My second guest blogger for the Blogger Book Fair week is Haley Whitehall. Don’t forget to follow some of the links here and at the main Fair site for freebies, raffles, and other goodies.
This year’s Blogger Book Fair theme is to let your imagination travel to far-away places. Since I write historical fiction, I have logged many hours doing just that. Most of my books take place during the Antebellum/Civil War period. Although I have been too and enjoyed many reenactments, I still believe the next closest thing to time travel is writing about the places I wish I could visit. I can make sure my hero is opening a can of beans with his bayonet instead of an electric can opener!
I have been drawn to the Civil War era ever since I studied it in elementary school. The Newbery Medal winning YA novel Rifles for Watie got me thinking I could write my own novels about the War Between the States, and I’ve been daydreaming in blue and gray ever since. All it takes is for me to turn on some Civil War music or watch The Horse Soldiers starring John Wayne and I’m instantly transferred to the battlefield. I have recently released a Civil War short story Journey to Glory and I am in the process of editing In Dixieland’s Grasp, Book 2 in the Plantation Shadows series. It will be published in 2014.
Here is an excerpt from Grits and Glory, Plantation Shadows, Book 1 (currently on sale for 99 cents at Amazon and most ebook distributors)
I hope my excerpt transports you back to the Civil War and right into the middle of the action!
He went about his business slowly, trying hard not to think about facing the enemy in advance of the army. Charging the field with a whole brigade was bad enough—skirmishing something worse.
Peter took deep, calming breaths. He heard his comrades crossing the Rappahannock. Footsteps echoed on the pontoon bridge. Soft voices caught his ears and the occasional moan or curse. He wished he was retreating with them.
He stood his ground, rifle in hand, the dream he’d had playing in his mind. You look like a corpse. A true Southerner is going to lay you in your grave. You were born a coward.
Peter shook his head to make his father’s voice stop. His eyes narrowed. He focused on the approaching Confederates. This was life or death. This was not a dream.
His heart barely kept time with his lungs. His head felt fuzzy, but his judgment remained clear. He forced his feet to remain planted.
Forced himself to listen to the officers.
Forced himself to follow orders.
Lieutenant French spoke, sharp, and booming. “Hold your position.”
The skirmishers formed a hasty battle line. He’d give all his pay for an ounce of cover. Fully focused on loading and firing, he ignored the crackling volleys, lead tearing into flesh, and chilling screams.
The Confederates were fifty yards away and closing fast.
Pulling a cartridge out, he bit the top off. Poured in the acrid powder. Pushed the wad and bullet on top. Shoved it down the barrel with his ramrod. He grabbed a percussion cap out of his pouch.
Cocking the hammer, he put the percussion cap on the nipple. He nearly fired without removing his ramrod.
“Damn.” His arms trembled. He held his breath to steady his actions and fired. He saw his target fall to the ground, gripping his chest. Peter exhaled. They were targets. Not men.
One of the Kane brothers moaned. Peter’s head jerked to his right expecting to see one of them wounded. Instead, Jim rubbed his swollen eyes. Standing shoulder to shoulder, their faces black from biting numerous cartridges, they looked like miners. With his tongue, Peter tried to wipe the grime off his teeth. The bitterness soured his mouth and when he swallowed, the powder stuck like glue in his throat.
The trees screamed at him. The ground bled. His whole body smelled like gunpowder. Henry Jackson grabbed his shoulder and crumpled to the ground. Andrew Silas lay beside him.
Lifeless bodies. Glossy eyes. Peter blinked. Another man went into convulsions. Peter sucked on his bottom lip. The vein on his neck pulsed. He loaded his rifle again. It seemed they were taking on the entire Confederate Army.
A wounded Federal kept crying out, “Mother! Mother! Mother!”
The wrenching plea brought tears to Peter’s irritated eyes, splintered his nerves. It was the redheaded boy who had been shocked to find out he talked like a Johnny Reb.
“Shut up,” Peter said, then cringed at his heartlessness.
A burning pain seared his right arm. He touched the wound and the sting it brought overpowered his senses. He pulled his hand away as if he had touched a hot stove, his fingers dripping blood.
A rebel raised his rifle and fired at the redheaded boy’s skull. Peter clutched his rifle tighter. His eyes darted from one panic-stricken comrade to another. His chest felt hollow. His emotions went numb, no longer able to register grief or pain.
“Damn the brass!” Peter’s words were drowned by the next volley.
Either send in reinforcements or let us retreat. Neither happened.
His scalp, hands, forehead, chest were soaked with sweat—as if it had been raining sweat.
The Confederates advanced towards them. The dwindling line of fire his friends provided offered little hindrance.
A clattering noise clipped the air. Bayonets. As if the blood and bullets weren’t enough. A sour taste rose in Peter’s throat. Realizing they had the upper-hand, the rebels let out a horrendous “Yyyeeeaaaa!”
Peter froze. The rebel yell rang in his ears, turning his heart to stone. He swallowed his fear in a big gulp and grabbed his leather pouch. His ammunition was running low—everyone was running out. He felt his coat pocket. It contained a handful of bullets. Soon, they’d be surrounded.
His stomach clenched; his lungs seemed to shut down. He struggled to breathe, struggled to stand, struggled to think. The darkness of death drifted towards him, ready to devour him in seconds. The scope of his thoughts narrowed to the point of a bayonet. The bayonet gleaming in the hands of his enemy. He could surrender and end up in prison. He could stay on the field and die.
Or he could make a run for it and have a chance to live.
He glanced back at the pontoon bridge. With the Confederates in pursuit, crossing it would be a death trap. If he could escape the battlefield, he’d be forgotten.
He took to his heels. Must keep moving. Must get off the field. Must get to the city.
A Confederate soldier lay on his side, his eyes glassy. As he ran past he took the soldier for dead, but a hand reached out and grabbed his ankle. Iciness spread up his leg and he fell headlong onto the ground.
“Peter,” the rebel whispered hoarsely.
Peter sat up and blinked at the soldier. He had taken a ball to the gut and gripped his middle with both hands.
“Amos?” Peter said. “Amos Dawson?” He had never expected to run into an old school friend like this.
“Help me,” Amos said. “Water.” Amos reached his arm out.
Peter glanced at his canteen and then at the wounded man. He didn’t have time to talk and tend the man’s wounds.
“I’m dying, Peter.” His skin was white and waxy and he labored to breathe. “My throat is dry.”
Peter passed him his canteen. His heart beat erratically as he waited for the man to finish. Amos took a long drink, and then grimaced and moaned when he pulled the canteen from his lips.
Peter nodded. He wanted to say more, wanted to help, but he couldn’t stay.
Amos’ green eyes registered understanding. “Take care of yourself, Peter,” Amos lay down on his back and moaned again. “I will speak to your mother for you.”
Peter’s throat tightened and he struggled to hold back tears.
“Go,” Amos said. “Or we’ll both by lying here.”
Peter slung the canteen over his shoulder and resumed running.
Once inside the limits of Fredericksburg, he moved deeper into the city, using the trees and buildings as cover.
A burning sensation spread up his arm, blood dripping down his sleeve. “Blasted!” His pulse pounded in his ears in time to his throbbing arm. He kneeled and pulled a bandanna out of his haversack and tied it above the elbow, pulling it taut with his free hand and teeth.
He got to his feet and stumbled forward. Don’t stay in one place long. The familiar warning echoed through his mind. He wasn’t safe. He could be discovered. He could be pursued. He could be captured.
Adrenaline propelled him onward through the battle-scarred city. He felt numb seeing most houses in town scathed by the Union bombardment. The artillery had blown holes as big as barrels through the structures. The town lay deserted and pillaged.
Peter’s feet pounded the ground in a swift, steady motion. He held his rifle across his chest, his right hand on the butt and his left gripping the hot muzzle. He didn’t dare get any closer to the trigger, for fear his taut nerves would cause him to fire by accident.
The Confederate soldiers drifted farther and farther and farther away. He ran to the countryside heaving for breath, his lungs burning, his sides aching.
At first he was running blindly, but then the path became familiar. He felt pulled towards a certain mansion. He could only hope that it would provide him refuge.
Peter staggered up the walkway and grasped the gate. He eyed the whitewashed house with apprehension. His past and future lay behind that door. A future in the Union Army or in prison.
Taking a deep breath, he pounded on the door. All he heard was the blood rushing in his ears.
At last, the knob slowly turned. The door opened to reveal a young woman swollen with child. Her hand flew to her mouth, stifling a scream. Her knees buckled, and she grabbed the doorframe to steady herself.
This wasn’t the same innocent woman from his childhood. Was she carrying her second child? Third? So much had happened in the past two years. “You remember me, don’t you, Abigail?”
She visibly relaxed. “Peter? What are you doing here? You were the last person I had expected to see.”
“I know. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Her sharp eyes looked him over—searching his soul to see how Yankee he had become, he was sure.
“I’m glad you’re well,” Peter said, breaking the uneasy silence. “I was worried about you.”
Abigail opened her mouth, but hesitated as if searching for the right words. She turned her head and flicked a glance inside the house.
When she spoke her voice was soft. “General Lee urged everyone to leave the city. He even sent army wagons and ambulances to transport people to safer ground.” She paused and shifted her weight, taking long pauses between her words. “Many women and children fled to the safety of my house. I am hosting them until it’s safe for them to return.”
Peter nodded, a deep frown etched across his face. “You needn’t say more. I’m not welcome here. I’ll be on my way.”
“Wait,” Abigail called just as he reached the white picket fence.
Peter stopped. “Your arm is bleeding. Where are you going?”
“I don’t know.”
“There are Confederate soldiers everywhere in town; others are roaming the countryside.”
Peter pinched his lips together. Anxiety wormed its way into the pit of his stomach. He shrugged, tightening his voice. “I figured that.”
“It isn’t safe for you to go anywhere. You can stay here, sir.” She took his hand and helped him into her home, ushering him to a door.
“You can stay in the cellar.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Peter said, bobbing his head.
His nose wrinkled at the stench of the onions and turnips. They hung in bunches from the ceiling.
Creeaak. Peter’s heart sank like a rock thrown in the river. Abigail had shut the door, but he understood. His world had been turned on its head, not by the war, but by his actions on his eighteenth birthday.
He was putting her in danger by being here. An uncomfortable feeling crawled up his neck. He shook his head and it fell away. She’d never stood up for him when they were children. She owed him.
Peter felt his way around the cellar with his left arm, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. He found an empty barrel, turned it over and sat, cradling his right arm in his lap. He untied the bandanna and tried to examine his wound. All he saw was coagulating blood. Poking at it made it hurt worse, made the pain pulsate through his body.
His heart raced. He closed his eyes and took a deep, ragged breath.
“You’re safe here,” Peter whispered. “You’re safe.”
The floor stared back at him. He imagined he was a boy again, playing hide and seek. It was no use.
He couldn’t fool himself. He was a wanted man. Whether he would be turned in or not was up to his sister.
You can Find Haley at:
Grits and Glory can be found at:
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/grits-and-glory-haley-whitehall/1113085354?ean=2940015525298