General Grant’s army is camped along the Tennessee River, ready to deal a crushing blow to the South. If they are able to capture Corinth, the Confederacy’s railways will disintegrate, bringing its army to its knees. But first, Grant must pass through the crucible of Shiloh—the most fearsome fight of the Civil War.
On the eve of battle, a senator’s wife appears, begging for permission to cross over to Confederate lines. Then, as Grant’s army marches south, he finds the woman’s body inside a coffin alongside her twin sister—a death that offends him just as much as any soldier’s.
Finding a murderer amid an army of killers takes a subtle touch, and no Union agent is shrewder than Harrison Raines. As the field of Shiloh is soaked with blood, Raines will find the guilty party, as long as the bullets continue to pass him by . . .
“With his new sidekick, a French-Canadian Indian named Jack Tantou (a great character whose presence lights up every page he appears on), Raines is drafted into a risky investigation that takes him back and forth across enemy lines. Lots of action occurs before the likable secret agent assembles all the suspects before General Grant . . . a fun history lesson.” —Publishers Weekly
The Shiloh Sisters is the fifth book in the Harrison Raines Civil War Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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The Shiloh Sisters
A Harrison Raines Civil War Mystery
By Michael Kilian
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 2003 Douglas Niles
All rights reserved.
Grant pondered the suggestion, and the flask that the young colonel, an Illinoisan named David York, was offering. There was a chill on the evening and Grant was feeling it, though there was a fire on every hearth here in Cherry Mansion, the house overlooking the Tennessee River he had taken as his headquarters.
Worse than the damp cold was the pain in his ankle. The previous night he'd taken a bad fall on his battle horse Fox, rushing toward the sound of Rebel firing in driving rain and on muddy ground. His leg had gone beneath the animal and only the softness of the soaked earth had spared him serious injury. But his ankle had been so badly hurt the surgeon had had to cut off his boot and he'd been walking on crutches all day.
Here in the parlor of Cherry Mansion, he'd propped his injured foot on a low stool, but otherwise was conducting business as usual and smoking a cigar.
Grant had left the door to this room open. Several officers were standing about in the hallway beyond, talking quietly. There was an aura of calm about the place, despite the masses of troops, ordnance, and equipment gathered on both sides of the river.
There had been that firing, and some bold displays by Confederate cavalry, but from all reports, the Rebel army was still some twenty or more miles to the south at Corinth, the rail junction that was the next goal of Grant's Army of the Tennessee after his twin successes at Forts Henry and Donelson. Grant was far from completely convinced they'd be free from attack in their present position, but confident enough to relax when he could.
His adjutant, Captain John A. Rawlins, was off on a lengthy errand. He'd been with Grant since Illinois, and had appointed himself the general's guardian against the temptations of John Barleycorn.
The general plucked up a coffee cup from the table next to him and extended it toward the flask. "I'm obliged, Colonel." He watched as the amber liquid came halfway up the inside of the cup, then raised his other hand to make the pouring stop. "Thank you, sir. Much obliged."
"It's fine Kentucky whiskey, General. We acquired a few cases at Clarksville." Despite his youth, Colonel York had been a congressman for a term before the war and was in the habit of taking liberties. He still harbored political ambitions for after the war, though he was a Democrat, a party in decline in Illinois with the Lincolnites in ascendancy.
Grant sipped, then took in a rolling mouthful of the good cigar smoke. These were simple pleasures but he knew of none greater, save the companionship of his wife, Julia, and his children. Were Julia here, he would have given no thought to whiskey whatsoever. Were she here, he'd not be working this late. Certainly not with things so quiet.
"It has my endorsement," Grant said, setting down the cup. "If you would, Colonel — that map?" He gestured toward his writing desk, which had been set up across the room.
"Yes, sir." York moved quickly, fetching the map and placing it in Grant's hands as a waiter in a restaurant might a menu.
Though Grant had established his main supply depot on the eastern shore of the Tennessee River here at Savannah, he'd placed most of his army on the other side, on ground that protected his base at Pittsburg Landing, a few miles to the south. There were five full divisions camped on the bluffs and in the woods over there, with flanks anchored on two creeks.
General Sherman held the westernmost position, starting at Owl Creek. Then came General McClernand's division, holding ground along the Hamburg-Purdy Road — with General W. H. L. Wallace's division to the east of him and General Hurlbut's troops to the east of Wallace's. Hurlbut's line extended almost to Lick Creek, a stream feeding into the Tennessee River.
General Prentiss had camped his division far out in front of the others, but he'd posted extra pickets and warned them to be alert.
The river was key to everything here. It was Grant's lifeline to the North, but could prove a death trap if his Federal troops were pushed back upon it, as had happened to a much smaller Union force in Virginia at a place on the Potomac called Ball's Bluff the previous fall. Grant had a small navy of transports and gunboats here on the Tennessee, but they'd be of small use in a fight as deeply inland as his army was camped.
Grant slept at Savannah, but spent every day on the opposite shore, visiting the troops and conferring with his commanders. He made a point of not leaving until an hour after darkness fell. Neither side had had any success with night attacks in this war.
"I have no doubt that nothing will occur today," Sherman had told him that morning. "I do not apprehend anything like an attack on our position."
Grant had taken his friend at his word, and certainly nothing had happened the rest of the day. Still, he worried. He intended to mount an attack himself as soon as reinforcements arrived. He was awaiting General Don Carlos Buell and the forty thousand men of his Army of the Ohio, who were expected to join him here at Savannah any day. Together, they'd have some eighty thousand men — enough to overwhelm the Confederates.
Corinth was the juncture of a railroad line running eastward from Memphis, another running south to the cotton country of lower Mississippi and Alabama, and yet another connecting with Jackson, Mississippi. Take Corinth and the only railway left to the Rebels in this reach of their "country" was the one running east from Vicksburg. Corinth was a linchpin needing only a yanking.
The general took another sip of whiskey and another puff of the delightful tobacco.
Unfortunately, the Army of the Ohio was an independent command not subject to Grant's direct orders. Buell had promised to join in this enterprise, but had made it clear he did not consider himself subordinate. And he was taking his time.
Their Rebel opponent was Albert Sidney Johnston, a West Pointer who had great courage and the absolute support of Jefferson Davis, though Johnston had never commanded anything larger than a regiment in the field before. Grant doubted him capable of wielding a large force in a major action. Still, Johnston was unpredictable, a trait that could be worth a division of troops.
Holding the map closer, Grant tried once again to think of any more advantageous place to position his force, but no alternative came to mind. Aside from the bluffs immediately along the river, there was a paucity of strategic points.
The only place name near his divisions was something called Shiloh Church, over on the Old Corinth Road. It was a peaceful name.
Grant could only hope Buell would be there in the morning. He wanted to move on. That was the only way to win this war. Push on. Grind away at the enemy. Knock him back. Destroy him, if possible. Keep on, no matter what.
He finished his whiskey, setting it aside.
"More, General?" Colonel York asked.
"I thank you, sir, but no."
"I can send a bottle. All you want, General."
"No, thank you." Grant's ankle still hurt, but not as much. Setting the map aside, he picked up a stack of correspondence. The most significant item was from Grant's immediate superior, the very political and pesky General Henry Halleck. "Old Brains," as the man was called, was becoming more than Grant could bear. Ever since his victories at Forts Henry and Donelson, in Halleck's frequently voiced view, it seemed Grant could do no right. No matter that the newspapers were calling him a hero. Perhaps the harassment was because of that.
There was a sudden commotion outside the house, moving up onto the first-floor veranda. Grant could hear a woman's voice. She went from anger to pleading to anger again, without lessening the degree of her hysteria.
The open parlor door gave him a view of the foyer by the front entrance.
"Would you see what that's about, Colonel?"
The officer rose, uncertainly. "I'm not sure I want to know, sir."
"Well, I do," said Grant. He went back to the letters, which he'd not yet answered, pleased when the ruckus outside abruptly ceased.
York returned with a bemused grin on his face. "It's a woman, sir."
"That much I could apprehend, Colonel. Who is she?"
"Claims she's Congressman Abbott's wife."
Grant winced. That man was a member of the Congress's newly formed Committee on the Conduct of the War, which was to the U.S. Army what flies were to a horse.
"Do you believe that?"
"The lady is very firm in her conviction, sir."
"Very well. Guess I'd better talk to her."
"You sure, sir? She's in quite a state."
"Sooner I listen to her, the sooner I won't have to."
The woman swept inside in a billow of black hoop skirt and crimson cloak, causing one of Grant's young aides to totter backward. She looked wildly about her, then down at Grant.
"I'd rise, madam," he said, "but an injury prevents it."
Her gaze was imperious as she looked to affirm that claim, but then softened. "Please, General. I must get across the river. I must do so tonight."
Grant pushed himself higher in his chair. "Please, madam. Seat yourself."
She pulled up a small chair, sitting on its edge and leaning forward imploringly. "Do you know who I am, sir? I am May Abbott. Mrs. May Abbott."
"You've been announced. I shall take you at your word that you are."
She was an attractive woman, slender and finely boned, with light brown hair and large, somewhat sad brown eyes. Though her clothes were muddy, they appeared to be expensive and finely made.
Reaching within her red cloak, she brought forth a locket, which she hastily opened. It contained a Daguerreotype of a man with black hair and mustache, though Grant could not make him out well enough to identify him as the congressman, whom he knew only through newspaper articles.
"This is he," she said, leaning close.
"Yes, indeed," said Grant, a trifle uncomfortable to be in such close proximity with a handsome woman not his wife. He inched back. "Tell me please why you must cross the river?"
"I'm bound for Corinth, to find my sister."
"Mrs. Abbott, that place is occupied by the enemy."
"I know. My sister's husband is a Confederate officer — Colonel Townsend."
Grant nodded. He had known Townsend when both were at West Point and later in Mexico. The man had served competently but was distinguished mostly by his extreme views on the question of slavery — which he'd espoused with great passion.
"You've come all the way from Washington?"
"No. I've been in Cincinnati — and Louisville."
"And now here, just to see your sister?"
"Yes. As soon as I can."
"Why such urgency?"
"I fear her life is in danger."
"And why is that?"
"I cannot say." A tear came into her eye, then more.
Grant sighed. He wanted to take a puff of his cigar, but feared he would offend — and at an obviously awkward time.
"Madam, if I am reluctant to grant your request, it is not because I do not believe you are who you say or doubt the seriousness of your concern. It's because there's a Rebel army sitting where you want to go. They've sent infantry probes and cavalry raids this way. There've been some brisk exchanges of fire. And it's night. In the dark, you could get shot by either side. You could get lost —"
"I know this country, General. Perhaps better than you. I grew up here." She slid to her knees, clutching her hands together in plea. "Please, General Grant. You've no idea how much this means to me."
"I do not believe your husband would appreciate my letting you do this."
"I do believe he will not forgive your refusal." She wiped at an eye. "General, have you a wife?"
"If her life were in danger, would you let yourself be stayed by" — she paused — "by some officer standing on regulations?"
Grant was more accurately sitting on regulations. And they did not forbid what she asked. It was entirely at his discretion. He'd written passes for wives seeking to cross the lines several times in his advance along the Tennessee.
But those ladies had been going north. Mrs. Abbott wished to go into enemy country.
Still, there was no immediate prospect of battle. There were several habitations where she might take shelter between Savannah and Corinth. And he could see to her safety at least part of the way.
"Please rise, madam. I am going to do the same." He reached for one of his crutches and used it to stand erect without too much clumsiness. She was by then on her feet as well. He nodded to her, then hobbled over to his desk.
"Are you going to let me through?"
Seating himself, Grant took pen and paper in hand, then paused. "I will write you a pass that will provide you safe conduct coming and going," he said. "But I must ask something in return." He handed the pen and paper to her. "If you would put your request in writing, please."
"Are you really that much afraid for me?" she said.
"And for yourself, I suspect, if I should meet misfortune?"
"I am, madam, in this regard. I mean to invade Mississippi and push these people back all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, if I can. I will be sorely inhibited in this effort if I am being called to account by a member of Congress for an ill-advised action you are asking on his implied authority."
"I understand." She took the paper from him and began to write. He did the same.
They exchanged their papers upon completion. "Would you care for some refreshment, madam?"
"No, thank you, sir. I must make haste. I hope to be in Corinth by tomorrow."
"Have you baggage? A servant?"
"A small portmanteau. In your anteroom. I have a maid traveling with me. She is outside."
She sensed what he meant. "Not a slave, General. She is paid wages."
"And you're taking her into Confederate territory?"
"She will not be molested."
"How did you get here?"
"By public coach and farm wagon. I was hoping to hire horses on the other side of the river."
"At the moment, I think that would be most difficult." He called to Colonel York, who appeared in the doorway an instant later — no doubt having been standing just outside to better hear the peculiar conversation.
"I want this lady taken across the river and given an escort of cavalry as far south as the military situation permits. Provide her and her servant with mounts."
"There is to be no contact made with the enemy. If that happens, she must be brought back. I don't want her injured in some fool skirmish on a night so dark."
Mrs. Abbott stood listening to this without comment. Her expression was a strange mixture of relief, gratitude, and continuing anxiety.
"I would be happy to lead the escort party myself," said York, making a gallant bow. Grant was a little irritated. She was indeed a comely woman, and the officer was married.
"I fear I cannot spare you tonight, sir. There are able enough officers to be found in the cavalry for this task. But you may accompany her across the river to make arrangements. Don't tarry coming back."
The colonel came stiffly to attention. "Yes, sir."
Mrs. Abbott smiled for the first time since she had burst in on him. "Thank you, General. I shall be forever grateful."
When she had gone, Grant went back to his soft chair. The whiskey flask was standing by his empty cup. He thought briefly of another refreshment, then discarded the notion.
He needed a clear head. The nagging worries had prompted a decision. He would reposition his divisions in the morning. It would not suffice just to sit and wait for Buell.CHAPTER 2
Harry Raines called himself a Union Army "scout," though his actual status was as a captain in Allan Pinkerton's U.S. secret service. Raines was proving a very poor scout now. He sat upon his one-eyed horse at the edge of a high Texas mesa, contemplating the crossroads that was the principal feature of the broad, arid valley below, wondering which way he should go.
He had no map and could only guess where these two tracks led — if anywhere. They might just peter out somewhere in the Texas vastness. But it was into that vastness he had to go.
Harry had been sent out West ostensibly to observe Confederate moves and designs on the New Mexico Territory, but also because Mr. Pinkerton feared he had exposed himself too much as a Federal agent in the Eastern Theater and was liable to be captured.
Excerpted from The Shiloh Sisters by Michael Kilian. Copyright © 2003 Douglas Niles. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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