A shot rang out, splitting the peaceful spring afternoon. A flash of blue streaked between trees in the woods, alerting us to the Yankees. With only the local militia to defend us, and unsure where the Confederate regulars were, we women fled into hiding. Taking cover behind buildings and trees, the few local militia faced off the band of raiding Yankees seemingly determined to take our small mountain community.
I snuck away from the other women to conceal myself, but get a view of the battle. As the local healer, I knew I was soon to have my hands full, and I prayed that not many of our boys would be wounded.
A bullet ricocheted off the corner of a building. “Missed, Billy! Why don’t you go home where you belong?” Miles shoved the ramrod back in place, took a deep breath, and ran to the cover of a large oak. Bullets whizzed past him as he slammed against the tree. Seeing a Yankee coming up the hill behind the buildings, he pulled the trigger. “Alex!”
“I see him.” He fired. Stepping up on the cabin porch, his leg went out. “Ahh!” he grabbed at his shin as blood seeped from the wound. Laying down on the porch, he reloaded the gun as the preacher slipped up and bandaged his leg out of the direct line of fire.
“Go home, Billy!” Miles reloaded, carefully laying his musket across a cross bar secured to the tree and took aim. The bullet exploded from the musket in a cloud of smoke. “Alex, you good?”
“Yeah,” he laid on his back sliding his ramrod back in place.
“Cover me!” Alex rolled over, aiming at the oncoming Federal forces and nodded. Alex nodded and fired. Miles ran across the opening, quickly making it to the other side of the house. Footsteps pounded over the hill. I looked to the right through the slats of my hiding place as Confederate regulars rushed into hiding places behind the barn and corncrib. Shots rang out in increasing frequency and cacophony, the regulars fresh into the fight with their desire to drive the Yankees far from this place.
As the regulars took their positions, Alex got to his feet and moved to the far side of the cabin with Miles, defending it from the Federals flanking them. A shot rang out echoed by a scream. Miles fell to his knees holding his left shoulder before collapsing to the ground. Our preacher ran up to him and scooped him out of the dust, dragging him to the shelter of the cabin porch while Alex took cover behind the chimney. Miles grunted and panted holding his shoulder. I flexed the muscles in my jaw. I needed to see that wound, but it was unsafe for me to leave my hiding place, and if I did, I could put the men in more danger.
The regulars changed position, covering more territory. As several shots rang out, one of the regulars charged across the clearing to the other side of the cabin, filling the hole with Alex. Rapidly reloading and firing, the regular alternated with Alex, providing extra coverage. Reloaded once more, the regular stepped out from the cover of the building and fired, only to drop to the ground with a cry. Alex covered them as the preacher scooped the regular from the ground and pulled him to safety behind the chimney. He gripped his outer thigh, blood seeping between his fingers.
Miles had forced himself upright, knelt in the dirt and reloaded his musket with one hand. Struggling to get it balanced, he sighted on a Yankee and fired, several more shots sounding from the woods at the same time. Miles crumpled to the ground with a scream, instinctively balling up, his hand covering his wounded shoulder. The sound of musket fire echoed off the buildings and tore at our ears. The regulars poured shots into the Federals from their positions on the right, exchanging fire with the Yanks as they inched their way up the hill. If they couldn’t stop them, we were going to be in trouble.
I looked to my right in total surprise as I saw the preacher pull a musket to his shoulder and fire at the oncoming Yankee. It did little good, for within a minute, he was grappling with the Federal. The wounded regular stood and tried to help the preacher stop the Yank. The Yankee roared and with one movement had both of them off the ground with their feet touching only air, fighting with all they had to stop him. Finally getting him to the ground, the Yank flipped the regular off, picking up the musket and aiming it at him as the regular scrambled out of the way, blood running down his pants. Grabbing him from behind, the preacher repeatedly punched the Yankee until he lay unconscious. Panting, the preacher stood, grabbed hold of the regular and dragged him to the porch, letting him rest back against the chairs while the preacher removed his coat and leather accouterments. I didn’t like it. He was already pale and sweating. I needed to see that wound!
My head snapped to the right as multiple shots rang out. The Yankees were closing in! A young Confederate fell. Firing back in response, a Federal fell. One of the Confederate regulars grabbed his fallen comrade, threw him over his shoulder, and yelled, “Cover me!” As the musket fire sang out, he ran across the clearing to the porch, carefully deposition his cargo with the other wounded. Their groans and cries added to the din of battle, and I prayed this would all be over soon.
The battle continued several minutes as the Yankees closed in on the buildings, and the Confederates fought them off. Several well calculated shots and the Federal numbers began to thin. “Watch your right!” A warning rang through the air. A Confederate private carefully adjusted his position, aiming his musket down the side of the building and watching for the oncoming attack. A Federal dropped with a thud as smoke erupted from the musket barrel. Two Yankees went running for the woods as the Confederates and the preacher began taking prisoners and collecting the wounded.
Though the din of gunfire had stopped, the air was filled with an eerie mix of silence and the moans and cries of the wounded. “We need some help! Where’s a nurse, or a doctor?”
“We have our local healer,” the preacher told the Confederate soldier. I quickly extricated myself from my hiding place and darted toward the cabin. Confederate soldiers kept guard as Federal wounded and prisoners were hauled toward the cabin. I ignored them and ran for the wounded, stopping at the boy in the dust before me, his leg bleeding profusely, blood seeping between his fingers. His color wasn’t good and the leg needed attention now. A quick look around and I decided to make the butcher table my operating table.
“What do you need?” several people asked me.
“I need my medical bag from the cabin. We have to treat them,” I said, kneeling before Miles.
His face was red and he was sweating and groaning in pain. A cursory view of the wound and I replaced his hand over it.
“Keep pressure on there.”
He cried out as I stepped over him to the third boy. A quick look at his bleeding shoulder and I knew he could wait a few minutes. Standing, I looked at the men before me. Indicating the boy with the wounded leg I said, “I need him on the table now!”
He wasn’t looking good at all. Turning to one of the other women I said, “I need my bag from inside and a bucket of water.”
She handed me my medical bag and I quickly covered the distance to the table, as the preacher and a Confederate named Jacob carried the wounded boy to the table. He was lax in their arms, pale, and in pain. I pulled out my instruments, poultice and a few bandages as they placed him on the table with a cry. I untied my instrument case and unrolled it, flipping back the cover to expose the tools.
“Here Shelby, have some water.” Jacob had lifted the regular’s head in his hand and held the canteen to his mouth. Shelby took a swallow, choked, and took a deep breath. With a moan, Jacob carefully laid his head back on the table.
Instruments in place, I stepped toward Shelby’s head looking for the ladies with the bucket of water I needed. Shelby grabbed the front of my dress with a grip of steel, lifting himself off the table, a letter crumpled between his hand and my dress. Pain and desperation played across his features. “Take this letter. Make sure it gets to my sister. Her name is Rachel and she lives in Anderson South Carolina in the Pendleton district on the Chasteen plantation, and tell her I love her. Promise me you’ll get it to her!”
I wrapped my hands around his tenderly, compassion filling me as I looked at this desperate boy and his thought for his sister. His face was covered in sweat, hair hanging rebelliously at a disheveled angle across his forehead, muscles trembling against the pain. “I will.” I slid the letter from his fingers and handed it to one of the women. “Hold into this and make sure it isn’t lost,” I instructed as I pried his fingers from my dress front. I held his shoulders down on the table as his face contorted in pain once again. I looked up at Jacob standing a near his head.
“What do you need me to do?” he asked. One of the ladies placed a bucket of water on the table.
“Hold him down.” I stepped to Shelby’s leg as Jacob took firm hold of him. Palpating his leg, I couldn’t feel the round. Inserting my finger in the wound, I probed to find the round as he cried against the pain, his free leg thrashing against the table. Jacob held his chest and wounded leg still, others rushing up to help restrain him.
“Found it, but it’s deep.” I picked up the scalpel and made an incision as he cried out in pain. His wounded leg was rigidly still while his opposite leg fought against those restraining him. A quick look at his face and I could tell he was still stable. He gripped the table and fought against Jacob, but was held still so I could work. Picking up forceps, I inserted them in the wound and took hold of the round. He screamed and then gritted his teeth as I pulled the round from his leg. “Got it.”
“Is the leg broken?” Jacob asked, using his body weight to keep Shelby still.
“Let me check.” I probed the wound again, feeling for any breaks in the bone.
“Not the bone!! PLEASE!!” Shelby screamed, his right leg thrashing against the table, his arms trying to fight against Jacob’s vice-like grip.
“It’s not broken,” I sighed. No need for amputation.
“What?” Jacob asked. I shook my head, fighting to staunch the blood flow. He leaned toward Shelby’s face. “Hey, hey you’re lucky that was a clean shot.”
“Geez, thank you,” Shelby replied through gritted teeth as I began stitching the wound. Numerous gasps and groans, and several stitches later, I had the wound closed. Taking a bandage, I carefully wound it around his wounded thigh as the preacher prayed over him. Tying a knot in it with another quick look over him, I said, “Okay, he’s done. Where’s my next one?” Jacob and a young private slid Shelby around and placed his arms over their shoulders. With one more cry, he stood, supported by the two men, and limped his way to the cabin.
With a quick wipe of my hands, I prepared a new suture as the next boy was placed on the table. He had a wound in his right upper arm. I freed his shoulder from his uniform coat and examined the wound. He screamed in pain, restrained by the preacher and ladies as I probed the wound. The bullet had gone straight through with no damage to the bone. He was lucky. I cleaned and bandaged the wound, handing him off to Jacob and the preacher.
Screams and grunts of pain came from near the cabin. Jacob was bringing Miles to the operating table. He held the wound, his knees giving out and dragging his feet in the dust as Jacob hauled him to me.
“You’re shot in the shoulder not the legs now walk!” Jacob shouted. Miles got to his feet and Jacob threw him on the table as Miles grunted and panted.
I wasted no time. Probing his wound as he gritted his teeth, it was quickly evident that the bullet was still in there. Grabbing my knife, I enlarged the wound getting near the bullet. He gritted his teeth and fought against Jacob, who drew his hands out of my way and held him down to the table.
Placing my forceps on my fingers, I slid them inside the incision and found the ball. Grabbing hold of it while Miles held his breath, I extracted it from the wound as he fought against the table, Jacob, and the women who restrained his legs.
The bullet came out nicely with no signs of broken bones or debris. I picked up my suture as Jacob adjusted his hold on Miles. With a steady hand, I stitched the wound closed. Miles gritted his teeth, writhing against the pain, his head rolling side to side as he gasped for breath between stitches. The wound edges drew together and with a quick knot in the ligature, I placed a bandage on the wound.
“Help me sit him up.” Jacob lifted him up and swung his legs over the side of the table. Winding the bandages around his shoulder, I tied it off. “Okay, you can take him now.” Jacob slid him off the table and helped him to the other wounded.
“I can take that wounded Yankee now,” I called.
The preacher stepped up to the table. “He didn’t make it.”
I looked at him hard. “Any other wounded?” He shook his head. I nodded, “Okay.” I looked down at my blood stained hands and took a deep breath, closing my eyes against the rush of energy that suddenly started waning.
We had done it. The wounded were tended, the Yankees routed, and for the moment at least we were safe.
A Day at the Fort took place on May 27-28, 2017. It is a living history event held yearly at Fort Hollingsworth-White House in Alto, GA during the Memorial Day weekend.
The Hollingsworth-White house has been standing since 1793 as a colonial defense establishment for local settlers in the area, and has remained in the family for more than 100 years. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This years event included Post-Revolutionary War living historians, period sutlers and traders, Civil War historians, Fox Fire museum veteran Barbara Taylor Woodall, United Daughters of the Confederacy, drop spindle demonstrations, Sunday service by Brother Joey Young, 1860 dancers, the Charleston Tintypist – doing original tintypes with the technique of the 1860s, a car show, and Southern food.
Check here for more information about Fort Hollingsworth: https://forthollingsworth.wordpress.com/.
-By Rachel Holland