This is set near the start of Sherman's march to the sea. I've had to use a few terms for African Americans (Darky) that were current at the time to set the atmosphere.
I often write drafts of ideas to see how they work. This one, if it works will be in two sections, a short one in 1864 where the characters are introduced, and a longer one in 1870 (or so) where the romantic sparks fly.
We'll see how it works.
1. Uncle Billy's Men.
Mary scrubbed at the stains on her hands and face. “It won't come off! Sally, it won't come off!” She stained her skin with butternut's to blend in with the Negro's and spy on that devil Sherman's army. Now with the union cavalry patrol on the way, the stain wouldn't shift. Coarse soap, lye, and hard scrubbing weren't doing anything to remove the deep brown that covered her face, hands, and neck. She was panicking and her black servant, Sally, who had been her best friend as a little girl, was scrubbing as well. She was trying to help her mistress look like what she was, namely 'Massa's daughter'.
Sally finally stopped scrubbing. “Miss Mary?”
“There's only one thing to do. Put more on. You look enough like me that maybe them union folk won't notice.”
“But that would leave the house unguarded and you know what those bummers do to empty houses.”
“Better that than they shoot you as a spy.”
Mary paused, then said, “Sally, I don't know what I'd do without you. You'll watch after me, won't you?”
“Miss Mary, you know I will.” They had grown up together, played as best friends until Mary had been sent to finishing school in Atlanta. Mary had even secretly taught her how to read. If 'Miss Mary' had forgotten her whipping from when she'd told her father that she didn't want to own her best friend, Sally hadn't. Not that it had mattered in the end. Sally was still a slave and Mary still her mistress.
Captain Daniel Patrick of the 23rd Ohio cavalry rode at the head of his squad as they entered the farm yard in the late November afternoon. They were riding a sweep in front of the infantry as the Army of the Tennessee marched out of Atlanta heading for Savannah. He raised his hand and had the division halt.
“Lieutenant, this looks like a good place to bivouac for the evening. Get the men settled, and don't forget to set out the pickets. I've been smelling Joe Wheeler's boys for the last couple of hours.” One reason Captain Patrick was Captain Patrick and not the gallant deceased Private Patrick was his ability to 'smell out' rebel soldiers.
As the men deployed, Captain Patrick led a few men into the mansion, to see what there was. Since the owners had decamped for better grounds, it was fair game. He called out in frustration, “Sergeant James.”
“What a purse-poor proud lot these are. I've seen better houses on the poor side of Cleveland, haven't you?”
Sergeant James replied, “Yes, but you know there's always something good hidden in these houses.”
“True, and it doesn't look like the masters had much time to pack. The closet is still full of dresses.”
“Yes, it looks that way, sir.”
“Well remember that we aren't supposed to spoil civilians. Have a good look, but don't destroy more than you have to. See if there's any war material, because then we can burn it.”
“Search the place. If it's just dresses, leave it. Anything else, come and find me.”
“Good. Now I'm going to look at the darkies and see if I can convince them to stay. There isn't much point in having them join the army, is there?”
Leaving his sergeant and selected helpers to search the house, Captain Patrick went over to the slave quarters. Something immediately caught his eye, but he couldn't quite figure out what it meant. “Lieutenant Oats?”
“Notice anything odd about these darkies?”
“They're awful quiet.” Usually by the time the union soldiers reached the slave quarters, there was a riotous party. He was used to the newly freed negro's pointing at Lieutenant Oats, who wore a beard, and shouting “He's got the Lincoln head, the Lincoln head!” Instead, there was a sullen gathering in the yard, and they weren't even packing their things to flee.
“Oats, do you think they know something's up?”
“Could be.” Captain Patrick looked at the darkies. They stood in the yard, nervously watching the soldiers, and were clustered away from two young women. Occasionally one would shoot the pair a worried glance. “Could be something to do with those two. See how they're staying away from them?”
“Yes, what do you think it is?”
“Let's go and find out.” Together they walked over to the women.
Sally could feel her mistress stiffen with fear, She quickly turned and whisperd, “Miss Mary, let me do the talking.”
Captain Patrick walked over and carefully circled the two women. He thoroughly looked them over while whistling a monotonous tune. Suddenly he smiled, and chuckled, “Well, I haven't seen this before. These southerners will do anything.” He reached over and pulled up Mary's dress. It revealed a shapely and white calf. “Sorry Ma'am, but that was the easiest way to find out.”
Mary was about to slap him for his impertinence, when Sergeant James came running out. “Sir! Look what we found!” He was waving a sheath of papers.
“What is it?”
“Looks like a report on the Army. Detailed.”
Captain Patrick read the papers. They gave a fairly accurate description of the Army of the Tennessee's strength and marching order as it was when it left Atlanta. He whistled to himself then added, “Old Joe Wheeler would love these. Might even entice General Hood to come back down here from Alabama.” The papers were written in a feminine hand.
“So Miss, Mary was it. What are these about?”
“Miss Cummings. Miss Mary Cummings. I don't know anything about those papers.”
“Next time you try spying, don't sign your work. You know I can just shoot you for spying?”
Mary paled, not that it was visible beneath her staining, and started to faint. Sally caught her and glared at the captain. “You wouldn't do that, would you?”
Daniel chuckled, “No, I don't like to shoot females. I'll find something else.” He addressed Sergeant James, “The men probably need some coffee, if they haven't started the fires, use these for tinder. Make sure they're all burnt.”
Captain Patrick reached inside his jacket and pulled out a small bundle of letters. He looked at them, paused for a moment and then asked his sergeant, “While you're at it burn these too.” Like most of the men, he kept a bundle of letters from his dearest friend. Lieutenant Oats noticed this and remarked, “Dan, what happened?”
“Last letter I got in Atlanta, Charlene married some railroad man. Don't blame her, this war looks to go on forever, and she's smart to grab a man while she can.”
“Still, it must sting.”
“A little, now back to what to do with our pretty captive.”