we  all start thinking about when school will resume again. I’m fortunate in that I live in the mountains, so if it gets too hot, we can head up to the hills to cool off.

Although summer was the most likely time for battles to take place during the Civil War, there was also a lot of down time. The soldiers were left to their own devices to entertain themselves. Many wrote letters to their loved ones. Others passed the time by playing cards, gambling, reading weeks-old newspapers, or shooting the bull, as they called it.

Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, describing typical southern soldiers who passed the time away while waiting for the next big battle.

ABeckoningHellfire_MED

Jake and David led their horses to the edge of the field to graze and fell down upon the damp grass in sheer exhaustion. Two other members of their company approached and lay down on the grass next to them. They welcomed each other with a weary, “Hey.”

“We heared y’all were from Alabama, so we thought we’d come over and make your acquaintance. You boys jist git in last night?” one asked.

“Yeah,” David replied.

He introduced himself and Jake. The two veterans did the same, stating that their names were John Chase and Michael Tailor.

“Do we drill tomorrow, too, or do we git a day of rest, bein’s it’s the Sabbath?” asked David.

“There’ll be no drillin’ tomorrow. Ole Beauty’s a stickler for lettin’ us off on Sundays,” John said, referring to Stuart by a nickname the general had acquired at West Point.

“Where y’all from?” asked Jake.

“We’re from Georgia,” John replied.

“How come y‘all are in a company of Virginians?” asked David.

“Well, we were over here with my cousin,” explained Michael. “Us and some other fellers from our company. Kerr, Smith, Crawford, and Campbell. Anyway, we were supposed to leave to go down south with our brigade, but when we got back, they were already gone!”

“What brigade is that?” asked David.

“Hampton’s,” John responded. “We’re with the Jeff Davis Legion. Reckon we’ll have hell to pay when they git back up here!” He and Michael chuckled. “So y’all will jist have to tolerate a few of us Georgians around the place,” he went on. “Least till our fellers git back.”

“Reckon we can overlook it if y’all can,” Jake said with a grin.

John snickered, raising an eyebrow. “I’m inclined to think that us Rebels are all in this together, so I’ll forgive y’all for bein’ from Alabama.”

David and Jake looked at each other and shrugged.

“I have cousins in Alabama,” Michael told them. “Y’all know the Ryan’s?”

Jake and David gaped at each other in astonishment.

“There are a lot of Ryan’s around our parts,” Jake replied.

“How about that!” Michael laughed. He seemed happy to hear of any news from home, however obscure it might be. They talked about their families for a while until he stood and said, “All this nostalgic talk is makin’ me well up.”

John pulled himself to his feet. “Let’s meet up tonight, and we’ll shoot the bull,” he suggested.

Jake and David agreed before following the Georgians back into camp.

“Hey,” John said over his shoulder. “Do either one of you boys know how to write, because I’ve been longin’ to send a letter home to my wife, but I jist can’t figure out how to put it in words.”

“We can write a letter for you,” said David, happy to oblige.

John smiled and trudged back toward camp.

Hesitating until the Georgians were out of earshot, Jake gave David a shove, which caused him to stumble.

“What was that for?” he angrily fired back.

“I ain’t volunteerin’ to write a letter for every soldier out here,” Jake stated.

David gave him a crooked grin, knowing that his friend wasn’t very good at writing. “Well, I’ll jist do it, then,” he said.

They returned to camp and scrounged around for something to eat, but could only manage to find the same staples they’d consumed earlier. After they tied their horses out to graze, Sergeant Williams came by and invited them to his fire. Jake and David followed him to discover a large iron kettle hanging over a flame.

“Put that Yankee coat in here, and the dye will turn it butternut,” the sergeant instructed.

David removed the coat he’d been wearing since the previous evening. He let it fall into the boiling concoction. “What do you use for dye?” he asked.

“Walnut hulls, acorns, and lye,” William replied.

They chuckled at the rhyme. Standing over the kettle, they watched the boiling water roll over the garment as it gradually washed the dark blue coat to brownish-yellow.

When he was satisfied with the result, William retrieved the coat with a stick and hung it on a bush to dry. “You’ll have to leave this here till tomorrow,” he told David, “but you can borrow my saddle blanket if you want.”

“Thanks,” David said. “I reckon I’ll be all right.”

The two troopers exchanged smiles. After bidding goodnight to the sergeant, Jake and David returned to their site, but were surprised by what awaited them. Six men were standing there, waiting for their return.

“There they are!” exclaimed John, a wide grin parting the thick fur on his face. “These boys will write home for us!”

Jake looked at David, scoffed, and shook his head. “I’m illiterate all of a sudden,” he muttered.

One of the Georgians they hadn’t yet met held out a pen and a piece of wallpaper. David wondered whose wall he’d peeled it from.

“How do,” the Georgian said, “I’m Custis Kerr.” He held out his other hand and grasped onto David’s. “John and Michael here said y’all can write a letter for us.” He had a scraggly beard that reminded David of a wire-haired dog he’d seen once. Pausing momentarily, Custis added, “I’d be willin’ to give you somethin’ for it.”

“Do you have anything to eat?” Jake inquired.

“Well, I have a cornpone and some honey,” said Custis.

David smiled, took the pen and paper from him, and seated himself on the log next to their fire. Custis sat beside him, grinning from ear to ear. Positioning the wallpaper on his thigh, David poised the pen erect and glanced over at him.

“Ain’t you holdin’ it in the wrong hand?” Custis asked.

“I’m left handed,” David explained.

The Georgians howled.

“We ain’t never seen a lefty afore!” one of them exclaimed.

David felt a little awkward, but had grown up enduring such teases, so he shrugged it off.

“Whatcha want me to write?”

“Dear Mother,” Custis dictated, “I am feelin’ well and believe the weather is becomin’ more mild.”

David raised an eyebrow as he scribbled down the words, wondering if this soldier had anything more important to say.

“I am doin’ fine and look forward to seein’ you a’gin.” Custis spoke like he was reading, slow and deliberate, so that David would catch every word. “I am writin’ to M.S.B. and C.L.S.”

Throwing a glance at him, David wondered how many letters he was expected to write for each and every soldier. He started to regret his hasty offer to John and Michael.

“If you don’t have anything more to say, I’ll close for you,” he said, hoping Custis would take him up on his offer.

“Hold on a minute.” The Georgian raised his hand. He nodded and pointed to the wallpaper, coaxing his transcriber to continue. “Received the parcels you sent from home. Many of the boys enjoyed them also.” He stopped to rub his beard in thought. “Reckon that’s all. Jist put down your lovin’ son, Custis.”

David finished writing and handed the piece of wallpaper to him. Custis clutched onto it like it was a gold nugget.

“Oh, what’s your name?” he asked.

“David Summers.”

“Thanks kindly, Summers,” Custis said, and walked off.

Another Georgian, Peter Smith, had David write home to his wife and two daughters in exchange for dehydrated vegetables. Alfred Crawford dictated a letter to his sweetheart, gave David a sewn bag of pennyroyal leaves for his effort, and instructed him to place it at the foot of his bed to repel fleas. A newlywed, Robert Campbell, sought assistance in addressing a letter to his wife. He rewarded his comrade with saddle soup and graybacks amounting to three dollars. David also wrote one letter each for John and Michael. In the time it took for him to write the soldiers’ letters, he learned more about each cavalryman than most of the others would ever know about each other. Graciously, he accepted their offerings in return.

When he had finished, he realized it was getting dark. Thankfully, Jake had taken the initiative to fry some salt pork, so he and David devoured it along with the newly-acquired cornpone and crusted honey. They cleaned up and relaxed, lying on their backs and gazing up at the stars. David’s writer’s cramp left him too disabled to pen a letter to his own family, but he reasoned that he could do it tomorrow, since it would be a day of rest. He started dozing off, but heard voices growing louder.

“Mind if’n we jine you?” Michael asked.

David opened his eyes and glanced at Jake, who shook his head, grinning as he sat up.

John chuckled. “You look right tuckered out. Did we run you ragged today?” He chuckled again. “We came over to shoot the bull with you fellers.”

David pried himself up. The two veterans seated themselves on logs. John pulled a meerschaum from his pocket and lit it. The pungent odor of rich tobacco intermingled with the smell of burning firewood.

“By the way,” Michael said, his dark eyes twinkling in the firelight. “I’d recommend you get rid of that can of desecrated vegetables Smith gave you.”

“Why?” asked David.

“I’ve heard tell that if’n you eat those critters, they’ll expand in your stomach and make you explode!”

David’s eyes grew large. He retrieved the can of dehydrated vegetables from his saddlebag, threw it into the fire, and watched along with the others. The can sizzled, popped open, and was quickly consumed by flames. Inexplicably, the recollection of Tom’s terrible death back home in the barn entered his mind. He looked away.

“I heard that last month they caught ole Abe Lincoln in a drunken stupor,” John remarked nonchalantly. “Heard from a source in Washin’ton City that he was on a binge for thirty-six hours and was still drunk when he left the drinkin’ establishment!” He laughed heartily.

Jake winked at David. It was obvious their guests were extravagant liars, but amusing, nonetheless.

“I heard tell that General Burnside passed on in his sleep,” Michael said, “and that General Beauregard was accompanied on a march by concubines and wagonloads of champagne.”

Jake and David chuckled.

“I heard from a couple of Louisiana Zouaves that the good people of New Orleans printed a picture of General Butler on the bottoms of their chamber pots!” exclaimed John. He guffawed loudly. “That’s one way to git even with that damned Yankee general!” he exclaimed, referring to the dreadful officer who had taken over the city nearly a year ago. The four soldiers laughed loudly at this.

“Is it truthful that General Stuart’s a teetotaler?” asked Jake.

John nodded, enjoying his pipe. “That he is, and a ladies’ man, but a devoted husband and father over all.”

“Where in Georgia are y’all from?” David inquired.

“Savannah,” said Michael.

“I heard it’s right purty over there,” said Jake. “Y’all have any land?” he asked.

“I have about a hundred acres,” John replied, “and a few niggers to help run the place, but Michael ain’t got any, ‘cept what his kinfolk live on. We’ve got plenty of big plantations’round our parts.”

“When we were ridin’ in,” Jake said, “we heard some fellers talkin’ bout a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight, but we didn’t know what they meant by it.”

“Oh.” John took a puff from his clay pipe. “The plantation owners and their overseers are exempt from fightin’ if’n they have twenty slaves.”

“That don’t seem right,” said David.

“Nothin’ in war is right, Summers,” Michael said, “and you’ll find that out soon enough. But General Hampton’s supposed to be the largest slave owner in the South, and he’s fightin’. Say, you ain’t a conscript, are you?”

“No sir,” David responded proudly. “We’re both enlistees.”

John nodded and smiled, clenching the pipe in his teeth. He puffed again. “That’s good. We ain’t real fond of conscripts ’round here. Anyone forced to jine up ain’t worthy of the fight, and those fellers will run off first chance they git. Jist like those cowards from our home state who refuse to fight. We call them Georgia crackers. It’s downright unpatriotic.”

Jake leaned in toward his friend. “You should ask him about your pa,” he reminded.

The other soldiers looked at David, waiting for him to speak. He took a deep sigh, and said, “My pa is buried here somewhere, and I was wonderin’ if y’all might know where I could find him.”

The Georgians exchanged glances.

“Can’t rightly direct you,” Michael said. “The burial site’s mighty large, and not every grave is marked. It could take days, or even weeks, and you still might not find him.”

David bit his lower lip and gazed into the fire, disappointed with the answer he’d received.

Jake quickly changed the subject and they were soon engaged in telling one chilling horror story after another, most of which the other soldiers made up. David enthralled them with “The Tell Tale Heart,” a story by Edgar Allen Poe, which none of the others had heard before. To his amusement, the others actually shivered at his telling of the story. The four soldiers talked on into the night until they realized it was late and decided to retire. As the Georgians departed, Jake leaned back, mumbling something unintelligible. David fell asleep but was soon startled awake by the bugler’s invasion.

“I thought we got today off,” he muttered to Jake while they pulled on their boots.

“Reckon they have roll every day,” Jake said with a yawn.

He and David sauntered to the field where they again went through military procedures. Their company was informed that General Fitzhugh Lee, who was the nephew of Robert E. Lee, had taken his cavalry brigade northward. After being released, the boys stood in line for rations, disappointed with the lack of variety once more, but they ate it anyway, grateful for the meager nourishment. Afterward, they gave their mounts some seed corn and oats.

Finally finding free time, David settled in to read from his Testament. He opened the leather flap. Inside was the miniature Southern Cross Josie had sewn for him. His heart grew heavy at the thought of her, Rena, and their mother. He had hardly been gone a week, yet it seemed like years.

Flipping through the sacred pages, he found a scripture that caught his eye: So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Jake sat down beside him, holding a newspaper he had found.

“Where’d you git that?” David asked.

“Down at the sink,” Jake replied, opening the paper. “It’s a few weeks old, but it’s somethin’ to read.”

“Couldn’t find better use for it?” David snickered.

Jake glared at him. “You wouldn’t think it was so funny if you had this ailment,” he grumbled.

David shrugged. “Seems to me some of that salt pork should’ve worked its way out by now.” Unable to help himself, he snickered again.

Jake threw the newspaper down on the ground and stood. “Reckon I’ll see what’s goin’ on around camp,” he announced, and stomped off.

Deciding it would be a good time to write a letter home, David found his pencil and paper and began writing.

 

Dear Ma and sisters,

I take pencil in hand to inform you that Jake and I arived yesterday evening and are being aclimated to our suroundings. We have plenty to eat and are feeling fine and our horses are fine. We have yet to see General Stuart. To-day is Sunday and you will be glad to know that I am studying scripture and find it very reasuring. Please tell Callie I wish her well if you see her. I would like very much if you could rite to me every particular of what is going on back home. I am thinking of you fondly and will rite again in the near future.

Your son and brother until deth,

David

 

Intentionally excluding any reference to Tom Caldwell, he placed the folded letter into an envelope.

They must have heard by now, he thought. They must know that I killed him.

Deciding to hunt for Jake and deliver his letter to the post, he walked around camp, taking notice of the activities around him. He was stunned to see men gambling, pitching horseshoes, cursing, drinking, betting, and slapping papers while they played their poker hands, not only because it was the Sabbath, but also because it was only one week after Easter. One soldier asked David to join him for a sip of “Pine Top,” but he refused. Drinking, especially on a Sunday, appalled him. Curious as to why there were no services, he asked another trooper.

“In the beginnin’,” the soldier said, “we held services faithfully every week.” He cocked his head at David.   “But truth be told, as time went on, we all got too tired of the war to care anymore.”

David nodded, and turned to search out his best friend. Jake stood in a throng surrounding two Rebels who were seated at a table. In front of them, a Federal canteen lay on its side. The men yelled and squinted at it.

“Come on, Howitzer!” one hollered.

“Go, Minié Ball!” another exclaimed. The spectators shouted excitedly.

“What’s goin’ on?” David asked his friend.

“They’re havin’ lice races,” Jake replied. He grinned at David before looking back at the table.

The crowd cheered. One of the contenders sprang from the table and threw his arms up in victory.

“Better luck next time!” he bellowed, shaking his opponent’s hand.

The loser presented a Confederate note to his rival, and men within the crowd exchanged currency as well.

David observed the spectacle with amazement, glad that no man of the cloth was there to witness it. He felt a twinge of humiliation for the soldiers in attendance, and wondered why they didn’t display any moral responsibility. Deciding he’d seen enough, he walked back over to his campsite. Jake followed, talking all the while about the carefree life of a soldier.

“Do you reckon I’ll be able to find Pa’s grave?” David asked him.

Jake’s joviality quickly changed to solemn reserve. He shrugged in response. “Sounds like the gravesite’s mighty large. It could take us days to find him, and besides, the major might notice us missin’.”

“Well, maybe I’ll ask him tomorrow if he knows where Pa might be.”

“Why don’t you ask him now?” Jake grinned, motioning for him to follow.

They walked through camp to a white canvas tent and timidly entered.

“Sir,” Jake said quietly to catch the major’s attention.

Major Warner looked up from the map he was studying. David followed Jake inside the tent, and the two saluted.

“At ease,” the major softly commanded. “What can I do for you boys?”

“My friend was wonderin’ if you might know where his pa’s buried,” Jake explained. “He was killed here last December.”

“Do you know which regiment he was with?” asked Major Warner.

David nodded. “Yessir. He was with the 4th Alabama. Uh, the North Alabamians infantry division.”

The major scratched his head. “What was your father’s name, Private?”

“Hiram Summers, sir.”

“Well, let me look into it, and I’ll git back to you in a day or two.”

“Yessir.”

The boys saluted and exited the tent. Once again, David was disappointed with the response he’d received, but decided he had no choice but to wait.

https://www.amazon.com/Beckoning-Hellfire-Novel-Civil-Renegade/dp/197963372X/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532666094&sr=8-1&keywords=a+beckoning+hellfire

 

Off to the Races!

3610944647_105e46dd38_n

This Saturday (my birthday, BTW), the Belmont Stakes will take place, and after five years, we may have a chance to see another triple crown winner with a magnificent three-year-old colt named Justify. This is so exciting, and I really hope Justify wins! I love watching horse races, because each event happens so quickly, and the horses are so beautiful to watch when they run around the track and cross the finish line.

40596473024_a26b028c5c_n

Our modern-day horse races originated from the Civil War, and the first Kentucky Derby was held on May 17, 1875. This was ten years after the war ended. Prior the war, Southerners relished racing their beautiful Thoroughbreds. When the war broke out, cavalrymen still held races for amusement, and placed bets in hopes of making a profit, although they were betting with small items and valueless Confederate currency.

Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, describing one such race.

ABeckoningHellfire_MED

On the morning of April 25, following roll call and breakfast, David saddled Renegade. He and Jake walked over to the wide, emerald field designated as the race course. No one else had arrived, so they said a quick prayer for the safety of horse and rider and for the chance to show the other cavalrymen in Rooney Lee’s brigade just how fast a little horse from the back hills of Alabama could run. Talk of the race had spread from company to company until the entire brigade caught wind of the event, and several other riders expressed interest in racing as well. This didn’t worry David in the least, since he’d been racing Renegade for nearly a year at every opportunity that presented itself in Morgan County. They had always won.

He checked Renegade’s legs for heat or swelling. “Tell me again which regiment you’ll be with,” he said to Jake.

“The 26th Alabama, under Colonel O’Neal,” Jake replied. “Reckon when I git over there, they’ll issue me a haversack.”

“You’ll be needin’ somethin’ better to walk in,” David observed, glancing down at Jake’s dusty riding boots.

“These’ll git me by for a while.” Jake kicked a stone. “At least until I can locate me a pair of brogans.”

He looked across the field, and David followed his gaze. Men on horseback approached, along with a crowd of soldiers on foot. Two troopers fashioned a finish line constructed of a thin rope at the other end of the field. The crowd grew louder. David and Jake walked toward the commotion.

“Are you in the race?” a young soldier in gray asked.

David nodded.

The soldier pointed at the starting line, which was also to serve as the finish line. David stepped into the stirrup and mounted.

“Good luck, Zeke!” Jake yelled. Removing his slouch hat from his head, he waved it in the air.

David grinned. He directed Renegade over to the starting line, took his place on the end, and glanced over at the other six horses. They were all taller and more muscular than his little colt. Their riders turned to sneer and chuckle at him. David touched the brim of his hat in response. Two fiddlers commenced to play “Camptown Races” in harmony.

“Gentlemen,” an officer announced, a pistol in his hand. “When I fire, y’all are to ride around the edge of this field, counterclockwise, which is a quarter of a mile in length, until returnin’ to this spot. Anyone cuttin’ across will be disqualified. Good luck, and may the best man win!”

The crowd cheered. At the outburst, some of the horses grew frantic and reared. The officer raised his pistol into the air and fired. Renegade sprang, easily pulling ahead in great stretches, his hooves thundering against the ground in rapid rhythm.

David lowered himself close to the horse’s neck. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw two other riders closing in on him. He held Renegade back until he thought they were about three quarters of the way around the track. One of the other riders jeered at him, yelling about how that homely spotted pony couldn’t outrun his steed. David let him pull ahead by a length.

The horses grunted with each stride, their hoof beats drumming down upon the turf in quick cadence. The riders whooped and hollered to make their mounts go faster. A couple of the contestants thrashed at their steed’s flanks with sticks.

David glanced back over his shoulder. The other five horses were close at his heels. He looked ahead and spoke into Renegade’s ear, using every ounce of love and trust between them to coax the stallion into giving his all.

“Okay, Renie! Let ‘em have it!”

He slapped Renegade with the ends of the reins. The little horse surged forward, ever faster, easily passing the rider in front of him. He pulled far into the lead and galloped toward the crowd of people. David’s heart thumped in his ears with exhilaration as the wind whipped his face. Horse and rider burst through the finish line. The spectators cheered. The six other contestants came in five lengths behind. David eased back on the reins, letting his horse slow to a trot. He walked Renegade back to the finish line where a mass of soldiers swarmed around.

“That was some race!” one exclaimed.

“I never expected this funny-lookin’ one to win!” said another.

“Summers, I don’t reckon I ever saw a horse run that fast!” John yelled. “And you jist won me five dollars!”

David grinned, removed his hat, and brushed his damp hair back from his forehead. He looked around for Jake who was standing near the back of the crowd with his arms folded in front of him, smiling and shaking his head.

“Private Summers.” Colonel Beale rode up to him on his horse. “Congratulations! That was remarkable!”

“Thank you, sir,” David replied.

“General Stuart would like to have a word with you.” He pointed to a knoll at the other end of the field. David looked over to see four officers on horseback.

“With me?” he asked, awestruck.

The colonel smiled and turned his horse. David rode alongside toward the other end of the field. As he neared, he recognized two of the officers immediately. One was General Rooney Lee, whom he had met upon his arrival, and the other was General Stuart, the commanding officer of the Confederate cavalry. David had eagerly anticipated catching a glimpse of the legendary general but had never considered meeting him in person. Riding up onto the knoll, he saluted modestly. The officers returned the gesture.

“This is Private David Summers, who jist recently jined us from Alabama,” General Rooney Lee explained, his eyes twinkling. “He’s with the 9th Virginia.”

“Private Summers,” said General Stuart. “I am very impressed with the way you ride.”

David was astounded by the man before him. General Stuart wore a gray jacket with gold braiding in the configuration of the Austrian knot on his collar and sleeves, a wide yellow sash around his waist, elbow-length gauntlets, dark blue trousers with gold stripes, a red-lined cape, and golden spurs attached to his high riding boots. On his head of curly brown hair perched a wide-brimmed gray felt hat, turned up on one side and clasped with a gilded palmetto star. A black ostrich plume feathered out from behind it. His tanned face was covered with a light brown moustache flowing into a cinnamon-colored beard that reached down to his chest. His bright blue eyes sparkled from beneath the brim of his hat as though laughing at the world and amused with everything in it.

“Thank you, sir,” David said.

“This is Colonel Von Borcke.” General Stuart motioned toward a large man on his left with a long, blond, curly moustache and short beard. “And this is Major R.C. Price,” he introduced, nodding toward the young man on his right, who didn’t look much older than David.

“I would like to have the opportunity to race your little stallion in the near future,” Colonel Von Borcke said with a heavy Prussian accent. “I’m certain that my horse will win!”

The officers chuckled.

David grinned. “I’d be honored, sir,” he replied.

“Private, I would like to take the opportunity to use you as need be for special assignments,” said General Stuart. “That is, for errands where speed will be of the utmost importance.”

“Yessir,” David said.

“I assume your horse is sound,” said the general.

“Yessir.”

“And you are willin’ to take certain risks for the good of your country.”

“Yessir.”

“Very good, Private. It is my opinion that a good man and a good horse can never be caught, and you have displayed admirable qualities.”

David grinned with delight. “Thank you, sir.”

“You are dismissed,” the general said.

David saluted. General Stuart put his gloved hand to his hat and smiled slightly. He released the salute. David turned Renegade toward the base of the knoll.

“Congratulations on your victory,” General Stuart called after him.

“Thank you, sir!” David called over his shoulder.

He spurred Renegade into a trot across the field. All the while, his heart was rapidly thumping. He couldn’t wait to tell Jake about what just happened. Now he truly was one of Stuart’s “invincibles.”

The crowd had thinned, but Jake waited beside the officer who had fired the starting gun.

“Zeke!” he yelled. “Git over here and collect your winnin’s!”

David looked at Jake quizzically and coaxed Renegade toward  his friend.

“Here you are, son,” the officer said. He handed David a one hundred dollar Confederate note. “Congratulations! I hope we git to see that little horse run again soon!”

David’s eyes grew wide in astonishment. “Thank you, sir!”

He stared in exhilarated awe at the note that read, “Confederate States of America, one hundred dollars.” Pictures of two soldiers, a woman’s face in profile, and a man he assumed to be a politician were displayed on the front of the scrip. He hadn’t expected to win anything, especially not this much money. His only desire had been to race for the recognition and to rectify Renegade’s bad behavior in front of his company.

Glancing back at the knoll, David saw that the officers had gone, and with them, his moment of glory. He sighed, dismounted, and walked alongside Jake back to camp.

 

Battle of Chancellorsville

Today and tomorrow mark the 155th anniverary of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia. To commemorate the anniversary, the Civil War Trust will be posting live from the battlefield on its Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/civilwartrust/

Many events are planned, so check it out here.

ABeckoningHellfire_MED

My novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, discusses the battle and its terrible aftermath. Here is an excerpt.

 

It is well war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it.

—General Pendleton

Personal Recollections of General Lee

David rode Renegade at a walk for a few miles, unsure which direction to follow. The early morning sky and surrounding forest were so dark that he could barely make out the road, let alone anyone foolhardy enough to be out in the unfamiliar countryside…like him. He hoped he wouldn’t encounter any Yankees. The possibility of being apprehended and thrown into a Northern prison was all too real, but his desire to find Jake outweighed his fear. After riding for nearly an hour, he encountered a Rebel soldier on picket duty, who directed him to where he thought O’Neal’s brigade was camped.

“You’re on the Orange Plank Road now,” the picket said, gazing out from under his forage cap. Even though it was still night, David could make out dark circles under the picket’s eyes. “Go up a ways until you reach Brook Road, and keep goin’ till you git to the Orange Turnpike. You’ll see the Hawkins farmstead and the Wilderness Church in front of you. Turn right and keep travelin’ on the turnpike until you see their camp. You should run into them before you reach Chancellorsville.”

“Thank you kindly,” David responded.

The picket turned, walked back to a fence post, and lit a pipe. The glow from his burning tobacco faded into the darkness behind David as he proceeded in the direction that the picket had indicated. Reaching the intersection, he could barely make out the Hawkins farmhouse, which sat back from the road. The chapel, a small, whitewashed frame building, stood closer to the road, giving him a sense of reassurance as he rode by. A zigzagged wooden-post fence lined the turnpike, and behind it in the fields, David thought he could distinguish objects on the ground. He assumed they were bodies of dead Yankees. The smell of burnt timber hung in the air, making the darkness feel even thicker.

He rode another mile or two. At long last, he saw rows of white tents off to the side of the road. The soldiers within them were just beginning to stir, rising with the dawn. He asked one man for directions to O’Neal’s brigade. The soldier pointed without saying a word. Nudging Renegade, David headed off on the route the silent soldier had specified. He saw another foot soldier, asked for the location of O’Neal’s command, and was directed to a different area. Over and over he was misled, until almost an hour and a half later, he finally found O’Neal’s brigade. He didn’t recognize anyone, so he asked one of the soldiers if he knew where Private Jacob Kimball might be. The infantryman shook his head.

“Don’t reckon I know a Kimball,” he stated.

“He’s a new enlistee,” said David.

The soldier stood shaking his head and scratching his dark beard. “We’ll be havin’ roll call in a few minutes. You can find out if he’s here then.”

David swung down from the saddle and tied Renegade. He followed the infantryman to a clearing where several other members of the brigade congregated. A bugler signaled reveille, prompting more tattered soldiers to wander over to the gathering. David looked closely for Jake or one of his friends but didn’t recognize a soul.

The sun peeked out from the horizon, casting long shadows around camp. An eerie, stifling stillness hung in the cold morning air, and a sharp breeze pierced the soldiers bedraggled and soiled clothing. They stood shivering in irregular rows, their breath casting misty puffs into the chilly air.

An officer approached. He glanced over at David before calling out names. “Albright,” he hollered.

“Here,” came a reply.

“Allen.”

“Here.”

“Andrews.”

The officer hesitated, looking around at his soldiers before speaking the name again, but still no one answered. He continued to callout names on the list. Some received responses, some did not.

“Kimball.”

David’s heart leaped. His eyes darted around the group of soldiers. There was no answer.

“Kimball!”

Silence. Then the officer continued on to the next name.

“Reckon you ought to check the hospital,” the soldier with the dark beard whispered loudly to David. He heard his name called, and bellowed, “Here!”

David looked down at the trampled ground and drew a heavy sigh. He returned to Renegade and mounted, starting his search again. His heart hurt, but he was determined to find his best friend. As the sun appeared above the horizon, he sent up the same prayer request he’d repeated since the start of the battle.

Please, dear Lord, protect Jake and keep him safe from harm’s way. Amen.

He asked for directions to the army hospital. A short, stocky soldier directed him back to the turnpike toward Chancellorsville. He rode for a few miles, asking several infantrymen if he was headed in the right direction. All of them knew the exact location of the hospital.

By midmorning, he reached the hospital tents marked with bold red flags. He dismounted, tied Renegade out to graze, and after inhaling a breath of courage, went inside one of the tents. Immediately, the smell of death assaulted him. He quickly backed out, nauseated, struggling not to gag, and took in huge gulps of fresh air before attempting to reenter. More cautiously this time, he pulled open the tent flap and stepped inside.

Another Five-Star Review for Horses in Gray

Horses in Gray Cover

I just received another five-star review for my nonfiction book, Horses in Gray. The review is as follows:

“Excellent book, particularly if you love history and pet love (horses).”

Short but sweet! Thank you, Russell C., for your kind review!

Here is another excerpt from the book. Hope you enjoy it!

***

Crucial to the infantry, cavalry soldiers served a special purpose, as they were the eyes of the army. Cavalry units could easily cover thirty to seventy miles a day, and scouting units could travel as much as one hundred miles a day.

Throughout the course of the war, the Confederacy raised an estimated 137 mounted regiments; the North, nearly twice that many. The US Army supplied mounts to their cavalry, while Confederate soldiers provided their own.

The Confederate cavalry consisted of regiments containing eight hundred to one thousand men. Regiments were made up of ten brigades of one hundred men each and were commanded by a colonel, a lieutenant colonel, three majors, and a lieutenant. Regiments also included a surgeon and his assistant, a quartermaster sergeant, a commissary sergeant, a saddler sergeant, a blacksmith, a wagoner, hospital stewards, and musicians.

Equipment used by officers was usually non-regulation. Saddles were flat or English style, and Confederates of all ranks often used imported types, as well as McClellan and Jennifer saddles. A cavalryman’s gear also included iron stirrups, breast and crupper straps, a running martingale, a bridoon or snaffle bit, and a curb bit. Saddlebags had straps attached for tying on bedrolls, cooking utensils, ponchos, and other necessities.

When a horse threw a shoe, blacksmiths, or farriers, as they later came to be known, were called upon to remedy the situation. But sometimes the farriers were inaccessible. In these instances, the trooper had to shoe his own horse by nailing on one of the two spares he carried in his saddlebags. The South had much less iron than the North, so when shoes became scarce, cavalrymen were compelled to wrench shoes from dead horses.13

For the first two years of the war, the Confederate cavalry was far superior to its Northern counterpart. This was because Southern soldiers came from rural upbringings, and their horses were generally more agile compared to the draft horses used up north. Many Confederate officers were experienced foxhunters, so they were well-versed in jumping ditches and fences and galloping through woods.

Some soldiers who were not as learned around horses were taught tricks by their seasoned comrades. Lt. Col. William Willis Blackford, Stuart’s aide-de-camp, wrote in his memoirs: “I recollected a thing Von Borcke14 had once told me. He was taught in the Prussian Cavalry schools for this very emergency, and I made a courier twist the horse’s ear severely and keep it twisted while he led the horse off the field with Von Borcke on him, the horse becoming perfectly quiet immediately.”15

Tactics during the war changed. Instead of staging direct attacks, cavalry officers learned to use their horses for swift mobility to bring soldiers closer to the enemy. Once the soldiers reached a close proximity, the horsemen dismounted and fought on the ground, with one man in each group of four holding the reins of his comrades’ horses.

Horses were valuable, sacred commodities. Blackford explained it this way: “To a cavalry officer in active service, his horse is his second self, his companion and friend, upon whom his very life may depend.”16 Because of this, cavalrymen put the needs of their horses before their own.

813a52335e0e7fccf46650b030491d04

Horse killed with its owner, Col. Henry B. Strong, 6th Louisiana, at the Battle of Antietam, September 1862 

As the war progressed, Southern cavalrymen found it more challenging to replace their mounts. In the summer of 1862, the Union army captured and cut off the great horse-breeding states of Kentucky, Missouri, parts of Tennessee, and western Virginia. This forced Gen. Robert E. Lee’s men to scour the South, where remounts became more and more scarce. There were plenty of mustangs in Texas, but most of them were too small for military service.17

Whereas Confederate infantrymen were paid eleven dollars per month, cavalrymen were paid forty cents per day, or thirteen dollars a month; the two extra dollars could be used to provide for their horses. The men were also given horseshoes when they were available. If a horse was killed in the line of duty, the government compensated the trooper for his loss. But if the horse was captured, disabled, or lost, the trooper was not paid anything. In either case, the cavalryman was required to replace the mount himself. This could be a difficult task, as by the end of 1863, horses in the South were selling for $2,000 to $3,000 each.18

While on furlough to find a horse, a trooper was considered to be on “horse detail.”19 Horseless soldiers were said to belong to Company Q, a nonexistent company composed “not only of good soldiers, but no-goods, malingerers, and inefficients as well.”20 Blackford wrote about a flaw of this arrangement: “We now felt the bad effects of our system of requiring the men to furnish their own horses. The most dashing trooper was the one whose horse was the most apt to be shot, and when this man was unable to remount himself, he had to go to the infantry service and was lost to the cavalry. Such a penalty for gallantry was terribly demoralizing.”21

When soldiers were riding Shanks’ Mare, it meant that they were on foot. This was the most common means of transportation used for getting home after the war. “You place your feet on the ground and move,” one Tennessean described. “Walk in the direction you are going. You are now riding Shanks’ Mare.”22

https://www.amazon.com/Horses-Gray-Famous-Confederate-Warhorses/dp/145562327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1524634560&sr=8-1&keywords=horses+in+gray

Happy Easter!

canstockphoto0947254_3

Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays, not only because I’m a Christian, but because, to me, it signifies that Spring is finally here. My old church used to obtain butterfly chrysalises for the Sunday school classes, and on Easter, they set all the new butterflies free. I loved the analogy between birth and rebirth, and how it signified the risen Christ. We have had our share of baby bunnies, baby chicks, chocolate eggs and Easter egg hunts, but to me, butterflies being set free is the most special memory.

Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, which describes how two young men who are new soldiers experience Easter Sunday, 1863. Enjoy, and have a happy Easter!

ABeckoningHellfire_MED

They listened to an owl hoot somewhere off in the distance. As moonbeams shone down on the two young soldiers, they fell asleep. Early the next morning, they woke up and sauntered over to the depot, which remained dark.

“Where is everybody?” Jake asked. Looking around, he scratched his head. No one was in sight.

“Let’s go over to the livery and find out,” David suggested. They walked a few blocks and entered the building.

Upon being asked, the stable owner laughed. “You boys don’t know what day this is?” They responded by shaking their heads. “It’s Easter! No trains are runnin’ today.” He looked at one, then the other. They looked at each other, and then back at him. “Do y’all have anywhere else to go?” The troopers shook their heads again. “Well, feel free to bed down in here if y’all want, but I reckon it’ll be a long day, since nothin’s open.” He quickly walked out of the barn toward a little house across the yard.

“I knew today was Easter. I jist forgot is all,” Jake said.

“Me, too,” David said. “I’m hungry.” He surprised himself with the comment, for he usually didn’t feel empty until midmorning.

Jake looked at him. “Well, there are some oats. That’s all we’re likely to find, since everything’s closed up.”

They sat on a bale of hay, pondering their situation, but came to no resolution, so they decided to take a walk around. It was a futile effort, however, because they only saw a few people on the street, who disappeared into doorways once they approached. With no other recourse, they decided to return to the livery.

Suddenly, David stopped. “I know!” he exclaimed.

Jake followed his gaze across the street to a small white chapel that stood like a beacon, its tall ivory steeple pointing up to the heavens.

“Let’s go inside,” he said, walking so quickly that Jake had to sprint to catch up.

They entered the little church. Some members of the congregation turned to see who the late arrivals were. Removing their hats, the boys slid into a back pew.

The pastor was telling the story of Jesus’ resurrection, the same story they all told on Easter, but this time it seemed more poignant. David equated it to the plight of the grand old Southland for which they were fighting, and for which his father gave his life. The Southerners had been persecuted and exiled, but now they would gain the freedom to rejoice in the reincarnation of their own country, even though some would die for the sins of others.

A pianist cued the congregation, so they stood to sing “Rock of Ages.” After the hymn ended, the pastor dismissed everyone with a “Happy Easter.” He walked from the pulpit to the front doors, and greeted each person as they exited. David and Jake waited, smiling politely while the older people, women, and children filed out, and then they took their turn greeting the pastor.

“What do we have here?” the Godly man asked. He wore a fine, graying beard and a long black robe. “I’m so glad y’all could come to our service. Happy Easter!”

“Happy Easter,” the boys responded.

“Sir, we’re only here for today,” said Jake. “Our train’s been delayed due to the holiday, and we were wonderin’…”

The pastor interrupted. “Are y’all in need of lodgin’?” he asked, his dark blue eyes filling with concern.

“No,” Jake said. “We were wonderin’ if you might know where we could gitsomethin’ to eat. We didn’t bring enough money, and we forgot about allowin’ ourselves an extra day’s worth of vittles.”

“Of course.” The pastor smiled. “Jist give me a minute.” He went to the back of the church, but soon reappeared, dressed in a dark suit. He closed the front door. “Come with me,” he said.

They followed him down the street to a little white house surrounded by a whitewashed picket fence, and went inside. The smell of baked ham encouraged them. They looked at each other and grinned.

“Wait here, boys,” the pastor said kindly.

He walked into another room. David and Jake could hear him talking to someone. Pots clanked and plates chinked. Moments later, the pastor emerged with two heaping plates of food.

“Come on in here,” he said.

The soldiers followed him to a small wooden table.

“We shall praise the Lord for this blessed day,” the holy man said happily. He set their plates on the table and delved into prayer.

David’s stomach growled, but he did his best to contain his hunger.

Finally, the pastor finished and told them to eat. “I don’t mean to be rude, but my wife and I won’t be jinin’ y’all. We’ve been invited to her cousin’s house, and we’re fixin’ to bring the food along with us,” he explained.

Gesturing for them to take a seat, he walked out of the room, leaving David and Jake alone to consume their dinner of ham, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, and okra. Once they finished, the kind pastor returned, giving them each some morsels to save for supper. They thanked him, bid him a happy Easter, and returned to the livery, where they promptly fell asleep. When they awoke, the barn was dark. Rain clattered down on the tin roof. Jake arose, went outside, and returned a few minutes later.

“I instructed the livery man to wake us at five-thirty,” he said, shaking moisture from his hat. He looked down at the grease-stained, brown paper-wrapped package the pastor had given him. “I’m savin’ mine for tomorrow.”

“Me, too,” said David. He rolled over and soon fell back to sleep.

The Slaves of General Forrest

Nathan-Bedford-Forrest-Troiani-print

There has been a lot of controversery surrounding General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Some say he started the Ku Klux Klan, which is untrue. In fact, General Forrest called for the KKK to disband after the group became too violent. Another false assumption is that he was a cruel slave owner. He was a product of his time, and although he owned slaves, he never abused them or split up families. In fact, his slaves adored him so much that they fought with him during the Civil War. They even stayed with him after the war and mourned his death. General Forrest strived to bring the races together after the war ended.

Here a few excerpts from my book, Horses in Gray, which describe how General Forrest treated his slaves.

Horses in Gray Cover

Chapter 4

The Thirty Horses of Forrest

 

Those hoof beats die not upon fame’s crimson sod,

But will ring through her song and her story;

He fought like a Titan and struck like a god,

And his dust is our ashes of glory.1

 

Nathan Bedford Forrest often stated that he was “a horse ahead”2 at the end, meaning that he had thirty horses shot out from under him and killed twenty-nine men during the course of the war. It is virtually impossible to trace all thirty horses, since at times Forrest appropriated a horse on the spot. On one occasion, he ordered a Union officer to dismount, got on the officer’s horse, and rode away.

On June 14, 1861, Forrest, who had remained silent on the issue of secession, walked into the headquarters of Capt. Josiah White’s Tennessee Mounted Rifles and enlisted as a private. His brother, Jeffrey, and son, Willie, enlisted with him. The Forrests were ordered to Camp Yellow Jacket, a training camp sixty-five miles north of Memphis. These troopers in training would become the famous Seventh Tennessee Cavalry, which fought until the end of the war under Forrest’s leadership.

John Milton Hubbard was a private in Hardeman’s Avengers, which would later be attached to the Seventh Tennessee Cavalry. He was stationed at Camp Yellow Jacket and remembered meeting Forrest: “Two cavalry companies from Memphis were in camp near us—Logwood’s and White’s. In riding near these one day, I met a soldier speeding a magnificent black horse along a country road as if for exercise and the pleasure of being astride of so fine an animal. On closer inspection, I saw it was Bedford Forrest, only a private like myself, whom I had known ten years before down in Mississippi. I had occasion afterward to see a good deal of him.”3

            In October, Forrest was given command of a regiment and named it Forrest’s Tennessee Cavalry Battalion. He posted advertisements in the Memphis Appeal, calling for “five hundred able-bodied men, mounted and equipped with such arms as they can procure (shotguns and pistols preferable), suitable to the service. Those who cannot entirely equip themselves will be furnished arms by the State.”4

In its editorial columns, the Memphis Appeal supported the notice: “To Arms! We invite attention to the call of Col. N.B. Forrest in today’s paper. There are still hundreds of young men in the country anxious to engage in the military service. Those whose fancy inclines them to the cavalry service will find no better opportunity to enlist under a bold, capable and efficient commander. Now is the time.”5

            Part of Forrest’s command included an escort company of between forty and ninety men, which Forrest referred to as his Special Forces. Among these troopers, who were the finest, most elite soldiers in his cavalry, were eight of Forrest’s slaves.

s-l640

And in another excerpt:

After the war, Forrest set up housekeeping with his wife, Mary Ann, near Memphis. In August 1866, Federal cavalrymen rode past Forrest’s house. King Philip, who was grazing in the front yard, saw the blue coats and instantly recognized them as the enemy. Watching the men dismount and start toward the house, King Philip charged at them with teeth bared, head and tail raised, and front feet flailing. He did not stop until he had chased every Federal soldier from the lot. One of the cavalrymen who had been injured by the horse declared that he would kill King Philip, but Jerry (Forrest’s previous body servant) rushed to the horse’s defense. “The Gin’ral,”58 as Jerry called him, emerged from the house, took control of King Philip, and had Jerry lead the spirited steed off to the stable.

“General,” the Federal captain in charge said, “now I can account for your success. Your Negroes fight for you, and your horses fight for you.”59 

Sadly, King Philip died of colic later that year.

Forrest passed away on October 29, 1877. He was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, but in 1904 his remains were interred in Memphis’s Forrest Park. All of the sidewalks in the park were named after officers who served under him—except for one, which was named for his war horse King Philip.

forrest

(The statue of General Forrest mounted on King Philip was illegally removed by the city of Memphis last month. Stay tuned for more details.)

https://www.amazon.com/Horses-Gray-Famous-Confederate-Warhorses/dp/145562327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515730595&sr=8-1&keywords=horses+in+gray

Post Navigation