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

Chapter 2

    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 operate quiet.” 

    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 moment.” 

    “Sure.” 

    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” McCain ordered. 

    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 the right.” 

    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 get.” 

    “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 confederates. 

    “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 Lansing. 

    “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 crow flies.” 

    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 Confederate encampment. 

    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 regaining consciousness. 

    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 hoped. 

    “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 hand. 

    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 flame. 

    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 Dixon. 

    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 Monroe. 

    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.

 

 

Chapter 3
The Civil War Years - One Writer's Reboot

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!

 

 

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