BACK TO MCGALLAGHER’S FARM
By Paul Finnigan
A mischievous grin quickly lit up Marty Hayward’s face as the dark wavy-haired teenager milled around in a corner of Somervell's Hardware Store.
“I’m looking for a can of checkered paint?” he claimed when confronted by the sales clerk, Jody Somervell, a pretty red-headed teen with a captivating smile.
“Not you again,” Jody giggled as she ushered Marty towards the front door.
“Hey wait a minute. Just because you’re the owner’s daughter doesn’t mean you can push me around.”
The two had been going steady for almost a year after meeting at Plainfield High School. Jody was a local girl while the Hayward family had moved to Plainfield from Missouri to take over a large cattle farm following the sudden death of Marty’s uncle.
“I’ll be back!” Marty vowed with a good-natured chuckle.
Not long afterward the couple pulled into the Hayward’s farmyard. Hand in hand they made their way down to a small lake situated just next to the farm.
“Want to try your luck at catching a mudpout?” Marty asked excitedly.
“No, please Marty don’t. I just hate it when people put those poor little worms on hooks.” Jody pleaded.
“All right then, hop aboard and hold on tight!”
A long rope with a wooden plank dangled from the limb of a tall oak tree right at the lake’s edge. Jody carefully sat herself down grasping the rope tightly and laughed hysterically as Marty flung her out over the shoreline. Marty jumped on board in a standing position.
“You’d better hang on tight or you're going home wet!” he warned.
Jody began screaming as Marty dumped the two of them off the swing and into some tall grass at the water’s edge. The couple rolled for a few seconds before swirling into a loving embrace. Jody pulled back placing her hand over Marty’s lips after he began coming on a little strong.
“Maybe we should start back,” she softly suggested.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he smiled in agreement. “I did promise your father that I’d have you home for supper.”
As the couple made their way up the hill and back toward the farm, they were met by a scruffy looking calico kitten that was wandering across the yard.
“Oh my god, Marty, isn’t it beautiful?” Jody gasped.
“Yeah,” Marty concurred as he picked up and caressed the kitten before handing it over to Jody. “They’re all over the place. You can take this one home if you want.”
“My mom’s allergic to cats,” Jody sighed as she set the kitten back down and watched it scamper across the yard and into one of the barns.
While en route to the Somervells’ the couple were following Henderson Side Road when suddenly a man riding a bicycle dressed in only short underwear, cowboy boots and a ten gallon hat darted out in front of them. Marty jammed on the brakes and swerved to the right, narrowly missing the character who disappeared through a whole in a thicket.
“Oh my god!” Jody screamed. “It was Maynard Hepple.”
“Who...what...what’s a Maynard Hepple?” Marty asked in surprise.
“His family has a farm down on the Front Road,” Jody answered nervously.
“Oh yeah, I know the place. It’s just beyond the first side road. That’s a farm? Looks more like a haunted house and a couple of shacks,” Marty responded.
“They do grow potatoes and sell some eggs,” Jody replied slowly.
“Is he the guy they say lives in an old henhouse at the back of the property?”
“That’s just a rumor. Apparently they do keep him locked up in the attic most of the summer, though,” said Jody, frowning.
When they finally pulled up in front of the Somervells’ home a sudden thought crossed Marty’s mind.
“Jode, I almost forgot. Jason Milne’s having a hayride on Saturday and I have some time off. You up for it?”
“Oh...Marty. It’s aunt Harriet’s birthday on Saturday. Mom’s having a party for her and I promised I’d help out. I’m so sorry,” Jody apologized.
“Ah, don’t worry about it. Maybe I’ll saddle-up Smokey and go for a long ride.”
“Marty, if you make your way down towards the Tatchell’s place you’ll notice a trail through a clump of trees on the right. It’ll take you for miles.”
“Thanks, Jode,” Marty responded appreciatively with a kiss.
A few hours went by before he finally spotted a small stream up ahead. Smokey was priority and seemed to nod approvingly as Marty allowed him to cool off and get well watered. After a quick lunch Marty filled his canteen and was soon on his way. The sun continued to beat down as he steadily made his way along the trail.
A short time later the course changed abruptly as the trail took a steep drop into a narrow valley. Immediately Marty found himself surrounded by a strange grayish mist. Making his way cautiously he eventually brought Smokey to an easy gallop and soon emerged on the other side of the ravine. The sky grew dark and lightning flashed followed by a deafening clap of thunder. Within seconds a deluge poured down, pummeling Marty like a raging waterfall. He instinctively rode full gallop towards a wooded area nearby. Marty reined in firmly slumping down to avoid some low hanging limbs as he entered the thick forest. Suddenly Smokey whinnied and reared-up as a bearded man dressed in a blue uniform and dark slicker grabbed hold of the horse’s bridle. A shiver raced up Marty's spine as the man brandished a sword while yanking the reins from Marty’s hands.
The soldier ordered him to dismount then directed him to an encampment located in a clearing a short distance away. The soldier tied Smokey to a tree before leading Marty into one of several tents in the encampment. A tall, severe looking officer rose from behind a makeshift desk and looked Marty over carefully before dismissing the soldier. The officer kindly draped a blanket over Marty’s drenched shoulders alleviating some of the shakes. After questioning Marty for about 20 minutes the officer summoned a private who escorted Marty back out into the yard. The young, blond, curly-haired private with the wide smile then introduced himself.
“I'm Terence Crowder,” he offered eagerly.
“Marty Hayward,” nodded Marty.
“Lieutenant Kendall’s a good officer. Firm but fair. He was just checking to be sure you weren’t a reb scout or a deserter. But you’re free to go now,” Terence said reassuringly.
“You guys sure take this historical battle stuff seriously don’t you?” Marty spoke up.
Terence simply continued to grin at the mention.
“That your mount over there?"
“That’s Smokey all right,” Marty replied promptly.
“He’s a real beauty. We’ll take him over to the livery tent. Dan Tennyson, another private here, takes care of the horses. He’ll give Smokey a good rub-down then feed him some oats and straw. We’ll go over to the mess tent. You hungry? We got corn and beans.”
“No, no thanks. I just finished lunch a short time ago back on the trail,” Marty insisted.
“Well, we’ll at least get you a good hot cup of coffee. I know I could sure use one,” Terence chuckled in anticipation. “We’ll see if we can’t get those clothes of yours dried up a bit before you take off. The boys have been havin’ a hard time keepin’ fires lit in all this rain.”
After dropping off Smokey at the livery tent the two made their way to the mess area where Terence poured them each a cup of coffee. The boys sat down on some wooden crates next to a dimly lit fire.
“So where are you from?” Terence inquired.
“Like I told your Lieutenant. I’m from the next county over. My family runs a dairy farm just outside Plainfield.”
“No wonder Lieutenant Kendall was a little suspicious. He probably wondered just what you were doin’ out on a leisurely ride in the middle of the pouring rain,” Terence pointed out.
“Well, to be quite honest, it was a beautiful sunny day almost right up until that burly corporal of yours apprehended me,” Marty bristled.
“Sunny! It’s been rainin’ here on and off for the better part of a week. We figure that’s what’s been keepin’ the rebs from establishing a battle line.”
An awkward moment of silence followed before Marty finally spoke up.
“So is this summer employment or is this something you can do on a fulltime basis?”
“I’m a fulltime Union soldier,” Terence replied proudly. “I left Missouri...”
“You’re from Missouri!” Marty promptly interrupted. “Me too...I mean originally.”
“You serious? What part?” Terence asked wide-eyed.
“Arnason, a farming community about 180 miles southwest of St. Louis,” Marty replied. “What about you?”
“Oh I come from a little place up state called Lowrey just a few miles from the Iowa border. I actually joined up in Iowa but the regiment was good enough to let me transfer here so I could fight alongside a couple of my cousins, Wade and Gordy Trainor. They’re around here somewhere,” smiled Terence glancing about the tent.
Terence went on to explain that most of the men in the unit were from outside regiments and that many had battle experience.
“You take Emmerson over there. He’s just back from Vicksburg. And Lieutenant Kendall fought at Shiloh,” Terence boasted.
He continued by emphasizing that both sides occupied high ground on opposite ridges overlooking the open field.
“Lieutenant Kendall issued me strict orders to inform Mr. McGallagher in person that his field was about to become a battleground. Oh they’re still over there all right, itchin’ to get at it. Just like we are,” Terence concluded.
Just then a heavily perspiring Dan Tennyson showed up at the mess tent with Smokey in tow.
“Well, I guess you’re about ready to roll,” Terence said smiling.
Marty thanked Tennyson, mounted Smokey and shook hands with Terence.
“Thanks for everything, Terence. It was really nice meeting you. You guys really are pros at this old-fashioned battle stuff. Just hope I get a chance to come back and see you in action.”
“I guarantee our paths will cross again,” Terence replied with a wink.
“Just be careful with everything,” Marty urged as he swung Smokey around and started on his way.
“Careful’s my middle name!” Terence yelled with a cheery wave as Marty rode off into the distance.
Before long Marty emerged on the other side of the forest. Surprisingly the sky was clear blue and the sun shone brightly. He was still determined to cover the last few miles of Harrington County before turning around. An hour later Marty arrived at the county line fulfilling his intended goal by reaching the half-way point of his planned excursion. Upon his return his attention was diverted by what sounded like gunfire. As he neared the wooded area Marty detected the call of a bugle followed by spirited battle cries. He led Smokey along the edge of the forest eventually stationing himself on the ridge overlooking the battlefield. At that point he witnessed a few soldiers fighting hand to hand while the majority lay strewn about the battleground.
“Amazing. Looks so real,” Marty whispered to himself before turning Smokey around and heading homeward.
It was shortly after 8 o’clock the following morning and Jody was busy stocking shelves when Marty entered the hardware store.
“Hope you saved me a piece of birthday cake?” he smiled optimistically.
“Oh...Marty,” Jody responded sheepishly. “I never even thought about it.”
Marty merely shrugged and kept on grinning.
“How’d the party go?”
“Aunt Harriet was so thrilled. She was completely surprised,” Jody boasted. “How did your ride out in the country go?”
“Well, I’m not sure how you’d really describe it. Indescribable I guess,” Marty said wryly.
“Well everything started out just great. The weather and scenery were fabulous but then suddenly things got a little dicey.”
Marty went on to explain how he’d happened upon a group of civil war re-enactors in a total downpour and was detained for awhile.
“A guy by the name of Terence Crowder was eventually assigned to escort me around. Jody he had to be one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. And he was from Missouri! Can you believe it!”
“Sounds as if it wasn’t all bad.” Jody remarked.
“Well I moved on just about the time the weather cleared up but I did get a glimpse of the re-enactment battle on my way back. It looked like it was almost over and it was getting late so I started home.”
Marty paused for a moment then shook his head before continuing.
“Jode, it was so realistic! You just have to come back with me and see an entire battle.”
“Well, when does the next one take place?”
“That’s the problem, I don’t know. I should have asked Terence for their schedule before I left.”
“Maybe you could find some information online,” Jody suggested.
“I already tried that and couldn’t find a thing.”
“Strange. I’ve never seen anything about it in the local newspaper either,” added Jody.
“Terence mentioned that he had spoken to the farmer who owns the field they use. McCallister...McGallagher! I think I’m going to take the dirt bike out there after chores Friday morning. Mr. McGallagher should have a pretty good idea of their schedule.”
It wasn’t yet noon on Friday when Marty finally pulled up in front of the McGallagher’s farmhouse. A short stocky man looking puzzled slowly emerged from inside. Marty waved to the man before parking his motorcycle and removing his helmet.
“Hi there. My name is Marty Hayward,” he began.
“I’m Lyle McGallagher. Pleased to meet you,” the man smiled as the two shook hands.
“Mr. McGallagher. I wonder if you could help me out with something?”
“Do my best,” Lyle said, reassuringly
“I appreciate the respect, Marty,” Lyle politely interrupted. “But you can just call me Lyle.”
“Oh, thanks Mr. McGal... I mean Lyle. Lyle I came by your property last week on horseback and happened along a group that was about to carry out a civil war re-enactment over there in your field.”
Lyle hesitated for a few seconds before responding. “A re-enactment, here? You must be mistaken.”
Lyle listened intently as Marty assured him that he was first confronted in the pouring rain by a man dressed as a Union soldier and was taken back for interrogation. He continued by describing how he was questioned by a lieutenant who then assigned a young private to accompany him around the encampment.
“I was really taken up with all of it. Everything was so authentic,” Marty stated. “Right down to the boot straps.”
“You say this took place when?”
“Last Saturday,” Marty replied.
“Well there wasn’t a drop of rain here last Saturday. We hayed all day over at the Wilson place. As a matter of fact it was clear and sunny all weekend. Where exactly did you run into this group?”
“Right up there in the woods overlooking the field.”
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Lyle said, shaking his head.
Marty was determined to convince Lyle of the occurrence and assured him that he had personally witnessed an actual re-enactment battle in the adjacent field on his way back.
“You didn’t happen to take a tumble off your mount at anytime, did you?” Lyle quipped.
“Maybe you were suffering some heat exhaustion, or just pulled over for a snooze at some point and had a dream?”
“No Lyle, I know what I saw,” Marty insisted.
Suddenly a thought flashed into Marty’s mind.
“Just wait a minute. The private assigned to accompany me said he’d received orders to forewarn you of an ensuing battle.”
Lyle shrugged. “Nobody ever approached me.”
“He clearly told me that he spoke to a Mr. McGallagher. Maybe one of your sons?”
“Afraid I’m the only Mr. McGallagher around here. Gladys and I raised three fine daughters,” Lyle proudly replied.
“Did this so-called private of yours have a name?” Lyle asked finally.
“Yeah,” Marty recalled. “Terence. Terence Crowder.”
“Now that is impossible!” Lyle said emphatically.
Lyle paused a few seconds before proceeding.
“You don’t come from these parts, Marty, do you?”
“No sir. We moved here from Missouri a couple of years ago.”
“I kind of thought that,” Lyle responded. “Then you wouldn’t know anything about the history of this locality. Marty, this farm has been in the McGallagher family for over 200 years. I don’t think too many history books recorded The Battle of McGallagher’s Farm but that conflict took place here back in the summer of 1863,” Lyle continued. “Nothing like a Bull Run or Gettysburg, more like a skirmish I guess. But there were lives lost, nevertheless. C’mon there’s something I have to show you.”
Marty followed Lyle as he led the way down into the adjoining field. Soon afterward Marty could make out a small gravesite some distance ahead of them. A short time later the two men came to a sudden stop several feet from three tombstones. Lyle explained that the graves were originally marked by wooden crosses but that the families had replaced them with headstones over the years. He pointed at two of the tombstones that sat right next to one another.
“Radford and Bales were Confederate soldiers. You can tell by the headstones which usually come to a point. They say the rebs chose that style so nobody could sit on them. Somehow I think there’s more to it than that,” Lyle speculated. “That rounded one over there belongs to a Yank. I think you’ll want to get a closer look at it.”
“It’s what I’ve been trying to get through to you all along, Marty. I don’t know exactly what you saw, or thought you saw, but no re-enactment ever took place here. Only a real live battle...a long, long, time ago,” Lyle said simply.
With a look of total despair Marty began to stammer. “But...the soldiers...the encampment. And Terence, Terence he...”
“Marty, Terence Crowder has been dead and buried...for over 150 years.”
Paul Finnigan’s short fiction has appeared in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Some former publishers of his work include Boston Literary Magazine, Feathertale, The Short Humour Site, and Every Writer the Magazine.
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