My sister Ellen and I peered out the window of our stopped carriage to see the swollen, churning waters of the Shenandoah River. Ten Confederate soldiers were removing a huge ferry that lay moored to the bank. Our escorts Captain Laird and Private Moore assisted us to the ground. Captain Laird exclaimed, “Sisters, make haste. The Yankees may be upon us at any minute.”
My heart fluttered as I raced to the crude craft. I shuddered at the thoughts of the enemy catching us. “Ellen,” I whispered, “If we ever get home, I’ll never leave again.”
“I won’t either, Marilyn.” She sighed.
The soldiers drove our wagon and mules onto the rolling vessel along with other teams. Ellen and I stepped on with our companions. I let out a whimper when I noticed the wide spacing of the planks. Bubbling water tickled our feet. One misstep would land us in the water.
Ellen and I clung to each other dodging the rearing horses and mules. The men swore and worked hard to control them but I was fearful that they would tip over the vessel at any moment. Raggedly dressed Confederate soldiers stood around the edges using long sticks to guide and direct the crate to the other side.
We reached our destination after what seemed to be an hour. Dizzy and shaking from our frightful ride, Ellen and I exited the barge. A rickety shay with an old Negro driver emerged from a thicket.
“Ladies, please hurry.” Captain Laird said.
The soldiers had just mounted their horses when a breathless courier rode up and shouted. “The Yankees are two miles away. You’d better get out of here.”
The Rebels quickly rode off in the direction we had just come from.
As Captains Laird and Private Moore assisted us into our next conveyance, we heard gunfire. Captain Laird approached the driver and said, “Uncle Jesse, get going and don’t slow down or stop for anything or anyone.”
“Yessuh, Massa. I sho’ won’t.”
We bowed our heads and petitioned our Lord to guide us safely home. Sitting on opposite sides with their handguns at their sides, the two soldiers stared out the windows. I gazed at my napping younger sister and recalled recent events.
In April, Father had accompanied Ellen and me to Baltimore to visit relatives for one month. Shortly after he returned home, the Yankees banned anyone from travelling to and from the South. They imprisoned all offenders, even seventeen and eighteen-year-old females.
With contacts in the Confederate army, Uncle Raphael arranged a plan to get us home. Several days ago, Captain Laird and Private Moore appeared at our Uncle’s house in Baltimore dressed in civilian clothes and masquerading as merchants.
Captain Laird would pretend to be our brother David; Private Moore, our cousin Andrew. Captain Laird certainly could pass as our brother with his dark hair and eyes. Private Moore, even though he was blonde-haired and blue-eyed, would pass as a cousin.
The first day we would travel by train to Frederick, staying overnight at a Confederate sympathizer’s house. The next day a buckboard would deliver us to a Potomac River crossing where someone would transport us to Virginia. From there we would travel a short distance by buggy to the Shenandoah River and then by another carriage to our home in Winchester.
The sun was sinking in the August sky when the surrey stopped. Captain Laird ordered us to, “Stay where you are until I check outside.”
Before he could open the door, I heard Father call our names. I nudged Ellen awake and said, “We are home. Let’s go see Mama and Papa!”
Ellen and I shoved open the doors, jumped to the ground, and ran into the arms of our parents who said repeatedly, “Thank the Lord you are unharmed. We are so happy and thankful to God for keeping you safe.”
We had been so happy to see one another that we had forgotten about the Captain and Private until the sounds of horses’ hooves caught our attention. We looked up to see them in uniform and on horseback.
Tipping their hats, Captain Laird said, “We must hurry and join our company bivouacked not far from here. It was a pleasure bringing you back to your family. God bless you all.”
Ellen and I thanked them. Papa said, “Thank you both. God bless you and God bless the Confederacy.”
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