Double-Edged Sword: A Novel of Reconstruction

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One bullet can make a man a hero … or a casualty.
First 10 Pages

Illis Victoriam

Non Immortatitatem Fata Negaverunt

Fates Which Refused Them Victory

Did Not Deny Them Immortality

“The government of the United States has in north Alabama any and all rights which they choose

to enforce in war, to take their lives, their houses, their lands, their everything, because they

cannot deny that war exists there, and war is simply power unrestrained by constitution or

compact. If they want eternal warfare, well and good. We will accept the issue and dispossess

them and put our friends in possession. To those who submit to the rightful law and authority all

gentleness and forbearance, but to the petulant and persistent secessionists, why, death is mercy

and the quicker he or she is disposed of the better. Satan and the rebellious saint of heaven were

allowed a continuance of existence in hell merely to swell their just punishment. To such as

would rebel against a Government so mild and just as ours was in peace, a punishment equal

would not be unjustified …”

- General William T. Sherman (1865)

Chapter One

The constant ric-atata, ric-atata of the wheels rolling against the rails lulled him. Sweat beaded

on his forehead, and he found it difficult to breathe in the warm, humid, almost unbearable air.

The soft whispering breeze of his wife’s handheld fan gently whispered against his cheek, and

his mind eased. Voices seeped into his conscience, growing louder as they neared him.

“Over here!” a man yelled. “Bring that torch!”

A flame came into view. It quickly exploded into a fury of fire against the night sky.

What appeared to be phantoms floated around burning buildings. The confusion escalated. Trees

began to spark, glowing behind a dark swinging object hanging from one of the branches. A

child frantically cried. Muffled banging noises, as if guns were being shot, could be heard in the

distance. Someone ran out of the burning house. It was a woman. She screamed and kept on

screaming; her screams grew louder and more blood-curdling.

David’s heart leaped. He gasped as he jolted awake. Looking around, he remembered he

was riding in a passenger car. The woman’s screams turned into the locomotive’s whistle, and

the pistol shots became the train’s churning wheels.

“We’re in Richmond,” Anna said to him.

He looked over at her, stunned at first.

“Are you all right?”

He drew a sigh of relief. “Yeah.” He smiled, forcing himself to disregard the frightful

nightmare. “I’m fine.”

She smiled back at him, his new bride, the love of his life. Why she remained beside him

on his journey home amazed him.

“Did we cross the river I told you about? The one they named after you?”

Anna chuckled. “You mean the North Anna? Not that I’m aware of, but I have to admit, I

dosed off myself.” She paused, contemplating. “I think the first thing we should do is to go find

the man we met in York who said he’d sell us a horse and carriage.”

The train heaved and screeched to a stop. Passengers flowed out of the car onto the

platform. David stood and held his hand out to her. She picked up the basket her aunt had given

them before their trip, took his hand, and followed him outside.

“He’s two cars down,” he said, and led her through the throng.

Steam from the locomotive hissed out around their feet, rolling down the platform. The

train’s bell clanked rhythmically. A paunchy man with a stovepipe hat emerged from a passenger


“There he is! Mr. Tarver!” He let go of her hand and hurried ahead while Anna struggled

to keep up. “Mr. Tarver!” David approached the man and extended his hand. “I’m the feller who

spoke with you back in York.” The man glared at him, so he continued, “About buyin’ a horse

and carriage?”

The man’s blank expression turned to one of recognition. “Oh, yes! Mr. Summers, is it?”

“Yessir.” He turned to Anna. “And this here’s my wife.”

“Mrs. Summers, pleased to make your acquaintance.” Mr. Tarver tipped his hat.

Anna softly giggled. “The feeling’s mutual,” she said, returning the greeting.

“I have a driver waiting,” the man said. “Why don’t we walk over to my barouche and

discuss the particulars.”

“I need to fetch Renegade first,” David explained. “I’ll be right back!” He threw a glance

at Anna before trotting off down the length of the resting train.

“We so appreciate your doing this for us, kind sir,” she said with a smile. “We’re newly

married, and in need of transportation.” She knew her glowing porcelain skin, and her aqua eyes

sparkling from under her bonnet, caught him off guard for a moment.

“Why, I’m more than happy to assist, my dear,” he stammered as he removed his hat.

Steam from the locomotive made the stifling August heat all the more noticeable.

Anna looked down the length of the train to see her husband approaching. He was leading

a saddled piebald chestnut horse with a flaxen mane and tail and white patches on his underbelly:

the magnificent little stallion she’d come to love. David grinned as he neared.

“That’s a fine-looking animal,” Mr. Tarver commented.

“Thank you, sir,” he responded.

The man started for the parked coaches nearby, and the young couple followed. “Here we

are,” he said as he arrived at his barouche. “Now then, what was the price I quoted you?”

“One hundred dollars,” David replied.

Mr. Tarver nodded. “Yes, well, I’m afraid the purchasing price has changed.”

“What do you mean?” asked Anna.

“It means, my dear, that we are in the South now, and I must accept any opportunity as it


David glanced at his wife. “How much?” he growled.

Anna could see his anger rising. His hazel eyes were darkening to umber, and his jaw


“Five hundred,” Mr. Tarver’s replied.

“What!” David exploded. “Are you out of your cotton pickin’ mind?”

Mr. Tarver laughed. His driver, a teenage boy, turned to sneer.

“We made a bargain!” David continued. “We shook on it!”

“Times are hard, Mr. Summers,” the paunchy man explained.

David took a step toward him, but Anna blocked his path.

“Darling,” she cooed, “why don’t you go check on our trunk.”

“I ain’t leavin’ you here with this … this thief!” He glared at the man.

“Please darling.”

The insistent tone of her voice was a warning. He realized he should cool down, so he

stomped off.

“Now, Mr. Tarver,” she said as she turned to face him. “Surely you’re a man of reason.

Can’t we come to some kind of an agreement?”

Mr. Tarver snorted. “What do you have in mind, my dear?”

Anna glanced at the driver, then leaned in and whispered into the older man’s ear. She

stepped back. “And since both you and I are from Pennsylvania, I thought perhaps you might


“Well, I would certainly like to,” he replied.

She could see he needed further persuasion. The thought had occurred to her on the train

that this might happen, so she had mentally prepared herself. She retrieved a small purple velvet

pouch from her reticule. “One hundred dollars … and this.” She dropped it into his outstretched


He pried the pouch open and lifted out a pendant. Nodding as he beheld the sapphire, he

said, “All right, Mrs. Summers, we have an agreement.” He placed the necklace back inside,

pulled the drawstring closed, and stuffed the pouch into his vest pocket. “Follow me.”

Anna glanced up at the young driver, who raised a curious eyebrow at her as she walked

away. They came to a baggage car where David was waiting.

“Your wife has persuaded me to honor our agreement,” Mr. Tarver said.

He waved a finger through the air, motioning for the newlyweds to follow. David glared

at Anna questioningly, but she only responded with a smile, and so he resigned to tagging along

behind. They walked down the length of the train to a boxcar. The doors were opened. The

strong, rancid smell of manure escaped the warm car and permeated the air. Anna began to gag.

Quickly, she pulled a handkerchief from her purse and covered her nose. A ramp was placed in

the boxcar’s opening. Several black men emerged, each one leading an equine. David saw that

some of the animals had been painted to disguise their age.

“Here is a good sturdy beast,” Mr. Tarver said, taking the halter of a dark chestnut mule.

“And it’s all you can afford.”

“A mule? It was my understandin’ that we agreed on a workhorse,” David protested.

“This little jennie is only four, and will give you plenty of years of devoted labor.”

David scoffed. He looked the mule over. “Recently shod?” he asked.

“Just last week,” the man replied.

“I don’t know … she looks older than four …”

“Thank you, Mr. Tarver,” Anna interjected. “She’ll do just fine. Now about a carriage?”

“Ah, yes.” He made his way past a few more cars to where men were unloading various

vehicles and lining them alongside the road. Mr. Tarver walked up to a buckboard wagon. “You

will be very comfortable in this, and it’s …”

“All we can afford,” David finished for him. He removed his slouch hat and ran his hand

through his dark brown collar-length hair in an effort to contain his composure.

“I’ll even throw in the hitch and harness.” Mr. Tarver grinned, exposing yellow tobacco-

stained teeth.

“We’re very grateful, sir,” Anna said, taking her husband’s arm.

David scowled. This wasn’t at all what he had imagined. He had envisioned driving up to

his family’s farmstead in a bright, shiny carriage with his lovely new wife seated beside him. But

it wasn’t meant to be, and he knew he was better off to bite his tongue than to argue. Mr. Tarver

obviously had the upper hand, and could back out if provoked. David also knew that, because the

South was in disarray, his chances of finding anything cheaper were slim at best.

“Are you staying here in Richmond?” Mr. Tarver inquired.

David grunted. “No, sir. We’re on our way to Alabama.”

“Oh,” said Mr. Tarver with a nod. “Then you’ll be wanting to catch the train south to

Petersburg, and it departs in two hours.” He turned and pointed down the thoroughfare. “You’ll

have time to find yourselves something to eat, if you so desire. I’ll have someone assist you with

your bags.” He motioned to one of the hands, who hitched the mule to the wagon and led it to the

row of baggage cars. David found the trunk containing their personal effects waiting on the

platform, so he pointed it out to the rail hand, who heaved it into the back of the wagon before

walking off.

“That will be one hundred dollars,” Mr. Tarver said.

David took out the greenback Anna’s uncle had given him upon their departure and

handed it to him.

Mr. Tarver withdrew a piece of paper from his vest. “And here, sir, is your bill of sale.

Pleasure doing business with you.” He smiled and turned to leave, but then remembered. “Go

west a mile or two until you see the town. Can’t miss it. Then be back here to catch the

Petersburg train. Oh, and congratulations, you two!” He strolled to his waiting barouche, and

climbed in with considerable effort. His driver tapped the reins before driving off.

“Why did he say that?” David asked aloud.

He sighed, wondering how a Yankee would know his way around Richmond so well,

while he unburdened Renegade and threw the saddle into the wagon. After tying his horse to the

back of the vehicle, he helped Anna climb in, stepped up, and sat beside her. He swatted the reins

against the jennie’s back, who turned her long head to get a good look at him.

“Damned mule!” he exclaimed, exasperated with his situation.

“Here, let me try.” Anna took the reins from him. “Come on girl!” she coaxed, gently

slapping the leather straps against the animal’s withers.

The mule twitched her long ears and started forward. Anna handed the reins back to her

frowning husband.

“All it takes is a little patience,” she said with a smile.

They drove down the street in the direction indicated. David noticed all the Yankee

uniforms about and gingerly pulled out his pistol, being careful not to draw the soldiers’


“I’ll take it,” Anna said quietly. She set the handgun down in her lap, retrieved her

handkerchief, tore it into long strips, and tied the weapon to her thigh before concealing it under

her brown skirt.

The town was nearly deserted, vaguely resembling the bustling city that David and his

best friend, Jake, had ridden through on their way to join J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry. Although it had

been only two years since then, it seemed like a lifetime ago. The Southerners were

impoverished now; it was evident by their shabby clothing and frayed hats. Although the hazy

midday sun cast long shadows, there seemed to be a foreboding, dark shroud hanging over the

city, and it wasn’t long before David saw why. As they traveled along the riverfront, bombed out

buildings rose up to meet them like ghostly skeletons, the remains of what was once the

Confederacy’s great capital. The Stars and Stripes waved atop flagpoles, only four months ago

replacing the grand Stainless Banner, a flagrant reminder of the recent victory won. Union

soldiers paroled the streets.

“Dear God,” David half whispered as he took in the horrendous sight. “What have they


Southern women dressed in mourning black drifted like ashes.

“Lost souls for a lost cause,” he muttered out loud to himself.

The women glanced up at the passing couple. David saw the empty expressions in their

eyes, the plangent consumption of total loss. His heart grew heavier with each passing block. The

South, he now realized, was left to cope with Sherman’s destruction, Grant’s devastation, and the

Union’s occupation.

Shelled out buildings lay in ruin, their open doorways and windows gaping to expose

piles of rubble inside. They rose up like enormous jagged shards, splintered and broken.

Chimneys within the buildings stood erect, which looked to David like long bony fingers

extending up to the firmament. A few freed men stood idly on the street corners.

“It looks as though they’re lost as well,” Anna remarked.

David nodded. His imagination took over as he absorbed the sight. He visualized what it

must have been like only a few months ago, when Sherman’s army invaded and seized the city.

The poor people of Richmond, he thought to himself. All he could do was slowly shake his head

in disgust and despair.

As Mr. Tarver had directed, the city appeared, but nothing seemed to be open. David was

more than eager to leave the destroyed city, so they returned to the depot, but no train was

waiting for them. He parked the wagon, went inside, and learned the train would be arriving

within the hour, so he and Anna decided to sit down and finish what little food remained in their

basket while they killed time.

A Union officer with a neatly trimmed beard approached them. “You planning on

boarding the train?” he asked.

“Yessir,” responded David as he stood. He already knew he didn’t like the direction this

conversation was going.

“No civilians allowed to board,” the sergeant said. He turned and spit a long spray of

tobacco juice, which made Anna wince with repulsion. “The trains are being used for military

personnel only.”

David glanced at his wife, who stood and said, “Sir, we would greatly appreciate it if you

could make an allowance on our behalf.”

The sergeant chuckled. “Now, missus, if I made an acceptation for you, I’d have to do it

for everyone else who wants to ride the rails back home to Dixie.” The tone in his voice changed

to sarcasm. He glared at David, who returned the expression.

“Honey, would you excuse us for a moment?” She smiled at her husband.

The shocked look on his face nearly made her falter, but she steadied herself. He

sauntered across the room and stood with his arms folded.

“Sir,” Anna said, trying to bat her eyelashes, but not so much as to make it comical. “I’m

in a predicament, and I desperately need your help. You see, I’m from Pennsylvania, and I …”

She glanced over at David, who stood scowling across the room.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I can’t allow it,” the sergeant said.

Anna spoke to him in a hushed voice. Suddenly, the sergeant looked over at David and


“All right, young lady, I’ll see what I can do.”

He walked out of the depot, and David returned to his bride.

A few minutes later, the sergeant reappeared, announcing that he was going to allow

them to board after all. “And congratulations to the two of you,” he said before walking off.

“What’s goin’ on?” David asked, confused by the sergeant’s change in demeanor.

Anna merely smiled at him, just as the train arrived. He loaded their belongings into box

and baggage cars after producing proof of his purchases and his discharge papers from prison.

The iron horse pulled away and chugged across a bridge spanning the James River. As it

picked up speed, David glanced back at old Richmond, or what was left of it. The brick burned-

out vestiges of the structures stood along the riverbanks like crippled, withered soldiers, and

wound around a curve until they were obscured from sight. The locomotive whistled and

chugged south toward Petersburg. Debris along the tracks abandoned by both armies was still

evident, and as they approached Petersburg, trenches and fortifications became visible, remnants

left over from a nearly year-long siege.

He stared out the window, unable to speak. It was all too terrible for him, how Dixie had

been taken. Anna sensed his sorrow and took hold of his hand, but he couldn’t look at her. It was

all he could do to contain his emotions, to keep from getting choked up, and so he continued to

stare out in disbelief as the train rolled past the ruins. He noticed a small sign that said “Crater”

with an arrow pointing off to the east. Was it an indication that tourists and souvenir hunters

were already descending on the relics? The thought made David uneasy. He hoped the same

thing wasn’t happening where Jake was buried. Farther down the line, he noticed several men

walking out in a field with shouldered spades, and he wondered if they were gravediggers.

Soon, the locomotive reached the depot. His assumption proved accurate. Not far from

the station was an embalming studio. The building was deserted. It had fulfilled its purpose, and

stood lifeless, like the bodies that had come and gone from its hold.

The newlyweds changed trains once again, this time destined for Knoxville. Within a few

hours, they were on their way, continuing their journey toward the Appalachian Mountains.

People on the train were very quiet, and it disturbed David even more. He knew what they were

probably thinking, which was the same thing he was dwelling upon. How could such horror

befall the South? All those lives wasted for naught, including his father and his best friend. He

remembered his ride through these mountains with Jake, and suddenly, his heart hurt so badly he

thought it might burst. He would be home soon to confront his family with the awful loss. The

pain it caused was inconceivable. He pushed the thought from his mind, glanced at Anna, who

had now dozed off, and sadly smiled, relieved she was with him, and that she loved him. He

remembered those long months spent in Elmira prison, where he wondered if she would receive

him once he was set free. He thought of Stephen Montgomery, her proclaimed friend, and all the

trouble he’d caused when he learned of Anna and David’s secret marriage. Stephen’s words to

him before they left—a threat essentially—warned him that some fatal incident might happen to

him, thus enabling Stephen to take Anna for his bride and combine their two farms into one

enormous property. The recollection made David bristle, but then he chuckled to himself.

Stephen would never follow them to Alabama. Anna would be safe.