Thursday, July 9, 2015

James River Watcher #1

James River Watcher #1 On a high hill over the James River sits an old stone set of buildings grey in the late evening fog as it wafted up from the river below. The old stones told a long story of the original glory of being a home and later business area of a successful southern business man. When he died a widower in the late ‘1840s’, his four children, as could be expected, quarreled over the mansion buildings, and it was finally settled and purchased by a medical company and organized as a home for older people with enough money to pay for the care needed in the older years. The building was taken over in 1861 as a possible fort and was temporarily armed with six artillery pieces behind a dirt and stone battery, as a defense against any Union gunboats which might venture up the river toward Richmond, the capitol of the new Confederacy. Eventually the hidden battery was discovered, and Union naval gunboats and two ironclads bombarded both the battery and the stone buildings behind them. What was not blown apart was burned later, and the only remaining part of the original structure is a spur of one of the stone buildings which overlook the river. The structure is about three stories high and one of the windows which face the river looks to be in pretty fair shape as it stares blindly out over the river valley below. George “Knight” Peterson was having a bit of trouble with his horse. His usual mount had a problem with his hoof and the soldier in the army livery stable suggested that he use a new mount for this patrol. With him rode four cavalry privates and a corpora; to keep and eye on him as he mapped the road along the James River which led directly into enemy territory. The purpose of this patrol was to advance the field maps to the degree that a planned movement could be made following this road together with a naval gunboat escort. However, first the necessary map must be made up and before that to straighten out the horse he was riding. George was fairly new to the Topog Engineers. He had always had a love of drawing since he was a child, and later having gone to school got into mapping quite by accident his skill with pen, ink and a paint brush was soon recognized and he was visited by a senior officer from the Topogs and offered a commission. Now George was not a political person, but his feelings were fixed on the Union where his father and grandfather had both served in the engineers, and where George suspected the visit by an army officer and the offer of a commission had come from. His horse finally satisfied as to the special saddle arrangement he and his escort moved ahead down the river road. The trees at this point overgrew the road, and the road was bathed in a deep darkness. Lights on the other side of the river gave indication that something was going on with the Rebs on the other side of the river. He wanted to get a closer look but the trees and brush along the river side blocked a clear view. He and his escort was several miles deep into Reb territory at this point and he well knew that he must have a care. Suddenly, there loomed ahead of him the wreckage of an old stone bridge, that had at one time spanned a small creek which crossed the road and emptied into the James River. As George began his sketching of the broken bridge and creek at the river road, the cavalrymen who were with him waded into the stream to test it’s depth and strength, and to inspect the far bank of the creek which was completely dark. The corporal appeared at his side and in a hoarse whisper said,” Lieutenant, there is a trail across the creek that looks like it winds up the hill side. Do you want to to send one of the boys up to check it our?” George thought for a minute and then murmured to the corporal, “Yes, have him go as far as the tree cover and report what he sees.” The clattering of horseshoes on stone and splashing of water announced the trooper was on his way to check out the trail. In a few minutes he returned and riding up to George he said in a low voice,” Gee, Lieutenant, there a big old ruined stone house up on the hill there. It looks like it has been hit pretty bad and then burned, but there is one corner that is sticking up and looking over the river.” George thought for a minute. He was almost out of time before starting back to the Union lines but he was curious to see the building that the trooper described. “Let’s take a look,” George said to the Corporal, then we’ll head back to camp.” The corporal nodded silently and led the way across the creek and up the trail. In a few minutes they were at the edge of the tree line, and there before them was the ruined mansion. The southwest corner of the building still stood, stark in the moonlight, and across the river the lights serious was going on. George began to have an idea about the scene and perhaps how to use this ruined old building when the trooper who had followed them up the trail, rode up abruptly and said, “Sir, there is a big Reb patrol coming up the road. They look pretty big.” The corporal said, “It’s time to leave Lieutenant, we can go back along the tree line and cross the creek further up the canyon.” George put away his thoughts for the moment, and said, “Lead the way Corporal.” The five men moved silently and swiftly in the shadow of the trees back toward the Union Lines. George was thinking again, about how he could use that old building. It might take some doing, but the information could be important. He would have to devise a plan for the Captain. He turned and gave his attention to getting back to the Union Lines. Tomorrow was another day for planning. (To be continued)

No comments:

Post a Comment