Nate Bouldermeir looked around, but for the life of him he could not see any other person as he made his way from the George Washington Hotel back towards his company’s encampment on the south side of Winchester.
“Psssst. Hey Jimmy I’m talking to you.”
As Nate turned again he caught sight of man emerging from the shadows of a milliners doorway. For a moment he was concerned that this could be a rebel Bushwacker intent on accosting lone Union officers, but instead of producing a pistol the bearded man extended his right hand, grasping Nate’s and shaking it in greeting.
“Pinkerton, Allan Pinkerton, and you, I assume, are Lieutenant Nathaniel Bouldermeir. Indeed sir I can say it is nae assumption, for as Head of the Union Intelligence Service I have made it my job to know your identity and your service record.”
The man’s accent was broad Scots, but there could be no doubting the bone fide of his claim. There were few in the forces of the Union who had not heard of the Scotsman come Chicago detective who now served as gatherer of intelligence for Lincoln’s Armies.
“Keep walking Lieutenant, I’ve nae wish to cause a stir, but I must speak with you on a matter of some delicacy. You’ll be aware that your Uncle has been dallying with certain young ladies from Mrs Kipling’s House of French Fancies in Baltimore…no, och well, all the same. I do ken that you were introduced to a Miss Angel Delight, indeed my reports tell me that you formed part of her escort when you ran into the rebels at Cedar Creek”.
Nate could indeed confirm that much was true, but his mind span at the thought of French Fancies. It had been a shock to discover that he had a cousin, and now to discover that she was French confused the young Lieutenant even more. She had no accent that he had noticed.
“Well now laddie, I’ll cut to the chase. Miss Delight has gone missing. She was with the General earlier this afternoon, indeed she spent some time with him after he returned from his meeting with Banks and Sedgewick. Your uncle, damned fool that he is, said that the lassie was most interested in the plans for the forthcoming offensive, and used all her female charms to inveigle the information from him. Well, there’s near fool like an auld fool, your Uncle told all, and now Miss Delight has disappeared. What says you to that?”
Nate’s mind raced. Why on earth would a girl wish to discover details of General Banks’ plans? The girls he had met a church in Hartford, Connecticut had been interested in flowers and needlepoint not military plans. “I am sorry Mr Pinkerton, but I have no idea”.
“Well I’ll tell you why laddie. The lassie is a spy.” The Scot paused to allow the word to have its full impact “and right now she is somewhere up the valley running to her rebel paymasters with all of our plans. I can tell you now young man this does’nae look good for your Uncle. My first thought was to have him court marshalled and shot, but between you and I a scandal of that nature could rock the foundation of the Republic. I think that Mr Lincoln has enough to worry about without me adding that problem to the pile. So, we have but one choice of action. Any idea what that may be laddie”.
“Catch the spy. Catch Miss Delight before she can reach the enemy”.
“Fandabidozi, you’ve hit the nail on the heed. But this must be a secret operation and one conducted wi’ the greatest of speed. I would have you pick a force of men you can trust from your company and meet me here in thirty minutes. After that Mr Bouldermeir, we shall catch us a spy”.
Sergeant Floyd Banks and the Virginians of the Black Horse cavalry troop had been in the saddle now for seven hours and the Sergeant was not alone beginning to wonder if this was a wild goose chase. They had crossed the country time and again looking for the agent who was apparently making their way south with important news for General Jackson. Working with them a company of infantry were footsore from their travels that until now had proven to be fruitless.
“Sergeant” the rider was shouting as he approached “Sergeant, I just spoke with a man on the Wilson farm and he claims to have seen a lady only an hour ago over near the Sanderson place on Swallow Ridge”.
“Good work Kipper,” the Sergeant paused in thought for a moment “get the infantry up here now, we’re only two miles from Swallow Ridge, let’s get moving.”
“Swallow Ridge” Lieutenant Nate Bouldermeir read the name from the map that was spread out on the grass “ever heard of it?”
“Can’t say I have” Sergeant Troy Prescott bit on a lump of tobacco and looked back towards the farm where his men were watering their horses “but if the boy says he’s seen the lady then my reckoning is we can be there in less than half an hour.”
As they marched onwards Nate Bouldermeir looked back at his command. He had just over thirty infantrymen under his command, Sergeants ‘Dutch’ Kapp and Frank Chisholm were good and trusted men and, whilst Nate had no confirmation of the fact, the sixteen cavalry troopers under Sergeant Prescott seemed to have some semi-official involvement with Pinkerton. If they could only capture Miss Delight then the North’s secrets would be safe.
“Sergeant, there are farms shown on the map, if you ride ahead to the ridge itself we can search the farm buildings. The important thing is to keep any rebels away.
The first Troy Prescott knew of the rebels was when his scout came galloping back to the main body of the troop. The terrain was less than ideal for a cavalry action, the combination of fences, walls and woods meant that his troopers were restricted to the road. Nevertheless his order to draw sabres saw the men ready themselves for imminent action. Off to his left he could see that some of the accompanying infantry were already searching a large barn, but to his rear the young infantry Lieutenant was brining up sixteen riflemen to investigate the farm house. The Sergeant trotted across to inform the Lieutenant
On the rebel side the sight of the Union scout was enough to tell Sergeant Floyd Banks that he had a problem. The infantry that were following him had been lagging behind for some time now tired from constant marching and counter-marching. It was up to him to buy some time to allow the men on foot to catch up. Digging in his heels he trotted forward to engage the enemy.
The lead horsemen clashed on the road in a brief clash that saw several men tumble from their saddles before the Union force withdrew in disorder down the road. Banks urged his men onwards but a volley from a previously unseen Union infantry force lining a fence by the farmhouse persuaded the Southern cavalry that pursuit was not a good idea. The Sergeant fell back into the woods.
Lieutenant Ethau Pickens’ feet were sore, but still on he marched. Down to his left he could see the cavalry falling back while in the woods to his right he was sure he could see troops moving.
“Y’all looking for that painted trollope I’d wager?” The elderly lady had been all but invisible sitting in the porch of the clapboard farmhouse that sat atop Swallow Ridge, her rocking chair barely moving as she darned socks “She’s over there in a ditch at the edge of the wheatfield, or she was five minutes ago. Toby saw her there as he was bringing up water from the well. You’d better be a rushin’ as I’ve been watching them thar Yankees over at the Pearson place for the past ten minutes. They sure as heck want something bad, and I reckon it’s that girl. What is she, some kinda spy?” Old Ma Pendleton was no fool, and from her perch she could see right across the farmland that surrounded her neighbours farm.
“Yes Ma’am, although I reckon we say agent rather than spy. Either way the lady is doing good work for the Confederacy.”
“Well, you’d better stop wasting your breath a talkin’ to me. If you look in the woods there you’ll see that the Yankees are nearly upon her”.
“Run boys, run”. Ethau Pickens dashed down to hill towards the point where the wheatfield met the woodland and a smattering of musketry met him. As his men entered the woods a group of Union soldiers emerged, their bayonets glinting. Pickens could see some of his men falling back from the corner of the field but he fought on.
Floyd Banks dug in his heels and the mare leapt forward. Almost instantly a dozen bullets cracked around his ears but remarkably none of his men fell as the horsemen crossed the road and galloped up the ridge. The Sergeant could hear the sounds of fighting from the other side of the hill and realised that this could only mean trouble for the infantry. As he crossed the ridge by Old Ma Pendleton’s cottage he could see that men in gray were falling back whilst other still fought in the woods. Down to his left he could see a young lady crouched by the rail fence and it was to her he now rode.
Leaning down from his horse Sergeant Banks was able to seize the young lady and lift her almost effortlessly onto his horse. “Begging your pardon Ma’am, but you’re safe with me now”. In the trees men in blue were shouting and running towards him, the foremost lunging forward with his bayonet but at the last moment stumbling on the undergrowth. Miss Angel Delight looked up at her saviour, “Oh sir, how can I ever repay you…eugh!” Sergeant Banks was smiling at the delectable Miss Delight, his one remaining tooth glinting in the late evening sunshine, tobacco juice dribbling down his chin. She was grateful, but not that grateful…