WEST TEXAS, JUNE 21, 1865
The five men rode through the ever-decreasing darkness in silence. Their destination: French-occupied Mexico. Their objective: to fight for the Juaristas as "free-lance military advisors." Their leader: Captain Lewis Cross; formerly with the 43rd Batallion, Virginia Cavalry, Confederate States Army.
A twenty-five year-old magna cum laude graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, he had initially been a first lieutenant with the 4th Virginia Cavalry ("Black Horse Regiment"). But, after distinguishing himself in the notorious "Ride Around McClellan," he was personally recruited by Colonel John S. Mosby, himself.
Guarding the captain's right flank was Sgt. Konrad "Dutch" Fleischer; formerly a battery sergeant with Stuart's Horse Artillery.
A professional mercenary, in his mid-forties, this habitually half-shaven Hessian had originally scouted for the Prussian army in Denmark, during the First Schleswig War; served with the Foreign Legion, in the Crimean War; and just barely survived both of William Walker's ill-advised expeditions to Central America.
Riding point was Corporal Tom Bigby; formerly with the 1st North Carolina Cavalry. A mixed-blood Cherokee, in his late thirties, he had previously scouted for the U.S. Army during the Mexican War. Following which, he had hunted buffalo meat for wagon trains headed west during the California Gold Rush.
Bringing up the rear were Privates Barlow and Peters; formerly with the 7th Virginia Cavalry ("Ashby's Mountain Rangers"). Hiram Barlow was a "galvanized Confederate," roughly the same age as Bigby. An ex-muleskinner for the Erie Canal, he had no military experience prior to serving with the First New York Dragoons, at the time of his capture, during the Battle of the Wilderness. He then switched sides...after six months as a P.O.W. at Andersonville!
John Paul Peters, on the other hand, was an amiable jack-of-all trades, whose silvery-white hair and goatee made him look far older than his early sixties. Nicknamed "Salty" by his younger comrades-in-arms, he was an ex-marine veteran of the Second Seminole War (originally from Cumberland, Maryland) who had first seen action as a nine year-old powder monkey aboard a privateering Baltimore clipper during the War of 1812! He thereafter worked as a muleskinner for the Dismal Swamp Canal; as a flat-boater on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers; as a keel-boater along the Arkansas River; and as a scout for Sam Houston's Provisional Army of Texas during the revolt against Santa Anna. All before eventually joining the U.S. Marine Corps. He then spent the fifteen years preceding his enlistment in the Confederate Army as a whaler, a prospector, a stage coach guard, and a horse trader!
All four men had been hand-picked by Lewis, the previous autumn, to serve under him as an elite squad of Mosby's Rangers. But, now that General Lee had surrendered at Appomattox, all they had left were the gray uniforms on their backs; and their own portable arsenals. The latter consisting of five Spencer repeating rifles (.56-56 caliber); ten Colt Army revolvers (Model 1860/.44 caliber); and two boxes of Ketchum grenades on a pack mule.
All of which--including the mule--had been stolen from the Yankees.
It was ten minutes past sunrise when they reached their next bivouac; a small waterhole encircled by weeping willow trees. It was this oasis from which Lewis' nearby hometown of Tonkawa Springs had partly derived its name. And, they had detoured here because he was anxious to learn news of his twin brother, Clark.
As he had explained it to his men, weeks earlier:
"We got shipped off to the Kemper Military Academy, in Missouri, when we were twelve. After graduation, Clark went on to West Point, while I attended VMI. I've haven't seen or heard from him since the opening salvo against Fort Sumter!"
"Mit all due respect, mein hauptmann," Fleischer had replied: "How do you know anyone in dies town even has dies information?"
"Well, for starters, there's my stepdad. He's the town marshal. Then, there's the O'Reilly Brothers, who manage the local churchyard. What the rest of the townfolk talk about right after church, on Sunday morn, they finally overhear at the local saloon the ensuing Friday night. So, I figure I'll question them first, and work my way up the chain-of-communication from there!"
"You want me to stand first watch, Cap?" Hiram now asked.
"Nah! I'll do it. I'm too keyed up to sleep. Dutch can spell me in three hours. Followed by Tom, you, and Salty. In that order."
The other men saluted and unfurled their bedrolls.
Two hours later, they were awakened by the sound of gunfire.
"Hiram; Salty! Guard the camp! Dutch; Tom, with me!"
The latter pair of soldiers ran at a half-crouch, just as Lewis did. Their Spencers held at a ready ninety-degree angle. Thirty seconds later, they were at the crest of a small hill overlooking a cemetary surrounded by a white picket fence. Just behind the rear-most section of this fence was a weathered gray shack.
And, from what they could see through their spy-glasses, it was being attacked by half-naked women with pierced breasts!