The girls had gone to bed. Jacob began telling the story about his father, Grady, to Reagan and Marisa. It was the story that would tie everything together. A story Jacob Lamb believed he’d never get to tell.
“It all began in Beaver Dam, Kentucky in October 1865. The thundering hooves were getting closer.
Grady’s father, Joshua, yelled to him, “Go to the root cellar. Climb in the tater bin and pull the board over it, and don’t come out until I fetch you. You hear me, boy?”
Grady heard the fear in his father’s voice. Grace was nowhere around. Should he wait for his sister? Should he go find her?
Ten-year-old Grady stood next to his father and turned to run when he saw the riders coming. He wanted to stay by his father’s side, but you dare not disobey Pa. He ran.
The war was over, but them dern Yankees kept comin’. They stole everything worth stealin’. Mostly it was food they wanted. Five different Yankee patrols had been to their farm. There was nothin’ left to take, but these soldiers didn’t know it, so they came.
* * *
Grady’s father, Joshua, had gone to town soon after what he called the War of Northern Aggression. Joshua, and the other farmers in the county, wanted to remain neutral. It wasn’t their war. They felt caught betwixt and between. They refused to cooperate with the Union Army. They were the aggressors who were disrupting their way of life. They didn’t want to fight for the Confederate Army neither. Their reasoning was simple. They didn’t own slaves, and didn’t know anyone who did. So a war where they might die so rich people could own slaves made little sense to them.
Joshua overheard a conversation between two farmers who lived further east where there was some fighting going on. One said that the Yankees stole two of his horses and his mule. The other said he was lucky because they took his best cow, too.
That got Joshua to thinking. “The Yankees aren’t that far away, and I might be next.” They were maybe fifteen miles away as the crow flew. That was only three or four hours away, even at a slow pace.
So he moved the livestock out of the barn. He had a tobacco drying shed a quarter-mile through the fields and past a wooded area. He put in a door on the backside of the building and fenced a small space. Then Joshua and Grady led the animals to what they prayed would be a secure location.
Sure enough, it wasn’t but ten days after he moved the livestock the first Yankee patrol came through. These soldiers were engaged in war, and most of the patrols weren’t destroying private property or stealing what little food a family might have for themselves. That came later as the supply lines broke down.
Joshua saw them approaching, walked up to meet them at the gate and opened it. “How might I be helpin’ y’all today?”
The Sergeant reached in a leather pouch and pulled out a handwritten document signed by Brigadier General Samuel Anderson. It allowed them to confiscate any serviceable animal for the Union Army. It also said in so many words; they could take any edible animal.
Joshua put on a sad face and hung his head. “Sergeant, I seen a similar letter just a few days ago, and you’re too late. You are free to check my barn and pastures, but you will find no livestock.”
Joshua didn’t want to rile them up and get his family hurt.
“A while back, we had two horses, a mule, two cows, some sheep, and pigs. We even had a few hens, but on Thursday last, Yankee soldiers came through and took them all.”
The Sergeant ordered four men to check the barn and around it. They found nothing, so they moved on, but not before firing a few shots into the watering trough. Laughing, the Sergeant said, “No animals, so you don’t need that.”
* * *
When Grady saw the latest patrol coming, he wasn’t too concerned. Pa was a good talker, so he knew as soon as they saw they had nothing, the soldiers would leave. He hightailed it for the root cellar, yelling, “Give ’em what for, Pa!”
Grady pulled the crate away from the wall and crawled into the cave with the potatoes. He froze when he heard the door to the root cellar open. A bright light shone in, and then the door closed. A soldier yelled, “Ain’t no food in there! Empty. Looks like Johnny Reb ain’t lying, Captain Barnes!”
Angus Barnes led the renegade Yankee patrol. He paid a large sum of money for his rank, knowing he could get double the return on his investment. He had no military experience, but he led a group of marauding thugs with no conscience and even less morality. The Union Army liked the results of Captain Barnes’s group of outlaws and didn’t ask many questions.
Four months earlier, Angus Barnes received notification that the war had ended in May. It said his services were no longer needed, and they decommissioned his unit. They also rescinded his rank. That meant Angus and his men were once again outlaws. That didn’t sit well with him, so he decided they’d decommission when he said they’d decommission and not before. So they continued to fight the war.
Grady could hear his mother and sister screaming. Against his father’s order, he crawled out from the tater pit. The door was closed, but beams of sunlight peeked through the logs in spots that the chinking had fallen out. He heard the soldiers laughing while their leader sat astride a big Palomino. Grady figured the horse was at least sixteen hands high. The man was smoking a cigar, watching and chuckling as his men had fun.
The soldiers partially blocked his view. Grady could see his mother lying on the porch floor, but couldn’t see what they were doing to her. It was good he couldn’t see what was happening. But his helpless father saw it all.
They tied Joshua’s hands behind his back, and a noose was around his neck. They tied the rope to a beam holding up the porch. To keep from hanging himself, Joshua had to stand on his tiptoes atop a wooden chair. He yelled at the renegade soldiers to no avail. They laughed as one after another raped his wife before his eyes.
Grady was too young to know what was going on and couldn’t see Grace anywhere. Grace was sixteen, his big sister, and he loved her. “Where was she?”
Grady was helpless to do anything. At ten, he wasn’t even beginning to be a man-child. He was a sickly toddler, and his development was slow. If you saw him, you’d guess he was around seven. He knew his limitations, but everything in his mind was man-size, and wanted to kill every one of them. It wasn’t because they were Yankees; it was because they were evil. Grady’s insights into himself would serve him well.
Finally, the soldiers finished, and Grady’s mother passed out. They took the only thing the farm offered.
He watched the man, the soldiers called Captain Barnes, drag Grace out of the cabin. As he passed Joshua, he kicked the stool out from under him. Grady gasped as his mother tried to reach out to grasp the Captain’s pant leg. Barnes turned and kicked her in the head and continued down the porch steps with his prize over his shoulder. Then he rode off, with Grady’s sister tied over the back of a mule, like you might sling a dead body.