Chapter 22 – About April, 1864 Netta Lee Remembers Clever Horse-Snatching by Edmund, Her Brother.
Her brother and others almost get caught at their home while stealing Federal horses; A spy in the household is suspected.
One day Mother and I were playing chess on the porch when up came a ragged, barefooted little boy, who looked all around to see if he was observed, then pulled off his cap, turned the lining inside out and produced a crumpled piece of brown paper which he handed to Mother; on it was written:
“Clemmons, Jones and I will be with you all about dark. Keep the coast clear.”
The note was unsigned. The boy had vanished. Mother turned pale and said.: “Oh, how terrible it would be if Edmund and the others were captured here!”
We held council; it was agreed that about dark, if the coast was clear I was to whistle “Dixie” otherwise, “Yankee Doodle,” should be the air. Then Mother went to tell Peggy to have a good supper because Miss Virginia (Bedinger) and Miss Pink (Boteler) were coming out: I went into town to invite these girls and to gather up letters to be sent South. Later, the two boys, Harry (the youngest son) and Laurie (his cousin Lawrence Rust) went to the Charlestown road to watch, while I kept watch over the servants.
When it was quite dark, the boys returned with Edmund, who was taken upstairs to my room, where we had closed the shutters and pulled down the shades. We had had our supper downstairs and Mother had saved some for Edmund which she brought up. Clemmons and Jones had gone to their own homes.
“You see, Pink,” said Edmund, “we have no horses. Ours are just worn out and we had to turn them loose to pasture. We cannot buy others”
“But, Edmund,” said Pink, “your mother offered you her carriage horses.”
“I know,” he replied, “but they are old and unfit to ride, or the yankees would have taken them long ago.”
“This is very true,” said Pink, “but you see, so far only their infantry has been here to guard the river and the B&O Railway. And how vigilantly they do guard both.”
“How on earth did you boys manage to evade them?” asked Virginia.
“Well, you see, Cousin Virginia, we know this country much better than they do and we have friends on both sides of the line, who keep us posted, so we easily slip in between the pickets.”
Mother and Virginia were keeping tab on the time. A goodly supply of edibles had been prepared. Only too soon the hour of departure arrived. Harry and Laurie Rust went out with Edmund, leaving us to silent fears.
Next day, it was decided that Virginia and I should walk across the country to the farmhouse, from whence the crumpled note regarding Edmund’s arrival had concealed where we could leave the bundles of letters to be forwarded southward. These letters were carefully placed in a basket, that a neighbor had sent my mother at the time the note was delivered, which was then filled with peaches.,
Having arrived at the farmhouse, we did not ask for our soldiers but in a lowered voice, we stated that: “These are some of our peaches in return for the pretty yellow ones you sent mother.” The woman nodded looking from the corner of her eyes at at a man standing near us, whom we recognized as a Union sympathizer. “It is all right,” she said.
The second morning after our young soldier left, William Washington, our butler, upon coming into the breakfast room, said: “Marse Harry, Aunt Kiz says she heard in town that the rebel pickets attacked the union pickets out at Kearneysville and got two of the yankees’ horses!”
“You don’t say so!” exclaimed Harry, dropping the book he was reading. “What else did she say, Bill?” Was anybody killed or hurt?”
“Not as she heard, sir.”
“How many rebels attacked them, Bill?”
Bill gave a knowing toss of his head and replied: “Aunt Kizzie says they told her in town there were fifteen or twenty rebs and they cut their bridles and fired a volley and before the yankees could see which way they were, the rebels had gone!”
“I’m glad they didn’t get any of our fellows!” exclaimed Harry, with a sigh of relief.
“So am I, Marse Harry, because who knows who those rebels were?”
“That’s so,” agreed Harry.
“I don’t believe it, either, Marse Harry, they were more than three or four of our fellows. Those yankees always see them double and two can scare them as much as four.”
“Bring in some hot waffles, William.” said his mistress (Mrs. Lee). Upon his exit, she said: “Harry, do you think he suspects anything?”
“I verily do, Mother dear, but he will never betray what he knows. I’ll question him in a day or two, after I have seen some of our boys and learn that our fellows are well out of the county.”
There was a great deal of talk about the attack at Kearneysville, both in and out of town, and many surmises as to who the rebs might be. Laurie came over that night, as he did so often to stay with Harry. They went to bed early as they were going fishing next day. Virginia had gone home and Mother and I occupied her room in the western wing, while the boys slept upstairs in the main building. About two o’clock in the morning Mother was aroused by a fearful pounding on the front door. We sprang from the bed.
“What can it be?” I cried in a terrified tone.
Mother went to the window, raised it, and cautiously peered through the closed shutters asking: “Who is there?”
The pounding ceased upon the opening of the window.
“Who is it and what do you want?” again demanded Mother.
“I am Captain Teeter of the United States Army; open this door instantly or I will break it down,” a savage voice replied.
“I must know first,” returned my brave mother, “why Captain Teeters of the United States Army should be admitted into my house at this hour of the night.”
“Madam, open this door instantly, or I’ll break it down!” said the Captain, banging again. “Your house is surrounded by armed men and anyone trying to escape will be shot down. Open the door at once, do you hear me? I will tell you why when I get in.”
“Well, surely,“ said my mother. “You will give me and my young daughter time to dress?”
He replied: ”Yes, of course, but don’t keep me waiting, or I’ll break down this door.”
In the meantime my mother said to me: “Here, my child, is your pistol. If a man puts his hand on you, shoot to kill. I will do the same.”
With white lips, I caught up my “war-pocket” containing the letters that had come two days before to be taken South and tied them around my waist. I then followed closely behind Mother, each of us holding a light tallow candle in one hand, while the other grasped a loaded revolver, concealed in the folds of our dresses. As Mother unlocked the front door, Captain Teeters, followed by four armed men, pushed rudely by us into the room. Mother followed them and said: “Again, sir, I demand to know why have you come to my house at this hour of the night, with an armed force, to distress two defenseless women?”
“I will tell you now,” said the Captain, as he stepped closer to Mother, thrusting his face insultingly almost into hers as she stepped back indignantly and defiantly raised her head. She firmly clutched her pistol, while I stepped closer to her. Perhaps the officer remembered that a desperate woman is a dangerous one, for he moved back; then with his cold, green eyes fixed intently upon her face, he hissed: “Lead me to the room where those two rebel soldiers are sleeping.”
The sudden relaxation to our tense nerves was so great that we both heaved a sigh of relief. The yankees thought, no doubt, they they had trapped their game. Mother’s eyes danced with an unwonted light as she said:
“My soldiers? Yes, I’ll take you to my soldiers, follow me.” We two women mounted the stairs, while five armed men followed,. As Mother put her hand upon the knob of the door, five pistols clicked as the men cocked them. Mother threw open the door where the two young boys were sleeping, saying as she did so:
“Here, Captain Teeters, are my rebel soldiers, my men, my protectors, God bless them.”
The soldiers seemed astonished and for a moment, stood speechless. Then one man said: “Oh, Captain, don’t wake up the little fellows.”
But Harry had already sprung up. In a few minutes, he and Laurie were dressed and went in advance of Mother and me, with candles in their hands, leading the yankees from room-to-room. When they came to the garret, every soldier stepped back, holding the lights over their heads and allowing the boys to go first. Finding nothing, they slunk off, baffled, and ashamed, not even making an apology for their intrusion.
Of course there was very little sleep for the family at Bedford that night. We assembled in Mother’s room, talking over these events until dawn.
“Do you think, boys, that Bill could have betrayed us to the yankees?” asked Mother.
“No, that we don’t!” answered both boys emphatically, and Harry continued: “I am going to have a talk with Bill in the morning.”
(The next morning) Bill, when questioned, said: “I know Edmund was home the other night. George saw him and Mr. Billy Clemmons when they came over the orchard hill, but we didn’t say anything to no one because we were afraid Aunt Kiz would find out.”
“Why Aunt Kiz, Bill? Do you think she is not fond of us?” asked Harry.
“Yes, sir, but then she isn’t one of our family servants, you know. Besides that, she belongs to that Society in town.”
“What kind of society is it, Bill?”
“Oh, she says it’s a secret society.”
“What kind of secrets do they keep, Bill?”
“I don’t know, Marse Harry,” he said, chuckling. “I don’t think they keep any secrets, but they find out all they can about other people’s secrets and tells them.”
“Do you believe she knew about our boys, being home?”
“I don’t know Marse Harry; we never told her, but she never got home until almost daylight, Wednesday night.”
Harry told Mother what he had pumped out of Bill and we all agreed that Kizzie must have seen the boys as they were leaving and thought they were arriving; hence her report to the society was one night too late. This put us on our guard and each decided to watch Keziah closely.
Within a week, Mother received a note from Edmund; it came by the same boy who brought the first note inside the lining of his cap:
“Mother darling! I know how anxious you have been about us and I take this, our first chance to send you a letter. We found Jones waiting for us at the appointed place and as he had the only horse in the party, he carried all the belongings. And oh, we have enjoyed the good things to eat. We were well posted about the yankee pickets and their horses, tied at a fine place for us, near a clump of cedars.”
“We stole up on the sleeping fellows, and when the only one on guard had this back turned, we cut the halters of two find horses, mounted them and made for the briars. We were covered by a clump of pines and as the other horses were making a fuss, it was some moments before they found out what was the matter. Then they opened fire, but we had the start and the cover. Each of us let fire two pistols apiece in the air, as fast as possible so they thought us double their number and were afraid to follow. No one was hurt and two Confederates are well mounted. More than like our horses were stolen by the yankees from confederate farmers. – (2).
Chapter 22: About April, 1864 Netta Lee Remembers Clever Horse Snatching by Her Brother.
1. Alexandra Lee Levin’s book “This Awful Drama” implies without specifying that this incident occurred in the spring of 1863. It has been placed in the spring of 1864 here, because Edmund Lee’s service record indicates that in April-May, 1864 Lee was on “horse detail.” The mentioned soldiers, Clemmons and Jones who were with him, also have service records showing their presence in April-May, 1864 in Shepherdstown was easily possible.
2. Netta Lee, pp. 23-24.