The Road to Redemption
by Lady of Spain
Chapter 1: A Call to Duty
Disclaimer: S. Meyer owns Twilight Banner by Lady of Spain
He was just seventeen, and the country was torn in half in a horrific war. His older brother, some three years his senior, had already joined up in the Confederate army one week ago. He couldn’t be left behind. He and Nathaniel were inseparable, and so, Jasper Lamar Whitlock conscripted himself also.
His mother, Idella, begged him, “You are too young, Jasper. I don’t want you to be maimed or dead. This conflict is brutal. Losin’ one son is enough burden to suffer, I cannot lose both of you. Your sister and I need you here on the ranch. Please ... I am beggin’ you, don’t go.”
Jasper always had an almost supernatural talent to perceive the sentiments of others. It was as if he could feel their happiness, anger or pain. He was the peacekeeper of his childhood home, able to soothe rough feelings, and bring about peaceful negotiations in his small family.
Hugging his mother, he patted her back. “There, there, don’t cry. It’ll be all right. Can’t you see it is my duty? I owe it to the South and to Nathan. Father will understand. We’ll look after each other, I promise.
“I won’t go directly; I’ll wait, but as soon as Father returns from his trip to San Antonio, I will be on my way.”
His sister, Abigail, shaking her blonde curls, said, “I don’t understand why you are doin’ this. You don’t condone slavery and yet here you are enlisted in the Confederate Army.”
He peered straight into her light blue eyes. “You’re right. I reckon I don’t believe in slavery. It is a vile and pernicious practice, forcin’ human beings into servitude, but I cannot allow those Northerners to tell us what to do. It is the principle of the thing, and I am aimin’ to help teach them a lesson.”
Abigail laid her hand on Jasper’s arm. “I still don’t agree with your reasonin’, but I am proud of you, Jas—you and Nathan both. Just come home in one piece.”
Jasper took a step back, nodding to his mother and sister. “Now if y’all will excuse me. I still have chores to finish up out in the barn.”
It was a tearful goodbye as Jasper mounted his horse to leave. His father was reconciled to the idea, but the two women were still a bit fretful.
“Do us proud, Son,” his father said as he slapped the horse’s rump.
“Yessir. Nathan and I will roll those Yankees back across the Potomac, or my surname is not Whitlock.”
His mother reached up, handing him a leather pouch with some biscuits, two apples and beef jerky wrapped in cloth napkins. He kissed her hand and slipped the food into his saddle bag, hanging under his canteen.
“Don’t you fret none about me, Momma. I’ll be fine.”
He got down from his horse, Blaze, and hugged her one more time, kissing her cheek. Then remounting, he waved goodbye and spurred the animal onward, never looking back.
While he was putting away his civilian clothes, a soldier ducked in through the tent flap. “Oh my, the army must be hard up to be conscriptin’ infants into its glorious ranks.”
That voice—it was Nathaniel. His dark hair hung over one of his sky blue eyes, and pearly white teeth, appeared in a lopsided grin.
They fell on each other’s neck, laughing and clapping each other on the back. “The quarter master told me you were here. Didn’t waste much time, eh, little brother?”
“What, and let you get all the glory? It would forever be to my shame if I allowed you to march into battle without me. Besides, I always was a better shot than you.”
“You been sippin’ the moonshine again? I don’t recall you could one up me on the shootin’ range on any given day.”
“Well—crimineeeee, but your memory has been altered. All this soldierin’ addled your brain?"
“I still know how to addle yours.” Nathaniel lunged at his younger brother, knocking him to the floor, as he playfully wrestled with him, nearly demolishing the tent.
Another soldier, with a ruddy complexion and buck teeth—apparently the resident of these quarters—entered through the tent flap and blared, “Is this any way for Confederate soldiers to act?”
Nathaniel stopped and looking up at the intruder, said, “Well, I’ll be. If it isn’t Jeremiah Tate. Care to join us?”
“Don’t mind if’n I do,” he brayed, and fell in with the scrappers.
The months went by and the two brothers fought side by side. The Texas Brigade was gaining a reputation for the toughest and bravest troops in the Confederacy.
They both rose in the ranks, displaying courage and fortitude. They’d seen many a battle and Jasper had even been wounded twice, but still he remained true to the cause. Damn Yankees.
It was November of 1864, and the general of the Texas Brigade, John Bell Hood, was planning an attack on General Schofield’s army encamped at Franklin, Tennessee. He would lead 20,000 men against them and cut off their merger with the other Union soldiers at Nashville.
Hood caught up with the Yanks; it was too late for Schofield’s army to finish the trek and gain the much needed reinforcements. He set up a defensive line at the southern edge of town, when the Brigade attacked.
Nathaniel was a Captain by now, and was to lead a charge into the Union line. The bugle sounded, and the rebel yell pierced the air as the assault commenced. The Union Cavalry rode down on the rebels, and Jasper watched in awe as the rebels mowed them down like so many sheaves of wheat. They would not retreat—not this day. Then, but only once, the tide turned. His brother continued the bloody business, when out of the corner of his eye, Jasper looked on helplessly—his own safety being challenged by the Union horde—as his brother’s horse was shot out from under him. The horse collapsed, with Nathaniel still astride and fell on top of him, pinning his leg underneath. Jasper desperately shot at the enemy, and battled his way to get to his struggling brother. A Union officer spotted the wounded man flailing beneath the horse, and ran to finish him off.
“Nathan! Nathan!” Jasper shouted. “Behind you.”
Nathaniel had his handgun ready to fire, but his assailant was too quick, and kicked it out of his hand.
With his lungs bursting with effort, Jasper sliced through the sea of men, but he couldn’t get there in time. In horror, he saw the Union officer standing over his brother, aiming a gun at his head. It was over in a heartbeat. His beloved brother, Nathaniel, was dead.
Jasper continued forward, when he was hit on the side of his head with a rifle butt. When he awoke, he was lying in a field of blood and corpses. The battle was over. The rebels had won, but at what cost? He learned later that 6,000 men lost their lives, Nathaniel among them. He sat on the ground beside his brother’s body and wept.
It fell to him to write the letter to his kin about Nathaniel’s death. It was the most difficult epistle he had ever undertaken. His subsequent letters lost the spark that permeated all his previous correspondence, but he would continue until the family he once loved was no more.
He swore on his brother’s grave.” I won’t give up, Nathan. I’ll find the filthy Yankee that done this to you. He will pay dearly for this.”
At nineteen years of age, he had enough experience behind him to lay out a battle plan. His men all loved him; some of the upper echelons did not.
“With all due respect, Colonel Taysom, I do believe that it would better serve us to have the cavalry mounted on the hillside flanking their troops. The higher ground most certainly would give us a greater advantage.”
“I appreciate your thoughts, Major, but I have seen battle also, and I believe my plan will succeed.”
“Yessir.” Jasper swallowed his pride. This was the third time the colonel had humiliated him in front of his men. Young whippersnapper, he could almost hear that thought of the colonel, and certainly felt the coldness and disdain emanating from the older man. It probably stuck in the officer’s craw that in the last two instances, Jasper had been right, and this colonel had led his army into disaster.
As he left the officer’s tent, two of his men were at his side. Jeremiah Tate was one of them, and he put his hand on Jasper’ shoulder. “That old lilly-livered drunkard! Why in tarnation don’t he listen to you, Major? If’n we want to win this war, they ought’n let him run this company. Why ain’t you in charge? The men here don’t give a hill of beans about how young you are.”
The other man piped in, “Ain’t that the truth? That colonel’s gonna git us all kilt. You mark my words. They’s gonna be so many wives and mommas cryin’ over them dead boys.”
“I thank you for your support, fellas, but this is the army, and he outranks me. We all have to follow orders, no matter how stupid those orders may be.”
They all separated to their respective tents. Jasper lay back on his cot and thought about how he would die, for sure as shootin’ that colonel would see them all dead before the next battle was over.
The morning of the following day, the young major was summoned to the colonel’s quarters.
Colonel Taysom was standing behind his small desk as Jasper entered the tent. There was an arrogant expression on his face as he returned Jasper’s salute. He wet his lips and proceeded to deliver his orders to the major.
“It seems you have an opinion as to how our army should be run. Yes, I know all about your little discussion last evenin’, and I don’t take kindly to bein’ insulted among my own company. Seein’ as I can’t have you shot for insubordination, I have come up with a better solution. Twenty miles north of here, there are women and children residin’ at Fort Mitchell. I’m assignin’ you to escort them to safety, as I have information that the Yankees are even as we speak on their way to attack the fort. You will take them to Arrowhead, forty miles west of here. Maybe after your return from that little jaunt, you will have learned to respect your senior officers. That is all. You are dismissed, Major. Now I suggest you go see about the supplies for the journey.”
Jasper grumbled to himself. “Punishment detail, that’s what it is. Cannot stand to admit how wrong he is. His ineptitude chaps my hide. I reckon he’d rather put his troops in jeopardy than listen to the voice of reason. Well, at least I am certain to remain alive for the next few days.”
Gathering up his gear from camp, his eyes glanced at his brother’s guitar standing off in the corner, the only reminder left of him. As a parting thought, he grabbed it up. Playing music always calmed his soul; it would also wile away the lonely nights on the trail.
The women and children at the fort were ready when he reached them. Wagons were loaded with food, water and blankets, but no shelter. He couldn’t be expected to put up tents for everyone so they’d have to sleep out in the open. Luckily, the weather was mild, with no rain in sight.
The first night they camped, he sat off by himself, strumming his guitar. Before long there was a handful of giggling young women gathered around him. They all seemed to be attracted to him for some reason.
He didn’t know much about women; Nathaniel was the ladies’ man of the family. Jasper had spent his adolescent years at home, at the ranch—miles away from the nearest person, let alone anyone of the fairer sex. And then he was thrown into the war; courting and marriage were the furthest things from his mind.
What he knew about these creatures could fit in a thimble. He only knew what his father had taught him—to always be a gentleman, kind and helpful, and never ever push any unwanted attention on a lady. He saw the respect his father had for his dear mother and sister. He was a perfect example of how to treat them, and Jasper intended to abide by that example. He aspired to be an honorable man.
The girls surrounding him, clapped to Cotton Eyed Joe, and I’m a Good Ol’ Rebel. He followed with Pickin’ Lint, Goober Peas and The Bonnie Blue Flag. He got ready to call it a night, when one of the mooney-eyed girls begged him, “Could you play Lorena for us.”
Jasper grinned, readjusting the guitar. “Shouldn’t you ladies be asleep? Got a big day tomorrow.”
The girls all groaned.
“Please, Major, just one more,” another girl whined. “Play Lorena.”
He got thoughtful for a moment. Memories of him and Nathaniel singing a duet of this very song for his mother and sister flooded his mind. Bowing his head, he slid his fingers along the stringed instrument. “All right, then ... Lorena ...”
Oh, the years creep slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the ground again.
A hush descended as he sang the lyrics of the soulful ballad. Some of the listeners had tears in their eyes.
A hundred months have passed, Lorena,
Since last I held that hand in mine,
And felt the pulse beat fast, Lorena,
Though mine beat faster far than thine.
He sang the last few verses and then, putting down the guitar, Jasper said, “My apologies, ladies. Y’all have miles to cover, come mornin’ light. So, good night to you.”
His captivated audience was disgruntled. One big resounding, “Awwww!” filled the night air.
The girls dispersed, but one remained behind. Jasper looked up, and noticed her as she boldly walked toward him. “Would you mind escortin’ me back to my wagon?”
What could he say? He picked up his guitar and offered her his free arm. “My pleasure, ma’am.”
She shook out her long brown hair. “It’s not ma’am. You can call me, Ada Mae.”
Making polite conversation as they sauntered along, Jasper replied, “Well, Ada Mae, if you don’t mind my askin’, how old are you?”
“I’ll be eighteen come the fourteenth of this month. That’s old enough to be a married woman.”
Ada smiled at him, her brown eyes twinkling. “You look mighty young to be a major. So how old are you?
Jasper nodded, and winked. “Old enough.”
Pointing to a wagon a few feet away, Ada said, “That’s our assigned wagon over there.”
She immediately stretched up on her tip toes to reach the lanky soldier. Her lips met his in a brief encounter, because she no sooner caught him unawares, than her mother came out of the wagon and spotted her. Her designs on him were crushed as the mother yelled, “Ada Mae, you git here right this instant. You leave the major alone. He has more important things on his mind.”
Ada’s arms dropped from his neck, her lips in a pout. Before she scurried away, she remarked, “You have the prettiest blue eyes I ever did see.”
“Ada, Mae!” her mother shouted once more.
The girl backed up, waving to him. Jasper blinked in astonishment. His fingers touched his lips. That was nice, very nice. The corners of his mouth began to upturn in a smile.
The next few days were filled with the same. Wagons rolling toward their destination, campfires at night, and entertainment by the major. There were no more kisses in store for Jasper however, as Ada Mae’s mother, Dora Jean, accompanied her offspring to the informal concerts. Truth be told, Dora was as smitten with the boy as her daughter.
They made good time, and by the seventh day they arrived at Arrowhead. Jasper bid them all adieu, and was surprised to see Ada Mae crying as he sped off on Blaze.
It was awfully lonely on the way back to camp, so to shorten his journey, Jasper took to spending more time in the saddle. And so it was that on the second night out, he spotted three lone figures, standing beside the road.
When he got closer, his horse became agitated, and threw his head back, neighing in fear. “What are you so all-fired afraid of, boy,” he murmured, stroking the horse’s neck.
Straining his eyes in the moonlight, he could see that the three forms were women. What in tarnation were they doing out here in the middle of nowhere? They had no warm clothing on, and were targets for the worst kind of ruffians. He dismounted, and tugging on the horse’s reins, walked steadily toward them. It was the least he could do to offer them his assistance.