The Ghost of the Confederate Soldier
I sat up there on that old fence post like a modern day Tom
Sawyer of sorts, at least wise in my mind and all and except for
I was wearin’ shoes. I sat up there contemplatin’ on life like I
was a King or somebody important like that, chewin’ on a
piece of tall grass I’d picked up from out of the field.
The shadows from Mr. Roberts’s red barn were playin’ catch
with the lights comin’ in from the other side of it. The sunlight
was dancin’ back and forth across the yard like sparklin’
diamonds on the water, the grass still bein’ damp from the
early mornin’ rains and all. The sunrise had been a particularly
beautiful mixture of bright oranges and yellows that mornin’,
and there was just the faintest scent of honeysuckles blowin’ in
on that warm summer wind.
I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I growed up then mind
you. And I don’t reckon as I ever gave it much thought
actually. At twelve years old, growin’ up to me was like bein’
in a whole other place and time entirely. I figured I’d be
somebody else by the time I got there anyways, so I’d have
plenty of time to be thinkin’ about stuff like that later on. From
right where I was sittin’ at, right there on that fence post, life
for me was just fine. And as a matter of fact, it couldn’t have
gotten any better.
“Toby, where are you son? You alright out there?” My mama
shouted from the back porch.
“Yes Ma’am. I’m alright!” I shouted and waved back. “I’m
over here by the gate on the fence.”16
Mama stood outside holdin’ the screen door open with her hip
wipin’ her hands on a dish towel.
“Well, the weather man says there’s a storm comin’ in. So
don’t you be out there too long. You hear me?” she asked and
then she nodded.
Mama was always lookin’ out for me and stuff. She said it was
her job. But I don’t think she ever got paid for it.
“Okay Mom!” I shouted back just before the screen door
My mom and dad named me Toby, they said it was my
nickname, but it wasn’t my real name. I was supposed to have
been named Tobias, meanin’ “God is good” or somethin’ like
that and they were gonna call me Toby for short. But when I
was born, they just up and decided to name me after my dad
instead, so they just kept the nickname I reckon since they
already had their minds set on it. I only ever heard my real
name anyways when they were mad at me for somethin’.
We lived out in the country, in the heart of the bluegrass state.
None of us knew exactly why it was called bluegrass mind
you. That’s just what they called it we guessed. The grass
really wasn’t blue, it really wasn’t. It was just as green as
Sometimes the grass grew so tall that we could play hide and
seek out there in the fields. But mostly we weren’t allowed to
play in it because of snakes or for some other reasons. It didn’t
mean that we didn’t play in it; it just meant that we played in it
until we’d get caught.
‘Not rememberin’ was always a good excuse when Mama
would catch us, and that ‘other kids got to play in the tall
grasses’ worked as a reason too. But Mama said that she,
“didn’t raise those other kids.” and if she had, then “they
wouldn’t get to play out there in those tall grasses neither!”
So there you go.
Our farm was every bit of three acres big. Big enough for the
four of us: my mom and dad, my sister Tami and me. We had
great views from our front porch swing when the weather
would permit. We had views of fields, views of corn and grains
outlined by trees at nearly every point of horizon.
I always kind of imagined it lookin’ out across those fields, that
God himself must’ve placed an invisible bubble around our
home so that no kind of troubles could ever happen there. It
was kind of hard to explain, yet in my mind’s eye that’s just
how I saw it. It was a safe place.
We had a garden just this side of Mr. Roberts’s field. It wasn’t
a big garden but it was more than enough for us, anyways I
didn’t like most of what came out of it. We had a fenced in
field behind our house, with a hen house an outhouse and an
old barn in it. The barn was located way out there by the pond
and the woods, but the hen house and out-house were closer to
us, just on the other side of the gate that exited our backyard.
The hen house was always full of chickens and eggs. And the
outhouse, well …you don’t want to know what it was full of.
We had to check them regularly, the chickens in the hen house
Our dog named Candy was a white Jack Russell terrier, and she
would run around and round them chickens up at nights. She
would herd em’ up while my mama would shoo em’ into the
chicken coop to keep em’ safe.
On the left hand side of our hen house, we kept an old beagle
hound. His name was Mr. Whiskers, named for self
explanatory reasons. And the field all around us was just big
enough for a few cows and a pony to run around in.
My pony’s name was Prince and he was about thirty years old
I’ve been told he was pretty old for a Shetland pony, but he
sure did run around like a young colt out there in the field.
Grandpa gave him to me when I was five I think, once we’d
moved out to the country.
Our house was completely surrounded in the back by woods
and brush. It made it very private, so that nobody would be
lookin’ at you every time you’d come outside or if you had to
step out behind the shed or some tree somewhere to relieve
yourself or somethin’. That’s just how it was out in the
country. We didn’t have an inside bathroom, like we did in the
city. It was different. And you couldn’t be doing stuff like that
up there in town, no sir!
And Bardstown, well it was even a small town and all, as far as
towns go, known as the Bourbon Capital of the world.
Bourbon is a special kind of whiskey that is made from corn.
Not that I’ve ever had any. My dad worked at Barton’s
Distillery about five miles from where we lived. They made
Bourbon whiskey there. The name Bourbon comes from a time
when Kentucky was originally a part of Virginia. And because
the French had helped us defeat the King of England in the
Revolutionary War, the Virginian government named several
of their new counties after em’. One of em’ was called
Bourbon, named after the French royal family, the House of
Bourbon whiskey was made in Kentucky and was different
because it was the first corn whiskey most people had ever
tasted. I ain’t ever tasted any myself, but when Dad would
come home from work he would always smell of whiskey. And
I don’t know that it smelled nothin’ like corn.
But like I said, Bardstown was a small town and all. Big
enough for growin’ up in I reckon’, full of history and stuff, at
least wise according the stories I’ve heard. Mostly true stories,
at least wise I never found a reason to doubt any of em’.19
My daddy’s daddy I never got to meet because he went on up
to Heaven before I was born. But I knew my mama’s daddy
real well. He was a storyteller. I guess maybe that’s where I got
it from. He was born here in Bardstown just like me, only back
in nineteen and thirteen.
Mama told me that when she was little, Grandpa used to gather
up all of his kids and tell stories to em’ around the coal oil
lantern or old wood stove at night before bedtime, or at least
the smaller kids who still lived at home. She said that ‘this was
back before they had TV and radio, when folks would gather
around in the nighttime and talk to one another like civilized
Grandpa told me tales of how things were when he was a kid.
But mostly, he told me stories about witches. I really never saw
a witch before nor nothing myself personally. At least wise I
don’t ever think that I did.
Witches gathered in dark places, keepin’ their rituals and
surnames secret. Like stories of old they’d catch children
found, who’d wandered too far from their homes. Fairy tales
disguised the truth in plain sight, with unbelieving mortals
unable to ascertain the difference.
Witches were real. They turned themselves into animals and
such, my grandpa told me, castin’ spells upon would be
travelers who crossed their paths along lonely roads and amidst
the darkened shadows.
I don’t think that I have ever seen a witch before, at least no
witch that I could have ever recognized. But I have seen a
ghost. And right out there in broad daylight too! It appeared in
that window loft yonder in the old barn sittin’ out in our back
field by the fence. The ghost looked down at me, directly into
my eyes. Me and this girl that I knew, we both saw that ghost.
She was my witness. Her name was Mary.
She was a girl who I hung around with when I was younger.
Her mama and my mama were friends from way back when
they were in high school together. Mary and them had come
over to visit. And we were out there in the back field together,
walkin’ around near the woods.
“You know? You could hold my hand if you want to.” Mary
said to me.
“Well I reckon I would if I had a mind to.” I answered. “I just
don’t reckon I have a mind to is all.”
“Well then …what’d you bring me out here for then?” she
“I didn’t make you follow me!” I replied. “You came out here
all by your own self!”
“So you don’t want me to be here?” she said while placin’ her
hands on her hips.
“I never said them words Mary.” I said as I reached down and
picked up a stick for breakin’. “Why is it that talkin’ to girls is
always so complicated and stuff?”
“So now you’re calling me complicated?” she said, all actin’
like she was gettin’ mad at me.
I was startin’ to get flustered.
“See! That’s exactly what I was talkin’ about.” I stated.
“And just how many other girls have you been talking too?”
she questioned me further.
I just rolled my eyes around in my head, because I just didn’t
see much point in answerin’.
The old barn stood ominously before us, cold and grey. The
darkened stalls and beacons of light summoned us from within
its empty belly. Its door swung loosely upon its hinges and
creaked loudly as it moved in the wind, like a mast swinging to
and fro on a wavering ship. The old boards were weather worn,
broken and rotted, as it was with the ladder nailed to its front
that led up into its darkened eaves.
We stopped for a moment, becoming silent …as beams of light
penetrated the barn and as a ghostly apparition illuminated in
its hold before us. With solemn stride the spirit walked through
the darkness of the loft. And as it knelt by the window’s edge, it
stared down upon us, lights emanating from within. I felt a cold
chill run down my spine and the blood drain from my face as I
looked upon its form, the ghostly manifestation of a
Confederate Soldier. My heart pounded rapidly as my eyes met
Voices filled my mind then, haunting words of forewarning
and whispers telling me to run.
So we RAN!
We ran through the field as fast as our legs would carry us
…runnin’ forward …fallin’ down …gettin’ up and runnin’
Faster! Faster! Faster we ran …poundin’ dirt beneath our feet
…with adrenaline coursing through our veins. And all rational
thought leavin’ our minds. It was like a horrible dream we were
never to awaken from!
“Mary stop, hey wait for me!” I yelled.
Mary ran faster than me and I wasn’t too happy about that
neither. But I reckoned that gettin’ away from that barn and
that ghost made my losing a race to a girl not seem so all fired
important at the moment. I was powerful glad that there
weren’t no boys around to see it though. Because I would never 22
have been able to live it down. Me gettin’ whooped in a race by
a girl! And with her wearin’ a dress and all!
Mary ran through the field, climbed over the fence and
continued to run straight into our backyard. She ran up to our
moms, fallin’ down before em’ as they sat in the shade
underneath the leaves of a huge maple tree. Heartily excited,
she told them of what had happened and of what she’d seen.
She told them of the apparition in the window.
We hadn’t had time to speak about it, we’d been runnin’ to
save our lives.
But the stories we told were identical.
“It was a ghost of a Confederate Soldier!” Mary told them.
“And it looked down at us from the window loft!” I said as I
pointed to the old barn with one hand as I held my side filled
with pain with the other. It was hard explaining everything
while I was all out of breath and all.
“He had a long grey beard that kind of came down to here.”
Mary stated as she held her hand about a foot down below her
“And he was wearin’ a hat with rifles crossed on it on the
front.” I said making a sign of an X.
“And there was no color in him at all except for a kind of
bluish grey.” Mary interjected. “I could see right through him
too!” she continued while looking scared. “And I could see his
cold grey eyes!”
“I could see the back of the barn loft through him too.” I stated
as back up. “And I could see the light from the other side of the
room comin’ in through those old boards up there.”23
The grownups went out to the old barn and they looked around.
By now my dad had even been told of the story and he’d come
out and looked around too. He climbed right up into that old
barn loft all by himself. He wasn’t afraid at all. No sir. Not my
dad! And he searched the whole place as we stood outside
watchin’. He searched all over, both upper and lower levels of
the barn, inside and out as we continued lookin’. But he said
that ‘there wasn’t nothin’ or no one in the barn loft that he
could find, and that there wasn’t any evidence or nothin’
I know the grownups believed we saw somethin’. But what we
had saw I believe they just dismissed as kids imaginations.
I mean, we were kids after all. And sometimes, well …kids will
just make stuff up, you know? Not all of us mind you, but there
are those of us that do. And because of it, those of us that tell
the truth have to suffer for it. We get a bad name. And take the
blame for it.
But if ya think of it, I mean really think about it …a kid’s word
is all he has. He doesn’t own nothin’ …all he has is his word.
So he ought to be believed no matter what. At least that’s what
I gotta say about it. I know I believed us. It wasn’t a figment of
my imagination. And it wasn’t so of Mary’s neither.
If it was, then how could we have imagined exactly the same
thing? You tell me that!
But I can understand how hard it is for grownups to believe.
So I won’t go holdin’ it against em’.
I’ve looked for the ghost to appear many times since then, but I
haven’t ever seen him again. And I’ve searched for clues
around the old barn too, but I haven’t found nothin’ there
neither, at least nothin’ that has led me to the answers anyways.24
I even went to the library once and I checked out a book on the
Civil War, a book detailin’ the battles that happened around
here. And I discovered that soldiers from both the North and
the South traveled up and down Hwy 31E through Kentucky
durin’ that war. It’s the same road that runs not more than a
mile east of my family’s farm. As the crow flies, our mountain
would’ve been seen from that road just as it can be seen from it
today. And I’ve been told that we are located on one of the
highest points in all of Nelson County. So they would’ve seen
I’ve also gone through some old documents and maps, to detect
any changes that may have occurred in the placement of that
road. I guess maybe to see if there could have been any
changes made, because it could’ve been that 31E south once
connected by way of Cardinal Hill down there by that bridge
near the Beech Fork River. And if it did, then our farm would
have lain directly along that path.
Both armies would’ve marched right past here if that had been
the case. But even if it didn’t happen that way, they could’ve
taken that route anyways, if nothin’ more than just to keep off
of the main road. Our mountain could’ve been used as a
gathering place, a place to scout for oncoming troops or a place
for wounded to be doctored on …or even for use as a cemetery
to bury the dead.
“Toby! Did you hear what I told you young man?” Mama
shouted as I jumped at her voice. “Now you get down off of
that fence and get up there on the porch like I said! It’s starting
“Okay Mom!” I answered as I regained my composure and
jumped down from the fence. And then I walked across the
graveled driveway to the front porch.
I picked up a rock along the way and I skipped it across the
driveway just for fun. And then I hurried up on the porch and
sat down in the swing.25
It was a comfortable old wooden swing that screeched and
groaned when you swung in it. The view from which was an
awesome sight, as we were all high up on a hill facin’ eastward
towards the sun, with wide open views that went on for miles.
It was a great place for thinkin’, if there wasn’t nothin’ else for
ya to do.
I waved at Cricket as she rode her horse through the fields
across the way. She was a girl who lived just down the road a
ways. And I watched her as she trotted her horse faster, just as
the skies opened up with larger sprinklin’s of rain. And then as
a small clap of thunder broke before the heavy rains began to
fall, with dark clouds blocking out the light.
The rain fell in long strands like curtains of beads, like you
could just reach out and part it with your bare hands. I always
liked the rain. It made me feel like I was alone on a tropical
island somewhere with nobody comin’ over to visit and
nowhere that I needed to be.
The sound of water splashing upon the ground was really
peaceful. It could lull you off to sleep if you weren’t careful
Mama came to the screen door then and looked out and
checked on me as I was swingin’ back and forth. I guessed she
just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t still out there in the yard
Like I’ve said before, Mama was always lookin’ out for me and
It was really rainin’ hard now.
So I sat there in the swing for a while and I watched it fall.
The night was dark and wet as the rider rode the back country.
He traveled fast …as fast as his horse could carry him.
They were chasing him. He could feel it.
A cold chill ran down the base of his neck as his horse
trembled beneath him.
He crossed the creek to cover their scent, but still they
followed. Closing fast.
The rain was unrelenting as he made his way home.
“Pa!” he shouted to the house as he brought his horse to a
stop and dismounted. “Pa! They’re coming!”
Obadiah and his grandson came out of the house, with rifles
loaded and lanterns lit and ushered Caleb and his horse across
the field and out back into his shed. Once inside Obadiah hung
the lantern up and pulled open a door that lay beneath the
floorboards. And he helped his injured son climb down into the
“You stay put now. You hear me?” Obadiah demanded. “No
matter what you hear boy, you don’t come out for nothin’.” he
stated as he shook his head and looked down upon his son’s
wounds. “We’ll be back to doctor ya up once it’s over.”
“I’ve got it Pa.” Caleb said excitedly as he patted his
haversack. “I’ve got the stone.”
His father’s eyes welled up with wonder, but there was no time
to discuss it now. The riders were coming.
“Stay down. Stay low.” Obadiah said as he closed and
concealed the door.
The thunder rumbled across the darkened sky with blinding
warm summer rains. But for the lightning of the storm one
could all but see.
“Hey there!” A rider called out as two darkened figures
crossed the grassy fields. “We’re lookin’ for a’ Grey Back’
that just came ridin’ through here. Have you seen him?”
Jeremiah and his grandfather raised their rifle barrels,
pointing them squarely at the one who had spoken with an
arrogant tone of familiarity.
“You’d better ‘toe the mark’, Nate.” Obadiah said. “You’ve
got no right to be on my land. Be gone with ya, or these’ll be
the last words you’ll ever hear.”
“Well look at what we have here!” Nathanael exclaimed
sarcastically. “Are you boys seein’ what I’m seein’?” He said
in amazement as he looked around at his men. “It looks like
this might turn out to be an interestin’ evenin’ after all.” He
remarked as his men smirked and began dismounting their
Nathanael sat in his saddle for a moment as his eyes met
Obadiah’s gaze. And then he spoke again, this time in a foreign
“Je pensais que vous étiez mort vieil homme.” Dit-il basculé
son chapeau et ajusté son bord avec la pluie battante hors il de
chaque côté. “Je pensais que quelqu’un avait sûrement vous
découpé en petits morceaux ou monté votre tête sur un mur en
“I thought you were dead old man.” Nathanael said as he
tilted his hat and adjusted its brim with the rain pouring off it
on either side. “I thought somebody had surely carved you up
into little pieces by now or mounted your head on a wall.”
“Les rebelles your’n est-il pas?” At-il demandé tout en plaçant
sa main à son menton. “Et l’Ordre’, il existe encore?” Il 28
secoua la tête et sourit, puis. “Et ici, je pensais que je”’était le
“The rebel’s your’n ain’t he?” He asked while placing his
hand to his chin. “And ‘the Order’? It still exists?” He shook
his head then and smiled. “And here I had thought ‘I’ was the
Nathanael gestured then towards the guns and chuckled as he
dismounted from his horse.
“Ce que le garçon porte est le mien Abdias, et je vais l’avoir.”
“What the boy carries is mine Obadiah, and I will have it.”
“Allez-y et nous tirer dessus si vous devez.”
“Go ahead and shoot me if you will.”
“Car vous savez que je ferai ce que je dois. Et rien, pas même
vous va m’arrêter.”
“You know that I WILL do what I must. And nothin’, not even
you are going to stop me.”
Lightning flashed. And then …all of them changed.
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