THE SHARPSHOOTER 1862-1864
--In the Civil War, a Texican fights for The Union at the Battles of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville--
SAMPLE CHAPTERS

 PROLOGUE

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2 1863

The terrible buzzing was not insects. It was the sound of minie balls cutting through the air just above him. If he were back in Texas, Jake would have thought he had disturbed an enormous hornets’ nest, but he was far from Texas. He was a Billy Yank over a thousand miles, and what seemed like a hundred years, from home. Jake was lying behind a felled tree that he fervently wished had been given time to grow considerably fatter before it came down. He decided to lie on his back to reload his rifle. He needed to take special care not to expose an inch of skin to the Confederate skirmishers just a few hundred yards away.

One of the great advantages of being a US Sharpshooter came in not fighting in a line of men packed tightly together and 100 or 200 yards from another line of men packed equally tightly. When an infantryman fell dead or dying, he usually fell on the bodies of his friends and neighbors who had hurried with him to the county courthouse and joined his unit in a fit of patriotic fervor. The rifled muskets used by the infantry on both sides of the war were accurate to many times the distance usually separating the lines of battle. The eager young men who had crowded each other as they faced recruiters’ tables now crowded each other as they died.

As a sharpshooter, Jake Baker usually fought from cover, far in advance of the massed infantry units waiting to attack or to defend a position. Jake liked the ability to move and fight as a skirmisher in the loosest of formations, but he had also discovered the price one paid for that freedom. The men whom sharpshooters most often faced were Rebel skirmishers who, like him, were among the best riflemen on the field of battle.

Today Jake’s unit fought while crowded on both sides by other units. Colonel Berdan, the regimental commander and founder of the sharpshooters, had ordered them to fight as if they were infantry. The 1st Regiment, US Sharpshooters, famed for their independence and the long arm of death they stretched out to their foes, were fighting in closed ranks. They fought near corpses rank with the smell of death and men who stank of the fear of death. When a Rebel minie ball hit someone in the ranks, his blood splattered those near him.

During some infantry battles, a thick fog of powder smoke blanketed the battlefield after the first few volleys, reducing visibility and the level of slaughter. That only happened on calm days, when the smoke settled densely around the men as they fired. Of course, more infantry died on days when wind swept the powder smoke away. Jake wondered if generals, Union or Confederate, preferred battles on windy or still days. He was thankful this was a still day, though the billowing smoke was choking him.

The heat and the heavy blanket of powder smoke, reeking of saltpeter, made Jake nauseous, but no water remained in his canteen to help settle his stomach, to quench his thirst, or to cool the hot barrel of his Sharps. The firing from the Rebel lines had been steadily increasing, and the sharpshooters’ stores of ammunition steadily dwindling. Jake was certain the Rebs would soon charge the Union positions. He hoped his unit would retreat properly, falling back in groups, stopping to fire and protect the retreat of others, and then falling further back. Far too often retreat in this war meant a mad dash to the rear. It meant men driven by all-consuming fear, desperately scrambling away from the furor of battle.

At Chancellorsville, Jake had seen Stonewall Jackson’s troops turn Howard’s XI Corps into a terrified mob bent only on deserting the field and saving their own lives. It was an ugly sight. Jake had no desire to see or be part of such a rout, but he did not truly know what he would do if everyone else ran like frightened deer. He silently prayed he would soon hear the bugler relay the order for the sharpshooters to Rally on the Reserve far to the rear of their current position.

Jake paused for a moment in his reloading. He reached in the pocket of his sack jacket to bring out one of his father’s Bibles. The piece of ribbon Adele sent him rested just inside the front cover. Jake pressed the ribbon to his stubbly cheek. A faint remnant of her scent remained: cloves, berries, a touch of lemon, and something else he could not identify but he knew was nevertheless uniquely hers. Jake wondered if that reminiscence would be his final pleasure. He returned the ribbon and Bible to their places, finished reloading, turned back onto his belly, moved to give himself a better field of fire, and waited for a patch of butternut to appear.

Jake Baker, known as Jurian Baecker in a life he ended when he went to war, always thought he would go to his final rest in Texas’s rolling Hill Country, buried near others in the Baecker family. He wondered now if his final resting place might be a mass grave scratched out of the blood-soaked soil of Pritzer’s Woods. The burial detail, wearing damp kerchiefs around their faces to reduce the horrid smells, would sweep aside the small branches covering the ground, branches cut free more cleanly by minie balls than any saw could have done. The men who dug the grave would be exhausted and would be satisfied to dig a shallow trench beside the line of corpses, some wrapped in blankets and others not.

Scavengers would strip what they needed or wanted from the bodies. If Lee’s army carried the day, they would almost certainly bury Jake barefoot and, possibly, without breeches. If Union troops prevailed, they would take his valuables but not his garments before they lay his body in that trench along with the others.

Occasionally, they buried Rebs and Yanks in the same mass grave. In death, some Johnny Rebs finally rejoined the Union. Jake had, for years, lived a life where he often felt Death’s chilling breath on the back of his neck, so the idea of dying here in Pennsylvania filled Jake wth more sadness than fear. His family in Texas would have no grave where they could mourn the loss of him or keep alive their memories of him.

Jake knew it best not to dwell on such matters, so he focused his mind on the peach orchard they had moved through to reach the Rebel lines. If they were fighting a month or six weeks later, he could have filled his haversack with ripe peaches. Their sweet nectar would now be quenching his thirst and soothing his raw throat.

Unfortunately, the peaches had been green, and his haversack contained only the few remaining rounds for his rifle. As he grew more and more parched, waiting near the Emmitsburg Road that reached up to Gettysburg, Jake thought of peaches and water, until he saw a slight movement near a pile of wooden fence rails some Rebels were using as cover. He set the rear trigger of his Sharps and prepared to barely caress its second trigger its hair trigger, as he waited for a chance to kill someone he knew, in all likelihood, was not so different from himself.

* * *

1

Fredericksburg, Texas, March 1862

“Fill your mugs for a toast with Herr Kaempel’s fine lager,” called Jurian Baecker as he raised his mug and stepped to the center of the barn. Jurian’s unexpected appearance immobilized most of the men at the wedding reception, but a few began moving along the crowd’s edges, searching for sturdy clubs or other weapons among the discarded harness shafts, yokes, and tools.

These men had learned the emotional language spoken by the bodies of animals and men, and they recognized in Jurian the muscle tension and intense focus that so often foreshadowed trouble. If trouble was his intention, they wanted to arm themselves and rush Jurian from as many sides as possible. To do otherwise with a man like Jurian would be foolish, and every man present had long ago learned the wages for foolishness on the Texas frontier.

Though Jurian grew up on a farm and worked his father’s land, everyone knew he was not a farmer. Unlike the men around him, he had never learned what every central Texas farmer must learn to survive; all disappointments called for an unchanging attitude of silent determination, so as not to interfere with the unrelenting effort demanded by this harsh land. These sturdy German-American farmers used the same expression when faced with too little rain, too much rain, a swarm of grasshoppers, a stillborn child, or a courtship gone awry—a stoic hardness to their jaw lines and a smoldering intensity in their eyes.

His neighbors knew well that Jurian wore his heart too close to his skin. Lost love could make a man like Jurian Baecker do wild things, like appearing at a wedding reception to offer up a toast for a woman he had courted and then lost to a man he despised.

Until Jurian’s appearance, the reception was a simple, joyful event. The entire community gathered in Heldfeldt’s barn. Fresh straw covered the dirt floor, almost conquering the smell of horse sweat and dried dung. Old Axel had played his fiddle, nestled in the crook of his left elbow. Reinhardt brought his Fredericka’s battered washboard and thimbles, and Big Herman played the spoons. Erhardt, in his sweat-soaked shirt, called the dances and sang traditional songs. After an hour, Erhardt’s dry throat required a rest and some lager.

Between dance sessions, most men refilled their plates or gathered around the beer barrels with the bridegroom, Huppert Heldfeldt, Huppert’s father, and his father-in-law, Herr Kaempel. However, a few men stood just beyond the light in empty stalls where the senior Heldfeldt usually kept his massive Belgian draft horses. In the shadows, they stole quick sips from jugs of harsh schnapps passed from rough hand to rough hand.

Some women gathered around Adele Kaempel Heldfeldt, the bride. Others put on aprons and fussed at tables creaking under the weight of dishes made only once or twice a year. Marinated beef and pork, slow-cooked for hours, shared the table with all types of sour vegetables, a staggering array of sausages, and pastries with crusts so light they threatened to float off the table.

A few minutes into the break, the wedding toasts had begun. Some of the older men offered earnest prayers to the stern Lutheran God they worshiped. Other toasts  teased at the boundaries of good taste, but they never crossed the line that separated the types of toasts that had the ladies laughing behind their handkerchiefs from those that had the same ladies turning their families away from the speaker at next Sunday’s services. Well, that line was almost never crossed.

Ernst Reinbeck’s toast crossed that invisible line on more than one occasion, but this was a close community. Everyone knew Ernst had not been “plowing with a full team” since he had taken a bad fall from the loft of his barn. Besides, to chastise him, even if silently and on Sunday next, would only embarrass his wife, Hannah, a fine Christian woman with enough problems already. She married a man decades ago who had become a stranger in the last year. Before Ernst finished his rambling, ribald monologue, Erhardt loudly announced the resumption of the music, and the ensuing activity brought Ernst’s toast tumbling to a halt. Men finished their beer in a gulp or grabbed last bites from their plates, preparing to continue dancing in their heavy square-toed boots and damp, collarless wool shirts.

Their wives and daughters were also clad in homespun. Only women from some of the more prosperous families wore store-bought scarves or shawls, the only rich colors seen. These women imported such frills from exotic environs like Chicago or St. Louis. They invariably did so in the face of gruff muttering from their husbands about the sin of vanity and the cost of a good milk cow.

When Jurian Baecker had entered the barn quietly and stepped to its center, the entire spirit of the evening changed. The last inches of beer not yet drained remained in mugs, and last forkfuls of strudel returned to plates.

When Huppert was courting Adele, he came sparking in a surrey with leather seats for four, metal springs, a cloth cover, and a matched pair of thick-necked, black Morgan carriage horses that pranced as they pulled the rig into the Kaempel’s front yard. When Jurian courted Adele, he arrived in a pecan wood Texas buckboard that boasted a rough wooden seat just wide enough for two. His big buckskin saddle horse, Jitters, with his coal-black tail, mane, and legs, snorted unhappily between the buckboard’s unfamiliar traces.

Huppert’s family had been wealthy community leaders before they fled Germany and had established the same status since their arrival in Texas early in the 1850s, a few years after Texas became a state. The Baecker’s also had received considerable respect in Germany and, for a period, in Texas. But not many years after arriving in Texas, Jurian’s father, the community’s minister and spiritual leader, died suddenly. With his death, the Baecker family, his widow and two young sons trying to maintain their farm, slid to the periphery of the Fredericksburg community.

Jurian’s older brother, Ansgar, eventually took over the family farm, and Jurian worked the land with his brother until their mother died of the flux in the late 1850s. The farm belonged to his older brother, who loved the land, and Jurian was just a farmhand. Jurian saw the place as a harsh, unpredictable master that killed his father and was prematurely aging his older brother. Jurian would not allow the same fate to be his.

When his mother died, he struck out on his own. Jurian built a cabin and corrals on unclaimed land outside town. He caught wild horses, broke and sold them, using some of the money to help his brother’s family. He also bought trade goods that he exchanged for horses captured in the wild or, more likely, stolen and driven up from Mexico, by the relatively peaceful bands of Lipan and Jicarilla—Apache who rode the lands west of Fredericksburg.

Jurian himself also made regular trips to the border. The rumor among his neighbors was that the stock Jurian brought back with him from south Texas came directly from raids on the large haciendas in northern Mexico. No matter the provenance, they had to admit Jurian had a talent for gentling the stock, which he had sold mostly to brokers who supplied the US Army in the forts along Texas’ western frontier. He now sold those horses to brokers who outfitted Confederate cavalry and the Texas Rangers who guarded the frontier from marauders.

Jurian looked nothing like his farmer neighbors. He clothed his lanky frame in buckskin instead of homespun wool. A buckskin blouse stretched across his broad chest and shoulders. He wore fringed buckskin breeches tucked into knee-high moccasins. He wove his long blonde hair into a single braid.

Jurian wore two Navy Colt revolvers, charro-style like the gentlemen cowboys of northern Mexico, the guns butt forward and pushed into the red sash surrounding his narrow waist. He kept a knife tucked into the top of one moccasin and a breech loading Hall carbine in a scabbard attached to Jitters’s saddle. He did not always sound like his neighbors either. He spoke a fair amount of Spanish, learned from men who worked for his family.

After only a few courting visits, the head of the Kaempel household gathered up the courage to have his wife meet Jurian on the veranda of their home and turn him away. Adele’s mother, who stood straight and thin, had none of the softness Jurian saw in so many of the older women in the community. She had married up, as they say, and the Kaempel’s were now her family. The family name and status in the community may have come from her husband, but she was the household’s backbone.

As she stood on the veranda of her home with her hands on the hips, her day dress fluttering in the light Texas breeze, she had told him, “Jurian, you come from a good family that’s had bad luck. I’m sorry for that. But you’ve no inheritance. You’ve no land of your own to farm. How’re you going to provide for our daughter? How’re you going to help us with our land? Times have been hard, and they show no sign of getting better any time soon. How can we give her to you?”

“I don’t expect you to give Adele to anyone. I expect her to choose the man she loves and marry him. All I ask of you is that you let her do that.”

“Well, Jurian, I was always some concerned that your dear father, God rest his fine Christian soul, might’ve raised a fool for a son. Now, I’m sure of it. Go away, Jurian Baecker. There’s no place for you here, now or ever.” Then she turned her back on him and moved across the long porch that stretched around the front and sides of her home.

“Adele loves me, Missus Kaempel,” Jurian said as she reached the door.

The woman turned back to face Jurian, an expression on her face that could only be called stern. “I’ve seen her come back from time with you, Jurian, with a flush on her cheeks and her hair in disarray. I know what that means. I’ve told her she is not to see you again, and she’s a girl who understands her responsibility to her family.”

“You can say what you want to her or to me, Ma’am, but you can’t make me stop coming to see Adele.”

Mrs. Kaempel returned to the edge of the veranda near the front steps in deliberate strides. “Jurian, if you come here again, someone will be shooting at you.”

Jurian shifted his hat back a bit on his head and smiled. “Well, Ma’am, as best I can tell, you’ve got two kinds of men on this place. You’ve got men who grew up with me and wouldn’t fire a shot my way no matter what you tell ’em. You also got men who didn’t grow up with me but who I’m betting don’t want to face me in a shootout.”

“That’s why it won’t be a man, Jurian. I’ll be the one shooting. Are you ready for a gun battle with the mother of the woman you say you love? If you aren’t ready for that, then you best put Adele out of your mind for good.”

Jurian then knew for a certainty that, if he came back, he would face a shotgun or rifle in the hands of this range-hardened woman. Jurian could never attack a woman, and he was not sure he could even defend himself from one hell-bent on blowing his head off, especially the mother of the woman he loved. Jurian had raised the bet with his defiant refusal to abide by her wishes, but Mrs. Kaempel raised the bet further and laid down a royal flush. If it were not such a tragedy, he might have smiled at this woman’s show of strength. Instead, he struck out the only way he could -- with words.

“Ma’am, you seem perfectly willing to condemn Adele to a marriage as full of property and as empty of love as your own. I do pity you for your marriage, but I hope you burn in Hell for what you’re doing to your daughter.” Those harsh words were the only violence he could offer the woman. As he rode away, he knew he had lost Adele—the courtship was over. Not long after, he heard she had consented to marry Huppert.

Now, on the evening of her wedding, Jurian stood in the center of the Heldfeldt’s   barn. The place reeked to him of that family’s smug satisfaction at the marriage of their worthless son to a woman as special as Adele. “A toast!” He again called loudly and held his beer mug high. “Since my family came to Texas, we’ve had a special toast for bridegrooms. I offer my family’s wedding toast to Huppert Heldfeldt.”

Looking directly at Huppert, who’d begun sweating heavily the moment Jurian entered the barn, Jurian said, “May your stock be healthy. May your crops reach the sky. May children’s laughter bless your home. May the man you long to become always be the man you see reflected when you look into your wife’s eyes. May your love last for as long as the sun rises.”

Jurian emptied his mug in one long swallow. Relief crept through the crowd. Tentative smiles even appeared among the women. Some men raised their mugs and drank, saying, “Ja! Ja!” Others slipped their makeshift weapons behind their backs or leaned them against the nearest barn wall. Most of the women faced Jurian, but their eyes flitted constantly to Adele and back to him again. Adele’s gaze had not left Jurian since he entered the barn.

Jurian continued. “Today, I add my own special toast for the bride.” Adele’s high cheeks began to shift in color from pink to red. Some men reached again for the implements they had just put away. Adele turned toward Huppert but, when Jurian began speaking again, she turned back to face him.

Jurian said to Adele in a soft voice that carried to each corner of the barn, “May you quickly learn that your husband’s heart is a cold thing, longing only for its own fulfillment. In his eyes, you’ll see noting but the image of the woman he demands you become. He’ll have you risk your life bearing child after child, and not for love, but so he can leave a legacy. If you stay with him, your soul will shrink until all that remains is a blackened stone. Come back to me. Put your fingers against my throat. Feel my heart and yours take up the same rhythm.”

As Adele’s eyes filled with tears, her mother moved to her side and took her arm. Adele did not move. Jurian looked Adele in the eyes, touching his beer mug to the center of his chest. With a sudden, violent move, he threw the mug against the barn wall. It shattered. After looking at Adele for a last time, he turned and strode out of the barn. Everyone remained silent, until they could no longer hear the quick, receding rhythm of Jitters’ hooves.

* * *

2

Fredericksburg, Texas, June, 1862

Jurian watched Adele from a distance over the next weeks as she assumed her responsibilities as the young Mrs. Heldfeldt. Adele’s husband continued his reign as the crown prince of the Heldfeldts, managing to see Jurian only on the crowded streets of Fredericksburg, never suspecting that Jurian followed the comings and goings of his wife.

Jurian, for the most part, continued his life alone. He was now something close to an outcast. He continued trading, breaking, and selling his horses, but he went to town less than before. His trips to the border also became longer and more frequent.

As often as he could, , Jurian shared the midday meal just after Sunday church services with his brother, Ansgar, and Ansgar’s family. After a long string of weeks in which he did not see his relatives, Jurian rode within 50 feet of Ansgar’s porch and, as he reined in Jitters, he shouted, “Hello, the house! I’m a grizzly bear come looking for young children to eat. You got any nice tender children in that house that I might have for dinner? I’m mighty hungry.”

Ansgar’s two children, daughter Anelie and son Frederick, named for Ansgar and Jurian's father, raced from the house. Anelie hesitated for a moment, turned, and yelled back to the house, “Momma, Uncle Jurian’s here. Hide the whiskey, bury the silver, and load the shotgun.”

Jurian dismounted and led Jitters toward the house. As the two children reached him, he scooped them up into his arms. As he snuggled them, he shouted toward the house, “Ansgar, I’m not too pleased that you taught these kids to say that. It’s not exactly the kind of welcome I want from these two squirrels.” Anelie pulled back her lips, pushed her upper teeth forward, and tried to bite Jurian’s arm, imitating the small rodentthat Jurian just called her.

Ansgar exited the front door laughing. “I don’t know where you lost your sense of humor, Jurian. On second thought, maybe I do. You probably lost it in Kaempel’s barn a few months ago.”

Helena, Ansgar’s wife, a plump woman with flaming red hair, who brightened up any room she entered, joined her husband on the porch. “You just hush up now, Ansgar Baecker. I don’t think that was a happy time for anybody. We can talk about it after dinner, but I won’t have any dark talk spoiling this meal. Now, unwrap our children from ’round your brother’s bull-neck, and everybody get washed up for supper. Jurian, you can leave all that artillery in the barn, out of the children’s reach.”

Helena’s Sunday meals were, for Jurian, deeply reminiscent of those prepared by his mother. Pot- roasted chicken, pork sausage, mashed potatoes, fresh and pickled vegetables, dense black bread, fresh butter, and apple cake were the fare on this Sunday, enjoyed with fresh milk for the children and locally-brewed lager for the adults.

After the meal Jurian took the children, who loved Jitters, to the corral. They gave the horse pieces of carrot, and he led Jitters next to the fence, so the children could easily mount his broad back. Helena cleared the table as the brothers drank their beer on the porch, both for the air and to watch the corral. Jitters was always gentle with the two squirming children, but the unexpected could always happen--a snake or the scent of a cougar--so the men drank their beer and watched the frolicking in the corral..

Ansgar wiped foam from his mustache, belched contentedly, and then asked his brother, “Jurian, what’d you think to gain at the Kaempel’s? The courtship was over. The wedding was over. Nothing was going to change all that.”

“There you go, Ansgar, expecting everything to fit into a simple, straight line from one place to another. .I knew I wasn’t going to un-marry her, but Adele loves me, and I love her. I wanted one last chance to say it to her face, so she would never forget it.”

“Nobody in that barn will forget that business any time soon.” Ansgar patted his brother on the back and laughed.

“I can understand how her folks might prefer Huppert,” Jurian said. “But I still can’t see how they convinced Adele to choose Huppert over me, and I’m not just committing the sin of pride in case that’s what you’re thinking.” Jurian paused to look his brother straight in the eyes. “She loved me, Ansgar.”

Ansgar nodded in agreement. “I expect she did. The only thing she may love more than you is her family.”

“So, she loves them so much she will let them tell her who to love and who to marry?”

“She wouldn’t be the first woman to do that, and maybe she figures that marrying Huppert is the only way that her family can keep their land.”

Ansgar’s answer startled Jurian. He straighted in his chair. “What do you mean?”

“Jurian, you’ve been traveling too much. Ol’ man Kaempel has been sick. He doesn’t have any sons to keep the farm up, so he’s used hired men to do all the work. With so many men joining the army, or leaving so they don’t have to join the Army, he’s had to pay top dollar for his help. He borrowed money from the bank to hire those men, and now his crops aren’t doing as well as he’d hoped. Huppert’s old man, Wentz, is part owner of the bank. One word from Huppert’s daddy, and Adele’s father and mother get their loan called and are out in the cold. The Kaempel’s got no other family to help support them, and so, if the bank calls those loans, that’s pretty much the end for her parents. Adele can only support them one way.”

Jurian’s color rose. “So, the Heldfeldt’s forced her into this marriage?”

Ansgar wagged an open palm downward. “Calm down now. I’m just saying marrying into that clan might be a way Adele saw of doing right by her family. And if that’s so, and hell, even if it isn’t, Huppert has no idea what’s going on. Huppert’s too arrogant to think any woman can resist his charm. All the folks around here have their own ideas about what’s happening, but you need never forget--it was Adele’s decision.”

“If you know all this, what does everybody else know? You know it’s a false marriage, and so why wouldn’t the whole town? Why don’t they know, Ansgar?”

“Because the whole town doesn’t know how Adele feels about you. I do, and Helena does. You do, and Adele does. Adele’s folks do too. That’s about it. You don’t go parading your business around town, the wedding day aside, and neither does Adele. I don’t think she really knows Huppert well enough to despise him like we do. He can put on a decent face for a long time, though eventually the true Huppert always slithers out from behind that mask.”

“I can get enough money to take care of her parents. Why didn’t she just tell me, for God’s sake? I would’ve done whatever it took to clear those loans and protect her family.”

“She knows that. She came over one day when I was in town for supplies and had herself a long talk with Helena. She knows you would’ve done anything to stop that wedding, and that scared her. She figures you’d have taken any risk to get the money her family needs. You’d have rode any trail, no matter how dangerous, to get it; and she knows you might’ve done some things that wouldn’t sit well with you or her later on. She told Helena she couldn’t have that, and so, she made her decision, set her course, and she said you’d just have to leave well enough alone.”

Jurian cocked an eyebrow. “And my own brother didn’t tell me this before the wedding.”

Ansgar rolled his eyes and sighed. “Jurian, she made Helena promise she wouldn’t say a thing until you calmed down some. If Helena makes a promise, then it’s a promise for me as well. You got to resign yourself to this marriage. Nothing’s gonna change it. She’s married and that’s that. And you’ve got to accept that she’s the one who decided to get married.”

“And, if I don’t?” Jurian’s jaw muscles clenched.

“Then, you’re more of a damn fool than I thought. Adele is not, and you ought to know this, a woman who goes one way with today’s breeze and then the other when the wind changes. When she makes up her mind, it’s set in stone. You approach her, and she will cut you off without a word. You try to talk to the Heldfeldt’s, and she’ll say you’re just some love-struck fool trying to make trouble after a woman you wanted dumped you for a better man.”

Jitters neighed, causing both of them to cast glances in the direction of the kids. They were fine, laughing, enjoying themselves. “So, what do I do now,” Jurian asked, swatting at a fly, then returning his gaze to his brother.

Ansgar took out his pipe, filled it with tobacco, and put a match to it.  He took a few puffs and let the light wind swirl the sweet smoke around the two of them. “You do what we all do, Jurian. You get on with your life. You go to bed each night, and get up the next morning. You break and sell your broncos.”

Ansgar leaned forward and put a hand on Jurian’s knee. He paused for a moment and then he added, “If you think it might help, then you pray each night that tomorrow morning will be better than the ones before it.”

* * *

3

Fredericksburg, Texas, August 1862

When Jurian returned from of his long trips, he put a score of new horses in the corrals at his cabin and paid the mean who had helped him bring the stock up from the border.  The next day he went to the mercantile in Fredericksburg to pick up the few things he could not make or buy or barter from his farmer neighbors. The store owner, Hans Gruenberg, had the large, pear-shaped body of a prosperous town-man. He waddled out of his office at the back of the store to talk with his customer. Jurian had known Hans since he was a small pear-shaped town-boy whose father was the larger pear-shaped prosperous town-man.

“Jurian, you’re not gone?”

“Is somebody supposed to have run me off?” Jurian tilted his head to the side, and pushed his hat further back on his head.

“No, I just thought you go with the rest of the mens.”

“The rest of what men, Hans?” said Jurian as he dusted off two cans of peaches and placed them on the counter.

“The hill country militia, our boys in home guard.”

“Did they get called up by the Rebs?”

“Where you been that you not know any of this?”

“I was down to the border, and then I came back up through San Antonio. I spent a few days there trading cattle for horses. Jurian took the top off the small barrel of roasted coffee beans and inhaled deeply, enjoying the beans rich smell. “I’m going to need you to grind me a pound of coffee?” Jurian said then looked back at Hans, “So, what’s happened with the militia?”

“You know in these counties ’round here, we put together three companies of mens ‘cause of conscription, but we made it so that they stay here as home guards. We got three companies of mens in home guards, and the Rebs was happy. But, the same three companies of mens are Union Loyal League mens, who can help protect us from Rebs, so we was happy, too. The sugar is up by the doors.”

As Jurian moved to the sugar, he asked,“So, the Rebs finally figured it out?”

Ja! All Texas under martial law now ’cause of fight against conscriptions. I mean, who in Texas want to leave family alone for Comanche and Kiowa to kill? These counties ’round here now all been declared in what they say is open rebellion against Rebs. We have new Secesh commander, a blood-thirsty Scots bastard named Duff. He tell us that he taking over conscription, and all us going to have to fight for the South or hang.

“I’ve heard a bit about Duff.  Understand he and some of his men have been pretty rough on folks.  Heard that if anybody just looks at them the wrong way, then the looker is all-the-sudden a rider with the Luckenbach Bushwhackers and on his way to a hangman’s noose.”

It bad that late last week, mens all ‘round here who could be conscripted met and head out for Mexico. Maybe sixty or seventy mens get together at Turtle Creek and head for border.”

“Good for them. It’s not too tough a trip. Sure beats hell out of marching off to Georgia or some other swampy hellhole. Ansgar didn’t go with them, did he?”

“No. Your brother was in yesterday. He said the Lord give your family that land, and no Secesh going to run him off of his family’s land.”

“Hard-headed Lutherans are a true misery sometimes, Hans. I’ll stop by later and talk to him about things,” said Jurian as he continued to rummage through the stacks of goods that seemed to move randomly from shelf to shelf between  his visits.”

“But, Jurian, Scots bastard sent some of his Partisan Rangers and Reb cavalry to stop the mens from reaching border. He call our mens deserters and traitors.”

“Jurian stopped roving the store and moved closer to Gruenberg. “Holy Mary,” said Jurian, “Duff can call those men anything he wants, but dead is all anyone is going to call them if the Secesh catch them. When did you hear this, Hans?”

“I hear some Reb officers talking today when they pick up supplies here.”

“If everybody left last week, there’s no good reason the Rebs should catch up, but Lord, Hans, those men are farmers, not range riders. Did they stock up on food and such before they left?”

“They have some pack horses and mules.”

“How many?”

The heavy man looked toward the ceiling for a moment, his lips moving, and then he said, “Maybe twenty animals carrying packs. They also got maybe two hundred horses they herding.”

Jurian extended his arms and leaned against the counter with his head down.  He shook his head and then looked up at the merchant, “Hans, you and I both know they didn’t take near enough supplies for all those men and their stock. They’ll have to hunt along the way and stop for their horses to graze. Sixty or seventy men and two hundred horses eat one hell of a lot. They’re going to be traveling like molasses in January. Who’s leading them?”

“John Sansom guiding them.”

“John’s pretty salty. He knows the country, and he’s seen his share of action against the Comanche and bandits. Who are the local folks that are leaders?

Hans again looked at the ceiling and the beams that supported the roof as if that was where all facts resided and finally said, “Tegener is head of Union Loyal League mens.  Degener, Schwethelm, and Kuechler, they also there with him.”

“Do they know they’re being hunted?”

“No, and you got me now worried, Jurian. I think you got to warn them. You know that land. You got good horse. But, Jurian, why you not with them? You not ’fraid of being conscripted?”

“I sell horses, Hans. The Rebs and frontier Rangers need horses a lot more than they need me dying for some glorious cause.” Jurian did not mention that since the wedding he had been an outcast among the Fredericksburg community. Even if he had been in town, he knew no one would have asked him to join the men heading for Mexico.  

“Hans, I’m gonna need good mounts for a relay if I’m gonna get to those men before the Rebs.. None of my fresh stock is saddle broke yet. You know what the Heldfeldts did?”

Shaking his head and his chins, Hans said, “No. I don’t hear about them.”

Jurian thought for a moment, and then asked Hans not to mention their conversation to anyone else. Hans nodded, this time jiggling all three of his chins in agreement.

Jurian leapt into Jitters’ saddle and headed for the Heldfeldt’s farm. He approached the house along a wide trail lined with trees. The building was constructed of the white limestone, plentiful in the area. They had painted the wooden porch, window trim, and shutters a deep green. Both floors had large windows built to catch the breeze, white lace curtains flapping out of some of them. As Jurian approached the impressive residence and noted the numerous outbuildings, he thought of his own log cabin and primitive corrals. He thought about how Adele lived in the midst of this wealth rather than with him in his rough cabin with its copse of trees and spring-fed creek. He shook off the image of her being with him, wading barefoot in the stream that ran through his stand of cottonwoods, and re-focused on what he needed to do in the here and now.

In these times, Jurian knew it was not healthy to come charging up to a German household in central Texas. He understood that all German farmers had become careful of anyone arriving at their doors uninvited.  The Secesh raiders who had begun regularly attacking farms in the community had been named “Die Haengerbaende,” the hanging band, by the Germans in central Texas.Jurian dismounted and moved toward the house, holding Jitters between himself and the structure.

He approached the wide veranda of the imposing two-story main house, stopped just in front of the steps up to the highly polished double doors that were the main entrance, and called loudly, “Hello, the house. It’s Jurian Baecker. Is anyone home?” There was no response for some moments. Just as he was about to repeat himself, one of the front doors opened.

Huppert’s mother, with her back straight and her mouth set in a grimace, came onto the veranda. “What are you doing here, Jurian Baecker?”  

“It’s real nice to see you, too, Missus Heldfeldt.” Jurian leaned forward with one hand on the saddle horn and used his other to take off his hat, trying to show proper and showthe propoer respect for the older woman he knew despised him, “Where’re your men, Missus Heldfeldt, Huppert and his father?”

She placed her hands on her hips and said, “They’re where they should be at this time of day, in the fields doing an honest day’s work, which is more than I can say for you.”

Jurian, deeply relieved she hadn’t come out armed to the teeth, smiled at her words in hopes of easing the tension. “Missus Heldfeldt, some men left the county headed for Mexico. The Rebels got word of it, and Duff sent some of his Partisan Rangers and some Reb cavalry after them. If Huppert and Wentz went with those men, they’re riding a dangerous trail. Where’re your husband and his son, Ma’am?”

Turning back toward the door, she said, “I’ve told you once, young man, and I don’ know.”

She stopped short as Adele emerged from the house. The sight of her sent Jurian’s heart into his throat and then dropped it like a stone into his belly. He had not been this close to her since the night of her wedding.

She looked thinner than when she married. Her high cheekbones were slightly more prominent, and her blue eyes appeared larger. She was wiping flour from her hands with a cloth and her face was damp with sweat, as were the few tendrils of her blond hair that escaped their place and curled on her neck and forehead.

“Jurian, how can they be in danger? Surely the Rebels won’t catch them.”

Unable to speak for a few moments, Jurian finally said, “Hello, Adele. It’s really good to see you again, too.” He saw her face and slender neck flush as he spoke, and he felt somewhat ashamed for his tone. “They may not be, but I’m thinkin’ they are. Those men aren’t trail hard range riders. They’re farmers on horses. From what I can tell, they took too few supplies for the trip. They’ll be slowed considerable just trying to get provisions for themselves and their mounts. The men coming after them are Confederate cavalry and Duff’s Partisan Rangers. The Secesh will be riding hard, and that means bad news for those folks headed for the Rio Grande. Is Huppert with them, Adele?”

The elder Mrs. Heldfeldt stepped forward and wagged a scolding forefinger at him. “Listen, you, I’ve told you—“

"I’ll handle this, Helena,” Adele said, moving in front of her mother-in-law, covering the older woman’s hand with hers and lowering it..  

“Huppert and his father are with them. Huppert has to escape conscription, and Papa Heldfeldt is going to Mexico to arrange things so we can follow them. This place isn’t safe any longer. If they’re in danger,” she raised both palms in the air, “what can we do?”

Jurian looked down, stroked his chin, then returned his eyes to hers. “I expect your men took the best stock, but I’ll take the two best horses you have left. I may be able to catch up with them before the Rebs. Your stock won’t be coming back. I’ll ride one until it slows, release it and throw my gear over the other. I’ll save Jitters for the last leg. He’ll run all day and all night for me. That should put me there  ahead of the Rebs. I’ll see if I can convince the men to ride like hell for the border.”

To Adele’s obvious dismay, Mrs. Heldfeldt said, her brow now knit into a scowl, “Why shouldn’t we think this is all a lie, and you’re here just to get our horses?”

Jurian looked up at the sky for a moment with faint hope that he might see a storm cloud unleash a bolt of lightning that would transform this old shrew into a pile of bitter, gray ashes. He saw no clouds,; nonetheless he held his temper. Jitters hoofed the turf twice, shook his mane and snorted. Jurian stroked the horse, patted his neck, then looked steadily into the caustic hag’s eyes. “I know we have our differences, but I didn’t know you had that low an opinion of me, Ma’am. My daddy married most of those men to their wives, and he not only baptized them and their wives when they were young, but many of their children too before he died. I grew up with those men. You may think I’m some kinda outlaw, Ma’am, but I’m still a part of this community, just like those men. I don’t want ’em dead and their families grieving, and if I can do anything to stop that …”

“Will you save Huppert and Papa Heldfeldt,” asked Adele, wringing her hands. Jurian’s heart was now back in his chest, but it felt so heavy he feared that, if he leaned forward, it would tear itself free and fall into the dust.

“Adele, I like almost all … no, I like all of those men better than I do Huppert, but I’ll warn him just like the rest. I’m here because you’ve got the finest horses in the county in your barns, the horses that give me the best chance of saving all those men’s lives.”

“Jurian, if you want our horses, then you must promise to personally take Huppert and Papa Heldfeldt to Mexico.” Adele crossed her arms over her breasts like a woman who would not take no for an answer.

“I’ve already told you I’m trying to save all those men, not just your men.”

Adele widened her stance. “You don’t get the horses without the promise.”

Jurian shook his head in disbelief and asked, “You’d let all those men die if I don’t promise to carry your two men to Mexico, one who hates me and the other who thinks I’m not much better than a highwayman, while his good wife here thinks I should be hanged for a horse thief?”

“They’re my family now, Jurian. They take care of me and I take care of them. Since I can’t help them now, I have to make you help them. You get no horses without giving me that promise,” she repeated, and lifted her chin higher.

Jurian looked her directly in the eyes and said, “Well, Adele, I guess I wasn’t too far wrong at your wedding party. You seem to be hardening up right quick.”

Adele looked at Jurian without blinking or blushing and said, “It’s a hard time, Jurian. There’s nothing to be gained by softness in times like these.”

After a long moment of staring at the woman he loved, while she glared defiantly back at him, Jurian said, “Have your men get me those horses, some water, some oats, and some trail food, Adele. I’ll save everyone I can.  If I’m still breathing and so are they, I’ll take your damned men to Mexico.” He turned Jitters toward the corral next to the same barn where Adele’s wedding party had been held and nudged his large buckskin forward with his knees.

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