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AURA LEE - PART 16
1/14/2010 9:28:59 AM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]

AURA LEE – PART 16

The forest, the underbrush, thick and tangled, often higher than a man’s head, was, in this region of Virginia, known as “the Wilderness;” and it was aptly named.
Within minutes of leaving General Hooker’s mammoth encampment, Melissa Menefee and her two “comrades-in-arms” would have been lost and bewildered, swallowed by the engrossing scrub and towering trees with branches sprawling in all directions like writhing tentacles amidst fallen logs covered with rich lichen, ferns waving in a sea of green chaos, vines hanging as sentinels to capture exploring strangers and wandering fools—this was the Wilderness, a nearly impregnable fortress, a jungle that only the insanity of war would make men feel a necessity to breech and possess.
But Melissa was undaunted. As formidable as the Wilderness was, it was nothing too far beyond many of the regions in western North Carolina where she had grown up, where she had roamed and hunted and played, often staying out overnight for as long as a week. In any other time, it was a place she and Daniel might have picked as a challenge to clear some space on which to build a home.
“Where in Jaysus blessed name is we?” asked Private Hume Munch, Melissa’s twenty-five-year old “guide” from Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Munch was a tall and skinny soldier, dark-haired and darker-skinned, with the longest, most sparse and scraggly beard Melissa had ever seen.
The other soldier in the party was a corporal somewhat older than both Munch and Melissa; his name was Perry Graham: short, fat, squat, unkempt and unbathed; and smelling of old unwrapped salt pork (an ample supply of which he carried in his haversack.) He was missing more teeth than he possessed, and the ones remaining were dead and black. He did not like women, and worse, he did not appreciate having to escort this Rebel gal back through enemy lines. “Fuck I know,” he muttered, just loud enough to make certain Melissa heard him.
These men had been handpicked by one of General Hooker’s aides-de-camp, Lt. Wendell Mishkin of Columbus, Ohio, who did not like either soldier. Before joining Hooker’s staff, Mishkin had served in an infantry unit made up of such misfits as Munch and Graham—the so-called rank and file—and he found them to be so substandard as human beings that any task placing them in harm’s way would probably prove a blessing in disguise. Of course, even Mishkin had no knowledge of Hooker’s ultimate plan.
“Do you have any comprehension of the dynamics of this assignment, this mission?” the general had asked Melissa, alone with her in his headquarters tent the night before her departure.
Melissa did not answer. She sat across the desk from the great Union general and examined his fine uniform. She wondered how he kept it so immaculate and fresh. She wondered where Daniel was at that moment, what he was doing, or what they were doing to him (actually, he was having a fairly decent dinner of boiled chicken and spongy biscuits with a group of new-found Yankee friends outside a tent not two hundred yards away; although he was under arrest and in captivity, they were discussing with good-natured camaraderie how they were going to get him a new Union cap, blue tunic and pants so he could dispose of his “filthy Rebel rags.”)
“Let me tell you,” Hooker was saying, “I am entrusting you with what may well be the most critical assignment any soldier has ever had in this war—to undertake a mission that will shorten the conflagration by months, even years. And it is an easy task with minimum risk. Simply deliver this note, this letter, into the hands of one General Thomas Jonathan ‘Stonewall’ Jackson of the Army of Northern Virginia.”
Melissa came out of her reverie. She looked up at Hooker, but she could not respond to his gentle, fatherly smile. She was beyond understanding his assignment..
“Sir—how in the world am I supposed to do that?”
Hooker placed both hands on the table and let his extended thumbs barely touch. “Very simple, young lady—I think . . .” He caught himself up short and sighed. “Even I have to be careful about that. For now, I want you to continue your masquerade and remain a fifteen-year old ‘boy’ in the Confederate army— uniform and all, such as it is. You, and two Federal men we’ll assign to you, will move out at first light and head through the Wilderness to where we’re sure General Jackson is encamped. It’s a distance from here we estimate to be about seven miles. You will be carrying two letters from me for Jackson’s eyes only— one will be a decoy, should you fall into distrustful and uncooperative enemy hands. The other, the genuine article, will be secreted on your person in some fashion so as not to be easily found, should some mishap overtake you. This letter is of a critical nature, and I can’t impress too strongly upon you how urgent it is that you succeed—at all costs—in getting that letter quickly to the general.”
Melissa leaned forward toward the carafe and tumblers at the edge of the general’s desk. “Ken I have a drink a water?” she asked.
Hooker poured half a glass for her and slid it across. Melissa took it and drained it in five gulps. Her captor watched her closely, wondering how pretty she would truly be with her hair grown out, her face scrubbed to a rosy glow, and wearing a frock of the feminine fashion of the day. His imagination allowed she would be something of a stunner.
“This really,” he said, watching her wipe her lips with the back of her hand, “is not so difficult as it may, on the surface, seem. Once you are at the line of demarcation, you will be given a horse, and your escorts will let you move across what we often think of as ‘no man’s land’ where you’ll easily be taken up by the first Rebels you encounter. In your gray kepi and tunic—we’ll even give you a small ‘stars-and-bars’ flag to carry or fasten to your shirt—I can see no harm coming your way. You’re so obviously a lost Confederate youth, confused and separated from your company and riding a stolen Union horse, they’ll be most happy to take you in.”
“An’,” Melissa cut in, “they’ll be jess as happy to whisk me off to ol’ Stonewall’s tent with a ‘Looky here, what we found wanderin’ around in the woods!’ What am I supposed to say to some trigger-nervous Rebs that’ll gar’ntee me an audience with Gen’rel Jackson?”
Hooker raised his hands and made a pyramid with his fingers, resting his chin on the apex. “How about just the simple truth? ‘I have a letter here from General Joseph Hooker that I’m to personally deliver to General Jackson. If I don’t, or you don’t let me, General Hooker is going to shoot a Rebel spy, one of our boys, he’s holding hostage.”
That made Melissa blink. “You got a spy yore holdin’? Who’s that?”
“No one important,” Hooker smirked with sardonic glee. “Some North Carolina hillbilly named Daniel Menefee, I believe.”


* * *

It was late in the afternoon of the first day out that Pvt. Hume Munch reached across and placed his hand on Melissa’s thigh.
They had stopped in a small clearing the size of a caisson’s flatbed and were sitting “Indian fashion” on the thick pine needles. Melissa’s cavalry mount was tethered to a nearby white birch and grazing the scrub at his feet.
They had been walking, crawling, and squirming through the Wilderness for nearly seven hours, and now they were sitting and stretching their legs as best they could while chewing on beef jerky and hard biscuits. Cpl. Graham said he’d had it for the day; they would make camp right here and start off early again in the morning.
“I think we should keep on goin’ till dark,” Melissa protested. “We got two, three more hours of decent light.”
“Not me,” Graham said. “You go on by yourself, all I care. Take Munch here with you, you want, all I care.”
“Hell,” Munch said, “I jess soon we all relax an’ cuddle up right here for the night. Git cold, we jess hang onta each other. Right, girlie?”
It was then that Munch had placed his hand on Melissa’s leg. Without hesitation, she reached behind her and withdrew her Bowie knife; the movement was swift and smooth, and the point was pressing into the back of Munch’s hand before anyone could react.
“Y’all don’t take your paw off’n me by the time I count two, this here knife’s gonna nail you to my kneecap. You think I’m kiddin’, jess keep it there. One . . .”
Munch gasped and snatched his hand away, scrapping the knuckles under the blade’s sharp tip, drawing blood. The sight of it diverted Melissa’s attention just long enough for Graham to roll over and grab her around the shoulders and throw her on her back on the pine needles.
“Easy there, gal!” he grunted, as he came over further atop and pinned her down, holding both wrists now and rendering the Bowie useless.
“Git offa me, you fat hawg!” Melissa screamed, and she could see Munch jump to his feet above her, sucking blood off his hand and spitting all over them. He began undoing his pants.
“Hold her down, Perry, keep her down! Gawdam bitch! Git that knife away from her! I’m gonna teach this little ol’ whore a lesson she ain’t never gonna forgit! Nobody cuts me, gawdam it! Hold her down! Lemme get her britches off! Teach her to use a f***in’ knife, gawdam it!”
Graham weighed well over two hundred pounds, and Melissa could barely breath under him as he straddled her chest and leaned hard on her wrists. She could smell his filthy clothes and body, his breath a tainted rottenness that caused her to gag and forget any sort of mordacious defense; and she felt Munch’s hands pulling at her trousers, loosening the rope belt that kept them up.
One more scream began deep inside her lungs, but it never really surfaced before a series of gunshots rang out. First, Graham toppled over full out, the upper half of his head blown away, his body suffocating her. Then Munch dropped over them, piling on more weight, his head nearly separated from his shoulders by a Minié ball fired at close range. Blood, brains, bone and gore was spread like saponaceous offal over the shrubs and bushes about them. Melissa was certain she would faint, feeling the life being crushed out of her.
“Y’all git them sonsabitches off that gal!” someone ordered, and she could feel the dead Yankees being dragged over to one side. “Pull your pants up, ma’m. Them blue-belly bastards ain’t gonna hurt nobody no more, that’s a promise for sure!”
* * *

Capt. William R. Jameson, III didn’t know what he was looking at.
“What is this?” he asked twice, before Sgt. Randolph Oliver could figure out how to make a sensible sentence in preparatory explanation.
“Sir, we, uh, seen this, these,” he attempted, wanting to say what it all was as quickly and in as few words as possible, “them Yankee no-goods, they was starting to hump on this here woman here -- ”
“What woman?” Jameson wanted to know.
“This, ah, this here one,” the sergeant said, pushing Melissa closer to the young captain.
“This is a woman?” Jameson asked, incredulously.
“Yessir, this here’s sure some sort of female gal! Them yellow blue-bellies was all fixing to rape her up good when we come ‘long!”
Jameson studied the soldier in front of him. “Son . . . or whatever you are, are you a boy or a girl?”
“He’s a girl!” Sgt. Oliver stated.
“Hold on. Can you talk, boy?”
Melissa shrugged free of Oliver’s grip on her forearm and faced the captain. “Sir, I promise you I ain’t no boy. My name is Melissa Menefee, an’ I’m a reg’lar infantryman in the Army of the Shenandoah, 5th Regiment, North Carolina Reserves, an’ me and my husband was with Gen’rel Longstreet up on Marye’s Heights at Frederick’burg. We got us captured even before the big fight actually got started.”
Oliver guffawed. “More’n like they up and deserted, you ask me. She even got a Union horse we brung in with her on.”
Jameson held up his hand. “That right? You a deserter?”
“No! Dang it, sir, we was captured!”
Jameson nodded. “You know what we do with deserters? We stick ‘em in front of a firing squad and send ‘em to hell where they belong!”
“That’s what we ought to do with her,” snorted Oliver.
“Hold on, sergeant. How’d you get here, missy, if, as you say, you were captured by the Yankees?”
During the next five minutes, Melissa meticulously explained her mission. As she spoke, the group around her got somewhat larger; Oliver and the others from his squad who had rescued her were not dismissed, and before long a curious throng of about twenty officers and non-coms had become a mesmerized audience.
“Let me get this straight,” Jameson said. “You are carrying a letter from General Fightin’ Joe Hooker addressed to the personal attention of General Thomas Jackson.”
Melissa nodded. “Yessir.”
“And General Hooker sent you all the way through the Wilderness with two Yankees and a horse so you could deliver a certain letter.” It was more statement than question.
“Thass right. Yessir.”
“Give me the letter.”
Melissa took a step backward and her shoulder rubbed against the horse’s muzzle. The animal whinnied, raised its head, and dropped its jaw on Melissa upper arm, slobbering noisily. “Git off!” Melissa cried, and some in the group around her laughed.
“Cap’in, I got firm orders to place this here letter no place but in Gen’rel Jackson’s hands.”
“That’s all right, missy.” Jameson held out his hand. “I am General Jackson’s officer-in-charge, and I will see to it he receives it right away. Give.” He motioned repeatedly with his index and middle finger.
Reluctantly, Melissa reached inside her tunic and withdrew the decoy envelope, handing it over ever so slowly. “Y’all make sure ol’ Stonewall gits this right away . . . sir.”
“I most certainly will. In fact . . .” Jameson, examining the envelope that had been carefully purfled and adorned with an official imprimatur and military seal, handed the letter back to her. “On second thought, I think this is something you’d best take care of yourself. Come. Follow me. And bring your horse as well.”



The Battle of Chancellorsville had not yet begun, but sporadic firefights had broken out in various places, noticed but by a close few. There were, scattered throughout the Wilderness, a few pickets and skirmishers taking obstructed aim at each other. Those particular Union and Confederate troops had no precise idea where they were, and they were under no particular orders to engage each other—just keep the enemy clear, they were told, and make note of where they were, and of any suspicious movements.
At a crossroads, in an opening comprising about a half square mile, was Chancellor House, a neat Southern roadhouse and tavern surrounded by flat and sparse farmland. While the battle would eventually rage throughout the Wilderness nearby, and all the way east to Fredericksburg again, Fighting Joe Hooker sat in his command headquarters awaiting word from either Melissa Menefee or Stonewall Jackson that his letter had been delivered, had been read by the Confederate general, and that he and his emissaries were on their way to meet.
In reality, Robert E. Lee, knowing nothing of any potential meeting, was sitting with several divisions just east of Fredericksburg, near a desolate outpost called Sykes Church, waiting for Hooker to make his move. Lee was aware that Jackson was deep in the Wilderness beyond Chancellorsville with General J.E.B. Stuart right behind him. Curiously, from the Confederate viewpoint, nothing was happening at all. It was devilishly quiet on all fronts.
But Lee was no fool. He accurately calculated that Hooker would attack eventually at Chancellorsville, and at that moment the Union General Sedgewick was hap-hazardously deploying troops against Fredericksburg (all out bayonet charges, intermittent and disorganized) to draw attention eastward and away from Chancellorsville. Leaving only 10,000 troops under General Jubal Early to defend Fredericksburg, Lee marched the rest into the Wilderness, wanting nothing less than an all out campaign against anything the North could muster in that dense undergrowth of oak scrub and tangled thickets. There was an acute but undefined sense of imminent victory permeating the Southern soul as the month of April 1863 moved toward its momentous close.
At the same time, Fighting Joe Hooker was standing before his command tent near United States Ford, on the north shore of the Rappahannock, trying to convince his attending officers, “Our enemy must ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his defenses and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him!”
None on his senior staff found an ounce of credence in a word he said.

TO BE CONTINUED

Copyright©2002 by Robert A. Mills


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• ROLLING STONES - Saturday, June 11, 2011
• I DOUBLE D’AIR YA! - Saturday, June 04, 2011
• WOW—SUM BEACH - Monday, May 30, 2011
• GRAMP ON THE TOWN - Saturday, May 21, 2011
• THE UNSOCIABLE NETWORK - Saturday, May 14, 2011
• DING DONG, THE WICKED SUMBITCH IS DEAD - Saturday, May 07, 2011
• KATE PLUS MATE - Saturday, April 30, 2011
• GOP IS TRUMPED - Monday, April 25, 2011
• SNIFFING JOCKS IN ATLANTA - Saturday, April 16, 2011
• BOEHNER BLINKED - Saturday, April 09, 2011
• ROY ROGERS - Saturday, April 02, 2011
• SWEAT MORE, BLEED LESS - Saturday, March 26, 2011
• HE STILL DESERVES BETTER - Saturday, March 19, 2011
• AFTRA & EARTHQUAKES - Saturday, March 12, 2011
• ALEX IN WONDERLAND - Saturday, March 05, 2011
• THE OSCARS - 2011 - Wednesday, March 02, 2011
• FIRST BIRTHDAY, PART THREE - Thursday, February 24, 2011
• FIRST BIRTHDAY, PART II - Tuesday, February 22, 2011
• MY FIRST BIRTHDAY - Saturday, February 19, 2011
• IDES OF FEB, MINUS ONE DAY - Saturday, February 12, 2011
• FUN AT THE ICE PALACE - Saturday, February 05, 2011
• VACATION FROM HELL - Saturday, January 29, 2011
• BARBERSTOWN CASTLE - Saturday, January 22, 2011
• TRYING TO TAKE TUCSON – a bonus blog - Wednesday, January 19, 2011
• THE “BOBBYS” - Saturday, January 15, 2011
• POLITICS 101 - Saturday, January 08, 2011
• THE SNOWS OF KILIMANGEORGIA - Saturday, January 01, 2011
• WRITER'S CRAMP - Saturday, December 25, 2010
• BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY - Saturday, December 18, 2010
• PATTY ROBERTS, Part Two - Wednesday, December 15, 2010
• SECRET SANTA - Saturday, December 11, 2010
• PATTY ROBERTS - Thursday, December 09, 2010
• GETTING MY GOAT(EE) - Saturday, December 04, 2010
• IN FLIMFLAMS FIELDS . . . - Saturday, November 27, 2010
• PLYMOUTH ROCKS - Saturday, November 20, 2010
• LACED FOR ACTION - Saturday, November 13, 2010
• PEER PRESSURE - Saturday, November 06, 2010
• POLL CATS - Saturday, October 30, 2010
• FRIENDS - Saturday, October 23, 2010
• MY COUSIN DOUGIE - Saturday, October 16, 2010
• LOBSTER POTTED - Sunday, October 10, 2010
• A PRECIOUS GOLDEN BOBBY - Thursday, September 30, 2010
• THE KING IS DEAD (or at least in his throes) - Saturday, September 25, 2010
• STAND PAT - Saturday, September 18, 2010
• EGGS ROSAKOVIA - Saturday, September 11, 2010
• POLL CATS - Saturday, September 04, 2010
• KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE - Saturday, August 28, 2010
• (Bonus Blog) BUT WHO’S COUNTING? - Wednesday, August 25, 2010
• PEANUTS AND CRACKER JACKS - Saturday, August 21, 2010
• LUCKY STRIKE GREEN - Saturday, August 14, 2010
• AMERICARE vs. OBAMACARE - Saturday, August 07, 2010
• THE MAN WHO WOULD (temporarily) BE PRESIDENT - Saturday, July 31, 2010
• THE WEDDING - Saturday, July 24, 2010
• BUTTERFLIES ARE HAPPY - Saturday, July 17, 2010
• HATTERS ARE MAD - Saturday, July 10, 2010
• WHAT DOES THE BOSTON TEA PARTY AND THE REPUBLICAN TEA PARTY HAVE IN COMMON? - Friday, July 02, 2010
• MILQUETOAST HEADLINES - Saturday, June 26, 2010
• JAMIE DUPREE DESERVES BETTER - Saturday, June 19, 2010
• WHAT BARACK OBAMA AND HELEN THOMAS HAVE IN COMMON - Saturday, June 12, 2010
• GRANDNIECE LEIGH IS OFF TO HONDURAS - Saturday, June 05, 2010
• MEMORIAL HOLE-IN-ONE - Saturday, May 29, 2010
• GRANDNIECE EMILY GRADUATES - Wednesday, May 26, 2010
• THE MOON IS ROQUEFORT - Saturday, May 22, 2010
• LENO VS. O’BRIEN – TEMPEST IN A TV POT - Saturday, May 15, 2010


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