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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"Anyone home?" It was a high pitched voice, vaguely
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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)