Cannonball

Part of the USA Today Network

A Compassionate Rebel

coverHI2.jpg
The new book is available from Borders in York and at leading retailers in Gettysburg. It’s also for sale at Internet retailers such as amazon.com and target.com.
Here is an anecdote from my recent Human Interest Stories of the Gettysburg Campaign, Volume 2, which was published by Colecraft Industries of Orrtanna, PA. This is just one of more than two hundred such true stories from Gettysburg. You will not find any ghosts of Gettysburg or other such tales in this book, but rather stories as related directly by the participants themselves about their experiences. Nothing supernatural, just extraordinary in many cases.


Near the village of Fairfield, Rebel artillerymen from Virginia and South Carolina were searching for horses suitable for use as draft animals. One squad from the Pee Dee Artillery approached an old brick farmhouse, its doors shut and blinds tightly closed. The only sign of life was a broken-down blind bay horse tethered in a nearby orchard. It was clearly not acceptable for artillery usage. However, a couple of soldiers thought they had seen a different horse, one that appeared healthy, being led through a gate towards the house. They concluded that it must be hidden within the house.
The Confederates repeatedly knocked on the door. Finally, a pale and badly frightened woman opened it. Sergeant Joseph Brunson, in charge of the squad, assured her “they would not hurt a hair on her head.” He inquired about the horse spotted at her gate and offered to buy it for military duty. She responded, “I have no horse but that one in the orchard. You can take him if you want to.” The Southerners did not want the blind nag and insisted they saw another horse, which now must be in the house. Distressed by their insistence on inspecting her home, the woman replied, “If you men come into the house, you will scare my poor crazy sister to death.”
Brunson instructed his squad to stay outside and then followed the woman into a long hallway. Two doors opened on either side, with a single one at the far end. She readily opened the side doors and remarked, “You see no horse is here.” Brunson pointed to the remaining door and mentioned she had not opened that one. She exclaimed, “Surely you would not go into a lady’s bedroom.” An exasperated Brunson replied, “By no means, Ma’am, but it is no harm to look in.”
The woman relented and cracked open the door, allowing him a quick peek at the opposite wall. Suspicious, he pushed the door fully open. There, he saw a fine bay horse, his feet on a mantilla (a short cape) to deaden the sound of his hooves on the wooden floor. It was apparently a pet, as three little children were sitting on a bed and playing with its mane. The woman rushed forward, threw her arms around the horse’s neck, and suddenly screamed out, “You shan’t take my dead husband’s horse!”
The children screamed in terror, and the crazy sister joined in with a vigor that clearly demonstrated, though her mind was out of order, her lungs and vocal chords were sound. The scene was so pitiful and the racket so disconcerting the veteran sergeant regretted prosecuting the search. He knew that Union troops had perpetrated atrocities upon innocent Southerners far worse than dragging a pet horse away from screaming youngsters. However, their appealing cries rang in his ears, and their tearful faces evoked compassion. Plus, there was that crazy sister to deal with. Who knew what she was capable of? He also knew his men expected him to emerge with the horse.
Suddenly, he realized how to resolve the problem. He strode back to the front door and told the waiting patrol he found the horse. However, he needed to be sure the animal was suitable for the rigors of military work. Taking a trusted comrade inside, Brunson explained the situation and whispered they had to find something wrong with the horse to justify leaving it behind. His companion inspected the steed and discovered a very small saddle sore on its back. Satisfied, the two men emerged from the house and declared the horse to be sore-backed and totally unfit for artillery duty. The squad mounted and moved on to the next farm, leaving the grateful children still in the bedroom clutching their pet.
Copyright 2007, Scott Mingus and Colecraft Industries. All rights reserved.