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Authors: Paul Bagdon


BOOK: Deserter
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“Like I said,” Jake repeated, “you have no reason to hold that rifle on me. I don't have anything worth taking.”

“That horse back there is worth taking—a hell of a lot better than the crowbait I been ridin'.” After a moment he added, “You ain't gonna be needin' no horse.”

Jake squinted, making sure of the distance between them. His right arm had tensed. He forced it to relax until the muscle of his forearm was no longer tight, until it would move smoothly when he needed it to.

The man spit again, this time directing the stream of saliva and bits of tobacco next to Jake. “You Reb or Union?”

Jake didn't answer. He took a breath and held it.

“Don't much matter to me,” the man said. “Either one, you're dead. I never had no use for a soljer—wearin' blue or gray. An' a coward who would run off ain't hardly worth the bullet it takes to kill him.”

The click as the man drew back the hammer of his rifle was as loud as a thunderclap. Jake made his move. . . .

books by Paul Bagdon:




Published by

Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
200 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Copyright © 2006 by Paul Bagdon

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Trade ISBN: 978-1-4285-1847-6
E-book ISBN: 978-1-4285-1836-0

First Dorchester Publishing, Co., Inc. edition: November 2006

The “DP” logo is the property of Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.

Printed in the United States of America.

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To Jaye Chambery,
who would never desert me.
She's my inspiration, and a whole lot more.


Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine


July 2, 1863
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The screams and moans of pain and the cries for water from the boys still sprawled on the battlefield no longer seemed to be locked in combat with the cacophony that poured forth from the rapidly erected and acutely undersupplied hospital tents. The soldiers bleeding into the rich, fertile soil approaching the jagged stone outcropping known as the Devil's Den were dying where they lay; those who'd been carried to hospitals or surgeons would live perhaps a bit longer.

“Jake, over there,” Uriah said, voice controlled, “right near where they're draggin' the artillery piece—at maybe two o'clock. A blue belly on an awful fine horse—too damned fine for a cavalry hound.”

Jake Sinclair shifted slightly on the thick branch upon which he sat, a leg on either side of it, his back
against the massive trunk. The tunnel he'd created through the leaves and branches didn't give him a great deal of peripheral vision, but he scanned the two o'clock area with his spyglass until the burnished-brass coat of the leggy, proud-looking horse came into view. The man astride the animal wore no insignia on his navy blue uniform, but the coat and trousers appeared clean and well maintained. There was no saber at his left side—that would have been as much a giveaway to Reb snipers as would symbols of rank on his shoulders and chest. “Yeah,” Jake grunted. “I see him. Good eyeballin', Uriah.”

Sinclair plucked a small leaf from the branch above him, held it out to his side, and released it. It was a matter of form, actually—a matter of double-checking for any vagrant breeze that may have developed. The leaf fluttered downward quickly, parting the moist, sluggish air as it sought the ground. The day had been mercilessly hot since sunup, and now, well into the evening, the heat remained stultifying and unremitting. Jake and Uriah Toole, his spotter, had, since early morning, observed men slowly drop to the ground in the loose, floppy manner that signaled heat prostration, so different from the quick, jerky, crazed puppet-like reaction of a body struck by minnie ball or canister shot or fragment of artillery shell.

The 1862 Sharps rifle rested securely across Jake's upper thighs, wrapped in a section of tanned and oiled deer hide. The rifle, equipped with the set of triggers prized by buffalo hunters and sharpshooters, fired a .54-caliber slug that was larger than a man's thumb with unerring accuracy to effective ranges of almost three-quarters of a mile. The triggers, side by side in the trigger
guard, served a pair of functions: The one on the left readied the rifle to fire, and the one on the right actually discharged the bullet. Jake was fond of saying that the finger pressure required to operate the right trigger was equal to that of a weak butterfly's heartbeat.

Jake eased the Sharps from its wrap and raised it to firing position. The weight of the rifle, slightly over eight pounds, and the precisely cut butt that tucked tightly to Jake's shoulder provided a stability, a sense of unity, of oneness, between man and weapon that Sinclair had experienced with no other rifle—not the Spencer, not the Henry, not the Winchester.

The rich scent of the polished cherry wood stock and the tang of gun oil brought an unconscious half smile to Jake's face. He reached forward and flicked up the ladder sight mounted at the end of the octagonal barrel, the barely audible
the sound of quality craftsmanship. He estimated the shot at two thousand feet. He'd make no allowance for wind; there wasn't any. It was a middling-long shot from the tree to where the target sat atop his horse. The humidity could have an effect on the slug, dropping the trajectory a tad more rapidly than normal. Jake made the slightest adjustment to the height of the barrel.

It was impossible for Sinclair's naked eye to make out any actual features of the target other than the blue of his uniform. A head shot would be difficult, but the officer's chest and body were essentially a sure thing. Jake wet his lips with his tongue and drew in a long breath. His right index finger tugged the left trigger home and moved to rest ever so gently against the curve of the right. He released the breath, drew another not quite as deep, and fired.

The Union officer was plucked from the back of his horse as neatly and as cleanly as he would have been had an invisible giant's hand snatched him. A barely discernible reddish mist floated momentarily in the air where the man had been, and then it, too, was gone. The briefest bit of a second later, the horse, riderless now, reared. Vague blue forms disappeared behind the cannon as soldiers scrambled for cover.

The report was thunderous but familiar, as was the stinging blowback from the breech that tickled Sinclair's face like a swarm of insects. The thick smoke of the discharge rose slowly, lazily, toward the top of the tree, its pungency sharp in Jake's nose, leaving a metallic taste—like that of blood—on his tongue and in his mouth.

“Good,” Uriah said. “Right nice shooting, Jake.”

“That's why President Davis pays me all that money.” Jake grinned. He glanced upward and his smile disappeared. “Get down,” he snapped, rewrapping the Sharps and tying a horsehair cord around it, sling-fashion. “That smoke is gonna hang there like a finger pointing at us. Come on—move!”

Uriah hustled down the tree, using the trunk and branches as hand- and footholds to keep himself from falling through the foliage to the stony ground below. He dropped the last six or so feet, landing lightly, immediately stretching his arms upward to receive the rifle Sinclair was lowering. When the Sharps was secure in Toole's arms, Jake scrambled downward, less gracefully but more rapidly than his partner had—almost in a free fall, clutching branches to slow his descent rather than using them to lower himself. His boots had barely touched soil when the tree began to disintegrate.
Leaves, twigs, and chunks of bark exploded from branches that seemed to be in the grip of hurricane winds, shaking, swinging wildly, some fracturing under the onslaught and tumbling to the ground. A large-caliber slug slammed into the upper trunk, gouging away a slab of wood the size of a dinner plate. Another burst of canister—tiny steel balls fulminated outward from exploding shells—shook the tree, tearing more pieces from it.

Both men huddled behind a boulder on the side opposite the onslaught. “That Yankee sharpshooter isn't bad,” Jake commented. “His round would have taken me down as sure as you're born.” After a moment, he added admiringly, “Good eye.”

“Light artilleryman ain't so bad either,” Uriah said. “He's purely tearin' the piss outta that ol' tree.”

“Makes me a little nervous,” Jake admitted. “Let's put that rise between us and the Yanks. Seems like those boys must be awful mad if they put that much fire-power on a single sniper. Let's make sure they don't get lucky.”

“We're the lucky ones, Jake. We hit them good an' hard all day.”

“We did. We surely did,” Sinclair agreed. “Some Southern boys who maybe wouldn't have are going home after we win this war.”

“Damn right. An' some Yankees—they ain't going home.”

Jake nodded but didn't respond.

The Confederate encampment was an erratic, broken line of tents and wagons arrayed beyond the profusion of trees that fronted the ridge called Seminary because
of the stately and hastily abandoned Lutheran theological school located a thousand yards from the crest. Lee's Army of North Virginia had been sweeping across Pennsylvania, intent on taking the capital at Harrisburg, pillaging their way through the countryside. The men hadn't eaten so well in months and many wore boots or shoes for the first time that summer. The miniscule Yankee towns and villages fell before the Confederate army without resistance, and the Rebs took what they wanted, carrying off livestock, casks of whiskey and wine, bundles of clothing, and anything else that struck their fancy on wagons taken from farmers—and drawn by horses or mules also stolen from farmers. The routing of the Union forces the day before in spontaneous, impromptu battles had driven the spirits of the Confederates yet higher; talk of abandoning the Harrisburg campaign and swinging about to take Washington and crush the Union there rattled through the ranks like gossip over backyard fences.

Skirmishes crackled behind Jake and Uriah as they strode together through the fading light in the woods to where their commanding officer—General George E. Pickett—had established bivouac for almost fifteen thousand men. Smoke from cook fires rose rifle-barrel straight in the cloudless sky in front of them; behind them the gray pall of battle still hovered over the fields, softening the hues of the sunset.

Guards nodded or waved to the two men. The Sharps over Sinclair's shoulder and the brass telescope on a lanyard around Toole's neck gave them recognition as sharpshooter and spotter and guaranteed easy passage to the camp. Fear of infiltration by enemy spies was close to nonexistent. The Union knew where the Confederate troops were just as the Rebels knew
that the Feds were spread along the rise called Cemetery Ridge, a long pair of miles away.

BOOK: Deserter
7.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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