Attention! Creation! By Kingdoms! Right Wheel!

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Elderely Confederate Civil War veteran tells how he met Union General George Thomas, and how it changed his life.

Submitted: November 19, 2007

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Submitted: November 19, 2007

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Attention, Creation!

By Kingdoms, right wheel!

A Short Story

by

James Gagiikwe(c) 2006

“I hope to have God on my side - but I have to have Kentucky!”

President Abraham Lincoln, 1861

To the Editor, Louisville Gazette:

I will soon be 65 years old, and wish to make a contribution to the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky. 4,400 Union and 5,900 Confederate troops were engaged in this decisive battle for the control of Kentucky. 232 Union and 439 CSA soldiers were killed, and are buried at Nancy. May they rest in peace.

By the time the Yankee’s advance units reached Logan's Cross Roads on the 17th the continuous rains of the previous three weeks had moderated slightly. After 18 days slogging through Kentucky mud, under rain and sleet, on bad roads, the whole Yankee army was bone tired. ‘Pap’ made his HQ in the post office back on the road at Nancy. There he waited for Brig. Gen Albin Schoepf’s troops from Somerset to join him. The nearest Yankees were only ten miles north of our entrenchments at Beech Grove, on the north bank of the Cumberland River. General Zollicoffer knew Thomas was coming, but didn’t know yet that the Yankees had reached the crossroads.

On the evening of January 18th I was sent with a dispatch for our troops at Elihu, near Somerset. It was dark, it was raining again and foggy. My horse and I were wet, cold and miserable. I got lost. I was captured. This is my story.

Written at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, this 19th day of January, 1912,

Rev. Jeremiah Harlan

* * *

“He is in Dothan” II Kings 6:8-23

Orders issued, dispositions made, he turned up the lamp and began to write his weekly epistle to his wife Frances. Their separation was a burden to him, but he was not a man to leave troops in the field while he enjoyed the home life.

Near Nancy, Kentucky, the evening of January 18,1862

My Dearest Fran,

Darling.I feel your loving support, even at this distance. I am well, and trust that you are also. Your anticipated missives of December have yet to reach me, as the roads are all but impassable in the winter rains. This letter, I am sure, will be delayed in reaching you; but it’s love travels ahead of it, my dearest wife.

My division has just completed a gruelling 18-day march. They are resting today. I intend to engage the enemy tomorrow, with the prospect of driving them entirely from this state.

I have put the gloves you sent for our 19th anniversary to very good use in this weather. I wear them inside my gauntlets. My back does not like the cold; but at least my usual slow pace has been the pace of the army itself, for once.

The Chaplain and I had an engaging conversation this morning over a hot mug of coffee. We talked of the grace of God in the midst of human conflict. It was a refreshing change from days upon days on horseback, of issuing orders, and keeping up others’ morale. Speaking of morale, I have been under a dry roof since yesterday. There are not many buildings in these parts, but we have tried to shelter as many troops as possible.

I will send this short missive tonight, as I expect to be busy for many days.

Cosgrove, Robinson, and Sanford send their dearest affections to you and our family. They are well and have weathered our difficult march as an example for the troops.

Your loving husband,

Pappy

He blotted the letter, addressed and then sealed the envelope with wax, and called for Lieutenant Reynolds. As he handed him the envelope he stated, “I want us to ride out to Logan’s Cross Roads, and check on the vedettes and pickets. I don’t want any surprises tomorrow while we march on General Zollicoffer. Ask the Provost for a detail of 4 troopers and a sergeant to accompany us. And inform the Adjutant of my intensions. What is it like outside?”

“Fog, cold drizzle. Roads still muddy. We could use a dry day or two.”

“Won’t have it, and don’t have time. Zollicoffer will have guessed we’re nearly to him. I want to be at him before he comes at us. But if he does come to us, we have to be ready. Have those orders gone to General Schoepf as I requested?”

“Yes, sir; several hours ago. The Adjutant sent duplicate orders by separate riders, in case the mud disabled or delayed a single horse and rider.”

“Good, Sandy. Schoepf should reach us by noon tomorrow.”

“The regiments already here are in position for both defence and movement, as you ordered. The artillery and cavalry will have a rough go over these roads tomorrow though.”

“Can’t be helped. They’ve made do so far, we’ll just have to push them the last 10 miles.”

After the aide left to arrange the escort and mounts ‘Pap’ stood, his solid 6-foot frame filling the small room. Dressed in mud-stained standard issue trousers and sack coat, he hardly looked a General. Only in his mid-40’s, his brown hair and beard were already turning grey. He pulled on his slicker and gauntlets, put on his plain Hardee hat, trimmed the lantern and went out into the evening damp. A provost guard stood by the door, under the partial shelter of the porch. He came to attention as ‘Pap’ walked out of the rural post office. “Good evening, Private Redner. I’ll be gone for a while to speak with Colonel Wolford. Don’t let anyone steal your shelter.”

“No, sir! I’ll guard this here porch real good till you get back, sir,” the young Michigander replied.

‘Pap’ smiled, but his blue eyes were narrowed against the rain, and the coming battle. Cavalry boots squishing in the endless mud he walked towards a group of tired troopers and equally tired horses. The Provost Sargent was holding ‘Pap’s’ horse. He mounted with his usual slow care, eighteen days of wearying travel not having helped last year’s spinal injury. “Sargent, we’re going to pay Colonel Wolford and his pickets a little visit. Please send one of your men ahead to inform the Colonel.” There were two miles to the picket lines, and ‘Pap’ saw no need to be shot at by his own men.

“Yes, sir. “

The order passed along, one trooper rode at a trot into the late evening. The rest of the party moved off at a fast walk. Colonel Frank Wolford and his mixed command of infantry pickets and mounted vedettes had been well positioned to give advanced warning should Zollicoffer’s troops march the nine miles to Logan’s Cross Roads. After a mile they passed into the woods where the 10th Indiana, under Colonel Mahlon D. Manson, was camped. “Pap’ spoke briefly with Manson, ensuring that his instructions were being fulfilled. Pap was thorough, ready for the unexpected.

“Given their rest, sir, they’ll be ready to march in the morning.” Manson concluded.

“Good work, Colonel. Goodnight.”

“Good night, General.”

Moving on, the little troop crossed an open meadow and the small brook running through it, and approached the picket line south of the crossroads. Colonel Wolford met them there at a farmhouse beside the road. To their south stood a removable barricade, and then the road swung a sharp left into the woods. Pickets manned the roadblock, and the vedettes were hidden in the woods around the bend.

Just as the party were exchanging pleasantries a pistol shot was heard from the direction of the vedettes.

* * * *

I had been riding for several hours, and guessed I was lost. No moon, no stars; just drizzle, fog, mud and darkness. I had to ride slowly just to keep to the road. There were few farms, and no lights. When, if, I came to a village I planned to ask directions.

A threatening command exploded from the fog behind me. “Halt! or I’ll fire!” I spurred my horse and plunged on. A pistol shot rang out. I could hear the sounds of hooves behind me. I rounded a bend in the road. Two small fires fought the drizzle to give a flickering light and by them I saw a roadblock. A squad of pickets were aiming their rifles in my direction. Some troopers were exiting the roadblock and riding towards me. I turned my horse to flee into the woods, only to be confronted by four riders coming up behind. In a trice pistols were leveled at me, the reins were taken, and I was being led captive towards the baracade. I was too stunned for speech, and not a little afraid. I’d never seen Yankees before!

I was led through the roadblock and told to dismount. I was relieved of my paultry single-shot pistol, despatch case, and personal papers. Some infantry led me over to a ramshackle farm house where a Yankee Colonel and two other men stood out of the drizzle.

“Prisoner, sir. Rebel Courier,” the corporal of the guard announced as he handed over the despatch case. The youngest of the three Union men took the case from the Colonel, and went to stand under a lantern to read the papers. I was not yet 15. I was skinny, wet and more miserable than I had ever felt in my whole short life. I must have made a sorry picture.

“What’s your name son?” the Colonel asked me.

“Private Jeremiah Harlan, Colonel sir” I said in my best manners, though I didn’t feel too kindly disposed towards any Yankee at the time.

“What outfit?”

“General Crittenden’s staff, sir.”

The younger Yankee came back and wispered in the ear of the third man. He was tallish, with a greying beard and blue eyes. He wore no sign of rank. He acknowledged the wispered information, and turned to the Colonel.

“Frank, I’d like a word alone with this young man, if I may.”

“Certainly, sir. Be my guest. In the house perhaps?”

The big man nodded, and the guard took me into the house. It was dry and warm. They sat me at a table. The big man removed his hat and slicker and sat across from me. His hair was greying like his beard. His smile had warmth, but I still felt like he could look clean through me. In a quiet tone he said, “”Corporal, would you please bring this young man some coffee and a bite to eat. No need to have a guard in the room. Please ask my aide to come in for a moment.”

“Yes, sir.” The door closed, only to be opened a few moments later by the younger Yankee.

“Sir?”

“Would you please scrounge up some paper and two envelopes from the company clerk?”

“Certainly, sir.” He left on his errand. Everything was intimidating and very strange. I had expected to get horsewhipped, beaten; or maybe even shot for a spy, my ragtag uniform being less than standard issue. At least my forage cap was grey. What warmth there was in the room was welcome.

“”Where are you from, Private Harlan?”

“Williamson County, sir, outside Nashville.”

“Family?”

“Just me and Ma. She runs a general store.”

The junior officer came back in then, pulled some paper, envelopes, and a clerk’s box from a vulcanised rucksack, and placed them before the big man.

“Thank you Sandy.” The aide stood in a corner while the older man took out an ink well and a quill from the box.

“Private Harlan, how old are you?”

“I’m.…I mean.…I’ll soon be 15, sir.” My voice chose that moment to crack. I coughed to cover it. “That’s why I’m a currier, sir; cause I’m light and won’t tire a horse so.”

He drilled me with his blue eyes, and the smile left his face. “Ordinarily, soldier, we send prisoners up north to prison.” He let that sink in for a moment. “And, before we send a prisoner off we ask them lots of questions to get military information from them.. Have I asked you for any military information?

“I…I don’t think so? You already knowd who yur fightin agin.”

He sat looking at me for a while. “Do you know what ‘grace’ is, private?”

“Not rightly, sir. I don’t reckon I’ve heard of such a word.”

“Do you attend church?”

“No, sir”

Grace is when we get something good when we absolutely do not deserve it. We can’t earn it. It is only a gift. Do you understand that?”

”I ain’t never had no gifts. I had to work for everything, especially since my Pa died.”

The corporal came back then with a mug of coffee and an ear of roast corn. What between the weather, the ride, and being taken prisoner, I found I was real hungry. The big man said I could start eating, so I did. He took the paper and started writing. He and I finished at about the same time.

“Can you read?”

“Yes, sir, I can a little.”

He handed me an envelope. “This is an offical correspondence for your General Crittenden. I require that you deliver it to him personally.”

I didn’t understand how I could deliver a letter while I was a prisoner. I guess I looked pretty blank.

“Private,” he said firmly, “you are taking part in a rebellion against the lawful government of your country. You have also left your widowed mother without the support of her one remaining family member. For the first of those acts I have every right to have you sent to prison. For the second, I should turn you over my knee and take a birch switch to your backside.”

I reddened.

“Instead I am going to show you grace and mercy.” He handed me the second envelope. It was marked “Parole Pass”. “Do you know what a ‘parole’ is private?”

Not rightly, sir.”

“It means that you are free to return to your home, and that the government of the United States will take no action against you; provided that you do not take up arms again. Normally, paroles are given to officers who promise not to fight, or who deserve to be sent home because of their wounds. You are not an officer, do not deserve to go home, nor have you made any promises. It is up to you to decide whether you will act upon the mercy I have shown you.”

He turned to his aide and requested the provost guard. I was so confused, I thought that it was all a trick and I was off to prison. When the corporal of the guard came in, the officer stood, and said, “Corporal, I have paroled this young man. Please return his horse and empty despatch case to him, as he has a message to deliver to General Crittenden. Escort him past our vedettes and send him on his way. Unarmed of course,” he smiled slightly.

“Yes, sir. Come with me boy.”

I rose and slauted, and was led out of the building to my horse. At a command from the corporal the vedette riders escorted me past the pickets and down the road a mile. Before I rode off I asked them, “Who was that officer?”

They laughed. “Reb, that was Major General George Thomas. We call him ‘Pappy’; and he just handed your life back to you. Now git; and don’t come back!” He whipped my horse with his loose reins. I git, their mirth ringing in my ears.

I met our troops about two miles south of Logan’s Cross Roads, on their forced march north to attack the Yankees. I was sent to the rear to report to General Crittenden, and did not take part in the ensuing battle and subsequent hasty retreat. Though he was loathe to do so, General Crittenden honoured the parole, and I was sent home to Tennessee.

I am told that after the Battle of Mills Springs, a wounded Rebel prisoner, being teased by Union troops about the panicky retreat of his compatriots, replied to his accusers:

"Well, we were doing pretty good fighting till old man Thomas rose up in his stirrups, and we heard him holler out:

'Attention, Creation! By kingdoms, right wheel!' and then we knew you had us, and it was no time to carry weight."

I have spent the last forty years in service to my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, because an enemy showed me the meaning of God’s grace.

* * * *

PS. I saved General Thomas’ letter.

To General George B. Crittenden, C.S.A.

at Mill Springs, Kentucky

General Crittenden,

The bearer of this letter, a member of your command, was captured by our forces. He exhibited fortitude in attempting to evade capture, but numbers prevailed. Given his age I have chosen to supply him with a Paroled Prisoner Pass, which was offered to him ex gratia and without inducements or coercion. I trust you will honour my request to authorise his parole.

Very Respectfully yours,

Major General George H. Thomas

Commanding the 1st Division of the Army of the Ohio

January 18, 1862

- END -


© Copyright 2017 James Gagiikwe. All rights reserved.

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