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William F. "Bill" Kaiser

HELLEBORE: A Novel of Reconstruction
BLOODROOT: A Novel of the Civil War
Excerpts from BLOODROOT
William F. "Bill" Kaiser's Biography
Civil War Research References
Excerpts from BLOODROOT


BLOODROOT by William F. Kaiser 2005
Book 1 - 1860 - Chapter One - Snake

The summer mountain air held a trace of early morning chill. Billy Jack Truehill hiked along a faint trail that meandered along a cliff side. The rock-strewn path lead to a waterfall and a mountain pool. Above him in the bright blue sky a hawk and an eagle whirled about riding the lifting thermal winds from the valley below.

He carelessly let his mind dwell on the pleasures of the night before. His leather moccasins moved softly over the path with the instinctive sure pace of an Appalachian mountain man. A loaded 1842 musket, a gift from his Uncle Harris, rested in the crook of his left arm, his left hand cradled the stock at the trigger guard.

Ahead, a tangle of mountain laurel obscured the rock ledge at a slight bend in the trail. Billy Jack wore his Uncle's hand-down cotton shirt, deerskin jacket and leather breeches. At age 19, he had not yet filled out to his mentor's girth. The over-sized garments hung loosely on his slim, wiry frame. A leather strap hung from his neck. A small gold locket dangled on the end of the strap.

Billy Jack reached up and pulled down the brim of his cap to shadow his dark eyes from the glint of the sun. His head ached.

"Damned likker," he swore quietly to himself, "shouldn't a-drunk it, leastways not so much. Shouldn't a-got onta Polly Sue like she a-wanted me to. Thar'll be hell to pay if'n her Pap finds out."

The sudden buzz of a rattlesnake jerked his mind out of its musings but not soon enough for him to hold back his next step past a laurel bush. Turning his head toward the warning sound, he saw the thick, spade-shaped head a seven-foot rattle snake lunge at him. He watched, frozen in horror, as the snake struck him high on his right thigh, its needle-sharp, curved fangs driving its venom into his body.

Billy Jack swung the butt of his musket against the rattler's head driving it away from his leg. In a sweeping arc he swung the rifle barrel and caught the writhing reptile in mid-body, flinging it over the cliff side.

Billy Jack let his musket fall. He looked at the two small, dark-stained spots on his breeches.

"Damn, damn, damn!"

He snatched his broad-blade Bowie knife from its sheath. His hand shook as he slit a blade-long gap in the pant leg, cutting through the fang marks, obliterating them. Clamping his jaws tightly, eyes fixed pointedly at the spots, he sliced the knife blade into each fang mark opening a deep, wide cut in his flesh. The cuts oozed blood mixed with venom. The pumping blood ran down his leg. He slipped the leather necklace over his head and wound it around his leg above the bleeding cuts. Snatching up a broken twig from the forest floor, he inserted it into the loop in the necklace and twisted it around and around until the band cut into his flesh, slowing the spread of poison into his body. Securing one end of the twig under the band to keep the tourniquet from loosening, Billy Jack picked up his musket. Holding it by the barrel in his right hand, using the gun as a support, he turned and limped back the way he had come.


BLOODROOT by William F. Kaiser 2005

Book Two - 1861 - Chapter Eleven - McBiggerville

Billy Jack and Elvira May led the mule down the slope to the store. At a distance they noted a man sitting in a rocking chair on the porch.

"I reckon that's ole Brady McBigger," Billy Jack whispered to Elvira May. "He's a mean-un. The folk around are his-uns of one kind or nother. Done let him rile you. Jes smile and if'n you got to say somethin' talk like me."

They approached the porch. Tied the mule to the rail in front of the building.

"Afternoon Mr. McBigger. Sure is a nice day for sittin' and sunnin'. We'uns are bound fer Somerset and wonder if'n we kin stay the night in yer barn."

"Why Billy Jack I see you done got yourself a filly. I reckon that's the Widder Johnson I heard about. Not sure I want her here `bout. Her old man, the Reverend, damn his soul, riled me and my kinfolk with his'n damn preachin'."

Billy Jack tightened his grip on Elvira May's arm, looked into her eyes and signaled her to be quiet. He nodded his head to McBigger.

"She ain't the Reverend. She done preach. She's with me. If'n you got a problem with that we'll jes move on."

Elvira May stared at McBigger. Her face tensed as she clamped her teeth. She noted his unkempt hair, grey and black, his bulbous pig nose, his thick lips, a several day stubble of a beard. He was sloped-shouldered, fat-bodied with a belly paunch hiding his belt. McBigger wore muddy, ragged calf-length leather boots.

"Why Billy Jack you an Harris are always welcome here. Polly Sue'll be special glad to see you agin. You an' the Widder kin settle in the barn and jine us'n fer supper in a bit."

Billy Jack and Elvira may put the mule into an empty stall in the barn, carried their sacks up to the loft and spread their bed rolls on a layer of straw.

Elvira May took off her hat, loosed her hair and shook it out to shoulder length. "Should I put on my dress for supper? Who is Polly Sue? Who will be at supper?

"A dress would be polite. Polly Sue is Brady's daughter. I guess there'll be Brady's brother, Benton, and his wife Ola. They got a son, Clayton. He's some older `n me; lives in town. I don't like him much. I don't reckon he'll be here."

The shadows in the cove were lengthening as the sun eased behind the Western mountain ridge. Billy Jack and Elvira May sat at the long table in the kitchen behind the store. Brady McBigger sat at one end of the table, Benton McBigger at the other end. Ola and Polly Sue sat at the other side of the table.

All bowed as Brady spoke, "Thank you god for this-un supper and fer our visters Billy Jack `n the Widder Johnson. Amen. Let us eat."

Bowls of green beans, roast pork and boiled potatoes were passed around the table starting with Brady and ending with Elvira May. When the bowl of flour-gravy reached her it contained no more than a lick of gravy.

As they ate Elvira May watched Polly Sue smile and wink at ... Billy Jack?

Brady ate and talked throughout supper. He growled and grunted and damned the Yankee nosy bodies for telling god-fearing folk what they can and can't do. He praised the true patriots in South Carolina telling the Yankees to get their army out of their State. Brady said it was right for the peoples of the South to get together and make their own country.

"And them that don't stand behind us'n better get out or watch out. Thar's gonna be a reckonin'."

"Here, here," Benton noted. "Amen."

Supper finished, Brady motioned Benton and Billy Jack to join him outside in the back of the house. There by a small still used to convert corn mash into "likker", Brady passed around a jug of the throat-searing alcohol. Billy Jack tilted the jug but stoppered it with his tongue. He remembered the last time he'd chugged McBigger's brew. Billy Jack's tongue burned.

In the kitchen, Elvira May joined the women in clearing the dishes from the table, storing the leftovers and washing the plates and bowls. Ola and Polly Sue chattered about the men folk getting all riled up about what those people in the government were doing. Ola commented on the nice gingham dress Elvira May wore. Elvira May smiled and "thanked her." Polly Sue said how handsome Billy Jack looked now he was "growed up."

Elvira May studied Polly Sue. Polly Sue was a half a head shorter than her. Her hair was mouse brown, tied with a bow at the back of her neck, the bundled end reached down her back almost to her waist. Polly Sue had the family characteristic thick lips and turned up nose. Her skin had a ruddy color. She looked to be about 17 and already showed signs of full bosom and broadening hips.

Ola left to go up front to the store. When the mother was
out of ear-shot Elvira May turned to Polly Sue.

"I couldn't help but notice you winking at Billy Jack. What was that about?"

"Billy Jack's sorta been a-courtin' me. What's he doin' takin' you to Somerset. You goin' back North war you belong!"

Elvira May glared at Polly Sue and hissed, "listen to me good you fat-bottomed hussy. Billy Jack is mine. If I see you wink at him again I'll tear your hair out and put a knife in your belly!"

Elvira May stepped to the back door, opened it and called out, "Billy Jack please take me to the barn. I'm tired from our long walk today."

Billy Jack and Elvira May woke to the noise of banging on the barn door. The sun had barely peaked over the East ridge.

"Billy Jack you git outa my barn rat now, damn you. An git that bitch of yourn off ma land. Polly Sue's been up all night a-cryin over her sayin she's gonna kill Polly Sue. If'n you warn't Harris Sherritt's kin ah'd put a bullet into the widder rat now!"


BLOODROOT by William F. Kaiser 2005

Book Three - 1862 - Chapter Twenty Three - Slaughter

The sun began its wane into late afternoon before the group was hardly more than half way to the army camp. The scouts reported to Jackson there were noises of people in the woods around them. Billy Jack reported about the men who were following the procession. When the troops reached a glade at the top of a low ridge, Jackson halted them. His face red from heat and anger, he growled at the prisoners.

"Damn you damn Black Lincolnites line up here in the middle of the field."

The line of 12 prisoners stood silently in the field facing Jackson. He drew his sabre and pointed at the men.

"You first six stay standin'. The rest lay down on the ground."

The standing prisoners included the old man and the young boy. The old man grunted and spit toward Jackson. The other men stared with hatred. The boy pulled himself straight and tall. Billy Jack could see a tremble in his lower lip.

Jackson turned to his soldiers. "Macgruder, Johnson, Greene, Wilson, Farson, Truehill turn and face the murderin' Yankee lovers. Form a line and step back ten paces."

Jackson drew in a deep breath and shouted, "you prisoners are guilty of treason to the Confederate States of America. By the authority given me it is my duty to carry out the penalty for such treason. Execution by firing squad."

Jackson ordered the six soldiers to aim at the opposite prisoner. He grinned as wet spots appeared at the crotches of three of the men.

"Ready. Fire."

The shots echoed around the hills. The acrid smell of ignited gun powder drifted into the air above the firing squad. Five of the prisoner fell to the ground with bullets in their chests. The boy still stood, knees shaking, the odor of his excrement mixing with the smell of the gun powder.

Billy Jack lowered his rifle. "I'll be damned if'n I'll kill the boy. He ain't hardly old enough to know what treason is."

"Damn you, Truehill, I gave you an order. Shot the little varmint now!"

Billy Jack turned to Jackson, his rifle pointing at the lieutenant.

"Ah reckon my hearin's gone bad. You said somethin' `bout firing my rifle?"

Without turning his head Billy Jack shouted, "git boy. The lieutenant sez you be free. Go!"

The boy ran. His hands still tied behind his back, he stumbled and fell. He scrambled up, staggered and disappeared into the forest.

Jackson shouted, "Harris, Miller, go after the stinkin' son of a bitch, shoot him."

The soldiers stood silently, their rifles at ease. Some turned to look at Billy Jack. Others looked up at the trees. Some stared a their feet.

"I'll see you all in the stocks for disobeyin' orders. Get the prisoners up. Move out."


BLOODROOT by William F. Kaiser (c)2005

Book Four - 1863 - Chapter Twenty-Nine - Burnside

The Federal defense line surrounded Knoxville on three sides. The Tennessee river and its tributary, the Holston, protected the fourth side. The bastion at the northwest corner of the defense line controlled the overall defense. Fort Sanders was a flat, open expanse at the top of a ridge, its steep 12 foot high earth walls posed a serious challenge to an attacking force. In front of the wall Federal defenders had dug a 12 foot wide, eight foot deep trench. The open field in front of the trench was fiendishly crisscrossed with thin, almost invisible, telegraph wires. The weak point of the fort was its open expanse at the top that offered an inviting target for a deadly artillery attack. If the wall is breached there would be little to stop the enemy.

Billy Jack and his followers were turned over to a captain who in turn parceled the four out to separate units posted along the top of the wall. Billy Jack found himself under the command of Sergeant O'Shay of the 79th New York Regiment.

"Bedad, lad, wir getting more and more of you Southern boyos every day. We've been chased all over Tennessee by Longstreet. When he comes at us this time we shall stop him cold."

Billy Jack nodded and turned to clean and load his rifle. He checked his cache of ammunition that had been supplemented by the Federal quartermaster. He had pulled the blue blouse over his deer skin shirt and was thankful for the extra warmth. The late November air carried a chill. He slouched down onto the rubber poncho he shared with O'Shay. As he dozed he wondered if others in New York spoke with the strange words the sergeant used. It was nothing like the stiff language and tone Elvira May used when she spoke "proper" English.

When Billy Jack awoke it was raining. He pulled himself closer to the wall as did O'Shay.

"They're out there," O'Shay whispered to Billy Jack. "I can smell `em when the wind is right. They been there for three four days. They won't come today in this rain."

At noon the rain lessened. Two soldiers passed around the units manning the walls and handed out rations of salt pork and bread. The rain began again. In the early evening the rain turned into big, sloppy wet snow flakes that lasted into early evening. Just before midnight Confederate skirmishers attacked the Federal pickets out side of the fort. The action was visible from the fort only by the flashes of rifle fire and the yells of soldiers. In less than ten minutes the action was over and silence settled over the field around the fort.

The morning dawned bright and clear except for some wisps of fog in the low hollows. The night attack had done no damage to the Federal defense. It did serve to alert the defending troops to the imminent attack. As the sun rose over the Eastern Tennessee mountains a wall of Confederates rose from their shallow trenches and ran toward the fort. They were not much over one hundred feet from the wall.

The Union forces rained shell and shot upon the Confederates.

"No need to aim," O'Shay shouted, "just point and shoot."

Billy Jack muttered to himself, "I'll be damned if I'll shoot at any Southern boys I don't even know."

He aimed high and fired his rifle, reloaded and fired again. No one seemed to notice bark chipping off of trees 500 yards away.

The Confederates ran into the hidden telegraph wires. They stumbled, fell, tangled. The attack slowed until some troops realized the maze of wires that stretched between tree stumps.

"Cut the wires and go," several shouted. The soldiers came on again. Bullets from the fort cut down numbers of men. The front wall of soldiers reached the trench and jumped in. To their surprise and dismay the trench was so deep they could not climb out with out stopping to hack hand and feet holds in the icy dirt wall.

Above the Confederate troops the Federals fired down on the struggling soldiers. Men from the Federal artillery brought shells with three-second fuses to the wall. The fuses were lit and the shells tossed down into the trench exploding with deadly effect.

A dozen or so Confederates were able to avoid the bullets and shells and chopped out steps from the trench wall. When they reached the base of the wall to the fort they were protected from rifle fire from above. Any Federal soldier that attempted to lean over the wall to shoot down were immediately driven off by distant Confederate sharpshooters.

Two Confederates reached the top of the wall and planted their colors. One of them clung to the outside of the wall above Billy Jack. Grabbing the soldier's tunic Billy Jack dragged him into the fort and shoved him to the ground at his feet.

He looked down at the soldier. He was a mere boy, tow headed, blue eyes wide open in fear. O'Shay turned and thrust his bayonet at the boy. Billy Jack blocked aside the bayonet point. He stuck the muzzle of his rifle under O'Shay's chin.

"The boy's my prisoner. I'll see to him. Ain't no need to kill him."

The firing began to wane. Confederates not dead, badly wounded or trapped in the trench, fled back to the Confederate line. The attack had failed. It had lasted barely twenty minutes. Some eight hundred Confederate troops had perished. Fort Sanders was barely scratched. Federal casualties were no more than a handful.

Please feel free to COMMENT on what you've read.

William F. "Bill" Kaiser * North Carolina Writer