A Rebellion in Dixie
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Leon urged his horse on ahead to catch up with the cavalry, but he had not made many steps before the bushes parted at his side and the young rebel who owned the steed he was leading came out.
“Have they gone?” said he, and he acted like one who felt overjoyed. “I told you I would come back, and here I am. May I get up and ride my horse?”
“Certainly,” said Leon, and he felt so delighted to see the rebel that he could have hugged him. He didn’t know what his father would say to him for allowing that man to go out in the bushes. He gave up the horse, and the young fellow swung himself into the saddle.
“I am glad you didn’t give him up to some of your men who have no horses of their own,” said the rebel, as he accompanied Leon toward the head of the column. “My father raised this animal, I broke him myself, and he’s got just the kind of a gait that I like. Now, what are you going to do here in this county? Are you going to rebel against the Confederacy sure enough?”
“We have gone out already,” said Leon. “I haven’t got a copy of the resolutions with me, but you can see them when you get up to Ellisville.”
“It beats anything I ever heard of,” exclaimed the rebel, who burst out laughing every time he thought of it. “The idea that one county in the very heart of the Southern Confederacy should cut loose from it and say that they are Union men beats my time all holler. I told my father about it – ”
“Where is your father now?” interrupted Leon.
“He is in the rebel army.”
“Was he conscripted?”
“No. We didn’t wait for that, but we heard enough to let us know what Jeff Davis was going to do. More than that, some of our neighbors began to talk about hanging those who did not believe as they did to the plates of their own gallery, and as we could get into the cavalry by enlisting then, we rode down to the county-seat one day and gave our names in.”
“Have you been in any fights?”
“Two or three; but, mind you, I always shot high. I never drew a bullet on a Union man in my life. I live only three or four miles from where you stopped us, and I really wish the authorities of Jones county would give me permission to go back and get my mother.”
“Do you think your father would come up here after that?”
“Of course he would. We have done nothing but think and talk about what you fellows are doing here ever since we have been in the army. There was a distinct understanding between my father and myself that whoever escaped first should bring my mother here.”
“Well, Mr. – Mr. – ,” began Leon.
“Dawson is my name,” said the rebel.
“If you turn out to be all right I will go with you,” said Leon.
“Will you?” exclaimed the rebel, so highly excited that he could hardly speak plainly. “I know we will succeed, for you have been in fights enough to know what it means.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Leon. “This is as near as I have come to being in a fight.”
“What! Capturing our wagon-train? You don’t tell me! Well, I have seen men who had been in three or four battles that showed more nervousness than you did.You were not excited a bit.”
Leon very wisely concluded that he would not say anything more on this subject just then. He never was more excited in his life than when he rode along the line and demanded the rebel’s weapons. If Dawson thought he wasn’t excited, so much the better for him.
“I certainly thought you had been where you had seen men knocked down by the cart-load,” said Dawson, looking at Leon to see what he was made of. “I have been where I have seen a whole platoon laid out at one fire, but I never go into action without feeling afraid. After this trouble is all over I would like to compare notes with you.”
“To see how many times I am afraid?” asked Leon. “I don’t care to compare notes with you on that, for I know I shall feel afraid all the time. I’ve got one chum here who won’t haul in his shingle one inch to please anybody, and we’ll ask him to go with us.”
“Two men are all we want,” said Dawson. “By the way, there was a friend of mine deserted the camp night before last, and he stole the wagon-master’s horse to help him along. I don’t suppose you have seen anything of him, have you?”
“We have a rebel up to Ellisville, and he says that was the way he got away. But his horse and weapons have been taken from him.”
“That’s all right. You wanted him to prove to you that he was true-blue before you let him have his fire-arms. But he’s all hunky-dory. He told you about this wagon-train? I never saw him in a fight with Federals when he pretended to show any vim about it, but you give him rebels to shoot at and you’ll hear something drop. He hasn’t got the smallest sympathy for a Confederate. Why, they had him with a rope around his neck, and were going to hang him.”
“He never said anything to us about that,” said Leon, in surprise.
“It happened on the very morning that father and I went down to enlist,” said Dawson, “and the way they acted made us believe that when they got through with him they were coming to see us. We rushed into his house and did some good talking to save the man’s neck, and when they let him go he got onto his horse and went down to the county-seat with us. But didn’t he give the rebels a good blessing!”
“He could say what he had a mind to in your presence, I suppose?”
“Yes, sir; and he laid down the law in good shape, I tell you. There are six men he wants to find, and they are the men who had the rope around his neck. What are you going to do with the prisoners you capture in battle?”
“I am sure I don’t know,” said Leon, with a laugh. “We haven’t got any yet.”
“You haven’t been in a fight yet? How many men have you?”
“We had about three hundred fighting men, but first one Union family has come in, and then another, until we have a thousand men able to bear arms. Father said that about three hundred fighting men were all we had when this war broke out about a year ago, but they have been coming in from all sides. One man I know here has come from the mountains of Tennessee. I tell you we are going to make a good fight if the rebels get after us.”
“I believe you; and these men you have now won’t be a patching to what you will have by and by. But say,” added Dawson, as they drew up in the rear of the cavalry, “do you really think you will be able to go with me to get my mother?”
“That depends entirely on what my father says. If he continues to let me do as I please, as he always has done, I’ll go with you. There is no chance of being captured down there, I suppose?”
“Not in the least. Mobile is their nearest headquarters, and we can slip in there and get away again without any one being the wiser for it. It can be done just as easy as falling off a log.”
“Well, you stay here and I will go on and ride by my father. I will tell him about you and see what he has to say.”
Leon turned out and hurried on ahead to meet his father, who was riding alone in advance of the column, with his hat drawn over his eyes, as if he were thinking deeply. When he saw who the new-comer was he pushed back his hat, and beamed upon him with a smile that reminded the boy of old times.
“I tell you, father, you have done one good act in capturing this train,” said Leon. “What were you thinking of?”
“Oh, there are lots of things to come after this,” said Mr. Sprague. “We have got to whip the rebels in order to keep the train. Where’s your horse?”
“The owner has got him;” and taking this as his starting-point, Leon went on to give his father as much of the history of Dawson as he was acquainted with. When he told about the rebels having a rope around the neck of that man in camp his father was hardly prepared to believe it.
“But do you think the man honest?” asked Mr. Sprague.
“I know he is. No boy could talk as feelingly of his mother as he did and tell a lie about it. Now, if you will let me go down there and bring his family up here, we will make two good soldiers by the operation.”
“We will see about it when the time comes,” said Mr. Sprague.
That was enough for Leon, who reined his horse out of the road and halted until Dawson came up. Somehow he had taken a great fancy for the young rebel. There was something so honest about him that Leon put strong faith in everything he said. He drew up beside Dawson, and the latter’s face grew more radiant than ever when Leon said that his father would “see about it.”
“That is as good as saying that I may go, if something doesn’t turn up in the meantime. Now, the next thing will be to get Tom to go with us. I shall feel a heap better with him alongside of me.”
It was a long journey toward Ellisville, and the mules walked so slowly that it was almost midnight when they got there. Following the instructions of Mr. Sprague, the wagons were drawn up in a park in the grove, the mules were watered at the river and staked out where they had plenty of food, and the men left of their own accord and went to bed. There was no posting of sentries about the wagons to see that some backwoodsman did not slip up there to steal anything, for such a thing as theft was never heard of in that county. They knew that the things would be in the wagons in the morning in just as good shape as they were then. When Leon and Dawson, after hitching their horses and foddering them, turned to go to the opposite side of the grove, the place where that rebel was under guard, they came across Tom Howe, who had his coat off and was building a fire.
“Why, Tom, come with us,” said Leon. “I am going to get something to eat before I go to bed.”
“Well, sir, you can go and get it, for you are one of these hungry fellows who always want something,” replied Tom. “Do you see that muel? I ain’t a-going to take my eyes off of him until your father gives him into my possession.”
“You haven’t had any supper, have you?”
“Nary supper. And I ain’t a-going to have any, either, until I get that there muel in my hands.”
“You can come back here and sleep. Tom, this is Dawson, whom I want you to be friends with. He was in that squad, but he gave up his horse and weapons to me without being asked.”
The moment Leon referred to Dawson Tom put his hands behind his back as if he didn’t want to say how glad he was to see him. Leon noticed the movement and went on with something which he knew would bring Tom to his senses. Tom had a mother, his father was dead, and he fairly worshipped her.
“He is going down after his mother, and I am going, too. And we want you to go with us.”
“Howdy!” exclaimed Tom, and his hands came out and he shook Dawson as if he was a friend from whom he had long been separated. “Then he’s all right, of course. I’ll go, but you must get my muel for me.”
The boys bent their steps toward the hotel, for they knew that the landlord was a man who was determined to do what he could to help along the cause. He knew that at least a portion of the men who had gone out to capture that wagon-train had no place to get anything to eat, and he cooked up a lot of food for them, and had it spread out on his dining-room tables. He had remained up all night, and the noise the men made when they returned almost drove him wild.
“Who said those who took part with us in this useless struggle would go hungry?” said he, standing on the porch, and welcoming the men as they came up, and sending them all into the dining-room. “Ah! here’s Leon and Tom Howe, I declare. Where did you get shot, boys? And a rebel, as sure as I am a foot high. Where did you take him up?”
“I am a rebel no longer,” replied Dawson. “In spite of my clothes I am as good a Union man as there is in the county.”
“You are just the lads we want,” said the landlord. “Haven’t had anything to eat yet? No dinner, either? Then go right into the dining-room. You will find the President and the Secretary of War in there.”
The boys went in and found the two officers sitting in a remote corner engaged in earnest conversation. They talked in low tones, and it was evident that they did not want anybody to hear what they were discussing, so the boys sat down and began an attack upon the food. The way the landlord’s bacon, eggs and corn-bread disappeared before them would have astonished that gentleman could he have witnessed it. It made no difference to them that the food was cold, for the coffee was hot, and they finally stopped because they were ashamed to eat any more. By the time they had finished eating their supper the two high officers ceased their consultation, and Mr. Sprague hauled up a chair to the nearest table and sat down. Leon decided that this was his time. Tom Howe would certainly sleep better if he knew that the mule was his own.
“Father, there’s a white mule out there in the train, and Tom Howe wants him.”
“Well, he can have him, I guess,” said Mr. Sprague. “Anybody else laid any claim to him?”
“No, sir; Tom is the only one. And he has taken a mighty queer animal to carry him through this war. He kicks.”
“Tom will have to manage that to suit himself. Why don’t he wait until we can capture a horse?”
“Because he would rather have that mule than anything else.”
“Tell him to take him, and welcome.”
Leon found his companions in the living-room, and when he told them that the Secretary of War had given Tom the mule he wanted, Tom was delighted. He promised the others that he would get to work early in the morning to break him of kicking, and wanted them to come over and see how it was done, and then turned away to his own camp, while Leon and Dawson started out to find the camp of the rebel who was kept under guard.
“There’s his lean-to right there,” said Leon, after walking some distance up the road. “Do you see any comparison between that sentry and the ones you left behind? I mean, do they sit down and warm themselves by a fire when they are left on duty?”
“Not much, they don’t,” answered Dawson, with a laugh. “If you had our officer of the day here he would snatch that fellow bald-headed. He ought to get up, hold his arms at support and pace his beat.”
“Who is it that the officer of the day is going to snatch bald-headed?” asked the sentry. He sat on a log with his rifle beside him, and he was warming his hands over the fire. He seemed to think that he could see everything that was going on, and he thought that was all that was required of him.
“The officer of the rebel army, if there was one here, would take you to task for not pacing your beat,” said Leon.
“Sho! What would he do that for?” asked the man. “That rebel hasn’t moved in there without my seeing him, and he can’t get away. Say, Johnny, are you asleep?”
“No; I am wide awake,” shouted a voice from the inside. “I wanted to see the men that came back with that wagon-train. Well – halloo! Dawson,” exclaimed the rebel, who, when he came out, caught sight of his old comrade in arms. “You’re here, ain’t you?”
The two men shook hands as though they had not seen each other for years. Dawson then explained how the capture was effected, and the rebel’s eyes fairly flashed as he listened to it. When he ceased speaking the rebel asked permission for Dawson to come under his lean-to and share his blankets with him, and as the sentry did not find any fault Leon readily granted it. When he had seen the two tuck themselves away preparatory to a good sleep and had exchanged a few words with their guard, Leon turned about and made the best of his way to the hotel.