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His senior enlisted man, First Sergeant Curtis, waved to him from the south end of the bend in the road. He’d heard something coming. Stewart signaled back, ‘horses or wagons?’ Curtis made the sign for ‘horses’ and stepped back a little more into defilade. ‘Great,’ thought Stewart, ‘Cavalry. We’re gonna have a fight.’ Curtis passed the signal down the ranks and Stewart noted the men making their weapons ready as expected. Stewart pulled out his two big 1858 Remington .44s and cocked both hammers. He thought about reminding the men to take prisoners but dismissed it. They were all seasoned men who fully understood the mission and would do all they could to accomplish it. More men would die today, that he knew. When they would stop dying was the real question. He set his jaw and prepared to do battle.
The sound of trotting hoofs came hard now. Hurried, but cautiously, they were making their way to the Yankee camp. Their commander must be pretty smart and was most certainly looking for just such an ambush as the one that Stewart was setting for him. This wasn’t going neat or easy. It could even be a trap. He would worry about that later if it turned out that way. There really weren’t too many ways to plan for a trap. A man just had to trust his gut and roll with it.
He felt his tired muscles tense as he prepared to do battle. The first troops came into view over the slight rise in the road. The blue uniforms looked clean and new, especially on the lead man. His buttons and brass twinkled as they caught brief traces of sunlight through the heavy tree cover. The bend that Stewart had chosen was a low spot in the road near the creek and under heavy shadow. The Yanks would have just come under the trees about a hundred yards back so hopefully their eyes would still be adjusting. Just then, their leader seemed to sense this problem and slowed the pace to try and see his way ahead.
Stewart watched him as he grew closer and realized that the man on the horse wasn’t an experienced veteran officer, but a brand-new second lieutenant. Apparently he’d had some good instructors. He was probably a young rich kid, whose daddy bought him a commission for his 21st birthday. The lieutenant was scanning the area intensely as if he knew that Stewart and his men were waiting in the woods for his patrol. He looked back behind the young fair-haired lieutenant at the Yankee troops. They were mostly German immigrants from the looks of them. Stewart had known many Germans back in Texas and respected their fighting ability. Some had even served with him and distinguished themselves in battle. This would be a hard-won fight.
The blond lieutenant was almost up to his position now. Stewart took a deep breath and stepped out in front of him on the road. He aimed both pistols at the lieutenant’s face and said, “You’re surrounded, young man. You’d best surrender.”
Shots rang out instantly and men began to fall behind the lieutenant as his men began to shoot wildly into the trees. The Rebels fired deliberately and accurately and the forty man troop was quickly reduced to twenty.
The lieutenant froze only for an instant and then reacted. He shifted in his saddle to his right, which was the side away from Stewart, drew his saber, and landed on the ground, all in one smooth move. He then charged Stewart while his horse cantered away. Stewart analyzed his move and fired all in a split second. But he’d done something he hadn’t done in a very long time. He missed! Shocked, he realized that the kid had calculated his shots and slid off the horse to the right just as he’d fired. The horse hit Stewart knocking him to his knees and leaving him staring at the falling blade of the saber when he looked up.
By Jim Jones