A STORY: Courage before the enemy

flagremnantDoors were left ajar. Porch chairs were tipped over. Shutters were pulled tightly across shop windows. There were bullet holes in Johnson’s store and an artillery shell had left a crater next to Delaney’s tavern. The pale yellow steeple at St. Paul’s was pockmarked and cracked. A few Confederate soldiers, exhausted and dirty, lounged on the front porches.

The girls slowed their steps near the town’s crossroads as an angry voice punctuated the stillness. They sought refuge in the shadow of  a white clapboard house, out of the view of a shoeless man in a Confederate jacket.

“Take it down, I said,” roared the man with a distinct southern drawl.

He threw his cap on the ground and stalked toward a front door where a hand-stitched American flag had been hung. “Damn Yankee!” he said to the gray-haired woman who stood there without moving.

“I’ll not be betraying my country today,” Megan heard the woman shout. It was Mrs. Adkins, a timid old lady who wasn’t known for speaking her mind.

“Then you’ll be meeting your maker today,” the man said, whipping his gun off his shoulder.

“You’ll have to go through me first,” Megan heard a man’s basso voice.

The Confederate soldier’s bravado left him as a powerfully-built man with a thick thatch of silver hair stepped in front of the woman. He crossed his arms and glared. The soldier’s gun wavered and he looked away.

“C’mon, Pete,” an unseen southerner called. “Leave that old lady alone. She ain’t afraid of you.” As the roar of laughter rose in the street, Pete lowered his gun and backed away.

Megan made herself breathe as she reached for Annie’s hand. “We shouldn’t be here,” she whispered.

“Why of course we should,” said Jane, raising her tear-stained face. “It is the Rebels who shouldn’t be here.”

Sharpsburg had become a divided town, filled with Confederate sympathizers who had welcomed the Rebel occupation. But some, like this elderly woman, believed it was their patriotic duty to support the Union. Megan closed her eyes and prayed she’d never meet one of these southern boys on the road ahead. Unlike Mrs. Adkins, she didn’t have a protector following behind her. They watched Pete and his three fellow Confederate soldiers disappear down the street before they continued on to the site of the previous day’s fighting.

A scene cut from an early draft of my Civil War novel. Oh how it hurt to cut it, but it didn’t move the story along very much. So out it went. Inspired by Barbara Fritchie and the poem about her by John Greenleaf Whittier. 

Ⓒ Mary K. Tilghman

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