Chapter 2- Dragoon Winter
                                                                                  Chapter II

    Ben curved back to town and headed for the Johnson’s homestead. He wondered how close he was to his father’s regiment when a Union Twelve-Pounder loaded with a grape charge, tore through his father’s body. Ben also speculated if he had heard the fatal shot. He knew of his fathers death from his own commander long before his mother received the Confederate letter.
    The land, which he remembered cotton fields as far as he could see, was frozen and dry. As the house came into view, he began to see how tattered the house was with a drooping roof and front porch with half the rails missing. “Likely for fire wood.” he motioned. “Mrs. Johnson!” he called as he knocked on the door. “What do you want boy?” a woman’s voice behind him called out. He turned around to see a woman twenty yards away pointing a musket at him.
“It’s me Mrs. Johnson, Ben  Rigby!”
“Bullshit, Rigby died in Virginia.”
“No! My father died in Gettysburg.”
She walked closer, still pointing the musket. “Ben?” she inquired.  “Yes Ma’am.” he answered.  She let the musket fall to the dirt and embraced him as powerfully as her skeletal arms could. “I’m sorry son. These old eyes play tricks on me sometimes. I got a few eggs and some bread in the kitchen. Come in boy.” She captured him by the hand and led him inside to the kitchen table.
The Widow Johnson was a strong spirited woman of many years. She wore her long white hair in a pony tail with her thin pale skin stretched over her jawbones and scrawny arms.
    “Haven’t had a man in here in some time. How old are you now? Nineteen? Twenty?” She examined. “Eighteen Ma’am. Nineteen next month.” he answered with a mouthful of bread, “I went to the cabin and Ma wasn’t there, or Mary.”  Mrs. Johnson got silent for a couple of seconds. “Son,” she finally said, “It’s been hard and your Ma and sister since your father died. With no money coming in, and a storm hitting the roof...”
“What are you trying to say?” Ben questioned.
“Well, about a year ago an older Gentleman named Jacob started coming by about twice a month bringing her food and things and when the roof collapsed he offered to board them at his place, temporarily you know. She stopped by to thank me and said that her and Mary were going to stay at Jacobs plantation for a while.”
“What’s his last name?” Said Ben.
“Jones, Jacob Jones.” Mrs. Johnson answered. His heart dropped. He was there just the other day. The only fine thing left in his life was on the trail behind him.
    “I couldn’t really tell you where his plantation is, but you could find out in town,” She advised, “Before you go, could you do something for me?” “Well, what do you need?” he said. She faced toward one of the two muskets on the kitchen counter. “Think you can shoot something? I need to get some meat on this table and I cant see or shoot worth a damn.” Ben did not want to even touch a rifle and most of all didn’t want to waste any more time traveling back to the Jones’ plantation. “First thing in the morning.” he tried not to sound reluctant, especially since she fed him her last egg. She prepared him a cot in one of the rooms and he was fast asleep.

    “Retreat!” Everyone started to howl like banshees while fleeing from their fighting positions. As Ben ran, boys started falling around him from the Union gunfire. The line wasn’t as far away as he had thought. His bayonet found the belly of  a boy trying to reload his rifle. Ben pulled out the spear making a sickening noise. A rifle butt came at him like an ax from his left side knocking Ben’s rifle out of his hands. He grabbed the soldiers face knocking him down. He sank his thumbs into the soldiers eyes sockets as deep as he could, pulling his thumbs out, Ben seized his bayonet and planted it into the young boys neck. Soaked with the Pennsylvania boy’s blood, he caught up General Pickett’s unit retreating south.

    “Good morning boy.” Mrs. Johnson nudged him awake. It was still dark outside. “I believe you got some hunting to do.” “Yes Ma’am.” he replied half asleep. He opened his tobacco tin and rolled a cigarette. Igniting the tip with a candle she brought him, he made his way into the kitchen. He arranged some powder, wads, caps, and three lead slugs onto the scared wooden table. He wrapped his powders as he was trained to do and examined the caps.  Finally, he glanced at the rifles. Mrs. Johnson picked one up. “This one was Adams favorite, God rest his soul. He said it shoots true. Yes sir, he brought in a many of critter with this thing.” she positioned it on the table in front of him. He gathered up the Harpers Ferry rifle. It felt natural to his hands. he primed it and rammed the lead slug down the barrel. He wrapped himself in a blanket and strolled out into the frozen cotton fields in the morning radiance.
    Ben made his way to the wood line and discovered a tree to prop against where he could mind the edge of the cotton field. The wintry wind blew as he pulled the blanket tighter over his back and neck. He to hear squirrels. Thirty minutes later he listened to the cluck of turkey out in the woods. Finally, a hen waddled out from one hundred yards away.  He hoisted his rifle and waited for her to come closer. The hen stepped back into the woods. Another half hour later, he turned his head to see three doe walking out of the wood line another hundred yards from him. He slowly turned the gun and used the tree for support. He lined up on the largest one and squeezed the trigger. He ambled through the cloud of white smoke and found the doe twitching on her side until she finally died. Ben took off his belt, wrapped it around the deer’s neck, and started dragging her back to Mrs. Johnsons place.
    Mrs. Johnson was ecstatic. “Damn boy, I figured you’d be out all day and come back with a squirrel.” She squawked. “Ma’am, I got to get to that plantation,” Ben explained, “I got a little money, but I’m going to need a horse.” She looked as if she was thinking hard. “Well boy, all my horses are probably dead from pulling Lee’s artillery all over creation. But, I’ll tell you what. Since your Ma was such a good woman and friend to me, take Adam’s rifle, I sure as hell can’t use it. Maybe you can do some trading in Georgetown.” She offered. Ben accepted the offer and lobbed the rifle over his back. “Thank you Mrs. Johnson. I’ll make my way back here in the spring and settle with you. I’m a man of my word. I’ll never forget this.” he promised. “Go on boy, and tell your Ma to stop by sometime.” Mrs. Johnson’s eyes began to water. “Yes Ma’am.” he replied.
    Ben packed his knapsack and began his march to Georgetown. By nightfall, his feet were too beat to move. He found a spot to lay out his blanket and thought of his Mother and sister. Loneliness turned his stomach, but even with no one around, he was not as lonely as laying in a trench with three thousand other young men and Union artillery whistling over his head.

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Chapter 2 of Dragoon Winter
A Word from the Writer
I wanted this draft to have Ben's Character develop into a person the reader could consider having lived in Post Civil War Southeast. Tell me what you think.