The Writer's Corner
The Civil War Years - One
Written by Edward P
The atmosphere was cold drizzle with a misty dark
gray sky at two o’clock the following morning. Dressed with
slickers or ponchos, the four men of the raiding party had arrived
at the train depot in the city. Two other men were around a railroad
handcar with a rail flat cart about eight feet in length attached by
two iron rods that were allowed to pivot on pins.
"They’re all greased and oiled on every moving
part and other vital areas,” said one. "That should help ‘em to
Two unlighted lanterns and a crowbar were placed
on the floor of the handcar. Two horses were tied up close by. Each
of the recruited four took the positions they decided on with McCain
taking the lead on the horse he chose. He looked at a pocket watch,
noting the time as they started out. The handcar pushed the flat
cart with Dixon and Rees operating and Monroe bringing up the rear
on the other horse. It didn’t take long in working the handcar to
get going in a good rhythm and the vehicle was running at a steady
pace, as the terrain was fairly level. McCain and Monroe had to go
at a canter to keep their positions. After a while, the four were a
fair distance from Chattanooga. It was dark and cloudy, with an
occasional glimpse of a waning crescent moon. A constellation of
post mounted sentry lanterns dotted the surrounding hills, an
earthly imitation of the hidden stars above, helping to outline the
landscape. The course veered left taking them still east and little
northward. About an hour into the mission they approached a trestle
bridge. The two on the handcar refrained from pumping and coasted
while McCain and Monroe took their mounts off the path of the tracks
and down an embankment where they crossed a stream. Having rejoined
on the other side, they resumed their places and getting into rhythm
again continued on. Soon there was again no sign of civilization,
save for the track.
The route went through grassy fields, empty but
for a few cows and deer that grazed them. Then they came to a wooden
structure, the station and beyond that a silhouette of hills
appeared on the left, their blackness barely visible against the
dark canvas of the low northeastern sky. Soon they were at the base
of part of the hills that jutted to the track. McCain pulled rein
and raised his hand in signal to the rest. The two eased up on their
driving and again allowed the carts to coast along. McCain looked
around then pulled out the watch, checking the time. The group
continued on at a slower pace now. McCain rode ahead and to the left
following the contour of the hill base. In the distance about thirty
yards he came upon an old shack. Turning his mount around he was
quickly back by the tracks and returning to the group he quietly
announced “This is the place, boys.”
Rees went to one of the lanterns and, hunkered
over it, used his flint kit to light it up; the trees, foliage, and
the rest of the surroundings becoming faintly illuminated. As they
drew nearer, Dixon applied the foot brake bringing the handcar to a
full stop and Monroe came up momentarily.
"Its back in that area, to the left there” McCain
nodded to as he spoke.
The structure stood about fifty yards from
trackside, a simple construction, stark and abandoned. He rode to
the shack where he dismounted; tying the horse to a post. All
dismounted their transport and looked around taking a brief
surveillance of the area. With lantern in hand Rees also took the
crowbar and brought it to McCain. The two came upon the door of the
building. Rees held up the light while McCain jimmied it open.
“Careful with that light, stay back for a
McCain stepped in; Rees staying back turned the
light up and held it high. Getting a better look at the structure
they saw that most of it was in ruins. A portion of the roof towards
the rear was missing, with crossbeams down. Rain had destroyed much
of the interior; there was the smell of mildew and evidence of
animals having nested inside. Crates and keg barrels were about. He
took a keg outside and looking around for a place to inspect it,
decided that under the railcar would be the driest area. With all
standing around, he pried it open and leaned the container over.
They looked and saw nails, ten penny nails.
“Well I can see us winning this war in no time at
all with Harrison’s intelligence sources” Rees said facetiously.
“Alright fellas, let’s not call the mission on
one keg, that room has a lot more, let’s try another one, or two”
Going back to the structure, McCain and Monroe
each took another keg and brought them back. Another was pried open,
its contents more significant. It was black powder.
“Well now, that is more like it. But how good is
this stuff?” McCain spoke what the others were thinking. “Dixon,
what do you think?”
Dixon leaned in and took a whiff trying to determine
any acridity. “I’m not sure, either. Too bad we cannot get a good
look at the color.”
“Well, let’s light the other lantern. Maybe that
will help us see if all this is worth the trouble,” McCain said.
* * *
It was the darkest part of the day, more than
half past three a.m. moving up to four o’clock. Private Walsh of the
Confederacy’s 5th Georgia Infantry tipped a tin cup of hot coffee up
to his mouth getting a little more comfort and stimulus for his
night watch duty. He checked the lantern by him, adding more coal
oil and after adjusting the flame got back to finding the comfort
position he had left; sitting down with his back against the lantern
post. Down the hill, southeast of him through the rain he noticed a
light go on. Watching it for awhile, it appeared to move several
feet and then vanished. It returned and then another light appeared.
Reluctantly, he got up and went to his immediate superior, Sergeant
Riley, kicking his foot inside his tent under the bedroll.
"Sarge, Sarge, sorry to disturb you but I see
some odd activity.”
The sergeant had positioned his tent at the best
advantage point he could find, in a clearing, not too far from the
lantern and able to view out across the lower lands. He leaned up on
his left arm and strained his eyesight trying to focus and gather
his thoughts. Then he reached over into his sack and put his glasses
on and came to the flap of the tent.
“Down over there, Sarge, past that clearing, to
Slipping on his boots and donning his hat the
sergeant stepped out and looked seeing a faint light in the
distance. “Scavengers, war vagabonds. I wouldn’t be too concerned
about ‘em,” he groggily assured the watchman.
“Scavengers, are you sure? I don’t think I’ve
ever seen any”
Well you have now and it was just a matter of
time. There are those who have lost everything in this war. With the
naval blockade down around Savannah and who knows what’s been
happening east. Win or loose, it’s been taking its toll. A lot of
people are taking desperate measures.”
* * *
“It is still difficult to tell how good this
powder is” Rees said, unsure of the plunder.
“Hmm, well the colonel did say we should test
it,” came Monroe’s contribution to the question.
McCain thought for a moment and decided. “Dixon,
can you take some of this and set a spark to it and see what we
“Sure, but let’s try a decent amount and make
sure its all good. We’ll pour some along the rail and see if the
igniting runs the course, like powder should do.” suggested Dixon.
Under the cart, the rail was dried with a
kerchief. Taking an ample amount, the powder was poured on the rail
for about two feet. After striking the flint a few times a spark
found its way down to an end of the substance and ignited it
handsomely. With a flash followed by smoke bellowing up, the laid
out powder burned completely from one end to the other. The raiders
were satisfied with the demonstration.
“Now, how do we tell the difference between a keg
of nails and a powder keg?” asked Rees
"There should be markings on this.” McCain
grabbed the kerchief and wiped the container. Faded stenciled
letters that spelled “EXPLOSIVES” appeared. “Alright, I don’t know
how many nail kegs to expect. I’ll check through the stock and stage
the powder outside. Monroe, you can carry it half the way to Rees,
Rees, you get it to Dixon on the cart. This is a change from the
colonel’s plans but the layout and the whole supply contents is not
exactly what we were expecting. And I’ll still be pumping this load
all the way back. You fellas alright with this?
There was no dissent, they all agreed.
* * *
Confederate Private Walsh was finishing talking
with his sergeant, about ready to return to lookout when a faint
flash briefly reflected in the commanding officer's eyeglasses. The
sergeants sleepy eyes widened in response. Walsh turned quickly to
see what was happening and looked in time to see the last of a
flare. He turned back to the sergeant, both knowing that something
more was afoot.
“Private, go wake Corporal Lansing, get him over
here and get two more men,” the sergeant ordered. Walsh started off.
A few minutes later, Lansing appeared followed shortly by two other
“Men” the sergeant spoke, “Walsh here suspected
some peculiar activity going on down where those lights are,” he
pointed to the area. “We both saw a flash of light, like a munitions
flare. Nothing since then, but I want this investigated. Corporal,
take these three and see what is going on.”
The four Confederate soldiers got their muskets
and worked their way down the embankment noting a few reference
points along the way such as trees or rocks. At the bottom of their
hill the terrain gave way to a grassy field. There they focused on
the light of the distant lantern. As they proceeded, at length they
traversed a fence and shortly came upon the railroad tracks. They
decided to follow the rail from the furrow that ran along side about
four feet below. Soon they saw two men busy around a railcar with an
attached flat cart. Keeping crouched down and away from the glare of
light, the corporal spoke quietly, halting their advance as they
studied the situation.
“Blue Coats. I wondered what they’re up to,” said
“Looks like they’re loading up some supplies or
something.” whispered one. “But, my lord, they’re using a handcar
all the way down here.” He was amused by what he saw, the scenario
looking absurd to him.
“I wouldn’t under estimate the ability of a rail
handcar,” replied Lansing. “Two years ago, around Atlanta, there was
a chase involving a locomotive pursued for a good distance by a rail
handcar; ended in Ringgold, about thirty miles south of here, as the
One man for the cars and one to haul, and
probably one in the back doing the retrieving surmised the corporal.
After debating with himself on what action to take, Corporal Lansing
decided since the element of surprise was on their side and they
seem to outnumber them, they would apprehend the Union thieves,
turning their captives over to the sergeant and to the rest of the
Lansing gave hand signals indicating who should
take on whom. He then took his bayonet out of its scabbard, held it
up, then secured it to his rifle, indicating for his team to do the
same. Stealthily they eased their way along and then up the rise to
where the tracks lay.
The first Confederate went after Dixon, hitting
him across the head with the butt of a rifle. Out cold, they dragged
his body to the far side of the attached cart keeping him out of
sight. They worked their way along that far side of the cars and
paused, looking at the plunder, seeing it was black powder. One
stayed while the rest continued moving into the recess. Union raider
Rees, arms loaded was nearly upon the Confederates when two stepped
out of the shadows, rifles and bayonets ready and seized him.
Startled, Rees almost dropped his load. Monroe was coming back with
another load and was instantly struck with dread, seeing that Rees
was not there to meet him. He looked around and tried to brush the
trepidation aside, assuming that Rees was still at the track helping
Dixon. As Monroe got closer he soon realized that the person manning
the carts was not Dixon or Rees. In an instant the others came from
aside in the shadows and Monroe was caught.
“Sorry to interrupt your enterprise, gentlemen”
Corporal Lansing spoke as his men rounded up their captives. Dixon
still lay unconscious where they put him.
Monroe and Rees realized that their captors were
not aware of McCain, still in the back of the recess with his horse
out of sight
The rain had let up and McCain, working in close
quarters, had taken his poncho off and draped it over a stack of
nail kegs. Presently, he came from the shed adding to the stockpile
and saw that the staging had been untouched for awhile and that
Monroe or the others were not around. He was at once troubled.
Grabbing the Spencer rifle from his saddle gear, he move into the
shadows cautiously working his way down from the recessed area.
Coming to a protrusion, he eased his head out to see what had
happened and saw the figures at the track. He paused, shutting his
eyes. His abilities as a sharpshooter should serve him well here, he
thought to himself. This would be no different from some of the
situations he had to ascertain on the battlefield. Taking another
look, the light from the lantern on the handcar provided enough
illumination to tell what was going on. He could see Monroe and Rees
and four other men, presumably Confederates from the surrounding
camp. Where was Dixon? Did he make it out? He would have been the
first one they came upon, so probably not. He looked around the cars
and thought he could make out a figure down on the track. Then it
moved slightly, it was Dixon. He had been knocked out but was now
Grabbing a rock, McCain threw it across the span.
The noise alerted the others.
“How many more are back there” demanded Lansing.
“Three more, on horseback” Monroe replied
quickly, before Rees could. The reply caused to confederate leader
to further calculate their actions. It was a miscalculation, Monroe
“Walsh, you stay here and watch our prisoners,
you others, let’s go.”
Dixon had slowly come back around from
unconsciousness. Feeling the throb is his head, he was careful not
to rouse himself too much. He could see the legs of two men. Then he
heard Rees speak. “You sure you rebs will be able to handle all us
prisoners?” Dixon was now more aware of the situation.
McCain saw the Confederates leave the track and
head his way. But they disappeared out of his view and he realized
they were also keeping themselves in the shadows, where he was. Soon
they would come around the crag and be upon him. He quickly
retreated back, ducking behind the kegs. Behind was the shack,
before him, right in front, was the stockpile. Explosive powder
surrounded him. He would not be safe staying here. If anyone fired a
shot, they would be picking up pieces of him in Cleveland. He could
either scurry to his left staying on the level ground and risk being
seen. Or, he could move right, stay in the darkness and go up the
embankment. He decided to work his way up the hillside to higher
ground. Crouching low he headed toward the hill and started up. But
the ground was soft from the recent rain and he had trouble getting
traction. The more he struggled, the more noise he made, rocks and
mud sliding down. He managed several feet up the hill, above the
stockpile when he heard the Confederates close by.
The Confederates attention, including Walsh’s who
was guarding the Union raiders at the track, was on the three
raiders still back in the recess or so they had been told. Dixon
becoming more coherent and gaining strength crawled further between
the two cars, closer to the Confederate watching Monroe and Rees.
Crouched on bended knees, and ready to leap, he first threw a stone
under the handcar to its other end. Confederate Walsh turned his
head in reaction and Dixon quickly rose, taking one of the rods out
of the hitch to strike with. But the sound of the metal turned
Walsh’s attention back. He turned around toward Dixon, his rifle
with bayonet up. As Dixon went to strike, the bayonet met him high
on the chest, entering in close to his shoulder. Monroe and Rees
overtook Walsh. Rees plunged the bayonet deep into Walsh’s gut, the
hilt being stopped by his lower rib. Walsh let out a cry and a gasp
and was dead.
“Rees, get Dixon taken care of, as best you can
but get the handcar moving. I’m going to help McCain.” Monroe
hurried back into the recess. Rees applied pressure to Dixon’s wound
then wrapped it with his kerchief.
By the light of the lantern McCain had been using,
the three gray coats could see the stash setting there, the old
shack, and one horse tied to a post.
“There’s only one back here, boys,” the
Confederate corporal said. “We can take him. But hold your fire,
there are a lot of explosives here. Then Walsh’s painful cry from
the tracks allowed McCain opportunity. Lansing ordered his two
subordinates back to the tracks. As Lansing carefully approached,
his focus was on the shack and a wet poncho inside illuminated by
the lantern. McCain grabbed the barrel of his gun and wielding it
like a club came down off the embankment toward the Confederate. The
slosh of mud and grass and the thud of McCain’s boot caused Lansing
to flinch and move. The butt of McCain’s rifle hit its target on the
side of the leg. Lansing stumbled momentarily then gained his
footing. He held his musket in defensive stance. McCain thought he
purposed to shoot but then saw that he was going to use the bayonet.
With musket extended, he lunged at McCain. McCain, holding the butt
with one hand and the barrel with the other used his rifle in
defensive stance, knocking Lansing’s attempts aside and then again
swinging the rifle like a club. The back and forth moved McCain up
against the stockpile and a violent thrust from the gray coat sent
the evasive blue coat toppling over some kegs.
The two returning to the tracks were met half way
by surprise from Monroe who had quickly stepped from the darkness to
plunge a knife into one of them. The other he had to engage hand to
Lansing lunged hard down on McCain, but Lucas
moved in time and Lansing’s bayonet broke through the wooden side of
a powder keg. While Lansing tried to dislodge the blade, McCain let
loose of his the rifle and grabbed hold of the keg. He moved it and
twisted it hoping to break the bayonet blade off. The keg gave way
causing McCain and Lansing, each caught in their momentum, to lose
balance. McCain lay by the broken gunpowder keg. Lansing went down
and his hand touched cold steel. He felt the barrel of McCain’s
rifle. Clasping it, he got up and swung at McCain who had grabbed
another keg and was holding it out in defense. The grey coat swung
down hard extending his arch so as to try to hit the bluecoat beyond
the keg. The lever of the rifle hit the keg dislodging it from
McCain’s arms and causing a break in the container. Lansing then
forced the butt into McCain’s shoulder. The raider toppled. As he
struggled to get up, knees bent and foot shaking, Lansing came back
across McCain striking the right side of his torso. McCain fell back
again. Standing over McCain, the rifle raised overhead, Lansing
purposed to strike him one last time and end this fight and his
opponent’s life. McCain desperate for his life felt among the debris
he was upon for an aid, an equalizer. He could only grab a handful
of gunpowder. As the Confederate swung down, the butt of the rifle
coming at full force, McCain’s clasped hand came up, the two
connected at the lever, sending McCain’s hand back down onto broken
wood and the metal strapping of the keg barrel. The force broke the
lever and McCain’s hand, the powder he was holding sparked and
ignited the spilt contents. The burn was bright illuminating the
area and blinding the two. The rifle fired, sending a bullet into
Lansing’s chest. McCain’s left hand was broken and burned, his ribs
and shoulder bruised, and his arm marked with burns from the powder.
He rolled over away from the broken keg, the dirt smothering any
Picking up his rifle McCain found his footing and
stood hunched over in pain. He squinted and rubbed his eyes and
after a moment his sight adjusted. Having won over his opponent,
Monroe came and aided his cohort. Getting the lantern, Monroe then
untied the horse and helped the corporal mount.
“You are going to have to ride, McCain, you’re in
no condition to handle the car. Besides, Dixon is hurt and Rees is
operating the handcar and they’re already heading back.”
Giving McCain’s horse a swat on the flank, Monroe
followed him hurriedly out of the recess to the tracks and got the
other horse. Seeing the handcar was in the distance heading back
toward Chattanooga, the two engaged their horses and rode briskly
after the other members. Early morning light was beginning to
scatter across the land. Monroe’s attention was turned to the hills
where the rebel encampments were. Working their way down were
riders, coming in reaction to the gunfire and the flash. They rode
furiously in hot pursuit. Assessing their situation, Monroe saw that
McCain was not all present, as he lagged.
“Come on Luke, we have got to get out of here.
There’s more coming. Hang on and ride.”
The corporal spurred his mount then tightened his
legs, holding on as he tried to keep up. He was fighting delirium.
Picking up speed while McCain could not engage as fast, Monroe
caught up with Rees and Dixon.
“The lantern, put the light out” he shouted.
Dixon reached over and turned the flame off while Rees kept his
steady rhythm on the pump handle.
Seeing the riders getting closer Monroe pondered
how they were going to get out of the situation and decided on the
only recourse they had.
“Lose the flat car” he shouted at Rees, who was
closest to the cart. Puzzled, Rees shook his head in confusion.
Monroe pointed over Rees shoulder to the hill. Rees turned his head
and was stunned by the sight of the advancing riders.
“Keep working the hand pump.” Monroe shouted to
At the level ground where the riders presently
were, fencing impeded their pursuit. The closest opening took them
below those they were chasing, toward the area of the recess and the
shack. This bided time for the raiders.
Rees reached down and pulled the other rod out of
the latch that connected the handcar to the flat cart. Unattached,
it released from the handcar and separated slowly from it. As it
slowed, McCain gained and passed it. The Confederate riders were now
clear of fence and field, at trackside, pursuing from the rear.
“Your gun, give me your musket”, Rees shouted to
Rees then took aim at the detached flat cart, its
momentum at about half now. He shot into the cache. His action may
have been sure, but the cache did not react. He loaded and fired
again and the hot miniball found its intended destination, meeting
gunpowder, igniting it and causing a chain reaction to the supply.
An initial explosion caused the cart to recoil, and then,
immediately after, a greater explosion decimated the cart and its
load; smoke, dust, splintered wood and bent metal filled the air.
The rear axle flew away from the track, the front one rolled end
over end pushed along the tracks propelled from the concussion. A
small projectile found its way to McCain’s horse’s right flank.
Spooked, it bolted off the main track carrying its injured rider
onto a path away from the route they had followed and would lead
them back to their regiment. The explosion was enough to stop the
Confederate riders from their chase as some were injured. The rest
of the raiders continued their fierce movement up the tracks
watching the hills for more riders.
The Civil War Years - One
This is a story
based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch