It's NOT a romance. It's not very funny, there just wasn't much comedy to be mined for me in Andersonville Prison.
It's not even a real story
Part #4 of 13 episodes of how my heroes from Trouble in Texas met and how they became so loyal to each other.
Book #3 Stuck Together --Vince's story--releases in June 3.
Closer Than Brothers
|Click to Buy|
When Luke had put his name proudly on that list he hadn’t expected to watch a man hang. But things moved fast once Wirz told Dowd to form a group of lawmen.
With rations cut off, there wasn't much choice.
A troop of armed Rebs came into the prison yard and rounded up two hundred prisoners, pointed out as part of the Raiders.
Then, being cowards who were offered immunity, the two hundred soon turned in their leaders, the worst among them Mosby Collins. Many of the men thought of the Raiders as Mosby's Raiders though there were many small groups and the main leaders were in fact these six men.
There were formalities, even a letter sent to Abraham Lincoln in Washington D.C. for his approval, which was given. Finally came the day and Major Wirz rode in with the leaders of the Raiders.
In his foreign voice, from the back of his pale horse, he declared, ""I haf had notting to do wit it. I vash my hands of everyting connected wit dem. Do wit dem as you like!
It was a speech worthy of Pontius Pilate.
The Yankees formed juries and named judges and handed out sentences.
Murder had been done many times, or beatings so bad they led to death, and the sentence could be no less than a hanging.
Luke was with a band of men who were allowed outside, under armed guard, on the pretext of gathering firewood, but in truth to get wood to build a scaffolding for a hanging.
Only when six leaders of the different groups of Raiders were swinging from a noose did the thieves finally learn to fear the new order of things.
Jonas stood next to Luke as the last man was pushed from the scaffolding. Luke saw the cold calm in his parson friend’s eyes. “Doesn’t this make you want to cast up the contents of your belly?”
Jonas looked away from the dying man. The last one, Mosby, had been ugly to watch. His rope had broken and he’d fallen to the ground, still alive.
Mosby had screamed and begged. Cried out that he’d already been hung and God had judged that it wasn’t his day to die.
All Mosby's pleadings were ignored and he’d been strung up and hung again with a sturdier rope. Luke wasn’t about to look away and having a belly as empty as his made not vomiting easy. But it was a sickening sight.
Not an ounce of sickness showed in Jonas.
Drawing in a long, slow breath, Jonas said, “What I’ve seen in my life, what I’ve been, it’s made me a mighty hard man. A shameful man.” Jonas looked back at Mosby Collins, still thrashing, dying slow. No quick, merciful broken neck for him.
“I took to war just like I took to being an outlaw. I liked it. The first few months in the army I was a killing fool. I was hungry for it. Bloodthirsty and it had nothing to do with freeing the slaves.” Jonas licked his lips and watched too close as the hanging man’s thrashing slowed.
Then he gave his head a shake and forced his eyes down. “I changed the day I ran a man through with my bayonet.” Jonas rubbed a hand over his face. “Not the first time by any means. But right after it happened, while I still had him pinned. While I stood there watching him die, enjoying it, a cannon ball hit right behind him. It knocked us both back. His body shielded me, no doubt saved me. The force of it buried us both. He was on top of me dying. Dirt completely covered us. We were buried alive.”
Silence stretched. “That man had my bayonet through his gut and Lord only knows what injuries from the cannon blast and he was suddenly still. I figured he was finally dead, and I could get him off me and dig my way out and go on with my killing. I looked up and his eyes were focused right on me, clear and rational.
"He said, ‘I’ve got a letter to my mother in my breast pocket. If you would sent it to her, I would be most obliged, but whether you do or not, please don’t let my death weigh on you. I’m a Christian man, and I am leaving this life today to join my Heavenly Father with no regrets. In fact I count it as a blessing that I am dying and not you. It would be a hard thing for a man to meet his Maker with the last act on earth to be killing a man, no matter if he thinks his war is just. I hold no hatred for you and count no blame toward you for my death. I forgive you. It gives me joy to be able to forgive you as my dying act. A loving God will forgive you, too, if you but ask.'”
Jonas fell silence. Luke could tell by the tension that eased from the crowd that the hanging man had finally quit his struggled, but Luke didn't see it because he couldn't look away from his friend.
Jonas added, "And then he died."
Men went forward to cut down the executed Raiders, but Luke didn't go. He stood watching Jonas and saw all the terrible thirst fade away and his good friend and parson was back, calm, loving, faithful.
Jonas was able to smile again. "I lay there in that hole for the rest of the battle and the whole time I was there I prayed. I grew up knowing about God. I went to church as a child. My parents were God fearing people. But after my pa died, Ma remarried a terrible brute of a man who hurt her, hurt me. I forgot everything I'd learned and only remembered to hate. But there, buried alive, I knew what it meant to die and be reborn. I really knew what it meant that Jesus had been crucified and buried, then raised from the dead. God gave me that same chance and I took it. I fell into that hole a sinner surely bound for hell. I came out with my eyes fixed on Jesus and my feet on the narrow road to Glory. I've been preaching the Gospel ever since."
Jonas's eyes burned into Luke's, and suddenly Luke wasn't so sure about what he believed. He thought of all the wrangling he'd done with Pa. Of all the time's he'd fussed at Callie for running wild around the ranch, shooting and roping, acting as manly as any cowhand.
Luke decided then and there he'd spend a day in prayer himself. He reached out and clapped Jonas on the shoulder. "I needed to hear that story, Jonas. Thank you for tellin' it."
Nodding, Jonas said, "Hangings like this wake up parts of me I wish were gone, but I think God leaves them inside so I never forget. It's not a simple thing to walk away from all you've known, all you've been. If I know how it feels to be part of evil, maybe I can reach men who feel the same."
"Luke, we need a hand."
Turning, Luke saw they were carrying off the bodies. He'd been eager to be part of dragging the men in. He wasn't quite so eager to carry them off. He went. Jonas, Dare and Vince, too. But Luke went with a heavy heart.
As it turned out, a heavy heart, didn't stop men from wanting him and his friends dead.
The hangings were the beginning, not the end. The group of lawmen called themselves Regulators and they formed themselves into an orderly police force that in time grew to nearly twelve hundred men.
Andersonville was still a place of filth, starvation, sickness and slow, ugly death. But the death wasn’t coming from the hands of other Yankees now.
Except for those who thought the Regulators were traitors.
The two hundred men who'd been arrested were given various punishments, lashings, running gauntlets, some spent time in stocks. Some were sentenced to dragging around a ball and chain for a time. Eventually all these men were turned loose in the prison population and they all bore a grudge, especially for those who had participated directly in the hanging. Luke and his friends were in hourly danger of assassination.
They were given jobs that took them outside, mainly into the hospital but other small jobs were found, too, which only deepen the suspicion among the prisoners that they were traitors.
The bond between the Regulators deepened and they each had many chance to protect each other. As assistant to the camp doctor, Dare came in contact with more prisoners than most of them and he seemed most likely to attract trouble.
Luke figured he'd have made a decent enough doctor himself with a little more training and some patience on the trainer's part. Except he seemed to have a tendency to get sick himself and that was wearing him out fast.
But spending time in the infirmary kept him handy to save Dare's life, even when it was all he could do to drag himself out of his miserable bed.
Please sign up for my newsletter by clicking HERE