We all froze. I tentatively replied, “We got mixed up on tha road and were trying to get on tha Valley Road from Crampton’s Gap.”
The voice in the darkness laughed and said, “Ya ain’t come from Crampton’s Gap. Ya better start telling tha truth or else.”
I thought fast, ‘This guy must have come from Crampton’s Gap to know we weren’t from there. I’m gonna try something.’ “Alright,” I confessed, “we ain’t from Crampton’s Gap, but I was up therah and saw Captain Quantrill a few hours ago. We’re a part of Mosby’s men getting ready to hit tha Yanks tomorrow. I’m Lt. Hager.”
This brought a hiss from Captain Edwards.
I heard some low muttered conversation and then the voice out of the darkness stated, “Y’all don’t move. We gotcha covered with 50 rifles. I’m a-gonna light a lantern and see if y’all are telling the truth.”
Everyone sat perfectly still. A lucifer (match) was struck in the distance behind a tree and a figure lit a lantern candle with the portable fire. He advanced toward me and, once he came along beside me, he held the lantern up to my face.
I didn’t recognize him, but he said, “Well Lieutenant, ya seem to make a habit of lettin us get the drop on ya. I was up at the Gap when y’all came a-callin’ earlier this evening.”
I was glad it was too dark for the men in our troop to see my embarrassment. I must have flushed red from head to toe. I stammered, “Yeah, well, we got to get down south of Gapland and set up a blocking force for tomorrow. We took this road by mistake.”
The man chuckled and directed, “Go to tha left of tha middle cabin and keep headed to tha west. You ain’t but about 150 yards from the Valley Road.”
I nodded and said, “Sorry bout tha mix up. We’ll see ya tomorrow.”
The man grinned in the lantern light. “Yep, God willin’ and the crick don’t rise. See ya Lieutenant.” He blew out the candle in the lantern and seemed to disappear into the darkness.
I turned to Captain Edwards and said, “Let’s go.”
I nudged Stonewall, and we aimed to the left of the middle cabin. Continuing for another 25 yards, we broke out of the trees that smothered any illumination during our brief ride on the farm lane. The Valley Road loomed ahead of us in the distance.
We rode about 70 more yard and turned south (to our left) onto the Pleasant Valley Road. I had the troop continue on the valley road for about 100 yards. I kept looking for a farm road that branched off to the west (our right). I vaguely remember from our prior reconnaissance that there was some good terrain for concealment in the area. It really surprised me how quiet our troops were. All you could hear were the horse’s feet hitting the hard pan of the road and an occasional equestrian snort. The troopers must have been threatened with death if they were heard to speak or even sneeze.
We passed a set of abandoned shacks on our right, and just past them, the farm road was clearly visible in the moonlight. The company rode two abreast and I directed them to follow me as I filed into the lane. The thoroughfare was just wide enough for two horses abreast. We traversed a sharp cut to the left that headed south between two hills. A small creek and pond sudden appeared to our right and hills were to our left that ran at least 125 yards alongside the Valley Road.
This was perfect concealment for Captain Edwards and his 100 troopers. The pond, acting as a watering source for the horses, was an added benefit. Once the full contingent had filed into the secretive nook, we dismounted. The men began to automatically form water brigades for their mounts. I motioned to Captain Edwards and we walked away from the main body for a little powwow.