“It’s challenging for a woman in 1862 to achieve anything beyond motherhood … but not impossible.” The Yankee Tigress, Samantha Lee
This Yankee Tigress graphic ©2020 by Dakota Orlando and drawn by Nancy Niharika. Click her name to see her art.
Thursday Morning, June 12, 1862
The Honorable Judge Henry Wainwright stared at me. “I do believe this is your witness.”
Saint Lucifer! It has arrived at last. I sat before the court gallery as they prepared to judge my every word and deed.
I glanced at Mr. Benjamin Talmadge Sage, Esquire. You have been a wonderful mentor, and I will not let you down.
I rose from my seat beside him at the prosecution table and, with slow, precise steps, strolled to the witness stand. Remember Mr. Lincoln’s advice … ‘Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other thing.’
Mr. Runnels, a most slovenly dressed man with large, yellow teeth, leaned far to one side, gnawing and sucking at the bulge in his cheek. He smacked his fleshy lips, revealing a plug of tobacco, which oozed a continuous flow of dark-brown juice from one corner of his mouth. Several stains marked the front of his button-up shirt.
“Well ….” Judge Wainwright’s voice penetrated my thoughts. “Have you decided on a staring contest as your mode of cross-examination?” Those in the gallery snickered.
Mr. Runnels snorted and looked at the judge. “You ain’t trying to pull my legs clean out of their sockets, are you?” He pointed at me. “A female lawyer? The courts ain’t been overrun by insane asylum escapees, has they?”
The judge banged his gavel. “You shall be civil whilst in my court, Mr. Runnels. Miss Samantha Lee has spent two years in training as an apprentice. How well she does today on her first complete cross-examination shall determine whether or not she will stand before the bar Saturday next.”
“Saturday?” Mr. Runnels whisked a hand through his lank, grimy hair. “The court is open Saturdays?”
“This court is open every Saturday for all business except jury trials … and has been for years.”
Mr. Runnels laughed and pointed at me. “She’s gonna see you on Saturday, and you’re gonna give her a law license?” His eyebrows drew together. “You let a woman in the courts, and trials are gonna take twice as long.” He harrumphed. “Twice as long, I say.”
Judge Wainwright pointed his gavel at Mr. Runnels. “Cease your idle chatter and answer her questions.” He raised the gavel.
“All right.” Mr. Runnels straightened. “But she better let me get a word in edgeways.” The gallery tittered.
“Please continue, Miss Lee.”
Here I am, the only attorney to ever move about in skirts. I tried to imagine the manner in which I would be perceived as I glided about in my green day dress and frilly white blouse, my red hair flashing like a lighthouse beacon. Stepping closer to the witness, I smiled into his sneering face. Abruptly leaning towards him, I exchanged my smile for a glare. “Mr. Runnels, where were you on April nineteenth, eighteen hundred and sixty-one?”
“You know where I was.” He grunted. “Your first question,” he looked at the judge, “… and it’s a stupid one.” The gallery exploded with laughter.
The gavel banged, and I raised a hand towards Judge Wainwright. “It is all right, Your Honor. It shall gladden me to explain it to him if there is no objection.”
I pointed to a man seated at a small desk to the left of the prosecutor’s table. “This gentleman is Mr. Styles.”
Mr. Styles looked up and lowered his pen.
I stepped towards him. “He is the official stenographer for this trial. He sits there with his four-dollar gold pen, a price inflated since the war started last year. He writes every word into the record.” I edged forward and swung a hand towards Judge Wainwright, our table, the defense table, and the people in the gallery in turn. “I ask questions to which everyone, doubtless, knows the answers, so they can be entered into the official record by Mr. Styles.”
I lowered my hands and clasped them. “Now, if you will, please answer the question.”
Mr. Runnels shrugged and lifted one hand, palm up. “Well, you took so dad-blamed long that I forgot the dang question.” Mild laughter rolled through the courtroom, and the gavel banged again.
The judge glared at the gallery. “Do not encourage this witness in his rude behavior.”
I drew my hands to my waist. “Where were you on April nineteenth, eighteen hundred and sixty-one?”
Mr. Runnels wrapped his forefinger and thumb around his chin and rubbed. “Let’s see … that was over a year since.” He brightened and shoved the index finger into the air. “Ah, I was near the train station where them Massachusetts troops come in on.”
“The Massachusetts sixth?”
“I don’t know what number they was.”
I dropped my hands by my sides, turned, and stepped away. “Let us understand you better. You are referring to the President Street Station of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad.” I stopped and turned back. “Is that correct, sir?”
“Please speak up.”
“Yes … I suppose that’s the station.” He made a horrible guttural sound like a pig clearing its throat. “Anyways, I was up on Pratt Street a little ways watching them Union troops marching alongside the train cars.”
I walked towards him. “Are you from Baltimore?”
“I sure as hell ain’t.”
“From where then?”
“Arkansas. Fort Smith.”
“And what were you doing in Baltimore?”
He pressed his pudgy lips together and tilted his bouncing head from left to right. Rolls of fat bulged alternately on each side of his neck. “Oh, I don’t know. It seemed like a nice place to visit.”
I stepped to the side and faced the jury. “Is it because Baltimore is a city awash in Southern dissent … or is it because you were disillusioned that Maryland did not secede from the Union?”
He leaned towards the judge and pointed at me. “Does she have to talk like a book?”
“Yes,” Judge Wainwright said. “If she continues to talk like a book, I allow that she may very well receive her law license Saturday next.”
Mr. Runnels sat back and snickered. “Funny, I ain’t never heared no book say the first word.” More laughter rose from the gallery.
The gavel banged again. “Mr. Runnels, do not make a mockery of my court, or you shall warm a jail bench for a few days.” He glared at the gallery. “And those who deign to encourage the witness’s antics will, likewise, be encouraged straight out of this courtroom.”
After Mr. Runnels’s face sobered, I approached him. “Did you travel East to cause dissension?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Course not. I don’t care about no dad-blamed war.” He laughed. “I’m a man of peace, I am.”
I sauntered to the prosecution table, where Mr. Sage handed me two sheets of paper. I took one to Mr. Farmer’s defense table and the other to the judge. “Please allow me to enter this document into the record. You hold in your hands an intercepted note concerning Mr. Runnels’s actual reason for being in Baltimore. You have the original note, Your Honor.” I looked at Mr. Farmer. “And you, sir, have a transcribed copy.”
I edged towards the jury and looked from one set of eyes to another. “This note is from a Mr. Quarrels. It contains information on the meeting places of Southern dissidents who contrive to harass Northern troops passing through on Baltimore’s railway system.”
I turned towards Mr. Runnels. “Anyone arriving at the President Street Station, whose destination is south of Baltimore, must disembark and wait for the railroad cars to be detached. Horses then draw the cars along the Pratt Street tracks to the Camden station. Usually, passing troops form up and travel by foot alongside the cars. This makes them susceptible to harassment along the way, does it not, Mr. Runnels?”
He looked away. “Susceptible?”
“Vulnerable,” I said.
“I suppose so.”
“Is that the real reason you came all the way from Arkansas to Baltimore?”
Mr. Runnels threw back his head and glared down his nose. “It most certainly ain’t.”
“Did you bring a weapon with you from Fort Smith?”
He rocked his head from side to side. “Well … I always carry my Arkansas toothpick.” He thrust forward. “But that ain’t no weapon.”
I stepped towards him. “No? A long-bladed Bowie knife … and you do not consider that a weapon?”
“No. It’s simply a tool.”
“A formidable tool …,” I extended my hands before me and held them in place for a second as if I had grasped the hilt of the knife in question. “… that can pierce a man’s torso.” I thrust my hands against my torso.
“I ain’t never used it for that.”
“What then … to pick your teeth?” The gallery laughed.
Mr. Farmer jumped to his feet. “Your Honor, I must object.”
I turned towards the judge. “I will withdraw the last question, Your Honor.”
The defense attorney leaned on his table with both hands. “I still object.”
“And what is the nature of your objection, Mr. Farmer?”
“Mr. Runnels is not on trial here. We are seeking to determine the guilt or innocence of Mr. Baines.” He pointed to his client seated next to the other defense attorney. “He is accused of throwing a few pebbles at some Massachusetts’ regiments.”
Mr. Sage rose. “Scarcely pebbles. Rocks, all of them … except for the half-brick that struck one soldier in the head.” He looked at the judge. “This vile act resulted in a vicious head wound that detained the soldier for weeks.”
“Your Honor,” I approached the bench, “it goes to the intent of this witness … his possible lack of political impartiality.” I turned and stared at Mr. Farmer. “How can one who comes here fraught with Confederate sentiment be impartial at an event where citizens attacked U.S. troops?” Furious repartee erupted at the defense table.
The gavel banged. “Overruled. It goes to the credibility of the witness, and this note will be accepted into the record.” The lawyers reseated themselves as I approached Mr. Runnels again.
“Please remain on the task at hand, Mr. Runnels. Now, tell us what you witnessed concerning the defendant.”
He pointed to the defense table. “Mr. Baines?” His hand dropped into his lap. “Right. I watched the goings-on when I seen this man, the one that turned out to be Baines …. I seen him scurrying about with the common people picking up stones and putting them in his pockets. Everyone else was shouting dirty words and insults … some throwing rocks. Bigguns, too!”
I folded my arms. “And what did Mr. Baines do with the rocks?”
Mr. Runnels lowered his head and furrowed his brow. “What do you mean? I just told you. He put them rocks in his pockets.” The gallery laughed.
I shook my head. “I meant, what did he do with the rocks once they were in his pockets?”
“He looked about for a spell … then ran off. I followed him, and some few streets away, he took them stones and pitched them in a ditch.”
“And where did he go after that?”
He flung a hand to one side. “Away. He walked away from the ruckus. I figured he was done, so I just went on back to my hotel.”
“But you do not know for certain that he returned to his home, do you?”
He squirmed. “I said, I figured he did.”
“Well, is it not true that figuring is not necessarily knowing?”
He drew his elbows in. “I don’t know the law. That’s for you pettifogging lawyers to know.”
I ambled towards Mr. Sage and raised my eyebrows. He nodded ever so slightly. I spun. “Mr. Runnels, do you know a Mrs. Strudelmeier?”
“Were you aware that she testified for the prosecution?”
“Course not. We ain’t allowed in the courtroom ’cept to testify. We dunno nothing about the case ’cept what we know.”
I stepped towards Mr. Runnels. “Please give me leave to restate your answer.” I turned towards the jury. “Mr. Runnels, in fact, any witness knows only what goes on in a courtroom during the brief time of their testimony.” I turned towards the witness stand. “Mr. Runnels, you know naught about the trial except for what you witnessed here today, is that correct?”
His face contorted as he scrunched lower. “S’pose so.”
I inched closer. “You appear to be in a bad way. Could you speak a little louder, sir?”
He stiffened. “That there’s how it were. It ain’t my fault.”
Mr. Farmer stood. “Accounts of trials are reported in the tabloids, is that not correct, Mr. Runnels?”
“Thank you.” Mr. Farmer reseated himself.
I directed my attention to Mr. Runnels. “Are you literate?”
He squinted, glanced at the judge, then back to me. “What do you mean?”
I leaned on the rail in front of him. “Are you able to read?”
“Well,” he looked around, “I ain’t never had no book learning if that’s what you mean.”
Mr. Farmer stood. “I object, Your Honor.”
“State the nature of your objection.”
“Miss Lee is straying off-topic. She started by mentioning Mrs. Strudelmeier’s testimony.” He extended a hand towards the jury. “A testimony that we are all familiar with … and then she drops the subject like a hot coal.”
Judge Wainwright raised a hand. “Overruled. Let the coals tend to themselves. I am curious as to where Miss Lee is endeavoring to take this.” He looked at me. “Please. Do go on … and try to be brief. The moment I detect a lack of direction … I will bring a halt to this line of questioning.”
I nodded. “Yes, Your Honor.”
I placed my hands on my hips and turned to Mr. Runnels. “So, no book learning means you cannot read. Is that correct?”
He stared at his clenched hands. “S’pose so.”
“Then, is it also correct that you cannot know the circumstances of the trial?”
He looked up and glared. “I heared tell.”
“I heared others talk of it.”
“And where were you when you heard people discussing the trial?”
“At the Horse.”
I snapped my head back. “The Horse? Baltimore’s most famous … or should I say … most infamous pub?” I spread my arms. “Oh, indeed. The Horse You Came in on bar in Fells Point. The leading establishment for gossip and slander.” I folded my arms and stepped away. “Scarcely a reliable source.” I lowered my arms. “And how many who spoke of the trial were drunk?”
“I object, Your Honor,” Mr. Farmer said without standing.
Judge Wainwright tapped the gavel once. “Overruled. Hurry this along, Miss Lee. Let us get to the point before dinner.”
“Yes, Your Honor.” I walked away from Mr. Runnels. “So, did you hear of Mrs. Strudelmeier’s testimony?”
I spun. “No?”
Mr. Runnels wavered unsteadily in his seat. “Oh … no, no, no.” He smiled. “Nope.”
Judge Wainwright sat back. “Are you intoxicated now, sir?”
“No, sir-ree bob!”
“You had better not be, or I will fine you five dollars for the ree and ten for the bob.” He winked at me.
I nodded and turned to the jury. “Mr. Runnels, Mrs. Strudelmeier testified yesterday that she helped Mr. Baines collect rocks and watched him throw them at the Massachusetts troops. What have you to say about that?”
Mr. Runnels shook his head. “It’s a lie. I saw no such thing.”
“Tell me, Mr. Runnels, did you come from The Horse before happening upon the riot?”
I moved closer. “You were drunk before you showed up to watch Mr. Baines, were you not?”
His heavy-soled boot stomped the floor. “That ain’t true! You’re putting words in my mouth!”
I spun and walked towards the jury. “You are not interested in justice lest it can be found in a bottle … are you?” Turning, I glared at him.
He stabbed a finger at me and looked around the courtroom. “That’s a lie! You’re a liar!”
I strode towards him. “You came along as drunk as Dionysus, witnessed the commotion, and went to investigate. Did you throw a few stones of your own?”
He smacked a hand on the rail before him. “I never throwed no stones!”
Reaching the witness stand, I thrust up a finger. “You came here to get information on how to disrupt just such a scene. You had an ax to grind, did you not?”
“Well … yes …. Uh, no. I ain’t even got no ax.”
“And is that not a strong indication of how much you hate Yankees?”
“I sure do hate them Yankees, but I ain’t lying about Mr. Baines!”
“You are. You, doubtless, threw rocks along with him. Is that not true?”
“No, it ain’t!”
I stepped to the rail. “You had rocks in your pockets, pulled them out, and threw them, did you not?”
“I did no such thing!”
I leaned over the rail. “You hated Yankees so much that you could not stand seeing them on what you perceived to be Southern soil!”
He jumped to his feet. “You’re lying!”
I pounded on the rail. “Am I? There they were, visiting a state that ought to have seceded, and you couldn’t resist availing yourself of the opportunity, could you?”
“Yes, they was in the South, and I wanted to get them Yankee scum out … but, as God is my witness, I didn’t throw nothing!”
“So, how much did Mr. Baines pay you to lie for him?”
“Ten dol …!” He whipped a hand to his mouth as his brows shot upward. He looked as if a horse had stomped on his foot.
I looked at Mr. Farmer, his head in his hands. Glancing at Mr. Runnels, I smiled. “Ten dollars. I see.” I walked towards the judge. “I have no more questions for this witness, Your Honor.”
Mr. Styles winked at me as I ambled back to the prosecution table. I winked back.
This Yankee Tigress graphic ©2020 by Dakota Orlando. Rebecca Howard drawn by Alexandra S. Click her name to see her art.
Judge Wainwright’s gaze swept the courtroom and settled on the defense attorney. “Any recross of Mr. Runnels?”
“No, Your Honor.” Mr. Farmer shook his head. “The defense rests.”
The judge looked at Mr. Sage. “And the prosecution rests?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
The judge raised his gavel. “Miss Lee and Mr. Sage, please approach the bench after the courtroom clears.” He looked at the gallery. “This court is adjourned for dinner. We shall reconvene at two p.m. for summations.” He banged the gavel once.
Amidst noisy chatter, the gallery rose and filed out.
“You seem to have created a great deal of vigor in this courtroom today.” Mr. Sage smiled.
I returned it. “Did I give a satisfactory performance?”
“For content, it could not have gone off better, but the vocabulary …?” He tilted his head and smirked. “If you admire Mr. Lincoln so much, speak the common man’s language. Do not endeavor to impress the judge.”
I nodded as we rose. Catching movement from the corner of my eye, I turned to discover my best friend among the departing throng. Wearing an exuberant grin, she waved her hands most vigorously.
Rebecca? I waved back. She pointed towards the exit and nodded. I returned her nod, and she left the courtroom.
“Is that Miss Howard? It is quite splendid to have your friend here to champion your cause.”
“I had not a clue that she would be here, but since she is, perhaps the three of us can take dinner together?”
“I must have time to prepare. I will do the summation this afternoon, then I will see you bright and early Saturday morning next … ten a.m.”
“Saint Lucifer!” I clasped a hand to my bosom. “Do you really think I am ready for my oral exam?”
“Do give me leave to refer you to that Shakespeare quote you and your friend like to bandy about, ‘O, tiger’s heart, wrapped in a woman’s hide.’”
“I will have the opportunity to take the orals, then?”
“I shall recommend so to the judge. I strongly feel that he is of the same mind.”
“Do you think the verdict on Mr. Baines will be in before Saturday?”
“It ought to happen tomorrow. In the meanwhile, you would do well to spend your time studying. Do you have Bourier’s Law Dictionary memorized?”
“Not quite.” I sighed. “But I will by Saturday.”
The gavel banged. “Members of the prosecution, please approach the bench. I am famished.”
“One moment, Your Honor.” I detoured to the defense table and held out my hand. “You were simply splendid, Mr. Farmer. I found your trial prowess exceedingly educational.” We shook hands, and I stepped back, clutching mine to my chest. “You told me at the start of the trial that I stuck out like an elephant at a train station. Well, Mr. Lincoln once said, ‘When you have got an elephant by the hind legs, and she is trying to run away, it is best to let her run.’” When he laughed, I joined him. “No hard feelings?”
He shook his head. “Please allow me to proffer my sincere wish for a most favorable outcome on Saturday next. One word of advice, however … drop the ten-dollar words and speak to the people.”
I smiled. “I will.”
“Miss Lee,” Judge Wainwright said. “Mr. Sage and I are waiting.”
“Yes, Your Honor.” I approached them.
The judge raised his eyebrows. “Well, you, indeed, look gladsome, and you ought to be. I have never seen such a fine performance from an apprentice attorney.”
I grinned. “Thank you, Your Honor.”
“However, since you admire Mr. Lincoln’s courtroom style so much, you may wish to ease back on the fancy-pants words.”
“So I have been informed.” I glanced at Mr. Sage. “Well, since I do not typically wear pants, I suppose I shall make my words less fancy.”
He laughed. “Are you ready to take the exam Saturday next?”
My eyebrows stretched towards my hairline. “Then, I may take the orals?”
“Yes, you may. Ten a.m. sharp … for all the good it will do you. Only someone who has been adjudicated mentally incompetent will hire you. You will be the first woman in this country certified to practice law … but will have no clientele on whom to practice it.”
I nodded, then slowly smiled. “It is challenging for a woman in 1862 to achieve anything beyond motherhood … but not impossible.”
The judge grinned. “You are certainly stubborn enough.” He waved me away. “Now, off with you. Study hard, and you will surely pass. Not many apprentices do on their first attempt.”
As Mr. Sage and I strolled to the courtroom exit, he leaned towards me. “You know everyone’s been humoring you … even your father.”
“I know it, but it has gotten me to this point.”
“If he were not the owner of the most productive plantation in Maryland, you would not be here.”
I nodded. “I count my blessings every night, sir.”
He shook his head. “The abolitionist daughter of the largest slaveholding plantation …. Now, that is an oxymoron if ever I heard one.”
I turned and smiled. “Let us keep it in the common man’s language, Mr. Sage. It is a contradiction.”
He laughed as we breezed through the doorway. “How did your father ever allow you to apprentice?”
“He believes it to be a farce. However, he knew it would keep me at bay for two years to prevent me from being consumed by Mama’s passing.”
I watched Rebecca approach us in a flurry.
She hugged me, then pulled away. “You were brilliant!” She turned to my mentor. “She is such a tigress in the courtroom, is she not, Mr. Sage?”
“Oh, yes. Sam has a real tiger’s heart, wrapped in a woman’s hide.”
Rebecca stared at me and grinned. “You told him our little Shakespearian secret … and how we used to act out the scenes?”
“Of course I did,” I said. “I took no thought that you would mind.” I glanced at Mr. Sage. “We shall make him one of the girls and allow him the privilege of acting out all the male roles.”
He raised a hand. “Me? Oh, no. I am dreadful when it comes to the stage.”
Rebecca giggled and hugged me again. “Well, you are lucky that he agreed to take you as his apprentice because no one else would have you.”
As she pulled away, tears blurred my vision. “That is true enough.” I turned to Mr. Sage. “I most assuredly thank you, sir. Without you, I could never have achieved such a lofty goal.”
Rebecca raised an eyebrow. “Will you hire this fearsome Yankee tigress, Mr. Sage?”
“It is not up to me. As a prosecutor, I work for the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Baltimore City.”
I nodded. “And there is most assuredly no way the courts would allow a woman to represent them. No, I will put out my own shingle.”
He smiled. “However, if you require a recommendation, I shall pen you the finest.”
Mr. Sage wished us a good day and departed. Rebecca and I strode arm-in-arm along the boardwalk.
Rebecca swept a hand from left to right. “Sam Lee, Attorney-at-Law. That is what you ought to use as your name. Not Samantha. Then, when clients show up, you can pretend to be Sam’s clerk. They will never know till you arrive for trial.” She laughed.
I smiled. “That would, indeed, be quite unethical.”
“It would only take one client. You would be so brilliant in the courtroom … like today … and they would flock to you like robins returning in the spring.”
“Oh, but a dream for dreams’ sake.”
“Quoting Shakespeare again?”
“No.” I repeated her hand gesture, spelling out my name and title. “Sam Lee, Attorney-at-Law.”
Our laughter ceased most abruptly when someone grabbed my arm and swung me around.
“You lousy, skirt-wearing bitch!” Mr. Runnels said. “I got an ax to grind, I do.” He shoved his finger towards me. “You tricked me in there! Now, I’m gonna have an ounce of your flesh!”
“Take care,” Rebecca said. “You just might get a pound of resistance.”
He gawked at her. “Shut your filthy hole!”
I stepped between them. “Now, wait one moment, Mr. Runnels. I will not allow you to insult my best friend and neighbor in such a manner.” Rebecca pressed close to my left side as I continued, “It was I who badgered you in court … and may I add that I did so to execute my duty as prosecuting attorney.”
He shoved Rebecca aside.
I stepped forward and glared into his eyes. “Now, that was uncalled for!”
“Well, here’s another!” As he swung his left fist, I ducked and crouched into a pugilist’s stance. Before he could recover, I administered two heavy blows to his midsection, followed by an uppercut to the chin. He reeled backwards.
Cradling my hand, I scrutinized him. “Once again, you certainly appear to be in a bad way, Mr. Runnels.”
Stunned, he stared at me as two constables ran towards us and grabbed his arms.
“Wha … Wha … What?” Mr. Runnels glanced at them. “You ugly rogues! Take your crusty paws off me!”
“You are under arrest, Mr. Runnels,” one of them said.
“Taking a bribe and conspiring to obstruct justice.”
He contrived to escape, but the constables held him steady. Glaring at me through hate-filled eyes, he growled, “I’ll get you for this, miss. One day … I’m gonna get you!”
They escorted him towards the courthouse.
I turned to Rebecca. “Are you all right?”
She grasped my hands and examined my left one. “Are you?” She rubbed it most gently, and I flinched. “Sam, that will be sore.”
We strolled to the livery, climbed into my two-seater Victoria carriage, and drove to 34 West Pratt Street. Tying the horse to the hitching rail in front of the Fulton House, we approached the door in quietude. As we neared it, she stopped.
“It is a good thing your younger brother, George, taught you to defend yourself.”
“Yes, but who would have thought I would need it to be an attorney? I was amazed to see how instinctively I fell into the role of a pugilist.”
“That is the purpose of training. Henceforth, you can do so without thought. Remember, you were defending yourself. You would never attack anyone without cause.”
The door burst open, knocking me sideways. I landed on the boardwalk and rolled out of the way. A white man marched past, holding a negro by the scruff of his neck. He hurled his burden into the street.
END OF SAMPLE
Click HERE to return to the top.