The Writer's Corner
The Civil War Years - One
Written by Edward P
Misery abode high for a time now and typically pain and loss shouldered
her presence. Nature had brought in rain and drizzle, seeming to do its
part in support. By this early fall day, troops here had completed what
needed done. The wounded were cared for, the wooded countryside and open
grassy fields scoured for fallen comrades, who were then buried.
Personal affects were gathered and any weapons found brought in.
Officers wrote letters to survivors informing them of their loss and of
their son’s, father’s, or husband’s great sacrifice for their country.
Overall there were an estimated 34,600 fallen soldiers throughout the
region; from McFarland’s Gap and Horseshoe Ridge, to Snodgrass and
Missionary Hills and areas that the Chickamauga Creek wound its way
through. The casualties for this side, the Federal Union, were about
16,170. What determined defeat were the Union not achieving its full
objective; losing ground and not being able to push beyond Chattanooga.
For now the Federal Union occupied that city and the valuable railroad
junction it had. The enemy, the Confederacy occupied the surrounding
areas and laid siege to the city having cut off any supply line the
Union would need. Near a rain soaked street corner under the protection
of a canvas canopy by a dentist’s shingle three young Union soldiers
were doing their own occupation of the city; passing the time with a
game some may think a bit morbid.
“Bailey?,” asked one
“Dead, I heard he got hit at the bottom of the ridge,” replied another.
“Dead” He’s in that mass grave we dug up by Missionary.”
“Fleming?,” asked the third.
“Um, Fleming. Thought he was deserted but I hear he’s around,” was the
There was pause.
“Anyone seen anything of him?” asked Jake Striker. “I think he might be
Hugh Griffin, Jake Striker, and Tom Webb, like the other soldiers of
their Indiana regiment, as well as other regiments attached under the
occupying battalion were veterans of many battles and skirmishes. The
activity was a way of coping with the horrors of war they witnessed and
the misery. Some comrades who had fallen or deserted once participated
in the pastime.
Another soldier approached the group; tall and lean he was carrying a
rifle. “Hiya fellas,” he spoke with a tinge of anxiousness.
“Well what do you have there McCain? Finally decided to perform in a
more honorable way?” chided Griffin.
“That’s enough fellas,” replied Striker. “McCain is alright. What are
you doing with that rifle, Luke? Where is your regular one?”
“I found this in the mud close by the creek during a lantern patrol,
three bodies close by and I can’t say who it belonged to,” Corporal
Lucas McCain replied as he wiped down the barrel of a Spencer Repeater
“And you decided to keep it” ask Striker in disbelief.
“No, in turning it in, I asked Oatman if I could help and clean it up.
“Uh huh, Oatman can be a real stickler when it comes to any type of
ordnance,” Striker replied.
“Well, he wasn’t real receptive to the idea then said he had always
liked my long rifle, so I did a trade.”
“You traded what? Oh Luke, not your long rifle, your grandfather’s long
rifle? Striker asked surprised.
"It’s just temporary. You know, collateral. I’ll get it back,” explained
McCain. “I was talking to Oatman about the Spencer rifles and he said he
would like to take a look at my relic, so we worked out a little
exchange. Relic he called it, somewhat harsh, but true I guess.”
“Yeah McCain, why do you have that old thing anyhow?” asked Webb.
"When I mustered, I decide to bring the weapon I was most comfortable
with, what my grandfather taught me by”.
McCain had been given a regulation musket like any other inducted
soldier. The long rifle he had brought from home used outdated
ammunition and it would not accept a bayonet. Regardless, with some
basic accoutrements that he also brought, McCain would make his own ammo
and use the relic as a backup or standby. Most of the time, it was this
old rifle he preferred to use. Griffin and Webb left the gathering. They
were uneasy around McCain and were not afraid to let their distain
“You see Jake, they give me grief, the typical attitude, just like the
others.” McCain spoke bothered by their demeanor.
“They do not know any better, Luke. Don’t let it bother you.” Striker
The corporal tried to put the uncomfortable encounter aside, like he had
done before and turn his attention elsewhere. “Just look at this beauty,
Jake” McCain spoke with a little more earnest as he turned his attention
to the Spencer rifle. “It can hold seven rimfire cartridges housed in a
magazine which has a spring that feeds each one to the breech. The
magazine is loaded through the butt of the stock. When the trigger guard
is lowered, look here Jake, the breech block drops down and the used
cartridge is ejected. His voice now elevated in enthusiasm as he gave a
demonstration. “As the trigger guard goes back to normal position, the
breech block moves up and catches a new cartridge putting it in the
breech. If I could handle one of these, take on a new duty; maybe even
get in with Wilder’s unit.”
“Luke, may I remind you that just last week or so you were talking about
continuing on with your notion to join up with that Fourth Regiment from
New Hampshire. Which I might add would also be desertion.”
“Colonel Berdan’s unit, yeah, I know, but that wouldn’t be like Thompson
or Willis. I think it would be more like a transfer,” McCain replied
trying to justify this would be absconding.
“Sure, uh-huh.” Striker’s reply emphasized the absurdity of McCain’s
reasoning as the corporal pondered his situation.
“I don’t know how I let myself get mustered into this Indiana unit.
Three years ago, if I’d gone another twenty-five miles and joined the
39th Indiana, I’d be handling my own Spencer. It seems like fate and me
are not to cross paths; that we’re walking parallel to each other and in
the opposite direction.
“It seems to me it had to do with a girl. What was her name, Sarah?”
“It was Susan. As my grandfather would say ‘the things I get myself into
over a lass’."
“It’s just that I can shoot a deer, no, make that a bear that has been
getting livestock, shoot it at three hundred yards or more and I’m a
hero. But I shoot the enemy at that distance, someone who is purposed to
kill us and I’m an executioner. I would not get that attitude from those
in a sharpshooter unit.”
“And it may be that you doing such left-handed bothers some even more,”
Jake offered in jest trying to put his friend at ease. McCain gave an
annoyed glance and shrugged it off.
"But you’re doing that duty here, where there is no one else who quite
matches you.” Striker continued. “You just mentioned that your grandpa
taught you on your long rifle and that’s how most of us learned to
shoot, from our pas or grandpas. But we were also taught certain morals
and rules when handling a gun. Some of that is pretty old fashioned but
that’s where a lot of the fellas attitude toward sharpshooters comes
from. I had a grandfather that was in the battle of Bunker Hill.”
“I know, ‘Do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes’, but that
was to use the ammunition sparingly,” McCain retorted.
“Yes, but teachings from our parents even outdated customs and
traditions, are hard to ignore. And the fact that we’re fighting against
our own kin, against brothers and cousins, makes all that more difficult
and want of that principle applied even more. But Luke, I’ve heard it
has been said by some of the brass that they credit you with a lot of
battlefield promotions for the Confederacy and those that don’t
acknowledge you only want the credit for themselves. You perform an
important function, Luke and you really don’t belong in any ‘Lightning
“I hear you, Jake, I appreciate that, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try
and move into some other area; see what else I can do.”
“No Luke, it doesn’t; it’s your right to and that’s how it should be.
Just don’t let the others sway you into something you really don’t fit
into right and appreciate what you’re doing now.”
Most erroneously called McCain’s heirloom weapon a Kentucky Long Rifle.
This was a misnomer as it was made by gunsmiths in the western
Pennsylvania county of Westmoreland. In the early 1800’s his grandfather
had it converted from a flintlock to a percussion or caplock device, the
mechanism newly invented at that time.
Not all the troops had a distain for McCain, but there were enough to
make it difficult for him. There was one soldier of significant stature
who thought well of him, his Colonel, Thomas Stoddard. Colonel Stoddard
would have the corporal at the rank of sergeant by now if there was not
for the stigma attached to his function as the company’s sniper.
Another soldier approached. “Excuse me fellas, Lt. Miller sent me. The
Colonel wants to see you right way, McCain.”
Corporal McCain was a little startled by the summons. Was he in trouble
for his gun trade? They had been very protective of the stock of rifles
and the Spencers were one item they were sure to keep a close eye on.
A thought came to Striker and he saw an opportunity. “Are you sure that
he asked for McCain and not Caine? The two have been confused before,”
"Yes, yes I made sure I didn’t get the two confused, the messenger
replied. “I asked that, Mc-Cain and not Caine. Miller said ‘Mc-Cain, the
Striker shot a glance at his friend, his admonition validated. McCain
took it in and said nothing else. With rifle in hand, he headed for the
colonel’s quarters. As he got closer to his commander’s tent he thought
of what he should do with the Spencer rifle; leave it outside and out of
sight or hold on to it? He decided he should hold on to it, for better
or for worse. Pulling the tent door flap back, he peered in.
“Come in, McCain” said the aid, and the corporal proceeded.
The glow of three lanterns was an inviting contrast to the gray
atmosphere outside. There were three other soldiers there, standing and
waiting. They look over at McCain and he scanned their presence then
looked at the soldier closest to him and contorted a facial expression
asking what this summons was about. The soldier shrugged slightly
answering they did not know. There was no hint of any attitude or
feeling from Lieutenant Miller or Colonel Stoddard, who was busy at his
“They are all here now sir,” the lieutenant announced. The colonel
shuffled some papers, looked up, then stood up and approached the men.
“Thank you Miller”, he said to the aid, “and thanks to you men for
coming. I don’t have to say much about our situation now from the recent
battle. Needless to say, we did not achieve our objective and we
suffered a loss. As a result, the enemy is emboldened and our morale is
The men said nothing but nodded and listened.
“Our confinement to this city is temporary; you men know it, I know it
and the johnnies know it. With the river to our backs our course out of
here will be to push further south against the three battalions that are
at our doorstep. We will be getting reinforcements, I can assure you
that. For now, I need some men for an assignment, an incursion beyond
the rebel lines. We have it on good authority that there is a
substantial cache of explosives in an abandoned construction shack. We
do not want the rebs to get hold of this. The shack is roughly eighteen
miles east of here; past a place called Tyner’s Station.
The men listened intently.
“It will take four men, two will operate a rail handcar which will have
a flat cart attached; the other two will ride horseback. We need able
and daring men for this assignment. My considerations on this have led
to all of you being here today. This will be on a volunteer basis. If
you have any concerns or objections to being a part of this mission,
that is alright. It does have its risks. If you are unsure or too
uncomfortable perhaps you should excuse yourself.”
There was silence among the ranks. The other recruits; Monroe, Rees and
Dixon along with McCain, all stood quietly where they were with no
acceptance or decline. Then Monroe spoke.
“Sir, why four men?”
“Good question, Monroe. Two will operate the rail handcar to there. The
destination is by rail the entire way. They will load up all the cache
as the other two who go on horse keep watch. Then you switch modes of
transport with whoever was on horseback operating the laden handcar and
flat cart back to here while the others take the horses. In this way,
the labor is divided up more evenly and the operators of the returning
handcar are not worn or spent. Getting the railcar back here as quickly
as possible is in the best interest for the mission to succeed.”
“Why are the explosives there, sir,” asked McCain.
“We understand the explosives are left over from the railroad
construction, probably the blasting through a place called Julian’s Gap,
not far from the station. We are not one hundred percent certain the
condition of the powder, if any weather or elements have gotten to it.
So, test a sample before you go through the trouble of bringing it back
“Do you have our roles assigned, sir” asked Dixon.
“You men as a team can decide who and when operates the handcar and who
rides. One more note, if it does not go as planned and you are unable to
get the explosives back to here, destroy them. As I said, we do not want
the Confederates to get hold of them. And there are two more reasons for
this mission. Moral here is getting lower each day and a punch to the
johnnies side might raise that. As for the rebs, we need to let them
know that they do not have us pinned to the mat like they think they do.
The attitude now was one of hope and challenge put there by the colonel
and his presentation; from within these canvas walls misery was not to
be found. Rees had not spoken and thought he should participate.
“When do you want this mission done, sir?”
“Tonight; we need to take advantage of the weather and the longer we
wait the greater the chance of them obtaining the cache.”
“What about Confederate soldiers or guards along the rail route, sir?”
“Their focus is on this city and not what is behind them or between
them. There are regiments covering the areas on the north and south side
of the rails. We are confident a small group can get through a blind
spot between them.”
He wasn’t sure how the others felt but as he stood there, McCain became
more elated about being a part of this team of raiders. This was the
opportunity he had been waiting for. His penned up enthusiasm found way
to his voice.
“Count me in, sir. I’d like to be a part of this mission.”
“Very good, McCain,” replied the colonel. He looked at the rest of them.
“As I said, if any of you are uncomfortable with the mission or with
anyone on the team, you should excuse yourself. Team cohesion is vital
“I’m good for the mission also, sir, spoke Rees.
Monroe and Dixon also affirmed their commitment to the task. The colonel
and his aid were relieved at the men’s volunteering; one of the
difficult tasks for the mission was now accomplished.
“McCain, I’m making you lead over the team; not because you volunteered
first but because I feel you are ready for it.
They spoke a little longer going over the plan, any minute details and
concerns. Then the men were dismissed. He did not know if it was not
actually noticed or if it was it did not register any concern, but
nothing was said about the rifle. McCain did see the colonel glance at
it when he first arrived. The silence of the matter emboldened the
corporal to decide that the rifle should be brought along on the raid.
After all, if they did encounter any problems a repeater would be a
better weapon than an old cumbersome musket long rifle. McCain knew that
Oatman would never agree to this. But he would return it tomorrow as he
intended; better for the mission with no real harm done, he reasoned.
“Colonel, sir” aid Miller spoke, “you seem to have picked the right men
for the task, they all had no trouble volunteering”.
“Yes lieutenant and I see much potential in McCain. I’m please the
others had no issue with him on the team.”
The Civil War Years - One Writer's Reboot
These stories are
based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories.
around The McCain Ranch