Homosexuality? Transgenderism? LGBTQ? Topics for today? How about in a courtroom battle in 1863 defended by a female attorney posing incognito as a Union officer?
Captain Sam Lee drawing ©2021 by Dakota Orlando and drawn by Zhuravlovahanna. Click her name to see her art.
“The difference between hell and war is that hell is a bit friendlier.” Captain Sam Lee, USA – Attorney-at-Law.
I rode my horse, Katie, towards the temporary encampment of the newest Maryland Union regiment in training—the Maryland Old-Liners.
Can I make it past the pickets without them discovering my true identity? It has been a splendid journey … one that I can trace to a single fateful day ten years since when Uncle Lee bestowed my destiny upon me.
I found the Old-Liner pickets posted outside their encampment.
“Halt!” A chubby private thrust his bayoneted rifle towards me. “What’s your …?” He snapped to attention. “Yes, Captain.” He and the taller private saluted, and I returned them.
“You men ….” I had failed to engage my male voice.
They shook their heads and exchanged glances.
“Men,” I said again, this time in my lower, slightly scratchy voice, “you must pardon me. My health has suffered of late, and I am still on the mend.” They nodded.
I eased Katie closer, unsheathed my saber, and held it overhead. After two half-hearted slashes, I pointed it at them. “You men are now dead. A Rebel spy dressed as a Union captain has slain you.” I swung the saber to point behind me. “My waiting regiment now has access to your encampment.”
They whipped their rifles back to the ready.
“At ease, men.” Sheathing my saber, I reached into my inner coat pocket, withdrew the orders, and stretched them towards the taller soldier.
The private eased them out of my hand. “Captain Samuel Lee.” He looked up. “You could be a spy with that name.”
I patted Katie. “There are Lees everywhere manifest. He is kith and kin but only distantly. I never met the man or his family, and his sentiments on secession from the Union are of no concern to me.” I looked ahead but could not see the camp through the trees. “The next time anyone comes along, even if it is an officer of your acquaintance, challenge him. You must protect the encampment.”
The taller private returned my orders. “You may pass, sir.”
I stared at them. “Do not take it so badly, gentlemen. We are all inexperienced now. We must learn from one another … and swiftly.” I waited for their salute and returned it. “See you in camp, Old-Liners.”
“Yes, sir,” the chubby private said.
I urged Katie forward along a narrow path through the woods.
I am about to meet my new commanding officer … one of the few men here with professional soldiering experience. Will he be able to detect my real identity?
I rode towards some big tents taking care not to get in the way of the sea of drilling men. Drawing closer, the regimental colors popped into view. Two smaller tents stood before the largest and three smaller ones after it. I rode until a first lieutenant standing outside the largest tent walked towards me. He stopped simultaneously with Katie and saluted. I returned his salute.
“You are either Captain Lee or Captain Harvey.”
I alighted as masculine-like as possible and thrust a hand towards him. “Captain Lee, Lieutenant.”
When he grabbed my hand and shook it, I squeezed hard, in the manner Uncle Lee taught me just before I surrendered my real identity. The lieutenant pressed hard as well, and the pain very nearly made me flinch.
“Lieutenant Piper,” he said. “I have been made Officer of the Day till your arrival. I shall be serving under your command in ‘C’ company, sir.”
A man in his early twenties looked eager to respect his commanding officer.
We broke off the shake, and the lieutenant grabbed Katie’s reins. “We are quartering all officer’s horses with the staff’s. I will have some men deliver your personal things to your tent. It is all set up and waiting for you, sir.”
“Fine.” I patted Katie’s neck.
I cannot hug you. That would, doubtless, be the womanly thing to do.
“When you are finished here,” he said, “I will return and take you to your tent, show you around the camp, and introduce you to the men.”
“Tell me, Lieutenant, do we have any West Pointers among us?”
He pointed to the twelve-foot square tent. “Two. The regimental commander … Major Daniel Wilshire. Class of fifty-four. Major Smith is out observing the drilling. He is the class of fifty-six.”
I squinted. “Major as commander? Are not all regimental commanders either full colonels or lieutenant colonels?”
He shrugged. “Yes, everything about this regiment is experimental. Who would believe that a single regiment could be comprised of infantry, cavalry, and artillery companies?” He pointed to the tent. “Major Wilshire’s there. Report in, and I will return to show you where company ‘C’ is bivouacked.” He walked Katie to the left, where the army quartered the staff horses between the parked wagons and men-of-the-train tents. I quickened my pace towards the guards at the tent, and we exchanged salutes.
I held out my orders. “Captain Samuel Lee reporting for duty.”
The buck sergeant took it, looked it over, and glanced at me. “One moment, sir.” He stepped into the tent.
So far, so good. Not many mistakes. The men really seem to accept me. None have challenged my female appearance and clean-shaven look. Then, they are not expecting any females to come riding in wearing an officer’s uniform. But the major’s eye will be sharper. He is West Point, after all.
A minute afterwards, the sergeant re-emerged from the tent and returned my orders. “Sir, you may present them to the major.” He saluted.
“Thank you, Sergeant.” I returned his salute with the orders and marched into the tent.
My first commanding officer sat with his back to me behind a small table that bore up a legless desk against the far tent wall. A hinged door on the desk lay open before him. Many pigeonhole slots bulged with papers. The sand shaker, quill pen, and ink bottle sat inside the two smaller spaces at the bottom center. Next to them leaned a Carte-de-visite image of a pretty woman from the chest up. I studied the man who had not yet turned around.
In his early thirties, a few years older than my immoral, twenty-eight-year-old brother Marcus, the hatless major’s hair shone as dark as pitch used to seal the bottoms of sailing vessels. Big-shouldered and huge-breasted, he would, doubtless, be tall when standing. His oversized right hand lay on the second page of an open journal. On this page, the manufacturer bragged about itself. It read, “Francis’s Highly Improved Manifold Writer.”
Though his back faced me, I saluted, held it, and waited. He turned a few pages filled with numbers—and I waited. He lifted a brandy decanter and poured some in his silver chalice. I glanced at the floor next to the front, left table leg. A traveling liquor case sat open, three of the four rear slots filled with other decanters.
I held my salute. This is it! When he turns around, will he see a man who happens to have a female appearance, or the truth, a woman endeavoring to pass for a man?
Lieutenant Sally McAllister drawing ©2021 by Dakota Orlando and drawn by Zhuravlovahanna. Click her name to see her art.
Monday Afternoon, July 7, 1862
A most painfully long while passed as I held my salute. Major Wilshire finally pulled a multi-folded piece of paper from an upper slot in his portable desk, unfolded it, and stared at a map of Maryland. “I know you are there, Captain Lee. At ease, please.” I lowered my hand and threw both behind my back, my left open hand holding the right.
Good. Standing at parade rest will keep my gloved hands from issuing womanly gestures.
“Captain Lee? Are you sure you are reporting to the right army?”
“Most assuredly, sir. General Lee is a distant cousin whom I have never met. I come from a Maryland plantation … a house divided. My two elder brothers, Marcus and John, will join the Confederates along with George, my younger brother. I had no notion of serving in a lost cause, sir.”
“So, tell me … where did you get your commission?”
I drew a deep breath. “To be honest, sir, I purchased it.”
I felt my eyes bulge. “My father’s money. He gave me a stake before throwing me out of the family, sir.”
He smacked a hand on the map, turned, and glared at me. “Great tarnations. Another dandy.”
My mouth dropped open, and I jammed it shut again. “I am no dandy … inexperienced and eager to become experienced, sir.”
He turned his chair sideways, lifted the chalice, and gulped. “Oh, yes … ready to do honor and service to country and cause … and you do not know what in the hell you just got yourself into.”
I have got to get his attention off me. “I hear you are West Point, sir.”
“Yes, the pearl amongst the swine.” He looked at me. “Care for a drink, Captain?”
“I am a teetotaler if it is all the same to you, sir.”
He grinned. “Good. More for me. You probably do not swear or play cards. He scrutinized me. “… or associate with the ladies.”
“No swearing, sir, but I do engage in an amiable game of poker now and again. As for the ladies, sir … I have associated with them on many occasions.” Only not in the manner you are thinking.
He pointed at my head. “Are you like a woman with your red hair … all fiery on the inside?”
“That is an old wives’ tale, sir. I am quite mild-mannered.”
“You do not look like a ladies’ man to me.” He tsked three times. “Ever kick another man’s ass?”
“I did my father’s overseer … twice … in one week. It is why my father kicked me out.”
He held his hand not far off the ground. “He must have been about three feet tall.” I smiled while he took another swig, set his chalice down, and leaned back in his wooden chair. “My God, Lee, whoever said you could soldier? You are most certainly not built for it. You are small, wedding-dress white … you do not look like you could lift a sack of potatoes.”
I covered a gulp with a chuckle. “Perhaps not, sir. I have not endeavored to attempt it.”
“Did you ever do any physical labor?”
“I hold a license to practice law in the State of Maryland … and I have kicked plenty of asses in court … sir.”
“Yes, but does your satchel weigh as much as a sack of grain?” He laughed. “No wonder you have got little girly hands.” He sat forward and reached towards me. “Hand over your revolver.”
I pulled it from its leather holster on my right hip, transferred it to my left hand, and jutted it towards him.
He sat back and threw up his hands. “Not barrel first!”
I turned it around and thrust it towards him again. He may regard that as more inexperience than lack of manliness.
“Neophyte!” He yanked the weapon from my hand, examined it, then eased it onto the map. “A forty-four caliber U.S. Colt Walker. This is one of the heaviest revolvers ever made.” His upper body shook as he giggled silently. “I am surprised you can lift it.” He glanced at it again. “From the Mexican War.” He looked up and grinned. “Daddy’s revolver?”
“Just so, sir. It is a model 1847.”
He bent forward and looked at the barrel. “‘C Company No. 66.’ Who did he fight with?”
“The U.S. Second Dragoon Regiment.”
“Good outfit.” He slapped his knees and stood up—and up, and up, and up. My eyes widened, staring at a man at least fourteen inches taller than me. “There is another captain scheduled to take over ‘F’ Company. Another wet-behind-the-ears, straw-foot for me to wet-nurse. Hopefully, both of you can at least change your own breechcloths.”
Would he not love to change mine. “I will allow, sir, that your experience far surpasses mine. My intention is to do the best that I can.”
“Sounds all well and good. We shall see how well you take to it. And if you do well here, it will be a whole different thing when the enemy starts shooting at you.”
I smiled. “Did you see action, sir?”
He waved his hands. “There is no need to get into that, nor to become altogether too affable with novice soldiers.”
“Obviously, sir, you have no joy in your assignment.”
He bore up his chalice. “Obviously, you are correct.”
The sergeant entered the tent and snapped to a fancy salute. “Captain Harvey has arrived, sir.” He held out some papers towards the major.
Major Wilshire sucked in his lips and squinted. “Great tarnations. Dandy number two. Is not that just dandy?” He flipped a hand and sat again. “Send him in.”
The sergeant left, and Captain Harvey entered with orders in hand. His hat sat ajar on his head, and a grin stretched his face, the kind that looked as if he had recently come from some serious mischief. He stopped beside me, snapped to attention facing the major, and saluted with his orders.
“Captain Mortimer Harvey reporting for duty, sir.”
Major Wilshire shook his head and forsook his salute.
Harvey glanced at me, then down at the patent, cast iron camp stove on which perched a tin coffee cup. A coffee boiler sat on a flat rock next to it. He jerked his head towards Major Wilshire. “Ding doggity ding, sir, coffee most assuredly would be appreciated.”
“Are you on a hangover, Captain?” the major asked.
He laughed and flailed his arms. “Hell no, Colonel. I never drink before sundown.”
He cannot tell the major’s oak leaf from a colonel’s eagle on the shoulder straps?
Major Wilshire rose, shaking his head. “When did you enlist, Harvey?”
“Three days since.”
“Have you been studying the manuals, laughing boy?”
He grinned. “Oops. I’d been altogether too busy celebrating. After all, getting a commission is an important step in a man’s life.”
“Did you buy yours?”
He stared at the major and broke into laughter. “Well, I didn’t fetch it at an auction.”
“And whatever possessed you to pursue soldiering?”
Captain Harvey laughed again. “It looked as if it would be great fun.”
“Great tarnations!” Major Wilshire plopped onto his small, wooden chair so hard that I expected it to shatter into a thousand pieces—but it did not. “I am at least fortunate that Captain Lee here outranks you by two days.” He stood again. “At any rate, we are stuck with what we are stuck with. We have been training in camp now for four weeks. Unfortunately, I cannot get replacements for either of you before our training is completed.”
He stepped forward and stopped beside us. “After the two of you get settled in your tents, find your companies and join them.” He pointed towards the exit. “You will join me for officers’ mess this evening with the other company commanders.”
Captain Harvey held out his orders, and Major Wilshire plucked them from his grasp and tossed them on his desk.
Major Wilshire walked through the exit, and we followed. “You are dismissed.”
I snapped to attention and saluted. The major returned it.
“You all take this so seriously.” Captain Harvey laughed, turned, and walked off.
“Captain Neophyte,” the major said to him, “do you even know where You are going?”
Lieutenant Piper stepped forward and saluted. “If you will wait one moment, Captains, I will escort you to your respective companies.”
“Just a second, Lieutenant.” Major Wilshire looked at me. “Come back inside a minute, Captain Lee.”
We stepped into the tent, and he moved closer to my ear.
No. This will not do. If he gets his face too close, he may sense my womanhood. “Sir, what are you doing?” I pulled away. “My apologies, sir, but I am pretty much a loner and a little sensitive about getting too near other men.”
The major grinned. “Were you expecting a marriage proposal, Captain? I just wanted to say that I am going to like you.”
Does he sense my sex? “Why … thank you, sir.”
“You may not want to thank me. Captain Harvey can lick you in combat. In fact, every man in this regiment can lick you.”
I looked down, then up again. “Well, that is not for me to say.”
“I still like you better, but not because I like you. On the contrary, it is that I like Captain Harvey far less.”
I paused, wrinkled my nose, and nodded.
“Steer clear of him, Captain Lee. Do not allow any particle of him to infect you. He will either wash out swiftly or get his ass blown off in our first engagement.”
I squinted. “Yes, sir. Uh … no, sir. He is a true dandy, and no one rubs off on me. I am my own man, sir.” Saluting, I spun and left the tent.
The meeting with my commanding officer, indeed, seemed quite bizarre. A dandy? Why would Major Wilshire be so concerned about such things? If anything, I deem he would, doubtless, be more concerned about my purchase of a commission in the army. It is easy for a man of means to walk into a recruiting office and slap down hundreds of dollars … but for a woman, it is next to impossible. And so, again, I must thank my Uncle Lee in Washington for availing me in my endeavor. He got his neighbor’s son to play the role of Samuel Lee, and it was Uncle Lee who gave me advice on appearing more ‘male.’ But, should I become the victim of the Grim Reaper, then allow the blame to lie only with me.
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