A Rebellion in Dixie
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“If you are all ready, go on,” said Mr. Sprague.
Mr. Swayne was a long time in getting into his wagon. He would place his foot upon the hub, and then one of the men would say something insulting in regard to the men they had just left, and Mr. Swayne would take his foot down and stand there until he heard what the man had to say. He was in earnest when he said they were coming back to clean the Union men all out, and that there wouldn’t be hide nor hair of them left when they did come, and finally he got into his wagon and drove on. When he looked behind to see what had become of Mr. Sprague and his party, he saw them just disappearing around the nearest bend in the road.
“I wish I dared shoot at them,” said he.
“Well, I’ll shoot at them, and welcome,” said the man whom Bob Lee had struck, as he reached for his gun.
“Don’t do it, Jim,” expostulated Mr. Swayne.
“Dog-gone it, don’t you see the bump under my eye?” said the man. “I can see the chap who did it, and I can pick him off just as easy as you would kill a squirrel.”
“If you shoot at them they will come back here and arrest the whole of us, and take us back to their camp and make us stand a court-martial,” said Mr. Swayne. “I am not a-going to stand punishment for your deeds and mine into the bargain.”
This view of the matter rather arrested the man’s hand, and he sat with his gun resting across his knees, muttering curses not loud but deep, until he saw the Union men disappear around a bend in the road. Mr. Sprague knew that he stood a chance of being fired upon, and that was what he intended to do; he would arrest the whole of them and take them to camp. But Mr. Swayne was a little too sharp for him. It was two o’clock when they arrived at the camp, and the men, to show that they knew what sort of respect ought to be paid to the Secretary of War, went off to hunt up some forage for his horse and Leon’s before they went to bed.
“Well, Leon,” said Mr. Sprague, after the horses had been picketed with plenty to eat and the men had all gone away, “we haven’t got any blankets.”
“No matter for that,” said Leon. “It won’t be the first time I have slept out with nothing to cover me. Get some leaves, and they will do just as well.”
They walked along the road as they talked, and Mr. Sprague could not help thinking what a big army he was going to have to attack that wagon-train. Every step of the way he saw lean-tos, and he knew that there were stalwart men sleeping under them. Finally he drew up before a lean-to where there was a sentry sitting in front of the door. He did not carry his arms at a “support,” nor did he bring his piece to “arms port” and call out, “Who comes there?” when he saw Mr. Sprague and Leon approaching. But he greeted him in regular backwoods style.
“Hallo, Sprague” said he. “Did you get your parties through all right?”
The Secretary of War replied that he did, adding —
“This must be the home of that rebel, isn’t it?”
“Yes.But he has been perfectly peaceable all night. He didn’t sleep at all the night before.”
“No; but I am awake now,” called out a voice from the inside; and there was a little fussing in the cabin and the rebel came to the door.
“Say, Colonel, are you going to stay here all night?”
“That is the intention. I want to get an early start, and it is too far for me to go home.”
“Well, now, I know that you haven’t got any quilts,” said the rebel, disappearing under the roof of the lean-to. “Here’s some that will add to your comfort to-night. Take them and welcome.”
Mr. Sprague thanked the rebel for his gift and spread the quilts down where they intended to camp for the night, while Leon told himself that it was a good thing to have a father who was Secretary of War, after all. They slept soundly for a little while, but at half-past three Mr. Sprague was awake and busily engaged in arousing the men. In less time than it takes to tell it they were all up and cooking their breakfast, and in an hour more the grove was empty. Five hundred men were going out to attack that wagon-train, and, if possible, secure something to eat. We don’t mean to say that they were hard up for provisions, for there was bacon and corn-meal enough in the county to last them for months; but we mean that they had lived so long on these things that they had grown tired of them. They had been used to something better than that before the war, and when their boats came back from tide-water, after their owners had succeeded in selling their logs, the housewife found pickles, canned meat and condensed milk enough to last her family for six months. That was one thing that the men had in view; and another thing, some of them were in need of clothes; and they believed that this wagon-train had something of that kind stowed away for the boys in Mobile. And, better than all – and here was the thing that led the men to look with favor upon robbing the train – it would show the Confederates they were in earnest; – just what the Union people wanted to do.
It was a long march from the grove in Ellisville to the stream that separated the two counties, but the men went about it in earnest and determined to get there in time to stop that wagon-train. Of course, there was plenty of joking and laughing while they were on their own ground, but the moment they struck the bridge a deep silence fell upon the company. We ought by rights to say that the men had been divided into five companies, a hundred men in each, and that each one had three officers to direct them; but the Union men of Jones county had not got that far in military tactics. There was only one man at the head, Mr. Sprague, and he had the full management of them.
Mr. Sprague rode at the head of the line in company with all the men who had horses, and there must have been about fifty of them, and when he crossed the bridge he sent a dozen of them on ahead to travel at full speed, to see if the wagon-train had passed.
“I needn’t remind you that you want to go into every house you come to, and if there is a man in there take him in,” said he. “Don’t say a word to the women, but ketch the men. It won’t do to leave any rebels behind us, for they can easily warn the train, and so we must take them with us until we get the job done. Silas, I will appoint you captain of this squad.”
Silas raised his hand to his hat with something that was intended for a military salute, called all his men about him, and went down the road at a keen jump, while the rest of the company travelled on as before. An hour afterward they came up with their scouts, and Silas at once rode up to report.
“The wagon-train hain’t passed yet, and we’ve got five men, and two of them are rebels. We had to chase through a cornfield after one, and fired two shots at him.”
“Did you hit him?”
“No, we didn’t hit him, but he was mighty ready to throw up his hands when he heard the bullets whistling.”
“Did you get their guns?”
“Yes, we got them all safe.”
“Now the best thing we can do,” said Mr. Sprague, turning about to face his men, “is to go down the road and conceal ourselves in the bushes. When you see me move my arm this way,” here he raised his arm above his head and waved it toward the right and left of the road, “you will all divide and go into the timber on different sides; and when you hear me whistle this way,” he put his hand to his mouth and gave a whistle that could have been heard a mile, “then you may know that it is time for you to get down to business. But bear one thing in mind: Don’t shoot unless you have to.”
The company, or, more properly speaking, the battalion, moved on again, and in half an hour not one of them was in sight. They had divided right and left, as Mr. Sprague had directed, and taken up their positions on opposite sides of the road, and there was not the least noise or confusion about it. Two of the men had gone down the road to see if the train was coming, and they were impatiently waiting their return. The prisoners had all been turned over to Mr. Sprague, and he was having something of a time with one of them, who was determined that he would not hold his tongue. He had a very shrill voice, and when he spoke in his ordinary tone it could be heard a long distance.
“Now, Sprague, I don’t see the sense in your doing this,” said the shrill-voiced man, and he seemed to have pitched his tones so loud that they could have heard him at the end of the line. “You take me away from my home, who never did the Union any harm – ”
“You are a nice fellow, you are,” said one of the men who happened to be close around when the shrill-voiced person was talking. “I take notice of the fact that Ebenezer Hale wanted to come up here so as to be among Union men, and you heard his story, and when he was asleep that night you went off and got a lot of rebels to surround and carry him off. Where is he now? In jail, likely. And you, dog-gone you, you never did the Union men any harm! You had oughter go to jail until this trouble is all over.”
“Well, now, Simeon, I did just what I thought was best for the community. I didn’t have nothing against Ebenezer Hale, but I knew that if he went into this fight – ”
“That’s enough,” said Mr. Sprague. “We have listened to you all we want to.”
“Now, Sprague, I shan’t quit talking until I have a mind to,” said the shrill-voiced man. “You have undertaken more than you can accomplish, and I say – ”
“Sim, cut a little piece of wood about four inches long, and tie a string to each end of it,” said Mr. Sprague. “If Kelley don’t shut up we’ll gag him.”
“Oh, now, Mr. Sprague, don’t gag me,” said the man, sinking his voice almost to a whisper this time. “I won’t say one word more. I won’t, upon my honor.”
The gag was duly cut and prepared, and nothing was wanting except another word from Mr. Kelley to induce Sim to put it where it belonged; but the man took just one look at it and concluded that the best thing he could do was to keep still. He never showed any disposition to open his head until the scouts were seen coming back with the information that the train was approaching. They came in a hurry, too, as if they were anxious to get something off their minds.
“Where’s Sprague?” were the words they shouted as they galloped along the road; whereupon Mr. Sprague showed himself. “The train is coming,” they said, as soon as they came within hearing of their leader. “Every blessed one of them is coming, and are acting as if they didn’t fear anything.”
“Did they see you?” inquired Mr. Sprague.
“No, they didn’t. We hid our horses in the bushes, and then went and lay down beside the road until we saw the train coming. Yes, sir, we’re going to get them all.”
Mr. Sprague and his scouts went into the bushes again out of sight, and then he noticed that Mr. Kelley wasn’t so anxious to keep in the background so much as he had been. He was even disposed to go out of the bushes, but he hadn’t made many steps in that direction when Simeon seized him by the collar and stretched him flat on his back.
“Oh, now, Simeon – ”
“Not another word out of you,” said his guard, savagely. “You will get the gag in your mouth as sure as you’re alive.”
“Take your stand close behind him,” said Mr. Sprague, who was getting angry now, “and with the very first words he utters shoot him down. We are not going to have our plans spoilt for the sake of him.”
Leon, who stood close at his father’s side and heard all this conversation, grew as pale as death when he found that the wagon-train was coming. He clutched his revolver nervously, and determined that whatever danger his father got into he would be there to help him. The leader glanced at his son’s pale face and said, in a low tone:
“Leon, I think you had better stay here as a guard to these prisoners.”
“Are you going out there to face that escort?” asked Leon.
“Of course I am. I shall be right in the thickest of it.”
“Then I’m going, too.”
“But you will be safe here. They can’t hit you, even if they shoot at you.”
But Leon only shook his head, and at that moment somebody whispered that the foremost wagons were in sight. That turned Mr. Sprague’s attention into a new channel, and Leon was left to himself. He glanced at Simeon and his captive, and was gratified to see that Mr. Kelley had been forced to sit down, and Simeon was standing there with his cocked gun ranged within two inches of his head. He wanted to speak, and made a motion to Simeon to turn the gun the other way, but as often as he did this the piece was raised to his guard’s shoulder, and the words froze on his lips.
The foremost wagon came along as rapidly as the mules could draw it, and after what seemed an age to Leon the wagons were all in view. When the leading wagon was almost opposite to him Mr. Sprague raised his hand to his mouth and gave a shrill whistle. Never in his life had he given a better one. He wasn’t excited at all. There was a moment’s silence there in the brush, and out popped the cavalry and infantry, and in less time that it takes to tell it the wagon-train was surrounded. Not a shot was fired. To say that the rebels were astounded would not half express their feelings. Every teamster had three or four guns looking at him, and the cavalry, who occupied the advance of the train, were surrounded with horsemen that were two to their one.
“Well, by George! You have done this up in good shape,” said the rebel captain, after he had taken time to get his wits together. “What are you – Union?”
“Yes, sir; Union to the backbone,” replied Mr. Sprague. “May I trouble you for your sword and revolver?”
“That was as neat a surprise as I ever saw,” said the captain, as he unbuckled his belt and handed it to Mr. Sprague. “You didn’t give us time to fire a shot. What are you going to do with us? Put us in jail?”
“No, sir. We shall allow you to go where you please,” said Mr. Sprague, accepting the belt and fastening it about his own waist. “We are not making war on your folks now, but on your provisions. We shall have to take your horses, too. Dismount.”
“I guess father’s all right, and now I’ll get some weapons of my own,” said Leon, as he turned his horse and rode along the line of the escort. “There must be some rebels in there that haven’t given up all their fire-arms.”
As he rode along he found a soldier on the inside of the third four who held his weapons in his hand and was looking around for somebody to give them to. When he saw Leon approaching he held his sword, revolver and carbine toward him over his companion’s horse.
“Come out here,” said Leon. “I shall have to take your horse as well as your weapons.”
“Well, I can’t help it, can I?” said the rebel, who was more inclined to laugh than he was to feel despondent over it. He came out and proceeded to give up his horse and weapons to Leon, and at the same time he took particular pains to place himself on the boy’s side next to the woods. In this way he could talk to him without his rebel friends hearing it.
“Say,” he added, “you won’t take me to jail, will you?”
“Certainly not,” said Leon.
“Don’t talk so loud. I don’t want my companions to know that I have found a friend among Union men. Let me go out in the woods a little while, and I will come back sure when you are all ready to start for home.”
“You will only be giving yourself trouble if you do that,” said Leon, who thought his rebel friend was taking a queer way to escape. “As soon as we get your weapons we intend to turn you all loose, to go where you please.”
“But I don’t want to go with those rebels,” said the young soldier, earnestly. “I am a Union man, and I went into the army because I had to. I will come back, sure.”
“Well, go ahead, but don’t let anybody see you.”
When Leon led the captured horse back to his father’s side he found that the escort had all been dismounted and disarmed, and were now standing there and awaiting further orders. Some were disposed to be angry and sullen, while others were laughing over what they considered a first-class surprise. Mr. Sprague was highly elated over it. He did not show it, but there was something about him that made Leon feel happy, too. The goods that were captured that day must have been worth $500,000.
“Now, Captain, you are all right, and I will bid you good-day,” said Mr. Sprague. “You can go ahead, and as fast as the teamsters come up, we’ll send them on after you. Silas, go back there and send up all the teamsters.”
“But suppose they don’t want to go?” said Silas.
“Then leave them behind. If they want to go and join the Confederate army, send them up here; but if they want to stay and join the Union forces, let them alone.”
“Colonel, I suppose I can say what I please, can’t I?” said the rebel captain. “You have got the dead-wood on me now, but it won’t be long before I’ll come back. Then I shall ask you for my sword.”
In a few minutes the teamsters began to come up, and, as they approached, Mr. Sprague told them to fall in behind the escort, which was marching down the road. Leon kept a close watch on them, but didn’t count more than thirty who wanted to go back to the Confederacy. There must have been at least ten of them who wanted to stay with the Union men. The next thing was to turn the mules around and start back home. This occupied a good deal of time, for the mules were balky; and some of them would not “back;” but those five hundred men soon took the “balky” out of them, and in half an hour more the wagons were all turned around and the train was on its way to Ellisville.