Coffee bluff, p.1

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Coffee Bluff

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Coffee Bluff

  By Willard White

  Copyright 2014 Willard White

  The characters, organizations and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.

  White, Willard

  Coffee Bluff/Willard White - 1st ed.


  This book is dedicated to Diane, who is very patient and keeps an open mind.


  Willard White

  In 2004, during remodeling of a servant's quarters/carriage house behind a mansion on Chippewa square, a hand written journal was discovered in the attic. Although many pages had been ripped out and much of it was illegible because of water damage, here is the story that emerged:

  Excerpts from Luke's Journal

  April 13th, 1861, Savannah, Georgia: The Winstons were invited to join the Branch family in celebrating their daughter's sixteenth birthday. Being a guest of the Winstons and having nowhere else to go I tagged along. Julia captured my attention immediately. I was able to convince her to take a ride around Forsyth Park with me in a rented carriage tomorrow.

  April 14th, 1861: I might have blamed my infatuation on the weather, for it was perfect. But it wasn't the weather; I wouldn't have noticed if it was raining. I cannot describe a single event that happened on that first carriage ride, and I can't hope to communicate the feeling I had when I was with Julia.

  “Tomorrow,” she said, “can we ride around the park on horses? Daddy gave me a beautiful stallion for my birthday, and I'm just dyin' to ride him.”

  “Yes, of course,” I said. I swallowed. She wanted to spend more time with me.

  “We'll have to meet early, Luke. Can we meet at the Price Street Stable at eight?”

  “Yes, of course,” I said again. I would like to have said something brighter, but my mind wasn't working quite right.

  April 15th, 1861: This morning when we met, I was surprised and shocked to find her sitting astride a beautiful russet colored stallion. She was wearing a frilly white dress and bonnet. She looked like she was ready to have her picture made.

  “I didn't expect to see you riding astride,” I said.

  “Shhh, that's why we had to meet so early. Please don't tell anyone. Herb, our groom, will be in so much trouble if Daddy finds out.”

  We rode side by side down Abercorn Road with sufficient dignity although Julia got second looks from those few pedestrians who were out so early. When we got down to Forsyth Park Julia brought her horse to a canter and turned into the park toward the race track.

  “You can't catch me!” she called over her shoulder.

  I spurred my rented horse into a gallop. I was surprised at the strength of his acceleration. Julia jumped her horse over the low rail onto the race track and galloped down the straightaway with her amazing red hair streaming out behind her in the wind. Once we were on the track, my horse surprised me with another burst of speed. We could have caught Julia, but I reined him in to keep a position just behind and outside her on the turn. The picture of Julia, laying low over her horse's neck with her hair flying, one hand holding the reins and one hand trying to keep her dress from flying up, is one I'll keep for the rest of my life.

  Julia slowed her horse to a walk and my euphoria ended. A large black horse was drawing a shay with a single occupant north on Abercorn adjacent to the park, and Julia stepped her horse over the low barrier from the track to the roadside. She was moving to intercept the carriage, driven by a young man I recognized.

  “Good morning, Julia!” he said. “Don't you look fresh and beautiful.”

  “It's a delightful morning, Chet!” she called with far too much enthusiasm.

  “This is a remarkable coincidence,” he said, and nodded his head at me as I drew up.

  I'll bet. More like an ambush.

  “A pleasant surprise,” Julia agreed.

  “Say, I have something to show you.” From the seat beside him, Chester Baker produced two sticks wrapped in butcher paper and a ball of string. “It's a kite. I just made it.” He spoke to Julia as if I wasn't there.

  “A kite!” she bubbled.

  “This afternoon, when the wind comes up, I'm going to fly it, right here in the park. If you like, I'll call for you at two.” He pointedly ignored me. The invitation was for Julia, only Julia.

  “I'd like that,” she blurted. Then she looked at me for some kind of approbation.

  December 13th, 1864, Coffee Bluff, Georgia: The stench of blood, urine and feces was making me sick. The crying and begging of the others in the tent depressed me to depths I had never in my life experienced. The doctor loomed over me with his apron soaked with blood, the hacksaw in his hand dripped blood on my face. Finally it was my turn, and I added my own voice to the wailing cacophony.

  “Please don't take my leg, Doc. I'll let you know if it gets infected. You can cut it off then, can't you?”

  The doctor only leaned close to me and showed me his uneven teeth in a smile of anticipation. “I got to take the leg, Lieutenant. I want your right boot. I already got me a matching black left boot. I need that boot.” His breath was choking me. He couldn't be a doctor and have such bad grammar. His blood slicked apron became a gray rebel officer's overcoat. I tried to raise my hands to push him away, but I had no hands, they had already been removed. I wanted to shout, to call for help, but I couldn't get my breath. His overcoat changed from gray to black with a hood which obscured all of his face except the evil gleam of his eyes and teeth.

  I woke with a start. It was cold and I was breathing rapidly. I knew I had been whimpering and crying in my sleep and I looked around to see if I had made enough noise to attract attention. I was lying on the ground in my drawn-up fetal position, alone in the woods. My right leg and my boot were still with me although my knee was as big as a cannonball and stiff as a board. I sat up quickly, put my hat on, and crawled to my river watching place behind a fallen pine tree. I shook my head, as much to shake off the guilt of falling asleep as to shake off the nightmare. I checked the position of the still visible moon and decided I had managed to sleep for only two fingers, perhaps an hour.

  The black of night had given away to the gray of dawn and the clear sky promised a mild day. The warm, humid southwest wind indicated that rain might come tonight or tomorrow. I hoped to live so long as to find out. The river, at high tide, was blank and silent. Significantly, there was no military activity out on the marsh. That's what I had stuck myself out in the woods to watch for. The odor of river mud mixed with the stench of Sherman's army bivouacked only five miles to the west in Georgetown woods. I moved away from the edge of the bluff, and used my cane to get to my feet in order to see across the miles of marsh toward Fort McAllister. The pain from my mutilated knee crawled up my leg like waves of bee stings. There were no boats in the labyrinth of canals in the marsh. Perhaps our concerns that the fort was being reinforced and re-armed by the Savannah Garrison were unfounded. Although I had fallen asleep I was convinced that any troop filled row-boats in the river would have awakened me. I rubbed my eyes, shivered, and stuffed my left hand back into the pocket of my rebel officer's coat. General William Tecumseh Sherman's twenty-thousand campfires put so much smoke and soot in the air that my eyes were practically bleeding.

  Only Fort McAllister stood between Sherman and his supplies on board the waiting ships in Ossabaw Sound. Six times in the last three years Union gunboats had attacked the fort without results. With sixty-two thousand soldiers needing food, boots, and ammunition, Sherman couldn't wait, he would to have to over-run the fort and resupply before laying siege to the city of Savannah some ten miles behind me to the north.

  And I co
uldn't wait. If I was going to provide any useful information, I was going to have to gain some worthwhile intelligence today, stay alive, and find my way through the picket lines into the Union camp before morning. I cursed myself yet again for even being there. Crippled as I was, I was expecting to muster out of the infantry and go home when the call came for someone with knowledge of Savannah. Fool that I am, I raised my hand. I'd had some vague idea that I could somehow be of assistance to Julia when Sherman's army sacked the city of Savannah. In my mellow moments, I imagined myself hiding her in the bottom of a shell damaged house until the post-battle insanity ran its course. Other times, I imagined myself sailing an ever grateful Branch family down the Savannah River, past Fort Jackson to the safety of Union occupied Tybee Island. I sighed and brushed the dirt and pine needles off my overcoat and turned away from the river. These were the dreams of an
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