Way Down South, Almost
It was with a heavy heart that I left the General that summer day. I knew it would be a long, hard and slow ride back to Texas. We had lost the war, and badly so. No one had expected the Blue Bellies to do what they did: they treated us as soldiers. We were able to keep our horses, weapons; and for us officers, even our sabers. It was a right decent thing of them to do. We just had to promise not to bear arms against them again. One look at the General, and you could see that would not be a consideration; at least, not in our lifetime.
Some folks either could or would not accept The Glorious Army of the Confederacy had been defeated; but we had been. In my considered opinion, those who fought on just either hated them Yankees or wanted to get rich quick. That’s all I had ever heard though. Even from Grandpa, everything was about how wonderful Frank, Cole and Jesse were and to make me promise to play Dixie and salute once a year, on Bill Quantrill’s day of dying. Oh, and to always remember that ‘the South will rise again.’ I guess he did not remember what Atlanta and Richmond were like now. He would die when I was twenty-three and Grandpa, while cognizant that the War Of Northern Aggression was over, still stood whenever Dixie was played. So did I, though. It was something we all grew up doing.
When the first companies of Texas soldiers reached Richmond, Virginia, CSA President Jefferson Davis greeted us with the words: “Texans! The troops of other states have their reputations to gain, but the sons of the defenders of the Alamo have theirs to maintain. I am assured that you will be faithful to the trust.”
I had the good fortune to serve with legends such as Confederate General Thomas Jonathan Jackson (January 21, 1824 to May 10, 1863 “Stonewall” to many) and the great cavalry General, James Ewell Brown Stuart (February 6, 1833 to May 12, 1864, J.E.B. better known as “Jeb”) who was originally a United States Army officer from Virginia and the great John Bell Hood (June 1 or June 29, 1831 to August 30, 1879) Who, at the start of the Civil War, offered his services to his adopted state of Texas.
Where General Lee went, any man worth his salt would follow. My Texas boys were damn sure the war would be over before we even got to Richmond. Guess it lasted a little longer than we thought. I was then Capt. J D Butler. By the last year of the War Of Northern Aggression I became a Major and was assigned as escort to General Lee himself. I think they did that cause I had my own horse and could read and write. But I may have digressed a might.
I wont bore you with all the could-a, would-a, should-a scenarios, suffice it to say we lost that war.
My remaining boys and I escorted the General back to Virginia. His home was now a Union graveyard and he now shared such losses that so many Southerners had to bear. I hoped I still had a home to back in Texas. It was still there according to the letter my Ma and Pa had sent me a couple years before. Once the General was settled in we was on our way home. I had with me eleven of my original troop out of the hundred and twenty-five or so that had left with me from Texas. Over 70,000 Texans served in the Confederate army and Texas regiments fought in every major battle throughout the war. Some men were veterans of the Mexican-American War; a few had served in the earlier Texas Revolution. Texas had furnished forty-five regiments of cavalry, twenty-three regiments of infantry, twelve battalions of cavalry, four battalions of infantry, five regiments of heavy artillery and thirty batteries of light artillery for the Confederacy.
Among the most famous units were Terry’s Texas Rangers (a group of frontier cavalrymen, many of whom later became peacekeepers in the Old West), “Walker’s Greyhounds,” the Texas 33rd Cavalry Regiment and “The Texas Brigade” (aka “Hood’s Brigade”), a brigade composed mainly of Texas regiments augmented by the 18th Georgia Infantry, and the 3rd Arkansas Infantry, and originally commanded by John Bell Hood.
Known as the ‘shock troops’ of the Army of Northern Virginia, (Hood’s) Texas Brigade were favored by General Robert E. Lee and, on more than one occasion, he praised their fighting qualities, remarking that none had brought greater honor to their native state than ‘my Texans’. Texas men suffered severe casualties in a number of fights, most notably at the Battle of Antietam, against the North’s ‘Iron Brigade’, and at Gettysburg, where they assaulted Houck’s Ridge and then Little Round Top.
We had seen good times, bad times and too many hard times together, but we would return together with our heads held high. All in all we were a sorry bunch, though. How splendid we had looked, how proud in our gray uniforms and horses aligned by colors as we rode off to the war. That was not the way we were going home though. We were lucky to have anything to ride, let alone worry what color it was. The Yankees made certain we at least had a horse to take General Lee back. I think that Grant fellow made certain of that. We all gave thanks to him for that, for it was a long trip home.
For the initial part of the trip home, we were treated fairly and many shared what little they had with us. Sgt. Williams had relieved some mementos (money and gold) from the Yankees near war’s end. He had secured a couple of payrolls of gold coins and bars. We all were careful as to what we spent on the way. When we could, we made certain those who had shared what little they had with us found a small gift to help them out some. It was not a lot, but twenty or so eagles (ten dollars each) to someone who had nothing would make all the difference to them, even saving the farm from the carpetbaggers who tried to step in after we lost the war.
We tried to maintain order and discipline and adhere to the codes of honor we had all grown up with. Each of those who lived through this nightmare called war, knew that was the only reason we even got to this point. We sure as Hell weren’t going to change now. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina were not what they once were, though. We also had no fun, a time or two, while crossing the border states. No one died but I don’t think many took kindly to us. We even considered heading through Indian Territory instead to reach Texas.
We finally got into Tennessee, and we thought the worst would be over. After all, the rest of our journey would be within areas that had been part of the CSA. Nope, not by a long shot.
The Confederate Army of Tennessee, under Gen. Braxton Bragg, had lost Chattanooga, Tennessee to the then Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Now, even if the war was now over, bitterness still festered; especially since Bragg’s defeat eliminated the last Confederate control of Tennessee and opened the door to an invasion of the Deep South, leading to Sherman’s Campaign of 1864 and his subsequent March to the Sea.
As I earlier indicated, we had seen good times, bad times and too many hard times together; but we never forgot who we were and how we had been raised. The sound of the boy being lashed, and a girl’s crying and trying to fight off the two men holding her, just tore into all of us. Texans did not harm civilians and certainly not women and children no matter how bad things could be. That sight and sound brought out an instant response from us all. Before the smoke from our revolvers could clear, five men, and I use the term loosely, lay dead on the ground. The little girl cradled the boy in her arms. We later learned he was her younger brother. It never crossed anyone’s mind if they were Pro Union or Confederate Sympathizers, all we saw were two kids near being killed or raped.
The girl looked up at us. We were still mounted. “Don’t hurt him anymore, mister. I’ll be yours if you just leave him be. We have lost everything, already, and I can’t let him die now.”
I don’t think there was a dry eye anywhere. I dismounted, went up to them and knelt down. “No one is going to harm him or you, Missy! If we were back home though, I don’t think any man there would refuse anything a pretty girl like you offered, though. Best not say something like that too often, okay?”
Even with the tears and sobbing, just looking at her you knew she was going to be a heart stopper, if she wasn’t one already.
“Let’s get you two home Missy. Just why the Hell were these yahoos trying to tear you apart?”
“Gee, you got to be from somewhere else mister. Around here, once we lost the war, every male thinks any female they see is fair game and will spread her legs for them. You see what they did to little Johnny when he tried to protect me, and he is only ten.”
“Missy, we might have lost the war but what those fools were trying to do to you just isn’t right. I hope you will be all right when we leave. We’ll get you home and leave your Ma and Pa a little something to get by on. Okay?”
“Flowers on their grave might be the kindest thing you can do for them. We’ve been living on the streets and in the woods at night trying to just survive, so if you might have extra food or a blanket that would be much appreciated.”
I looked around. Corporal Smith and our bugler, Billy were already getting two of the best looking horses the dead men had. Some found money went into the saddlebags and several side arms, both rifles, ammo, blankets, food and ‘what not’ were placed on the other horses we took and our already loaded pack mules to carry. Sgt. Williams carefully lifted the boy up onto one horse after asking him if he was strong enough to ride. His answer made up everyone’s mind, that we would not leave these two behind. “I am a man, Sir! If I can still breathe, I can ride.”
There were a few snickers and looks my way, now. They seemed to be waiting to see if I would help the girl up onto the horse or just pick her up and put her with me on Red, my ride.
“Missy, what is your name and can you ride a horse?”
“Duh, in a dress, not very well; and my name is Suzanne, Sue for short.”
“Bugler Cade, could you please loan Miss Sue a shirt and pants. We will get her changed soon, and we will get more appropriate riding clothes and boots in the next town. I do not think this town is a good place to buy things. Miss Sue, get a hat for you and Johnny. I don’t think they will mind. You can go with us all the way to a new home in Texas, or we will let you off on the way at anywhere you choose. In any case, the money in your new saddlebags, and those horses, will get you both a new start. Worst case you can go home with me. Ma and Pa are used to me bringing home strays.”
I knew it was the wrong thing to say the moment it left my lips.
“I’ll have you know I am a woman, and not some stray for you to bring home. If I had more options right now, you would be the last man on the face of this earth I would want to be with!”
With that view now settled, I picked her up and placed her on my own horse. I mounted up, held her tight so she would not fall (suuure), and led my band of men out of town. Some smart ass started humming the wedding march, and my seasoned soldiers seemed like they were trying to act like there was some kind of party going on. We stopped outside of town and Miss Sue changed into Billy’s clothes. This time I helped her mount up on her own horse. I had to admit my hand pushed on a few places a might longer than necessary. That brought a smile on her face then had her stick her tongue out at me. Could this be love, I wondered?
The next town had a general store, and it was big enough that we not only bought Miss Sue and Johnny boots and smaller hats; but we each got two sets of buckskins and moccasins to wear, instead of the Gray’s we had worn for so many years. The bill was paid in paper script and Greenbacks. Sgt. Williams also exchanged whatever paper money the five dead men had for gold coins. Knowing him, he added a bit more gold for the kids in the event they choose to leave us. I never did ask Miss Sue just how old she was, but there was no doubt that she was a woman by the way she filled out those buckskins; no, no doubt at all.
Reaching Texas took another twenty-three days. The mules held us back. We skirted the Indian Territory and even though we did see Indians, that we wore Indian made clothes gave them pause and they did not attack. Then again seeing a dozen well armed riders might have also had some bearing on the matter. Texas had been fought over since long before the War of Northern Aggression began. It took the killing at San Antonio in 1836 to make people’s mind up to fight. It took until 1845 for the rest on them to recognize Texas as a State. That move was one big mistake as it turned out, though.
Most all of us left of the troop, were from the Fort Worth surrounds. There were a few who were from Abilene and Waco, but we decided to stay together and settle near Fort Worth. That was fine by me. I had ridden with these boys for more than four years, and some I’d known before the war. They had, without exception, earned my trust and respect. They were my family now. I kept as near as was proper to Miss Sue, even following and watching over her at those times she needed to leave the camp some. I must admit to paying extra attention at the few times it was hot and we found a lake, stream or river to wash in. Yes, she was definitely all woman. I wondered, if she was fourteen or fifteen, was twenty-one too old for me to be her husband?
We rode into town wearing what was left of our uniforms (except for Miss Sue and Johnny). Billy blew his horn, Miss Sue, carried the Rebel Flag, and Johnny held what remained of the Texas State Flag we had stated out with in 1861. They were leading the troop back home. To many it might have seemed strange, but let me tell you, we all grew up around these parts; and although we had changed some, those who meant anything did recognize us. There was not a dry eye on any we cared about, either. We recognized kin, friends, and even a few polecats we had no use for. It was like things had not changed much after all.
Our Grand entrance into town did something else. Seeing Miss Sue and little Johnny lead us in, carrying those flags, made them feel a part of something they had not felt for a long time. They were now a part of the troop, just as Bugle Boy Billy had become. They were not orphans any longer! In many ways, each had a dozen men they might call ‘family’ now. That feeling was mutual.
Two of the men had family near town, so I sent them on their way. Each had another man go with them, just in case. That left the eight of us, plus Miss Sue, Johnny and Billy to stay in town or head out to the ranch. Mr. Tompkins made the choice for us. With arms outstretched and tears in his eyes, he welcomed us home. I guess rooms, baths, meals, and a night or two in a bed, sounded pretty good to all of us. Sgt. Williams and two others would spend the first night with the animals, and the load they carried. We would make it up to them the next night though.
Steak, rice, beans, greens, hot coffee and two huge slices of apple pie went down smooth as anything. Two or three Mexican beers might have helped though. Miss Sue and Johnny were good sports and even tried a small sip of their beer. No big thing was made out of the sour look on their faces after that taste the sampled brews were quickly replaced on the table with empty bottles from the men. It made all our hearts fill out proud when the honky-tonk man played ‘Dixie’ and we all stood up. We still had on our Grays, our hats over our hearts and tears in our eyes. We had given our all for the cause and some of us had paid too high a price. In many ways, Miss Sue and Johnny did too and we all seemed to realize that the hard times were not all over with.
We stayed in town the next day. Sgt. Williams reckoned we should rid ourselves of any paper money and buy some land or ranches with it and to settle down. It sounded like an excellent plan and the appearance of our missing four made the idea of one big spread with separate houses seem the way to go. This was Texas mind you. It was the biggest and best of the twenty-eight States so when we were talking a spread, we meant a lot of land; enough for cattle, horses, hogs and farming for a lifetime for us all. We all planned to raise families and grow old together. When we hired ourselves a lawyer, we asked him about how much each acre of land might cost. We got the old, hem and haw that ‘it depends’. In general, he told us, land outside of Fort Worth would cost three to ten dollars per acre. The further out you went the cheaper it was since much was just open range.
Sgt. Williams whispered to me an amount we should try to spend. He never did trust that paper money. The lawyer was told that we wanted water, trees, a river or two and good pasture land for horses and cattle. All told, to get everything to put together anywhere from 150,000-250,000 acres. He almost took a faint upon hearing that.
We got all that land about three month later, but not under one title. It stretched West of Fort Worth clear to the outskirts of the town of Abilene, a cow town, some 150 miles or so, away. Decent sized spread even by Texas standards. We all decided that Miss Sue and Johnny might do better in town, maybe with a store or some such, so we chipped in and bought them something.
We, me especially, thought it would be a pleasant surprise to both of them when we told them what we had done. It was a surprise indeed; we got an unexpected response and reaction. Miss Sue started to sob. The look on her face could not be described. I should have stuck around some, but this reaction set me back a might. I did not understand then, still don’t today. I guess I never will understand a woman’s mind.
Ma did however. I guess it takes a woman to know a woman. I think I turned several shades of red when she patiently tried to explain things to me. I still did not understand but at least had an idea what I had better to do, right quick to make amends. She asked me if I wanted to lose her. Nope, simple enough answer.
Never before was it so hard for me to find the right words to say. Hell, I had best admit I did not even have a clue as to what them right words should be. Pa was almost rolling on the floor, laughing his ass off as I gave him my little prepared speech. Ma was standing in the doorway, listening, sighing and shaking her head.
“You got it bad Son, don’t you? How you got them men to follow you to war I’ll never understand, if a little girl turns you into spouting trash words like that?”
“Ma, I just don’t know what to say! Damn, Ma, I never felt so confused before in my life. I fought battles that were less painful to behold than this is.”