“Whenever I hear an argument in favor of slavery, I imagine the participants being sold on the slave auction block.” General Samantha Lee
Wednesday, October 7, 1863
I marched across the kitchen and grabbed the young, black woman by the arm. “Annie, where is it?”
“Scuse me, ma’am?” Her eyes popped wide open. “Where is what?”
I let her go. “You know what I mean. You were just cleaning my study … and it’s gone. I’ve got to show that to Luke.”
Annie jerked her head back. “Show what to your husband?”
I shoved an open hand toward her. She stared at it. “Come on, Annie. Give it to me.”
She spun and walked away. “If you’s referring to the telegram, I don’t think you should show it to Luke. You needs to ignore it and throw it away like you did them other two.”
I stepped closer and snapped my fingers. “Hand it over.”
Annie shook her head. “You can’t makes me. I’s ’mancipated … by President Lincoln hisself.” She thrust a finger at me. “And you set all us slaves free.”
“It’s still my telegram … addressed to me.” I wiggled my fingers.
She threw her right hand over her skirt pocket, swiped her free hand across in front of her, and closed her left eye. “Why you been holding this one for over two weeks now? You ain’t gonna show it to him, are you?”
“Let me have it.”
“Have what?” a male voice sounded.
We turned toward the kitchen archway entrance. Luke stepped in, his only arm dangling by his left side.
Annie sprang closer to me, close enough to whisper in my ear. “Don’t do it, Sam. Don’t you’s tell him. You know he’ll say yes.”
I glared into her eyes. Annie raised her eyebrows and lowered her chin. I narrowed my eyes and glared harder.
She mashed her lips together and stepped back. “All right.” Annie dipped a hand in her skirt pocket and produced a piece of paper. “Here … takes it.” She thrust it toward me.
Luke stepped forward. “Sam, what’s that?”
I snatched the paper, and Annie backed away.
“Sam, you’s sure one crazy, white woman. You nearly got yourself kilt the first time … now you’s going off to try to get kilt again? You’s plum crazy.” She looked at my husband. “You’s crazy if you let her, Luke. Crazy as all get out.” She ran past him to the arch, stopped, and turned. “White folks is crazier than a chicken strolling through a fox den.” She glared at me. “Goes ahead. Get yourself kilt.” She sucked in her lower lip and squinted as her voice cracked. “See if’n I care!” She burst into tears and dashed out.
Luke stepped forward and thrust his arm around me. “What’s it all about?”
I handed the paper to him. “A telegram from Washington. It came weeks ago. I’ve agonized over showing it to you.”
Luke took it and read. “Hmmmmmm. Looks like you’ll have to go. You can’t say “no” to the President of the United States.”
I took it back and stared at it.
Time ___ 318
Office U. S. Military Telegraph,
Washington, D. C. September 22 1863
Colonel Samantha Lee
The Secretary of War, under the direction of the President of the United States, has granted me the honor of serving notice on your promotion to Brigadier General in the Army of the Potomac effective immediately. President Lincoln, and his war staff, in recognition of your outstanding war service, would like you to return to duty in Washington to receive command of your own brigade, of which your former command, the Old Line Regiment, will be a part.
Brigadier General Walter M. Paddington,
Assistant Chief-of-Staff to President Lincoln
Friday, October 9, 1863
Annie entered the plantation office. “Scuse me, Sam, but some of your neighbors is outside on hosses … and they’s madder than a mess of bees from a busted-up nest.”
I looked up from my ledger. “Oh?” I set the pen in the inkwell. “I was wondering how long it would take them to organize a protest.” I leaned back in my tall desk chair. “Well, it’s eighteen hundred and sixty-three and the slaves have been emancipated … go out and remind them and ask, since it’s the law of the land, what is their problem?”
Annie’s mouth dropped open. “I can’t go out and tell them that. They ain’t gonna hear it from someone who was a kitchen slave three months ago.”
I stood up. “I know.” Walking around the desk, I eased a hand on her shoulder and smiled. “Let me go out and take care of it.” Stopping by the wall next to the archway exit, I pulled my father’s 1847 Colt Walker off it, checked all chambers for bullets, and sauntered to the front door. On opening it, I stepped out onto the veranda.
Four men sat on horseback—all my closest neighbors. Mr. Howard, my nearest neighbor, held a rifle across his horse with the other hand holding the reins. Mr. Green and the other two dangled six-shooters from their free hands.
I walked to the rail beside the steps. “Good morning, gentlemen. Isn’t it a fine October morning? You should be home tending to the harvest.”
“Where’s your husband?” Mr. Howard asked.
“In Baltimore on business. You can talk to me.”
“We need to talk to the head of the household.” Mr. Green spat on the ground.
“I’m co-head of household. My husband and I have the understanding that we have equal say in everything.” Four pairs of eyes rolled simultaneously. “Speak up, now. What do you want?”
“Sam?” Mr. Howard leaned forward a bit. “We have a serious concern. We haven’t seen your father since you arrived last July.”
I scrutinized the four men one at a time. “There’s nothing to be concerned about. You know my father’s condition. He’s incapable of running Harmony House. My husband and I have taken to running it for him.” Mr. Howard and Mr. Green exchanged glances. “It’s legal. You want to see the papers?”
Mr. Green shook his head. “We believe you. It’s freeing the slaves we don’t take a shine to.”
The three men raised their revolvers into their laps.
“You mean none of you have freed your slaves since the emancipation proclamation? That happened way back in January. What are you waiting for?”
“The South to beat the North.” Mr. Green turned his gun barrel out to face me. “Then Maryland can finally secede and join the Confederacy … like it wanted to all along.”
I raised Papa’s Colt and rested the barrel in my right hand. “Well, you’ll have to take that up with Mr. Lincoln. He’s the one that made the law.”
“And so the South has taken it up with him,” one of the other men said. “We’re just waiting for the outcome.”
“You plan to use that gun?” Mr. Howard asked.
“Hope not,” I said. “It’s there just to show you that I intend on running Harmony House my way, and that it’s none of your business what happens on my land.”
“You’re a woman,” the man on the end said. “You know all you got with that gun is show.”
Mr. Howard waved his free hand in front of him. “Sam, don’t be foolish. Our slaves are getting restless. They know what’s going on here; and since the proclamation, they’ve become difficult.”
I nodded. “Kind of like a wrongly accused prisoner tasting his freedom in early release. What else can you expect?”
“The war is not over yet,” Mr. Green said. “Put your slaves back in their chains and wait for the result. If the North wins, then you can set them free.”
A rumbling started in my stomach. It angered me that they could ride onto my property, the biggest plantation in all of Maryland, and dictate that I should ignore the law of the land.
“Gentlemen, you all know me … the rebellious daughter, thrown out by her father for abolitionist tendencies. Well, now that he’s disabled, two of his sons dead … and the third missing, let me tell you how it is.” I walked out to the top of the steps. “No man is going to tell me how to run this plantation.” I looked at Mr. Howard and then to Mr. Green. “Now, kindly get off my land, or I’ll run you off myself.”
Twelve-year-old Marnie ran out of the plantation house and stopped behind me. “Sam? What’s going on?” I shoved my newly adopted, baby sister aside. She stumbled behind one of the veranda pillars.
A flash of movement caught my eye. I turned as Mr. Green raised his hand gun pointing it at me. A shot rang out, and Mr. Green tumbled off the back of his horse. A third neighbor lifted his revolver. Another shot saw his gun fly and hit the ground. He grabbed the hand that once held it and gritted his teeth. The other neighbor holstered his weapon.
Mr. Howard aimed his rifle at me aligning its site to his right eye.
I pointed Papa’s Walker at him. “Please, Mr. Howard, go back to Concord Manor … you’re Rebecca’s father, and she’s my best friend. I could have punctured their hearts if I had a mind to. Please take me at my word on that.” Seconds seemed like hours as his face grew taut, then he released his facial muscles. “I don’t want to harm you. Now, re-sheathe your rifle, sir.”
“Who’s the child?”
“A war orphan from Washington. She’s part of our family now.”
Mr. Howard spit. “Strange.” He watched Mr. Green walk out from behind his horse minus his revolver holding a hand to his right shoulder. Glances at the two other men caused Mr. Howard to turn back to me and glare for several seconds. He lowered his rifle and slipped it into the sheath hanging by the left side of his horse.
Marnie ran to my side and threw an arm around me. I remained focused on Mr. Howard.
He glanced at her and swung his gaze back to me. “Where did you learn to shoot like that?”
“My dead brother George taught me the basics, and then they were refined by my one-year service in the Army of the Potomac where I reached the rank of a full Colonel. I was wounded at Gettysburg … where my sex was also discovered.”
He laughed. “You’re so full of horse manure ….”
Marnie stepped forward and jammed her hands onto her hips. “It’s true! She’s a soldier and killed plenty of Rebs like you.”
“Marnie!” I yanked her back and looked at Mr. Howard again. “Ask Rebecca … and have her show you my correspondence. She’s known all along.” I lowered the Colt by my left side. “Now, please, sir, take the others with you and leave me to run Harmony House my way.”
He jerked his head back and protruded his eyes. “You stay away from my Rebecca.”
“I will not, sir. She is twenty-two, and only she can dissolve our relationship.”
“Damn you!” He reared up on his horse. When its front feet pounded down, He pushed his hat back. “There’s a meeting of the local plantation owners of Baltimore County. You and your Harmony House slave sanctuary are the main agenda.” He grinned. “You can show up or not.” He spun his horse, and they rode off.
Marnie turned to me. “That was about the most fan-dangling thing I ever saw. You can out-shoot any man.” She hugged me.
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