If Yank scouts had made it this far south, it was a bad news. It meant they had already made it down South Mountain by way of Turners Gap and were probably half way to Middletown.
While Zeke guarded the prisoners and Skeeter rounded up the five Yank horses, I thought of the options I had with the Yank prisoners. One: I could parole them, but I didn’t trust them to honor it because I had killed one of their number, and Stonewall was responsible for the death of another. Two: I could send them to Mosby with Zeke and Skeeter as guards. Three: I could bring them along with me and deal with them later.
None of the options were good, but I finally decided on option three. I immediately ordered Zeke and Skeeter to tie the prisoners to their saddles. I also ordered my two scouts to gag the Yanks.
This was time consuming, but it was the best option of a bad situation.
Once we had the Yanks trussed up and gagged, much to their chagrin, the owner of the farm came out the back of the house with a shotgun in his hand.
“What are ya gonna do with those soldiers?” he demanded.
Pulling both of my colts from my belt, I responded, “I’m gonna take ‘em with us.”
The owner kept his shotgun lowered with the barrel pointed toward the ground, but challenged, “Ya gonna kill ‘em once ya leave herah?”
“No. I ain’t gonna kill ‘em. Why? Are ya a Union man and givin’ ‘em food and shelter?” I asked in a belligerent tone. “And by the way, if ya plan on using that shotgun, ya better do it now or quit the area.”
With a less aggressive voice, the owner answered, “Yes, I’m a Union man. One of tha men ya have is my son. He came to visit on his way toward Middletown. I didn’t want a fight on my farm, but ya appeared quite unexpectedly.”
“Put the shotgun down and let’s talk,” I said.
The owner turned and walked to the back of the house and put the shotgun on a step leading to the back porch. He came back and asked, “Do ya have to take them with ya?”
“I reckon not, if ya promise to keep these men tied up and gagged for five hours before ya let ‘em go,” I bargained.
The owner immediately let out a deep breath and vowed, “I will be glad to do that.”
“Okay. Then I’m gonna leave ‘em in yar care and I’m trusting in yar word,” in a civil tone I added, “I didn’t want to fight either. Can ya provide a Christian burial for tha two men that were kilt?”
The farm owner somberly nodded in the affirmative.
I turned to Zeke and Skeeter and, pointing to the owner, ordered, “Get ‘em down of’n their horses and give ‘em to this man.”
It didn’t take any time to unhorse the Yanks and present them to the owner. I grabbed the reins of the Yank horses and, giving the owner a wave, I rode out of his farm and back on the main road to Middletown.
As we rode north, I handed each of my scouts the reins of two extra horses. I kept one for myself. We now had backup mounts. I pulled my reserve horse up beside me and jumped from Stonewall’s saddle into the saddle of the backup horse. Stonewall gave me a begrudging look and a snort, but I think he was glad to have a lighter load. Zeke and Skeeter followed suit.
As we rode north Zeke and Skeeter pulled up even with me. I could tell they probably doubted my letting the Yanks go, but were too afraid to question my action. Finally, I said, “What’s yar question?”
Skeeter piped up, “Why’d ja let ‘em go?”
I answered with a question, “Why’d ja think I let ‘em go?’
Skeeter looked at me for a long moment and then ventured, “Cause ya didn’t want ta kill ‘em.” Then he added, “Do ya think the old man will keep his promise?”
“What do ya think?” I queried.
“He ain’t gonna. That’s why ya took their horses,” he deciphered.
I nodded and grinned. He grinned back. I looked at Zeke and he smiled from ear to ear.
Then Skeeter got a serious look on his face and said, “But tha old man probably has horses of his own that he can lend to tha Yanks.”
“There weren’t any in tha barn and, as we left, I didn’t see any in tha pasture next to tha house or across tha road,” I explained.
“So if’n they’s got horses, it’ll take ‘em a while to round ‘em up,” he said.
“Right,” I replied. Then, I turned to Zeke and asked, “How far to Middletown?”
“Another four miles to the southern outskirts,” he replied.
“Okay, let’s make tracks,” I declared and kicked my reserve horse in the sides. He didn’t react the way Stonewall usually did, but I was able to get him accelerated to a fast lope.