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Lights Over Vicksburg; Elucidation

By Gary Nicholson All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

Blurb

It was July 1st 2011 and Mary Jane Reynolds rode in the passenger’s seat of her Porche Boxster S Black Edition with her friend Eric Porter at the wheel. They were traveling west on Interstate 20 just outside of Vicksburg. The radio was blaring and the DJ barked: ‘that was Joan Baez with the classic; The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down. And remember you heard it here on KKPT - The Point 94.1 FM Little Rock, Arkansas. Eric looked over his shoulder passed Mary Jane at the dirt embankment that runs alongside the interstate. “Holy Hell, Mary Jane,” Eric said I in a loud shrill voice. “There it is,” as he changed lanes to park on the shoulder. “There is what?” Mary Jane said, in an irritated tone. “Why are we stopping? Have you gone fucking crazy?” He just looked at her and smiled. “Don’t you remember when we were at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena?” “Yes, you were talking to that old hippie about Duane Allman and something off of Interstate 20.” “In 1973, some fans carved the letters ‘REMEMBER DUANE ALLMAN’ in that embankment over there.” “Are you sure? All I see is grass growing on the embankment.” He took his camera out of his bag. “Well, this is the right place I just want

Chapter 1: Vicksburg

It was in November of 1862 when Ulysses S. Grant received word that General John McClernand planned to attack Vicksburg. It was the only logical move that the Union forces could make at the time. Vicksburg was the hinge of the Confederacy; if they could break Vicksburg they would break the Confederacy.

In May of 1862 Admiral David G. Farragut had Captured New Orleans and gained control of the Mississippi River, giving the Union the advantage and taking a vital supply route from Confederates. A problem still remained for the Union War effort and it was at Port Arkansas in the Arkansas Post headed by General Thomas A. Churchill.
In December of 1862 the Confederates captured the U. S. gunboat Blue Wing and held a successful blockade along an important supply route to New Orleans. There were some deletions in Churchill’s log however about the mention of some strange lights and objects in the sky. He wrote:

‘It is difficult to determine the origins of these things, but they do appear solid and not a result of sickness or fatigue. It has not been determined what these objects are but it has been suggested that they are some kind of Union reconnaissance mechanism powered by helium balloons and lighted by electricity,’

Later this attachment had been completely extracted from the report.
Up till this time the Union forces on the Mississippi River had been commanded by General McClernand; The Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, otherwise known as Walnut Hills began the day after Christmas in1862, and it was headed by General Tecumseh Sherman. On that day, three Union divisions under Sherman disembarked from Johnson’s Plantation on the Yazoo River which was an approach to the Vicksburg defenses from the northeast while a quarter of his troops landed farther upstream on the next day. The Union soldiers pushed their lines forward through the swamps with water sometimes waist high and with muskets over their heads; onward to the Walnut Hills, which were strongly defended. On that same day, the Confederates fired upon the oncoming soldiers, killing about fifty with fifteen to twenty floating downstream with spirals of blood trailing behind them in the water. The next day Sherman ordered a frontal assault, which was returned by the Confederates with a crackle of gunfire and blasts from cannons, At least one-hundred-fifty Union soldiers fell into the water; Sherman belted out a few more orders and then retreated.
This Confederate victory confounded Major General Ulysses S. Grant and this prevented him from taking Vicksburg head-on.
Union ironclads began landing troops near Arkansas Post in the late afternoon of January 9th 1863 and the soldiers marched up river towards Fort Hindman where Sherman’s corps fired into the Confederate trenches, and the Confederates retreated into the inside of the fort and manned the rifle-pits. The next day Flag Officer David Porter, brought his fleet into the bayou and began firing upon the compound that same evening.
Later in the week Union soldiers fired on the fort from across the river causing at least fifty Confederates to fall on both sides of the earthen fortification; streams of blood flowed from their bodies forming small pools which eventually turned the edge water red. Union ironclad gunboats bombarded the fort with cannon fire to prevent a Confederate retreat. In the heat of cannon blasts Commander Porter was distracted by something hovering overhead. He looked through his binoculars in awe. His entry in the log was edited because in his own wards:

‘. . . they were indescribable and not comparable to any prior experience . . .’

It had been concluded that due to lack of sleep and stress of battles that he had hallucinated.
Apparently surrounded by gunboats and presumably overwhelmed by McClernand’s soldiers, the Confederates surrendered by the afternoon; disobeying Brigadier General Churchill’s orders to ‘hold the line.’
In the aftermath of Arkansas Post the Confederacy lost about a quarter of its deployed force in Arkansas from the surrender of Rebel forces. There were a multitude of corpses floating in the surrounding swamp, with streams of red discoloring the water: There were one-hundred-thirty-four Union soldiers killed; with over a thousand wounded. The blockade had been destroyed but the victory did nothing to blemish Vicksburg. The destruction of the fort cleared Union shipping on the Mississippi, but still Grant disapproved of McClernand’s attack.
“Only a democrat would take such a gamble at the loss of so many men,” Grant told McClernand, angrily. “The reason we are here is to break Vicksburg.”
“Very well,” McClernand said slowly, “but I must tell you General, that some peculiar objects were seen in the sky during the battle.”
“What? Are you drunk? What are you talking about?” Grant said furiously.
“It is difficult to explain, Sir, but the surrender was mainly due to the sighting of these things,” McClernand insisted.
“I didn’t read anything in your report about things of that nature.”
“That’s just it, General; I don’t think it has anything to do with nature. When I tried to find the words to describe them I was at a complete loss. There were two or three of them hovering over Fort Hindman and when they moved, they moved swiftly. Afterwards when we interrogated the prisoners they had all responded in surprise. They believed that they were some kind of Union weaponry. They had actually fired upon them but both bullet and cannon ball were somehow absorbed without impact.”
“You have been inhaling too much of the gasses in the swamp. General; I’m taking over the campaign. I will place you in command of the lead corps and you will march your men on the west banks of the Mississippi.”
After McClernand left the tent Grant had a discussion with his secretary.
“I want all mention of General McClernand’s hallucination expunged from the record of today’s conversation,” Grant said in a low tone in hopes not to be overheard.
“But, General,” the corporal responded, “that would be highly irregular and I . . .”
“Enough!” Grant interrupted. “Such talk will only strike up rumors which will distract us from our duties. I would advise you from this day forward not to question my orders again, corporal.”
“Yes Sir!” the corporal responded.
Later, Lincoln praised Grant, stating:
“I can’t spare this man; he fights.”
McClernand set up his camp at Young’s Point just across the river from Yazoo Bayou. He planned to march 30,000 soldiers up to Milliken’s Bend just northwest of Vicksburg. He marched them through swamps and muddy trails along the west banks of the Mississippi River. He had accumulated more men along the way until he had 50,000 men stretched along the banks to Lake Providence which was seventy-five miles north of Vicksburg.
There was a lot of rain that winter which caused the river to rise and allowing scheduled boats to transport supplies to the camps. The weather had its own casualties. There were large numbers of men with smallpox, dysentery, typhoid, and other types of malarial diseases. There were burial parties of usually six men who buried the bodies along the rain soaked levees.
A sergeant and five corporals were digging into the muddy ground. The shovel made a bloop sound as mud was scooped out of the ground to eventually form a small pit. There were about eighty of these pits to be dug that afternoon. While in the midst of his work a corporal looked up for a moment to see some colored lights hovering over the banks some distance north of where he was standing. This startled him to the point of jumping upright causing him to slip onto his rump with a muddy splat. His sergeant went immediately over.
“Be careful corporal,” the sergeant urged, “if you slip into the river with the current so high there will be nothing any of us could do.”
“Thank you, sergeant,” the corporal replied, “but do you see what is happening in the north.” He pointed towards the colored lights.
The sergeant looked in awe for a moment at the lights which appeared to be doing some sort of aerial dance.
“You would be advised, corporal, not to make report of such things.”
“But sergeant, wouldn’t they be considered significant?”
“Not really, they’re not even relevant; besides even if we could convince the captain that we actually saw those things what would he be able to say to the general. Just keep digging corporal there are lots of bodies to bury.”
So the work continued late into the afternoon.
Later that month General Tecumseh Sherman turned his division over to General McClernand but eventually it would be under the retinue of General Grant.
Grant devised his plans in what he called; ‘Bayou Experiments’. And early that same year, Grant planned a series of decisive measures to take Vicksburg, which were now called: ‘Grant’s Bayou Operations.’ The idea was to build canals between the bayous and lakes so that Union soldiers could make striking distance of Vicksburg, and avoid a futile frontal attack from the Mississippi River and not be obliterated by Confederate guns. A canal across the De Soto Peninsula would have the potential to offer a route downriver that could bypass Vicksburg’s guns. In late January 1863, Sherman’s men, along with a hundred or so slaves under General Grant’s instructions began digging in an existing canal which was six feet wide by six feet deep. Grant wanted to expand the canal to sixty feet wide and thirteen feet deep and the effort became known as Grant’s Canal.
The labor was grueling; while mules and men were subjected to torturous conditions due to weather and the force to drive the work. A sergeant could be seen kicking men in the sides and mules were to be hit in the head by large sticks. Sherman did not approve of the verbal and physical abuse giving orders and stating it would not be tolerated. Both men and animals became sick from the harsh conditions and many died of pneumonia.
“There will be no ‘goldbricking’ under my watch,” a sergeant yelled at one of his privates after slamming the butt of his musket into his ribs.
The engineering of the excavation was poorly executed and flooding on Mississippi River, broke through the dam at the head of the canal and flooded the area. The canal filled up with backwater. Men and mules were stuck in the mud and a grotesque drowning scene was witnessed while men gasped their dying breaths in the rising water. Through gallant efforts most of the men were saved but a significant number of mules were lost.
There were also incidences of so-called misconduct reported along the way which infuriated General Sherman. The word ‘misconduct’ did not even begin to describe the severity of the crimes reported. He wrote this into his journal:

‘Our armies are devastating the land and it is sad to see the destruction that attends our progress. Farms disappear, houses are burned and plundered’ and the high ranking Generals made little or no attempt to offset the pillage.”
‘The soldiers in plundering and burning make no discrimination between friend or foe. Even the poor Negroes are plundered of their blankets, chickens and cornmeal and even relieved of their tattered garments.’
‘The regiment in question is one of the best and most disciplined in our service from St. Louis. They are famous for their fun and frolic and mischief and crime. They have perfect skill in evading justice. They are violent and lawless and have been somehow taught that they can do no wrong. Isolated incidents of pillaging are difficult or impossible to control but along the Mississippi in 1803 the practice seems to be widespread and out of control, with the victims being, women, children, and elderly men. Such wholesale misconduct within the military implies almost by definition, a tacit complicity by officers of all ranks from the lowest lieutenants to commanding Generals. This activity could have been halted but was not.’ (William Tecumseh Sherman)

Sherman spoke to one of the generals.
“But general, this is repugnant we just cannot tolerate the raping of women and the pillaging of farms on the enemy much less on citizens of the United States.” General Sherman said in disgust.
“General, let me make myself clear,” the commander responded, “we are at war and these things occur; after all general ‘boys will be boys’ and that is all. I will hear no more about it.”
Sherman hung his head low.
In a desperate effort to continue the project, two large steam-powered dipper dredges, Hercules and Sampson, attempted to dig the canal, but the dredges were destroyed by confederate artillery fire from the bluffs at Vicksburg and in early March, the work on this canal was abandoned.
Grant employed Brigadier General James B. McPherson to build another canal from the Mississippi River to Lake Providence, which was just northwest of Vicksburg. This would have opened the Red River, with Bayous Baxter and Macon, and combined them with the Tensas and Black Rivers. If they could use the Red River, Grant’s force could reach Port Hudson by water. McPherson wrote in his journal that the waterways were navigable on March 18th, but only a few Ohio River boats were available to transport some 8,500 men, and these were far too few to capture Port Hudson. Although this was the only one of the bayou expeditions to successfully bypass the Vicksburg defenses, a journalist had written:

‘The expedition on Lake Providence was Boondoggle’

The next attempt was to get to the high ground of the bluffs above and below Yazoo City by sabotaging the Mississippi River levee near Moon Lake, some one-hundred miles north of Vicksburg, near Helena, Arkansas, and following the Yazoo Pass.
The ‘Bayou Experiments’ were a failure, but Grant was indomitable. He marched his soldiers on the west side of the Mississippi River in hopes to cross the river south of Vicksburg. Admiral Porter followed him with gunboats and supply ships o the south of Vicksburg. They had completed the downstream passage; but they could not go past Vicksburg’s defenses because the river current was too strong.
March 29th, General McClernand and his men began building bridges and log roads. Sometimes destroying swampland to make a trail, and by April 1st they had constructed a rough, tortuous road from Milliken’s Bend to the proposed river crossing at Hard Times, Louisiana, just south of Vicksburg.
April 16th 1863 was a clear night with no moon in Vicksburg, Mississippi; Admiral Porter assembled a fleet of twelve Union ironclads. They were to run passed the Confederate batteries that aligned the banks of the Mississippi River near Vicksburg. The Confederates had lit some large vats tar on fire creating a brightness which resembled daylight with large ribbons of flame flared into the air. They knew that the Union flotilla was planning on making a run through the area and wanted clear visibility. Through the blaze some strange lights were witnessed above the river but they were dismissed as light refractions from the flickering conflagration. It was shortly before midnight, when the ironclads started down the river. Each ship was towing a coal barge. For two and a half hours, the gunboats were running passed the Confederate batteries.
The Confederates blasted the fleet at around 2:30 A. M. They hit the USS Henry Clay and it went down burning. The USS Queen of the West and another gunboat were badly damaged. The Union gunboats answered back with their own gunfire. Porter had observed that the Confederates had hit only high parts of his boats. He reasoned that they could only depress their guns but so far, and had his gunboats stay near the east bank, and just below the Confederate cannon fire. They were so close to the shore he could hear the commanders giving their orders, with shells flying overhead. The USS Tuscumbia towed the crippled vessels through and all the gunboats except for the Henry Clay got passed Confederate batteries and landed at Hard Times. The fleet suffered very little damage; and thirteen men were wounded yet none were killed.
After McClernand, completed the overland trail to Hard Times the USS Tuscumbia was used to carry Admiral Porter, Grant, and Sherman on the Yazoo River to find a landing point north of Vicksburg at Hayne’s Bluff where the Tuscumbia retreated from Confederate fire.
On April 22nd, six more boats came through with supplies; one boat was wrecked, but the crew survived and they continued downstream on the wreckage. A week later, the Tuscumbia returned to reinforce attack. The boat suffered five casualties and was wrecked from eighty-one continuous artillery hits.
Grant’s final strategy was to divert Pemberton’s attention from the river crossing site that the Union troops would use. Grant performed two maneuvers: an attack on Snyder’s Bluff, just, north of Vicksburg.
The second maneuver lured a number of Confederates out into the open to be captured and killed.
Admiral Porter led seven ironclads to attack Grand Gulf Mississippi in hopes of confining the Confederates and securing the area with McClernand’s soldiers who were equipped with transports and barges. The attack began at precisely at eight A. M. and continued until about 1:30 P. M. During the fight, the ironclads moved as close as one-hundred yards of the Confederate guns and confined the lower batteries of Fort Wade; but the Confederate north batteries at Fort Coburn remained intact. They advanced on Rodney Road towards Port Gibson. They stumbled onto Confederate outposts after midnight and fought with them for almost three hours. After 3:00 A. M., the fighting eventually stopped.
Union soldiers marched on Rodney Road and along a plantation road at dawn. The Confederates engaged the Union soldiers but the Union soldiers pushed the Confederates back. The Confederates established new defensive positions at different times during the day but they could not stop the Union advance and so they retreated from the field early that afternoon. This defeat demonstrated that the Confederates were unable to defend the Mississippi River line and the Union forces had secured their occupation.
It was at this point, Grant made his decision. He dispatched orders to seize Grand Gulf and then move south to join forces with General Nathaniel Banks to capture Port Hudson; he knew that the combined forces could very well defeat Vicksburg. However General Banks was his senior officer and a joint attack would give Banks the credit for the victory; Grant was determined to retain all the glory. Grant met with General Banks in his tent.
“General Banks I am only interested in the capture of Port Hudson at this time and will only need your assistance for a day or two,” General Gant requested.
“Well, general, unfortunately I am held up at Red River and my men won’t be available for at least a week,” General Banks responded.
Grant reserved further requests because if Banks knew of his plans for Vicksburg he might have made a consideration. Grant decided to advance against Vicksburg without the aid of General Banks’ troops. He telegraphed a message to Washington D. C. reporting his plans while realizing that the message would not be received for more than a week.
Grant was still on the west side of the river when he summoned Colonel Benjamin Grierson and his army to central Mississippi for a two-week raid. He ordered Grierson to destroy enemy supplies and telegraph lines. Colonel Blackburn was waiting at Newton Station when Grierson’s cavalry arrived. Grierson sabotaged two locomotives, twenty-five freight cars carrying commissary supplies and ammunition which was intended for Vicksburg. It was 6:00 A. M. when Grierson’s army aligned the tracks armed with wrecking bars and sledgehammers. With clanging noises and combined efforts they ripped out some thirty miles of track.
It was Friday May 29th some one-hundred-five miles to west of Newton Station in the town of Vicksburg in Duff’s tavern on corner of Washington and Clay Street three Confederate soldiers were having a beer. A man with blonde curly hair and sideburns Thomas (Tommy) Reynolds a corporal from Arkansas in the 19th Infantry was sitting and discussing his plans with his two friends; Raeford (Ray) Tourberville and William (Billy) Ralston.
“Now what I plan to do,” Tommy said in his natural southern drawl, “after this nonsense is over is to start working my daddy’s land up by Helena.”
Ray, a black man from Jackson Mississippi was skeptical.
“Now, Tommy,” Ray began, “the reason I joined the army is because I don’t want to work the fields any more. The army offered me my freedom and after this is over I’ll be a free citizen.”
“I understand that Ray,” Tommy responded, “I never explained to you that my daddy never kept slaves on our property. We work any man and pay just wages. We even had some come through on the ‘Underground Railroad’ and when daddy didn’t have the money to pay he gave them provisions for the road.”
“Well that is something to consider,” Ray responded.
“Yesterday,” Billy; a man with jet black hair said, “you were talking about skipping out; weren’t you Tommy?”
“Were you talking about desertion?” Ray said in surprise.
“Well it’s no secret that I don’t care for this War and Jeff Davis has ordered that no deserters will be executed.”
“That is if you don’t get killed on the run,” Billy added.
“Well.” Tommy continued, “We’re taking a chance either way and I would rather be killed on my own terms.”
“If you put it that way,” Billy responded, “then I say you’re right it is crazy to stay in this. If the South wins; what will that leave us and if the North wins what will it leave us?” He shrugged.
“My point exactly, Billy. We have nothing to win and everything to lose.”
“But, where does that leave me?” Raeford asked with concern. “I don’t want to go back to tending the fields.”
“That’s why I want the two of you to go along with me; I can’t make my plans work on my own. I am offering you equal partnership to help me work my daddy’s property. After the Arkansas Post surrendered Arkansas is occupied territory anyway and whether the Confederacy loses or not my family will retain the rights to the property.”
“Okay,” Raeford chuckled. “I’m in but what do you want from me.”
“Well, you have the book smarts. I was hoping you could be my bookkeeper.”
“Bookkeeper?” Billy said, surprised. “I didn’t know you could read much less write, Ray.”
“Why sure,” Ray responded. “My aunt Beulah was in charge of tutoring the massah’s children and they had her educated. And so she insisted we learn to read. The last thing she said to me was; ‘Now I done taught you all I can. Now read and learn all you can.’ Now I read as much as I can.”
“That’s interesting Ray,” Billy said. “Once you have your freedom what do you plan to do with your life?”
“Oh, I want to be a journalist and there seem to be a lot of well known colored journalists. On the other hand writing novels would be a good occupation for me.”
“Novels?” Tommy was surprised. “I didn’t know that you read fiction. I have only seen you reading the newspaper and daily journals.”
“Yes, I am quite fond of some of the writers, like Sam Clemens who writes under the name of Mark Twain and such, but I am really fascinated with Jules Verne. I read his book ‘From Earth to the Moon,’ and he seems to have a grasp for futuristic thinking.”
“I’ve heard of him,” Tommy admitted, “he’s that Frenchman who writes about the interesting possibilities of science. This brings to mind those things we’ve been seeing in the sky. I would like to hear of his explanation of those.”
“You’re joking,” Billy remarked, “The word around town is that they are Union reconnaissance balloons and they are purposely designed to befuddle us.”
“I hope not,” Tommy said, “it they are reconnaissance balloons we have no defense against anything that fast.”
“Ah, most of the sightings are during drunken liberties. They don’t mean anything.”
“I hope you are right,” both Ray and Tommy agreed.
At that time a young woman burst through the door and stomped over to their table.
“Tommy Reynolds,” she stammered. Her face was glowing red which was accented by her shiny brown hair, which was curly on either side, a reflection of the style of the day. “What are you doing here? You were supposed to meet me at my daddy’s house twenty minutes ago.”
Tommy had a red faced look of embarrassment. Both Billy and Ray kept their silence.
“Ah, Thelma, dear, I was talking with the boys about my daddy’s land in Helena and I forgot about the time.”
The bartender stood by the table at this time.
“Tommy you can talk to her outside on the walk. Miss Thelma you shouldn’t even be in here. Mr. Taylor would be furious if he knew,” the bartender reminded.
“I’m sorry Mr. Jenkins; me and Tommy were just leaving.”
Tommy stood up and lightly tugged her elbow and walked with her to the door.
“I’ll be back later,” Tommy told his friends before disappearing through the door.
“Looks like Tommy has something going,” Billy remarked.
“I’d say, or something,” Ray responded.
Just outside the tavern on the walkway the two continued their conversation.
“Tommy! Don’t ever lie to me again; you hear,” Thelma said in a demanding voice.
“Well, dear it’s only 1800 hours we can still make it to your house before dark.”
She looked up at the sky and the Sun was above the flickering water in the west. She saw the boats tied at their docks and the Union camps across the river. She looked back smiling.
“Yes it’s only three and a half blocks,” she said, “only a five minute walk.
They clasps elbows and walked eastwardly towards her house.
“I’m sorry for being upset but with the Yankees just on the other side of the river I can’t help but worry.”
“Don’t you worry any, Thelma; we will be in Helena before you know it.”
“I hope you’re right Tommy but the Yankees are causing so much grief. Joe Flanders was killed not more than a month ago.”
“Sam Jeffries too, I knew them both. This fighting is senseless; bright young men getting killed because a few wealthy inbred ingrates don’t know another way to settle a dispute.”
“So you must know how much I worry about you.”
“I worry about you too Thelma; the Yankees don’t seem to mind when civilians get caught in the crossfire.”
She squeezed his hand.
“Tell me more about your daddy’s farm in Helena,” she urged.
“Okay, well as I told you before my daddy settled about one-hundred sixty acres of land just outside of Helena. A good part of it belongs to me and the rest will be divided between my brother and sister. It’s only a day’s travel by horse up the river;” he pointed north. “My friends and I will be on foot and we hope to cross the river in Lula just north of Helena.”
“You are serious about going A. W. O. L. aren’t you?”
“The way I figure it, Thelma, I’ll have better chances than if I wait for the Yankees. And I’m thinking I’ll send you ahead of us on the ferry. You can tell the Union dock guards that you are going to visit relatives. Me and my friends; being in the army wouldn’t have it so easy. We all know the swamps and bayous better than the Yankees so our best chance is to walk on the river banks and cross the river at Lula. I know some men in the 2nd Cavalry who would help me across with a boat.”
By this time they were well passed Walnut Street and were approaching Monroe Street. Adams Street could already be seen just one road from Cherry Street. They had walked these streets countless times but in these days of uncertainty it was as though they were seeing them for the first time and wondering if they would ever see them again. Shortly they were at the intersection of Adams and Clay. 1214 Adams; Thelma’s parents’ house as she referred to it though she still lived there, could be seen clearly from the street corner as it sat at an angle some distance from the road.
Sadie the house servant was at the front door as they climbed the steps of the single story plantation style house.
“Miss Thelma, what do you mean trampling off to the town? You know your daddy would be angry if he was here.”
“It’s alright Sadie; daddy won’t be back from Jackson before the end of the week and I had to meet Tommy just up the road a ways.”
“Well, I guess no harm done, and he seems to be a nice enough gentleman.”
“Why thanks Miss Sadie,” Tommy said smiling taking off his cap revealing his curly locks, and tipping his head in gesture.
“You two can go rest in the lounge while I bring you some hot tea.”
“Why thank you Miss Sadie,” Thelma said, as they walked into the reception room.
“As I was saying Thelma, I know Bob Jeffries down at the dock and he still makes a store run to Helena about twice a week.” Tommy explained while he took his seat in the lounge.
“My daddy does business with Mr., Jeffries and I know who he is. Aren’t the Yankees making runs up the river making it hard to get through?”
“Well the Yankees make their runs during the night the ones during the day are mostly supply boats and Mr. Jefferies seems to know when the best time to make the run and besides they don’t seem to want to make a skirmish over a mail run.”
“Well maybe in a few weeks,” Thelma hesitated. “My. Daddy has plans for next week when he gets back from Jackson and I want to be here.”
“I don’t see a problem for you to wait a week or two,” Tommy said. “After all it’s going to take me and the boys a few weeks to hike to Lula. That should put us all there at the same time. Old man Jernigan owns the general store just up from the docks. My Daddy knows him so I’ll send you ahead with a note. Mr. Jernigan will probably let you wait for the coach that can take you to my Daddy’s house.”
“Well, all this makes me a little scared,” Thelma admitted, “with the Yankees out on the river and all.”
“Well, the way I see it, Thelma, the Yankees are closing in and it’s only as matter time before they will be in Vicksburg.”
She leaned in and kissed him lightly on the lips. He pulled her tight and kissed her hard.”
“Tommy just behave; Miss Sadie’s in just the other room.” She slapped his forearms with the look of disapproval. “So, when do you and the boys plan to make your journey?”
“In about a week I imagine; I’m still stowing food into my knapsack and my friends haven’t even started.”
About that time Sadie walked in with the hot tea and she set it down on a small table within their reach.
“Mr. Tommy,” she said, “I suggest you enjoy your tea and be headed back out, cause the Sun will be setting soon.”
“I will Miss Sadie; and thank you for the fine tea.”
They sat alone quietly sipping their tea and in a few minutes Tommy stood up.
“I suppose I should be headed out,” he said, “I have to meet with the boys again before sunset.”
“Oh, then I’ll see you to the door.”
Tommy walked through the front door and Thelma burst out behind him; she ran over embraced and kissed him.
“Tommy; this has to work,” she whispered
“You know it will Thelma; you just have to believe in it.”
At that time Sadie was standing in the doorway.
“Miss Thelma, it’s time you come back inside.”
Thelma turned and hurried through the door.
“You best take care of Miss Thelma,” Sadie said, “she has that look about her.”
“Don’t you worry any, Miss Sadie; that is within my plans,” he said replacing his cap.
“I’m sure you will, Mr. Tommy,” Sadie said smiling and under her breath.
Tommy hurried down the hill towards the river and back to Duffs Tavern. He found his two friends near the doorway.
“We’ve been waiting here for you,” Ray said.
“You might want to sit down for this one,” Billy said.
He found the nearest chair and nervously sat down.
“How many were killed?” he asked, sheepishly
“There were quite a number over at Newton Station,” Ray began, “and the word is that the Yankees are blasting in the hills, but that’s not the worst of it.”
“The cavalry from Tennessee has taken out the telegraph and tore up the tracks at Newton Station on the other side of Jackson,” Billy finished for him.
“It sounds like they’re closing in,” Tommy acknowledged.
“General Pemberton says that we might be able to hold them off for a month maybe more,” Ray said, “but eventually they will push their way to Vicksburg.”
Tommy slipped a piece of paper from his breast pocket and began writing as fast as he could. He paused for a moment, looked up and said:
“Billy and Ray go back to the camp. I have something to take care of and then I’ll join you there later.”
The two men left the building and Tommy resumed writing.
The bartender put his hand on Tommy’s shoulder.”
“Now you be careful in what you’re planning, son,” the elder man said. “You have the right to live your life the way you choose and I know that you were drafted but the Yankees have camps all up and down the Mississippi.”
“Thank you, Mr. Jenkins. I just feel that family interest comes first, but we won’t be leaving right away. I know the land between here and Lula better than anyone from the outside and I know where people stow their boats. I’ll be able to cross the bayous that way.”
“It’s not just the Yankees you’re going to have to watch out for, some confederates might not agree with your running.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Tommy slapped the bartender on the shoulder and headed to the door.
“I have a few things to take care of,” he said and the door closed behind him.
He ran up the gas lamp lighted Clay Street back up to Adams which was recessed back in darkness. He ran back around to the window outside of where Thelma slept. He threw a rock onto the clapboard siding near the window. He waited for a moment until Thelma pushed the window up.
“Thelma,” he whispered.
“Tommy? Why are you here?” she whispered through the screen.
“Unhook the screen; I want to give you something.”
She unhooked it and pushed the screen out on its upper hinges. He handed the paper to her.
“This is directions to Jernigan’s store and a note for you to give him explaining to get a coach to my Daddy’s house.”
“But, could this have waited?”
“I don’t know Thelma; the Yankees are closing in. Pemberton may just give the order to engage them. So if you don’t hear from me you have to carry out the plan.”
“Oh, Tommy,” she said teary eyed, “we are at war; aren’t we?”
She leaned out the window as far as she could and kissed him; a long warm kiss.
“Now don’t worry any; now Mr. Jeffries has been making some successful runs up the river and you should be fine.”
She pulled back into the window and hooked the screen.
“I’ll be waiting for you at your Daddy’s house,” she said, in deep tears.
“I’ll live for the day we meet there Thelma,” he said unable to hold back the tears.
He ran back onto the road and she stood at the window until he disappeared down the road.
Later Tommy arrived at the camp just seconds before the taps bugle.
“I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to see you before reveille,” Billy remarked.
“I had to talk to Thelma and let her know what the Yankees are doing in the east.”
“It’s going to get bloody,” Billy responded. “I hope you are serious about your Daddy’s land.”
Tommy looked around the barracks and noted that no one was listening.
“It’s too bad we can’t go to the ‘colored’ barracks and talk this over with Ray; we will have to talk with him in the morning.”
“Well, he’s ready,” Billy said. “I think you lit a fire under his ass.”
“Well, I hope you both know this ain’t going to be easy.”
“We know.”
At that moment the sergeant on duty put his head in the door.
“Lights out corporals,” he reminded them.
And the lights went out.
The bugle sounded at sunrise; as it always did and the barracks was bustling; getting ready for breakfast. Tommy and Billy met with Ray in the chow line. The understanding usually was that whites and ‘coloreds’ did not sit together at ‘chow’ but it had long been established that the three were a clique and it was made an exception.
Ray looked across the table at Tommy.
“I’m ready, Tommy, for you to give the word,” he said earnestly.
“Don’t worry any; either of you. I will give you the word any day now. We can’t talk anymore about it so be looking for a nod of my head and when you do we will meet at the river.”
They all looked at each other in joint realization.
It was the following Monday June 1st at 7:00 A. M. when Thelma Taylor quietly slipped out the front door of her parent’s. She did not want to wake Sadie, who would most definitely be concerned. She had a canvas bag containing toiletries and extra clothing. She carried enough money for her short trip but hoped Tommy’s family would accommodate her for the rest. She hurried down to the docks knowing that Bob Jefferies would leave punctually at 7:30.
Mr. Jefferies was not surprised to see her when she approached the boat, though she had not spoken to him.
“Good morning Miss Thelma,” he said cheerfully, through the window of his wheelhouse. “I have coffee brewing so just come up sit and relax.”
She carefully stepped aboard and went directly up to the wheelhouse.
“I just need a ride to the docks in Helena,” she said. “I think I can find Jernigan’s store from there.”
“Everything is taken care of Miss Thelma,” he assured. “Tommy Reynolds told me to expect you sometime this week. Tommy’s a smart fellow; he has things pretty much figured.”
“Do you expect any trouble?
“Not today,” he said confidently. “The Yankees ain’t concerned with me and my affairs. They seem to be concentrating in the east.”
“So what did Tommy say to you?”
“He told me enough to understand that he wants you to wait for him at his Daddy’s place in Helena. I’ve been an acquaintance of the Reynolds family for at least ten years and know his Daddy well.”
He motioned to his deckhand to untie the boat and shortly they were cruising up the river.”
“You do know that my parents are held up in Jackson with the trains out.”
“Yes, there are lots of people stranded in Jackson and other places since the raid at Newton Station. We got a problem with the telegraph being down too; communications are slow at best.
“How long will it take us to get to Helena?”
“Oh, bucking this current; we should be tied up at the docks a little later than 1:00 P. M.”
About that time another boat was coming down on the other side of the river, with stars and stripes.
“That’s a Union boat, isn’t it?” Thelma said nervously.
“Yes, it’s a supply boat probably headed to Hard Times. I see them almost every other day. They don’t want to see any action they’re just happy to make it through the day.”
“Aren’t, we all?” Thelma smiled nervously.
“Don’t you fret darling, I know this river better than anyone, foreign or local. I make this trip mostly every day and I still see plantation boats and skiffs crossing the river unabated. Now when you get to Helena,” he paused for a moment to collect his thoughts, “you will see Union soldiers on the docks but don’t let that discourage you. I’ll let you off at the Cherry Street docks and when I do just go directly to Jernigan’s store which is on the corner of Elm and Walnut Street. Don’t stop and talk to anyone unless they stop you. If they do stop you let them do all the talking and tell them you have business at Jernigan’s; which you do. The Dock guards are only interested in soldiers coming across. They already know that I’m a mail courier and they might take a quick look at my bundles. As long as you don’t give them a reason to be suspicious; they won’t be.”
“I am a little nervous but I’ll be fine. Tommy told me that Mr. Jernigan is respected all over this area and the store just up from the docks.”
“Yes, it’s not far; just up the hill a ways.”
The river did not look any different than the last time Thelma saw it; two years earlier on her sixteenth birthday. There was however remnants of the abandoned Union camps and a few were kept as outposts with a few soldiers remaining. But the river itself was unmistakably the Mississippi. There were the tell-tale fallen trees along the banks. And the thick canopy of Spanish Moss; which hung from the cypress trees like long grey beards.
The morning passed quickly and the paddle wheeled boat pushed on between the river banks and they were soon in sight of Helena.
Mr. Jefferies steered the boat into the dock and had his deckhand secure the boat on the chocks. As soon as he had the boat settled in he directed Thelma to Elm Street.
“Now Thelma,” he said pointing to the north, “just walk across the docks to Cherry Street and go passed Phillips Street and Elm is the next street to the left. You probably won’t have any trouble but remember what I told you.”
She hugged him and said: “Thank you Mr. Jefferies. I’ll never forget how you helped me.”
“Don’t mention it darling. Just don’t forget to tell Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Jernigan hello for me.”
“I will,” she said as she hurried off.
Union soldiers passed her on the way out.
“Good morning Mr. Jefferies,” one of the corporals said. “We are here to inspect your cargo.”
“Do what you must,” Jeffries said, looking at his watch and writing in his log.
The corporal picked up one of the boxes and shook it holding it near his right ear. He heard a slight thump. He opened the box with his knife and found a pair of handmade baby shoes.
“Hmmm, it looks as though someone had a baby recently,” the corporal remarked.
Jefferies looked over.
“And judging from the pink ribbons,” he said, “it must be a girl.”
The soldier carefully rewrapped the box.
“Have a nice afternoon Mr. Jefferies,” he said and he walked out of the cabin.
About this time Thelma was stepping onto the walkway along the red bricked Cherry Street. She passed a couple of soldiers on the way. She overheard them talking.
“I’ll be glad when this assignment is over,” one of them said. “I can’t sleep with all the crickets and frogs singing at night.”
“Not to mention the damned mosquitoes, they’re as big as buzzards,” the other responded.
Thelma just kept a steady pace to Elm Street. She turned to west onto the street which was busy with hay and grain wagons and the clopping of hooves was most of the noise she heard. She walked only a few paces when she saw the large sign which read: ‘Jernigan’s General Store’ on her right. There were four wagons lined up on the street waiting to be loaded with supplies. She walked through the front door with the entrance bell clanging.
There was a young teenage boy sweeping the floor between the hardware bins.
“Could you tell me where I can find Mr. Jernigan?” Thelma asked.
The boy looked up from his work.
“He’s in his office minding his ledgers, ma’am. Just knock on that door,” he said, pointing to a heavy wooden door labeled; ‘Office.’
“Thank you kindly, boy,” she said proceeding to lightly knock. Waiting for the subsequent, “Come in,” slightly muffled through the door.
She found a middle-aged man looking up from a heavy oak desk.
“How may I help you, Miss?” he said in a friendly manner.
“Tommy Reynolds gave me this note for you to read. He said that you would understand.”
He took the note and read it.
“Tommy Reynolds is a fine gentleman and I’ve known his father for many years. There’s no need to summon for a coach Mr. Justin Reynolds will be here at 2:30 to pick up supplies. He should have enough room on his wagon to carry you.”
She smiled in relief.
“He will be here in approximately twenty-five-minutes. Our mercantile has a sandwich shop just on the other side of my hardware supplies. You should find a table and wait; I’ll let him know you are there.”
“Thank you kindly, Mr. Jernigan. I haven’t eaten all day.”
She smiled and headed out the door.
“Pleased to meet you; Miss Thelma.”
“Pleased to meet you Mr. Jernigan; no doubt we will meet again.
She was sitting in the sandwich shop eating her sandwich when the entrance bell clanged. A middle-aged man walked in and tipped his hat.
“You must be Miss Thelma Taylor?” he said softly.
She stood up to greet him.
“And you must be Mr. Justin Reynolds; pleased to meet you I am Tommy’s fiancé.”
“I figured as much,” he said, “anyone Tommy welcomes into my home is welcome by me.”
“Thank you kindly, Sir. This is irregular for me but you must understand with the war and all Tommy thought it best I come ahead.”
“Don’t you worry any, Miss Thelma you will have the Reynolds name soon.”
“I must tell you sir that Tommy should be arriving soon too.”
“I’m not surprised, Tommy didn’t want to go into the army anyhow; he was drafted. It’s best not talk about such things until we get back at the house. We will be leaving as soon as the wagon is loaded; in about five minutes,” he said, looking at his watch.
It was Friday June 5th 1863 and Fort Garrett was having morning roll call.
“Private Oliver Gleason,” the sergeant called out.
“Here,” someone called back from the ranks.
“Corporal Daniel Greene . . .”
“Here . . .”
“Corporal Thomas Reynolds . . .”
Silence . . .
“Corporal Thomas Reynolds,” the sergeant repeated.
“A. W. O. L.”
There were three men traveling north on the east bank of the Mississippi River traveling behind a canopy of trees and wearing civilian clothing. They were making long strides to make quick distance. The plan was to cross the Yazoo River and hopefully get passed Milliken’s Bend and hopefully setup camp on the other side of Steele’s Bayou by nightfall. They traveled between waterways to the Yazoo River. They refrained from talking to keep their pace.
Around 10:00 A. M. they made it to the bend in the Yazoo east of Milliken’s Bend.
“Now what do we do?” Billy asked.
“Old man Wilkins keeps his skiff over there,” Tommy said, pointing towards the brush.
“Are you planning to steal a boat?” Billy asked.
Tommy looked at Billy sideways.
“We’re going to get across the river and get to Steele’s Bayou before nightfall,” Tommy insisted. “My daddy has known Mr. Wilkins for a long time and we can make it up to him later.”
Ray helped Tommy drag the boat into the water. Tommy stood at the edge of the water studying it for a few minutes.
“With the current moving as fast as it is it will push us at least a hundred yards to the west,” Tommy said. “That will put us at the top of the bend on the other side.”
“Okay,” Ray said, “I’ll take the front of the skiff and Tommy will take the back and Billy will stay in the middle, We will ride the current using our paddles to keep the boat straight and let the drift take us to the other side of the river.”
Ray and Billy got into their positions while Tommy shoved the boat into the water. Tommy and Ray guided the boat into the current and the boat was swept westward. They kept their paddles positioned to keep the boat front and back with the current. Just as Tommy surmised it carried them to the top of the bend on the other side.
“Good guess work Tommy,” Billy said. “I just hope our luck holds out the rest of the way.”
Tommy and Ray pulled the boat onto the land and the three of them carried the boat over their heads and about an hour later were at Steele Bayou. Again they put the boat into the water but this time they paddled downstream; with Tommy in the back, Billy in the middle and Ray at the front. They began paddling north on the big bend which would eventually bend to the west and intersect with the Mississippi River north of Milliken’s Bend.
They were rowing several hours when they finally caught sight of the Hills Plantation with its vast fields of cotton and southern pines dotting the pathways between the fields. The field slaves were still working this late afternoon taking advantage of the daylight. Sunset was about 7:30 P. M.; Tommy reckoned that the time must have been close to 5:30 which at this pace would get them to the north of Milliken’s Bend at just about sunset.
They were soon passed Ch. Flore Plantation and pushing towards Watson’s. And soon they were as far as Chaney Plantation.
They pushed on at a steady pace until they heard the rushing water of the Mississippi River. At which time they maneuvered the skiff to run closer to the bank where they could take advantage of some of the backwater and overgrowth.
They were so close to the bank that they had to avoid fallen trees and could hear wildlife running through the brush and brambles.
The sky in the west was turning red and light was beginning to wane. Tommy suggested they start setting up camp in a clearing just outside a plantation fence. They all setup their sleeping areas and directly afterward Tommy setup a campfire.
He built a tripod to where he could hang a pot over the flame. Billy and Ray sat talking next to their sleeping mats. Tommy looked over to them.
“Beans for supper,” He said, as the last remnants of daylight faded and a canopy of stars appeared overhead.
“That was a good workout,” Ray remarked rubbing his upper biceps.”
Tommy stretched his back.
“And this is the first day,” Tommy agreed.
“I would relieve one of you but I’m no hand with a boat,” Billie admitted.
“Tell us more about your plans of starting the business on your daddy’s property,” Ray suggested.
“Well, by the end of the year it will be my property and I plan to build a seam shop on the thirty acres my daddy set aside for me.”
“You told us that part,” Billy insisted, “tell us who you plan to start doing business with.”
“Well, my daddy already has contracts with some plantations over in Clarksville. What I plan to do once we get the seam shop setup is open an apparel and fabric shop in downtown Helena.”
“It sounds like a good idea,” Billy remarked, I wonder why it took you so long to act on it?”
“I was drafted and the only good that came from it is I met Thelma.”
“How did you meet Thelma,” Ray asked.
“I met Mr. Taylor at the town hall last summer. He was still bickering about the South seceding from the Union and that he wished there was a way that Vicksburg could stand neutral. Even though most people of Vicksburg didn’t agree with the succession they were now willing to stand with it. Anyway Thelma was with him and we kind of started talking and she told me she was turning eighteen in February. I had dinner with her a week after because her family had her busy on her birthday
Shortly Billy’s loud snoring told the rest of them it was time to sleep.
They woke at dawn to rushing sound of the river. They stowed their gear and shortly they were headed up river on the eastside. It must have been 11:00 A. M. when they saw steam stacks ahead wielding the Stars and Stripes. It was far enough ahead that they figured they had not been spotted. They got up their knapsacks as quickly as they could and stowed the skiff on the bank and headed for the bush.
They lay side by side under a cover of foliage. The rumble of the paddle wheeler became more distinct until finally they could read the letters ‘Choctaw’ on the side of the ironclad.
“The Choctaw,” Tommy said aloud. “The last I heard they had it waiting standby at Young’s Point.”
“It looks fully loaded and ready for battle,” Ray observed. Something must be heating up at Millikan’s Bend or Lake Providence.”
“It must be Millikan’s bent,” Billy reasoned. “It seems logical somehow.”
“I think you’re right Billy,” Tommy agreed. “But it also means that there could be trouble ahead too. We need to be watching for activity as we go.”
As soon as the ironclad disappeared around the bend the three men set off up the river again. They hung close to the bank, so close they pulled themselves along with the branches of fallen trees and cypress stumps at times
It was difficult to determine how far up the river they had gotten but the Sun was sinking low and there was an ideal camping area near an irrigation canal and a plantation fence.
“This looks like a good spot to me,” Tommy suggested.
“Amen,” Ray said, “what’s for dinner tonight, Captain Nemo?”
Tommy looked back at him curiously?
“Who is this Captain Nemo; I’ve heard you mention him before?”
“Just another character made up by Jules Verne. He travels under the sea in a ship called a submarine and he disables navy ships that cross his path.”
“Don’t be giving Tommy any ideas,” Billy suggested. “You know how scheming he is.”
“Don’t worry any; I’m not about to be fooling with those ironclads.” Tommy said. “Though it would be nice to have one of them submarines to get to Helena,” he said scratching his beard, thoughtfully; a beard which was showing signs of neglect.
It was beans again but still the men were eating happily next to their bedrolls. They took a moment to relax and then they stretched out for the night.”
After a few minutes of silence Ray began studying the stars.
“Tommy?” he finally spoke.
“Yes Ray?”
“Do you ever wonder what might be happening out in the universe? I mean; do you think there are others out there?”
“I’ve thought about it from time to time but I really don’t have much to reference it with except what I see.”
“I was just thinking with all those stars in all that space that we are incredibly small in the eyes of creation.”
“Hmmm; I never thought of that but you just gave me a reason to think about it.”
They spoke for a few minutes then time slipped away and there was a chorus of snoring accompanying a choir of crickets next to the corner plantation fence.
The hours were silent save for the sound of crickets, frogs and snoring. Then suddenly there came a loud explosion in the south. The three men sat upright. The thunderous noise and the flashes in the south told them that Milliken’s Bend was under attack. Since the Union had secured their occupation in the area it must have been a Confederate strike.
“It sounds as though Millikan’s Bend is going to have a rough night,” Tommy commented.
“We can count on getting no more sleep,” Ray said. “They’re just eight miles to the south of us.”
Tommy got up and stoked the embers of the campfire until the flames were to the desired level. He hung a coffee pot on the tripod.
“Well, gentlemen drink all the coffee you can handle; it’s going to be a long night.”
Except for a few lulls in the explosions there was the sound of cannon fire and muskets throughout the night.
Dawn broke in what seemed like an eternity; the three men haggard from lack of sleep dragged their pilfered skiff into the water. They pushed forward into the day leaving the thunder of the cannons behind them; they were far too exhausted by the end of the day to setup camp. They secured the skiff on the banks and undid their bedrolls. They awoke in the morning with blurred vision from fatigue. Though it was late morning Tommy thought it best they eat before going back out on the river. He made coffee and beans they ate and it must have been after 11:00 A. M. before they set out. Some days were better than this and some were worse, but they had endured until one morning:
“Ray, you’ve been keeping track of the days,” Tommy said as he poured a cup of coffee. “What day is this?”
“We left on Friday the 5th of June, a month ago and today is Friday the 3rd of July.”
“We have to cross the river today,” Tommy said. “We are very close to Helena and not more than a day’s travel.”
“I thought we were going into Lula to the fort to ask for help to get across the river.”
“Judging from the activity on the river in the past week I’d say that Union occupation has increased and getting into the fort would be impossible.”
“That would also mean the Yankees are just as thick or thicker on the other side of the river.”
“That’s quite true, Ray, but I know the other side of the river better and I know folks in Helena who will put us up in lodging long enough for my daddy to pick us up.”
“Do you want to wake Billy? He nearly took my arm off yesterday when I woke him,” Ray said.
“Don’t worry any I can handle Billy.”
Tommy found an old wooden bucket covered in algae and half full of water. He carried it to the snoring form of his friend and splashed it across his face.
“It’s time to get moving Billy got coffee waiting and you have just enough time to drink it before we cross the river.”
“What the hell? You son-of-a . . .”
“Watch your tongue Billy,” Tommy scolded, “we’re crossing the river with or without you.”
Billy groaned and then began stowing his gear. A few minutes later the three men were standing on the river bank. Tommy stood studying the river and how he current was flowing. Billy and Ray stood next to the skiff waiting. Tommy’s eyes skimmed the opposite bank to an intersection of a bayou approximately two miles downstream. He ran to the boat.
“This is how we’re going to work it,” Tommy said. “We will let the current take us for about a mile downstream and the drift will pull us swiftly to the other side. And then we will row to the bank and stash the skiff there, then we will proceed on foot.”
They rowed out to the edge of the current which immediately swept them into it. The boat moved forward rapidly and the intersection ahead seemed to be pulling itself closer to them. The swirling eddies caused the boat to swivel but through skill and sheer determination the men were able to keep the boat straight. The small boat was not designed for this activity and about half way across the current the water rolled to the rim of the boat and there was eight inches of water at the men’s feet. Just as Tommy had surmised just as they entered the ‘Y’ in the current caused by the bayou ahead; the right-hand drift increased and it pulled the skiff along with its occupants toward west bank of the river.
They had entered the backwater some one-hundred-fifty yards from the west bank and they rowed vigorously towards the edge-water. The skiff finally dragged the bottom and the three men stepped out in knee high water and walked to the bank where they fell on their hands and knees in exhaustion. By the time they had recovered, the boat had drifted irretrievably downstream.
“What do we do now?” Ray said, still catching his breath.
“Well,” Tommy responded, looking at the sky. “It’s about Twelve Noon and if we push on into the night and into the morning we should reach the north end of Helena by 2:00 A.M.”
“You must be joking,” Billy said sharply. “We’re exhausted; how could we make a fourteen hour hike? “
“Well, Billy, take a look around; our provisions were just swept downstream. We don’t have means to make a fire to cook and don’t have food even if we did. We can’t sleep on the ground without bedrolls so if you see better solutions tell us about it.”
Billy did take a look around and saw the hopeless alternatives to Tommy’s suggestion of the horrendous hike.
“Okay, I see your point so I guess we are in your country and you know the way to go.”
“Billy,” Tommy began, “we are all out of sorts but you’re going to have to trust me. I know people in the area and they will help us if we can reach then.”
“I’m sorry I’ve been irritable,” Billy apologized, “I just want this trip to be through.”
“It’s alright,” Ray said, “we have all been through a lot but as I see it we’re burning daylight and we need to get going and cover as much ground as we can before dark.”
They set out on the west bank of the river with the one intention of walking for the next fourteen hours and they must have covered eighteen miles before sundown. The red sky in the west told them they had the best part of seven hours to go and so they pushed on.
The Moon rose in the east and as irony would have it; it was full and it as blue. The light gave them added confidence and they walked into the early hours of the morning until Tommy stopped.
“We’re here,” he said. “On the other side of this brush is a field and two-hundred-fifty yards on the other side of it is a house; and I know the people who live there.”
“But will they take us in this early in the morning,” Ray asked.
“Oh, they’ll be put aside and be curious for the most part but they know my daddy and they will make room for us.”
The three men found a trail to the top of the bank. Fighting gravity and physical fatigue they made their way the top. The trail led into the brush which Tommy said would lead to the field and then to the house.
They emerged on the other side of the brush and in the pale light they saw the field. A fog rolled up from the banks of the river. It rolled across the field obscuring their depth of vision. In the filtered moonlight they saw silhouettes standing motionless. On either side of the field were opposing armies; poised and ready for battle.
The three men froze in silence. Someone yelled.
“Fire . . . !”
And the field was bathed in the light of a cannon blast revealing the Stars and Stripes on one side and the Rebel Flag one the other; while the three men were blown backward. They were airborne for a number of feet before striking the ground.
Stunned and fading in consciousness Tommy saw Ray lying on the ground with his right leg twisted beneath him. Billy lay motionless nearby Tommy’s right hand grasped a wound on his left side. He was bleeding profusely and an internal organ was exposed.
Suddenly a circular object appeared in the sky above them, a blue white light emitted from its belly onto the three injured men. It was a moment and the light was gone, the object was gone and the three injured men had vanished.
Muskets and cannons continued to fire through the early morning hours of July 4th 1863 in what would be later recorded as the Battle of Helena.

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