The midday sun was just reaching its zenith as the woman in the faded blue dress stood on the porch. She was looking out to the dirt road that ran along side what was left of the fence that bordered the old farm. The house behind her had seen better days, but that could be said for just about every house in the county here in the spring of 1865. After four years of what had started out as the War for Southern Independence, the tall brunette considered herself lucky to have a roof over her head at all. Many of her neighbors couldn't make that claim.
Ashley Walsh had been born on this farm some twenty-three years before. Back then, her family had lived in the main house, built a half century before on the high knoll an eighth of a mile up the hill. The house had suffered major damage during a battle between invading Federal troops and Confederate infantry a year before. After that, it was easier for Ashley to move into the smaller house built by her brothers as a wedding present for her and her husband. Aside from the house she grew up in, Ashley also lost something much more dear during those two horrible days.
Her father, Timothy Michael Flynn had suffered a seizure, brought on by the loss of all his family had built, and died right after the opposing armies had moved on. Laying him to rest next to his beloved wife, Ashley had been reminded of what else she had lost in this horrible war.
Her brother, William, so eager to rush off and enlist, died early in '62 at a place called Blue Gap. About six months later, her older brother, Timothy, fell at Clark's Hollow. With him in that fight had been their cousin, Michael, who had been wounded so badly that he also died two weeks later.
The hardest blow, at least to Ashley, was the loss of her husband, Stephen. A Captain who rode with Jeb Stuart, he had fallen at Gettysburg back in '63.
In all, Timothy and Mary Flynn had four sons who had answered the call to the colors. As far as Ashley knew, her younger brothers, Robert and Noah were still alive. They were serving out west with General Johnston, and no mail had come from them for months. For all she knew, Ashley could be the last of the Flynn's. Still, every night she prayed that she wasn't.
At least once a day, Ashley would take a few minutes from her labors and just stare down the road. As impossible as she knew it was, she sometimes hoped she might see Robert or Noah coming down the road, headed for home. There was not much else to live for these days, except the hope that tomorrow would be better.
The war, which had begun among such high spirits, had gone very badly for the South and the State of Virginia. Two days ago, one of her few remaining neighbors had brought news from Richmond. It was said that General Lee had taken the Army of Northern Virginia off to fight its last battles. It was taken as an article of faith that the end was near. The question on most everyone's mind was what would come after that.
Ashley turned to head back into the house and get back to work. She certainly had enough to keep her busy. Up until a week ago, she'd had the help of another two sets of hands. An older couple that'd had their own farm burned out by the Yankees. They'd stayed with Ashley over the winter, but with the coming of spring had decided to move on. Even if she'd had the money to hire help, there were few able-bodied men left in the county that weren't off with the Army. At least those she'd trust to be alone with day after day, or more importantly - night after night.
Pausing for a moment, Ashley caught sign of a small group of men on foot, just coming over the rise. They were still too far away to see who they were, or even if they wore blue or gray. Her only certainty was that they were heading her way.
Quick as she could, Ashley went back into the house and reached behind the door, grabbing her father's old hunting rifle. In normal times, the use of such an instrument would be foreign to an alumni of Miss Thompson's School for Young Ladies. That these were not normal times would be overstating the obvious. Ever a practical man, especially when it came to his only daughter, Timothy Flynn had made sure that she knew how to use the weapon, and use it well.
With that weapon primed and in hand, Ashley stood on the porch, waiting for the three men to come within earshot. As they had grew closer, she was able to see that they were wearing what at least once had been Confederate butternut and gray. Their uniforms had seen a great deal of use.
"That's close enough, gentlemen," she said in a loud voice, bringing her gun to bear to emphasize her words and the fact that she knew how to use it.
"Good afternoon, Ma'am," the man in the lead said, stopping short when he spied the gun pointed at him and his fellows. "We're sorry to spook you if we did, but we were wondering if you could spare some scraps for three tired and very hungry fighting men?"
Ashley took in the man with a suspicious eye. He looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties, but wore a long scruffy beard that made him look much older. On the sleeves of the butternut jacket were sergeant's stripes.
The second man was dressed no better and of a similar appearance. His sleeves, however, were bare. The third man, who seemed to stay as far back as he could, looked more boy than man. His clean shaven face seemed half hidden behind what looked like weeks of grime.
"I've no food to share," Ashley said, putting the threat of her firearm behind her words. Then, thinking of her brothers who wore the same uniform as these men, she added, "But you're welcome to fill your canteens at the well."
"We thank you kindly, Ma'am," the sergeant replied.
They started to move off in the direction Ashley had indicated in search of the well when her curiosity prompted to ask them a question.
"Are you part of General Lee's Army?"
"Not directly, Ma'am," the sergeant answered. "We here are part of Hamilton's Militia, or what's left of it anyway. The boys and I figured the fighting's over. I heard tell that old General Lee was going to face off against Grant one last time, then it would be all over. Don't seem right to fight and die if you are going to give up in the end anyway."
"I can't say as I blame you," Ashley said, thinking of her own losses and the families that might be waiting at home for these men. The days of riding off for flag and glory were long gone, if they ever existed in the first place.
The soldiers filled their canteens at the well, then came back to thank Ashley once more. Before they left for good, she had managed to find a little food for them to share. She liked to think that if Robert and Noah were still out there and traveling some back road, someone would be as kind to them as well.
Once they were out of sight, Ashley finally went back to her chores. The visit of the soldiers had left her far behind, but she really didn't mind. After all, who was going to notice?
A few hours later, Ashley herself went to the well to get water to boil some vegetables for dinner. There she found an old battered and torn haversack. One of the soldiers must've dropped it. Curious, she looked inside. There were a few letters and other keepsakes, as well as the usual army fare. It seemed a pity for one of them to have carried it for so long, only to lose it on the way home. She wondered which one of them it had belonged to.
Just then, a loud shout from the direction of the road interrupted her thoughts. Startled, Ashley looked up to again see motion on the road. A sudden look of panic filled her normally composed face. This time there were two men, both on horseback, riding up the road. Despite the dust turned up by their travel, it was clear to her that both wore Federal Blue.
Letting the worn haversack fall from her hands, Ashley ran as fast as she could for the house, and the protective rifle she had left there...
Ashley's first sensation upon waking was a pain and stiffness in her arms and back. It only took a moment for her to realize why. She was now in the small house, spread eagle across the kitchen table; her arms tied to the table and her legs hanging over the side. Rope also tied her ankles to the bottom legs of the table. As she tried to free herself, she could hear the sounds of someone rummaging through the other rooms, cursing that there was little of value to find.
Through a dim haze, Ashley remembered reaching the porch and the waiting gun, just as the two blue clad cavalrymen pulled up behind her. Both had pistols drawn as the closest to her leapt off his mount and onto the porch. She recalled his gloved hand on her arm pulling her backwards, away from her rifle. Then a hard pain from the side of her head that ended in blackness. She could only guess he'd hit her with his pistol to keep her from the rifle. That they had further bound her in this manner, rather than simply shoot her as she was sure they would have a man, didn't bode well.
"Hey Sarge, she's awake!" Ashley heard a voice call out from the doorway between the kitchen and the parlor.
Tilting her head, she saw one of the two troopers stepping into the room. He was a tall young man on the early side of twenty, if that, with short black hair and matching mustache. His lower face was covered with a few days stubble. The uniform he wore was indeed the hated Yankee blue.
The soldier, whose name she would learn was Butler, now stood silent at the bottom of the kitchen table. Ashley could see his eyes and the look she found there didn't give her much encouragement. Men too long without the company of a woman, especially those immersed in the horrors of war, were capable of anything.
.... There is more of this story ...