Topic: "Shenandoah Rangers"(7)
One hundred and fifty years ago, at just about this time of year, a gaggle of volunteers approached the Major with a special request. It was not as if they had failed to serve with honor, it was just that they were slowly becoming aware of the fact that their expectations were askew. In May and June they were sure that the enemy would fall back in a simple matter of days, and that they would be home before this meeting had ever been considered. Reality is more than a foe to fervor, it is the foundation of survival.
As the realization set in that the enemy was stronger than anticipated, so also was the awareness that farmers have to harvest. The planting and the tending of the crops could be done satisfactorily by those left behind, but the harvest was not only back-breaking, but the time available for its completion was limited. The survival of wife, children, and extended family depended on sufficient stores to last through the coming winter months.
The story you are about to read is true.
Company C, of the Seventh Virginia Cavalry was a collection of volunteers mustered in at Harpers Ferry in June of 1861. Most brought their own rifles or rode their own horses. They were farmers of the rocky loam that prohibits sowing too deeply since the soil becomes impenetrable quickly. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was the Commanding General. They would eventually establish themselves as a formidable weapon in his arsenal, under the direction of the dashing and capable "White Knight of the Shenandoah," Major-General Turner Ashby. They would become known to history as "The Shenandoah Rangers."
"Yes Corporal Frodo, what is it?"
"Sir, we, that is the other Hobbits and I, need a brief furlough."
"Well, don't we all? If those Yankees would cooperate, then we could all go home."
"Yessir, but Sir, I'm very serious. We have to go back home to harvest. There is no body at my place in Tom's Brook to bring in the corn and to can and store food for my family. They will die if I don't back and put things up for the winter."
"I see. How long a furlough will you require?"
"How many of you are we talking about?"
"Why, all of us."
"The whole Company?"
"You expect me to stay here, all by myself, for two weeks?"
"Well Sir, things are a little slow right now, and we'll be back before you know it."
"Can't you double up and help each other?"
"No Sir, you see, the crops will begin to spoil if they aren't harvested timely, and it'll take each of us two weeks to get home, bring in the crops, and get back here. Somebody would get left out if we don't go take care of our own."
"Two weeks you say?"
"Thank you Major, we're out of here in an hour or so, and back here at Company headquarters two weeks from today."
Seven days pass.
The rider comes in from General Jackson's billet in Winchester.
"Major, I have a dispatch from General Jackson. He wants the Seventh to move with dispatch to Harrisonburg in order to strike at an enemy supply train day after tomorrow. Say, where is everybody?"
"The Seventh is on furlough, and they are not due back for another week. You'll have to let General Jackson have my apologies. . ."
"Your apologies? You mean the whole company is on furlough , and General Jackson wasn't told?"
"What numbskull. . ."
"I did. They had to bring in the harvest for their families, and promised to be back one week from today."
"Major, I'm going to have to ask you to issue me a written dispatch to take back to General Jackson. I believe he'll need something more than my solemn promise about the absence of Company C."
When Company C reported back to duty, they became aware of the court martial, and their new commanding officer.
In addition to Bull Run, they would see duty in places named Moorefield, Fisher's Hill and Gettysburg. They would be confronted by opponents named Custer and Pope. They rode out of Appomatox Courthouse seeking relief to the West, and learned that surrender was all that remained. They would lose many of their friends and their neighbors before they were allowed to again, go home.
Frodo's great-grandfather among them.