“General Grant, General Grant has engaged at Chattanooga!” the messenger said as he rode along the line. The Union cavalry raised up their carbines and gave a shout as the man passed.
“Huzzah!” they called as one. The party of about sixty troopers watched the messenger continue to gallop. This group of cavalrymen weren’t here to act as relief messengers. Instead, they were a patrol-in-force, covering the supply lines that were so vital to the Military Division of the Mississippi. It sounded now as if the long-awaited battle against Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee had finally been joined.
Sergeant Dan Reid was a section leader in the detached unit, which rode slowly towards the encampments at Chattanooga. They rode up and down the same five miles of road, four, five, six times a day, making sure none of the Rebel cavalry struck at the passing supply trains. The Confederate commander of cavalry in these regions was Nathan Bedford Forrest, and he was a wily son of a bitch.
Reid thought the same about his commander. Major Bartholomew Cavendish, from Bloody Kansas, led the unit. Reid himself was from Texas, originally, but his family was loyal to the Union in the mannerisms of Sam Houston. They had relocated to Detroit late in 1860, and when the war broke out, Dan needed little encouragement to join. His skills from the Texas frontier gave him the skills needed to make the Union Cavalry, and before long he found himself in the midst of General Ulysses S. Grant’s armies marching down the Mississippi River.
Major Cavendish was a new addition to the troop. Their old commander had been promoted out of the unit and Cavendish had been brought over to lead. So far, Dan hadn’t been impressed. Cavendish wasn’t an educated man, and seemed to have obtained rank by ferocity and seemingly limitless courage. He’d gone on many Stuart-esque raids behind Rebel lines, raising Hell and fire wheresoever he’d ridden. Now he was Reid’s commander.
Cavendish had that look in his eyes every time they passed the small village along the five mile-long patrol route. The village was a sleepy Tennessee one, a hundred people at the most. When the Union forces had ridden through, the major had noticed a young blonde woman with a waspish waistline. She must have seen the glint in his eyes as he took too long noticing her, and in the past two days they hadn’t seen her. Reid, who always rode close to the major, was sure she was hiding. He didn’t blame her.
Now that General Grant had started the battle, though, Reid had a feeling something ominous was going to happen. Forrest and his men were supposed to be gone, but that wasn’t something Grant was prepared to take for granted. Somehow, though, Reid thought the trouble wouldn’t come from Forrest’s cavalry.
Cavendish was a handsome, smooth-shaven man of about twenty five. He had meticulously-kept, straight white teeth and eyes of an interesting light brown. However, those eyes contained maliciousness, and the hint of cruelty. Reid often felt they were the eyes of someone who bought expensive makeup for his wife to hide the bruises he left on her when he took her out to public events. The major never spoke of his home life, however, and Reid hadn’t seen a wedding ring. But the thought fit.
Today, those eyes weren’t roving about, like the eyes of the other veteran cavalrymen in the unit. Bartholomew Cavendish was a veteran, and had seen his share and probably more of shot and shell. Nobody doubted his courage. But today, his eyes were fixed on some far-off object, as if he had found a goal to strive for, and was visualizing it. His lips curled lightly from time to time, Dan noticed, in a grin that wasn’t nearly as handsome as the face that bore it.
The second time the troop passed the village, Cavendish ordered a stop. “Hold up here, men. We’d best search the village. One can’t tell where Johnny Reb might be hiding. If you see ’em, out ’em with your irons, and don’t be afraid to shoot to kill.”
Reid dismounted, and watched as most of the men fanned out into the village. The routine must have been familiar for the various people living here, Cavendish had given a similar order twice before. However, this time, Reid noticed as he looked into a barn, the major hung back, keeping a dozen or so of his closest soldiers around him. Some men had been drawn to Major Cavendish, the men Rein had already marked as petty and cruel. They had formed an informal inner circle of officer and enlisted.
Holding his Colt 1860 in one hand, Reid was searching a closet in a small house by the blacksmith’s when the shots rang out. The small pops of a pistol firing were suddenly punctuated by the heavy slams from a rifle of some form. As he stepped out of the house, he could see those dozen or so men pointing their Sharps carbines at another home, further down the street. Cavendish was bleeding from the arm.
“Fire!” he called. The Sharps let go, and the wall around a window was filled with holes. The men reloaded the breech-loading weapons quickly, and fired another volley. After a few moments, the men broke down the door. Before long the sounds of pistols were again heard, then three dead civilians were drug out of the front door by Cavendish’s men.
“Good job, Collins,” Dan heard the major saying as he drew near. Other men were milling about in confusion, and Reid heard his own voice raising.
“Form ranks, form ranks dammit! You hold still ’til the Major gives orders! Fall in Simpson, fall in!” he bellowed. With the horses held outside of town, the hundred and twenty five men, or so, of the search party quickly formed into sections. During this time, Cavendish fished a field bandage out a pocket and wrapped it tightly about the slowly spreading dark spot on his arm. It was hard to tell when juxtaposed against the dark blue uniform tunic, but it was obvious by the red stain on the clean white cloth that the man had been shot.
Major Cavendish turned to look towards his men. “Collins, Jackson, Smith,” he ordered. “Put these sorry bastards up by their necks on the nearest tree. Nobody shoots at a Union Major.”
“Ol’ Pa ain’t shot at you!” one person called from a nearby home. Indeed, one of the men was old enough to be Dan Reid’s grandfather. He looked about ninety, with a long, curled beard stained yellow by pipe smoke and red by blood. “He ain’t able to even pick a gun up!”
Some civilians started moving back towards the road. Reid could feel a sense of urgency arising in the moment, as the three men moved to grab rope and make hasty nooses. Cavendish was grinning. “Get back in your homes, you Rebel bastards, or I’ll hang you all up besides them. Rebellion against this army is not tolerated!”
“You’re the bastard,” called one voice, a much deeper voice. Reid watched as a few shutters were opened. People were leaning out, and even though all guns had been confiscated, he caught a glimpse of what looked like one or two old hunting rifles being held near open doors or windows.
Reid didn’t know what the man’s title was, but he was dressed in some form of suit, and he felt he was important enough to approach Cavendish. He moved slowly, aware of the predator’s eyes upon him. “My son,” he began. “Surely there is no need for further violence. The eyes of God are upon us all here, and you and I know that this small town has given no opposition prior to today to your army.”
Aha, thought Reid. He’s the town preacher.
“Surely you are a man of God, just as you are a man of the North, major?” the priest asked, after observing the gold oak leaf on Cavendish’s shoulder. “Surely these men paid for their sins? Please, let us bury our friends, our family, and we will ensure such things never happen again.”
Cavendish paused, looking at the men. Then, without responding, he shot the priest in the left eye, causing the left side of his head to blow out. The man crumpled without a sound, and a thousand things happened at once. Cavendish dove for cover behind a stout water trough as ten or fifteen hunting rifles or muskets shot from the surrounding buildings. Men in the cavalry troop cried out as they were hit. One or two crumpled, dead.
Reid moved fast, pulling his pistol again from its holster as he moved for cover. The sound of Sharps carbines rose as the cavalrymen shot back. Used to hitting small targets from horseback, the older men and young boys determined to fight for the town provided little sport for the experienced troopers, and the upstart villagers with guns fell quickly, toppling out of doors and falling through windows as they were picked off.
It didn’t stop, however. Cavendish got up and started shooting at random, bullets smacking into whatever flesh it could find. Collins grabbed a lantern and smashed it into a house, a fire leaping over the spilt kerosene quicker than Reid could imagine.
“Kill them! Kill all of them!” someone shouted. Reid was horrified.
“No!” he yelled, as he slid his carbine over his shoulder. A few men hung back, five or six, and could only watch as the wooden buildings were set fire to. Some ran out before the flames got too bad, only to be shot down by the troopers. Others found themselves being gutted by knives or beaten by rifle butts. When people came out on fire, the troopers got out of the way, watching them scream and cry before falling in crumpled burnt heaps.
The few times an attractive, or mostly attractive woman, emerged, though, she was grabbed and forced into the muddy ground, held down by three or four men as others took their turns between her thighs. That was the worst, and Reid clutched the grip of his pistol. The third time it happened, he resolved to break it up, but found he had emptied his gun in the shootout earlier, and that his hands were shaking too much to put ball and cap together in the chamber.
Then the blonde came out of one of the burning homes. The men grabbed at her eagerly, but Cavendish’s voice rose over the din. “This one’s mine, boys!” And, to the horror of Dan Reid, the men cheered as the tall, handsome officer from Kansas grabbed a handful of hair from a girl no more than seventeen, dragging her away from the flames and towards the woods.
Some of the men who had hung back were gone. Dan never saw two of them again, and he can only assume they wandered off, deserting. The other three decided that it’d be best to check on the horses, leaving Reid to watch the carnage for a few more minutes. After it was over, after there were no more bodies to watch burn and no more men left to take their turn with the half-dozen or so women, Reid watched as the nude, raped, battered and bloody women were rounded up by the troopers.
The trooper named Jackson appeared. “Can’t let ’em squeal, boys.” He tossed some rope around to some of the men. “String the bitches up.” The women didn’t cry. They didn’t protest. They simply watched with deadened eyes, and Reid forced himself to watch too as the troopers hastily hanged all six women, before lighting the tree on fire as well.
Cavendish was still gone. His minions began to round up the soldiers, making sure everything that could be fired was fired, but the major didn’t return yet. Reid shifted lightly and then moved away from the burning village. The smoke had made his face black, a black that was punctuated by tears that had dripped down over his face from the acrid air. His crisp uniform was muddy and soaked in sweat and, certainly, other things. Not quite sure where Cavendish had gone, Reid moved into the woods, having decided that the major ought not to come out alive, at least.
As he was moving through the trees, holding his cavalryman’s sword since he was still unable to load his pistol with his treacherous, trembling hands, he heard from ahead the sound of someone clumsily pushing through the brush. It was Smith, another of Cavendish’s collaborators. He seemed to know where he was going, and so Reid followed, moving carefully and silently.
The man lead Reid to a clearing, and indeed, here the poor blonde was. She had been thoroughly raped, blood trickling down over her thighs, and was tied to a tree. The sadistic Cavendish was in the middle of buttoning up his uniform tunic. With widened eyes, Reid realized that the woman had been cut several times, bitten brutally, and savagely beaten and choked as well.
“‘ad your fun, Major?” Smith asked, as he gave a single contemptuous glance to the bound woman, before looking back to Cavendish.
The major smirked. “Why, so I have. Bitch tried to bite me, too, so now she won’t bite a thing again,” he said. “Are the men done with the village?”
“Yessir,” Smith replied.
“Any problems from the men?”
“A few hung back, but I reckon they can be dealt with.”
“Uhrm…” Smith said. “There was Prenell, Tom O’Reilly, Wilkson, and Reid what I saw.”
“Good enough. Find out if they intend to say anything. If they do, they’ll have to have an unfortunate accident.”
“‘course, Major. Accidents happen all the time, what it being war an’ all.”
“Was it the fun worth all the trouble, then, sir?” Smith asked.
Major Cavendish grinned. “Absolutely, Smith. It’ll even be worth the scar on the arm. Good work, there, by the way. You hit it just enough to make it bleed bad, but I expect it’ll work fine to get along with. Now, get back to the horses. I’ll be along shortly. I’ve some things to finish here.”
Smith didn’t move, though, as Cavendish turned. He swung out his pistol, the same one that had killed the preacher, and shot the girl in the belly. Then he moved and patted her cheek lightly. “Good night, sweetheart,” he said, before vanishing into the woods, Smith following at the man’s spurs.
Reid had been frozen, but once Cavendish’s footfalls vanished, he moved from the clearing. The woman hung, limply, but raised her head. Blood spilled from her mouth as she tried to talk. Reid moved fast, cutting the ropes that bound her. She collapsed to the foot of the tree, and he knelt.
“Shh,” he said. “I’m going to get you out of here.” She tried to curl up, but he grasped her, as he fumbled with a bandage. She didn’t move after his grip tightened, and he found himself looking into strangely hollow eyes.
“Y’all a Union butcher too,” she said, ever so softly. Reid froze, watching as the beaten and mortally wounded girl suddenly and silently died. For a moment, the Union sergeant was quiet and still. He pondered a prayer for the girl, but decided that it was already too late for such niceties. He also pondered a burial. But in the end, the poor nameless victim of Bartholomew Cavendish had another job to do. She was the only victim who’s beaten body had survived untouched by fire.
Cavendish had placed a kit of tools in the clearing some time before, clearly as he planned the whole assault for the purpose of finding the young girl and doing as he pleased. In there, Reid found a blanket. He wrapped the corpse up in the blanket.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t stop him. I’m not a butcher,” he murmured. “But he is.” Reid left the body there, wrapped up, and stepped out of the woods. Sliding away his sword, he eventually found the men mounting up. Some were quiet, others were jubilant. Most had a thoughtful look in their eyes. Regardless, they rode away from the smouldering buildings, leaving the dead to burn.