As the sun peeked over the trees to the east of Bentonville and painted the landscape in a dim, gray glow, Corporal Boggs drained his cup of chicory coffee, made a face, and threw the dregs in the fire.
“Jacob, me boy, here they come. We’s afixin’ to open the ball.”
Jacob looked up and saw the company officers striding toward them. The look on their faces was strained, but Jacob understood why it would be that way. Judging by the number of fires in the distance, the Union troops significantly outnumbered the Confederate Army of Tennessee, yet the rumor was they were going to attack that force. Jacob was used to that. It had been happening over and over for the past two years. A few times, they’d won the battle, but more often than not, they had to retreat without even picking up their dead.
Supplies seemed to be getting worse with every battle as well. When he’d enlisted, three years before, the Confederacy had supplies, arms, and ammunition to outfit every new recruit. After three years of war, arms and ammunition were something they took from dead bodies on the battlefield to increase what the Confederacy was able to supply.
Food was a sometimes thing. Like all soldiers on both sides, he’d complained about the salt pork and salt beef and hardtack he’d been issued for rations early in the war. Now, he’d have given a lot of money for even a small slab of either and half a hardtack biscuit. The last real meat he’d eaten had been half a dozen crawdads he’d caught in a creek where they’d camped two weeks before.
Jonas smiled to himself at that thought. There was no food to be bought, but he did have some money. Tied around his belt and carried inside his uniform trousers was a soft leather pouch. He’d found it on the body of a Union lieutenant when he was looking for ammunition. Inside the pouch, he’d found two five dollar Union gold coins.
After that, he looked for money on bodies as much as he looked for ammunition. Officers were the best bet, but some high-ranking enlisted men had money too. By the time of the pending battle, he’d found a little over fifty Union dollars and about two in Confederate money. As a grizzled old sergeant had told him when Jacob saw him pulling the boots off a dead soldier, “he don’t need ‘em any more and I do”. Jacob didn’t have any use for money right then, but it he lived through the war, he would.
He wasn’t surprised at not finding many Confederate Greybacks. The Confederate troops hadn’t been paid in weeks for the same reason food was scarce. Sherman had effectively cut off the supply lines from the south to the troops in the Carolinas when he’d marched his army across Georgia. Confederate money wasn’t worth anything now anyway.
Like the rest of the company, he survived on the few rations the Confederacy was able to supply, and added to that with plants and roots he found in the fields and forests. If they were in an area where troops hadn’t marched through lately, they might find a squirrel or two or maybe a rabbit, but those were rare occasions.
If they passed a farm, they might find a chicken or maybe even a hog, but Jacob felt bad about taking them. He’d seen the look on the women and children who stayed on those farms when their husband or father or son went off to war. They needed food too. Still, if he didn’t eat he wouldn’t be strong enough to fight. If he couldn’t fight, it was more than likely he’d die or be taken prisoner.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Arkansas had formed its own army to protect it from the feared advances of the Union. They fought a couple battles, but then the Provisional Army of Arkansas had been handed over to the Confederacy and marched to Tennessee. That action had left Arkansas virtually defenseless against any actions by the Union Army.
During late winter of 1862, General VanDorn, a former Union Army officer who had joined the Confederate Army, was charged with building another force to guard Arkansas against Union aggression. Jacob had signed up expecting to do just that. He’d stay in Arkansas, probably not close to where his family lived on a small farm a few miles from Sylamore, but still in Arkansas.
In March, after only a month of military training, Jacob marched north with the new Confederate Army of the West toward Fayettville. The Union had pushed the Confederate Missouri State Guard out of Missouri and down into Arkansas over the winter. The Union had then established fortifications in Benton County and were only awaiting supplies before they pushed deeper into Arkansas. The Army of the West was to halt their progress and either force a retreat back to Missouri or to capture as much of the Union Army of the Southwest as possible.
The actual battle had taken place near the town of Leetown, and had resulted in a humiliating defeat for the new Confederate Army. They’d been outnumbered and under-trained, and the fortifications made assaulting the Union lines nearly impossible. Another problem was the planning by General VanDorn and his staff.
Their plan was to flank the Union Army, cut off their supply train and then encircle them. To do this quickly, General VanDorn had left the supply train behind. Each soldier carried only three day’s rations, forty rounds of ammunition, and one blanket. A wagon with one more day’s rations and extra ammunition would catch up to them in time to effect a resupply.
It had taken a three day forced march in freezing conditions to travel the distance from Fayetteville to Leetown. When they arrived, Jacob was tired and hungry, and wondered how they were going to last through even one day of battle.
Their advance on the Union’s reinforced lines had been repelled on the first day, and on the second, the Union Army swept the exhausted Confederates from the battlefield. General VanDorn had ordered a retreat, and the weary army retraced its steps south until they found their main supply train south of the Boston Mountains.
A few weeks later, the Confederate Army of the West was transported into Tennessee and joined the Confederate Army of Tennessee. That left Arkansas defenseless again.
Unlike a few who deserted then, Jacob had followed orders and crossed the Mississippi. He fought hard after the Confederate Army of the West had been absorbed by the Confederate Army of Tennessee, though he came to realize he was no longer fighting to defend the Confederacy. He was fighting to defend himself. He fought to defend those of his company as well, but his prime goal was to get to the end of the war without being wounded or killed.
Over time, Jacob developed what Corporal Boggs called “battle sense”. He survived each battle by being aware of what was going on around him and after a while, could predict what was likely to happen and take an appropriate action.
There was something else as well. At times, Jacob’s mind told him to do something – fall to the ground or run in a certain direction – that ended up saving his life. It wasn’t something he actually remembered seeing or hearing that caused that thought, though he knew it had to be. It just seemed to happen that he did the right thing at the right time.
Corporal Boggs thought Jacob was good luck because he’d never been wounded.
“I’m stickin’ with you, Jacob. You’re my lucky rabbit’s foot.”
On nights when they weren’t fighting, he’d lay on his bedroll and think of what he’d do when he made it back to Sylamore. His father, Matthew Rhodes, was getting on in years and suffered from rheumatism. Jacob would take over running the farm and let his father have a well-deserved rest. He’d find a woman after the first year, probably Martha Rice, he thought. They’d spoken after church services a few times, and she seemed to like him. Once he was back, he’d court her proper and if her father agreed, he marry her. She’d give him sons to help with the farm work. When he had more hands to help, he’d buy more land.
All those thoughts raced through Jacob’s mind as Corporal Boggs stood and picked up his Enfield rifle.
“You comin’ Jacob?”
Jacob stood up and checked the cap on his rifle, then followed Corporal Boggs to where the troops were forming up.
The fighting had gone on most of the day. His company had tried to burst through the Union line without success. In mid-afternoon, they had tried again and were able to push the Union left flank back and capture the Union field hospital. They held that ground, but had lost so many men it had been difficult for their officers to mount a coordinated attack.
Several tries at penetrating the Union lines assembled at a farmhouse also failed. Multiple charges by the Confederates had been repulsed and each time they’d run back ducking the Minié balls flying over their heads. Jacob had passed a lot of bodies when retreating after the first charge, and after the third, the ground was so covered with the dead and wounded he had to jump over them as he ran.
Union reinforcements had then arrived and the fighting continued sporadically until almost midnight. Jason was exhausted. He’d been running toward the Union line and firing, then running again for his very life for almost seventeen hours, seventeen hours without much to eat and with little rest. When the officers led a retreat away from the Union lines, he was relieved. They might not get much to eat, but they could get a few minutes of sleep. He was angry when he learned the retreat wasn’t for a meal and some rest. It was so the troops could begin digging in and constructing breastworks.
Jacob was also saddened by the death of Corporal Boggs. Aaron Boggs had become a friend over the months, one of the few Jason allowed himself to make. Aaron came from Fayetteville and was one of the few Arkansas boys left by then. They had a lot in common, both of them coming from small, subsistence farms and both of them believing in God.
On one of the charges at the Union line, Jason had heard a dull “thunk” to his left. He’d quickly turned and saw Corporal Boggs go limp and fall to the ground. Other than a slight tremor in his legs, he lay still.
Jacob had knelt beside his friend and felt his stomach churn when he saw the large hole above Corporal Boggs’s left eye. Jacob tried to lift his head, but when he touched Aaron’s hair, he felt wetness. His hand came away covered with blood and a little pinkish gray matter. Jacob had eased Aaron’s head back down, then took the cartridge box from Aaron’s belt and stuffed it in his own knapsack, and started running for the Union lines again.
In the early morning hours, his company dug a trench that would give them some cover against a Union assault and then tried to rest. They couldn’t really sleep. They were exhausted but their nerves were still on edge from the battle. Jacob was glad he couldn’t sleep. Sleep would have meant dreaming and dreaming would have meant seeing Corporal Boggs with a hole above his right eye and his brains spilling from the hole in the back of his head again.
Corporal Boggs would join the many Confederate soldiers who invaded Jacob’s dreams some nights. They had all died as he watched, some of them quietly, some screaming out their last breath in pain. Jacob would wake, covered in sweat even if it was cold in his tent, then realize it was only another dream and eventually fall asleep again.
The next day wasn’t eventful. Jacob knew the Confederates were grossly outnumbered and wondered why the Union didn’t just sweep down and kill them all. There were short skirmishes throughout the day, but no actual battles. Jacob, along with the rest of his company welcomed a day to recover as best they could. They figured the next morning would bring another assault on the Union lines and more dead and wounded with little to show for it.
They were physically tired, but even worse was the mental tiredness. They were tired of fighting battles the seemed to always result in the Confederates retreating and regrouping what was left of the troops into new companies. New leaders would then replace those who had been killed or wounded and they’d prepare for another battle. They were tired of eating what they could find when they could find it and going hungry when they couldn’t. They were tired of lice that chewed at their skin and ate their life blood. They were tired of being away from home and family.
On the third day, the battle the Confederates had expected happened with a Union attack on their rear. They were able to hold off the Union only because for some reason the Union troops stopped their attack and withdrew. It was obvious to Jacob they wouldn’t survive another. He was nearly out of the paper cartridges for his Enfield rifle and they were becoming difficult to find. Like many other things he needed, he took them from the dead when he could find them.
On his belt Jacob carried two Kerr’s Patent revolvers. He’d found them on the body of a dead Confederate Cavalry officer after a battle. They were too small to be of much use during a charge of the Union positions as they were only .44 caliber but they were very useful in defending a position when the Union got close enough. He’d put the officers belt on and taken both revolvers and all the ammunition the officer carried.
Also on that belt he carried a long bowie knife he’d taken from a dead Confederate infantryman he’d known. The man was from Texas and had said he had the knife for close quarters fighting. The man hadn’t had the chance to try it out. A Union canon ball had skipped on the ground twice and then hit him in his midsection and cut him in half. Jacob had never had to use it that way either, but he kept it sharp just in case.
By the end of the day, the Confederate troops were still in position, but they were about done in. Most had little or no ammunition left and were still exhausted. General Johnston, the commander of the army, ordered them to retreat. Under the cover of darkness, what was left of the army walked across the bridge over the creek behind their line and then burned the bridge. Their retreat was not seen by the Union, so they were not followed. They then slowly marched to Selma where they regrouped and rested.
Jacob thought it more than foolish to assemble the beaten army for a review by their generals, but he stood as straight as he could as they marched by the reviewing platform. After the review, they retreated further to near Raleigh where they dug in to await the attack by Sherman’s army they were certain would come.
Within a few days, word came from the citizens of Raleigh that Lee had surrendered to Grant on April 9th at a courthouse in Appomattox. A few days later, the rumor spread through the camp that General Johnston was going to surrender to General Sherman to avoid the battle and the destruction of Raleigh that would surely follow. On April 17th he was seen riding away from camp with his aides under a white flag.
The surrender happened on April 26, and that afternoon, Jacob learned of the surrender terms. The terms were simple and final. The Confederate soldiers were to turn in all their weapons and non-personal gear and would then be released on parole with no punishment unless they again took up arms against the Union. They were free to return home and pick up the lives they had left behind.
Jacob was both elated and sad. The war was over now and he could rejoin his family back in Sylamore and begin to live the life he’d thought about over the three years he’d fought. He was also sad because it seemed as if those three years had been for nothing, that all the men who had died had died for nothing and that all the men who’d been grievously wounded for life would have to bear those scars and missing arms and legs for nothing.
As he sat around the campfire with the other soldiers and listened to them talk about what they were going to do once they had surrendered, another thought crept into his mind and then became a fear.
He could go home, but doing so would mean walking through Tennessee unarmed and with no food. How could he survive when the Union Army occupied most of Tennessee? He’d heard stories from some of the Confederate soldiers who’d escaped being captured in the Battle of Nashville that Confederate guerilla fighters were still fighting there and that the Union Army shot first and asked questions later. In his gray uniform, he’d probably be at risk of the same, and without arms, wouldn’t be able to defend himself.
Somewhat tempering that fear was the secret he kept hidden in his bedroll. While searching the battlefield for the dead and wounded after one of the battles they had actually won, he came across the body of a Union Army captain. Around the captain’s waist was a pistol belt and in the holsters on that belt were two Remington revolvers. In a leather case behind the right hand holster were powder, balls, and caps for the revolvers. In another case behind the left holster were two extra cylinders.
Jacob had seen the Union officers using Remington revolvers. They were accurate and reliable and gave a man six shots before he needed to reload. Like his Kerr’s revolvers, they weren’t much good for distance shooting, but close up, they were deadly.
They were also easier to load because of the interchangeable cylinders. A man could load two cylinders, put one in the revolver and the other in the pouch on his belt. When one cylinder had been emptied, he could quickly remove the empty cylinder and replace it with the loaded cylinder from the pouch. A soldier so equipped would be able to fire twelve shots without stopping to reload, a process that could take several minutes even for one revolver.
Jacob had pulled the pistol belt and revolvers from the captain’s body and hid them in the hollow of a tree. Once he’d been relieved from the search, he returned to the tree after dark and recovered the pistol belt and the revolvers. They had stayed hidden in his bedroll since then.
He stumbled upon the second answer the night before the surrender was to take place. A private from Alabama had whooped his glee at being able to return home, and he didn’t wait for the official surrender. That night, he left everything in his tent and started south. About midnight, Jacob quietly stole into the tent while the private’s tentmates were sitting around the fire outside and took the man’s Springfield rifle and his cartridge box.
The cartridge box had only ten rounds, but Jacob now had a rifle with which to defend himself and shoot game for food. Before leaving the tent, he looked around for more, and found two other cartridge boxes that together had another thirty rounds. That same night, he took the Springfield and ammunition, the Remingtons, and his bowie knife to an abandoned farmhouse near their encampment and hid them under the front porch.
The surrender took less time than he’d thought it would. On April 26th, his company marched to Durham Station and presented their formation to General Sherman and several other Union Generals. They were read the articles of surrender and then stacked their weapons and equipment. They were free to leave, but no transportation would be provided.
Most headed west toward Tennessee and Mississippi. A few began walking north to Virginia. Others went south toward Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Jacob went back to the farmhouse to retrieve his weapons and bedroll, and then started walking through the trees toward the southwest.
Over the duration of the war, Jacob had learned he was safer if he trusted no one but himself, and he was even more of that frame of mind where Union troops were concerned. Just as he had, the men of the Union Army had lost friends in battle and would probably welcome the opportunity for some revenge. Since the Union Army was in virtual control of the South, it was unlikely anything done to a former Confederate soldier would be investigated, let alone punished.
It was also more likely that if he went south, any people he met would be sympathetic to the Confederacy. Jacob didn’t expect these people to give him food or anything else because he knew they didn’t have enough for themselves. Marching through the countryside between battles had revealed that. Women and children who had stayed behind looked thin and gaunt as they watched the column of soldiers pass by. They offered neither encouragement nor scorn, just straight faces that stared at them. They were exhausted by war and tired of all it had taken from them.
As he walked through the forests, Jacob saw little to indicate there’d been a war that lasted four years. Occasionally he’d find an area where the trees had been cut and the trunks used to build cabins during the winter when it was too cold to fight. He’d helped build some of those small camps, and though the cabins were tiny, they offered a welcome respite from sleeping in a tent in the cold.
Most were now just rotting log walls with no roofs, and when he rummaged through the cabins, he found nothing of value. Usually, just outside the camp he found at least one low mound of earth. Each mound marked the final resting place of a soldier. Jacob never knew which army had built the camp, because both sides had done so.
Walking through the fields was an entirely different matter. Though most of the countryside had escaped the ravages of a battle, they hadn’t escaped the scroungers charged with finding food for both armies. Where there would have been cattle and horses grazing in the pastures before the war, now there were empty fields of weeds. Where there should have been farmers working the soil of the fields prior to planting, there were only more weeds.
After three weeks of walking and seeing no one, Jacob thought he was probably either in the southern part of east Tennessee or maybe northern Georgia. That morning, he started climbing a ridge to get a better view of the terrain. He was walking through a thick stand of trees when he came to a clearing and saw a small cabin. Smoke was drifting slowly from the stone chimney.
His first instinct was to turn back into the forest, go back down the ridge, and bypass the cabin. He was preparing to do that when a voice called out to him.
“You there, stranger. Stop where you are. What’re you doin’ on my ridge?”
Jacob sought for the location of the voice and thanks to the skills he’d honed during battle, found it in seconds. The older man was standing behind a large oak tree beside the cabin, and had a shotgun pointed at him. Jacob quickly raised his hands.
“I’m Jacob Rhodes, and I’m just a soldier on my way home, that’s all. I don’t want anything from you.”
“Soldier, huh? Which side?”
Jacob considered his answer carefully. If he was in East Tennessee, the man could be a Union sympathizer. Most of East Tennessee was and some men from East Tennessee had fought for the Union. If he was in Georgia, the man was probably a Confederate sympathizer. He decided to find out if the man would tell him.
“Where is this place?”
“Don’t matter none where it is. What matters is which side you’re on.”
Jacob figured he had no choice but to answer, but before doing so, he moved slightly until his side was facing the man. If the man decided to shoot him, his side would be a smaller target than his chest and belly. The man was close, only about fifteen feet away. The shotgun pattern might be narrow enough at that range to miss him and give him a chance to draw the Remingtons.
“Well, Sir, I was a Confederate.”
“You’re wearing gray, but them don’t look like Confederate revolvers. Ain’t never seen no Confederate soldier with revolvers like that. Seen plenty o’ Union soldiers with ‘em though. And what do you mean by ‘you was a Confederate’? You a deserter?”
“I took them off a dead Union officer. I had to give up my Kerr’s after the surrender.”
“Lee surrendered to Grant the first part of April. General Johnston surrendered to Sherman about three weeks ago. The war’s over. The Confederates lost.”
“Well, I’ll be damned. Wondered why I hadn’t seen any troops down in the valleys lately. They never come up here. Too hard on the men and the horses. I watched ‘em though, from up here on my ridge, watched ‘em for the past two years.
“The first ones was Confederates ‘bout two years ago. They marched over Chicamauga Creek and made camp. Then come the Union. They crossed the Tennessee River on pontoon bridges and camped south of Chattanooga. Watched ‘em fight for three days from up here. Never seen so many dead men in all my life. They was so many, you couldn’t have took a step without steppin’ on one. Then the Union turned tail and headed back to Chattanooga. The Confederates didn’t go after ‘em though. Never could figure why. They had ‘em whipped an’ they let ‘em go.”
“We let them go because we didn’t know they were retreating. General Bragg thought they’d attack the next morning, but instead they went back to Chattanooga. I was there.”
“You was there?”
“Yes, Sir, I was. General Johnston sent some of us to help General Bragg.”
“Then you’d know what the Confederates done once the Union left.”
“Yes, Sir, I would. We buried the dead and then went over the battlefield picking up anything we could use. The Union left a lot of ammunition and other supplies behind. We got those too.”
The man raised his shotgun and stepped from behind the oak tree.
“I reckon you was Confederate then. You’re in Georgia, boy, ‘bout three miles from Chicamauga Creek. You hungry?”
The old man used a wooden ladle to fill a wooden bowl of soup from a kettle sitting near the fire.
“Got me a possum a couple days ago, an’ he’s been a cooking since. He’s tender as can be an’ tastes purty good fer a possum. I put in some wild taters an’ carrots an’ onions so’s he’d taste better.”
He sat the bowl down on the rough table where Jacob sat.
“Here. Fill yer belly an’ iffn you want more, just say so. I got enough fer me fer another couple days. Seen me a flock of turkeys t’other day an’ I’ll get me one today or tomorrow. Where you from, boy?”
Jacob said, “Arkansas”.
The old man stroked his beard.
“That’s a fur piece from Georgia, ain’t it?”
“Yes, about six hundred miles, I think.”
“Think you’ll make it all the way back, or will you stop some’eres else?”
“Oh, I’m going back to my father’s farm and get married. I’ll start farming for myself then.”
The old man smiled.
“Well, farmin’s a good way to live, I guess, but ‘twernt fer me. I quit followin’ a horse’s rear end through the fields an’ come up here with my Lizzie, let’s see, almost twenty year ago now.
“My Lizzie were quite a woman. Her mama was one o’ them fancy girls down in Dalton , ‘an left her in a orphan’s home after she was born. She never knew who her daddy was. Found her in my barn one morning tryin’ to steal some eggs. I brought her in the house and fed her ‘cause she were thin as a wheat stalk. She’d run off from that orphanage ‘cause they was gonna make her stay and take care of the other kids. Didn’t have the heart to take her to the sheriff, so I let her stay.
“Well, I liked her and she liked me. She wern’t but nineteen an’ I was almost forty, but she didn’t care ‘bout that. I’d ‘bout had my fill of farmin’ for somebody else an’ givin’ him all the profits, so we come up here an’ built us this cabin and started livin’ like the Injuns did. They knowed what they was doin’, them Injuns. They’s enough food up here you don’t have to worry about eatin’ and it’s right peaceful too.
“Lizzie liked it up here. Course, she never seen much o’ the good part of life, so’s she thought this was paradise. Lizzie raised a garden then so’s we had real taters an’ carrots an’ onions an’ black eye peas than. Kinda miss them peas, but it don’t matter none.”
“You had a wife up here?”
“Did, ‘til she up an’ got herself bit by a big rattler. She died two days later ‘an I buried her out under that big oak I was standin’ behind. It were a shame fer her to have to die that way and leave me and Eli behind. Eli was my boy. He’d be a bit older than you, I ‘spect. Went off to that war, he did. Heard about it when he walked down to Ringgold to trade some fox hides fer some gun powder an’ caps. Said the Union was gonna attack Georgia and he had to go he’p keep ‘em out. Left the next day.
“He come back home in the fall two years ago. He was missin’ his right arm. Said he got shot by a Union ball and the surgeon cut that arm right off below the shoulder. Couldn’t do much to he’p out cause of that, but he tried.”
“Where’s Eli now?”
The old man nodded his head toward the door.
“He’s out there beside his mother. He weren’t the same boy when he come back. He’d sit sometimes out there under that oak, just sit there fer an hour or more, talkin’ to his mother he said. One day, he sat out there like he did, an’ then come an’ told me life weren’t worth livin’ no more. I done my best to tell him life is what you make of it an’ thought I’d got through to him, but he weren’t really listenin’. Found him the next mornin’ hangin’ from a rope from that same oak.
“Like to killed me, losin’ both him and his mother. I got to thinkin’, though. My mama allus said the Almighty allus has a reason for doin’ what He does. Don’t know what His reason was fer taking Lizzie and Eli. Maybe He thought since they’d had a lot of bad things in life it was time fer them to have the good. I don’t know. I jest stayed up here on my ridge after that ‘cept when I need me some gunpowder or shot or caps. I figure when He’s ready fer me to join ‘em, He’ll give me a shout.”
The old man grinned at Jacob.
“He don’t have to hurry none on my account, though. I’m purty happy up here with the critters. You want some more possum stew?”
Jacob spent the night in the old man’s cabin, and after a breakfast of more possum stew, told the man he’d be on his way. The old man smiled.
“You could stay iffen you want. It ain’t a bad life up here and I’d like havin’ somebody around to plant me beside Lizzie and Eli when I go. They’s enough critters you could do you some trappin’ and sell the hides down in Ringgold an’ buy what you need. Might find you a wife down there too. Wouldn’t mind having another woman around.”
Jacob smiled, but shook his head.
“Well, I reckon I need to get back to Arkansas. My father will be needing help. I do thank you for the meal and the bed.”
The old man smiled.
“Figured you’d say that, but thought I’d try. ‘Afore you go though, I’ll give you something you’ll need. Jest wait a minute while I go get it.”
The old man went back inside the cabin and came back out carrying a package wrapped in brown paper.
“Lizzie made these trousers and shirt fer Eli ‘afore she died. Made ‘em outa flour sacks she got when we went to Dalton one time. She dyed ‘em with walnut hulls so they’d be brown an’ fit in with the woods. He don’t need ‘em now that he’s with her. He was about your size, so they oughta fit. That gray uniform you got on is near fallin’ apart, an’ iffen you go up through Tennessee, some folks might not like you wearin’ it. They won’t think nothin’ ‘bout a man dressed in a cotton shirt and trousers.”
Jacob thanked the old man and then started down the ridge. He turned north enough to miss the battlefield. It held memories he wanted to forget. The old man had been right about the number of dead after that battle. Jacob had been one of the men who buried them.
Jacob walked west for a week after he’d bypassed Chattanooga. He’d stayed away from the town because when he’d climbed one of the bluffs above the city, he’d seen Union troops around the rail station.
Even though he now wore the brown cotton shirt and pants the old man had given him, he was still cautious. It was easy to believe those Union troops were acting the same way as the tales he’d heard about Nashville. In Nashville, the people were under martial law, and that meant the Union Army was deciding what was right and what was wrong. The Union had lost a lot of men, and the tellers of those tales said any man not wearing the blue uniform of the Union was suspect.
As Jacob walked away from Chattanooga, he decided to stay in Tennessee instead of going back south into Alabama. He would be quickly leaving the eastern part of Tennessee that had been sympathetic to the Union, but in the north part of Alabama, the Union sympathy was just as strong if not stronger. Few battles had been fought in Alabama, so those Union sympathizers hadn’t been threatened, and in fact, had flourished when the Union occupied the area before capturing Nashville. He turned slightly northwest and struck out across the countryside.
A day later, Jacob came to the Tennessee River. He’d crossed it when marching to Chattanooga on a pontoon bridge built by the engineers of the Confederate Army. That bridge no longer existed. The Union had rebuilt the rail trestle at Chattanooga after the Confederacy had damaged the original, but it had been guarded by Union troops against further sabotage, so crossing the river that way hadn’t been an option.
The Tennessee was pretty wide at the point where Jacob had stopped, but it was late enough in the year the spring rains had already passed by so the current wasn’t very fast. As Jacob walked down the bank to the nearest inside bend, he was thinking about two Cherokee soldiers from Oklahoma territory telling how they crossed rivers that were too deep to wade across.
They would cut a smaller tree with a trunk as wide as a man’s hand, and then cut the trunk into lengths about four feet long. After using strips of bark or vines to lash these into a small raft, they would put anything that couldn’t get wet on top of the raft and then push the raft across the river by swimming. Crossing in this manner meant they’d drift downstream quite a distance, but the raft supported them as well as their belongings.
Jacob didn’t have an axe, but he had the bowie knife on his belt. He found a willow tree about the right size growing along the shore and cut it down, then stripped off the branches and cut the trunk into lengths. The three sections that yielded didn’t look wide enough to Jacob, so he cut another and did the same with it, then lashed the six logs together with willow bark and some virginia creeper vines he found growing nearby.
Just before dark, Jacob wrapped his rifle, pistol belt and revolvers, ammunition pouches, bowie knife and sheath, and his boots and clothes in his bedroll. He tied the bedroll on top of the raft and eased it into the river. His belongings were only a couple inches above the water, but they’d stay dry. Jacob pushed off into the current and started slowly swimming his raft towards the opposite shore. Once he reached the other side, he’d let the river take him to another inside bend where the water would be shallow enough he could wade out.
It took most of the night for him to cross the Tennessee. The sky was a dim gray when he saw the inside bend and began swimming his raft in that direction. A few minutes later, his feet touched the bottom, and Jacob pushed his raft up onto the shore. He checked the things on the raft, found them to be dry, and quickly put on his clothes and boots. A quarter of an hour later, he pushed the raft out into the current and then turned and walked into the trees.
Jacob stayed in the trees about a hundred feet from the road as much as possible and only used roads or crossed open country when there was no other option. By paralleling the roads, he kept his sense of direction somewhat, but since all roads led to a town, he’d detour around each before he got there and then find the road again.
The devastation of the country in southern Tennessee was the same he’d seen in the Carolinas. Farms were grown up in weeds, and many times he saw only the stone chimney of the farmhouse still standing. The house had been burned to the ground.
Jacob had no desire to take anything from those houses that were still standing because usually he saw women and children around them. They’d be outside, scratching at the soil with hoes in order to plant a garden. They worked with hoes because there were no horses or mules left. They’d all been confiscated by both armies as they scavenged for food and anything else they could use.
The same had happened to all the cattle and hogs. He saw a hen here and there, but couldn’t bring himself to take what was likely the only source of food for the people left there. Instead, he foraged through the forest just as he had during the war.
It was one morning when he’d just bypassed Lawerenceburg, Tennessee, he saw a group of about twenty men on horseback riding along the road he was paralleling. Jacob ducked behind a tree and let them pass, but watched them until he couldn’t see them any more.
They were dressed in a mix of clothing. A few wore Confederate uniform trousers, but most wore lindsy-woolsey or cotton. Their shirts were of the same material and most had a hat of some type. What caught his eye wasn’t their clothing. It was that they were all armed with rifles or shotguns as well as with revolvers. The Union army was still armed, but during the surrender, all Confederates were made to surrender theirs. An exception was made for personal firearms belonging to officers, but Jacob doubted there would be this many ex-officers riding together.
It was also strange that they were all riding horses instead of walking. The only people who still had horses to ride were Union soldiers and former Confederate officers who had furnished their own mounts. All horses in the Confederate Cavalry had been deemed to be public property and confiscated at the surrender. He’d not seen a horse of any type on a farm and knew that was because if the Confederacy hadn’t taken them, the Union had. If these men had been able to keep their horses and arms, there was only one explanation – they were Confederate guerillas who hadn’t stopped fighting.
Once they passed, he continued on his way. He’d gone on for about an hour when he heard the sound of galloping horses. After ducking into some thick brush, he separated the twigs and leaves so he could see the road.
The same men came galloping down the road, but there were fewer than before. Behind the group were three horses without riders. As the riders dashed past, two of the riderless mounts turned and ran into the trees on the opposite side of the road.
Jacob stayed behind the brush until the group had passed. He’d started to get up when he heard more galloping horses coming toward him. He crouched back down, cleared his opening through the branches again, and waited. In a couple of minutes, a group of Union Cavalry raced past in pursuit of the first group. That confirmed Jacob’s suspicion that the first group were guerilla fighters. They’d made their attack and then run and left their three fallen comrades behind.
Jacob waited another half hour, but neither group returned. Cautiously, he walked to the edge of the road and looked both ways but saw nothing. He then raced across the road to the safety of the trees on the other side. His aim was to find one of the loose horses. As with his scavenging during the war, the men who’d ridden those horses past him the first time didn’t need them anymore, and a horse would allow him to travel faster. He quickly found the trail of crushed brush they’d left behind and began following it.
He found one of the two, a bay mare, trying to free herself from a tree. Somehow, she’d caught the looped and tied rains on a branch and that had stopped her. When Jacob got close, she eyed him with eyes wild with fright, layed back her ears and tried to pull herself free again.
Jacob had been around horses all his life, and knew the mare was afraid and might hurt herself if he couldn’t calm her down and get her free. He began talking in a low, soothing voice as he slowly approached her.
“Hey, little lady, calm down. I’ll get you loose. That’s right, just ease up a little. You’re not caught bad.”
Jacob kept talking to the mare until he could touch her bridle. Her eyes were still wild, but her ears were pricked in his direction and she’d stopped pulling on the caught rein. Jacob scratched her nose gently and the mare moved toward him a little. While trying hard not to pull on the reins and spook the mare again, he worked the knotted reins apart and then slipped them from the tree branch. He led the mare away from the tree and then scratched the side of her neck. The mare nuzzled his chest and Jacob chuckled.
“You’re a friendly horse, aren’t you? Think you could take me all the way to Arkansas? My father has four horses I expect you’d like. They’re a lot bigger’n you, but they’re friendly too.”
The mare stood still while Jacob checked her to make sure she hadn’t cut herself on the brush. He found nothing, so he checked the saddle bags that were tied behind the saddle.
In the left saddlebag were almost a hundred paper cartridges that would work in his Springfield along with a flask of rifle powder, a box of caps and paper for making more cartridges. Somehow, the guerillas had kept themselves well supplied when his company was getting most of their ammunition from the dead.
In the other saddle bag, Jacob found a map of Tennessee and a compass like the Confederate artillerymen used. Under the map he found a flask of pistol powder, two bullet molds, a few pounds of lead and a container of grease that could be used in the Minié ball grooves as well as to seal the cylinder of a revolver.
One of the molds was for Minié balls. He knew that because of the grooves in the mold and the rounded plug to form the hollow base. It was stamped “,58” on the side. The other was for a round ball and was stamped “.44” on the side. It would cast balls for his Remingtons.
There was no bedroll tied behind the saddle. That and the fact he hadn’t found any food in either saddlebag told him the guerilla camp wasn’t far away. They’d probably move it now, but he needed to move on. If the Union Army didn’t come back down the road, the guerillas might come looking for the two horses. Jacob stepped in the stirrup, swung up into the saddle, and urged the mare west.
Jacob called the mare “Lady” since that’s what he’d first called her, and Lady took him across the rest of Tennessee in a little less than two weeks. He still stayed in the trees as much as he could, but with the map and compass, he could ride a straighter course than by following the roads. He was careful to stop for the night a good distance away from any roads or farms. He saw no other people except from a distance, and they were too busy trying to plant crops to look up and see him.
Every night, Jacob would use his flint and steel to start a small fire, then eat what he’d managed to find during the day. Sometimes it was just roots and other wild plants. He didn’t like shooting game because that would tell anyone within earshot he was there, but if he saw a rabbit, he’d sight down the barrel of the Springfield and squeeze off the shot. He usually didn’t miss, but the big Minié ball didn’t leave much meat for him to eat unless he got lucky and made a head shot. On those nights, he ate fairly well. Some nights he didn’t eat anything because there wasn’t much to find.
It was the latter part of June by his reckoning when he topped a rise and saw the Tennessee River flowing slowly to the north. Jacob climbed to the highest point of the rise, pulled out his map and looked for natural landmarks to find out where he was.
As soon as he looked out over the landscape, Jacob knew exactly where he was because he’d been here before. The town along the river was Savannah, Tennessee, and was one of the spots where the Union had landed gunboats during the days of the Battle of Shiloh. There at the dock on the river was a stern-wheeler that could give him passage across the Tennessee.
Jacob didn’t relish the idea of going into the town and buying passage across the river on a steamboat, but he had little choice. The Tennessee here was too wide to swim across even with a horse. It was either a steamboat or ride until he found a bridge. There were no bridges marked on his map except for Paducah, Kentucky and that was a week’s ride north.
Jacob hoped the people were still friendly toward soldiers of the Confederacy, but then realized he looked more like the guerillas he’d seen than a soldier. People might mistake him for a guerilla and fear his presence would bring the wrath of the Union Army sweeping down on their little town. He’d have to have a good explanation of who he was and why he was there.
Jacob thought for a while about what he would tell anyone who asked about him because that was nearly certain to happen. Savannah was small, like his home town of Sylamore, so everybody would know everybody else. He’d be out of place and that would draw questions. His story needed to be believable and impossible to quickly verify.
His story would be that he’d been a farmer back in Tulahoma who hadn’t joined up because his mother couldn’t run the farm by herself. Though he was not a combatant, the Union Army had still taken everything they owned and burned his house and barn. His mother had died a few months later so he’d set out for Texas to start a new life. That story would probably satisfy people who’d been sympathetic to the Confederate cause because it wasn’t all that uncommon. He didn’t think he’d find any Union soldiers in town. If there were Union troops occupying the area, they’d probably be further north in Paducah or further south in Memphis.
He couldn’t hide the Springfield rifle and they were not sold to civilians. His story for that was to say he’d found it on a dead Union soldier after the Battle of Tulahoma, and took it because he needed a rifle to feed himself and his mother. People might question why he wanted such a large caliber, because the .58 caliber Minié ball would damage a lot of meat. His answer would be since he’d lost everything, he couldn’t afford to buy a rifle and had made do with the Springfield.
His Remingtons would definitely generate questions. Farmers didn’t carry revolvers but guerillas and other law-breakers did, so he removed his pistol belt and wrapped it and the Remingtons in his bedroll. As an afterthought, he took the bowie knife and wrapped in his bedroll, and re-tied the bedroll behind his saddle. Jacob then clucked to Lady and rode towards the town.
People did stop to look as he rode down the street. Jacob looked this way and that so it wouldn’t appear as if he had anything to hide, but was careful to not make eye contact with anyone. His only goal was the stern-wheeler and a ticket to the next landing on the other side of the river. As he approached the dock, he felt a chill race down his spine.
His assumption that no Union troops would be in Savannah proved false. Two men in the blue uniforms of the Union Army stood beside the dock with their rifles slung casually over their shoulders. People walking toward the stern-wheeler were careful to walk around the soldiers and Jacob could guess why. The soldier’s faces and the way they were slouched told him they were very aware of the power they had over these people.
As inconspicuously as he could, Jacob turned the mare down a side street. He wasn’t sure how to proceed, but until he figured that out, he didn’t want to risk a confrontation. As the soldier who’d escaped from Nashville had said, the Union was out to punish anyone who’d had something to do with the Confederacy, and usually that punishment meant being ridden out of town tied to a saddle and then shot.
He hadn’t noticed the young woman watching him, and he didn’t see her follow him down the side street. He wasn’t aware she was even there until she spoke.
“Mister, something tells me you’re not who you want to look like you are. You turned off into this street as soon as you saw those Union soldiers. You’re either a Confederate soldier or you’re one of the raiders. Which is it?”
Jacob started his story about losing everything and going to Texas. The young woman listened until he finished, and then she smiled.
“That’s a pretty good story. Now, tell me why you’re really here.”
The woman was starting to make Jacob nervous and also a little angry. Women weren’t supposed to act like this one was acting. She shouldn’t have followed him and she shouldn’t be asking so many questions. He hid the anger and nervousness when he answered her.
“I just want to get across the river so I can get to Texas, that’s all. Why do you care?”
She smiled again.
“You might be going to Texas. I can believe that, but that’s all I believe. Most people ‘round here would believe your whole story. Those Union soldiers won’t. You’ll be taking a short ride out of town and you won’t come back, and I’ll be stuck here in Savannah forever. That’s why I care. I want to go with you.”
“You want to go with me?”
“I want to get out of Savannah. I don’t have any money and sure as my Aunt Katy’s bunions I can’t swim across the river. If you’re going to buy a steamboat ticket, you have money. I want you to buy me a ticket too.”
Jacob was affronted by the woman’s gall.
“Why would I want to do that?”
The woman grinned.
“Because I can get you past those Union soldiers and onto the steam boat.”
“How could you do that? You’re just a woman.”
Jacob thought he saw a fleeting look of anger on the woman’s face before she smiled again.
“A man traveling by himself ‘round here looks suspicious. A man traveling with his wife wouldn’t if his wife did all the talking.”
“You want me to marry you just so I can get across the river?”
“Mister, I’m not that desperate. I just want to pretend to be your wife until we get across the river. After that, you can be on your way and I’ll be on mine.”
“What about that part about you doing all the talking? What’s that for?”
“You don’t talk like you’re from Tennessee and they’ll know you’re lying. I was born and raised here, and like you said, I’m just a woman. They won’t suspect me of anything.”
Jacob smiled to himself. The woman had accented the word “just”. There was some fire in her blue eyes too.
She did have a point, two actually, that he hadn’t considered. He hadn’t thought about his Arkansas accent being different, but he’d heard that before when sitting around a fire between battles. He already knew a lone man on a horse would look suspicious given the guerilla raids that were still going on. He’d hoped his story was enough, but she’d seen through it and she had little reason to be as wary of former Confederates and guerillas as she would the Union Army.
Jacob looked down at the woman standing there beside him. Her dress had seen better days, but she was about his age and she had a pretty face. It would be hard for a man to look past that face and softly rounded figure to really question if she was telling the truth.
“How would you explain that you’re doing all the talking? Wouldn’t they suspect something was going on?”
“Not if I said you were injured in the war and couldn’t talk anymore.”
“They’d just want to know how I was injured. If they asked me to show them, they wouldn’t see anything. I was never injured in a battle.”
The woman grinned.
“Now you’re starting to tell the truth. You were a Confederate soldier, weren’t you?”
Jacob cursed himself for admitting to being in battle, but also realized she’d caused him to let his guard down. If she could do that with the Union soldiers he might make it onto the steamboat without incident.
“Yes, I was a Confederate soldier. I’m from Arkansas and I’m trying to get home.”
“I can help you do that if you’ll let me, and I’ll help myself too. All you have to do is buy me a ticket. You need to make up your mind pretty quick though. The steamboat leaves right after daylight tomorrow.”
“Where are you going?”
“I won’t know until I get there. Right now, I’m going where you’re going. A wife would usually do that, wouldn’t she?”
Jacob saw laughter in her eyes and then hope as she spoke.
“There won’t be another steamboat going down-river for another week. Please take me with you.”
Jacob had one last question.
“I have a horse but a man and wife would usually travel in a buggy. What do you intend to do about that?”
“I’ll ride behind you. It’s part of the story I’m going to tell them.”
“Are you going to tell them you don’t have any other clothes too?”
“No, I’m going to carry my traveling case after we stop by where I live to get it.”
“Well, if we’re going to be man and wife, we should know each other’s names. I’m Jacob Rhodes.”
Jacob offered his hand, and the woman grinned as he swung her up behind him. After she had adjusted her dress to cover her legs, she put her arms around his waist to hold on.
“I’m Emily Rice, and you won’t be sorry, I promise.”
Jacob was shocked at where Emily lived. It was a half-burned barn on the outskirts of Savannah. He helped her off Lady and dismounted himself. When he was on the ground, Emily said she had a few potatoes and some carrots if he wanted something to eat. After they ate, Emily showed Jacob an empty stall with a scant pile of straw in the center.
“You can sleep here. I’ll wake you up tomorrow morning.”
Then next morning, Emily shook Jacob awake. It took him a minute or so to realize where he was. Then he remembered Emily and what they were going to try to do. She grinned.
“We have about an hour, and I need to fix you, so come outside where it’s not as dark.”
Jacob sat on the ground while Emily opened the battered-looking traveling case she’d brought with her. He asked what she was doing. She grinned.
“I’m going to give you a neck wound.”
She opened a small tin of something pink and leaned towards him.
“What’s that”, he asked.
“My husband was an undertaker. This is the pasty wax he used to cover up cuts and scrapes. I’m going to make you a scar.”
“You have a husband?”
“I did. I don’t now. Now, hold still.”
Jacob felt Emily putting something on his neck and then dabbing at it. After a few minutes, she reached into her traveling bag again.
“A little face powder will blend it in and make it look real.”
She finished and used her hand on his chin to turn his head from side to side, then smiled.
“In this light, as long as they don’t get too close, it’ll look real enough. Do you have a scarf or a handkerchief? Good. Let me tie it around your neck to cover your scar. If they ask to see it, just loosen the handkerchief and give them a quick look, then tie it back.
“Since you can’t talk, I’ll have to buy the tickets, so you’ll have to give me the money. I don’t know how much it will be, but to go all the way to Paducah is four dollars so it should be less than that.”
Jacob was nervous as he rode Lady back up the side street and then turned her in the direction of the dock. He was also uneasy about Emily sitting on his bedroll behind him. She was holding on to his waist and had pressed her breasts against his back. He’d never felt anything like that before.
As they neared the small building where two different Union soldiers were leaning against the side, she whispered to Jacob.
“Where those soldiers are is the ticket office. Remember, you can’t talk because you were shot in the neck. Don’t show them your scar unless they ask, and stay on your horse if they do. They won’t be able to see it very well that way. When we get to the ticket place, you stay on your horse and I’ll go buy us two tickets.”
When they stopped in front of the building, one of the soldiers stood up and walked over. Jacob recognized the stripes that designated a Union Army Sergeant.
“Where are you two going?”
Jacob didn’t say anything, but Emily did.
“We’re going to Paris Landing to my mother’s house to live. Our house got burned down.”
The soldier frowned.
“I want to hear that from your man here.”
Jacob felt Emily tense a little, but her voice stayed calm.
“My husband can’t talk. He got shot in the neck.”
The sergeant frowned.
“So he’s a Rebel then. Git down off that horse.”
Emily held out her hand to stop his approach.
“No, he never joined up because he’s an undertaker. Two days after the big battle at Shiloh, he was burying some of the Union soldiers who died. Those men, what do you call them, the ones that ride around killing people and robbing them and say they’re part of the Confederate Army?”
“That would be the guerillas, ma’am.”
“Somebody told them my husband was taking care of Union soldiers. They rode up to our house one afternoon and accused my husband of being a Unionist. They made me stand there while they shot him and then burned our house and barn to the ground.
They said they wouldn’t kill me but they’d make me wish I was dead. They said I looked like what they called a fancy woman and they were going to all take a turn with me. They probably would have if four Union soldiers hadn’t ridden up to the house with two more dead bodies. They left the two dead men and rode off to catch the guerillas.
“When they rode away I went to check on Jacob. I was sure he was dead, but he opened his eyes when I touched him. The bullet just went into his throat and then back out. I bandaged him up and he got well, except he can’t talk now.”
The Union soldier frowned.
“I remember hearing about something like that. It was in Pittsburg Landing, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. Our house was just outside of town. People don’t like having an undertaker next door. It’s the smell, you know.”
The sergeant looked up a Jacob.
“Show me your neck, and you’d better have a mark.”
Jacob loosened the handkerchief and opened it briefly, then retied it. The Union soldier smiled.
“I guess you’re telling me the truth, but why are you both on one horse?”
Emily sniffed a little like she was going to cry and started wiping her eyes.
“We had four horses before the war started. The Confederates let us keep two horses because Jacob was an undertaker and needed them to pull our hearse. Then one day, more Confederate soldiers rode up to our house. Our other horse, Daisy, she was out by the barn and they shot her and butchered her. Lady here was out in the trees of the pasture so they didn’t see her. Daisy was my favorite. She’d come up to me whenever I went out there and put her head on my shoulder. I loved her so much and those men killed her and ate her.”
The Union soldier smiled.
“You can pass. Good luck in Paris Landing.”
Jacob rode around the corner of the building before Emily slid off Lady’s back and went to buy their tickets. She came back a few minutes later smiling.
“Two tickets to Paris Landing on the deck cost a dollar. I figured since your horse has to ride on the deck, we would too, and it saved us almost six dollars.”
It was afternoon when the stern-wheeler pulled into shore and ran out gangplanks across from Clifton, Tennessee. Only one man on foot was waiting there, but the captain said he’d wait an hour before moving on down river. Jacob had been looking at his map, and decided this landing was the closest to Randolph where he intended to cross the Mississippi. He led Lady off the deck with Emily holding onto his arm. Once they had walked out of sight of the steamboat, he stopped.
“Well, Emily, thank you for your help. You were right. Those Union soldiers would never have let me get on the boat.”
Emily smiled and touched his arm.
“Thank you for buying my ticket.”
“What will you do now.”
She smiled again.
“You have to cross the Mississippi to get home, don’t you?”
“Yes, I suppose I do. ”
“There are guerilla fighters in Missouri and Arkansas too. Don’t you think the Union will be at all the landings there?”
“I hadn’t thought much about it. They might be.”
“Then you’ll still need a wife to talk for you, won’t you?”
Jacob looked at Emily.
“You want to come with me? Emily, I don’t travel along roads. I go through the trees. I eat what I can catch and find. I sleep on the ground. A woman wouldn’t find that very pleasant.”
“It would be better than traveling by myself and as for the rest, I’ve been doing those things since my house burned down.”
“You don’t have a horse to ride?”
“Riding behind you won’t be that bad once you take those revolvers out of your bedroll.”
“You knew about them?”
“Well, it was hard not to know about them. Even though I put my blankets on top of your bedroll, they kept poking my…well, they kept poking me.”
Jacob didn’t want to take her with him, but he couldn’t just leave her standing there. She had nothing except the clothes on her back, whatever she carried in her traveling case, and two wool blankets. He would make slower time with her riding Lady, but it would be better than leaving her and then wondering for the rest of his life what had happened to her.
“All right, Emily, I’ll take you across the Mississippi, but then you have to go it on your own.”
“Do you suppose we might stop by a town between here and there? If they have food, maybe we wouldn’t have to eat what we find. I’m a pretty good cook and you look skinny as a rail.”
At a fork in the road, the sign said Shannonville was three miles away. Jacob turned Lady into the trees and followed the road until he saw the buildings of the town. He stopped, reached into the pouch at his waist and took out a five dollar gold piece.
“Emily, go buy as much food as this will buy, and you better buy a pot because I don’t have one. I’ll wait for you here in the trees.”
He saw Emily walking back toward him an hour later. She had a burlap sack over each shoulder. When she’d walked into the trees to where he stood holding Lady, she put down the sacks.
“Whew, those were heavy but I got things that will keep for a long time. I got a ham, some corn meal, and some molasses. They’ll taste pretty good if they’re fixed right. I also got a skillet instead of a pot. It’s not very big, but it’s the only one they had. You’ll have to make us some spoons, because I ran out of money. Things were pretty expensive. The storekeeper said things like pots and spoons are just now being made again and they cost him a lot.”
Jacob tied the sacks to his saddle horn and then mounted Lady.
“Let’s go. You can show me how good you cook tonight.”
By his map, it was a little over a hundred miles from Shannonville to Randolph. His intent was to get on a flatboat at Randolph and float down to the landing at Hopefield, Arkansas. Flatboats weren’t very fast, but they could haul a lot of people, animals, and other goods, and the flatboat operators didn’t ask a lot of questions.
The flatboats worked by letting the river current carry them downstream while men on the flatboat used long oars to steer them. They didn’t need much water depth to float so they could put in to shore about anywhere, and the flatboat operators had places they routinely landed to pick up and drop off passengers or freight.
The flatboats would pick up other freight, people, and animals at some of those landings and carry it on down river, eventually reaching New Orleans. After unloading, they’d pick up new cargo and be towed up-river by a steam boat. Before the war, they started the trip in the North and picked up freight, people, and animals to be delivered at the various landings. After the war, the flatboats operating in the South began the trip as far north as they could reach and still be in Confederate territory.
Hopefield was marked on his map as one of those landings but there were probably others. Hopefield was across the river from Memphis, but most Union troops would be in Memphis since that was the main landing for steamboats.
After a week of travelling, Jacob and Emily reached the outskirts of Randolph. Along the way, Jacob had been impressed by the things Emily had done. When they camped that first night, Emily had asked for his bowie knife. She’d carved two slices of ham and put them in the skillet she’d bought, then used the cornmeal and water to make flatbread she baked on a flat rock beside the fire. When he bit into the flatbread, he tasted the molasses she’d added to sweeten it a little. He had to admit ham and flatbread were better than what he’d eaten since leaving the war behind.
He also had to admit it was nice having Emily along. She never talked much, but she listened to him talk about his plans once he got home. She even wanted to know about Martha Rice.
“You’re going to marry this Martha Rice? How do you know she wants to marry you?”
“We used to talk after church on Sundays.”
“That’s all – she talked to you?”
“Well, yes, but it was the way she talked to me. I could tell she liked me.”
“Liking you and wanting to marry you are two different things, Jacob. How do you know she waited all this time anyway? She might have already married some other man. What will you do if she has?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that. I suppose I’ll find another woman who’ll work hard and have our children.”
Emily chuckled again.
“So, you’ll just go looking and find another woman? That sounds like you’d be looking for a horse you could use to make more horses instead of a wife.”
“No, not like that. She’d have to like me, of course.”
“Well I should hope so. Taking care of a house while she’s having babies and raising children is hard work for a woman. I don’t think you’d convince one to do that unless she liked you a lot. Most women would have to love you to do that.”
“All right, she’d have to like me a lot. I’m not sure what love means.”
“I don’t know what it means to a man, but to a woman, it means wanting to be with her man always and wanting to do things for him that he likes.”
“I guess you must have loved your husband then, but you never talk about him. Why?”
Emily didn’t answer his question. She just stretched and said she thought she’d go to sleep.
Jacob wondered about that. He’d asked a couple of times about Emily’s husband, but she’d always change the subject. She was a riddle he wanted to solve, but he didn’t push her. He figured when she was ready to tell him, she would.
The morning after they camped near Randolph, Emily again used the things from her traveling bag to give Jacob his fake scar. Jacob was pleased to see a flatboat loading cargo at the landing. As with the steamboat on the Tennessee, Emily did all the talking with the flatboat captain.
The captain didn’t ask to see Jacob’s scar or ask why Emily was purchasing the fare. He just jerked his head in the direction of the flatboat.
“There’s a rail on the boat where you can tie your horse. We leave in half an hour. If you’re not on the boat, we won’t wait and you won’t get a refund for the fare.”
That afternoon, Jacob and Emily stepped off the plank and onto the soil of Arkansas. Jacob was shocked to see that the landing was all that remained of Hopefield. When the flatboat captain saw his frown, he explained.
“Pardon my words, Ma’am, but there ain’t no other way to say it. There was Confederate soldiers in Hopefield making things hard on the Union soldiers in Memphis, so the damned Union bastards crossed over and burnt Hopefield to the ground. I heard they was laughin’ when they come back to Memphis. I’da laughed if they’d been on my flatboat, laughed at how they hollered when I pushed them Union jackasses over the side about the middle of the river an’ let ‘em swim the rest of the way.”
When the flatboat pulled away from the shore, Jacob peeled off his fake scar. He’d intended to leave Emily in Hopewell. When he’d left Arkansas, Hopewell had a few businesses and he thought Emily could make a home there. Now, with nothing there except ashes, she had no chance of doing that. Once again, he was faced with leaving her there and worrying about her or taking her with him. His decision didn’t take long to make.
“Emily, there’s nothing here for you like I thought there’d be. I can’t leave you here by yourself. If you want to come with me, I’ll do my best to help you find a place where you can start over.”
“I’ve never been to Arkansas and I’ve kind of gotten used to riding behind you and sleeping on the ground. Let’s go.”
Jacob and Emily traveled for sixteen more days, sixteen days of Jacob feeling Emily’s breasts against his back and her thighs touching his, and sixteen nights of eating and talking before going to sleep. They always stopped for the night beside a stream or small river so they’d have water. As she always did, Emily would tell him she was going to wash off the dirt of travel and walk down to the stream with her traveling case.
The first time she did this, he found out Emily had two dresses. She came back to the camp dressed in the second and carrying the first that she’d washed. She’d hang the wet dress up to dry overnight.
At about noon, they’d stop to give Lady a rest and to have a meal of whatever they could find. Once they had purchased a ham and cornmeal, that meal was usually a small slice of ham eaten just as it was cut from the bone. Jacob would find a place suitable to him and stop. Emily would slide off from behind him, take the sack with the ham and slice off a few pieces using his bowie knife. They’d eat and rest a little, then Jacob would mount Lady, swing Emily up behind him, and they’d be on their way again.
On the fifth day of their ride toward Sylamore, Emily asked Jacob if they could stop for their noon meal beside a stream or river. He jokingly asked if she was going to wash in the middle of the day instead of at night. Emily smiled.
“I’m sure your mother told you what I need to do.”
“How could she do that. She doesn’t know you…oh.”
Emily smiled again.
Jacob found a tiny little creek that Emily said would do fine. They ate, and then Emily picked up her traveling case and walked down the creek until she was out of sight. When she came back, she had her traveling case in one hand and a wet, white cotton cloth in the other that she looped through the tied strings of the saddle.
“I’m ready to go now”, she smiled.
It was the same right after breakfast, the noon meal, and dinner each night for the next six days. Jacob understood what was happening, but hadn’t given it a thought until it happened. Since he’d met Emily, he’d thought about her first as a woman who had basically blackmailed him so he’d take her with him, then, after they got better acquainted, as sort of a friend. He realized on that first day that he’d thought a lot of things about Emily, but he’d never really thought of her as a woman.
Now, he did, and it was a realization that sort of stunned him. He’d spent the past three years in the company of men, and had been treating Emily just as he’d treated the very few men he’d called friends. He’d joked with her, he’d told her his hopes for the future, and he’d told her a few of the things that had happened to him in the past.
He’d told her those things like he would have related them to another man. Never had he stopped to consider that she was hearing those things as a woman and not a man. He hoped he hadn’t offended her in some way. It didn’t appear that he had, but he wasn’t sure and he didn’t know how to ask.
Jacob then asked himself why he was so concerned with Emily’s feelings. The answer that sneaked into his mind surprised him. He’d started caring about her when she’d asked to go to the Mississippi with him. He hadn’t realized how strong those feelings were until they were in Arkansas.
Jacob didn’t know what to think of those feelings. He’d told Emily he intended to marry Martha, so if he told her he liked her, she’d think he was just being nice. If he didn’t tell her how he felt, she’d walk out of his life. He’d wonder forever if he’d made the right decision.
As they rode through Arkansas, Jacob also realized he’d forgotten how few people lived there. They rode as he had before, a little away from what few roads there were or across country if there were no roads to follow. There weren’t many towns and even fewer farms. Like in Tennessee, Jacob didn’t stop at the farms. He didn’t stop in any of the small towns either. From a distance, it didn’t look like they had much more than the people on the farms.
Jacob knew he could have stopped in Newport or Balesville, but when he mentioned it to Emily, she said she’d prefer a smaller town. Her fear was the same he’d heard about Nashville. Lone women there were often enticed into what looked like a hotel with offers of employment as maids. Once they were inside the building, they learned they were to be used by men and that there was no way to leave.
Instead, Jacob rode fifty miles away from both cities and then set their course for Sylamore. After fourteen days, he started seeing familiar landmarks and on the afternoon of the fifteenth day, he saw the farm where one of his boyhood friends had lived. Jacob knew it was the same farm though there was little there that he remembered. Only the three big apple trees that had stood in the front yard remained.
The house was just a pile of rubble. The big stones that had served as a foundation for the barn sills were still there, but the barn was gone too. A few fence posts remained, but most had been chopped off at the ground. Jacob knew what had happened. He recognized the signs of an Army scrounging for firewood, food and anything else they could use.
Emily wondered why they’d stopped and why Jacob was just sitting there staring at the ruins.
“Jacob, what’s the matter? It’s just an old run-down farm. We saw lots of them in Tennessee.”
Jacob turned his head so he could see Emily.
“I knew the people who lived here, that’s what’s the matter. I never heard about any battles in this part of Arkansas so I figured the Union had mostly stayed in Missouri. It had to be the Union that did this though. We need to get to my father’s farm. If the same thing happened there…”
Emily touched his shoulder.
“Jacob, I’m sorry I said what I did. Let’s keep going until we get to your farm.”
Jacob shook his head.
“No. It would be dark before we could get that far. We’ll ride a ways and then stop for the night. Tomorrow, we’ll see what we see.”
After an hour’s ride the next morning, Jacob found the dirt road that led from Sylamore to his father’s farm and turned Lady onto the faint path. He shook his head and said to Emily, “nobody’s driven a wagon here for quite a while. See how the grass and weeds are growing in the wagon track?”
Emily tried to comfort him.
“That doesn’t mean much, Jacob. It’s just late spring and you know grass and weeds grow really fast in spring. Don’t start worrying until you see if there’s anything to worry about.”
Half an hour later Jacob breathed a sigh of relief. The house and barn were still standing. He urged Lady to a trot, then slowed again when Emily shrieked and squeezed his waist.
“Let me off if you want to go ahead. I’ll walk.”
Jacob stopped Lady and lifted his right leg over her neck and slid to the ground.
“No, I’ll run. You ride.”
With that, Jacob ran toward the house.
Emily moved into the saddle, clucked to Lady, and rode up to the house. She’d just tied Lady to a post beside the house when she heard Jacob calling for his mother and father. As she walked to the house, she paused and frowned. In the back yard of the house were two low mounds of earth that were sparsely covered in grass beneath a small hickory tree. A wooden cross stood at each grave.
Emily went inside the house and saw Jacob sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands.
“Jacob, aren’t they here?”
“No, and it doesn’t look like they have been for a while.”
Emily put her hand on Jacob’s shoulder.
“Jacob, I think I saw two graves in the back.”
Jacob jumped up and ran out the door. Emily found him standing in front of the two low mounds. He was shaking when she put her hand on his shoulder.
“Jacob, is it them?”
Jacob nodded then turned to face Emily. She saw tears streaming down his cheeks.
“The cross on the left says Matthew Rhodes. He was my father. The other says Rebecca Rhodes. She was my mother.”
Emily didn’t say anything more. She just put her hand on the back of Jacob’s neck, pulled his cheek to hers and held him while he fought back the sobs that wouldn’t be silenced.
As she held him to her breast, Emily thought about this man who she’d tricked into taking her with him, but who’d never complained about that. That first day, she’d thought he was just a Confederate soldier who was afraid of what the Union would do to him, and she’d used that fear to get what she wanted. She’d expected him to let her come along and cross the river. She hadn’t expected him to let her stay with him until they came to the Mississippi.
He had, though, and Emily had escaped what she was certain would be her arrest and possibly death. When they’d crossed the Mississippi, she’d been ready to say goodbye and strike out on her own. She’d planned it that way, but much to her surprise, he wouldn’t let her. He even said he’d worry about her if he did.
Over the time of their journey, he’d become more talkative and she’d learned a lot about him, his past, and what he wanted for the future. He’d asked a few times about her and when she wouldn’t answer, he didn’t press her to do so.
Jacob was a good man, and he didn’t deserve to come home and find his parents both dead. That’s what she’d told herself when she pulled him to her cheek and tried to ease his pain, but while she stood there holding him, she realized it was more than that. She realized it had made her feel good to fix his meals even though they were meager, and she realized she didn’t want to leave him. She thought it was what she’d told him love was.
Emily also remembered his desire to marry a woman called Martha Rice. She told herself that she wished there was some way to keep them apart, then chastised herself for thinking something so evil. Martha Rice was Jacob’s choice and if she interfered in that, it wouldn’t matter if she loved Jacob or not. He’d never want her after that.
Jacob stopped sobbing a bit later, and pushed gently away from Emily.
“Emily, stay here and see if you can find Mother’s lamps and candles. I’ll be back before dark.”
“Where are you going?”
“Into Sylamore to find out what happened to my mother and father and to find Martha.”
Jacob had handed her the sacks with their food and skillet, then mounted Lady and started back down the road. Emily watched him ride off, then went back into the house with both sacks. After starting a fire in the cookstove, she sliced the ham and made corn cakes with molasses. The corn cakes went into the oven as soon as it was warm enough. The ham she’d fry when Jacob came back. Making the corn cakes gave Emily something to do besides think about Jacob.
Emily found two oil lamps, made sure they had oil and would light, then busied herself cleaning up around the house. It didn’t look to her as if anything violent had happened. It was almost as if Jacob’s parents just walked out the door and left everything as it was. The dishes were still in the cupboard and when she opened the doors at the bottom, Emily found a basket of dried leather breaches beans.
She was wiping off the kitchen table when Jacob walked into the house. His face looked sad, so Emily put down her dishrag and walked to where he stood.
“Did you find out what happened?”
“Yes. Dr. Madison told me my father died of influenza last winter. My mother just wasted away after that and died three months ago. He didn’t really know why she died unless she just gave up trying to live.”
Emily squeezed Jacob’s hand.
“She must have loved him very much.”
“I suppose she did. I never saw her act like she did, but I suppose she must have.”
Emily considered whether to ask Jacob about Martha. If he’d found her and Martha had waited for him, Emily knew she’d be crushed. If he hadn’t, she’d be relieved, but she couldn’t show it. If Jacob was interested in her, he had to figure that out for himself before she said anything.
“What about Martha?”
“I found Martha and we had a long talk. She’s not going to marry me.”
Emily fought the urge to smile and was trying to look sad when she looked up at Jacob.
“Jacob, I’m sorry. First you lost your parents and now the woman you were going to marry. If I could fix it, I would, but I can’t.”
Jacob’s face still looked sad.
“Nobody can really fix what’s happened to any of us. It was the war that took me away from home. If I’d been here, I might have been able to do my father’s work so he could rest and he wouldn’t have died. If he hadn’t died, maybe my mother would still be alive. Martha…well, I guess you were right about Martha. She likes me but she doesn’t love me. That wasn’t the war, but what I figured out after I talked to her was.”
Jacob put his hands on Emily’s shoulders and squeezed gently.
“When I was talking to her, I realized I still liked her, but I didn’t really regret being away from her those three years. She was more like a dream I thought might come true, but when I thought more about it, I didn’t really care if it came true or not. That’s when I decided I didn’t want her for my wife. It was me that didn’t want to marry her, so I didn’t ask her.
“I…I can’t say the same thing about you. I don’t know if you feel the same way about me. I never gave you any reason to think that way, but I was hoping you’d stay for at least a while so we can figure it out.”
Emily put her hand on Jacob’s chest and pushed him gently away.
“Jacob, sit down at the table. I need to tell you something that might change your mind about me staying with you.”
Jacob smiled as he sat down in the chair.
“I don’t think anything could do that now.”
Emily sat down opposite Jacob and put her hands on the table.
“Jacob, remember when I said my husband was an undertaker?”
“Yes, I remember that.”
“He was, but he was something else too. I didn’t know it when I married him, but he liked to hit women, or at least he liked hitting me. I had to help him be an undertaker by fixing up bad cuts and burns so they didn’t show so bad at the viewing. That’s why I could make a scar on your neck that looked real. I liked doing that and helping him, but if I did something he thought was wrong, he’d get mad and hit me. He never hit me in the face. Other people would have seen the bruises. He’d hit me in the back or in the stomach or on my sides. I had big bruises there all the time and it hurt all the time.
“About six months ago, I decided I didn’t want to be hit anymore. Part of what I was supposed to do was undress the bodies so my husband could embalm them if they were going to be sent home. After he was done, I’d put their clothes back on them. One of the soldiers we got in had a small revolver in a holster inside his jacket. My father had a revolver, so I knew how they worked. When I found the revolver, I hid it inside my dress. He never really looked at me, so he didn’t see it.
“That afternoon, my husband said I was wasting the pasty wax when I fixed the burns on a Union soldier and he hit me in the stomach. While I was laying on the floor, I took the revolver out of my dress and cocked it. When he picked me up so he could hit me again, I pointed it at his chest and pulled the trigger. After he fell down, I cocked the revolver again and shot him right where I knew his heart would be. After that, I put him in one of our coffins and when the Union Army came to pick up their dead, I had them take him too. I put his name on the tag and said he was a private from Bloomington, Indiana.
“I knew as soon as he got to Bloomington and nobody claimed the body, there would be an investigation. That investigation would lead to me so I had to get away from Tennessee. That’s why I tricked you into taking me with you.”
Jacob had listened intently, but when she finished, he frowned.
“You killed your husband?”
“Because he hit you?”
Emily nodded again.
“Well, I’d like to blame you, but I really can’t. I killed a lot of men in the war because they were trying to kill me.”
Emily’s mouth fell open.
“You don’t think that was wrong?”
“Well, if he hadn’t done anything to you and you’d shot him, yes, but I think he’d eventually have hurt you really bad or killed you if you hadn’t shot him first. That’s no different than what I did in the war.”
Jacob chuckled then.
“You really thought with all the thousands and thousands of bodies the Union had to take care of they’d take the time to investigate one that nobody claimed? The Union Army will just figure somebody made a mistake, and they won’t worry about what happened. If I had to bet, I’d bet he’s in a cemetery in Bloomington, Indiana right now under a small headstone with his name on it, right along with a hundred or so others.”
“That wouldn’t change your mind about me?”
“Well, I suppose I will have to remember not to ever hit you, not that I ever would anyway. Other than that, no. I want you to be my wife. Will you?”
Emily nodded but she didn’t say anything. Jacob saw tears in her eyes,
“Emily, why are you crying?”
Emily wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
“I’m happy, that’s why. Women cry when they’re happy. Didn’t you know that?”
“I guess not. Is this going to happen a lot?”
Emily sniffed and smiled.
“I hope it does.”
Jacob stood up and held out his arms. Emily went to him, put her arms around his neck, and smiled.
“I already figured out I love you. I just needed to hear you felt something for me before I told you.”
Jacob kissed Emily then, just a short soft kiss because he didn’t know any other way. When she raised on her tiptoes and kissed him back, it took his breath away. She giggled as she leaned away from him.
“What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever kissed a woman before?”
“Not like that. I could get to like it though.”
The next morning, Jacob and Emily rode into Sylamore and stopped in front of a small house beside the little church on the edge of town. When he and Emily knocked on the door, it was answered by an older man with glasses and a white beard. He recognized Jacob, grinned, and offered his hand.
“Jacob, it’s good to see you back and unharmed. I didn’t know if you’d make it back or not, but here you are. Your father and mother, God rest their souls, would be proud of you. It’s a shame the Good Lord called them home before you could make it back.”
Jacob shook his hand.
“Reverend Willings, Doctor Madison said you preached their funerals. I thank you for that. Now I have a request I hope you’ll grant. Would you marry me and Emily here?”
Mr. Willings smiled.
“I’d be glad to do that, Jacob. Let me get Mrs. Willings and we’ll go next door to the church.”
As Jacob and Emily rode back to their farm, she held him tight.
“Jacob, I never thought I’d find a man like you, and now that I have, I still can’t believe it.”
“Well, I never thought I’d find a woman like you either. My mother and father would have liked you. I wish they could be here, but they’re in a better place now.”
“Will we stay on your farm?”
“Yes. I can’t leave them there by themselves, and besides, farming and soldiering is all I know how to do.”
Emily hugged him a little tighter.
“I hope tonight you figure out there’s one more thing you know how to do.”
“What would that be…oh…that.”
“I…I never have before.”
“That’s all right, husband. You’ll learn.”
That night, Emily cooked some ham along with some of the leather breaches beans she’d found in the cupboard in the kitchen. She told Jacob she though his mother would like it if she had a hand in his first real meal home.
They didn’t talk much while they ate. Emily was excited by what she knew would happen when they went to bed. Jacob was worried he wouldn’t know what to do or when to do it.
After Emily took the plates and forks from the table and washed them, she put her arms around Jacob’s waist.
“Jacob, you stay here for a little while. I made the bed yesterday while you were in town, so it’s all ready. I have to go change clothes. I’ll come back when I’m ready.”
Emily came into the kitchen a few minutes later, and Jacob was stunned by the way she was dressed. Emily grinned at his stare.
“This and my two dresses are all I brought with me. I brought this because it’s the last thing I have left from my mother. I hope you like it. It was my mother’s wedding night gown.”
Jacob was fascinated by the way the silk nightgown seemed to cling to her body. The lace over the swell of her breasts was so fine as to be nearly transparent, and the separation between them was plainly visible. From the rise of her breasts, the nightgown tapered to her waist and then swelled over her hips. Jacob swallowed, and then smiled.
“It’s really pretty, but not as pretty as you are.”
Emily walked to where he sat, took his hand, and smiled.
“A husband would show his new wife how pretty he thinks she is, wouldn’t he?”
Emily led him to his parents’ bedroom. She’d already pulled back the blanket and sheet, and once they stood beside it, she put her arms around his neck.
“Jacob, just do what you feel like doing. It’ll be all right.”
He started to blow out the oil lamp on the small table beside the bed but Emily stopped him.
“I want to see you and I want you to see me.”
Jacob took off his clothes and climbed into bed beside Emily. The sight of her body encased in the clinging silk had already caused him to be erect. When Emily held out her arms he eased down beside her and then kissed her. He felt a stirring in his loins and the feeling of becoming even more stiff and erect. Emily pushed him away gently and then stroked her hand over his chest.
“You should probably take off my nightgown now.”
Emily helped by pulling the long skirt portion to her waist and then sat up so Jacob could lift it over her head. He put the silk garment at the foot of the bed and then stopped to look at the woman beside him.
In the flickering, yellow light of the oil lamp, Jacob saw a woman ripe for conceiving and birthing children and a woman he knew he would cherish forever.
It wasn’t a feeling he could have explained. It was more of a rush of emotions that filled his mind and pushed everything - the war, his mother and father, the struggles of his trip from the Carolinas to home – pushed everything else that had happened to him into the back of his mind.
He was driven by an urge he’d not felt before, an urge to couple with Emily and implant his seed, but an urge restrained by the fear of hurting her. Emily sensed this, and opened her legs as she stretched out her arms again.
“Jacob, I want you…I want you to do what a man does with his wife…I want to have your babies. Don’t worry. You won’t hurt me. You’ll only make me feel like the woman I’ve always wanted to be.”
He fumbled a lot, but Emily gently placed his hands where they would excite her the most and moved them to show him what to do. Jacob marveled at the softness of her breasts and how they moved when he fondled them. He was amazed at the way her nipples grew longer and rigid when he stroked them with a fingertip. He was carried away with need by Emily’s little moans and catches of breath.
He hesitated again when Emily tried to guide him to kneel between her open thighs. He knew what he was supposed to do. It just seemed to him like doing that, penetrating her body with his, would have to be painful. Emily stroked his back.
“Jacob, you won’t hurt me. All I’ll feel is the good feeling of us being together.”
Jacob felt Emily reach down and grasp his shaft and then move it between her lips. He felt wet warmth and the feather touch of her lips as she pulled him forward, and then the exquisite sensation of Emily’s body sheathing him. It was just instinct that caused him to begin stroking in and out, but it was Emily’s little murmur that told him it was the right thing to do.
“Oh yes, Jacob. Do it slowly, but don’t stop.”
Jacob couldn’t have stopped even if she’d asked him too. The new sensations raced from his loins to his head and took away all his self-control. He tried to go slow and was successful for a while, but when Emily began to move her body up into each stroke, he couldn’t go slow any more. His strokes became faster, and when Emily dug her nails into his back, faster still.
She cried out softly, then arched up off the mattress and hung there while the surge left Jacob’s loins, raced up his shaft, and spurted inside her. He was gasping after three more such strokes when Emily eased back down on the mattress and pulled him down on top of her. Jacob felt her breasts flatten out against his chest as little contractions milked at his shaft.
Emily held him tight for a while before whispering in his ear.
“I think I’m going to like being married to you if it’s always like this.”
“I’ll try to make it always like this”, was all he could say.
If you go to Sylamore, Arkansas today and ask about the Rhodes farm, they’ll ask you which one, because there are eight Rhodes families in the area. Jacob and Emily had two sons and two daughters, and though it took a lot of work, he eventually owned the two hundred acres adjacent to the original eighty. That parcel was farmed by his two sons who in turn fathered two sons apiece. Over the years and another two generations, the two hundred eighty acres became over two thousand. The family weathered WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII by doing what Jacob had done during and after the Civil War – looking out for each other and never giving up.
What they call “the home place”, is still there, though the house and barn are gone. The stone foundation for the house is still there, and behind it is a cemetery fenced off with a low wrought iron fence. In the center is a huge old hickory tree. The wooden crosses that marked Jacob’s parents’ graves are now marked by small headstones, as are the graves of Jacob and Emily. As their children and then grand and great-grandchildren lived out their lives, they were put to rest there along with their spouses.
The name on the gate is “Rhodes” and on a small granite stone beside the gate are the last words of General Stonewall Jackson.
'Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.'