Men of Honor

By Beth

Civil War AU (Seven)

Chapter 4

Ezra had resorted to leading the little gray mare. She’d carried him for sixteen hours straight, and was simply too tired to go on. Her head hung low and her ears lay flat. He knew he’d pushed her too hard, and it troubled him. He’d been raised better than that, having been taught to ride before he could walk…a horse was a partner, a companion that would never fail him.

And yet, he’d failed her.

When the flames of a campfire caught his vision, Ezra stopped, and gently patted the gray’s neck. With all the courage he could muster he headed toward the site, hoping that he could at least share the fire. The night winds blew gently, almost seductively across the rocky floor, taking with it dust and spring.

“Hello!” Ezra called out, hoping to get a response. “Might Ah share your fire?” he asked, standing back, unsure of what he’d find.

“You’re awelcome to,” came the strong Texas accent.

Ezra stepped forward, allowing his gray to eat and rest.

“Where’re ya aheaded?” the stranger asked, offering the boy some coffee.

“Home,” came the soft-spoken response.

“Where’s home?”

“Virginia,” Ezra responded proudly…unwilling to deny his fate. 

The man laughed and stuck out his hand. “Southern born an’ bred myself, son. Most folks call me Trip, on account that I tripped over my feet when I was a boy—big feet an’ all.” The man laughed and shook his head after he shook the boy’s hand.

“Ezra…my name’s Ezra.”

“Well, Ezra…yer aheadin’ to Richmond to enlist?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Ya mind if’n I ride along with ya…these ol’ bones o’ mine just ain’t as useful as they once was…figure if’n I have some company along the way to help me with my cookin’ an’ such?”

Ezra sighed as relief filled his being. The road to Virginia would be long and treacherous, and company would be a gift. “It would be a pleasure.”

“Good, an’ I athank ya for the invite.” Trip grinned and sipped on his coffee, noticing the boy was looking at the uneaten portion of the rabbit that still rested on the tin plate next to the fire.

“Help yerself…no point lettin’ it a’go to waste—if’n I’da known I was gonna have company I’da saved ya more.”

Ezra looked at him with suspicion, and then he looked at the meat. His stomach growled, and he tightened his arms around his belly, trying to hide the noise.

“I’s agonna toss it, if’n you don’t eat it.”

Ezra nodded and reached for the meat. It felt good to have something in his stomach, and he nodded his thanks to the man sitting across the fire from him.

*    *    *   

The fire seemed almost tantalizing as it danced and moved with the soft breeze. Chris watched the flames, thinking about his wife. It had been less than a day, and he was already missing her. He knew she’d be safe, and his friends would care for her. He looked up and met Buck’s eyes, seeing his determination.

And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet… For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows…” Josiah’s voice echoed softly over the camp. His words struck the hearts of those that cared to listen. “Mathew 24:6-8.”

“You findin’ your faith again, Josiah?” Buck asked softly.

“Never thought we’d be fightin’ our own kind,” Jacob interrupted, tossing a twig into the fire, watching as it burned. “Fightin’ our brothers.”

“We’re about to make history, brothers,” Josiah added, looking up into the dark night sky. “And that is somethin’ that takes time, blood…and sacrifice.”

“You willin’ to shoot your own brother?” Jacob asked, searching for any and all truths.

“We have to look at them as our enemy,” Steven said coldly. “Our priority is the Union.” He shrugged, leaning back against a log he’d claimed as his own. “This war won’t last long, and we’ll all be home with our families before you know it.” He smiled confidently. “Before my child is born.”

“When do you plan on startin’ your family, Chris?” Jacob asked, pulling his attention from the thoughts of his brother.

“Yeah,” Buck chuckled, “How long ‘fore we have some little Chrises runnin’ ‘round?”

“That…is none of your business.” Chris laughed, throwing a stick at his friend.

“I’m hoping for a boy,” Steven said, watching the flames and sparks fly.

Chris nodded, yes, he thought; a boy would be nice…a child would be a blessing.

“What about you, Nathan?” Buck asked, catching him off guard.

Nathan looked up with wide, unsure eyes. “I ain’t married,” he said, looking at the men.

“No…I mean, what’re you planin’ on after the war?”

“Don’t rightly know, not ‘til we know what’s goin’ to happen.”

We?” Jacob asked, only wanting to clear up his misunderstanding.

“Negroes.” Nathan looked at the ground, unsure of his place.

“I heard talk of folks wantin’ to free the slaves—mostly those ab…abo…” Jacob couldn’t quite remember the word.

“Abolitionists,” Steven supplied.

“Hell, don’t think many folks are gonna fight to free the slaves… Don’t know if I could kill my brother—or die, to set slaves free. Why should me or folks like me do what they should do in the first place?” Jacob spoke softly, honestly, if not naively.

Nathan listened, wanting so much to speak up…to say why many of the slaves in the South never fought against their master’s hand…or the government that put them there… He wanted so much to tell these men what it was like to live in fear, to live under the control of someone else, to rise with the sun and bed with the moon…to work until his knuckles bled and cracked.

But he couldn’t.

He couldn’t say anything…not until he knew his place…not until he stood for what he believed in on his own terms.

“War isn’t over slaves…it’s over the Union—keeping it together, making the South conform to what is best for all…not just what they want.” Steven responded.

“Get some rest,” Josiah said, leaning back onto his bedroll, “we’ll need it come mornin’.” He looked at Nathan, and saw the eyes of a man that had yet to be freed.

July 6th 1861

Washington D.C.


Chapter 5

Chris laughed as Buck finished telling his long, if not inaccurate tale, of discovering his first and only love. Josiah simply shook his head and Jacob watched as the other Union soldiers fell victim to Buck’s overactive imagination.

“You boys done musterin’ in?” an older gentlemen asked, making notes on his pad.

“Yes, Sir,” one of the young volunteers replied.

“Get your officers elected?” the man asked, making sure things were done in the right order and without fail.

“Waitin’ for the results now,” Buck replied with a grin. He watched as the older man turned and walked away, stopping at another group. 

“Who do you think’ll win?” Private Leroy ‘Cap’ Rynes said, before taking the last bite of his beans. His bright red hair poked out beneath his kepi, and freckles covered his nose and cheeks, making him look years younger than his true age of twenty.

“Hopefully Steven will,” Chris responded, squatting next to the fire. “Think he’d make a good 1st Lieutenant.” A smile came to his face. 

“Heard say that some of the nominees are headin’ home if’n they don’t win,” Cap replied, shaking his head. “Can’t see that, goin’ home just cuz ya lose.”

“Folks don’t like looking failure in the face, brothers,” Josiah replied softly, thinking about Nathan, hoping he survived.

“Hell, this war ain’t gonna last longer ‘an harvest season anyways,” Rusty Wagner commented, wiping his tin plate clean of any and all gravy that had been left from his beans. His mustache and beard was full of crumbs and gravy remnants, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“I should think not,” Jacob said with a smile, “Promised my folks I was comin’ home in time to help…an’ I fully intend to.” He smiled brightly, his eyes dancing with mischief and optimism.

“Hell, we only signed on for 90 days…even the President thinks it’s gonna be easy,” Cap replied.

Everyone looked up as another train went by. Hands appeared like magic between the narrow slots of the cattle cars. Men sitting around their campfires returned their welcome with whoops and hollers.

Buck shook his head, unwilling to ever be crammed into a train again for 3 full days, without enough room to sit. “Looks like they’re bringin’ ‘em in from everywhere,” he sighed, running a finger through his short brown hair.

“Farm boys mostly—an’ they need the money,” Rusty added, wiping his hands on his worn out trousers.

“What about you, Rusty—why’re you here?” Jacob asked, resting his elbows on his knees to listen.

Rusty shrugged, and ran a hand through his dirty blonde hair that hung past his shoulders. “Worked on the sea most’a my life…figured I’d pay my homeland somethin’ back…” he took a deep breath and looked around. He pointed toward the finely dressed individual with brown, almost black hair and smiled. “That’s Larry Thorman—professional gambler by trade.” He leaned further into the circle so he wouldn’t have to talk so loud. “Ya see, ol’ Larry made a bet with a bunch of ‘is gamblin’ buddies on whether or not the North would win the war…” he chuckled before continuing, “…damn fool, joined up on account of a bet. Most of his friends though signed up with the Confederates—damn shame too—they was all fun to watch… Still can’t figure why they’d fight for the South when a Southern town like Vicksburg near hung a hundred gamblers a while back.” He sat up and shook his head.

“Weren’t no hundred,” Cap disagreed, “was only ‘bout fifty or so—those townsfolk strung ‘em all up though…didn’t want no more gamblers around.”

“You’re all full of shit,” Jacob laughed, not believing a word of it.

“Damned if I’m lyin’,” Rusty replied. “It’s the truth…go ask ‘im.” He pointed to Larry, daring those around him to challenge his story.

“I will,” Chris said, getting to his feet and heading over.

Buck chuckled and shook his head: “Don’t ever challenge that man on anythin’—he took a pound of buckshot in the ass just for his girl—her daddy was so mad, he turned four shades of red before he finally grabbed his shotgun and fired.” He laughed, remembering the time. “Damn fool, an’ it were me that got stuck pullin’ all that lead out.”

Josiah laughed and shook his head. Just the idea was enough to pull the melancholy feeling he’d been embracing of late away.

Chris returned to his seat with a smile on his face. “Mr. Thorman can’t remember the exact amount of gamblers hung in Vicksburg, but he thinks it’s around 20 or so—ain’t no fifty or one hundred.”

“Sure as hell makes the story sound better,” Rusty complained.

“Still say he’s wrong,” Cap replied, “the gambler that done told me the story said he was there—”

“How could he ‘ave been?” Chris asked, shaking his head, “They were all hung.”

Buck snorted and laughed along with the others, seeing the confusion and disappointment cross Cap’s face. Buck shook his head and looked around, seeing men—boys, of all ages and cultures joining an army that would change their country. Tents appeared like magic over the flat lands and campfires burned, sending smoke upward toward the untarnished sky. He looked back at his friends, hoping to one day tell his stories to his family.

Richmond Virginia

July 29, 1861


Ezra smiled when he saw the city where he grew up come into view. Richmond was a grand place with elegant people, stylish homes, beautiful scenery, and an even more splendid atmosphere. His eyes glittered as it finally struck him how much he’d missed it. He didn’t understand why his mother would head West; leave this land for sagebrush and buffalo grass.

“Sure is purty, ain’t she?” Trip said softly, pulling on his mule’s reins. “Seen drawin’s of her when I’s a boy…but this…”

“Mah fathah grew up on a plantation just a day’s ride south of therah,” Ezra said softly, his mind filling with memories he’d long forgotten. “He and mah mothah were married at the church in the center of town…”

“You were there?” Trip asked, slightly confused.

Ezra rolled his eyes: “My fathah took me therah a few years after Ah was born.”

“What happened to ‘im?”

“Died,” came the short, harsh response. Ezra urged his mount forward; anticipating seeing his home again…being with people that weren’t all that different from himself…

*   *   *

Southern men had gathered around buildings and temporary shelters. Many enlisting, others having done so, stood talking, laughing, and joking. Horses were corralled in rope pens due to their abundance in numbers and tents were filled with officers discussing orders.

“You men herah to enlist?” an army officer asked, stepping out of his tent. His clothing was new, elegant and official.

Ezra pulled his mount to a stop and turned to look around him, only seeing Trip he returned his gaze to the officer.

“Yes, boy…Ah’m talkin’ to you.” He smiled and walked closer to the two riders. His youthful, clean-shaven face, and bright blue eyes made those around him calm.

“Yes, Sir…” Ezra replied, “…we’rah here to enlist.”

“Ah’m 2nd Lieutenant Albert Right,” he smiled and pointed to the far tent. “You’ll enlist therah…aftah you’ve given your oaths you’ll be instructed to make yourself known to your unit commandah.” He patted the little gray mare’s neck and motioned for them to continue on their way.

“How many oaths are we a’takin’?” Trip asked, more of himself than anyone around.

“Two,” Ezra replied, “one for state and one for country.”

Trip raised his eyebrows and nodded. “You sure know a lot fer a youngun’.”

Ezra turned and smiled tightly before stopping in front of the enlistment tent. He dismounted, feeling the rush of blood in his chest. His heart pounded and sprang to life, his pulse raced, and his breathing became quick and immeasurable.

“It’s easy, boy,” someone said, patting the front of his coat. “Just sign the papers, say your oaths, and collect your weapons.”

Ezra nodded, unsure if it really would be that easy. He watched as men walked past, looking respectful, splendid, and worthy of his admiration. Many wore new gray uniforms and others wore their homespun work clothes. The sounds of weapons being fired off in the distance filled the air; men practiced their marches, skill, and duty.

An older gentleman smiled and looked at the youngster. “You signing up?” he asked, sitting behind the small wooden table that was filled with ledgers. His northern accent didn’t go unnoticed.

Ezra nodded, unable to find his voice.

The man looked him over; as though he were sizing him up…making sure he was capable of using a weapon and riding a horse. “Can you fire a rifle?” he asked.

“Some,” came the soft response.

“Taught the boy myself?” Trip spoke up. “His aim’s slightly to the right…but he can hit whatever he’s shootin’ at—long as it’s bigger ‘an a rabbit.” He smiled and slapped Ezra on the shoulder.

The major smiled and nodded. “Then I won’t sign you up for the sharpshooter division… Can you ride?” his question was serious and strong…as though he’d already come to his decision.

“Yes, Sir,” Ezra replied.

“He’s a damn good horsemen,” Trip interrupted, “He even restitched the girth on his saddle when it done come loose.”

The major smiled and nodded. “Welcome to the Army of Northern Virginia.” He waited until the young boy signed the papers and the older man left his mark. He looked at Ezra. “You’re to report to Colonel James Stuart of the 1st Virginia Cavalry.”

Ezra took the papers and nodded. He waited until Trip got his orders and together they retrieved their mounts.

“Well, son,” Trip smiled, resting his arms on the pommel of his saddle, “it’s been good ridin’ with ya—seems ol’ Lightnin’ here ain’t gonna make a cavalry mount.” He grinned, patting his mule on his neck before mounting. “Ya take care of yerself.” He stuck his hand out and shook Ezra’s firmly, before kicking Lightning forward and toward his new unit.

Ezra took a deep breath, unable to speak for a moment. He mounted and looked at the papers the major had given him and found that Colonel Stuart was refurbishing his unit. He nudged his mount forward and passed those around him. There was an unbeatable force in the air, as though nothing could quench its thirst. Ezra nodded to himself, he’d made the right decision…he knew that now. With newfound confidence, he sat up straight and headed toward his unit…intending to help save the land he loved.

Washington D.C.

July 30th, 1861

Steven watched and learned as he was quickly directed how to take command of his company. Most of the men he ordered were friends or boys he’d grown up with, many having come from Meadowdale or towns just like it. They were all dressed in their new uniforms, all looking splendid on their mounts. Many of them tried to look the part of horsemen, but most had been raised on the back of a plow horse, bareback, with their legs over the shafts of the plow. Others, like Chris, knew how to ride a horse, but they didn’t know how to sit one…their shoulders slouched, hands resting on the pommels of their military saddles, and their feet sticking out towards the sky.

Buck snorted when he was once again corrected on his seat posture while seated in his saddle. He tried to act as though he knew what he was doing, but the heat and the wool of his uniform scratched incessantly at his skin. His horse, Nelly, stood patiently beneath him, unaware of the seriousness that hovered over the land.

“I ain’t haulin’ your ass off a battlefield when you can’t remember the hand signal or trumpet sound for a charge,” Chris snapped, pushing the bill of his kepi up.

“Hell, I’d rather be ridin’ fence along Bell’s property an’ listenin’ to ol’ Jonesy bitch about his big toe.” Buck grinned, and watched as Steven sent him a look of warning. “This ridin’ parade shit is gettin’ old.”

“Shut up, Buck,” Jacob snapped, trying to look like he knew what he was doing. Four weeks of training had led to more boredom than skill. His eye was still black and blue after the exercise of firing his weapon from the back of his horse…the same horse that had tossed his head and knocked him in the eye—he was lucky he didn’t break his nose.

Josiah shook his head, trying his best to look the part of a cavalryman. He didn’t have the posture many of the officers held, but he didn’t let it bother him. He’d do his best. He could shoot a rifle—not perfectly, but good enough to hit a target. He could ride a horse and not fall off—though he might not look good while doing it.

Steven took the papers from the young messenger and quickly sent him on the way. He looked up after reading the exciting, yet terrifying, news…they were going to fight. He cleared his throat and mounted his steed, gathering all the courage he had he ordered his men to attention.

“By orders of General Patterson…” he looked at the faces of his men, “…we will depart this premises before dawn tomorrow.” He heard a few cheers, but he chose to ignore them. “Write your families this night—we’re going to war.” He moved his mount forward. “You’re excused.”

Chris sighed and let his shoulders drop. He shook his head, watching as Buck pulled his feet out of the stirrups and stretched his legs while rolling his ankles in his boots.

“Man ain’t supposed to sit like that for long,” Wilmington complained, before slipping his feet back into the stirrups of his saddle. “It’s aimin’ to disrupt my manly posture.”

Jacob chuckled before turning his mount toward the corrals.

Josiah stretched his back and leaned forward, resting his arms on the pommel of his saddle. He missed the heavier Mexican saddle he’d used before, having worn it out after moving to Meadowdale. He sat up when Steven approached on horseback, his demeanor casual and friendly. Just because he was an officer now didn’t mean he’d changed toward his friends.

“Where are they sendin’ us?” Chris asked, looking toward his friend.

“Further into the Shenandoah Valley,” Steven replied, shaking his head while looking at Buck. “It’s a good thing I know you can ride, Private,” there was humor in his voice, “otherwise people might think you didn’t know much about horses.”

“Know enough to stay on, an’ enough to jump off.” Buck smiled, stretching his cheeks across his bright white teeth.

“That’s all you need to know,” Steven replied with a smile of his own. “I’m sending a letter to Mary tonight…” he looked at Chris, “…if you have a letter going out I’ll send it with mine.”

“I’d appreciate that,” Chris said, pulling on his horse’s reins when his mount took a step forward.

Steven pushed the tip of his hat up and looked around the camp, seeing his men prepare for the night, knowing they were going to do what they’d come here and trained for. Many were excited…others were scared. “I’ll lead you out in the morning,” Steven said, keeping his eyes on his men. He turned his mount without saying another word and headed toward the officers’ tent.

“Come on,” Buck said, motioning with his arm for the others to follow, “let’s go see if Jacob’s got any liquor left.”

August 13th 1861

Meadowdale, Arkansas

Chapter 6

The summer wind blew dust in circles around the fence lines and grass. Sarah finished pulling carrots from the garden, stuffing them in the mass of the apron she’d fitted as a bucket. She wiped her forehead with the back of her wrist and waved at Nettie, who’d welcomed her in after a small battle had destroyed much of her home. Nettie waved back before taking some water from the well into the house. Sarah stood up and placed her hand on her back and stretched, the roundness of her belly already complicating even her most simple movements.

She’d decided she wouldn’t write Chris of the child until it was born, boy or girl, perfect or imperfect, she didn’t want to worry him over the things he couldn’t control. She headed back toward the house, grasping the bottom of the apron in her left hand, the weight of the carrots tightening her grip in her right. She smiled when she saw Vin and John coming from the barn carrying two skinned and cleaned rabbits. The young boy had shot both of them, and his pride shone through. He rushed from John’s side and to the house to tell Nettie of his adventure.

John smiled and placed his hand on the small of Sarah’s back as she headed up the steps to the house. “You shouldn’t be movin’ anythin’ heavy,” he said softly, reaching for the door.

“Nonsense,” she reassured, “I’m able to work, John.”

Both turned suddenly when Orin Travis rode up from the east, his horse lathered and breathing hard. “It’s Mary,” he gasped, still astride his mount, “I’ve gone for Doctor Milner, but he’s away—won’t be back for a couple of days.”

“Mr. Wells,” Nettie said, ordering—without words, for her husband to hitch up the wagon. She let the screen door fall heavy onto the frame “How long has she been in labor?” she asked, untying the apron from Sarah’s belly and setting the carrots on a chair.

“Couple hours,” Orin replied, looking more worried than the day his own son had been born.

Nettie smiled and shook her head: “You’ve got plenty of time, Orin, just relax some. Mary’s a strong healthy young woman, don’t feel as though she’s brittle.”

“Her pain is bad, Nettie,” Orin pleaded.

“She’s givin’ birth,” she scolded, “this isn’t a party.” She turned and opened the screen door and called for Vin.

John came out of the barn with his horses hitched to the wagon. It moaned and creaked as the wheels bounced in and out of holes and over mounds of dirt. He watched as his wife and Sarah moved down off the steps and toward him, and he opened up the back of the wagon to help Sarah get seated. Vin soon joined her; disappointed in the fact that they hadn’t been able to eat his prized capture.

Nettie slipped up onto the driver’s seat of the wagon and waited for her husband to join her. The slap of reins on the rumps of the horses echoed briefly, and in a jarring motion the wagon lurched forward.

Nettie reached out and grasped her husband’s arm and smiled. He patted her hand in understanding and slapped the rumps of the horses again, moving a little faster. John shook his head as Orin sped by.

“Think he’ll learn, Mrs. Wells?” he asked with a knowing smile.

Nettie raised her eyebrows and grinned: “You never did.”

*   *   *

Mary screamed and sweat poured off her body as the magic of childbearing crashed upon her. “I can’t do this!” she cried out, bracing her feet on the posts of the bed.  She fell back when the contraction ended, and she tried desperately to catch her breath.

Evie sat beside her, wiping her brow. “I believe I’d said the same thing when Steven was born.” She looked up when Nettie entered the room, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows. “I’m so glad you came.”

Nettie smiled and moved to the right side of the bed while Sarah moved off to the left. Nettie moved her hand between Mary’s raised knees and rubbed her abdomen. She smiled and looked at the young woman. “I’m goin’ to check the position of the baby, Mary.” After she nodded in understanding, Nettie moved her hand downward and checked to make sure the child she was bearing wasn’t breech. She smiled and looked at the soon-to-be-mother. “He’s ready to come out,” she noted with excitement. Having helped with several births, two of her own, Nettie pulled Mary’s knees further apart just as another contraction hit.

Mary screamed out and propped herself up with her elbows.

Sarah bit her right thumbnail and watched.

“Evie,” Nettie said urgently, “Towels.”

Mrs. Travis jumped up and grabbed several of the soft items. “That child’s coming,” she said with a smile. She looked up again when Mary screamed out.

“Push, Mary!” Nettie ordered, smiling as the head of the child appeared like magic. Soon the neck, shoulders, and body followed.

“A boy,” Evie sighed, watching as Nettie made sure the boy was breathing before laying him across Mary’s chest.

Mary smiled, tears streaming down her cheeks, as she looked at her son…her husband’s child. She touched his wet slick head, crying when she realized what she’d done, what she and Steven had created. “He’s beautiful,” she gasped, as he opened his mouth and screamed out.

Nettie quickly cut the umbilical cord and placed the boy in his mother’s arms. She stood back and watched as mothering instincts took over defiant independence and Mary released her breast from beneath her blouse and slowly got her son to suckle her bosom. She smiled and looked up at Evie and Nettie, wanting only reassurances that she was doing it right.

Nettie smiled and quickly gathered the blood-soaked material and placed it in a bucket, wiping her hands and arms afterward. “We’ll get you cleaned, Mary, when you’ve finished.” She looked at the pair and a sudden emptiness filled her. “I’ll get this outside,” she said quickly, leaving the room.

*   *   *

Orin stood up after having consumed three glasses of bourbon. His face was flushed, and hints of red splotched his cheeks. His eyes spoke his worry for him.

Nettie smiled and nodded: “You have a grandson—they’re both fine.” She watched him collapse back into his seat and she looked to her husband who’d also partaken in the spirits. “Mr. Wells?”

“I’m sorry, my love,” he apologized without regret.

“I can see that…” she sighed, heading toward the door. “Where’s Vin?” she asked, looking around the room.

Orin, overly concerned with the events of late, didn’t answer the question. He just sighed, leaning back in his chair, filling his lungs with much-needed air.

John ran a hand over his face and shook his head. “He was here a moment ago.”

“Oh good heavens,” Nettie sighed, adjusting her grip on the bucket and she headed outside quickly. Night had fallen and the stars in the sky twinkled with spectacular delight. She looked up and sighed, praying her sons came home. How odd, she thought, the pain of war took lives, and the ecstasy of love bore them. She sat the bucket on a rock, washed her hands, and then placed her hands on her hips, wondering where young Tanner had run off.

Nettie listened to the night air as it moved over the land and through the trees. She smiled to herself when she heard a sniffle. Slowly she moved toward the porch of the home and peaked between the steps. “You all right?” she asked softly, meeting Vin’s eyes, faintly seeing him with the moon’s bright glow.

“Is she gonna be okay?” he asked quietly.

Nettie nodded: “Come here.”

Vin shook his head, comfortable where he was. “Is it Chris’ fault that Sarah’s that way too?”

She took a deep breath and bowed her head. It is time to have a talk, she thought to herself. “Come here, Vin.” She wouldn’t take no for an answer this time.

Slowly, the eleven-year-old slipped out of his spot beneath the porch. He wasn’t a fool of such things, and he’d seen horses and cattle bear their young without a second thought…but a woman? Mary had screamed out with such pain, Vin only saw the horrors of it, not the joys. Nettie took his hand and squeezed it gently. “It’s a part of life, Vin…an’ it ain’t nothin’ to be afraid of.”

Vin nodded, but looked hard at her. “I don’t want’a hurt anyone like that,” he whispered softly…naively.

Nettie chuckled softly, not wanting to cause him any confusion on the matter. “Come,” she said softly, pulling him up the steps and into the house.

*   *   *

Mary sat on the bed within fresh sheets and covered in blankets, her son lay sleeping in her arms. There was a glow about her face, the way she looked at the infant in her arms, the way she stroked his cheeks, and the way she smiled. She looked up and nodded toward Nettie as she entered the room, pulling a reluctant Vin behind her.

“Mr. Tanner is afraid of what was happenin’ in here,” Nettie said softly, motioning for him to move closer to the bed.

Mary reached out and gently grasped the young boy’s hand and pulled him closer to the bed. He looked in awe at the baby, and a smile appeared on his face.

“He’s so tiny,” Vin whispered, wanting to reach out and touch him, but afraid to.

“William Francis Travis,” Mary said, announcing the name of the child. “After his father and grandfather.”

Nettie stepped up behind Vin and ran her fingers through his hair. She leaned over and gently tucked the blankets around the child’s face and rubbed Mary’s shoulder. “He’s a handsome boy.”

Sarah sat next to her friend on the bed, anticipating the birth of her own child. She rubbed at her belly, knowing she’d have to wait three more months, but the excitement would remain with her until then. A child of her own, a child created by love.

Evie looked at her grandson and smiled, seeing so much of Steven in his young face. “He looks like his father did when he was born.” She seated herself on the bed and reached out and touched the child’s face. “He had a head full of hair and my was it curly.” She chuckled, wishing he were home…wishing he could hold his son. “It all fell out a couple weeks later and he was so bald, Orin had said he could have used his head as a mirror, but when it came back—it came back in full force.” Tears were in her eyes, but they never fell. “He’s a grand child, Mary.”

Mary nodded and smiled when tiny blue eyes looked up at her. She watched her son’s awkward movements and she wiped the spittle from his mouth. “I should pen a letter to Steven,” she said, looking up.

Nettie reached for the desk and pulled out what the new mother would need in order to write. She turned and watched as Evie graciously took the baby from Mary’s arms and held him close. “We should be goin’,” she said, handing the supplies to Mary. Nettie gently reached out and touched Sarah’s arm and motioned for her to get ready.

“Stay,” Evie said, looking up from the child in her arms. “We have plenty of space here and dinner will be ready shortly.”

Nettie shook her head: “We’ve got animals to feed.” She reached out and grasped Sarah’s hand with her right and placed her left on Vin’s shoulder. “I’ll come by in a couple of days and check on you.”

“Thank you, Nettie,” Mary said, looking up from her letter.

Nettie nodded and headed out of the room. “Mr. Wells…we should be goin’.”

September 23, 1861

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Chapter 7

The sounds of battle echoed through the air like an impending storm racing toward a field of ready-to-harvest wheat. The artillery units had done their job, and now it was the cavalry’s turn. Buck held the reins of his mount with trepidation and uncertainty. He’d been scared before, but this…this was different. He looked toward Chris and the others, all seeming confident and ready for war.

But he wasn’t.

He didn’t know if he’d ever be ready. This was his first battle. The first time in his life that he knew he could take a life.

What were the repercussions of that?

Whose father would he kill?

Whose son?

Whose husband?

Whose brother?

Before now, life had seemed so easy, so uncomplicated…so natural.

Buck heard the bugle call and every hair on his head seemed to stand up on end. His breath quickened, his heart raced, and sweat gathered on his body. His horse moved forward and together they rushed for the enemy’s lines.

The fog of war had clouded the area, but the smell would forever permeate the senses of every survivor. Union and Confederate soldiers lay fallen, wounded and grasping their injuries. Though not many, it was enough to send fear into the hearts of all.

The brush and terrain complicated the charge while bullets and cannons roared with activity. Buck fired his pistol, never stopping to reload—never realizing he needed to.

The fog was thick like honey, heavy like lead, and unforgiving to those who entered into it. Yankee blue turned pale, and forms were shadowed by smoke. Many were lost—more were just frightened.

*   *   *

When the retreat was ordered, it was Chris who reached out and grasped the reins of Buck’s horse and pulled him around, and together they rushed for the line of safety. Horses breathed hard, and adrenaline ran rapid through the troops. Several horses ran loose in the frenzy, their reins slapping their necks where white foamy sweat had gathered. Their eyes wept and nostrils flared as muscles quivered with nervousness.

“You hurt?” Chris asked, looking toward his best friend—his longest friend. When Buck didn’t answer, Chris slipped from his mount and rushed for the horse. Buck’s mount shied away as Chris quickly approached. He reached up and grasped the back of Buck’s uniform and pulled him from his horse. “Buck!” he yelled, trying to get his attention.

Ashen faced, and starry eyed, Buck looked at his friend. With his gun still in his hand, his finger still tight around the trigger, Chris reached out and pulled the weapon from his grasp.

“You hurt?” Chris asked, unsure of what was happening.

Slowly, Buck nodded, but his chin quivered and tears fell from his eyes. “What are we doin’?” he asked softly, not bothering to hide his pain. “What are we doin’ here… They’re just like us, Chris…” he pleaded.

He’d seen the faces of the men he was supposed to kill.

Faces that looked just like his.

Chris looked hard at his friend, seeing his pain, and loss of innocence. He reached out and pulled him into a hug.

Buck freely wept, tightening his fingers around the jacket of Chris’ uniform.

Josiah stepped up, his face smudged with dirt and sweat. “He’s not the only one,” he said softly, stopping to look around at the boys who were facing the trials of their lives. Some cried, others threw up, some stared blankly at the road ahead.

Buck pulled back and shamefully wiped his eyes as Steven rode up, his mount covered in sweat and breathing hard.

“Everyone all right?” he asked, pulling on the reins. When his men nodded he continued, “Mount up and get ready to ride…we’re heading east.” The order billowed like smoke from a chimney, and just as quickly Steven left.

Buck stood up and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his jacket and quickly headed for his horse. “I’m fine, Chris,” came his quick response.

“You sure?”

Buck nodded and moved forward to grab his horse’s reins. “Let’s just go.” He mounted his horse and nudged the animal forward, unaware of his destination.

Unaware of his life.

*   *   *

The night fires burned at the temporary camp. Horses ate peacefully while hobbled with rope and stakes. Small two-man tents now rested in a unified order along the grounds, and men sat before fires, watching the wood burn while listening to the faint echoes of music.

Steven approached the fire and cleared his throat to capture his men’s attention. Nobody stood up to salute him, not out of disrespect, but rather out of years of friendship. He took a seat beside Josiah on a log and pulled a note from the breast of his jacket. “I received four letters from Mary today…and three from my mother and father.”

Chris smiled and cleared his throat. “Sarah sends her regards.” He patted his jacket pocket, the place where his letter was stored.

“How come we ain’t gettin’ all our mail?” Jacob asked, wishing he’d received word from his family.

“The Confederates are commandeering Union mail at the boarders, and it takes a while for carriers to find us—with the mail they do manage to get through.”

“What’s happenin’ back home?” Buck asked, needing a change of subject.

Steven opened a letter from his mother and quickly started reading, “Dearest Steven, I pray the warm weather finds you in good heath. Your father has headed west for a trial in Julip, he’s defending a young man accused of theft…your father…I knew he wouldn’t be happy without the law in his life. I hope he returns home soon. I fear war has uprooted violence in our most uncomplicated of towns, and Orin should remain unfairly busy with his newest duties. Remember Daisy, of course, how could you forget. She went missing from the stable the morning you rode away. Ezra too, is gone. Your father, as well as myself, believe he’s gone home…perhaps to enlist. Watch for him, and send him home should you find him. He’s much too young to see the horrors of war…war that you’ve already seen. Mary is looking more lovely with each passing day, and she speaks valiantly of you. Perhaps it is much too soon to receive a letter, but if not, Steven, write one. I fear Mary will lose herself without a word from you. If you see Chris, tell him Sarah is doing well, and she misses him greatly. Please send Jacob, Josiah, Buck, and Nathan my love. I look forward to your quick return. Truly yours, Mother.”

Buck wiped his eyes, missing home, missing the family and friends he’d left behind. He looked up and noticed Jacob’s tears as well…no one had gone untouched.

“You think Ezra joined up with the Confederacy?” Buck asked, marking the ground with a stick.

“He told me once that his father was buried on his grandparent’s plantation in Virginia,” Chris said, thinking how young so many of them were. “Can’t see him joinin’ the Union army—he would have come with us.”

“I’d protect my home as well,” Josiah spoke softly, thinking of Ezra’s age—twelve…so young—so old.

“What’d Mary say?” Jacob asked, needing news from home…any kind of news.

Steven shook his head: “Figure I should read those first.”

“What about Sarah?”

Chris shrugged and pulled out the letter. He’d memorized it word for word, but looking at it, watching the script that his wife’s fingers had taken while penning it made him feel closer to home. “July 3rd,” he started, “My love…” he ignored the chuckles from around him and continued, “I have received a few of your letters, others, I am sure have been unable to arrive due to the war. I do not mind. I find my solitude in the few that I have, and the ones still penned to me. It is late now, and the crickets are letting me know of the late hour. I find my mind awakes at night and I think of you.” Chris blushed, wishing he hadn’t read that part. “Nettie and John stopped by today and offered me a place to stay at their farm. I may go. Young Vin is such a treasure and my need for company continues to thrive. Your mare, Dot, gave birth three days ago to a beautiful bay colt. He has a star on his forehead and legs as long as his mothers. He’ll make you a proud steed. Vin has named him Chance, and I found it appropriate. The horses are growing impatient in the long six weeks that you’ve been gone. I do not blame them. Union soldiers came by, wanting to purchase a few of the better stock. I told them no, that they were my husband’s horses. They accepted my reason and left. Tell Buck that Jonesy has been coming down to train a few of the young ones…tell him, Jonesy’s toe is still sore.” Chris heard those around him chuckle while he read the rest of his letter in private.

“What else did she say?”

“That is none of your business,” Chris responded tightly. He wanted to be home.

“I wrote my ma a couple of times, but I ain’t heard from her yet,” Jacob said, staring into the fire.

“Be patient,” Josiah said softly, “it’s hard to say how many letters we’ll never receive.”

Steven pulled out his letters and quietly started reading to himself by the light of the fire. The others continued to speak of the past the future and the present.

“Got this feelin’…” Jacob sighed, watching the blue hues that quickly turned the logs black, “…that the war ain’t goin’ to end real soon.” He looked at his friends around him, wishing they would say he was wrong, wishing he were.

Chris sighed, thinking of Sarah. Thinking of the way she smelled after her bath…the way she moved while working in her garden, the way she smiled… He held the letter in his hands, wishing he were home. Everything she did was perfect…even her imperfections. The way she would snort when she started to laugh really hard, or the way she’d kick a bucket when she got mad at the milk cow, Tess. Chris chuckled to himself, remembering when Sarah had tossed out her stew after spilling the salt. Her face had turned red in anger and her lips pressed flat against her teeth. She’d spent most of the night banging on the pot with her wooden spoon.

“I have a son…” Steven whispered, “I have a son,” he said again, trying to comprehend what he was reading.

Everyone stopped and waited for his next words.

Steven looked up and smiled. Tears watered his eyes. He looked again at the letter. “William Francis Travis was born on the evening of August 13th 1861.” His chest tightened, while his heart swelled. He had a son.He’s a big boy with bright curly brown hair, that is sure to fall out like yours did as Mother has informed me. He’s beautiful, and has your eyes.” He wiped the tears from his cheeks as he continued to read. Wishing he were home, wishing he could embrace his wife, wishing he could hold his son.

“Congratulations, Steven,” Chris said happily.

Buck stood up and cleared his throat: “How about we celebrate this glorious occasion an’ have a toast.” He pulled his canteen from his knapsack and shoved it forward.

The others joined him, wishing it were more than water they were toasting.

“To Steven and Mary,” Buck said heartedly.

“And may they have many more where William Francis came from,” Chris added.

Oct 9th 1861

Millian House, Eastern front lines of Fairfax, Virginia


Chapter 8

Camp Cui Vive, French for ‘Who goes there?’ had been established as JEB Stuart’s headquarters. His men continued to patrol the eastern front lines of Fairfax, only a few short miles from Manassas and Ox Hill. Ezra could hear the clamor of soldiers’ activities. The sounds of singing, yelling, the ringing of spurs and slicing of swords through air filled the area with an awesome power. His gray mare that he’d affectionately called Mattie walked beside him, her head level with his right shoulder.

His patrol had gone well, and nothing was found to cause unease in his mind. He looked up toward the big house and smiled when he heard the familiar echo of Colonel Stuart’s singing voice. The colonel stepped out of the house, still singing, and slapped the front of his coat. His uniform splendid, his boots polished, and his hat set firmly atop his head.

Ezra was young, but he knew greatness when he saw it. He paused in his walk and watched as the colonel stepped toward his mount.

“You therah,” came the powerful voice. His singing had stopped.

Ezra stared startled and pointed a finger to his chest. “Me, sir?”

Stuart laughed, his cheeks spreading across his face like the expansion of rubber.

Ezra smiled, remembering Buck and many of his antics.

“Yes, Private, you.” JEB Stuart stepped forward, and ran his hand along the rump on the gray mare. “Splendid steed you have herah.” He took a step back and admired Mattie’s conformation. “Arabian?” he asked with a smile.

Ezra shrugged, trying not to act the fool.

“No mattah,” Stuart replied, walking slowly around the mare. “Would you sell her?” His eyes gleamed, like a boy starving for a cookie.

“Sorry, sir, she’s not for sale.” Ezra rubbed Mattie’s face and she relished his comfort.

“Pity,” the colonel replied, taking his hand and rubbing the length of the mare’s neck. He turned suddenly and motioned for his lieutenant to bring him his own steed. “What is your name, son?”

“Private Standish, sir,” Ezra replied proudly.

“Have you been in my company long?”

“Mattah of two months, sir,” Ezra answered, holding his reins in his hands.

“Virginian?” Stuart asked.

Ezra nodded, a smile appearing on his youthful face.

The colonel smiled and nodded, and then took the reins of his own mount. A large chestnut gelding with a narrow blaze down his face, he stood tall at sixteen hands, with large dark eyes. “This is Pitch, out of the Thoroughbred mare, Pictorial Dream.” He smiled, stepping back from the horse. “He won his first race and was soon retried after a bout of colic…I won him in a poker game a year ago.”

Ezra smiled.

“Might Ah, inquire of a bargain?” he asked.


“A trade of sorts…” he looked suddenly to his right and burst into laughter when four young privates tried to get close to the old Blakely cannon. “Beware boys,” he yelled, “That is the pearl of sentinels, the paragon of ‘coons!” He slapped his leg in joyous laughter when the raccoon that guarded the cannon had charged the men. He snarled and snapped at their toying hands.

Ezra couldn’t help himself, he laughed as well.

Stuart shook his head and returned his attention to Ezra and his mare. “I speak of a trade, your little mare for my gelding?” When he noticed Ezra start to shake his head he quickly noted another condition, “At least for a decent ride.”

Reluctantly, Ezra nodded and he handed over his reins. The colonel smiled and slapped him on the shoulder and quickly adjusted the stirrups to the saddle. Ezra did the same and mounted up on the horse that allowed him a higher view of the land around him. He hardly had time to gather his reins when the colonel had urged Mattie forward at a fast gallop. He whooped as he sped by his men, and they urged him on. Ezra quickly followed, feeling the strength and speed the mount he rode was bred for.

He was hooked.

They raced through the eastern most trails, dodging trees and jumping over fallen logs. The colonel seemed to thoroughly enjoy Mattie’s slower speed, but it was her heart that captured his desire. She seemed to know more about him that he did her, and without asking she did as she was asked. Her smaller stature of fifteen hands didn’t sway his challenges for her.

Without warning he pulled back and Mattie planted her hind legs, causing dirt to fly and ride up her back cannon bones. She jumped forward, wanting to continue, but she held her position. Her neck arched, her nostrils flared, and her eyes shown white as she waited for her next cue.

Ezra stopped as well, unsure of what was happening.

Stuart pointed into the distance and smiled while looking at the young face. “Union troops,” he said softly. “Nothin’ like catchin’ the enemy with their pants down.” He seemed almost ecstatic as he looked around, his adrenaline running high.

“Shouldn’t we turn back, sir?” Ezra asked, his heart thumping in his chest, threatening to run away without him.

Stuart laughed and shook his head: “By the time they realize what’s happened—we’ll be long away.” He urged Mattie forward and she pounded the ground with her tiny hooves.

Ezra followed, knowing he’d better. He saw the Union wagon that had gotten stuck in the slick Southern mud. Six men tried desperately to dig it out, while others looked on. Ezra watched in awe as Colonel Stuart urged Mattie forward and in a graceful movement she charged the wagon and jumped it. Ezra followed, his body molding to the shape of Pitch’s neck, his fingers entwined with the dark mane with his heels set deep, he moved forward as Pitch jumped the wagon with ease.

JEB Stuart pulled Mattie to a stop and spun her around; he waved to the Union soldiers before turning and speeding toward his camp. He yelled for his men to get on guard, and they followed his orders without fail.

Ezra pulled Pitch to a stop and dismounted before the animal could come to a complete halt.

“That was splendid!” the colonel yelled, gently stroking Mattie’s neck. “I must have this mare…” he looked at his private, “…at least for the duration of the war.” A smile crept on his face.

“For the duration of the war…sir?”

“I promise to wrap a red bow around her neck and deliver her back to you in perfect condition.” He was like a boy at Christmas with a shiny red train.

“And me, sir?”

“You’ll ride Pitch of course…on the condition I may reacquire him upon the return of Mattie.” He gently stroked the mare’s face.

Slowly, Ezra nodded. Pitch was a grand animal with a heart of gold…but Mattie… Mattie was a link to his past…

A past he should leave behind…

Ezra stuck his hand out and shook the colonel’s. “Deal.”

Stuart violently shook the private’s hand, causing his shoulder to vibrate. Quickly, the colonel reached back and pulled Ezra’s saddle from Mattie’s back and replaced it with his own. “If you have any trouble with Pitch…” he sighed, mounting the gray’s back, “…you come see me directly.” He quickly turned and headed for his command…leaving the young soldier with a new mount.  


  Ezra quickly saddled Pitch and mounted, before heading to rejoin with his brigade. He couldn’t help but smile, thinking of the colonel’s antics. He was bold, well dressed, well spoken, demanding, spontaneous, and utterly unpredictable. Ezra looked up and watched as the men quickly readied themselves for the upcoming events.

To Be Continued in Brave Words, Braver Deeds

Please let me know what you thought!!!


Notes: The last bit about JEB Stuart is a true story—believe it or not, and he was an absolute nut!!