Click. “Put down that gun, Johnny Reb, and come down off those rocks. With yer hands up.”
He was dead to rights. He figured he could probably get one of them if he spun around fast enough. But they numbered about a dozen, and the rest would get him. He’d been had. Corporal Andrew Jackson Corvus set his rifle down and put his hands up.
He’d had a good vantage point on those rocks. His keen eye and accurate aim from this position had left seven Yankees writhing upon the ground. But it never occurred to him that a small raiding party could cross the lines undetected and sneak up from behind. Lesson learned for the Gray. But the war was early, and there were more lessons waiting to be learned.
They sneaked their prize prisoner back to the Yankee side of the breastworks. “So you’re the Reb sniper who’s been causing me so much trouble?” the major muttered . “Where you from, Reb?”
“Farmer all the way up from Georgia, huh?”
“Blacksmith,” Andrew corrected.
“Blacksmith! So what’s a blacksmith doing way up here? Why ain’t you fighting with the Army of Tennessee?”
“Lee’s the greatest general in the world. He’s gonna whup your Yankee ass, an’ I wanna help him.”
The major studied this young upstart prisoner a moment, then chuckled. He turned and commanded, “Lieutenant, find me someone to transport this fine southern blacksmith to the general’s headquarters.” He turned back. “We’ll get you questioned right proper, then send you off to a nice home for Rebels up north. But don’t worry, you’ll be back in your blacksmith shop in just a few months. We’ll show you what we can do with Lee.”
The Union corporal looked angry. “I been fightin’ Rebs all day, you son-of-a-bitch! Just when I get a chance to rest, now I gotta escort a Reb back to the general. Why I oughta put a ball in you right now! So get moving!” He waved his rifle, and the Confederate corporal marched ahead of the Union corporal’s gun barrel.
Andrew Jackson Corvus may have been beaten, but he was unbowed. He contemplated an escape plan, darting his quick young eyes about, searching for a getaway route. But the angry, tired Yankee tramped close behind him, with rifle at the ready.
Though this Yankee was tired, he wasn’t completely brain dead. He studied his captive and his observant eye caught something that made his heart skip a beat. “Hey Reb, stop!” He stood an inch behind him and stuck his left foot forward, beside Andrew’s left foot. “Ha ha ha!” he gloated. He cast his eyes around. There were other soldiers here and there. Not a good place. “Hey Reb,” he pointed, “see that tree yonder off the trail? That’s where we’re going.”
Andrew obliged but with a growing fear clawing up within. He wondered if he was going to be shot. They made it to the tree about a hundred yards away, hidden from view of the Yankee soldiers on the main road. The captor faced him. “You got some fine boots there Reb!” he remarked. “Yeah, that’s nice leather. Look at my old rag feet. This is what my army thinks of me. Ain’t right for a Rebel to be shod like a fine racehorse. Now I tell you what. We’re gonna sit down on that log over there and do a trade. Your boots for mine.”
Andrew had no choice but to comply. He sat down on the log. His blue-uniformed counterpart sat down beside him. “Take your shoes off, Reb!” he barked. Andrew reached down and began loosening a rawhide lace. Then the Union corporal set his rifle down between them, and proceeded to remove his own toilworn footwear.
Setting the rifle down was a fatal act. Lesson learned for the Blue.
Andrew Jackson Corvus soon sneaked his way back over the Confederate lines, with a Union rifle in his hands.
He fought the rest of the way through the long war, as a sniper with the Army of Northern Virginia. In one battle, he took a Minie ball in his leg and was carted off to a field hospital. The surgeon couldn’t remove the ball, and advised amputation. But he refused, recovered anyway, and once again returned to the lines against all odds.
He followed Lee all the way to Appomattox. The great surrender left him with nothing but a badge for valor, a badge for marksmanship, and a suppurating Minie ball in his leg.
Instead of returning to Georgia, he started a family, and a blacksmith shop, in Alabama. In 1908, at the age of 68, he and his wife migrated to Southern California with his son and son’s family. There they opened up a new blacksmith shop near San Bernardino.
One day in 1924, the 84-year-old Civil War veteran trudged home from his blacksmith shop to take his lunch break and midday nap. He sat down in his easy chair and was once again captured and taken over the line. But this time, never to return.
Seven decades later I married his great-great granddaughter. This story has been handed down from generation to generation in my wife’s family. It’s mostly a true story, though I’ve fabulated some of the details to fill in the gaps created by time.
It would be politically incorrect to honor a former Confederate soldier, especially in this day and age of imagined racism everywhere. Besides, most of us would agree that the Union soldier Corporal Andrew Jackson Corvus killed was fighting for a better cause, despite his questionable character.
I guess the lesson for any color is, if you’re going to fight for a good cause, work on your own character first. And be careful. And pay attention. Or you could lose it all trying to obtain something relatively trivial.
Such as a good pair of boots.