By Kathy Warnes
"You're a real man-grown Johnny Reb." Sergeant Prescott spits out a long trail of tobacco juice that lands on my boot. He keeps snuff in his cheek all of the time like a chipmunk storing seeds in his cheeks. Everybody laughs except Josh. He's my friend.
He knows that I'm only 14, but he keeps eating his hardtack and takes a sip of coffee
between chews. He won't tell on me. I pick up my drum and play a roll. “Drummer boy, General Lee’s Army of Virginia, that's me. At least for another night. Tomorrow morning I'm heading home. Pa needs me for spring planting and there’s a spring smell in the woods. I gotta follow.”
“He's a good drummer, Sarge," Josh says. Sarge quits razzing at me and crawls
into his blankets. I can hear him snoring all night long. Next morning, I roll out while
it's still dark. I wrap my drum in my blanket and sneak down the dirt road.
I leave my gray uniform rolled up by Sarge's feet. I wear my brown farmer's trousers
and patched shirt and bare feet. Nobody'll take me for a Reb, not until I get into
This neck of the woods is grown up with thick bushes. They grow all of the
way down a hill to a little creek at the bottom. I have to take out my knife and
hack away at them to get down the path. I sit my blanket and drum under a
tree. I'm hacking away at a big green and stubborn branch when I hear a dog bark.
I whistle, the whistle that Rover always answers back home. The next minute a white
dog with a black spot around one eye comes barreling down the path, barking to beat
"Come here, boy. Where'd you come from?
"She's a girl and she comes from our farm.” The girl that follows the dog is
as tall as me . She glares at me. "Where'd you come from?"
"From down the road," I said. "What's her name?"
"Her name's Spot. Why do you care?"
"I think she's a pretty dog. Smart, too." I watch Spot paw the dirt at the foot of the tree in
front of us." She smells a rabbit or something."
"She probably smells a Rebel," the girl said. "There's supposed to be a camp of them not too far down the road."
"What do Rebels smell like?" I ask her.
"Like skunks," she says, wrinkling her nose.
"How do you know? Have you ever smelled one up close?"
"Lots of them. They have their holes in the woods by our farm."
"I mean Rebels."
"Don't have to smell one up close to know they smell bad."
I sniff. "Smells pretty good here in the woods."
She stares at me. "Where did you come from? I ain’t ever seen you before."
"I come from Franklin. We got about three thousand people in Franklin. Our farm's right outside of town. I walk to town every Saturday after chores. Today's Saturday, so I'm starting to walk.”
"You talk funny". Her wide eyes are the green color of the creek at home. "You're a Rebel, aren't you? I'm going to tell my Pa about you. He'll shoot you for sure!”
Spot stops digging and dances around me barking.
The girl glares at me. "Sic em, Spot!" she yells. "Bite the Rebel!"
Spot runs over to my blanket under the tree. She catches it in her teeth and runs to the Yankee girl. The blanket trails behind her like a bootlace. My drum follows the blanket. I run after the drum and catch it before it rolls farther down the hill.
The Yankee girl keeps tugging on the blanket and Spot keeps tugging in the opposite direction. While they are busy, I find my drum sticks, shoulder my drum and start down the trail. I turn around for one last look. Spot lets go of the blanket. The Yankee girl falls backward, rolls down the hill and hits a tree. She lays still. Spot runs over to where I'm standing. She doesn't bark. She just stands, panting, watching me.
"Why should I help a Yankee girl?" I ask her." I gotta go home."
I hold my drum tighter.
Spot watches me. I put down the drum and run to the Yankee girl. She's bleeding. I run down to the creek bank. I snatch handfuls of moss and run back up to the Yankee girl. I press the moss tight against the cut on her head. Spot watches me. Finally the Yankee girl struggles to her feet. She smiles at me. "Thanks, Reb. You didn't have to help me. You could have run away."
"I ain't running no more," I say. I pick up my drum and sticks and head down the trail toward our camp.
"You forgot your blanket!" the Yankee girl shouts after me.
She picks it up and folds it and hands it to me. She stands with her arms
folded, watching me go.
A few days later we march out of Pennsylvania, me still playing my drum. We pass by a farm on the way and I know I hear Spot barking above the noise of marching feet and the beat of my drum.