As dusk approached the following day, Bud, Mr. Kimball, and Jake bid their farewells and went their separate ways, splitting off down a frozen dirt road. Hiram and his son continued on until they finally arrived home. Relieved that he was back with his family, David volunteered to unsaddle their mounts, while Hiram went inside their wood-slat dogtrot house. As David led the two horses into the tin-roofed barn, his yearling colt whinnied a greeting to him.
“Hey, Renegade,” he called out to the colt, who snorted in response, stomping a forefoot.
The yearling was his pride and joy, the offspring of Hiram’s stallion. Renegade was piebald, a dark chestnut highlighted with white patches spanning under his belly, and white socks reaching up to his knobby knees. His mane and tail were light flaxen, and his uniquely colored eyes were hazel, the same color as David’s.
Whistling the “Bonnie Blue Flag” while he removed the horses’ saddles, David curried his father’s grand stallion, Cotaco, named after a famous Indian chief who had lived in their parts long before the Trail of Tears took place. It was also the name of a creek that ran through the back end of their property. The stallion had been gifted to Hiram by an Indian acquaintance in Texas, and was a magnificent mustang, covered with brown and white splotches that transformed, if David used his imagination, into faces of people and animals. To him, Cotaco was all-knowing, and a sly devil at that. It was he who had bred with the neighbor’s prize thoroughbred mare, thus creating Renegade. The owner, Mr. Collier, insisted that David’s father purchase the foal, or “mistake” as he called him, so Hiram was obliged. He gave Renegade to David, letting him choose a name, and was teaching him how to gently break the colt.
Because Renegade was still too young to ride, David’s current mount was a Standardbred mare named Sally, and she was a fine animal as well. Not as special as Cotaco, but pretty, just the same. She actually belonged to his mother, who allowed him to borrow the mare when the need arose. Sally’s shiny brownish-black coat glistened with sweat from where the saddle on her back had been positioned, so he gently rubbed her down. He gave the horses their oats, stroked Renegade’s muzzle, and went inside, where he found his family gathered around the rough-hewn pine table that his father had constructed.
“And ole Jeff Davis said somethin’ about bein’ ready by recruitin’ an army,” Hiram was saying. His mother and sisters looked over at David as he entered.
“Come sit down and eat your vittles before they git cold,” his mother instructed, motioning him toward her with a swoop of one hand while she brushed a stray strand of dark brown hair away from her face with the other.
David took his seat. He folded his hands, quickly gave thanks in silence, clutched the fork in his left hand, and started shoveling in grits.
His mother shook her head. “Worked up an appetite, did you?” she remarked.
Josie, his youngest sister, laughed. “There’s a whole potful out in the kitchen Ma made jist for you!”
David grinned, exposing grit-covered teeth.
“Ew!” Josie squealed.
“David, you mind your manners,” his mother scolded.
“Beggin’ your pardon, Ma,” he mumbled through his grits.
“As I was sayin’, Caroline,” his father continued, “the president sounds like he means business. He ain’t takin’ no muck off the Yankees.”
“Hiram!” she exclaimed. “I’ll not have you talkin’ like that at the dinner table.”
He chuckled, but suddenly became somber. “We’re in for a fight, all right,” he declared. “So we’d best hold on tight.”
“I’m all for the fight!” David hollered.
His sister Rena glared at him. “You’re fixin’ to go fight the Yankees? Did Pa say you could?”
“No, I did not,” Hiram responded. “I said I’d discuss it with your ma.”
“I’ll have none of it,” Caroline announced, rising as she took up empty plates. “You’re much too young to go gallivantin’ off to chase Yankees.”
“But Ma!” David protested.
“That’s all I’m sayin’ on the subject,” Caroline firmly stated, and she walked out of the room.
David glared at the doorway through which she had just exited. “It ain’t fair,” he muttered, shoveling a piece of ham into his mouth.
“You don’t know that there will be a fight, anyhow,” said Josie.
With a frown, Hiram solemnly remarked, “For the good Lord’s sake, I hope there won’t be.”
Several weeks went by. The air grew more static with anticipation. David and his father traveled to the nearby mercantile one afternoon in mid-March. As soon as they entered, they were absorbed into a debate.
“Governor Moore has authorized establishin’ an army in Alabama,” said Mr. Skidmore, a local resident who was standing near the wood-burning stove in the center of the store with several others. “He’s called for two thousand troops to garrison the coasts.”
“Well, now that Lincoln has been sworn in,” said Mr. Banes, a finely dressed man about the same age as David’s father, “it’ll really git the ball rollin’.”
“I hear tell that the Spotsworth Apothecary up in Huntsville is flyin’ the Stars and Bars now. The first merchant to do it, they say,” Joseph Ryan informed the group.
Ben Johnson, the shopkeeper, put his two cents-worth in by informing the crowd, while he dusted, that during the Secession Convention in February, the Republic of Alabama flag was severely damaged by a storm, so it was moved to the governor’s office, and he hoped it wasn’t a bad omen. Because the flag had flown just once, he had only seen a drawing of it in a local publication: the Goddess of Liberty was on one side, holding an unsheathed sword in her right hand and a flag with one star in the other. The words “Independent Now and Forever” were arched above her head. On the other side was a cotton plant with a coiled rattlesnake. Beneath the plant, in Latin words, it read, “Noli Me Tangere,” or “Touch Me Not.”
Kit Lawrence, a childhood friend of David’s father, protested. “We should support the Union by not takin’ up arms,” he growled.
“Why in God’s name would we support the Yankees,” said Mr. Skidmore, “when all they want is to take away our livelihoods and privileges?”
“I’m supportin’ the state, and the majority has voted for secession, so it’s our duty to protect her!” ranted Mr. Copeland. David had been friends with his daughter, Callie, ever since they started school together nine years ago.
“Now that there’s a call out for troops, we’d best be thinkin’ about signin’ up,” said Mr. Powell, a lanky, fine-boned gentleman.
“This war won’t go on for long, anyway,” remarked Mr. Garrison, another neighbor, who lived in nearby Arab. “Why, I’ll be amazed if it lasts more than ninety days.”
“We should all sign up now, put those Yankees in their place, and git on back home before harvest,” said Bud.
Mr. Foreman looked up from the newspaper he had draped over the countertop. “It says here that on the twenty-seventh of last month, Russian troops in Warsaw shot five people who were protestin’ Poland’s rule.” He shook his head slowly. “It’s as though the whole world is ablaze with violence.”
“Well, I’m fixin’ to enlist, so I can put this fire out before it gits any worse!” exclaimed Billy Ryan, who was Joseph’s cousin.
“Those damn Yankee nigger lovers will pay dearly!” proclaimed Mr. Copeland.
The gentlemen agreed boisterously by hollering, “Here! Here!”
David glanced around at the gathering, taking it all in, and wished Jake was there to witness it.
“I’m fixin’ to enlist, too,” announced Bud.
Hiram glared at him. “This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said concernedly.
Bud nodded. “It’s what’s required of us, and I, for one, am a patriot’s son.” He grinned. “Well, grandson, anyhow. This is our war for independence.”
Frowning, Hiram patted David’s shoulder. “We’d best be headed home.” He placed his slouch hat on his head. “See y’all later.”
David followed his father outside, and they climbed up onto the buckboard. Taking the reins, Hiram slapped them against the withers of their big white Percheron.
“Git up, there, Joe Boy,” he commanded. He clucked to the gelding, who lurched, pulling the wagon behind him.
During the ride home, Hiram said very little, which was fine with David, who preferred not to discuss what he knew his father was thinking. One thing was for certain, though. If his father enlisted, so would he.
On March 27, the Huntsville Democrat reported that a company known as the Madison Rifles was being called into service, and a few days later, so were the Huntsville Guards under Captain Egbert Jones. Alabama was preparing for war, and things were heating up. The entire Southern nation was up in arms, waiting for a reason to fight.
The weather grew milder, and soon it was April 2. David went about his farm chores as usual, anticipating with excitement what might be in store for him later on in the day. He saw the family’s hogs, all five of them, wandering around on a nearby hillside, and noticed his father busy at work building a pen.
Curious, he walked over and asked, “Whatcha doin’, Pa?”
“I’m buildin’ a pen for the hogs,” he replied.
“Because I decided they’d be safer penned up.” Hiram pounded several nails as his son watched. Stopping momentarily, he said, “I want you to make sure they stay in this pen, you hear?”
“Now go fetch me some more nails, and help me finish it.”
David did as he was told, even though a strange knot formed in the pit of his stomach. His father had never been concerned with confining the livestock before. Instead of prying to find out more information, he dutifully went about his tasks, and when the pen was finished later that afternoon, he rounded up the hogs, with the assistance of his two black-and-tan coonhounds, Si and Caleb. Renegade whinnied from behind the pasture fence the entire time, wanting to come out and frolic with the pigs, but David knew that would only mean trouble. When he was finished, he dragged himself to the well to wash up. Exhausted, he decided to find time for a nap before supper, so he went in through the breezeway of the saddlebag house and entered one of the two doors on the right side of the dwelling to his room. Throwing himself onto his bed, he quickly dozed off.
Startled awake, he looked around the room frantically, and saw Josie standing in the doorway, a huge grin on her face. Her long auburn locks hung down past her shoulders, and her hazel eyes glistened.
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Genre – Historical Fiction
Rating – PG13