Gun For Hire
: The Ravages of War by Catherin Elizabet Belle
T'was June when we march toward Chattanooga where the Union army was a threaten'. "Pap, they ain't pushing this here cavalry. What you think's up?"
Sloshing through the muddy field he don't say nothin' for a while. "Don't rightly know Jeb. Heerd Forrest was a getting' a cavalry brigade. Could be somethin', and then again, could be nothin'."
"Well, you don't say."
31 December 1862- 2 January 1863 Murfreesboro
Many a day we marched making camp late in the evening and movin' out by day break. We raid this place and that place always movin' in Middle Tennessee and Kantuck. Most of the battles were just skirmishes.
Murfreesboro citizens are badly treated by Crittenden's troops. Lots of the citizens jailed and a number are hanged. Forrest orders the locals released. Family and friends are there to greet them when they stroll out of their confinement. That thar Yankee General who refused the offer of parole is placed under guard of two rangers. I heered that he changed his mind, nobody knowed why but he was paroled by Forrest; Tweren't no business of ours; he was a blue bellie.
Through July and August under orders from Forrest we harass Buell's yanks. Our raids add confusion to the enemy and soon threatened Nashville. T'were late August Captain Houston was kilt in the attack on a stockade bridge at Short Mountain Cross Road eight miles from McMinnville which was key to the 'Yanks' supply line to Chattanooga.
Early October under Gen Wheeler the confederacy held the town after a skirmish at "Rebel Hill".
Wharton took command of the Brigade leading the right wing of Wheeler's cavalry as General Bragg commander of the Army of Tennessee and the Yankee commander Buell raced in columns for Kantuck. We fit one battle after another always on the move through trees and brush over a broad front.
Pap and I got separated; it weren't easy to keep up with a pal. Trees, smoke from the powder, dodging canyon and lead, charging the enemy and trying to stay alive. During a brief lull I wondered if I'd ever see Pap again.
[8 October 1862] Perryville
In early Oct we reach Perryville; t'was the damnedest thing. Here we were on one side of town and them blue bellies on t'other. We jist kept eyeing them yanks. With the sound of footsteps moving around behind me, I stepped back in the shadows of a barn my bowie knife in hand. I heerd a familiar voice. "Sonny how the hell are ya?"
As Pap stepped out in the moon light a grin spread across my powder blackened face. "Howdy Pap. I reckon I's okay. Glad to see you're still kicking."
He stuck that old corncob pipe between his teeth stood there looking at me. "Hell sonny, I ain't that easy to kill."
With the dawn we see'd the blue coats lined up on the hill glaring down at us. Guess it was about midday we're marching through a corn field when canyons roared down on us. Fire and smoke belched all along the line. The Rangers are out front crossing the stream fire and smoke billowing all around. A regiment is behind us when we're ordered to attack. We kilt most every man in their first line of defense, all up and down that line you could hear the rebel yell renting the air. Charging through their second line we encounter the third line from which four napoleon guns belched their deadly fire.
Not a man flinched as hot lead pelted our faces. We lost several color bearers in one volley from that canyon. Men falling on all sides screams of agony echoing through the smoke-filled air. To retreat was certain death. We're ordered to take their guns. As we charge its everyman for himself. Charging through the smoke this big yank rose before me, sticking him with my bayonet to the hilt I then hit him with the butt of my rifle; kept moving forward as blood splattered over me when a Reb running beside me falls to the blood-soaked ground. The aroma of the hot blood ravishes my senses as he falls, I keep running trying not to spill my guts.
As we dropped back into Perryville them blue bellies chased right after us. As night fell skirmishes continued in the dark streets of the town. Standing in the shadow of a building, a Yank came out of the darkness right toward me, I turn firing just in time as he fell right at my feet. Jumping over his warm body I darted across the street as a ball of lead sailed by my ear landing in the store's wall in front of me. From the darkness a shot rang out, and I heerd the thud of a body falling behind me. As I dove into the shadows I heerd Pap say, "It's about time you showed up sonny."
Tired and weary blood splatter and gun powder covering me I manage a slight grin that doesn't quit reach my eyes. "Thanks, Pap."
With Union reinforcements threatening on the flank and darkness blankets the earth tweren't long afore we pulled out. As we retreat leaving the wounded behind, we march past bodies strewn on the roads, fields and every part of the town; it jist didn't seem possible, I could walk through the ghastly mess of dead bodies, arms or legs missing; sometimes a head and not feel sick. I felt a deep weariness.
For days we engaged in one skirmish after another. Yet them Yanks never attack. Twere the second night, we're at that place call Harrodsburg. For once we were sitting near a camp fire with several other rangers listening to gun fire off in the distance the smell of black powder in the air. Hunger a constant companion and little supplies any whars.
Staring into the pale glow of yellow flames of the fire, I wondered what the hell I's a doing here. I felt a strange sensation and look up into the questioning eyes of Pap. "Did you say somethin'?"
"Shor did Sonny. Whatcha you thinkin'?"
Shaking off the feeling that kept me staring into the glowing embers I say, "Thinking about Paw and Maw, Pap and the ranch."
Stickin' that empty corncob in his mouth, his eyes gazing into the darkness he replies, "Sonny, best not be thinkin' on sech. Tweren't do no good."
The night passed with little activity around us. Toward morning sounds coming from the woods north of us had us sneaking into the shadows of the trees. In the blink of an eye them Yanks t'were a firing at us, t'was a mere skirmish but when the firing stops Pap lay twenty feet from me draped across a fallen log his cob pipe laying on the ground where it fell from his lifeless mouth. As the firing became sporadic, I moved over to Pap, I sat there cradling his body in my arms. As one ranger prods me to get moving, I grab that old pipe and stuck it in the blooded pocket of my buckskins.
The next few days are a nightmare, we're engaged in skirmishes. Along about the fifth day we receive orders to move out. The rumor spreading through the cavalry has us headed for Knoxville. As we march through the Cumberland Gap down into Tennessee t'were little supplies and even less grub. I march with the Rangers during the day spending the nights alone when not acting on orders. One night, jist before we cross into Tennessee, I was sitting in the shadows under a hemlock back away from the campfire.
I watch a figure approach from out of the darkness cocking that old flint I jist sitting when a familiar voice says. "Howdy Jeb!" Squatting down beside me he says, "Too bad about Bear. He was a good man."
Without the twitch of a muscle Jeb says, "Yep, Karl. Sure twas." Then continue my stare into the darkness.
As Karl rose, he touches my shoulder with understanding of the emptiness I feel. "Jeb come to the fire with me. Tain't doing nobody no good away out here."
Looking up at the man standing in front of me I see real concern mirrored in his eyes. With a slight nod of the head I move with him to the campfire where three or four others sit. As I approach Riley pulls a jug out of the shadows. "Johnny Rebs, this here is jist what we need. Sit a spell and join us Jeb." As that old jug makes the rounds, I take a sip and soon the agony of loneliness drifts into the deep abyss of my soul where it would stay for the rest of the war.
By dawn of the next day we're on the march moving into Tennessee. As we approach Murfreesboro the scouts report that them blue bellies are coming t'ward us from the west. The troops shor were welcome thar. That general moved us near Stone river where we encountered a dense forest of cedar and limestone formations makin' it difficult for the wagons and artillery to move through. I's with the troops on the west bank of the river.
Sitting by the campfire, listening to the low voices from the men on this side of the river; two men are playing cards. Others like me, jist sittin' a tin cup of coffee cooling in the winter chill when word come down the way them blue bellies were just down the rode a piece.
The cavalry got orders to go behind the enemy lines and jist harass them yanks slowing them down. We destroyed supply wagons which included ammunition. In that thar raid we took four supply wagons and a passel of Yank prisoners; returning to the main force, preparations were a foot to attack the next morning.
Karl and I were sitting the in pale glow of the dying embers when the musicians from the Union side struck up the tune "Yankee Doodle"; as the voices rang through the cold night air.
Our musicians answered with "Dixie". Weren't long before one band played "Home Sweet Home". Everyone one on the battle field, Yankee and Rebs joined in singing that favorite song.
As the refrains fade into the night Karl says, "Jeb whatcha thinking?"
Looking across the dancing flames of the campfire I feel a shadow walk across my soul and shiver; not from the December cold. "Wondering how my folks are back thar in Burned Valley, Karl."
"Knowed whatcha mean. I got a couple young'uns back to home." Gazing into the darkened Cedar he continues, "Guess I'll try to catch a few winks. You'n?"
I nod wrapping the blanket around me trying to ward off the chill creeping deep into my bones and doze. Seems like I jist closed my eyes when we got orders we' be attackin' at dawn.
When the order given, we move in a mass toward the left flank of the Union army. Afore we knowed it our side had taken several artillery batteries without them blue bellies firing a shot. We push on through the Yanks meeting heavy resistance. For a time, Karl is beside me but as we move forward dark clouds of spent powder fills the air. I'm jist too busy loading tamping and firing trying to stay alive.
Screams of the wounded and dying drown out the musket and rifle fire all around me. As I push on, I stumble through maimed bodies with no heads or torsos; blood and guts spilled everywhere. The hot blood in the cold air and the smell of burned powder wreaks havoc with an empty gut, bile rising despite my effort to keep it choked down. By mid-morning we pushed them Yanks back to the railroad and the Nashville Pike.
The Yanks had rallied a new line of defense in a small half oval with its back to the river. We watch as the wave of rebs reached the yanks line of defense charging in small groups suffering heavy casualties. Black smoke from the flints filled the air as rifle fire echoed in the freezing temperatures. Reb and Yank fall screams renting the late afternoon. When the Yanks brought two more brigades to the front the battle was soon over.
Across the way we could see the union line being reinforced. Bragg's orders were to dig in facing the Union soldiers preparing to hold or push the blue bellies back.
While two forays against the union line are not too successful; in the rear we continued to harass their line of communication on the turnpike toward Nashville. We observed convoys of wounded under heavy escort 'cause of the cavalry. Hidden by the cedar trees in the area we take enough shots to let them blue bellies knowed we were about. We could hear the musket fire versus the rifle fire and soon artillery boomed across the atmosphere.
Late in the afternoon we got word that Bragg ordered an attack on union troops holding a hill across the river on the east. Breckinridge charged with a vengeance pushing the Union troops across McFadden Ford where we met with heavy fire; masses of artillery. Reb bodies strewn all over the hill side decapitated from artillery fire, arms and legs missing. One body missing the torso arms and legs spayed out. The stench of powder and hot blood mixed was almost more than a body could stand. Soon we're ordered to retreat.
In the wee hours of the morning new orders are to capture a supply train coming from Nashville. The train carries an infantry brigade to reinforce the Yanks position; we did not secure the supply train. Karl and I were a few yards apart in a perfect location to pick off them blue bellies; them Yanks pour out of that train chasing us out of the trenches, I escape capture by crawling into the woods just before we are over run; Karl, weren't so lucky. I started back after him when catching my eye, he mouthed "no". As I hesitated, that blue bellie belted him one in the gut taking his musket.
Me and a few of the rangers made our way back to the main body of troops cold, tired, and hungry. Early on the 5th we were on the march again. Scuttlebutt had us moving toward Murfreesboro. Although the Yanks held Murfreesboro they did not stop or chase us as we move through the city.
We trudged through wet damp forest, mud and mire reaching Tullahoma thirty-five miles to the south. We bivouac in a small clearing at Tullahoma surrounded by hemlock. The wood soaked and icy, but we get a small campfire going. My loaded musket across my knees I sit near the blaze with a blanket soaked from the icy rain wrapped around my shoulders. The three or four sitting at the fire are rangers, but we don't know each other well. I sit listening to the silence of the forest around us and the low conversations twixt the men thinking about Karl and wondering where them Yanks took him.
With Pap and Karl gone the war becomes a grind of load, fire, and duck as we fight one battle after another. The yanks spent several months building their forces at Murfreesboro before they attacked us trying to force us out of the area. In September we moved North rumor had it we were heading back to Murfreesboro. We soon met up with the union cavalry and mounted infantry. An assault against them blue bellies line of defense held we jist couldn't break through that Yankee line. Those fellows had repeating rifles against our flint and black power.
As dark fell across the land silence permeated the powder filled night as few campfires dotted the trees. The moans and screams of those wounded and dying on the battle field rent the air. T'was an eerie sound for those of us sitting back in the shadows, I sat listening to the night musket across my knees pistol in my hand.
By early September all but a small group of blue bellies left behind to guard the railroad had cross the Tennessee below Chattanooga, Yanks scattered over a wide range of some forty miles. We're encamped at Lafayette when we received orders to attack the Yanks moving toward us. Moving into position we wait for orders, but the attack did not happen. Though, it looked like we outnumbered them blue bellies. No order came to attack.
Bragg rode in finding no preparations made. By this time the Yanks had already gone on passed. Our orders were to keep maneuvering around for the best advantage.
Once in position the attack begins with the cavalry covering Bragg's right and left flank. We deploy to the left parallel to a line of them blue bellies. We could hear firing up and down the line, the smell of black powder drifting on the cool breeze as screams and yells of the wounded and dying add to the melee of battle resounding through the atmosphere. The thickness of the trees provides cover for us and the Yanks. Load! Tamp! and Fire! Load tamp, fire! No time to think. Just keep on keeping on. I notice the falling of my companion as a bullet hit him square in the chest. Life is rote, kill the yanks and stay live.
With the sun sinking behind the horizon the firing dies down and I sit behind a tree with a loaded musket and a sharp eye out for movement. By 0900 most is quiet along the front. Bet them yanks are tired as me; but we'll keep doing what we're doing. God! I'm so tired. The chill of the darkness seeps through my weary body as I long for sleep.
September 19, 1863
The Texas Rangers slipped in behind the yanks on Chickamauga creek. Meeting up with the old
group under Hood who figured to be as good as we were. There was a heap a hurrahing and carryin' on and sech.
At the dawn we see union troops moving toward an area leaving a gap in their lines. A Reb assault attacks them with an eight-brigade driving the blue bellies from the field. The Texas Rangers moved forward meeting with increased resistance. All around me blue bellies and Rebs were falling, blood splattered over me carried the reek of death, hot searing stench.
The union forces rallied with a defensive line holding that line until twilight when they withdrew to Chattanooga. Our forces around the surrounding hills besieged the city. We lost twenty rangers that day, but a lot more of them Yankees lay dead on the field of battle.
It wasn't long after the siege at Chickamauga the Rangers are busy with outpost and other cavalry duties. We went with Wheeler raiding into Tennessee behind those Yanks' lines. Guess it were early October we a crossin' that Tennessee River. I could hear my teeth chattering from the icy water seeping through my tattered clothes. Everywhere we went, we destroyed all the supplies and at McMinnville we captured and burned enormous stores. On the march we headed toward Murfreesboro a rampage of destruction and capture of Yanks and supplies.
From there we continued toward Murfreesboro on the route to Nashville. We crossed the Tennessee near Decatur where we ravaged them blue bellies always on the march with constant skirmishes. Death and destruction all around me, dead lying along the way; twenty or more of us lay dead or wounded along the battle scared countryside. There was a dozen or more unaccounted. The rangers battle weary are jist plum tuckered out.
Don't rightly recall when I heerd Colonel Cook and Major Christian wounded in Tennessee, I jist knowed Captain Jarmon be given orders; and we's somewhere in Georgia. My ole clothes are nothing but rags and the cold seeping to the bones. There jist weren't no way to get warm. For the next few weeks our camp life was the normal stuff; jawing, playing cards, seein' to the horses. Sitting by the fire one-night Karl showed up. "Howdy Jeb. Good to see you."
"Howdy Karl, sit a spell." Picking up the pot, "Have a cup of what this here Reb calls coffee."
Laughing, Karl says. "Beats hell out of nuthin'." Taking a sip of scalding brew, he says, "Glad you still kickin' sonny." The two Rebs sit starring into the fire. "Jeb, heerd we's movin' out in the morning."
"You don't say! Where we headed?"
"Heered tell it might be Knoxville, Jeb."
"Ain't them blue bellies thar, Karl?"
'Hell, let's get some shuteye, for they order us out." We left at lawn on the fifth ordered to Athens, Tennessee to support Longstreet's battle at Knoxville; those yanks whipped up on us real good
Hovering in the cold shivering with the damp we learnt that Bragg lost the battle at Missionary Ridge. For the winter the Rangers stay in East Tennessee. Our horses worn out, supplies short and the whole bunch plum beat to a frazzle.
Sitting in the cold frigid wind I heard Karl say, "Hell, boy there's yanks all around us."
"Yup, Karl, that's a fact." Shivering in the bitter cold with ragged clothes and constant barrage of gunfire took its toll on all the men.
A barrage of gunfire erupted. Karl felt blood running down his face as a ball whizzed by my head. Ducking behind a fallen log black powder smoke swirling all around, I was just too damn busy trying to stay alive. By the time the barrage ended, I couldn't see Karl any whars.
"Hey, Ranger, anybody see'd Karl?"
The smoke blackened Reb shook his head, "Nope."
We are on the move, again. Returning to the main army we learned that we're assigned to Hume's division. For a month, we Texans got a rest while we were at Dalton. A few of those wounded during the winter returned to the unit.
In early May orders sent us to the front where we fit battle after battle. Weariness and survival were a day-to-day struggle; always the same load, fire, duck. For a time, we are with the cavalry doing our stretch on the pickaxe and spade. Karl wounded during the icy cold winter weren't one of those to return. It is strange to be among hundreds of men and feel alone, isolated from human company. But that's how I felt. Following orders and keeping to myself when we weren't fighting.
In Georgia we defeated a group raiding the countryside; behind Sherman's army burning and destroy railroads through Marietta and Resaca. The cavalry met heavy union opposition and was forced into Northern Alabama. By September we reached Florence fighting our way back to Georgia and the army and destroying everything in sight. Its shore didn't help much, them Yankees had expert railway repair men following behind us fixing what we done tore to-hell.
The unit pulled out heading for Tennessee, but the Rangers stay with Wheeler to guard Sherman. That winter and into the spring we trail Sherman through Georgia and on to the sea at Savannah; where he veers north moving into the Caroline's. Every weary step of the trek we fought skirmishes harassing not doing any real damage to them yanks; we harassed his foragers keeping them from getting food and other necessities an army needs to keep moving. The feeling among us Rebs was to do everything we could to narrow Sherman's rampage.
In March we attack them yanks somewhere near Bentonville. We had our backs to the river when them yanks attack. Late in the afternoon we charged them yanks; load, aim, fire, move. Pushing through a gap in the union line we scatter among them yanks. Bodies were falling around me from both sides. A ball whizzed by my head as I dove behind a wall a blue belly fell across me. I froze realizing his warm blood is seeping in to my ragged pants. I took a deep breath shoved the body off my legs. Scrambling from the ground, I dash through the roar of battle cries, smoke ridden atmosphere, charging forward leaving a blue belly with a ball in his gut as his scream rent the air. More yanks arrived halting a push through their lines. It was well after night had fallen, we're ordered to move back. Weary and spent from battle we dug in.
The next morning the cavalry moved in on our flank at Mill Creek. We engaged in a light skirmish throughout the day. Several of our officers wounded or killed, can't rightly say. Jist knowed we were taking orders from the captain called "Doc". A couple weeks after that somebody else giving orders and the rumor was Lee had surrendered.
Turning each company to the commander who tells us we can surrender or leave as we like. A few days later, on April 26 some ninety men remained in the field when the surrender was official. This was all that remained of the 8th Texas Rangers.
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Catherin Elizabet Belle
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