The Civil War Battle of Brice's Crossroads
For over three hours they had hidden in the thick briars and blackjack scrub. Several Yankee patrols had come near, but none had spotted the three frightened girls cowering amid the thick thorns. Now they could see Yankee infantry pouring into the crossroads like an endless blue snake. There appeared to be thousands of them. To their right, and between them and the security of the Scott's house, more Confederate cavalry was dismounting and moving into position behind the Scott's fence.
"All hell is going to break loose and mighty soon," Bettie Cappleman blurted. "We gotta do something."
"We could head down to the creek and make our way south," Rebecca Ann whispered, afraid her voice might carry above the rattling sounds of thousands of men and equipment and the booming of distant artillery.
"That's better'n staying here between two fightin' armies," Bettie answered, looking at Laura for her decision.
Laura glanced at the tall trees several hundred yards to the west, which stood along the banks of the Tishomingo. She would prefer the safety of the Scotts’ farm securely behind the Confederate cavalry, but she was afraid that some skittish trooper might mistake them for Yankees if they tried to go back, and open fire on them. "Might be our best chance," she finally replied, pointing for Bettie to lead out in the direction of the creek.
The blackjack thickets were so dense; it was extremely difficult for them to tell if they were heading in the right direction. Laura figured that if they followed the westerly sun they should be relatively accurate. It was well past noon and the sweltering heat beat down on them without mercy. How men could fight under such conditions, she could only guess. Laura was unaware that her friend Albert, or rather Jenny Hodges, was no more than three hundred yards from her at that very moment thinking the same thoughts.
Fifteen minutes later they broke through the thick undergrowth into a wide-open cornfield, which had been planted less than a month earlier. The tender young cornstalks stood no more than a foot high. To their right, dozens of Yankee supply wagons were parked in the open field, their wheels and the hooves of the mules had turned the field into mush, the new corn stalks smashed and buried in the mud. To their left, a small Union cavalry patrol was sitting idly in the saddle, their attention back to the south and east, looking for Confederate cavalry.
"What now?" Bettie questioned. "Damn Yankees ever’ which a-way you look."
"I think if we keep to the open cornfield they won't bother us," Rebecca Ann opinioned. "It'd take a blind man to mistake three teenaged girls in long dresses for Confederate soldiers."
Although Rebecca Ann was undoubtedly correct in her assumption, Laura felt very nervous and uncertain of the move. After all, she was still a wanted fugitive in the eyes of the Federals.
"Mah place is just on the other side of the cutoff," Bettie persisted. "We could tell 'em we were out for a visit to the Scotts’ house and got cut off. That's might near the truth, ain't it?"
"Come on," Rebecca Ann replied, walking boldly out into the open cornfield. As they neared the wagons, the teamsters began to whistle and make loud catcalls. A young officer emerged from behind a wagon to see what all the fuss was about. His eyes brightened and his face lit up when he spotted the three very pretty young ladies.
"Three angels on a battlefield," he remarked, addressing them as they nervously approached. "And just how did you three come to be in this terrible place at this unfortuitous time?"
"Mah home's over yonder," Bettie blurted, pointing back across the creek. "We're tryin' to get back there before this here war breaks out."
"Name's Ward, Lieutenant Tim Ward," the young officer stated. "Perhaps I should find you an escort to get you home safely?"
He was interrupted by a startled look on the face of the prettiest girl he had ever seen. Her beautiful eyes went wide and her honey complexion turned pale as she looked past him towards the wagons. Something or someone had frightened her deeply. Looking behind him, he could see nothing out of the ordinary. First Sergeant Allenby and several of his men were watching the girls with normal curiosity. Perhaps the fact that they were Negro soldiers had frightened her. Could be she had never seen Negro soldiers before.
"They won't bite you," he remarked in a half laughing manner, pointing back at the Negro soldiers. "They're highly trained and well-disciplined Union soldiers despite their color, and I happen to be their company commander."
Laura stood frozen, looking down at the muddy ground. She could barely breathe and the blood was racing through her temples like the pounding of savage drums. Her mouth became dry and her throat raspy. Behind the young white officer over near the wagons, stood the Negro sergeant who had been torturing Will. She would never forget the venomous look on his face, a look that promised revenge and offered nothing but pure hatred.
"That ain't what she be worried about, Lieutenant," Private Selmer spoke up. "I knows this girl. She be the same one that helped that sesh lieutenant escape a while back. I was there, remember? General Sturgis be mighty thankful iffen we was to bring her to him."
"You're certain of that, Private?" Lieutenant Ward asked. "If my memory serves me correctly that took place up north several weeks ago. We're a long way from Ripley."
"Won't never forget her face," Selmer replied. "Her and that Rebel Lieutenant cost me my sergeant stripes. No, Sir! Won't never forget that face."
Turning back to Laura, Lieutenant Ward said, "Under the circumstances Miss, I have no choice but to place you under arrest for aiding the enemy. Were these other two young ladies involved in the incident, Private Selmer?"
"No, Sir, just that one."
"I will have First Sergeant Allenby escort you home," Ward continued, addressing Bettie and Rebecca Ann. "I will ask Lieutenant Herring to escort you to my regimental commander," he finished, looking at Laura.
"You can't do that!" Rebecca Ann yelled at the saddened lieutenant. "She didn't do anything."
"My duty compels me to act ma’am."
"You damn Yankees already killed my ten-year-old brother in cold blood and burned our family farm to the ground," Rebecca Ann continued. "You're nothing but savages and murderers! Killers! Butchers!"
Before he could react, Rebecca Ann ran like a frightened rabbit towards the creek about thirty yards away. "I'll find Will and tell 'em!" she yelled over her shoulder as she plunged into the thick brush near the swollen stream. Private Selmer lifted his rifle to take aim at the fleeing girl, but, with a harsh command, Lieutenant Ward ordered him to halt.
Filled with sudden anger and for some unknown reason a sense of shame, he pointed for Laura to follow him towards the Tishomingo Bridge. Laura was too numbed by the unexpected turn of events to resist. She did notice the look of intense pleasure on the nigra private's face as she stumbled past him.
Rebecca Ann was a very strong swimmer. She and her brothers and sisters spent a lot of their free time in the waters of Muddy Creek near her home, especially during the long hot summer months. The floodwaters of the Tishomingo had already begun to subside, but the current was still strong. She let it carry her downstream for most of a mile before making her way to the east bank.
When she reached the muddy bank, she pulled herself from the chilly water like a soaked kitten. Her long dress was wrapped around her legs and it took several minutes for her to untangle herself. Once that task was done, she headed into the thick brush in the direction of what she hoped was due east.
Fifteen minutes later, she struggled from the woods onto the Pontotoc Road. She turned left and started down the road, the sharp rocks hurting her bare feet for she had lost her shoes in the creek. Within ten minutes she recognized the Scotts’ farm when she entered an open field where the Scotts kept several milking cows.
She could see Confederate cavalry hiding behind the fence along the road while still others rode back and forth on their dusty mounts. A huge man dressed in buckskins was squatting next to a small fire, tending a battered coffeepot. Why the man would chose to make coffee in the heat and in the midst of a fierce battle she couldn't understand. But, when he looked up in her direction, she quickly recognized him.
Monday glanced up from his proverbial coffee fire to see a strange young lady running in his direction. She was soaked from head to toe and covered with dead leaves and small scratches. At first he didn't recognize her, but as she drew near she became familiar. She was the pretty little sister of Will's fiancée, Laura, the one who had been sparking Lieutenant Govan during the church social a few weeks back.
"For God's sake, child!" Monday muttered, as the weeping girl rushed into his arms. "What'n tarnation happened to you?"
"Laura's been taken by the Yankees!" Rebecca Ann blurted out. "You've got to help her Monday, they'll hang her!" The more she talked the more hysterical she became.
"Calm down, girl," Monday soothingly whispered. "Calm down. Now, tell old Monday here what happened real slow like, so my old ears can take it all in?"
It didn't take long for Rebecca Ann to tell her entire story. Afterwards, Monday assured her that everything would be just fine, then he took her inside the house and turned her over to the elder ladies to care for. His next task would be a difficult one, telling young Will that his fiancée was in the hands of the Yankees who had burned her family out.