“Charlie” Garrett crouched behind the big boulder, swallowed the lump of fear in her throat, and waited. All snipers
had been ordered to come before the advance of the main body of the regiment and pick off any Yankees that they could. The
moment of truth had arrived. Since disguising herself as a young man to join the Twenty-Fifth Virginia Infantry and follow
her husband, Joshua, into war, Charlotte had never shot a man. She was now a sharpshooter for the regiment, having been recognized
for her ability with the Springfield rifle she clutched tightly in her hands. From where she was hidden she could see Clarence,
the older man who had taken her under his wing, and a few of the other soldiers selected for this job. Clarence was lying
on the ground behind a huge log and two of the younger snipers were up in the gnarled oak trees that stood like sentinels
overlooking the ground below. The others were invisible through the falling snow.
had gotten progressively worse up in the mountains and the soldiers had been growing more and more discontent. The Confederates
held this part of the Allegheny Mountains and were to defend Staunton-Reidsburg Pike. Now the troops were under attack from
Union forces who hoped to take the summit from them.
idea that all of those men were counting on her and the rest of the sharpshooters to draw the enemy out from behind their
artillery, made her stomach feel as though it were full of nervous butterflies.
her spectacles, she took a good look down at the valley while she polished the smudged glass ovals on her shirt. No bluecoats
were visible at the moment. Charlie’s stomach twitched. Where were the damn Yankees? Smoke belched out of the slightly
raised tree line. The artillery units were operating from the cover of the remaining forest. But there was no one in sight
All of the
time spent drilling and marching and being bored had not prepared her in the least for the mind-numbing terror that began
to claw its way up her spine. Today something was going to change…her life was going to change…history was going
to change. Two armies were going to clash and people were going to die just like they had already died in the time since Fort
Sumter and Bull Run and this whole mess started.
God! She was starting to tremble at the very idea that she was here doing this! How she had wished now that she had not
agreed to join the snipers. She came to find out that most of the other foot soldiers didn’t much like the snipers.
Jeers of “sneak and murderer” were sometimes directed toward her group. The soldiers that fought out in plain
sight didn’t appreciate the skill of those who perched in trees or behind rocks to pick off their unsuspecting targets.
Many considered them to be coddled or even cowardly when the snipers were allowed to shoot behind cover when the others marched
headlong into battle.
have been so much easier to stay with her husband. It would have been so much easier to be beside him, standing with his comforting
presence to draw strength from. He seemed to have gotten over the rage she had seen him display on that practice field when
he recognized her despite the baggy uniform, dirty slouch hat, short hair, and glasses.
training camp in Virginia Charlie had managed to avoid direct contact with Josh. They were in the same company and, with Josh’s
natural ability to cultivate new friends, she knew that it would only be a matter of time before he made the rounds of the
entire regiment and knew each one of them by name.
carefully studied the actions and habits of the men around her and had gotten very adept at burping, spitting, and scratching
when the time seemed right. By acting like a man, dressing like a man, and keeping her hat pulled low, Charlie had so far
managed to avoid detection. Even Clarence, who kept a close eye on his “adopted” son, had not picked up on her
gender. Fortunately, he respected her need for privacy whenever she could get it.
On the day
that things changed, she had lined up with the rest of the troops on the practice field as usual. After five weeks of training,
it was their last day before they were moving out to join up with the other Confederates and march off to war.
beside Clarence at attention, Charlie waited for the officers to give orders. She remembered looking around, searching for
Josh. He was somewhere in the ranks of soldiers gathered on this muddy field.
ease men,” Captain Weaver yelled. Then he moved closer to the rank and file. “Tomorrow we march to our destiny,
gentlemen. May we all conduct ourselves with the honor, dignity, and heart that the South requires. We must rise above the
oppression of the Federal government and, with your help, we will persevere.”
of whoops and catcalls had erupted all around and swelled to a thunderous noise. Charlie couldn’t help but smile and
join in the celebration. Clarence had clapped her on the back hard, almost knocking her over.
that, lad? We’s gonna wup them Yankees, we is gonna wup ‘em and send them running with their tails ‘tween
their legs.” He grinned at her from under his grizzled, scraggly beard.
sure are, Clarence, we sure are!”
the trumpet blew and they all settled down and snapped to attention again.
Weaver was trying to speak again. “Everyone has done a bang-up job these past weeks. Some of you have never handled
a rifle before while others have obviously been hunting many times and know exactly how to handle a gun. One such young man
has proven himself to be such a good shot that he will be part of the sharpshooters in our regiment. Charlie Garrett, please
forward, turned and locked eyes with Josh in the crowd. That was the heart-stopping moment when her husband had seen her,
really looked closely at her.
cloud that appeared on Josh’s face the moment he realized the real identity of
“Charlie” Garrett was obvious to her, even yards away from him. When she saw him reaching for his powder
charges and preparing to load his rifle, terror had swept through her. Why was he doing that? He glared angrily at the soldiers
all around him as he worked. Thank goodness for the other Augusta County boys. They had seen Josh’s strange reaction,
encircled him immediately and Billy Kaufman, the largest man in the regiment, took Josh’s gun away with one massive
hand. He passed the rifle to Ned Hagan, another local man, then pinned Josh’s arms to his sides. Charlie had run away
as soon as she had been able to escape.
avoided her after that incident as they marched into the Alleghany mountains, which was fine with Charlie since she needed
time to think and to be prepared for whatever reaction he would have. Then, this morning, he just walked up to the cookfire,
introduced himself as her cousin and they had walked off to talk.
they had walked away from the rows and rows of dingy white tents and smoky campfires, past the lines of horses and wagons
being unloaded, and away from thousands of troops preparing for the day. Josh led the way, both soldiers eating corn cakes
and sipping coffee as they went.
might see fighting today from what I heard,” Josh said as soon as they were out of earshot. “You need to go tell
Captain Weaver that you’re my wife and that you joined up without my permission or knowledge. I’ll give you my
wages and you can buy passage home.”
up at him then, startled by his blunt command and immediately upset that he had not considered for a moment what she wanted
or even why she was here. Tears sprang to her eyes and she quickened the pace, leading him down a ravine and into a group
of bushes where they might have a little privacy. They had been far enough away from the camp that the sounds of the army
were no longer heard.
Charlie.” Josh’s hand had landed on her shoulder gently, but firmly. “You heard what I said, but I will
not be the one telling the Captain anything. You will.”
no, I won’t.” She crossed her arms over her chest and faced him squarely, planted her feet apart and raised her
chin. Clenching her jaw, she gave him her best stubborn glare. Usually he would huff and blow and bluster before he gave into
what she wanted. She had been ready to wait him out again. Only he didn’t bluster and blow. He didn’t even huff.
Not once. He just looked at her with such a sad expression that she had been thoroughly confused. This had not been the reaction
had come up toward her face and she had flinched involuntarily. Josh’s woeful expression deepened. “Charlie, oh
my darling, is that what you think of me now?” He dropped his hand. “Do you think that I would raise my hand in
anger to the woman I love? Though it seems plain that you no longer love me.”
Why do you say that, Josh? I only joined this army because I love you. That is the only reason I am here.”
you love me, why are you sleeping with all these strange men?”