CHAPTER EIGHT

    I had dreaded going back to school, but soon I was back in our routine.  Since Jack was not going to field trials, we got a lot of gun-dog training done.  Every night calls came from people wanting to breed to Flip.  Then the bluegrass began to turn green--spring was coming. Sy Beal came over from Elkins to pay us a visit.  At supper, Sy told about his experiences as a "land man" for the coal companies.  His job was to get owners to sign mineral leases so his employer could dig for coal.  Often the landowners were isolated mountaineers, hostile to outsiders and suspicious of everyone.  I could see how Sy's jolly nature and easy self-effacing way would help in his work--he seemed the most guileless man I'd ever met.

    "I'd head up a hollow, my coat stuffed with thread and silver thimbles for the womenfolk, paper dolls for the little girls, cap guns for the little boys and batwings of corn whiskey for the menfolk.  By the time I got to a cabin, they would know who I was.  They figured they would work me for my goodies and then refuse to sign a lease.  My job was to make 'em want to sign.  Trick was never to seem in a hurry--just smile and compliment and eat the womenfolk's cooking no matter what it was--and I've had some strange meals, I can tell you--'possum, 'coon, even wildcat liver once, or so they said.  But if I was patient enough and a good enough listener, I could usually get a signature, or more often a mark--I was a notary public."
“People like to tell you about themselves and to do for you; you've just got to be patient and interested in them, and respectful."
"What's a batwing?" I asked.
"A little, flat half-pint bottle of corn whiskey you can hide in a pocket," Cy Beale said

    Jack fixed venison steaks and grouse with turnip greens, and afterwards he and Sy had a long private talk on the porch.  Sy stayed the night with us and left for Elkins after breakfast.  That morning Jack had his lawyer make a deed for the seven hundred seventy-seven acre tract, conveying it to High Stakes Limited Liability Company.

Later I asked Jack:  "Is Mr. Beale really a good trader?  He seems so kind--I can't imagine him pushing an edge."

Jack gave me a wicked grin.

    "In the trading game a land man is to a mere pinhooker what a mongoose is to a cobra.  I'll bet this farm Sy Beale can out-trade any man--or woman--in West Virginia, maybe in the whole U.S.A."

    On a rainy Sunday morning in June as we cleaned up after breakfast, I asked Jack again about the stirrup with the bullet hole hanging by the kitchen door.  We went out on the porch and took seats in rockers.  The clouds hung on the mountain across the river like a gray down comforter.  Jack was in the mood for reminiscence, and over the next two hours, he told me this story of his great-grandfather Adam.

November 1, 1863
    The gray mare quickened her pace to a foxtrot when the smells of home country reached her nostrils.  The gaunt man in butternut, slumped in his saddle, came awake.  The river murmured as they passed rapids, then went silent through the placid stretches where morning mist lay over the water.  A grouse drummed in the distance; a covey of quail whistled in unison, signaling dispersal from the night roost.  A click as the mare crossed a limestone outcropping signaled a loose shoe, but he did not stop to tighten it; he would take a chance this close to home.
The air was warm, a gift of Indian summer.  The bright leaves of the maples, chestnuts and hickories lay on the earth.  Only the withered brown oak leaves still clung to their branches.  Missing fence rails along the pastures and faint circles of gray ash in the road told the rider that troops had recently camped by the river, whether Union or Confederate he could not tell.
When they reached the farm lane, the mare turned in of her own accord and broke into a trot.  Her ears pricked as she caught sight of the pasture where she'd been foaled eight years before.  She cantered; he gave her her head.

    The rider was Adam Slone.  His dark brown hair hung to his shoulders beneath a black slouch hat, Union issue but with insignia removed.  His full unkempt beard revealed a small hawk nose and piercing blue eyes.  His bootless right foot was wrapped in a bandage.  A minie ball had passed through his arch.  A spare horseshoe tied inside the covered stirrup deflected the ball and spared the mare's gut.  Adam's obsession with spare horseshoes had saved her life.

    His medical furlough in his pocket, he had ridden the mare north from Tennessee along the ridges and through the valleys of the Smokies and the Alleghenies.  Somehow he had avoided Union pickets and Cherokees.
Alarm seized him at the sight of the empty pastures and smokeless chimneys.  No one was in the house; the ashes in the stove were cold.  In the barn, only sparrows fed on hay
seed in the loft. His sense of foreboding grew as he unsaddled the mare, curried and brushed her, gave her oats, hay and water, and left her in a barn stall.
On the knoll west of the house, he found three graves, two so fresh no weeds yet sprouted upon them, a third slightly older.  His parents had fallen to some disease, brought he suspected by a Confederate soldier taken in to nurse.  The tattered gray blouse he found in the house confirmed it.  Grief overwhelmed him, and he wept.  He fell exhausted on his parents' feather bed, and he slept.
He awoke in late afternoon, his foot throbbing.  In the springhouse he found his father's jug, hidden under a slate.  He took a deep pull and then made a poultice with the remnants of his mother's petticoat.  Returning to the house, he sat on the doorsill and gazed east across the river to the mountain beyond.  The whiskey poultice did not ease the pain in his foot. His swig from the jug seemed only to deepen his sorrow.
The livestock had been taken, he supposed, by Rebels living off the land.  He did not begrudge them the cattle, sheep, hogs or chickens.  He did begrudge them the brood mares that had made his father mildly famous in the region.

    Before the war, a dozen mineral-spring resorts had served the summer sojourns of well-off citizens of Richmond, Charleston, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York, Boston.  They came each year for their health, for society and for sport.  Some believed the spring waters held cures to their ailments, but it was the absence of mosquitoes and exercise in clean mountain air that improved their health.  White Sulphur, Blue Sulphur, Red Sulphur, Yellow Sulphur, Warm Springs, Hot Springs, Rockbridge Baths, Bath Alum Springs, each with hotel or cottages, spa, famous doctor or quack--together they formed a circuit.  Tycoons, planters, politicians, diplomats, judges, gamblers, even presidents came to the springs.  From June through mid-September, the hotels teemed with the prominent who demanded fine food, fine service and especially fine horses.  Now the hotels were forlorn, empty or serving as hospitals for soldiers.  From a farmer at Lewisburg, Adam had learned that a yellow fever epidemic had taken a whole Georgia regiment housed at Blue Sulphur.

     As a boy, his father had come to the resort at White Sulphur Springs, brought there indentured from England.  Adam's father was soon in charge of the resort's livery of eight hundred stalls, serving also as head blacksmith, farrier and as master of the deerhound pack.  Adam's mother had come each August to White Sulphur with her parents from their James River plantation east of Richmond.  She loved to ride and came to love the boy in charge of the horses.  It made a scandal that cost the boy his position and the girl her family ties.  But with his savings and a mortgage, Adam's father bought a farm.  The demand for good horses was strong, and he had the gift to breed and train them.  The resorts began to look to him to supply some of their needs.  And when each summer season ended, he offered to board their horses or to buy them to trade.  He struggled, survived, finally prospered.

    Two years before, Adam had been restless to leave the nest.  A letter from his mother's brother in Kentucky, Randall Carter, had nudged him to try his wings.  The uncle claimed to have at stud a son of Lexington--fastest horse in the world--and to be selling saddle horses for one hundred fifty dollars gold.  In spite of his mother's tears of protest and with his father's begrudging permission, Adam had set out on May first, his eighteenth birthday, with plans to breed his Nellie to his uncle's stud and to see some of the world.

    With Nellie and three of his father's geldings as mounts, riding first one and then another, he made eighty miles a day.  At Stockton Tavern, where the New and the Gauley joined to make the Kanawha, he heard talk of secession and a coming war.  At the place that would later be named Huntington, after the man who brought in a railroad, he and the horses boarded a steamboat loaded with salt for the run down the Ohio.  The sun climbed each dawn through the river mist and set each evening on the shimmering flat river.  The screams of boat whistles and the slap of paddle wheels on water filled the air as they steamed in and out of Ashland, Portsmouth, Vanceburg and a dozen smaller towns along the great river.  Shirtless black stevedores strained to load and unload grain sacks, hogsheads, wooden boxes.  They floated past alternating stretches of flat, fertile farmland and dense forest.

    Suddenly a retching stench filled Adam's nostrils.  "What in hell is that?" he asked a fellow passenger.  "Cincinnati.  Slaughter houses.  That's where the salt in the hold is headin'."  As Adam would soon learn, armies moved on meat, and only salt could preserve it.  The region of his birth would be a constant battleground over its salt deposits.  

    Ten days after he left the farm on horseback his steamboat eased into the wharf at Brandenburg, twenty-five miles below Louisville.  His uncle's farm was on the edge of town.  Horses and mules of every age, breed and purpose stood head to rump, their tails switching cooperatively against the flies.  His Uncle Randall, whom he had never met, took him to the stall of the vaulted son of Lexington:  a bay, long legs, head small and proud, eyes dark and bright.  Adam's homesickness disappeared.

    Men came to trade and breed and shoe horses, and to gossip.  They stayed to drink bourbon, play cards and watch cock fights.  On Saturdays they came to race:  flat races on the turf track beside the river, harness races on a three-mile circular stretch of dirt road.  His uncle held their wagers and stood at the finish line as judge, extracting his small house cut.  Match races on the turf ran from breakfast until dark.  Adam offered himself as jockey at a dollar a ride, two if he won.  His small size and daring got him his share of wins.  He and his uncle got along famously, kindred spirits who never missed a chance at a dollar.
The talk he heard was of horses and the war.  After Edmund Ruffin pulled the lanyard in Charleston Harbor, Kentucky declared herself neutral, but Adam met a few southern sympathizers, men who had come to Kentucky from the south, Adam's uncle among them.  A neighbor, Frank Overton, was quietly organizing a cavalry troop to fight for the Confederacy.

    "Bound to be a short war.  A big battle or two in Virginia and here in Kentucky, and the Union will loose stomach," Overton said.  Union sympathizers said the same, in mirror image.

    Adam's uncle stoked the forge.  In his leather apron, Adam had the front hoof of a horse between his knees when a horse approached, and Adam caught sight of a stranger on a sorrel stallion--the tallest man Adam had ever seen, he wore a black broadcloth suit and a black slouch hat, its brim pulled down over wide-set, steely blue-gray eyes, wild and a little sinister.

    "I'd like to look at your hosses that's for sale," he said.  The languid voice belied the fierce appearance.

    His uncle showed the stranger about the stables and paddocks while Adam continued shoeing.  When the stranger returned, he spoke softly to the animal and stroked each shin to signal the horse to lift the hoof for inspection.

    "Where'd you learn to shoe a hoss, son?"
    "My father taught me," Adam said with pride.  "He's the best blacksmith and farrier in Greenbrier County."
    "My father was a blacksmith, too," the stranger said.  "Your trade's going to be much needed in the war."
    "Shoeing's not my trade, sir.  Breakin' horses is my trade . . . and tradin' 'em some."

    The stranger bought six saddle horses, including Adam's father's three geldings, and arranged to have them picked up the next day.  He tried to buy Nellie, but Adam wouldn't sell.

    "Come over to Mr. Overton's after supper, son.  I'm going to talk to some of his friends, and I'd like you to hear my proposition."

    With that the stranger swung up on his sorrel and loped out the lane, a cloud of dust in his wake.  The uncle told Adam what he knew.  The stranger was a wealthy planter and slave trader from Memphis, self-made millionaire.  Here in Kentucky on the sly to buy guns and ammunition, horses and harness, and to recruit.  The uncle brought out a Memphis newspaper:
    A Chance for Active Service--Mounted Rangers
    Having been authorized by Governor Harris to raise a battalion of mounted rangers for the war, I desire to enlist five hundred able-bodied men, mounted and equipped with such arms as they can procure (shotguns and pistols preferable), suitable to the service.  Those who cannot entirely equip themselves will be furnished arms by the State.  When mustered in, a valuation of the property in horses and arms will be made, and the amount credited to the volunteers.  Those wishing to enlist are requested to report themselves at the Gayoso House, where quarters will be assigned until such time as the battalion is raised.

    When Adam got to Overton's, sixty young men milled about.  The stranger stood on the porch steps and talked for five minutes.  Though not a polished speaker, he had an air of authority and competence.  His eyes blazed when he talked of the fight to come. Later he took Adam aside.

    "If you'll join me, son, I'll make you a member of my escort company, put you in charge of my mounts.  I need a first-rate hand with horses, and a man who knows the farrier trade.  You won't be shoein' many--I've got slaves to do that.  But you'll be watching out for my horseflesh.  Think you could do that?"

    He smiled and put his arm around Adam's shoulder.  The next day when the stranger started south, Adam rode with him on Nellie.    He was with him, too, on all the raids and in all the battles.  With him in February of '62 for the midnight ride out of Fort Donaldson, fording icy Lick Creek and slipping past Grant's twenty-seven thousand troops, leaving behind in the fort three hapless Confederate generals who would surrender their troops next day; with him at Shiloh in April, the first big fight; with him at the fallen timbers on Corinth Road on the third day of Shiloh when they stymied Sherman and his commander took a minie in the hip; with him at Murphreesboro in July when they bluffed into surrender a force four times their strength; with him when they drove Streight and his mule-borne army, three times their number, all the way to Rome, Georgia, and surrender, but only after bloody skirmishes all along the way.  With him straight through to Chickamagua.

    His job had been to keep his commander well-mounted.  Damn hard job.  His commander used up horses like so many bars of soap.  In a fight he rode always in front.  When an engagement loomed, he raised the stirrup leathers two notches and scouted the fighting ground himself, standing tall in the stirrups like a jockey. While the commander seemed immune to Union bullets, his mounts attracted them like magnets.  By the time they reached Chickamagua, more than a dozen had been shot from under him.  Before the war ended, the count would be twenty-nine, one less than the number of Federals to fall dead or wounded from his commander's own pistol, saber or carbine.  As they crossed and recrossed middle Tennessee in search of railroad track to tear up, Federal stores to pillage, trestles to burn, blockhouses to capture and rivers to ferry or ford, Adam rode alone out on the flanks, his commander's personal gold in his pockets, searching for good horses to buy and for forage.  Later he would hunt for iron wagon tires to rework in the forge for horseshoes, in desperately short supply.  The farmers he approached (with caution, for there were as many Union sympathizers as Confederates in Tennessee) always said they had no mounts for sale.  But when Adam pulled the little leather purse from his pocket and jingled the gold coins, a fine mount would sometimes be remembered, tied deep in the woods or in the parlor, a sack around its nostrils to muffle a whinny.
Some said the commander reveled in the count of horses shot beneath him, but Adam knew better.  At Thompson's Station, Adam and the commander's young son, Willie, chosen by lot as horse holders, listened to the crack of musket and carbine coming from the battleground just over a ridge.  Suddenly the commander cantered up, blood flowing from three superficial wounds on Roderick, his favorite mount--a pet that followed him about camp like a puppy.
   
    "Take care of him," he swung up on the spare mount and rode back toward the sound of battle.

    Adam and Willie were cleaning Roderick's wounds when the artillery opened.  At the cannon's roar, the wounded stallion reared, and the loose halter slipped over his ears.  He broke at a gallop for the sound of the cannon, jumped three fences and met a Federal shell that blew him apart before the commander's eyes.  The commander wept.

    When they neared Chickamagua, Adam's role changed.  The commander's scouts, the Forty Thieves, were by birth and experience flatlanders.  In the mountains of east Tennessee they were fish out of water, easy prey to Federal ambush.  The commander remembered Adam's mountain rearing; his horse procurement duties had taught him the essentials of scouting.  Adam joined the Forty Thieves and taught them to read the mountains, to tell true hollows from false (running water the key), to use a high ridge to keep their bearings, to probe for and thus avoid ambush.  The commander breveted him from sergeant to lieutenant; it was his proudest day.

    And then Chickamagua: a hundred thousand men--fifty thousand to the side--met hand to hand in a directionless sea of cedars and blackjacks, and fought like two blind grizzly bears.  The roar of cannon, the whine of musket and carbine, the stench of powder and blood, of torn bowels and decaying flesh--horse and human--engulfed him.  One man in three left the field dead or wounded.  The piles of amputated arms and legs outside the surgeons' tents grew to thirty feet across and equally tall.  The smell reminded Adam of the day on the Ohio River at Cincinnati.    Adam survived the battle unwounded. Three times his commander's mounts died under him; three times Adam supplied a remount.  And then the Federals broke.  Adam stood by his commander on the ridge as he climbed the captured tower to peer down at the column of retreating Federals, a great blue snake writhing into Chattanooga.  Stood with him too at headquarters when he begged permission of Bragg to pursue, only to have it denied. With him when in disgust he freed his twenty slaves, teamsters of the supply wagons for the escort company.  With him when he turned over his command to Wheeler and mounted to ride west with a few from his escort company and just two pieces of artillery, off to raise another army to raid in Mississippi.  But then not with him any more, for his commander sent Adam with General Wheeler, in desperate need of scouts who understood the mountains.

    And so Adam had begun his last campaign, scouting on a raid to the north, in search of the wagons surely coming to resupply Rosecrans's starving Union troops holed up in Chattanooga. On October third he looked down from Walden's Ridge into the Sequatchie Valley upon a seven-mile train of wagons, heavy army wagons drawn by four and six mule teams, smaller sutler's wagons drawn by two mules each, all packed together nose to tailgate on a narrow road.  He sensed at once the carnage to come, for the men, now sulking under the half-pint Wheeler, insulted by their transfer, worn out in body and spirit from the Chickamagua fight, were spoiling for a chance like this.  Their despair and fatigue would turn to blood lust.  And so it came to pass.

    Wheeler swung his hat, the bugler sounded charge, and they cut down upon the wagon train, whipping their worn out horses for a final charge.  The train's skimpy escort, posted only front and rear, ran in confusion.  The helpless teamsters, mostly civilian, many freed slaves, fled, surrendered or were shot.  The men plundered the wagons, loaded with meat, potatoes, uniforms, cigars, everything needed by an army.
They found liquor in a sutler's wagon, and got drunk.  The order came to destroy what could not be taken out--and little could be taken, for they were far from Confederate lines, and vulnerable.  Men stuffed their pockets and saddlebags with cigars and boots, threw away tattered slouch hats for new felt ones, tied blue overcoats behind their saddles. And then Wheeler's second dreadful order came:  kill the mules; don't waste bullets, use the saber.

    Adam watched in guilty horror as drunk troopers rammed their sabers into the chests of the helpless mules.  They brayed in terror and collapsed in the traces, blood spurting on the cursed ground.  Smoke rose black and thick along seven miles of the valley, and two thousand blameless mules lay dead.  Munitions in the wagons exploded, up and down the line.  Twenty miles south in Chattanooga, Rosecrans heard the explosions and saw the smoke  and mistook it for an artillery barrage.
 
    From his earliest memory Adam had been taught to care for animals.  The instinct was in fact bred in him from both sides.  He could not abide abuse of a horse or mule.  This senseless slaughter enraged him, but he was helpless to stop it.  Then the minie ball hit him, fired he supposed by a member of the wagon train's escort hiding in the dense woods above the valley road.  Perhaps fired by a drunk Confederate; it did not matter.
The pain was intense, but the surgeon said bone was not broken, though muscle and ligament were badly torn.  Adam asked for a letter of furlough, gathered provisions from the wagons--bacon, beans, cornmeal and lard--wrapped them in a Federal overcoat and blouse, and tied the bundle behind his saddle.  Then he and Nellie began the trek for home.

    Five days after reaching home, Adam limped to the springhouse, sat on a stone beside the stream, and plunged his wounded foot into the icy water.  The foot went numb; the throbbing ceased.  His father had laid the walls of this springhouse while Adam sat on the same stone with his bare feet in the water, grabbing at passing tadpoles.  He'd been eight.

    A cool breeze rose from the northwest and drove out the last Indian summer warmth.  High clouds scudded east, promising rain in the night.  Adam limped back to the house.  Inside he found the blouse he'd taken from a burning wagon.  With his Barlow knife he cut off the Union buttons and epaulets and put it on.

    He looked about for something to eat, found a half loaf, stale but not yet molded, in the back of his mother's breadbox.  How had she managed to bake when she must have been so ill? From the garden he pulled mustard greens and dug turnips, and washed them in the spring creek.  He boiled the turnips with the greens over the open fire, adding bacon grease for seasoning.    He ate in the dim firelight, banked the fire and fell asleep.  In minutes he was back in Tennessee.  Cannon boomed and shells burst.  Minie balls whizzed and whacked into trees.  Horses and mules whinnied and brayed in terror.  Men fell dead and wounded about him, blood flowed from their wounds.  Above it all came an incessant thudding, like a hammer driving a nail . . . .  He woke and sat bolt upright in the darkness.  At the front window something glowed yellow . . . a lantern.

    "Anyone home?" It was a high pitched voice, vaguely familiar.
    "Just a minute."

    Two officers in Confederate uniform stood outside, the bit chains of their nervous horses clinking in the darkness behind them.  The taller wore the insignia of a Colonel.  In the dim lantern light Adam made out his long straight nose, full black beard, curly hair falling to the shoulders.  At the sight of the Union blouse hanging unbuttoned on Adam's gaunt shoulders the Colonel's hand went to his pistol.

    "Colonel Patton?" Adam asked.  "I'm Adam Slone , sir.  This is my home place.  I'm here on furlough."  In the dim light the Colonel could see the festering wound in Adam's foot.

    Four years before, Adam had seen Colonel Patton, then Captain Patton, drilling his little volunteer outfit, the Kanawha Riflemen, in the Fourth of July parade at Lewisburg.  Twenty dandies, mostly lawyers and doctors, with white plumes on their hats and fancy braided uniforms, had come over from Charleston to put on a show.  Captain Patton had ridden a high stepping black stallion.  His polished saddle had gleamed in the sun.    Adam's father had admired that stallion and inquired about breeding a mare to him.  "That won't be convenient today, but if you will bring your mare to Charleston a service can be arranged, assuming of course your mare is of sufficient quality."  His father had been furious.  His mares were the best in the valley.  His mother had giggled when Adam told her about it.  

    Deep lines formed at the corners of Colonel Patton's eyes and mouth.  The eyes were sad and tired, no longer proud and haughty.    The aide was William McClanahan, a lieutenant of the 22nd Virginia Infantry. Adam remembered seeing him in Lewisburg when they were boys.  McClanahan remembered him too.    Adam invited them in, tendering his father's jug, but the Colonel thanked him and refused.  The Lieutenant looked at the jug longingly.  When the Colonel inquired, Adam told him about his parents.

    "I'm so sorry.  It seems a time of death for us all.  I got word this week that my brother Tazewell died of his wounds from Gettysburg.  Pickett's Brigade."  Word of the Gettysburg disaster and of the fate of Pickett's Brigade had spread like wildfire through the Confederacy.

    "What brings you here, Colonel?" Adam asked.  He knew before he asked, and dreaded the answer.

    "We must have a horse, Lieutenant Slone.  One broke to harness.  A horse in the team pulling our twenty-four pounder has broken down.  We're on the way to Droop to reinforce.  General Averill has troops concentrated at Marlin's Bottom and aims to wipe us out."  Adam wanted desperately to deny he had a horse, but knew they would search, and so he told the Colonel of Nellie, stabled in the barn behind the house, and of how she had seen him through two years of war and borne him home.

    "I hate to take her, son," Colonel Patton said, "but I have no choice. I'll give you a generous note for compensation."
   
    Compensation did not concern Adam.  Only his vow to Nellie, that they would see no more war.  Adam led them to the barn. 

    "I'll help you get her hitched.  She hasn't worked in harness for a long time, and she'll be skittish."
    "We're up where the river road meets the road from Lewisburg," the Colonel said.  The junction was two miles north and west of the farm.
    "How did you happen to come looking here for a horse?" Adam asked.
    "Lieutenant McClanahan remembered your father showed horses every year at the fair in Lewisburg.  We figured if there was a horse in the county, it would be here."

    Adam slipped the bridle on Nellie and mounted her bareback, carrying collar and hames hooked over his arm.  When they arrived, the gun crew was butchering the horse whose place Nellie would fill.  The brigade of mountaineers, the 22nd Virginia Infantry, had long since lost any aversion to horsemeat.  Last winter they had eaten insects and chewed birch bark on a barefoot four-hundred-mile march.  All winter they had played cat and mouse with Averill's troops.  The Federal general could track them by the blood their feet left on the snow, but could not get them bottled up.  In August with Patton in command, they had met in battle at White Sulphur and defeated Averill, but the victory had been indecisive.  Now it seemed that Averill, reinforced and re-equipped, had them where he wanted them.When Adam reached the howitzer and the three horses already hitched to the limber,  his heart sank.  Once fine huge Percherons, they were worn out, their ribs and hip bones showing grotesquely through their dull hides.  The big ones were no good for artillery service--the speed and distances used them up.  You couldn't feed them enough to keep them.  It would be a miracle if this team made the mountaintop.

    Adam fitted Nellie's collar and hames and adjusted the harness to fit her.  He backed her in, hitched her traces to the single tree and gave her a pat on the rump.  As the limber lurched forward, the enormous howitzer swaying behind, Adam became alarmed.

    "That man's not your regular teamster, is he?" Adam asked Lieutenant Chapman, the officer in charge of the gun crew.
    "No, he's not.  My teamster's down with dysentery back in Lewisburg."

    Adam jumped onto the limber and grabbed the lines from the hapless fellow.  The team felt his sure hands through the lines and settled to the job. Why was he riding to another battle where his side would again be outnumbered and out-gunned?  A battle he wasn't obligated to fight--hadn't even been asked to fight.  It wasn't the cause that pulled him.  It was his pledge--he would see to it, no matter what, that Nellie didn't die like so many artillery horses, held close behind the batteries.  The Federals always put their first rounds beyond the batteries to get the horses.    In his two years at war Adam had seen hundreds of men maimed and killed.  He had pretended it could not happen to him.  Somehow he had borne up under the human suffering and death around him.  But the war's toll on the animals haunted him.    His old commander never fought from fixed positions.  He knew only two maneuvers--attack and flank.  Flank both sides.  Envelop.  Encircle.  Enfilade.

    "Artillery is made to be captured," he had said.  He had captured plenty, made it his.  But only the light, fast, accurate pieces.  He would have scoffed at the twenty-four pounder, useful only as a siege piece, less than useless for mobile troops, infantry or cavalry.  His commander's genius had gone beyond bravery and tactics.  He had been a master at recruitment and supply and at caring for what he had.  He could turn a farm boy's pride and yearning for adventure to enlistment.  His theory of supply was simple:  take from the enemy.  Confederate material was at best substandard, at worst useless, always in the wrong place.  Federal material was mostly the best and available for the taking.  Federal saddles, bridles, harness, blankets, muskets, rifles, carbines, guns and howitzers--even uniforms--were standard issue for his commander's brigades.  Let a trooper's horse get a saddle sore, and that trooper would walk--for miles and miles, until he dropped and never again forgot his horse's well-being must come before his own.  Once Adam told his commander that a trooper had intentionally driven a shoe nail into the quick of his horse's hoof so he would not have to go into battle.  The commander took the trooper into the woods and came out alone.  Adam heard the pistol shot.  Adam felt no remorse for the trooper, only for the crippled horse.

    Adam stopped often to rest the team.  At first Chapman protested, but Adam convinced him the horses couldn't make the mountain top without the rest.  When they reached a rough steep stretch Adam walked ahead, leading the team.  Like the gun crew, Adam was barefoot.  But their feet were accustomed to marching bare, and Adam's were not.  The temperature was now below freezing, and ice formed on the road, the trees, the grass. They made the top of Droop Mountain--three thousand feet elevation--at nine in the morning, the seventh and last artillery piece to arrive.  The Confederates' half-hearted fortifications of chopped young pine and mud would do little to stop incoming artillery rounds.  His old commander would never fight from such a fixed position, especially from a place with so many surrounding hollows to hide a flanking enemy.  Adam felt a foreboding.

    The battery would support the 22nd Virginia; Colonel Patton ordered it emplaced high and to the south of the troops.  When the howitzer was in position and unlimbered, Adam led the four-horse team south, back the way they had come.  Chapman would expect him to tie them close by, but he would not.  Once out of Chapman's sight, he jumped on Nellie's back and, holding the halter ropes of the other horses, led them a half mile to the rear.  He had a hiding place in mind--a sinkhole he and his father had discovered on a deer hunt years ago.     In the sinkhole, Adam tied the horses to scrub oaks.  A grouse flushed from beneath a rhododendron, startling the horses and Adam as well.  A thick stand of jackoaks lay between the sinkhole and Chapman's battery.  The trees should absorb any incoming artillery rounds.  The horses would be safe here.  No sooner was the team secure than Union artillery opened, and the Confederate pieces responded.  The louder boom of the twenty-four pounder came at close intervals.  On through the morning the booms and crashes of the artillery duel and the crack of musket filled the air.  Then, just after one, what Adam had feared most happened.  Union artillery opened from the west.  A Union force had flanked the Confederate left, and the sound of musketry grew steadily closer.

    Suddenly gray clad soldiers were running toward Adam in disarray.  The road lay fifty yards west of the sinkhole, and soldiers clogged it in confused retreat. Adam thought of taking Nellie and joining them.
Instead, he returned to the bottom of the sinkhole, rigged the halter ropes so he could lead the horses single file, mounted Nellie bareback and headed for the twenty-four pounder.  Lieutenant Chapman lay beside his howitzer, his left arm severed at the elbow.  Beside him a surgeon was cursing and rigging a tourniquet.  Lieutenant McClanahan lay dead, a minie ball through his brain.  All but three of the gun crew were dead or wounded.  Infantry streamed past in retreat.

    Suddenly Adam realized that the blue blouse he wore would likely get him shot by a retreating Confederate.  He exchanged it for McClanahan's gray one.  Then he took the dead man's boots and pulled them on his bare feet.  They were too large, but better than nothing.    Adam and the three crewmen limbered up the howitzer and hitched the traces to the single trees.  Taking Nellie by the bridle Adam led the team south at a trot along the road they had come in on. 

    "Out of the way or get run over," he yelled at the floundering infantrymen.

    Just as they neared the point where the descent would begin, the howitzer's axle broke at the right wheel.  The howitzer lurched, and the team was nearly pulled over a ledge.

    "Unlimber and unhitch the traces," Adam yelled to the startled crew.

    He grabbed a wrench from the ammunition box and went to the wheel of the howitzer opposite the axle break.  Quickly he unbolted the wheel nut, the axle came free of the wheel, and the howitzer's barrel tube crashed to the ground.

    "Put a rope around the barrel and bring me Nellie," he shouted. Adam fixed the hooks in the trace chains through a loop tied in the rope, and grasped Nellie's bridle.
    "Get up, girl." She pulled, but when the trace chains tightened, she almost fell; the weight was too great.
    "More ropes around the barrel, and get on the end of 'em," Adam screamed at the gun crew.  Then he pulled a revolver and pointed it at four retreating soldiers.  "Grab those ropes and pull."  When he cocked the pistol, the soldiers picked up the ropes and pulled with all their might.
    "Giddup, Nellie." She strained, and the howitzer slowly began to move.

    Adam had noticed a small bog just off the road.  The heavy barrel sank from sight when they rolled it down the steep bank into the bog.    Adam unharnessed Nellie, swung onto her back and headed south.

     "Take the rest of the team and pull the limber and gun wheels down the road a ways.  Hide 'em off to the side," he yelled to the gun crew.

    To Adam's surprise, Averill's troops did not pursue.  He reached home at dark.  He threw bacon, cornmeal, beans, and a frying pan in a grain sack, and saddled Nellie.  In another sack he gathered a half bushel of oats.  He wrapped two blankets in the rubber ground cloth he had slept on so many nights in Tennessee, and tied the bundle behind the saddle.  He camped at a meadow two miles above the farmhouse.  In the morning he made a small smokeless fire and fried bacon, which he ate between the last slices of his mother's bread.  

    The Federals were in control of the Greenbrier valley now, the broken Confederate troops scattered south and east.  They had passed through Lewisburg in the early morning hours of November seventh just before General Duffie's Union force arrived from Charleston.  That explained Averill's lack of pursuit:  he had hoped the defeated Confederates would tarry, and thus be trapped at Lewisburg.  The jaws of the trap had closed too slowly.

    Adam made his home for the winter in a cave near the farm where he had played as a boy--a harsh, lonely winter. He trapped small game in the mountains, ran trot lines on the Greenbrier, read and reread his mother's books.  The Federals never knew he was back at the farm, though a few trusted neighbors did.  

    In September word came that Colonel Patton had been killed in the saddle in the battle of Winchester.  Two-thirds of his brigade were killed, wounded or captured that day. Adam had hoped to breed Nellie to the Colonel's black stallion, but it would not be.  Colonel Patton left behind a son, also named George, who would, like his father, attend Virginia Military Institute, serving as First Captain.  That son in turn would produce a son of the same name.  Like his father and grandfather, he would be vain, with a high pitched voice.  But he would be one hell of a fighter; a lover too of horses.
When the war ended, Adam took the loyalty oath and returned to farming and horse trading.

July 15, 1867

Adam Slone bent in his garden picking beans.  His wife Amy bent beside him, her face hidden by her bonnet, her stomach stretching her dress.  She was six months pregnant with the child that would be Jack Slone's grandfather.    As Adam straightened to rest his back, he caught sight of riders, a man and a woman, coming up the lane.  The man was heavy-set, wore a broad-brimmed gray slouch hat that put his white-bearded face in shadow.  He rode a steel gray with black mane and tail at an easy foxtrot.  The young woman rode sidesaddle on a bay.  She wore a long, brown dress with a high white collar, white gloves and a pillbox hat.
Adam first recognized the gray, then thought he recognized its rider, but told himself it couldn't be.  When the riders reached the garden, General Lee removed his hat.  Too shocked to speak, Adam instinctively removed his straw hat and placed it over his heart.  The General smiled, then looked embarrassed.  Dark circles engulfed his eyes; the skin of his face was gray as his horse.

    "General Lee, sir," was all Adam could say.  Amy, too, was speechless.
    "Mr. and Mrs. Slone, I assume," the General said as he swung down from the saddle. "May I present my daughter, Agnes.  We're spending a few days at the Old White, and I couldn't resist the chance to ride over and see where my colt was bred." 

    While Adam took the reins of the bay, the General helped Agnes dismount.    Adam had recognized the gray as one his father had bred.  Adam had shown it as a yearling in halter at the fair in Lewisburg.  
General Lee explained.  "I first saw him when I came to Lewisburg in '61 to parley with General Wise and General Floyd. Handsomest animal I'd ever seen.  He belonged then to Major Broun.  A year later I saw him in South Carolina, and my adjutant bought him.  Major Broun had changed his name from Greenbrier to Jeff Davis.  I changed it to Traveller.  I didn't feel right riding our commander-in-chief."  General Lee smiled.
His father had sold the colt for a hundred and seventy-five dollars in gold.  Adam wondered what General Lee had paid.  The General seemed to read his mind.

    "I paid two hundred dollars for him."  Gold or confederate currency? Adam wondered.

    Amy mustered her composure and invited General Lee and his daughter to the porch, then went inside to fix tea.  The General noticed Adam's limp and his Confederate buckle, illegal to wear, and asked where he had served.

     Adam proudly said, "With Bedford Forrest, sir."
    "Finest field commander in the war--probably any war," General Lee responded, and followed with questions about Forrest.  Adam was astonished that the two commanders had never met.
    As the General prepared to leave, he asked, "By any chance, is my colt's sire or dam still on the place?"
    "No, sir, all the stock disappeared in the summer of '63--requisitioned by our side.  But I've got his younger full sister."

    The General's eyes lit up.  Adam walked him to the paddock, Traveller following.  Nellie met them at the fence.  She and Traveller touched noses and whinnied.

    "A fine mare," General Lee said.
    "Yes, sir, she carried me through the war and back here from Chattanooga in October of '63 after I was wounded.  Then she helped pull Chapman's twenty-four pounder up to Droop Mountain.  She's broke to harness and saddle.  So is Traveller, I guess you know.  I broke him myself."

    Ten years passed before Adam Slone again saw his final field of battle.  He found the sinkhole where he had tied the team.  He walked down the north slope of the mountain to the ground where seven Confederate artillery pieces and fifteen hundred Confederate infantrymen had rained lead upon four thousand advancing Federals.  His land now.  Among his father's papers, he had found a deed to seven hundred seventy-seven acres of that north slope, dated soon after he had left home for Kentucky.  His father had paid twenty cents an acre for the purchase.    From there he looked north over the broad flat fields surrounding the village of Hillsboro, where Averill had gathered his force for the charge up the mountain.  Best farmland in Pocahontas County, maybe in the state, Adam thought, and wished, as farmers always do, that it were his to plow.
Jack had heard the stories of his great-grandfather Adam from his grandfather.  Heard too of the mare Nellie who saved the twenty-four pounder from capture at the Battle of Droop Mountain.  It was a small battle, rating no more than a footnote in histories, distinguished only as the battle fought at the highest altitude of any in that terrible war.  Four hundred Confederates died there.  One hundred seventy-five Union.  In all, five hundred seventy-five young men, close neighbors before the War, many closer in death, buried in mass graves atop the mountain.

(to be continued)