After three days ridin hell bent for leather, I catch up on the Army of Mississippi on the morning they are set to fight the Yankees at some place called Pittsburgh Landing. And I'm the fellah as nobody knows nor wants to ride with.
"Colonel Wharton must be a gettin' low scrapings to let a boy ride with us," a grizzled man of around forty says.
"I turned fourteen back in March. Took the trains and all to git here." I hitch the Colt Navy holstered at my hip. "I've fought Comanche since I was six. Used to raid for young'uns to take as their own. I ain't a feared o' no Yellow Yankee. I got a double barrel twelve gauge and a Sharp's carbine with caps, powder, and shot enough to last a while."
"You don't even shave yer whiskers yet, boy." A big man, with dark blonde hair and a short but thick beard looks up from where he loads a revolver, checking each chamber to be sure he gots the power right afore locking and placing a cap over the firing nipple. "Give a man your guns and go back to your momma."
"You look mighty familiar," another says. "Whereabouts you from?"
"Folks have a mule farm about twenty miles outside Corsicana on Richland creek."
"That's the Carson place ain't it."
"I'm Mike," I hold my hand out.
"Ezekiel Porter, but folks call me Zeke." He glances over to where I ground hitched my hoss. "Nice horse you got. But I guess your family is pretty well off, for folks as don't own any slaves."
"Gramp's a Methodist minister. Says it ain't right to own a man."
"Then howfore are you fightin' on our side." Little fellah with a pox riddled face askt.
"Don't hanker to a Yankee tellin' me how to live."
Zeke motions me to a clear spot in the brush. The mist opens for a moment and I look out, across a wide stretch of new ploughed fields with wheat just coming up about a foot tall. "See that? It's the Union Army of Tennessee."
They got rows of cannon, all with hauling hitches and hosses and whatnot. Then they's all the tents and menfolk with muskets and rifles and all. They got uniforms is blue all over. I only got butternut brown pants, though Ma did manage a gray jacket.
"What all part we gonna git?"
"Wait for orders." Zeke puts his hand on my shoulder, like my Pa used to, but I growed so much last couple of winters I'm a tall man's height now. "I know you want to fight, but we need fresh horses for any action we take."
Our boys start advancing as the mist clears with the sun coming up. They git to about a hunerd yard of the union lines, then yell and start shooing. Right then, the mist closes up while I hear cannon firing near us. Some o' the mist seems a mite too dark, like smoke. Then I kick myself for a mule. It's gunsmoke from all the cannon on top o' us. I can smell the sulfur what means ole Lucifer is lickin' his chops a waitin' on a crop o' men to fall into his evil hands. Zeke puts a plug of chaw in his mouth and offers me a slice.
"Cain't. My ma would object somethin' fierce on account it's a filthy habit."
They's more gunfire from somewheres in the mist and smoke, but I cain't see nothin' and am set to be sore about missin' a chance to whup the Yankees. Zeke must take note, on account he says, "See plenty of fightin' don't you worry. You ever shoot a man?"
"Were they shootin' back?"
"Ever time." When I say that, Zeke nods like it means somewhat. He must of lived on to the coast to never git Comanche raidin' near by to him. I see a hill off to the right through the mist. "I reckon if we was to go up on top o' that hill we could purt well see everthin' what went on."
"I'll check what the officers want. But I calculate you have the right of it."
I head over to the fire and see what-all they got for vittles, but ain't even thin gruel to be had. "If'n I'd knowed they wasn't nothin' to eat I'd got a squirrel out'n the trees."
"Don't waste a bullet."
"Hell, I can get em with rocks." I grab a couple good ones from the ground.
"Regular David over here. Kills folks by throwin' rocks." Fellah with the poxy face agin. Reckon he thinks he's funny.
"Leave off, Murchison," the big blonde says. "Boy got more stones than his family."
"My Pa and older brothers are all with the Texas brigade in Virginie."
"What 'bout your yeller grandpa?" Murchison wants to needle me.
"You mean my ole grandpa what's seventy-two last November?" I git right up on him. "One what's got white so bad in his eyes cain't even read the good book no more. Or you talkin' about my other grandpa what died six year back?"
"That's enough." An officer is walkin' our way. Everbody jump up and stand straight. I reckon he must be plumb important. "Which of you is the Indian fighter, Carson?"
"I am, sir," I say. I can tell what he's thinkin', so I add, "I been fightin' 'em since I were six."
"I want you to go ahead on foot. Find a way up that hill to the right and get us in a position to overrun the union artillery before they kill more of our men. Can you do that?"
I think on 'er for a full minute. "Reckon if any body can, it'd be me. Who want to lead my hoss and keep they hand offen my guns?"
I grab a few extra rocks and head out, with everbody stringin' along behint me. I don't find nothin' like grub alongside the way. Instead, I follow a little rill over to the foot o' the hill, then go up the side furthest from the Yankee troops. Once I'm at the top, I can look down and see how the Yanks has got theyselves a couple a boats full o' guns. the Tennessee River is too deep to wade and even a hoss might have a spot o' trouble trying to swim- particular since the Yank's boats is apt to git in the way.
Zeke climb up besides me and pulls out field glasses. He looks and says, "They're pulling back and lining up artillery. We got to do something about it. Can you see a way to git close?"
"They's another creek run up right to them cannon." I point where I can see a difference in the trees. Zeke swings his glasses arount to see and nods. "So we go up that away and then ride over they cannon, mebbe even take some for ours."
"I'm going to put you with Johnathan Stubbs and his men." Zeke waves for someone to join us. "You'll lead the way. When you come up among the cannon, turn right toward the river. If John goes down, I'm depending on you to carry through all the way to the river."
John's a tough lookin' man of thirty or thereabouts. He shakes my hand, then says, "I know enough to fire a cannon. I think we get the job of shooting those two boats out of the water."
"You'll have to go in on foot, the horses won't make it through that thicket." Zeke nods us on our way.
I go to my hoss and git both my shotgun and the carbine. Carbine got a strap and I put it acrost my back, while I holt the shotgun in my hands. Then me and John Stubbs make our way down to the little drop of creek. But the rain means it's mud all over and water deep enough to drowned a man. "The hell with this."
I run back a good hundred yards, then lead everbody's hosses forward. Once I get to em, I call, "Mount up. We gonna ride over them Yankees."
There in the brush, nobody can see me too good. I got a deep voice, what sounds like I'm older. Once everbody is ridin', I call, "Half you boys ride on the left side of the creek and half on the right. We get to the edge, wait fer my signal, then ride like you're charging Comanche raiders with they muskets and bows. Don't wait fer nothin' just git in close and shoot 'til ain't nobody left or you ain't got more powder. Now set to ridin'."
Mostly the boys follow along. We push along the creek 'til after noon, when we git close to the edge of the scrub we're pushin' through. Sun's out and startin' to git warm, but nothin' like down in Texas. I watch to see when we got enough for a charge. I can see the Yankee guns not more than two hunnerd yards from us. Sure are a lot of them.
John Stubbs come up on my left. "You taking command?"
"Somebody got to do it."
"Give this to my son if I die." He hands me a folded piece of paper. I put it in my jacket.
I get my Sharps out and wait for the right moment. I spot a man in a fancy hat. Means he's an officer. Behint the main cannon line. Maybe three hunnerd yards. Breathe in. Calm. Aim for his fancy gold buttons in the middle of his chest. Wait. Breathe out. And squeeze. Shot goes true and the feller falls.
I give a yell, then everbody is ridin' hard for the Yankee lines, yellin' and shootin' and I know I cain't hit from this range with the shotgun. I git the Sharps back in its saddle holster, then the double barrel out. I'm right on top of the cannon when a body tries to set her off, but I'm close enough the shotgun does for him. I see his chest turn red, then he falls. My hoss bucks, but I stay on. Some feller is calling for everbody to hold, so I shoot him with the other barrel. Then the shotgun's in its scabbard and I pull out my Colt. I shoot til the gun's dry.
Behint me, the cannon goes off. Somethin' big explodes off by the river. A Yank boat is hit. The other has its cannon firin' now. I see John Stubbs fall down in two pieces. Now there's Yank troops chargin' at us and I cain't see any way to stay here. Smoke's everwhere, but I can see they got a passel of rifles and cartridge boxes among the dead Yanks. I leap to the ground and grab several, tyin' them on the back of the saddle.
I'm about to ride out when I see Zeke Porter lyin' on the ground, his left leg off about the knee. I hoist him onto a mule, then jump onto my hoss and pull the mule's lead as I ride away.
It's nigh to sundown by the time I git back to our lines. Man in a fancy hat come by.
"Where did you obtain all those guns and ammunition belts?"
"Yanks I shot." I ain't too worried. We got to want guns, so they ain't like to tell me I done wrong. He looks riled, so I think a spot, then say, "Sir."
"Son. You shot four men?"
"More than that," the big blonde says. "He got one of their generals right at the start. Clean shot, must've been half a mile if it was an inch."
"Then he rides ahead of everybody yelling and screaming," the pox-faced man says. "And when we get close, he opens up with a scattergun killing two more. Then pulls out a Colt and goes to town. I ain't never seen nothing like it."
"And what did you two do?" fancy hat asks.
"Well General Breckinridge-" the pox faced man starts. I can tell talkin' got him upset.
"They must of rode behint me, like I tole em." I stand there ready to tell the general where he can go. I ain't been in the army long, but I know I ain't goin' to give up on my men. "If'n we'd been a few more, we might of rode clear over the Yankees. We didn't. And, we lost lot's o' good men."
Right then it hits me. I killed men. Not just Comanche who you got to fight to live, but men as were only comin' for me 'cause a Yankee tyrant forced 'em. Sudden like, my lunch I didn't eat don't sit so well and it comes up all over the place. The general, fancy hat and all, takes off before I git done.
"I'm called Swede," the big blonde says. "The little man is Rick Murchison."
"Let's go git some grub," Rick says. "We're gonna have to fight again tomorrow."
Now, made brothers in our killin' and bleedin', we're like that Henry guy Ma always read about- we happy few.
Author's note- I took a couple of liberties with this tale. Union General W. H. L. Wallace was mortally wounded at Shiloh. He would have been stationed about where I describe the Texas eighth cavalry as attacking. The Union did have a pair of gunboats on the Tennessee river to provide supporting fire and the Confederate forces did try to shoot them with their own artillery. General Breckinridge commanded the Confederate reserves, so he might have talked with survivors of the Texas cavalry which did engage during the day. But the specifics of when and how they charged are pure fiction.