No Greater Love
Chapter 13
USS BENTON,  May 6th, 1862

    Dear Mr. Liam,
        John, Ernest and I, decided to take this time to write you.  The sun is just rising in the East as we continue towards Red River Landing and a place called Riverside, where the Red River flows into the Mississippi. Captain Thompson says it is about 20 or so miles north of Port Hudson, we are supposed to head South to Port Hudson and relieve one of our ships. We don't know if she is one of the "Blue Water Navy ships" or the "Brown Water fleet." We sure do miss Chicago and you. I guess your like our father now since John and Ernest no longer have none.

    On May the 2nd we had a run in with a bunch of Rebels at a place called Belle Bend, they really kicked our butts. Who would ever have thought that a bunch of ole men and 4 little wore out brass guns could do such damage. Plus we reacon they cheated to, it sure wasn't no fair fight that is for certain sure. I knew that they had a sniper up in the church house steeple you know where the bell hangs, he must a been a veteran the way he was shooting down our boys on top. He musta fought with Jeff Davis and Winfield S. Hancock in the Mexican War. I means there was no safe place to stand on top of this iron ship, but we took care of that gray back, John and Ernest said I am their hero now because I went up top in the thick of it all to man the little 12 pound howitzer. I ain't no hero to anyone I was just doing what the Capt'n wanted me to do. We all were scart when that Rebel Steamboat came past us but we gave her a charge of canister and grape. The Rebel captain on her bow stared at me like I was the devil himself and if looks could kill a person I wouldn't be writin' this here letter I be kilt just from his blazing blue eyes. That was not all either just as we was a turnin' around here comes this second steamboat the one we chased up river. Oh yeah I guess I forgot to tell ya about that didn't I? Well Mr. Liam, or if it is ok, Da, We was acomin' up The Red River in search of Rebel barges and steamboats when we spotted one with WABASH painted in red on her sides. Well we gave her chase until we hit this sand bar and I wenta flying off the top of the casemate like a bird without wings out into the river. I glad I know how to tread water pretty good, well John and Ernest jumped in after me as we tried to figure out how to get 512 tons of iron unstuck out of the wet sand. I sat there in the sun drying off when some of our men were sent a shore in the long boats and cutters to tie ropes around the trees to pull us off when these Gray riders on horseback started shooting up the place like mad fiends from hell. We lost eight good men, one never will grow up to be a man he was only 14 years old. I guess it was a weird twist of fate he was one of the engine room workers who got hurt badly when we ran aground a lever stabbed through his belly like a cutlass. The surgeon tried to save him but he died. I was sent a shore with a group of men to find out how bad it was and it sure wasn't no pretty sight. Our cannon tore them up like meat in a grinder one was cut up so bad the men just used a shovel to remove parts of his maggoty gray hide off of one of our fine men. We laid them to rest under the shot torn trees on the shore before continuing our chase. I dunno if it was more for following orders or revenge after that.

    Well Da, that is how we ran into those Rebels, we knew they was warned, but we had no idea about that second steamboat a waitin', with a bow chaser at that. That was the one with the Reb captain on her bow and his entire outfit was ashootin' like mad at us. Then the Wabash came from up river with a barge on fire headed right for us. Captain Thompson ordered the big 42 pounder on the starboard bow ran out and just as the Wabash turned to ram us we fired a bolt right through her boilers the boat just trembled and blew up without a sound or so it seemed John and Ernest agree, weird something so close so powerful but silent. We continued to swing around in the river and headed back South in search of the 2nd Reb steamboat in case it decided to stop and turn back around after we have passed but so far no sight or sign of her passing. Yesterday on the 5th we passed by Alexandria and they had a shore battery there along the river, they opened fire on us but it wasn't much of a battle we slaughtered them our big guns protected by this here 5 inch iron plate was no match for their little brass 12 pounders and cotton bales.  We had only three people to get hurt this last time, but we still have several in surgeons' wardroom.

    John and Ernest both are doing fine, they make great powder monkeys and have learned all the drum calls. Also we have all became great friends with a German boy named Erik, He is assistant Engineer to Mr. Burr, boy is he smart when it comes to engines and boilers, Mr. Burr was bragging about him saying if he was older he would be chief on one of the other ships. The food is really nasty at times the beef and pork are so salty I swear the stuff was pulled off one of our ships from 1812. The cooks every now and then make fresh breads and pies, but nothing like the one's maw makes. We have been eating allot of catfish caught out of the river and another one called gar fish, which has allot of bones in it.

    Well the six AM bell has just rang time for breakfast then another long day, it sure is hot down here you go to bed sweating and wake up sweating, if we stop for awhile we'll have a chance to get cool for awhile skinny dipping in the river, but Capt'n Thompson is crowding on steam since we got slowed down due to damage to the paddlewheel. We all miss you.

Your boys in Blue
Davie, Ernest and John

PS: Liam I wrote a short letter to my maw and pa would you please make sure they get it along with the five dollar gold piece.

Love you like my own pa

Excuse the ink blots I am not that good with a quill, but Captain Thompson said officers write with quills and not common pencils.

    Davie folded and sealed the letter and placed it inside his breast pocket of the blue pea jacket with the hard rubber buttons. Everybody's uniform was a little different, some sailors still wore their old ones from the Infantry, Artillery, even Cavalry jackets. The commissioned officers wore their Navy blues with the gold striping down the sleeves and on the shoulders, with their white undershirts underneath properly buttoned at all times. The big ironclad was beginning to buzz with life as she rode at anchor in mid channel. The men were beginning to prepare for breakfast as the cooks started serving the hot food to fifteen men at a time. Each man was responsible for his own mess gear, tin plate that could also serve as a bowl, fork, knife, and spoon, plus his tin cup and once finished they would wash their own. Erik was already in line waiting when Davie, Ernest, and John joined him in line.

    "Morning, Mates," Erik spoke cheerfully and smiled.

    "Morning, Mate," they all replied as they watched the cooks dish out the hot biscuits and fatty bacon along with slimy oatmeal. The cooks slapped the biscuits and greasy fat bacon on their plates along with the oatmeal, then they dipped their tin cups into the big iron boiler that held the bitter coffee. They stopped at the oak table and poured molasses into their coffee to help sweeten it so they could actually drink the stuff before climbing up on the casemate to sit in the shade of the canvas.

    Captain Thompson and his officers were sitting under the canvas, eating at the big oak table that was covered in a white cloth. He smiled when he saw Davie and his friends climb up and sit down under the canvas. "Good Morning, Mid-shipman Phillips, John, Ernest, and Erik."

    "Good Morning, Captain," they replied.

    "Come join me and Officer Young and Mr. Burr, there are four empty places for you at my table."

    The boys just stood there a moment silent, then walked over to the table and placed their tin mugs and plates down next to the ironware ones of their senior officers and meekly took their seats.

    "Thank you, Sir, for inviting us to join you at your table," Davie spoke as he sat down to the right of his Captain while Erik took the seat next to Mr. Burr. John and Ernest sat down by Officer Young.

    "You're most welcome, young Mr. Phillips, I know I am breaking Navy tradition and standard, but we are more Army than Navy, just look at this crew.  Most are landsmen drafted from the Army and artillery groups, many like you had never laid eyes upon a Naval cannon until stepping aboard this ship. I noticed that you have begun to recognize the difference as well."

    "Yes, Sir, day one I thought all three guns in the bow were 24 pounders, but now I know the ones on the port bow and starboard are US Army Rifled 42 pounders and the one in the center is a 8 inch smoothbore US Navy. I also understand that why we have four guns missing from our overall armament is due to the lack of supply from the US Navy. Citing reasons of not having enough large bore guns to fit our needs due to them refitting many of our 'Blue Water Fleet'.  So we are lacking two 32 pound smoothbores, one each on port and starboard, one 8 inch Navy smoothbore on the bow, and one 32 pound US Army 32 pounder in the stern." Davie then blushed when he saw the rest of the officers just looking at him, including John and Ernest.

    "Well, well, I do believe Mr. Phillips here has been hanging around our master gunner, Mr. O'Donald," Officer Young spoke as he took a sip of his coffee from his china cup.

    Captain Thompson beamed and slapped Davie on the back, "My boy, you do know your artillery. I believe, Mr. Young, with a little more training Mr. Phillips here will make an excellent gunnery master, he has already shown us his skills with the boat howitzer up top at Belle Bend and Alexandria and the way he just spoke he knows what we are missing and why. Cook, bring more coffee and cream. Also fix each one of these young men some breakfast from the Captain's mess."

    "Yes, Sir, if I may have your current plates I will wash them and bring you another breakfast," the young sailor spoke as each of the boys passed their almost untouched meal to him.

    "Now, Mr. Burr, while the lad is getting our guests some real food, tell me about this problem you mentioned before our mid-shipman here gave us the run down on our Armament."

    "Well, Captain, it seems that my young helper Erik here discovered we are running very low on coal. I took note of the amount of coal we had in the storage bins before we left our anchorage just south of Vicksburg, but due to the damage done to the funnels and the air intakes and the fact that the bunkers were not as deep as originally designed we are in a bit of a fix, so I and Erik here came up with a solution to help us till we reach the Mississippi River which should be no later than this afternoon or early tomorrow morning. First we must conserve fuel but not let our speed drop, the current is helping us since we are traveling with it downstream, second is pine knots if our coal reserve reaches a dangerous level we can find and use pine knots or other sappy woods to burn to cause a hot fire quickly, then hardwoods like oak. Yes, I know cutting trees, then getting the chunks into our fireboxes designed for hard coal will be a task but I do not want to be caught with our trousers down around our ankles, our other solution to the problem will cause a pain in the gut of our men, no matter the rank, that is feeding our supply of fat bacon to furnaces."

    "Hmmmm.... I see." Captain Thompson spoke while rubbing his black beard. "How much are we burning now?"

    "About thirteen bushels per mile of travel, Captain, Sir," Erik spoke.

    "Thank you, Erik," Mr. Burr said and noted the amount on his pad.

    "Very impressive, young Mr. Kroner," Captain Thompson replied as he sipped his coffee.

    The young sailor returned along with another one to help, with four plates of piping hot food and sat them down in front of the boys, the big ironware plates were piled high with biscuits twice the size of the ones just taken away, bacon with hardly any fat, and scrambled eggs instead of slimy oatmeal. Their tin cups were refilled with hot coffee and a pitcher of cream was placed on the table.

    "Boys, dig in and enjoy it, it is nice to be able to have a enjoyable meal with smart boys and men and not cornfield hicks like some of this crew is made up of." Captain Thompson passed the cream around to the officers then to the boys, along with the silver spoon to stir it, he also sat the bag of brown coarse sugar in front of John and Ernest and smiled. "Liam O'Connell told me I better take care of his boys, but I can't let that be known to everyone or they might get jealous. I hate for y'all to be known as the Captain's special boys. Lord knows I have been there before." Everyone around the table laughed.

    "Excuse me, Captain, time for me to go get the fires stoked so we can continue our trip down this scenic river in paradise." Mr. Burr smiled and laughed, followed by everyone else again.

    "If this is paradise, I sure hate to see hell!"

    Captain Thompson looked over at John, then broke out into loud laughter. "My God, the boy is right."

    Engineer Burr headed down the gangway to the engine room where the sailors were opening the firebox doors and shoveling in fresh coal onto the red embers, soon the light gray smoke that was floating from the tall twin stacks turned darker, then black as more coal was added to the fires to build up steam. Ernest and John finished their meal and stood up from the table, they took their plates along with Erik's and Davie's to the Captain's mess where they would be washed and they also retrieved their own simpler tin ones to place back with their gear. They headed back to the gun deck where they began to help the gunners clean and swab the big cannons in preparation for the day in case of attack, as others swabbed the decks and polished the brass around the ship, some things were just like in the blue water fleets with the slim handsome frigates and steam sloops with their flowing lines and towering masts. Erik soon joined Engineer Burr in the engine room and they began their daily inspection of the five slender boilers for leaks and other potential explosive problems once they reached their maximum pressure of 150 pounds per square inch. The other men onboard took the time to wash laundry and hang it wherever they could find a place dry and away from the belching smokestacks, others had their cane poles and were sitting on the bow, fishing to pass the time.

    "Cast Off!" Officer Young shouted to the men at the stern and the heavy anchor ropes were threaded through the capstan, steam was let in and the heavy anchors were slowly raised and stowed back on the ship's fantail. The Benton carried four total, besides the two on the stern two more were on the bow, each weighed 12.5 tons.

    The sailors fastened them down to the deck as the 888 ton ironclad slowly began to steam downriver, her tall funnels belching black smoke and sparks as she swung around the bend headed towards Riverside and the Mississippi. Once in the Mississippi Davie could pass the letters to a northbound ship to be delivered to Chicago.  The big ironclad moaned as she steamed south in the rushing current of the river as the water continued to drop. The land of Southern Louisiana was turning brown and parched from the heat. The crops that were far from the river already were turning brown, the corn stalks withering from no water. The wells were drying up as well, soon the people would have to dig deeper or search for water.

    "Conway, could I have a word with you for a moment?" Captain Hayes asked as he walked towards the tall brown haired teen standing on the roof of the Hurricane deck.

    "Yes, Captain Hayes?" The teen turned around and looked at the older man standing there with his blue eyes cast upon the river.

    "Last night I got word that the city of Natchez was being watched by a steam sloop and a mortar boat. So we're going to have to sneak by one way or the other. We're no match for a ship rated of 20 large guns. Our bow chaser would do nothing unless we got a lucky shot somewhere and a steam sloop is nothing like the ironclad we encountered. We will reach Riverside and the Mississippi in less than a hour. I have spoken with Captain King and the pilots.  They suggest we wait and make a night run past the city, but we got that damned ironclad steaming back down the Red on our tail, they laid waste to Alexandria yesterday according to the rider, nothing was left of the river defenses." Captain Hayes tugged at his brown beard as his mustache curled along his upper lip, his coat in his quarters and only the white linen one was buttoned up to his neck with his rubber suspenders holding up his gray trousers. A stranger wouldn't recognize him as officer but would think of the man as a private in his current state of dress. His officer's hat was tipped back on his forehead and the Southern sun glinted off the brass CSA on the brim.

    "Capt'n Hayes, we both know that we are making better time than that Yankee ironclad, we're lighter and have an advantage, we don't have several tons of iron weighing us down. We will reach Riverside hours before that iron monster, we're making eight knots to their four, six max maybe, plus the guns at Belle Bend did some damage to the wheel, I saw the damaged wood on the wheel house.  If we can make it to Riverside, stock up on dry wood, then hide in a shallow bayou out of sight until the ironclad passes, we may have a chance to escape and run past Natchez at night."

    Captain Hayes smiled and slapped Conway on the back, "Brilliant idea, son, just brilliant, let's go speak to Captain King and the pilots about it, shall we?"

    Conway and Captain Hayes walked towards the pilothouse, where Captain King and his two river pilots raced Miss Lou on at six knots, making sure they kept ahead of the USS BENTON as she steamed south in pursuit of the steamboat.

    "Ah, Captain Hayes, have you devised a plan to get us past that damned steam sloop guarding Natchez?" Captain King smiled, then furrowed his brow as if to go into a moment's thought.

    "Well, we got a plan but we don't know if it will work or not. Conway thought of it." Captain Hayes beamed.

    "Well now, my boy, let's hear this master plan!" Captain King spoke in a cheerful tone.

    "Sir, I figured if we could steam up into one of the bayous around Riverside or up into that other river aways a place where that iron beast can't follow and bank the fires, then cover as much of the boat as we can maybe then we could, using dry pine knots and using no lights, run past Natchez at night."

    "Hmmmm, it might just work. I know it is going to be a dark night with the way these clouds are looking. Pilots, what do ya'll think?"

    "Well, sir," pilot Williams spoke, "If we can get into one of the bayous it might work but remember we're taking about two feet more water than normal on this here trip plus we got that cannon on the bow that is anot'er 1000 pounds or so I reckon. If we steamed to a bayou that is dropping we might just get stuck and then will be in deep shit or worse yet, rip the bott'm clear out from under us. Wha' we could do is do a sounding on them if we get there in enough time to avoid the risk of putting the ole' girl on the bottom of some alligator infested swamp."

    "Very true, Mr. Williams, we need not to take any chances we don't have to for damned sure!"

    "You're very right, a sunk steamboat will not do you or the Confederacy one bit of good." Captain Hayes was leaning against the glass of the pilothouse as he reached for his pipe and smoking tobacco.

    "Conway, if you wish, go ahead and join your friends for awhile, I don't think we need 20 sentries on the hurricane roof."

    "Thank you, Captain Hayes." Conway saluted and walked out the door to the roof of the Texas deck, then to the ladder that led to the Hurricane deck roof. To Conway steamboats looked like wedding cakes on a raft with stairs and ladders weaving their way from one deck to the next. You had the wide broad stairs leading from the boiler deck to the Hurricane deck for the passengers, then the narrow stairs and ladders from the Hurricane deck to the Texas deck and the pilothouse perched high above on it for the crew members. The side wheeler continued to push forward, her bow cutting through the muddy waters and throwing the spray upon the deck where the 12 pounder poked her muzzle out front, it now was covered with canvas to keep the spray out of the barrel so the moisture would not dampen the power charge. Conway smiled, "I just left those two four hours ago and now he orders me back? Hmmm!" Conway smiled broader and skipped along the Hurricane a little faster, wondering what Michael and Jimmy were up to and in more ways than one. He climbed down the narrow ladder in front of the port wheel to the Hurricane deck promenade and walked around to the bow of the little steamer where he looked down over the bow to see what was going on.

    The two mud clerks were sitting away from everyone else with a deck of cards, playing poker while most of the deck hands were stretched out sleeping in the warm sun while the soldiers played cards or just sat around reading old newspapers, well the ones that could read anyway, while others slept as if they were on vacation, and Conway thought in many ways it was a vacation at the moment from the rough riding and days in the saddle, chasing after Yankees. He noticed the river as it began to spread out and grow wider as it flowed closer to the Mississippi and then as the small creeks flowed their crystal clear waters into those of the muddy Red. Conway walked away from the bow of the small steamer towards the entrance to the Hurricane deck saloon, also referred to as the dining hall and even by others as 'Cutthroat Alley' since it was the famous gathering place for all the gamblers between meals. He started whistling 'Dixie' as he walked through the doors and into the long cabin and along the saloon towards the cabin he was sharing with the most handsome boys he had seen so far in  gray. He smiled as 'gator' began to stir in his trousers as he thought of what he might find when he entered the cabin door. He saw Miss Ann White wave to him and he dipped his kepi in reply as he continued to whistle and walk closer to the cabin.

    "CAPT'N!, you might wanna see this!"

    "What you hollerin' about, private Lenny?"

    "There's a battleflag flapping tha' breeze over that hill there." The young man pointed to the north side of the river banks where the bluffs steepened greatly to form a natural defense.

    Captain Hayes pulled his English telescope from his breast coat and brought it up to his left eye and scanned the area that Lenny continued to point at like a man gone wild. "I see the damned flag, Lenny, calm down for Christ sake, damn, boy, you know what happens when you get excited."

    Lenny quit pointing and began to calm down, as he felt the fire rush to his cheeks as he blushed, he knew that he was just a kid in many ways and he saw it how the cap'n had took to those two new boys and heck they was younger than he was. Lenny Hawk was almost 21 years old with hair the color of rust and dark gray eyes and freckles that covered his face completely, making him look as if he had a permanent case of the chicken pox.

    "Captain, make way for the landing, I want to find out what size of force we have here since I have not heard of this area being defended in any report."

    "Aye, Captain Hayes!" He also wondered when this spot had been armed with men and cannon, since he never met another steamer with arms and munitions aboard.

    "Pilot, hard to shore!" Captain King shouted from the Hurricane roof where he had joined Captain Hayes and the excited private who had first spotted the Stars and Bars flying over the earthen embankment. "Sound the landing call..."

    "No, Capt'n, no whistle," Captain Hayes spoke as he pointed to the Napoleon on the bow.

    "Cancel the normal landing call, Capt'n Hayes plans to wake them up with the bow chaser!" King shouted to his pilots, who nodded back.

    "Sergeant Wells, FIRE THE SIGNAL GUN!" Captain Hayes shouted down to the boiler deck.

    Sergeant Wells walked over to the cannon and removed the canvas and the cork plug from the end of the barrel and then removed the leather covering from the vent and inserted a brass rod into the vent and punched the powder bag as he took the lanyard and friction primer from the cavalry man standing next to him on deck.  The gun crew was soon around him and removed the chocks from the wheels and tightened the recoil ropes as Wells pulled the lanyard tight and the men covered their ears.

    "FIRE IN THE HOLE!" Wells shouted as he pulled the lanyard. The 12 pounder Napoleon barked with a blast of smoke and fire from her muzzle as the solid 12 pound iron ball sailed through the air and landed 300 yards ahead in the muddy river.

    Conway was just about to open the cabin door when he heard the cannon fire, he turned quickly to run out the cabin and up the winding stairs to the Texas deck roof. He stopped just short of where Captain Hayes and King were standing and he saluted both.

    "Damned, lad, that was the quickest I have ever seen someone get from the saloon to the Texas Deck roof, you must have wings under that suit of gray!"

    "No sir, Captain King, I just heard the cannon fire and came to see what the trouble was," Conway said, still trying to catch his breath.

    Captain King once more turned and smiled when he saw an out of breath Michael stop and salute Captain Hayes.

    "Captain, Hayes, I swear those boys have wings beneath those coats."

    "Captain King, I believe they do too!" and laughed as the two boys just blushed.

    They heard a faint muffled drum roll from the bluff where the flag flapped in the hot summer breeze. Then orders being given to investigate the cannon that was fired.

    Captain Hayes saw gray figures in the sun and two bright specks as the officer in charge put his field glasses to his eyes.

    The captain stepped down, "Fire a signal in reply to the Friendly steamer!"

    "Yes, Sir, Captain!" The 24 pound siege gun was rolled into place and the number one gunner inserted the primer and grasped the lanyard.


    The gunner smartly yanked the lanyard and the big 24 pounder roared to life, echoing off the bluff and down to the river. The 24 pound ball whistled across the river to explode after ripping through a canvas target they had set up for gunnery range.

    "Not a bad shot!" Captain King smiled as Hayes just nodded in approval.

    "MAKE LANDING!" King called.

    A whistle blast answered his order, as the mud clerk ordered the gangplank to be lowered.

    "Com'on, boys, let's go meet the commander of this fort defending the Red!"

    Conway and Michael stepped in line behind Captain Hayes as they headed down to the boiler deck.

    "Give the commander my greetings."

    "Sure will, Captain King,". Hayes replied as he headed down the ladder with the two boys on his heels.

    ' I see who his favorites are.' Captain King thought as he watched his mud clerk doing what he did best, stand and shout orders in his Irish tainted voice. "For a Irishman he wasn't half bad!"

    Captain Hayes stepped off the gangplank into the thick wet mud of the riverbank, then began to climb the steep incline to the dirt, wood, and cotton bale fort. Conway and Michael followed and all were soon breathing hard as the Southern sun beat down upon them and the bluff blocked the cooling breeze from above. Michael and Conway both kept using their coarse sleeves of their uniform jackets to wipe the sweat and grime from their faces.

    The big bearded man looked down on the appoarching men, wiping the sweat from his eyes with a silk scarf given to him by his wife before he left Orangeburg, Kentucky and cast his lot with the South, now here he stood on a cotton bale fort defending the Red River. William Morris Hunt. The son of a tobacco planter, a third generation Kentuckian now in his 40th year of life on this earth with four sons and a loving wife at home.  A cousin in the Virginia Cavalry, and he a captain in the artillery, standing on the rampart of Fort De Russy.

    "Afternoon, Sir!" Hunt spoke, then saluted Isaac Hayes and the two young men behind him.

    "Good Afternoon, Captain. I am Captain Isaac Hayes, in charge of the Third Louisiana Cavalry and these two fine boys are Michael and Conway." Conway and Michael saluted the other officer.

    "Nice to meet you, my fellow comrades, I am Captain William Morris Hunt, commander of Fort De Russy."

    Captain Hayes and Hunt shook hands. "How many guns do you have in place, sir?" Hayes asked as he scanned the small cotton and earthen fort.

    "We have eight mounted so far, looking over the river frontage here, four 24 pound siege guns, two 32 pounders, and two 12 pound Napoleons. We also have a set of brass six pounders to guard the entrance. The question is how long will we have to wait before we find out what our guns can do against Yankee iron."

    "You will soon have your chance, Sir. A Yankee ironclad laid waste to Alexandria yesterday, the same one that sank the WABASH and bombed Belle Bend."

   "The USS BENTON?" Captain Hunt asked.

    "Yes, the BENTON, armed with thirteen large cannon, we know one is a 42 pound rifled gun and she is after gray bear." Captain Hayes spoke as he removed his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow before it could get into his eyes and start to sting.

    "How far away is the beast?" Hunt asked as he directed Captain Hayes, Michael, and Conway towards the tent and the shade trees.

    "Several hours at least behind us. Our gunners at Belle Bend did some damage to her paddlewheel and wheel house, that we know."

    "Capt'n, we know the beast is at least six hours behind us. Pardon for my interruption, Sirs," Conway spoke, then lowered his head for speaking out to a superior officer without being spoken to first.

    "'Tis ok, lad, I thank you for the valuable information and I know your Captain is proud to have such observant men in his company. Now chin up, lad, Conway, wasn't it?"

    Yes, Sir, and thank you, sir," Conway spoke, still standing stiff as an oaken board.

    "Conway and Michael are two of the best boys I have met and to think I signed them up onboard the MISS LOU not two days past." Captain Hayes smiled at the blushing youths.

    "I have noticed that Conway is from proud Louisiana stock by his voice and manners, and young Michael, where do you hail from, your accent is very Western but you do not act nor have the manners of  a Texan cowpoke." Captain Hunt removed his slouch hat with the left side pinned up against the top with a pheasant feather for a plume. On the front was an insignia of two crossed cannon barrels made of brass and shined like a mirror with CSA below it, signifying that he was a captain in the artillery.

    "Captain Hunt, Sir, I hail from Arizona Territory and, Sir, I hope my manners make me proud, otherwise my mother and father would be mighty sore at me tarnishing our family name."

    "Well, well, young Michael, I say you do your family proud with your manners and such proper speaking for a young man." Captain Hunt slapped Michael on the back. There was a crash close to the river bank and the men walked to the dirt parapet and looked over.

    "Come on, ya bloody scandrels, get those cottonwood trees sawed up there and get'em onboard this here steamer,"  Foster yelled at the top of his lungs while his corn cob pipe swung to the left as he shifted it with his tongue.  The black deckhands swung axes and the saws hummed as the soft cottonwood trees were cut to four foot lengths and thrown upon deck to others waiting to stack it by the boilers to dry while the Irish men used two- man saws to cut down live oak trees and sawed them to length.

    "Captain Hayes, may I offer you a drink while the steamboat men clear my line of sight?"

    "Why, certainly, sir," Captain Hayes replied.

    The two men and two boys walked back to the walled tent and the oak table sitting under the sprawling limbs of an oak tree.  The captains took their seats and Captain Hunt uncorked a dark brown glass bottle and reached for two tin mess cups and filled them with dark liquor. "Boys, there is a fresh water spring behind the fort, just follow the trail there that leads to it and y'all can freshen up while me and the captain talk politics."

    "Thank you, captain, Captain Hayes, may we have leave to fill our canteens and freshen up, Sir?" Conway asked.

    "Yes, you may, boys, be back in a  hour, I figure the steamboat will have had time to replenish their wood supply by then and we can be on our way. We still have Natchez to pass and that Yankee ship."

    "Thank you, Sirs!" Both boys saluted and then headed off down the tree lined path that led to the spring.

    "Fine lads those two are, looks as if they have been friends since they could walk upright."

    "Yes, William, those two boys are very close and I can see it in their eyes they would fight to the death to save the other one."

    "I can see that, Isaac, like some of my boys here, grew up right here on this river and they not about to see it fall to the enemy. We lost some mighty fine men at Alexandria, Capt'n Wood was one of them, he was my brother-in -law. My sister is with child, a child who now doesn't even have a father thanks to damned Yankees. I wonder how many more will die before one side or the other caves in and what did they all say, the war would be over after Manassas. That, my dear Sir, was just the beginning."

    Isaac tipped his cup to drain the last of the brandy from it and William was already pouring him another cup full before the empty could touch the scarred table. "Yes, one of my boys lost a brother at Manassas, but he is strong, he was hit by a musket ball at Belle Bend but Conway and Michael are letting him share their cabin. His  youngest brother Tob is like ten or eleven and is a fire-eater too. He's not old enough to know all the reasons but he knows why his older brothers went off to fight. He knows it is to defend their home and for freedom. Another toast, my dear captain, to the boys in gray and to the flag that stands for our new freedom."

    "For flag, home, and country." The two tin cups clanked together as the men of the artillery battery drilled and redrilled at their guns, each shot fired would be for those three things held high.

    "So, Isaac..... what have you heard about General Hood?" William smiled.

    "Not much, William, not much."

    "Are all your boys as close as the two that followed you to my humble fort?" William asked as he stuffed his pipe full of fresh tobacco and then passed the leather pouch to Isaac.

    "No, my dear captain, they are not, those two are special boys. They were already close when I signed them on to help me out the other day and from what I have learned, that was on the same day that they had met each other and the same day  I met them," Isaac said as he struck the sulfur match on the table and lit his pipe.


    Conway and Michael walked down the shady path as the bluff once more began its descent into the forest. They walked in the center to avoid the deep ruts caused by the heavy wagon wheels that brought the cannon and ammunition to the fort along with other building supplies and equipment. Once they were out of view from the men of the fort, Conway reached over and took Michael's hand into his as they walked along, silent at first, letting their eyes gaze from the beaten path to the towering live oaks, then to each other's eyes. This was the first time the boys had time alone since Jimmy joined them in Michael's cabin soon after the battle of Belle Bend, due partly to the wound in his arm and partly because Michael and Conway wanted the blond headed boy to join them, but they quickly learned three is one too many at times. They continued to walk and soon heard the sound of water flowing over rocks and the faint laughter of two boys having fun. They soon saw the twinkling of the clear water of the spring in the afternoon sunlight that broke through the leafy branches of the trees. The boyish laughter grew stronger as the sound of water rushing over rocks increased and they saw two uniforms of gray and a set of drums lying semi-hidden in the branches of some brush not far from the path. Conway looked to Michael and grinned. "Shall we take a peek?"

    Michael nodded and they eased from the path into the heavy brush and the leaf covered forest floor, trying to be as quiet as possible. Conway lowered his voice and spoke loudly, "Well, well, general, is this any way for our uniforms and equipment to be treated?"

    "No, my dear Sir, it is not the proper way to treat our uniforms, we should collect them and return them to the fort, they could be left by deserters."

    They both heard the low moans from the two boys in the water and a sharp voice on the verge of puberty break, "Wait, sirs, we're not deserters, we're drummers with the artillery!" Conway and Michael watched the two boys pull apart in the water, the spring flowed over a waterfall, forming a deep pool before continuing on to the river. Conway and Michael approached the edge and smiled at the two shocked boys who were now facing not a General and a Captain but two older and very handsome teens. Conway still had his hand on Michael's lower back and the two drummer boys noticed it and relaxed a little more as they floated in the crystal clear water of the pool in the sun, their young boyhoods still stiff under the water.

    "Hi, I am Conway and my dearest friend here is Michael," Conway spoke, never letting his eyes off the two naked boys in the pool and continued to rub Michael's lower back and the upper portion of his ass as the two boys just looked on.

    "Hi, I am Johnnie and my friend is Jordan," the older of the two boys spoke and the other meekly waved.

    "Looks like y'all have been practicing your drumsticks without your drums," Conway said and the two boys blushed. "Hell, it is ok, I know both of us do and we're not even drummers," Conway rubbed Michael's ass lower.

    Johnnie giggled, "Sir, is your hand really supposed to be that low on your friend's backside?"

    "In most normal conditions, no, but I see no harm or threat at the moment, if we hide your uniforms better so they can not be seen from the path."  Conway picked up the uniforms and Michael grabbed the two drums and moved them to a small depression leading into the pool but still keeping the highly polished wooden drums high and dry. "Much better." Conway replaced his hand before Michael had time to stand all the way back up and pinched the left cheek.

    "Ouch, what in the hell was that for, damn it!" Michael said as he took a playful swing at Conway's groin, stopping inches from actually hitting what was behind the coarse woolen fabric.

    "Why don't you two join us in the warm water?" Jordan asked in a meek voice.

    "Good idea, we have an hour to waste and there will be plenty of time to fill our canteens before we have to leave on the steamer."

    "Besides, the captain did say freshen up some," Michael said as he pinched Conway this time.

    "I think my dear friend is feeling frisky today." Conway ran his hand down the front of Michael's trousers as Johnnie and Jordan just stared on. Jordan kept his shining gray eyes on the two older boys as he moved closer to his friend Johnnie and placed his arms around the older brown headed boy and rested his head on his friend's shoulder. "Now that is just so romantic, ain't it, Michael," Conway said and pointed using his free hand. Michael nodded back, never letting his hand off Conway's handsome ass. Conway turned towards Michael and planted a kiss on Michael's lips as their captive audience watched from the water. Conway started to unbutton Michael's jacket while Michael reached for the brass buttons on Conway's.

    Jordan and Johnnie watched, their eyes riveted to the older teens on the bank who were now shirtless and were bending over to unlace their shoes. Jordan stuck his tongue out and began to run it around Johnnie's ear lobe, causing him to jump and press back into Jordan and his hard boyhood. "You little devil, you know how that tickles."

    "I know and I like to watch you jump,." Jordan whispered.  "Hmm, they must be having fun undressing each other, look how slow they are, still got their trousers and linens on."

    " I might be stupid but those two are lovers, just look at them stealing kisses and on the mouth too."

    "Something we never tried," Jordan said as he continued to run his tongue around the right ear lobe of his friend.

    "No, something we have not tried yet," Johnnie replied, pushing his round firm ass into the protruding member of his friend.

    "Maybe we can learn something from those two love birds on the bank," Jordan whispered as he watched the woolen trousers fall to the ground as Michael and Conway continued their undressing ritual.

    "Michael, are the two babies still watching us undress?"

    "Yeah, they are and they are whispering to each other."

    "Hmm, I wonder what they are saying."

    "Dunno, maybe they are talking about your fine ass that they are about to see once I pull this string." Michael grabbed the string and pulled and the linen underwear fell to the ground to join the rest of Conway's clothes, now Micheal was the only one holding secrets among the two in the water. They heard a gasp coming from the pool and Michael smiled, "if they like your ass, they going to faint when they see gator."

    "Well then, I will just have to hide him behind your fine ass till we reach the water so we can catch them when they fall." Conway shielded his groin and stepped behind Michael just as he pulled the draw string on Michael's underwear, exposing his half hardened member to Johnnie and Jordan.

    "You dirty little bastard!" Micheal said as he tried to expose Conway, but Conway had him by the shoulders.

    "I am a dirty little bastard, huh, well, gator ain't so little," as he pressed his groin into Michael's ass crack, forcing Michael down the bank and into the cold water.

    "Bloody fucking murder, this water is cold!" Michael said as his lower body disappeared in the crystal water and Johnnie and Jordan burst into giggles.

    "No, shit, it is cold, and I am going to get two little love birds for laughing at us. Com'on, Michael, you grab Jordan, I got Johnnie!"

    Johnnie and Jordan didn't know what to do, their feet barely touching the smooth limestone of the pool's bottom, they began to move but too late both boys felt strong hands and arms encircle their chests and the cocks of the two older boys pressing against their asses as their feet were lifted from the bottom.

    "O' shit!" both moaned as they felt their friendly captors tote them to a rock outcropping in the sun and sit them down.

    "Such smooth babies, Michael, not a hair on on their chests and smooth asses too."

    "Yes, they are, my friend, smooth little baby boys having fun in the water till we showed up. I wonder what we interrupted." Michael sat Jordan down on the rock and held on to the boy with his arm still wrapped around the small flawless chest. Conway did the same with Johnnie and he for the first time got a chance to see Conway's soft uncut teenhood.

    "Wow, Jordan, I hope mine continues to grow, look at Conway's snake and it is not even hard."

    Jordan looked over and let out a gasp and felt his own five incher give a lurch as he looked at Conway's and Michael's cocks.

    "I think they like what they see, Conway." Michael rubbed his hand over Jordan's smooth back as the boy almost purred like a kitten. Michael noticed Johnnie get the identical attention that he was giving Jordan and both boys' cocks were beginning to awaken, their pinkish heads pushing at the foreskin that covered them.

    "I do believe that they are enjoying our attention to them and their cute bodies." Conway brought his hand around and began to rub the pink dime-sized nipples on Johnnie's chest as the boy sighed and leaned back on his arms, letting the sun wash over him as this handsome teen who he barely knew worshiped his still growing body. "Michael, let Jordan lay by Johnnie, that way we can gaze over them and still have each other in sight. I do believe we can teach  the boys some lessons as well."

    Michael picked up Jordan's thin frame and lifted him up and over his own body and laid him down like a baby next to Johnnie, then he took his hands and began to massage Jordan's upper body, running his fingers down the smooth chest to the flat stomach that was beginning to show some muscle tone as the last of the baby fat was vanishing. Conway was giving Johnnie's small body equal attention as the four lay in the sun. Jordan reached over to grab Johnnie's five inch boyhood and slowly stroke the member.

    "Umm, Jordan, that feels so good," Johnnie moaned as Conway lightly pinched his nipples and Jordan's hand rubbing his cock, he watched his pinkish head become exposed, then vanish again under his friend's hand.

    "Michael, should we let him experience what feels even better than a friendly hand?" Conway asked as he ran his fingers down Johnnie's chest and stomach and then skipped over Jordan's hand to rub the area below Johnnie's tight balls to the tight pinkish hole.  Johnnie arched his back when he felt the fingers brush his tight asshole. The fourteen year old's mind wheeled, never had he felt so many hands on his body and his most private parts. Jordan was the only one to ever touch him before now and they had only touched each other's cocks, never each other's holes. Johnnie's breath was becoming shorter with each touch, each probe of a friend's finger or hand.

    "Conway, I think we better slow down or we going to have a boiler explosion and the rest of us will be left high and dry, if you know what I mean," Michael said as he grabbed Jordan's hand from his friend's hard boymeat.

    "So what do you have in mind, Michael?" Johnnie asked as he sat up and looked at his new friends and Jordan who now had his hand around Johnnie's waist, his boywood wagging in the breeze as he caught his breath and took Jordan's hand in his own.

    "Yeah, Mike, what do you have in your dirty mind to teach these innocent cherries?" Conway asked as he slid into the cold clear water, his 12 inch cock leading the way, the foreskin still most covering the dark head as he moved towards Michael.

    "I dunno, what do you have planned for the cute cherries in the summer sun, my love?" Michael asked as he rubbed his hand up and down his own hard eight inch shaft, pulling the foreskin back to reveal the glistening head that was covered with pre-cum. Johnnie and Jordan watched, they had never seen a cock as big as Michael's or Conway's. Johnnie reached over and started playing with Jordan's nipples as he watched Conway approach Michael. Conway and Michael drew close as Conway slipped between Michael's spread legs and rubbed his nose against Michael's.

    "I really love you, Michael Hunter. I hope nothing tears us apart, not this damned war, not time and not age. I have never had a friend as close as you or loved someone as much after I lost my parents but this love is different, deeper and stronger, stronger than Napolean's French Empire, stronger than the storm currents of the Mighty Mississippi River...."

    Jordan and Johnnie listened close and held onto each other as they realized this kind of love did go past the boundaries of friendship, it could go deeper than a boy loving a girl, just as deep as what they see when with their parents.

    "Conway James, I love you too, more than anything in this world. Kiss me, you damned love struck boy!" Michael pulled Conway into his arms as their lips touched, Johnnie and Jordan could almost see the sparks fly, their tongues danced in front of the two younger boys as they watched with open mouths, their hands laced together and their boyhoods pulsing with every beat of their young hearts.

    Conway was pressed against Michael, their rock hard cocks crossed like dueling swords as their tongues danced. Michael would pull back and Conway's tongue would follow as Michael's hands freely roamed the two almost hairless globes of Conway's rounded ass and Conway's hands tousled Michael's short brown hair.

    "O' wow, they hotter than a Mississippi Gambler on a winning streak," Jordan whispered in Johnnie's ear.

    "Yeah, they are and having all the fun, look at them two," Johnnie said as he turned to face his friend, his green eyes twinkling.

    "Wanna try it?" Jordan asked as he turned Johnnie's face to face his.

    "Try what?" Johnnie asked as he moved closer to Jordan.

    "This," Jordan leaned in and planted a soft kiss on Johnnie's pink lips. Johnnie let out a soft moan as his lips made contact with his friend's. 'Not bad at all,' he thought as he pressed his lips back against Jordan's after he tried to pull away.

    "O' no, you don't," Johnnie wrapped his arms around Jordan's neck and pulled the boy back in close to him and rubbed his nose against Jordan's. "I liked it and I want more."

    "You did? You Do?"


    Hello, my Dear and Loyal readers, Here it is finally, chapter 13 of No Greater Love, the chapter that has taken the longest of any so far. My excuse for taking so long, well life sorta got in the way and my health. Last November I spent almost a month touring the Northeast, leaving MS on November 4th early in the morning heading towards Chattanooga, then on to Virginia and Maryland where I toured Sharpsburg and Harper's Ferry WV. Then to Gettysburg where I walked Pickett's charge and stood where so many did that hot July afternoon before the deadly Union guns. I felt at peace as I walked those fields where so many died and where our history was changed forever. From Gettysburg it was to Altoona, PA to the National Railroaders Musuem. A place I have always wanted to visit. A friend from Long Island, New York was amazed when we first started talking and he learned one of my favorite Railroads was the PENNSYLVANIA Railroad. "Standard of the World in her heyday, the 1950's, with her bold Keystone that seemed to say 'I helped to make America Great'. Then Willy and I headed to the famous Horseshoe Curve where we watched modern day diesels growl and whine as they pulled their trains up and over the mountains headed East or West, still carrying on the tradition of the PENNSYLVANIA. The next day we were in Scranton at Steamtown USA, the National park dedicated to American Railroaders, it was quiet as the cold north wind ripped through the mountain valley and I shivered in awe and from the cold but it didnt stop me from taking as many pictures as I could before my fingers went numb and I went in search of heat, including a shot of the largest steam locomotive ever built, the Union Pacific Big Boy, a 4-8-8-4 and a old beat up Illinois Central Consolidation. >From Scranton we continued North to West Point, New York where we visited the West Point Museum and then on to Hartford, CT through the Hudson Valley, where we met up with Justin Case and his wonderful family. After a day of needed rest, we headed to Boston, MA. where I got to see with my own eyes my favorite ship in the US Navy, OLD IRONSIDES, even tho' she was closed due to the Bastardly attacks on September 11th It was still a grand sight to see such a proud symbol of our freedom and our nation and to be able to look out across the harbor and imagine the English ships riding at anchor the night of the Boston Tea Party or the British men O' war blockading the harbor. So much history in one place and such cold ass wind that seemed to freeze me to the bone. Now I understand why the North refer us Southerners as Hot Blooded! From Boston we headed back to Hartford for one more day then early the next morning we were headed south to Richmond, Virginia to visit our friend Joe and his son Joey While there we drove up to Baltimore, Maryland to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum. I was in heaven to walk through the first railroad station built in North America and to see so many of the early steam engines and cars on to the most modern and the last Steam engine built for a North American Railroad by Baldwin Locomotive Works. We also visited Manassas Battlefield also known as Bull Run to y'all north of the Mason-Dixon line. The next leg of my journey was to Orangeburg, South Carolina as Willy returned North to spend a few more days with Joe. The first night in Orangeburg I was whisked away with my friends to the bar to watch one of our friends dance and for me to get almost totally wasted drinking White Russians. On Monday I found myself among company with my friends headed for Charleston and Fort Sumter. We toured the famous Battery along the waterfront looking out over the harbor towards Fort Sumter and the stately old homes that  have stood the test of war and time. We arrived at the Ferry site and we entered the ticket area where we got our boarding passes. I was in for a nice surprise as a High School group boarded with us, so nice to be able to admire youth and history at the same time. I could have not asked for a better day, it was warm and sunny as we boarded and pulled out into the channel past the Carrier Yorktown #2 to feel the salty air in my face and to breathe it in my lungs as we rode to Fort Sumter, passing Fort Moultrie. I spent Thanksgiving in Orangeburg with my adopted family which I love as much as my own mother, father, and little sister. I found myself back home right before December and I was busy up on the railroad most of that time while a sore on my foot became worse and then on Christmas afternoon my grandmother on my father's side passed away at 79.  Which darkened the day, I was at home with my bum foot and was not there with with my parents when she passed on. I seemed to know it as i woke up the very moment mom said that she drew her last breath. January started off with a blast, I went to the club on New Years Eve with my friend Joe and we stayed out all night. Then I went to the doctor with my foot and have been grounded since due to the infection and it not healing. Well, sheese, I guess I better stop with the End Notes, hehe.

I would like to thank Ed for his work on editing this story for me, thanks so much my friend.
I would like to also thank my many friends for keeping the fires kindled during these dark days at times.

I hope you enjoy the chapter

Stephen W.

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