The Writer's Corner
The Civil War Years - One
Written by Edward P
The painful throb of his left hand, his bruised
body and the sound of water lapped by an animal caused McCain to
come to. His straightened himself up and focusing his eyes he saw
before him a wall, its construction board and bat. Feeling a saddle
under him he saw the neck of his horse, its head down drinking from
a trough. Morning scatters of light were giving away to direct sun
as it was rising over the hills. Disheveled, McCain dismounted and
looking at the building saw it was a stable. He eased his injured
hand into the tough, looking for any comfort. Seeing a side door,
he took the horse inside. There were a few other horses there.
Taking the saddle off and leading it to a stall he hoped to give the
steed some rest and to blend in, should anyone come and react before
he had a chance to take action. Running his good hand over the
animal, he checked for any wounds or injuries but could only find
sweat and pieces of dried mud caked on its legs. He then took some
hay and divided it, some nourishment for the horse, and a place off
the ground for him to rest.
“I have got to try and stay awake” he said to
himself as he sat down and ease back on a post. Cradling his left
arm and trying to favor other sore and injured places, he played
back the recent hours over in his mind, wondered where he was, and
if his cohorts made it back. But soon he was asleep.
* * *
A streak of yellow light briefly pierced the
darkened stables as a door opened and shut. Feet walking on hay
straw broke the silence. Moments later an abundance of daylight
filled the stables as larger doors were opened on the other side of
the structure. McCain came to, groggy and befuddled. Then a jolt
from the pain in his hand enlightened him, reminding him of his
circumstances. His reaction alerted the new occupant.
“Who’s there? Show yourself before I start using
He did not know if the man was friend or foe,
where his sympathies lay in this war, but McCain had no choice. He
could only hope for mercy.
“Don’t shoot. I am no threat and I mean no harm.”
He made his way from the stall, hands raised.
Approaching the man, McCain studied his reaction and hoped he may be
a sympathizer and provide some aid.
“Mister, I need help. My hand is burned and
broken and I don’t know what else; I need a doctor.”
The man looked him over, seeing a broken and
bloodied young man, a representative of the past three years of
“Doc’s off helping with the war effort, which I
see would include you. Anybody else with those capabilities is also
McCain sighed in disappointment and discomfort.
“How far from Chattanooga? I’ve got to get back to my regiment.”
“Almost an hour, but you’re in no shape to make
that. Let me have a look at you. I run this stable, blacksmith
mostly, but I’ve done my share helping bruises and breaks, mostly on
Leading McCain, he took him over to some hay
bales and sat him down. Checking the injuries, he went to a
“I’ve got some bandages and salve that I can use.
All else I got is horse liniment, but it’ll do in a pinch.”
Carefully rubbing the oily substance over his hand he saw that
McCain’s index finger and two middle fingers were swollen blue. The
blacksmith grasped the digits; McCain let out a short yell and
yanked his hand back.
“Sorry” the smith responded. “We’re going to have
to tend to that.” Getting some small pieces of wood and breaking
them to size, the blacksmith placed them on top and bottom of the
broken fingers, wrapping them as splints. He rubbed more salve on
the blistering hand and poured some liniment on strips of bandages
and wrapped the wet bandages around the hand, one at a time.
“I suspect you have something to do with that
explosion I heard in the distance last night?” he asked.
McCain did not respond, only stayed quiet.
“Hmm..well anyhow, that is some damage you have
there. I’d like to see the person or thing you came up against.”
“Ah dammit!” came McCain’s frustrated reaction
upon further remembrance. “The rifle. The rifle is ruined. God have
mercy, my situation is all the more worse.”
McCain forced himself up and lurched started
toward his saddle and gear. But the blacksmith overtook him. him.
“Easy, I can get that.” Pulling the rifle out the
blacksmith shook his head as he saw the damage. The lever was broke,
the corner of the stock was chipped and there were scuffs and
scratches over it. “Is this what broke your hand? This your rifle?”
McCain nodded his head. “Yeah”
“Say, this here is one of those Spencer
Repeaters. You one of those Lightening Brigade boys?” There was a
mild air of awe in the blacksmith’s tone.
McCain paused then nodded. “Yes, yes I am.” I’ll
be whatever you want me to be, just get me help,” he thought to
“Well you take it easy. You say you might have
something else broken?”
McCain shook head. “My ribs are sore and my
The blacksmith felt around his shoulders and
torso working his fingers into the ribcage. McCain recoiled and let
out a slight yell.
“Looks like you’re just all bruised up, I don’t
see that you broke anything else.”
After giving him some water and fixing a rest
area for him, the blacksmith allowed his intruder more respite. Soon
the soldier was dozing off. Picking up the rifle, the blacksmith
studied it and looking at its owner, was inspired to try and remedy
the problem. Rummaging around some scrap metal he came upon a broken
saw; a medical tool probably used by some sawbone. It was an item
found by some scavengers, one of many items left on or around an
empty recent battlefield. He like the way the back bar curved in the
front, down to the bottom where the blade would be.
“Should work well for this” he thought to
himself. Getting industrious, he worked the bellows to stoke up the
embers, adding more wood and coal, getting the forge ready to
* * *
The noon sun had passed. An afternoon breeze was
finding its way around the stables. The air on his face and the
noise in his ears and the throbbing in his hand all brought McCain
out of his slumber. The blacksmith was pounding away on a horseshoe.
McCain winced in pain and mustered himself to approach his host.
“I’ve got to get back to my unit,” he said. “They
are going to think I’m dead or a deserter.”
“You had a good rest and fair care on your
wounds. The best you’re gonna get at this time, in these parts. You
alright to ride?”
McCain nodded. “Yes, I’m sure.. I’ll be
“Your horse is rested too, and fed well. And you
must be starving. I brought some provisions from the house. You’ll
need to eat and get your strength up.”
McCain could not turn down the man’s hospitality.
He was hungry. Sitting down on a bench by a plate of food and
utensils, he picked up a slice of apple and ate. Then taking the
fork in his right hand, he shoved some beans into his mouth.
“I had to barter some shoe work for that squash,”
the blacksmith said. My wife used to keep a nice garden but isn’t
too active these days.”
McCain also gladly partook of the squash. It was
a simple meal but more than he had eaten for a time. The city under
siege with supply lines cut resulted in severe rationing. Hardtack
was the staple for the soldiers.
The blacksmith finished up his work on the shoe,
waiting for McCain to get some food in him. Then he went and picked
up the rifle. Holding it up, he brought it over.
“Seeing how your rifle wasn’t of much use, except
maybe for beating someone, I took some liberty and did repair work
on it. I also made some modifications.”
McCain focused his eyes, studying the rifle.
Taking it in hand he was surprised at what he saw. He looked at the
weapon incredulously and then looked up at the blacksmith.
“The old lever was damaged beyond repair” the
blacksmith responded. I replaced it and put in this bigger one to
better suit your… predicament. It’s like a large bull on trade
muskets for winter gloves. Seeing how your hand is going to be under
mends for some time, and under wraps.
McCain took the stock in his right hand, and
passed his bandaged left hand thru the wide loop lever. He cocked
the weapon, anticipating some pain, he grit his teeth and mustered
some movement with his arm. The rifle responded stiffly with a
slight jerk, the sound of a light click, followed by another jerk
and louder click and a cartridge ejecting.
“How did you know I was a southpaw?” McCain
The way you reached toward your gear earlier in
spite of your injury and I noticed a little bit of awkwardness with
you using your right hand. And when I saw the way you handled that
spoon, well I was pretty sure. But that aside, that handle was the
best I could come up with. You’re gonna have to use your right for
some time, but in the heat of a gun battle, you’re gonna favor your
Mulling this over in his mind, McCain found it
hard to challenge the man’s logic and he did not want to appear
unappreciative for his efforts. He thought of Oatman’s reaction on
returning the broken and modified weapon. It would not be pleasant.
“Now about me getting back.”
“You’re by Harrison, about two miles north, up by
the river. Follow the creek and it takes you to the river. A ferry
crossing is there.”
In McCain’s fatigued state he confused the town
of Harrison with his colonel for a moment but the mention of the
name encouraged him.
“Any Confederate presence is pretty sparse,” the
blacksmith continued. “Once you get across, you can work your way
down along the river and cross back over to Chattanooga. Don’t wear
your uniform. I’ve got some trousers of my son’s you can wear.”
“He’s away -- with the Second Tennessee Cavalry
* * *
His physical progress along the Tennessee
landscape was undisturbed except for the painful throb that made
each step of his horse a nuisance. Inside him, McCain’s spirit was
troubled. Mentally he kept going over his situation. He was deeply
disappointed at the turn of events with the raid. His disappointed
turned to resentment and his resentment to anger.
“I try to take a step in a new direction and I
get knocked back three. This was a chance for me and it went all to
hell. And I had a good situation as it was. In fact, McCain, you had
a legacy to fulfill, passed on by your father and your grandfather.
Maybe you should’ve accepted your function as a sharpshooter with a
little more grace. Now look at yourself. No good to anybody. And
it’s not all about you McCain. You had others relying on your
leadership. What’s happened to them?”
The thoughts looped in his mind throughout the
day and each mile brought more despair and self-doubt. It was
evening when he finally arrived in Chattanooga. He pushed his
troubled thoughts aside. He had other ones to occupy his mind and
debated whether he should see the doctor or report in first. Word
spread quickly on his return.
“McCain, thunder, you made it”. It was Rees
exclaiming his relief.
McCain nodded. “Monroe, Dixon, they made it back
“We’re all here, safe and sound. Dixon’s wound
was nothing serious. I guess the blade hit him just right.”
“Good. Guess I need to report in.”
McCain staked his horse, left the rifle sheathed
in the saddle and knocked and peered into the colonel’s tent. Aid
Miller and Colonel Stoddard were both there.
“Excuse me Colonel,” he said as he cleared his
“McCain, you made it,” exclaimed the colonel.
“Come in. Are you alright? We were all worried about you.”
“Well, sir, it’s good to be back here alive, but
I did sustain some injury” As he entered the tent they could see his
“Your hand, how bad is it?” And are there any
“It is broken…and burned sir. But I think the
burns are not too serious. I still have my fingers, fingernails for
that matter. And my ribs got a good beating.”
“You found some aid, I see.”
“Yes sir, a blacksmith. I was hold up in his
“I see. Any port in a storm I suppose.”
“I’m very disappointed we couldn’t bring all the
cache back, sir. At least the johnnies didn’t get it. We made sure
“Yes, judging by what was on the handcar, it was
some pretty good powder. Well, you’d better go have the doctor look
“Yes sir, I’ll do that. He turned on his heel,
and then remembered. “Sir, here is your watch.“ Pulling his right
hand from a far pocket he clasped the timepiece, now with a broken
lid and broken crystal and gave it to the colonel. “Also, my horse,
where does the horse go?” he asked.
“You can take him over by the battalion tent.
There are several staked there. But go see the doctor first.”
Leaving the colonel’s quarters, McCain went to
the hospital in the city proper; Doctor Krieg was just finishing
evening rounds. In examining his hand the doctor determined that in
addition to his fingers, three bones down in the palm including the
metacarpal of the thumb were broken. He commended the aid that was
done, especially under the circumstances.
“You have second degree burns, he said on that part
of his injury. “They’re going to need some air, but we’ll
concentrate on keeping everything clean for now and shoring up for
the bones to net properly.” He cleaned over the blisters and cuts,
reset the two fingers, used better splints, changed the dressing and
bandaged his palm. He also put the arm in a sling. The patient felt
better and a little worse at the same time.
Then the doctor got out a hypodermic needle. “I’m
going to give you a shot for the pain and to help you sleep. This is
an opiate named for the Greek god Morpheus, the god of sleep. McCain
would normally be uneasy at the sight of the needle but now welcomed
any aid that would ease his pain. “That’s about all I can do for
now. We will need to keep that dressing clean."
McCain left the hospital, night had come and the
long day was over. He was ready to put this one behind him. Stopping
by his tent, he gathered his gear then returned the horse. Slumping
back into his tent, he was soon asleep.
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