The Last Battle by Bob Giel by Bob Giel - Read Online

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Summary

War has been equated to hell.  A more cogent description may be that war is the breeding ground for the private hell that each participant experiences in the aftermath of war.  This is the story of one man's private hell the eruption of which endangers those he holds most dear.

Published: Bob Giel on
ISBN: 9781502247735
List price: $2.99
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The Last Battle - Bob Giel

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Ten

Chapter One

Almost home now.  Two years since Sabine Pass and a year to find his way back and now he was almost there.  Nothing about this made sense.  Maybe he would have been better off surrendering to the Yankees and taking his chances instead of this mindless trek across half of Texas.  Keeping to the shadows, avoiding the patrols, taking whatever job he could find to generate enough cash to keep travelling.  Crazy!  Loco!  Should have thought of that before he walked away from Fort Griffin just after the war ended.  That made him a fugitive.  Maybe if he had stayed and surrendered, he would have been repatriated and allowed to return home without having to skulk around.  Or maybe he would have wound up in one of those Yankee prison camps he had heard about and would have never seen home again.  Who the hell knows?  What was clear was that he had made that choice to walk away and now had to lead the life of an escapee.  And that had taken him through more scrapes than he had ever been through as a cannoneer.

It was back in '61 when he was recruited.  They were called the Davis Guards, Davis for Jeff Davis, the president of the new Confederacy.  There was all this grand talk about how the Confederacy was going to preserve the way of the South and how the Guards were going to be in the forefront of the campaign.

Colin Shaindeen, the recruiter had told him, you are a son of Texas and a son of Ireland.  You belong in the Davis Guards.

He was young then, all of nineteen, and impressionable; full of patriotism for his homeland.  And so he joined them and trained with them and became one of them and learned the skills of cannon fire.  He found a home away from home with them and for the next two years he, along with his comrades, did himself proud, culminating in the Battle of Sabine Pass during which two score of well trained and disciplined men turned back the onslaught of Union Navy gunboats attempting to clear the way up the Sabine River from the gulf for a Yankee landing party.  They earned themselves a medal that day in September of 1863, the only medal ever issued by the Confederacy, and they held Fort Griffin until the surrender of the South.  Luckily, Shaindeen had already attained the rank of sergeant before that battle because the cannon of the Davis Guards were silent following Sabine Pass through the end of the war.  There were no more chances for valor after that battle, there was only maintenance duty.  When word came of Lee's surrender, the Guards did the same, except for a few, Shaindeen being one, who decided it was time to just go home.

Of course, the bluecoats had their own ideas about that.  They wanted all them Johnny Rebs to give up and give in and any that failed to do so were considered fugitives and were hunted down and rounded up or shot, at the discretion of their captors.

And so, here he was, both on the run and trying to make it home, all at the same time.  But he was almost home and that seemed to tell him that safety was almost his.  Family and friends would be there and he would be able to fold himself into the old life and enjoy the protection that the ranch always offered him.  That was a comfort to him and the one thing that had driven him these many miles over this year long journey that should have taken him a quarter of that time had he not needed to keep ducking and hiding from the Yankees.

As he continued his ride on this newly acquired horse the cost of which had consumed most of his last pay working as a blacksmith's lackey, he began to notice familiar countryside.  This reinforced his belief that home was not far.  He recognized some of the boulders off in the distance and now knew his way more clearly than simply heading west.  Can't be more than a day or so further, he thought, even at this pace.  He reckoned that Fort Duncan and Eagle Pass were northwest some from his present position so he should be coming onto the Cuevas Creek area right soon now.  And so he pushed on.

Colin Shaindeen was a big man, broad and strapping and close to six feet tall with sort of a square face on which resided narrow, deeply set eyes that were light blue and piercing.  A full nose and wide, thin lipped mouth completed the countenance that spoke of formidable determination.  His light brown hair was too long and very unkempt as was his beard, a fortnight long growth that betrayed his current disheveled lifestyle.  On his hip, still riding in the military issue holster, was a .44 caliber 1858 Remington Army percussion revolver that he had brought from home since the army had been short on small arms supplies. This finished the intimidating appearance he presented.

His tattered clothes, the only ones he owned, were the uniform that he had worn since his induction into the Army of the Confederacy some five years earlier.  The waist length gray shell jacket with the red sergeant's stripes signifying him as a member of the First Texas Heavy Artillery Regiment, the official designation of the Davis Guards; the matching trousers with the yellow lengthwise stripe down the outside of each leg and the kepi hat that was tilted back on his head told the world that this was a soldier of the South, an identity better kept hidden these days.  But, hell, he had to wear something to keep the sun off his bones and, somehow, he had just never gotten enough money together at any one time to procure a set of civilian duds which would have allowed him to travel more freely.  The horse under him was more important if he was going to make it from the coast of Louisiana west across south Texas to Maverick County and home.  So he ducked and avoided the patrols and laid low for as long as necessary to stay safe and, when he could move, moved warily.

This guarded mind-set had served him well in the near past and was continuing to do so right now.  As he directed his mount into a soft bend in the trail, he immediately scanned the area to his front and sides.  What he saw caused him to draw hasty rein.  Ahead and off to the right was a cloud of dust rising and approaching, coming across high grass country at a steady pace that he gauged to be the loping speed of a group of horses.  And where there were horses there were likely riders and those riders were probably bluecoats, or that was what he felt he should presume if he wanted to stay in one piece.  A quick examination of his surroundings zeroed him in on a stand of trees a few hundred yards to his left.  His glance back at the nearing cloud told him it would be on him right quick.  He nudged the horse and made for the trees at the gallop, realizing that this would raise some dust of his own and point out his position, but sitting here waiting for them to trip over him was definitely not an option.  Riding hard, he entered the tree line and kept going for about an eighth of a mile, fending off errant branches, until he felt he was deep enough in to bury himself in the brush.

His suspicion about being detected was proven correct as the column of Union cavalry that had kicked up the dust in the tall grass emerged onto the trail and spotted him just as he disappeared into the trees.  Without a word, they set out to run him down.

He dismounted and placed his left hand over the horse's nose to keep it quiet as he drew his weapon and held it pointed upward at shoulder height with his forefinger inside the trigger guard and his thumb looped over the hammer, ready to cock and fire.

The troopers spread out and began a sweep of the trees, keeping each other in sight.  As they went deeper into the brush, their lateral distance from each other increased to the point at which they lost sight of each other, putting each man fairly on his own.  They moved slowly on horseback but the noise they made pinpointed their individual positions.  Silently, Shaindeen held to his spot.  And, there, a bluecoat was coming straight at him.  Risking a shot would surely bring the rest of them down on him.  But if he could get past this one, maybe he could make it out of the tree line and be long gone before they caught on that he had given them the slip.  This he would have to do quietly.  Holstering his gun, he glanced around for a branch stout enough to do the job and found just what he needed in a hunk of dead tree lying nearby.  He backed the horse further into the trees and reached the limb up as the soldier broke through some thick brush and continued straight on.  Ducking behind a large tree trunk for concealment, he waited as the trooper approached.

Just then, his mount nickered in recognition of the other horse, causing the rider to pull up short.  Couldn't do this without leaving the animal untended so deal with it, he thought.  Swiftly, he rounded the tree and emerged on the other side which put him slightly behind the trooper.  He raised the branch and swung it up and forward as if striking at a piñata and it landed with a crack against the soldier's neck and head.  The crack was the limb breaking as it connected.  The rider went limp and draped across the horse's neck.  His luck held as the horse did not bolt and run but simply and docilely lowered its head to munch on available grass.

A tug on the mount's bridle allowed him to lead it into thicker bushes behind the large tree.  He pulled the stunned trooper out of the saddle and observed that the man was beginning to recover from the blow he had been dealt.  Quickly, Shaindeen delivered a clout to the jaw that put the soldier out of the game.  Taking time he realized he did not have, he next relieved the man of his sidearm, a fairly new .44 caliber Colt New Army revolver as well as his Sharps carbine which had been converted to employ the new .50-70 government cartridge.  This fact was made clear to him by the presence of an abundance of the ammunition in one of the saddle pouches.  Securing the pistol in the other pouch, he moved with them and the long gun back to his own horse, tied the carbine across his blanket roll and led the mount straight toward the edge of the tree line.

Once clear of the trees, he mounted and set out galloping on the road in his original direction, satisfied that he had not only successfully eluded the Yankees but had acquired a spare revolver that was capable of using the same balls as he possessed as well as