tagRomanceWhen Thunder Rolls Ch. 01

When Thunder Rolls Ch. 01


Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia, 10th April, 1865

General Order

No. 9

After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust in them.

But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endured them to their countrymen.

By terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully preformed, and I honestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your consistency and devotion to your Country, and a grateful of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

R.E. Lee, General

General Order No. 9

Under the terms of surrender I could keep my sidearm and my mount as could my second in command. My men could also keep their horses, but they had to surrender any weapons that they had. After four years of service to the Confederacy I wasn't sure which of us was in the worse shape; me, Thunder or the Navy Colt .36 that I carried. We were all pretty worn out. At 5'8 inches I weighed about 100 pounds and at seven years old, Thunder was probably as skinny, hungry, and as tired as I was.

I was walking Thunder toward the road on the morning of April 18, 1865. We had surrendered to the Yankee Army nine days ago and truthfully, I just wanted to leave. Chronologically, at the age of twenty-two, I wasn't old, but four years of service as a cavalryman had made me feel as though I was ancient. I was old enough to know that I wasn't going back to Georgia. I had no idea where I was going but it wasn't there. I wanted some place quiet and I knew Yankees well enough to know that my family's plantation, The Willows, outside of Milledgeville, Georgia would be anything but. My father and mother were far too wealthy and far too politically connected to prominent Southern government officials for them, or me, to have any peace with an occupying military force in the area.

I had decided on a state out west last night and the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. Texas maybe or possibly even California. I had something that most men didn't; money. Carefully sewn into the padding of Thunder's saddle were fifteen Twenty Dollar US gold pieces that my father had gifted me as I left home in '61. I probably had more gold on me than the entire Confederacy had in its coffers. The problem would be finding a merchant that would be willing to sell what they had in stock for a reasonable price. Inflation had hit the Confederacy hard over the last two years. For the money to be worth anything, I would have to travel through all of Virginia and into Kentucky or possibly as far west as Missouri or Kansas before I turned south toward Texas.

I had no doubt that my beloved parents believed me dead. The last letter I had received from them was in January and they were all but pleading with me to "give up on this foolish notion and come back home where I belonged". I hadn't bothered to continue the correspondence, instead I focused on keeping the few remaining soldiers in my command alive so that when this foolishness did end, they had a chance to go back home. In four years I had risen in rank from Private to Major, mostly because of an incredible amount of luck and usually by being the ranking man left alive after our engagements.

When we left home in August of 1861, I was an eighteen-year-old Private and there were eight hundred of us gaily riding toward Richmond to put lead in Yankees and secure our liberties from those tyrants in Washington DC. After Gettysburg in July of '63, there were less than three hundred of us left and we weren't nearly as boastful, nor did we ride gaily into battle any longer. Seven days ago, when we lined up to receive our parole from the Brigadier General in charge of the Provost of the Army of the Potomac, there were forty-two men and two officers present.

Of those, thirty-two were fit for duty and twelve were wounded. I was one of the twelve, having been hit in the thigh by a piece of shrapnel two hours before the cease fire that eventually ended the war. Thus, ended the valiant military service of the 63rd Georgia Cavalry Regiment, and with it, the military career of Thaddaeus C. Thatcher, Major, CSA.

My last act as the commanding officer was to try and secure bedrolls and rations for my men so they could begin their journey home and I was very successful. I managed to secure them three days of rations and a blanket and after speaking candidly to a very humble General by the name of Lawrence Chamberlain; I was able to secure them a clean muslin shirt, a set of drawers, Union Cavalry trousers, socks and brogans. I ordered them, my last order of the war, to strip and bathe in a creek and then quietly put on their new clothing and slip piecemeal out of Appomattox to begin their journeys home.

Mounted on Thunder, I looked at my former command and quickly said "Travel in pairs, no more than three together if you can help it. Do as General Lee asked of you; as I ask of you also. Go home and be as good as civilians as you were soldiers. I'll see you later and I will buy the whiskey when I do. Good luck, it was an honor to serve with each of you." Then I clucked my tongue and turned Thunder to the west, praying to God for forgiveness for my part in the four years of needless slaughter and hoping that I could, one day, find peace with myself.

It was nearing midafternoon, two weeks later, when I spotted a wisp of smoke from a small farm house nestled in the hills near Williamsburg, Kentucky. It wasn't much of a farm, but it did have a two-story white house with a roof on it and a barn that was still standing. There was a small fenced in yard that was neat in appearance and the kitchen behind the main house looked to still be intact; I also noticed a smokehouse and a chicken coup in the back yard.

Kentucky had been Pro-Union for much of the war and aside from my Richmond Grey kepi and Thunder's grey saddle blanket, I looked like a Yankee. The storm that was brewing over the hills made my decision for me. I put my spurs gently to Thunder's side and headed for the house to see if I could at least hold up in the barn until the storm passed. I hadn't had a moments trouble since my departure from Appomattox and I was really hoping my luck would continue to hold out.

I rode up to the yard and then dismounted and was leading Thunder toward the house when the front door opened and a woman stepped onto the porch. I estimated that she was in her late twenties or early thirties and she had flaming red hair. She was wearing a very plain light blue dress and she was carrying a very large .44 Colt pistol in her right hand.

Using both hands, she raised the pistol toward me she said, "We do not have anything left here for you Yankee, you need to leave."

"Ma'am," I said, tipping my kepi to her, "I'm not a Yankee and the only thing I want is to use your barn as shelter until the storm passes or until sunrise, whichever is first. I surely do not want to spend the next few hours soaking wet."

"No." she replied firmly.

Dropping my shoulders in resignation, I tipped my kepi to her, said, "Ma'am." and then began to remounted Thunder. "Can you tell me, please, where the next farm is, or how far it is to the next town?" Thunder began to prance around as he heard a distant rumble coming from the clouds. He might be named Thunder and he would charge the gates of Hell with cannon booming in his ears fearlessly, but when he hears what he is named for, he gets nervous.

It was Thunder that decided our lodging for the night. He bucked hard as I was trying to mount and tossing me into the air like I was a feather, he bolted toward the safety of the barn. I lay on my back in the dirt wondering how I had ended up there and then opened my eyes to see the wisp of a woman standing over me, pointing a large pistol at me.

"I said leave!"

I groaned.

"Git on out of here Yankee."

"Go tell him that." I said weakly and rolling onto my side I began to pick myself up from the dirt.

She stomped off toward the barn in a huff.

I climbed to my feet slowly and after I realized that the only thing that was injured was my pride I began to walk to the barn to collect Thunder and leave. When I got there, I was treated to the sight of my mount standing as docile as a puppy with the woman holding his bridle and speaking softly to him. I stood in the doorway as the rain began to fall in earnest wondering how she had calmed him down so quickly.

"Ma'am, I'll be leaving now." I said walking toward them.

She spun and pointed the Colt at me again and I simply reached out and took it from her.

"The next time you point this at a man; make sure to cock it first." I said hotly as I cocked it and handed it back to her. Then I grabbed Thunder's bridle and started walking toward the door to the barn.

"Wait." She said softly.


"You can stay, at least until the storm passes. But you stay out here and if you step foot toward the house, I will shoot. Do you understand?"

"I do, and thank you." I said to her gratefully.

Pulling my bedroll off the saddle I shook it loose and my jacket fell to the ground. She looked at it and inhaled sharply and the color drained from her face. "You are a Southern officer! A Major!"

"I was a Southern officer, now I am simply a man trying to get on with his life."

"I lost my husband at Shiloh, my brother at Chickamauga and my son at Franklin this past November. He was barely seventeen. Damn that war and the bastards who started it! They've taken almost everything from me."

"Son?" I thought to myself. "She doesn't look old enough to have had a seventeen-year-old son. It isn't possible."

"Which side did they fight on ma'am?" I asked, trying to sound as respectful as possible, given the circumstances.

"It doesn't matter anymore." She answered glaring at me angrily.

"I was in Virginia with General Lee. I never saw any of the fighting in Tennessee." I added trying to imply that I wasn't responsible in any way for their deaths.

She wheeled around and started to walk back to her house; then pausing in the doorway of the barn she turned to look at me and with her chin lifted she stated proudly, "My husband and brother wore blue, they were Engineers. My son wore grey and rode with Forrest." Then she started toward the house running as she did to try and stay as dry as possible.

I stood in the barn watching her run toward the house. When she got to the porch she paused for a moment leaning back against one of the support beams to catch her breath, with her head lowered; then she turned back to look at me. I raised my arm to her in a half-hearted effort to wave but instead of returning it, she quickly walked into the house and closed the door. With nothing more to do, I turned back to Thunder and began removing his saddle and bridle. Placing it in the small tack room I grabbed a brush and for the first time in over six months I brushed Thunder's coat until it gleamed a glossy black. Then I mucked out an empty stall and after replacing the hay, I led him inside.

The water trough was empty, so I grabbed a bucket and ran to the well to draw up water up for him. On my second trip I refilled my canteen and by the time I returned to the barn, I was soaked through and shivering. The storm had definitely cooled the air off and I was grateful for the shelter the barn offered. I put my jacket on to warm up and sat on an upturned crate beside the door watching the rain continue to fall. My timepiece said four in the afternoon when the rain let up enough for me to run to the outhouse. I was walking back to the barn when she stepped onto the porch and said, "Major?"


"When was the last time you ate?"

"I had a rabbit for breakfast this morning." Remembering my luck when he hopped to a stop, ten feet from me, as I was breaking camp.

She sighed wistfully and said "I would kill to have rabbit. We haven't had fresh meat in two months."

"Do you have a shotgun in the house?" I asked.

"Yes." She replied.

"Well, if you could see fit to trust me with it, I could probably kick up a rabbit or two in no time in that field."

She disappeared back into the house and a few minutes later she re-appeared with the shotgun, a game bag and a possible bag. Handing them to me she wished me luck and then disappeared back into the house.

A half an hour later and I was walking back to the house with two rabbits, and two grouse in the bag thinking that dinner tonight would be one of the best I had eaten in months. Then I had a sudden realization that stopped me in my tracks. Looking around at the farm I realized that it was a farm in name only. There was no livestock at all; no cows, chickens, goats, horses or pigs. The place was bereft of any type of animals and the fields had yet to be plowed for the Spring planting.

She met me as I walked to the porch and I noticed that the ever-present pistol was missing. I handed her the game bag and said "I don't know how many folks are in there, but I think you should have enough meat for tonight anyway. I'll go out again tomorrow before I leave, there is plenty of game around here." Then, placing the shotgun on the porch, I turned to walk back to the barn.


"It's Thaddeus. Thaddeus Thatcher. Please, I would truly appreciate it if you could call me by my name. It has been such a very long time since anyone has."

"Mister Thatcher, supper will be ready in thirty minutes or so. Would you care to join us inside?" she said smiling down from the porch at me.

"Yes, I would," I answered smiling back at her. "Provided you tell me who the chef is."

Blushing lightly, she said "Perhaps we did start off on the wrong foot earlier? My name is Elizabeth Sullivan. We are me and my daughter Shannon." I noticed that she had mesmerizingly beautiful blue eyes, when they weren't looking at me down the barrel of a forty-four.

"Missus Sullivan, I would be honored to join you and your daughter for supper this evening. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go wash up."

I knocked on the door thirty minutes later and waited for her to open it. Instead I was greeted by a young girl who shared her mother's red hair and blue eyes and had an adorably cute splattering of freckles on her nose and cheeks. She appeared to be about ten or so and she had a look on her face that was far too serious for someone so young.

"You must be Mister Thatcher. Mother said to tell you to come in and wait in the parlor, dinner should be ready in another five minutes or so."

"I am indeed Mister Thatcher." I responded and removing my kepi, I stepped into the house and then into the parlor and added "You must be Miss Sullivan. May I call you Shannon?"

"If you wish Sir. I will let Mother know you are here." she said in the same serious demeanor as she left the room.

The room was well furnished, spotlessly clean and very well kept. I knew immediately that Elizabeth was the type of woman that took a great deal of pride in her home. I sat down on one of the wooden chairs too afraid that my travel stained pants would dirty one of the finer ones. I felt out of place in these surroundings even though I had, at one time, been raised in the same environment. It seemed surreal to me that I was sitting in the parlor of a home instead of beside a campfire waiting on supper.

I was lost in my own thoughts to the point that I didn't realize when Elizabeth had entered the room. She cleared her throat and I jumped to my feet at the sound.

"I'm sorry Mister Thatcher, I didn't mean to startle you." she said taking a step back in alarm.

"It is my fault, I was woolgathering when I should have been paying attention."

"Dinner is ready, if you would care to join us."

"I would and thank you again for inviting me into your home." I said as I followed her down a short hallway to the dining room.

Remembering my manners, I held her chair out for her and sliding into it she said, "Thank you." Then I repeated it for Shannon and she responded by saying, "Mother says that you were a cavalry officer in the Southern Army. Did you know my brother James?"

"No, I didn't. I served in Virginia and he was in Tennessee with General Forrest."

"Oh. I miss him and Poppa both."

"Shannon, that will be enough." Elizabeth said shortly. "We mustn't bother Mister Thatcher with our grief."

"It is alright. Everyone needs to mourn." I said as I sat down.

Elizabeth bowed her head and began to pray asking for a blessing on the food and for the safety of the people eating it. As I sat there, head bowed, I wondered how many wives and mothers had said those same words over the past four years, only to have their hopes and prayers crushed by the cold reality of war and the pain and suffering that it inevitably brings the innocent. Then I thought briefly about the number of times my own orders had caused that pain and suffering and added a small prayer of my own to ask for forgiveness in some fashion.

After she said "Amen." I turned my attention to the table and saw the two rabbits had been fried to perfection. There was a plate of biscuits and two bowls, one containing boiled potatoes and the other corn. There was also a small gravy boat the was filled with a light brown gravy. It was a feast in my eyes, but she was apologizing for there being so little food as she prepared our plates.

I complimented her cooking to the point that I feared I had embarrassed her during the meal. Shannon kept quiet the entire time, staring at me as though she wanted to speak but she was afraid of incurring her mother's anger. I finally pushed my plate away, fuller than I had been in months and sighing I said, "Missus Sullivan, that was marvelous, absolutely marvelous. I don't remember having had a meal this good in years."

She looked down blushing slightly and said, "Thank you Mister Thatcher."

"You're welcome, if I may be so bold as to ask you a question ma'am?"

"I suppose." She answered cautiously.

"What happened to your livestock?" I asked.

"The Yankees took them! All of them! Even my little brown hen Matilda!" Shannon piped up suddenly.

I looked across the table at Elizabeth and said, "Took them?"

"Last month three men in Union Army uniforms came here and took everything. Ten chickens, two goats, three pigs, six piglets, both horses and both my cows. They said that they were requisitioning the livestock in order to feed their troops. I didn't know what else to do." She replied with tears in her eyes.

"Did they pay you for them?"

"No. They just took what they wanted and left."

"Do you know where these soldiers are?"

"No, and even if I did, what good would it do? I'm just one woman and it would be their word against mine if I said they didn't pay me. I was just thankful that nothing else happened to us." She said looking at me, knowing sadly that I would understand what she was referring to.

"Well ma'am, I think tomorrow morning Thunder and I are going to take a little ride to see if I can find these mysterious soldiers and see about getting you reimbursed for your sufferings." I said.

"I don't want you getting hurt over livestock Mister Thatcher."

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