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The Civil War Years - One Writer's Reboot
Written by Edward P

Chapter 1

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. 
“Williams?” 
“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 reply. 
“Harris?” 
There was pause. 
“Anyone seen anything of him?” asked Jake Striker. “I think he might be deserted.” 

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 rifle. 

“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 show. 

“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 admonished. 

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’." 

“Uh-huh” 

“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 Brigade’.” 

“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.” 

“Sure Jake.” 

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,” he queried. 

"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 long rifleman’." 

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 field desk. 

“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 low.” 

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 here. 

“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?” asked Rees. 

“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 here.” 
“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.”
 

Chapter 2
The Civil War Years - One Writer's Reboot

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!
 

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