The morning dawned like any other and before they knew it they were heading into town with their father. He had promised lunch at the hotel and maybe a stop at Baker’s Apothecary for some candy on the way home. Ana and her sister were genuinely excited despite what was to come the next morning. Their father spent as much time with them as he possibly could when he was at home, but this was a special treat.
As they made their way downtown, Ana enjoyed every second. She listened to the wind in the trees, the sounds of children playing in the hot August sun, and the sounds of the songbirds filling the air. The majestic mountains that wrapped around the city and the winding Tennessee River looked more beautiful to her than ever before. Closing her eyes, she determined herself to memorize every detail.
They made it to the hotel restaurant in time for lunch and sat down to a great meal. Lucy kept everyone in stitches the whole time with her funny stories and the way she emphasized each one with silly faces and sounds. After lunch they strolled down the city street, stopping from time to time along the way to peer into a shop window or visit with someone that they knew. They made it all the way down to where people were gathering in the court yard of the Missionary Baptist Church. There James recognized someone and they headed that way.
“Good afternoon, Captain,” James said as he saluted and then shook the other man’s hand.
“A good afternoon to you too, Colonel. Well now…who are these lovely ladies?”
“Captain Marks, these are my daughters, Lucy and Ana Grace.”
“Well, it certainly is a pleasure to finally get to meet the two of you.”
“It’s nice to meet you too, sir,” Ana said, offering her hand and a smile to the man. Lucy grew shy and hid behind her sister like she always did around someone she didn’t know.
“Girls…General Bragg has released Captain Marks to make sure you and Liza make the train in the morning.”
“Yes, sir…I’ll be at your place bright and early so we can get you there on time,” Marks said, hooking his fingers on his suspenders and puffing out his burly chest.
“Where is the other gentleman?” James questioned.
“Let me get him over here to meet all of you,” and with a quick nod, he headed off.
“Papa, I wish you could take us.”
“I don’t want to go with that man, Papa,” Lucy said, pleading her case from her hiding place.
“Now girls, we discussed this at lunch. Besides, General Bragg himself picked these men for the job. I am confident they are up to the task.” Ana wasn’t so sure.
“Colonel Lawson, I’d like you to meet Sergeant Jacob Dalton. Dalton’s one of our very best men and best dang sharp shooter I’ve ever seen!”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Colonel Lawson,” the sergeant said as he offered his hand to shake.
James took his hand and said, “Pleasure is mine, Sergeant.” He then turned to introduce his girls. “These are my daughters, Ana Grace and Lucy.”
“It’s nice to meet you, ladies.”
The smile that accompanied his greeting took Ana’s breath away. She scrutinized the man’s tall frame and broad shoulders focusing in on his firm muscles and tanned skin. She decided he would be a real catch if he wasn’t a soldier.
“You’re a soldier?” she blurted out. “How old are you anyway?”
“Ana, such questions are not very polite,” her father reprimanded, finishing with a stern look.
“It’s quite alright, sir. I get that all the time. I turned twenty last month, and I assure you, Miss Ana, that I am an excellent soldier,” he finished with another brilliant smile.
“So, Marks, you and Dalton here need to be at my place in the morning at six a.m. sharp,” James instructed.
Ana and her family were soon on their way back down the street toward home, but not before she got another quick look at the young sergeant. They hadn’t gone far, when out of nowhere came a loud shrill and then an explosion that rocked the ground they were standing on. Ana could hear the screams of women and children as another shrill and blast filled the air.
“Papa, what’s happening?”
“The Yankees! They’ve started firing on us! We have to get you out of here… now!”
James scooped Lucy up into his arms, took Ana by the hand and they began to make their way toward home as fast as they could go. They turned as they ran to get a good look at the town behind them. Smoke was already pouring out of the top of the candy store along with another building close by. The realization that they had left that store moments before, hit Ana causing her legs to almost give-way beneath her.
It was total chaos. People were running around trying to help each other seek shelter. Confederate troops were filing into the area and taking aim on the enemy and Ana cringed as they fired cannons out across the Tennessee River. She jumped as explosions signaled that they had hit their mark. Ana saw Captain Marks and Sgt. Dalton in the midst of the madness at the same time her father did.
“Captain Marks,” James stopped running and shouted over the mounting noise. “Plans have changed! Get to my house as soon as possible!”
As they resumed their hasty retreat, three more loud explosions erupted behind them. Ana couldn’t believe this was happening. She looked at her father’s face a few times as they ran, drawing strength from the determination and calmness she saw there. As the blasts from the cannons echoed all around, his focus was on one thing only—getting them to safety.
Before Ana realized it, they had made it back to the house.
“Thank da’ Lord, I thought I’d lost you all!”
Liza wrapped Lucy and Ana in a tight embrace and continued to praise the Lord for their safe return. Liza’s praises took Ana back to a time before the death of her mother and before the mere mention of God in their home turned taboo. The sound of her father’s voice broke the spell, however and she was forced back to present.
“Liza, are you finished packing for you and the girls?”
“Yes’sa,” she answered looking as scared as Ana had ever seen her.
“Then take the girls upstairs and bring everything down.”
“Yes’sa. Come on now.”
As they reached the stairs, Ana turned and saw her father swarmed by other officers and heading toward the library. She paused…her natural curiosity causing her to want to listen in on the conversation, but the tug on her arm by Liza put her mind back to the task of packing.
Once in their bedroom, they got all of their bags and placed them by the top of the stairs. Liza then led them quickly back inside and shut the door. She knelt beside the bed and motioned for them to do the same.
“Come here girls, we needs to pray.”
“I don’t remember how to pray,” Ana pointed out, but something deep inside her made her want to more than anything.
“I don’t know how,” Lucy said through her tears.
“All’s you do is talk to God as if He was standin’ right in front of ya,” bowing her head and closing her eyes she began whispering her prayer.
Ana realized Lucy was looking to her for instruction, so she decided to follow Liza’s lead, talking to God loud enough so Lucy could hear. Ana listened to the things Liza was saying repeating as best she could. She asked God to keep them all safe, all the while hearing the explosions in the distance. Once the prayer was finished, they all stood and headed for the stairs. They stood at the top and listened, all too afraid to go down and possibly get in the way.
The front door flew open and an officer, followed by a couple of soldiers, came rushing in and headed straight to the library. Ana listened as closely as she could to hear the news they had came to share.
“General Stone, sir. We have word the shelling is coming from a brigade led by Colonel John T. Wilder.”
“Isn’t that the same brigade that has been camped out on the other side of the river and to the North for the last few days?”
“Yes sir. They’ve sunk two steamers at the landing. We have been firing back at them, to no avail. They don’t seem to be letting up.”
“Let me know if you hear anything else, Major. We can’t let them take the city!”
The door opened again and Captain Marks and the young soldier came in, in search of James. Once James realized they were there he came from the library to greet them.
“Are you ready to go, gentlemen? There’s no time to waste. I want my family out of here and to safety.”
“Yes sir,” Marks began, “The train has been moved to the main track and is sitting on ready, but the Yankees have the railroad cut off to the north.”
“Can we get out to the south?”
“Yes, if we go now I believe we can. So, as soon as they are ready we will head out.”
James looked toward the top of the stairs and instructed Liza to bring their things down.
“Let me help,” the sergeant offered, heading for the stairs.
As he passed, he gave Ana a smile, but it didn’t have the sparkle that it had had earlier. In this smile, she could see the recent events were weighing on him. James called for Ana and Lucy to come to him and as soon as they reached the bottom he took them in a strong embrace.
“You have to go now. Captain Marks and Sergeant Dalton are going to take very good care of you.”
Lucy clung to her father. “Papa, I want you to go too.”
“Are you sure you can’t, Papa?”
“Girls, you know I can’t. The army needs me here.”
“Let us stay Papa, please!” Lucy begged.
“I’m sorry, my dear, I can’t. I will send for you as soon as it is safe.” James gave them both another quick squeeze and kiss then stood to address Liza.
“Take care of my girls.”
Ana was stunned to hear his voice crack and see tears beginning to form in his eyes. She hadn’t seen her father cry since her mother passed.
“I most certainly will'sa,” Liza said beginning to tear herself. Then her father did something that really shocked her…he hugged that woman.
He turned to Marks and Dalton and addressed them. “Whatever it takes, get them to safety. If you have to get on the train with them, I don’t care.”
“They’re in good hands, sir, don’t you worry,” Marks assured him.
Ana noticed then, he too was looking a little strained. He and Dalton gathered up the trunks and ushered Ana, Lucy, and Liza through the door and down the front steps. A carriage awaited them at the gate, and once boarded, Lucy began to cry uncontrollably.
Liza pulled her into her lap and began the task of trying to console her. While Ana, trying her best to be brave, watched her home shrink in the distance. With the sound of shelling echoing all around, Ana’s own tears started to fall and she wondered if she would ever see home again.