Once again, I am scavenging from history. I can’t remember the woman’s name nor the Union commander’s, nor even where it takes place, but I think it was Louisiana. A company of Union soldiers came to a plantation and demanded the woman surrender it. She met him at the door with a knife and told him she would defend it unto death.
The man was so impressed with her courage that he left the plantation unmolested.
General Benjamin Butler was in charge of the forces in New Orleans. After a local woman insulted him, he passed Order #38. A woman who disrespected any Union soldier was to be treated as a woman plying her trade. Basically, she could be assaulted or arrested. Whether the woman had to be paid for her “services” wasn’t clear. He also had a tendency to put “freed” slaves into forced labor. Butler earned the nickname of “Spoons” Butler because he confiscated the silver from any home he stayed in. As a Union general, he had the right to stay where he pleased and apparently liked nicer homes. He was so unpopular in the south, they made chamber pots with his image.
Pres. Jefferson Davis put out an order that Butler was to be hanged as a felon if he was captured. Butler was later relieved of duty due to Order #38.
The Devil Wore Blue
“Please, Missus, you can’t do this.”
The tiny little black woman before her cried, knotting her hands into her apron in fear. Her face was lined and furrowed like one of those dried apple dolls collapsing in on itself. Tears caught in the wrinkles and then continued their journey.
“Mam, stop this immediately and help me dress. Jim will get you out of here. Take care of Abby for me and try to get to The Oaks.”
The old nanny wiped her face and nodded, but her fingers trembled so she could barely button Miriam’s dress. Miriam smoothed the butternut gray skirt as if she were getting ready to receive dinner guests. Her fingers traced out the gold braid she had sewn into elaborate appliqué on the sleeve to match her husband’s. Jonathan’s eyes welled when she put the dress on she had sewn from the same material as his uniforms. He looked back once and then rode away with his men. Angrily brushing her own tear away, she picked up the largest butcher knife she’d found and concealed it in the folds of her skirt.
Be brave, she told herself. Make Jonathan proud.
Mam patted Miriam’s shoulder when the last button was fastened. “Missus, please come with us. Let them devils have this place.”
“Do as I told you and get Abby out of here now. Go through the cane track. Y’all come back later if you can. If not, leave Abby with the Hampsteads and run.”
Mam looked out the window. “They’re here, Missus.”
Miriam hurried down the stairs and kissed her daughter who was playing with a wooden horse beside Jim. “You go with Mam and Jim. They’re taking you to see the Hampsteads.”
Abby’s dark curls bounced when she jumped up. She looked so much like her father. “Can I take them some gingerbread men?”
Her response was cut off by a man’s bellow outside. Abby ran to the window and pulled the velvet drapes aside. “Mama, there’s a bunch of men outside.”
“I know darling. You go with Mam and Jim now.”
Miriam walked out onto the porch to meet fate.
The devil wore blue and rode a great black horse who had probably been quite handsome in better days. Now the gelding was thin and dirty with deep hollows above his closed eyes. His master had a great black beard that covered half his chest. His eyes nearly matched the grimy Yankee uniform, but, like any decent devil, they flashed with fire when he noted the butternut dress.
She pulled the knife from the folds and held it out.
Several of the devil’s men pulled their guns in response.
“You will stand down immediately, madam, or I will burn this place down around you!”
“You’ll do it over my body,” she responded with more confidence than she felt and she raised the knife higher.
“Stand down,” he roared again. “My men and I are going to rest here for a few days and you, madam, will not stop me.”
“I’ll not harbor a Yankee here.” She advanced to the edge of the porch, ready to meet him.
Miriam heard Mam’s terrified shriek behind her, followed by a streak of yellow topped by long, dark curls. “Abigail, no!”
Miriam ran after her daughter, but the girl was in front of the devil before she could catch her. Abby pulled a gingerbread man from her bundle and held it up to the captain. “Mama and I made these last night.”
Miriam heart leapt at the sound of guns cocking and she threw herself in front of her daughter. The devil’s horse opened his weary eyes and took a bite of the cookie. Several of the men laughed and lowered their weapons.
“Mama, you told me last night about how Mary and Joseph had no place to stay and how tired they were. Are we going to turn these men away on Christmas?”
Miriam clutched her daughter closer and looked up at the captain. “No, darling. Not on Christmas.”
The devil took off his hat. “My name is Captain Sherwood. If you’ll allow, we’ll camp in your woods for a few days and move on.”
“No, sir. I haven’t enough room for everyone in the house, but the barn is clean and we’ll prepare food such as we have. Feed those poor animals and give us your uniforms as you can so we can wash them. Abby’s right, no one should be turned away on Christmas.”
“Thank you. The barn seems quite appropriate today. We have supplies we can share if you wouldn’t mind cooking. ” She noticed a tear well in his eyes and his shoulders slumped. “You’ll not be missing any silver when we leave. I pray someone will give your husband succor today also as you have us.”