"The congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That the president be, and he is hereby authorized to commission such officers as he may deem proper with authority to form bands of Partisan Rangers, in companies, battalions, or regiments, to be composed of such members as the President may approve."
Section 1 of the Partisan Ranger Act, passed by the Confederate Congress, April 21, 1862
The sky was still dark over the open plains of Kansas when the Cruzados Territoriales reached Mount Oread. Twenty-seven expert riders, armed to the teeth and led by a woman who'd already gained a reputation as one of the toughest and most cunning bushwhackers in the border wars. Charity North had travelled the 800 miles from New Mexico with only 12 men to fight Yankees, but her reputation quickly brought others under her command. Among the bushwhackers and jayhawkers of "Bleeding Kansas", the Cruzados Territoriales were among the most feared, and the most respected.
As they rode into the temporary camp of William Quantrill, dozens of guerrillas looked up and watched them pass by. Charity North was the only woman to command a troop in Kansas or Missouri, so there was no mistaking her group as they rode up to Quantrill's tent.
Quantrill looked up from his makeshift desk at the rows of snorting horses outside. The leader sat on a big black mare with head turned down. The broad-brimmed hat hid her face, the oversized gray coat disguised her physique, but there was no mistaking the jet-black hair reaching almost to her waist.
As William Quantrill stepped out of his tent, the man to Charity's right climbed down from his horse and took hold of her reins. The man stood at attention, staring straight ahead, directly through Quantrill.
The guerrilla chieftain felt himself stiffen, reaching across his chest to straighten the dusty gray uniform of a Confederate captain. Feeling more presentable now, he removed his hat to the lady.
Her right hand gripped the saddle horn as she swept her coattails back. Quantrill's eyes were drawn to the turquoise ring on her finger, as well as the pair of Colt Dragoon revolvers in pommel holsters on either side of the saddle horn. She swung her leg over the saddle. With a jingling of spurs, her boots came to rest in the grass.
Quantrill cleared his throat. "Welcome to Mount Oread. I'm Captain William Quantrill."
The turquoise ring flashed as she swept her hat off with a flourish. "Pleasure," she said in a silvery voice with a light Spanish accent. "My name is Charity North, commander of the Cruzados Territoriales, out of the New Mexico Territory. We heard you needed fighters."
Quantrill nodded. "We're proud to have you join us. Today we will strike a great blow for the Confederacy. In fact, I'm just about to address my officers in preparation for the battle." He motioned toward his tent, where several other guerrillas stood gathered around the desk, where Charity noticed a map of the area.
She turned to the man holding her horse, giving quick instructions in Spanish. He nodded and, remounting his horse, he turned and led the group in single file to the edge of the camp, where they dismounted and quietly prepared their breakfast, ignoring the more than 400 other bushwhackers in the camp.
Inside the tent, Quantrill pointed to an 'X' on the map. His other hand pointed northeast across the plain, where a few scattered lights glowed against the still-dark sky. "Lawrence sits less than two miles from us. We are gathered here to strike a blow against the stronghold of the Jayhawkers and Union sympathizers, the blue-coat oppressors. And we are here for revenge."
He looked around at the circle of faces. His commanders, George M. Todd and William Anderson, known as Bloody Bill for his ruthless effectiveness, Charity North and a half dozen others. All commanders of their own units, all gathered here to bring down destruction on the town that had brought so much trouble to their cause.
"Yes, revenge," he continued. "Revenge for the women unjustly imprisoned in Lawrence, merely for sympathizing with us. Women killed or maimed when the prison—which was known to be unsafe—collapsed and crushed those inside." He placed a hand on the shoulder of Bloody Bill. "Revenge for your sister Josephine. Only fifteen years old."
Charity, usually so calm, felt her blood boil as she thought of the injustice. The Jayhawkers would pay, that much was certain. Every last one of them.
Quantrill laid a sheet of paper over the map. Charity saw a long list of names. "These are the ringleaders of the Unionists," Quantrill continued. "These names take priority. Now, according to reports, there are 500 fighting men in the town. We have approximately 450, so we will be outnumbered, and they will have the defensive advantage. However, we will have the advantage of surprise, and—with God on our side—I am confident we can mete out justice."
Murmurs and nods met this declaration. Everyone there was ready to go to war. Quantrill smiled grimly as he looked around at the circle of eager faces. He was the oldest one here at 26 years old, with the majority of those under his command being even younger. Yet every last one was an experienced fighter, able to ride and shoot with the best soldiers on the frontier.
Quantrill folded the map and set his hat back on his head. "We ride out as soon as you can form up your troops."
* * *
Charity ate a piece of cold bacon slowly, turning a piece of cornbread over in her other hand as she squatted on the ground next to her horse. Her Springfield 1847 Musketoon lay on the ground in front of her. The gun was mostly useless, especially compared to her massive horse pistols, but she had poured in the powder and loaded the .69 caliber ball anyway. Finishing her breakfast, she stood up and slid the Musketoon back into its scabbard.
She still remembered the first time she had killed. In a mad rage, desperate for revenge, she had unleashed hell in New Mexico, killing a judge and seven deputies who had been sent to take her. Only 16 at the time, she had certainly gotten her revenge, but the blood she had spilled had eaten away at her soul ever since. Her actions had forced her to leave the territory and her younger sister behind, but what she had done had continued to haunt her.
The war had offered her some relief. Here was a chance to wash away her crimes. A chance to atone for her youthful mistakes. This was a cause she could fight for: the independence of the Confederacy. Every drop of blood she spilled now would have meaning beyond her own personal revenge. That was what she had told herself as she led her men across Kansas and Missouri, striking at Union soldiers and Northern guerrillas. This war had meaning.
Quantrill had spoken of taking revenge on Lawrence, but what did he know of revenge? Charity knew all too well, and this would not be revenge. This was justice. Murder had been committed, and not like hers, either. She had killed grown men—armed and in greater numbers. The people of Lawrence had imprisoned the helpless in harsh conditions that eventually led to their deaths. No, this wasn't revenge: it was justice.
Her horse was grazing peacefully. Charity smiled as she watched the grass disappear into the grinding teeth. If the black mare knew what was about to happen, she clearly didn't care. Charity ran a hand through the sleek black coat. Relampago was one of the finest horses on the frontier. Neither storms nor gunfire could frighten her.
Charity hefted her saddle onto the mare's back, silently cinching down the straps and checking her revolvers. The Musketoon in its scabbard rode on the left side, next to the saddlebags. Like the men she led, Charity traveled light: food, ammunition, and a canteen of water. Her powder horn hung over her shoulder, while a bandoleer across her chest held a long knife and a case of ammunition.
She looked to her men from beneath her black hat. Danger lurked in her brown eyes. Every man there—twenty-seven strong—watched her, waiting for the order. Each one was ready to kill or die for her. That knowledge filled her with confidence; that responsibility weighed on her heart.
The first dim rays of sunlight were just beginning to color the sky over Lawrence. Bloody Bill Anderson sat on his horse at the head of his men, a Spencer carbine in his hand. A broad smile lit up his face, as he ran his free hand through his wild black hair and placed his hat atop his head. The dim light cast long shadows over his features, and reflected off the gleam in his eyes.
Charity knew a killer when she saw one. She turned away and pulled her hat down lower over her eyes. They would need killers if they were to defeat the 500 men of Lawrence.
Quantrill climbed into the saddle and looked over the ranks of irregular troops. He smiled, anticipation and pride mingling in his boyish features. He turned first to Bloody Bill, then to Charity as she rode to the front of her men.
He took up the reins and waved forward. The assault on Lawrence, Kansas was about to begin.
Charity smiled as her horse broke into a trot. Dust rose into the air beneath the hooves of 450 horses as they rode into the early morning. She could see the roofs of Lawrence. She would be there soon enough, bringing justice to the enemy.
* * *
Smoke stung her nostrils; ash coated her face. The echoes of the dead and the cries of the dying filled her ears. Lawrence was in flames.
Charity sat on her horse, gazing around her in horrified silence. Her Dragoon revolvers were both empty in the holsters, but she held her backup guns—a pair of 1860 Army Colts—with white knuckles. Where were the 500 armed defenders she had been promised?
A guerrilla's horse charged wildly past her, minus a rider. At least someone was fighting back. But this still wasn't war, this wasn't the justice she wanted. This was exactly what Quantrill said it was: revenge.
There was a body on the porch of a once-beautiful home. The house was now riddled with bullets, and so was the body. Blood ran off the deck boards and into the street. A half-dressed man charged from the house next door as the fire spread from building to building. His eyes were wild, he yelled something Charity couldn't understand.
But she could understand the way his hands gripped the old musket as he pointed the bayonet at her, and she could see the uneven tread that carried him toward her. She wondered if the musket was even loaded. He charged toward her.
The revolver in her left hand leveled with his torso and fired, one gunshot in the chorus that echoed throughout the city. She could still see the man behind the burst of smoke, staggering toward her in spite of the hole in his chest. He pulled back the hammer on the musket, the flames reflecting off the long blade of the bayonet, off the wild look in his eyes.
The revolver in her right hand boomed.
The man fell to the ground, bayonet stabbing the dirt uselessly. He lay unmoving, mere feet in front of her. Blood ran from beneath him until it reached Relampago's hooves.
She turned, guiding the horse around the body and up the street. She still held both revolvers at the ready. This wasn't better than what she had done in New Mexico: it was far worse. The stories she'd read as a child had lied; there was no honor in war. War was so much worse than revenge. At least in New Mexico she had known who she killed—and why. This was a slaughter, surrounded by dead faces she didn't even know.
At the end of the street, she looked over and saw Jacob Turnbull, her right hand man. He had dismounted, and was crouched over the body of a young boy. Tears streamed down his face and onto that of the child, killed in his night clothes on the steps of his own home. By Quantrill's standards, the boy was old enough to hold a gun, and therefore old enough to die.
Turnbull looked up at her. He made no attempt to brush away his tears; for the first time in his life, his anguish was greater than his pride. His revolver lay on the ground beside him, and the body of a bushwhacker lay on the other side of the child. Charity recognized it as one of Bloody Bill's men. He had shot the boy, and Turnbull had killed him for it.
She stepped down from her horse, hands shaking as she held her guns. Turnbull had shot one of their own, a crime punishable by death. But what punishment would the other man have faced if not at Turnbull's hands? This was war then, killing the enemy before they had a chance to kill you.
She tucked one of the revolvers into her belt, and put a hand on Turnbull's shoulder. He was sobbing, his cries shaking his burly frame as if he were only a child himself. Charity pushed her own grief down, down deeper than she thought was possible. She chose to feel nothing as she let him cry.
"We need to leave, Jake," she said softly. "Vamanos."
He nodded, the tremor in his shoulders subsiding. With blood on his hand, he picked up his revolver and stood up. Charity looked him in the eyes for a moment. He seemed to regain his composure, standing up straight under her gaze.
"I'm ready, Captain."
* * *
Tension lay over the camp like a fog, or like the smoke cloud that hung over the remains of Lawrence. Charity wasn't the only one who had ridden in expecting a battle and found a bloodbath instead. Many were angry with the leaders for what they had been dragged into. On the opposite side, many of the raiders had participated wholesale in the slaughter and plundered the town for whatever they could find. They resented the fact that there hadn't been time to carry more loot away, and they resented the cold looks the others gave them.
Quantrill himself sat at his desk, unsure how to handle the rift he could see growing through the men under his command. Bloody Bill had led the worst of the carnage, but there was no way Quantrill could rebuke him for it. Anyone else maybe, but not Bloody Bill. He needed him, and he needed his men. Much as the others might not like their methods, they were effective. And there was still more fighting to be done.
Pushing the present discontent and the actions of the morning to the back of his mind, Quantrill turned his thoughts to the map laid open in front of him. There would be retaliation for this attack, of that much he was certain. They would have to move quickly, disappearing into the wild country to strike again another day.
The Cruzados Territoriales tended to their horses at the edge of camp. They were the only group among Quantrill's raiders that had abstained completely from taking any loot from the town, although they had seized a small number of weapons which they had turned over to the commanders. Their own commander was noticeably absent, riding around the city with Turnbull to survey the damage. Even in her absence, her men went about their business as usual, completely ignoring anyone else in the camp.
They all looked up and began collecting their gear suddenly.
Eyes in the camp turned to the plains between Mount Oread and Lawrence. Two figures on black horses were returning to the guerrillas' camp. It was Charity North and Jacob Turnbull. Their horses loped along as they leaned back in the saddle. A smile turned Charity's lips upward.
Seeing the smile, the Cruzados began saddling their mounts.
The two riders passed silently through the camp. Raiders moved to the side to let them through, all the way to Quantrill's desk. The tents had already been struck in preparation for the move, so the leader of the irregular army sat under the open sky, tinged red with the fires consuming Lawrence.
Charity stopped her horse and Turnbull took the reins. Just as she had done only a few hours before, she swept back her coattails and stepped down in front of Captain Quantrill.
He looked up. "Glad to see you back. How—"
"I'm here to collect my men. And to wish you the best of luck," she added.
Her black hat hid her eyes, but something in her tone sent chills down Quantrill's spine. As before, he found himself straightening his coat. Even if he couldn't see her eyes, he was certain he could feel them burning into him. "You're leaving?" he asked, doing his best to keep his voice steady.
She nodded. "You called us here to take Lawrence. Lawrence is taken."
He had to agree. "The Confederacy thanks you for your services today. This has been a great victory for . . . "
Charity looked up. Quantrill's voice faded away beneath her glare. "I want you to listen to me very carefully, Mr. Quantrill."
As she stepped forward, face to face with the commander, Bloody Bill put a hand on his .44. Turnbull immediately drew, pointing his own revolver at the bushwhacker's chest. A concerned murmur ran through the audience, followed by a hushed silence.
Charity kept her eyes locked on Quantrill as if nothing had happened. "You and your dogs have violated the ethics of true warriors. The world would be a better place without you."
Bloody Bill's fingers twitched near his revolver. Turnbull didn't even blink, his own gun still even with Anderson's chest. The crowd parted as the Cruzados rode up to the edge of the ring.
Charity waited for the commotion to subside before she continued. "However, I do have a sense of honor. Earned through hard work and sacrifice, and I won't blemish that honor by killing you and your men. You and I will both continue to serve the Confederacy. Separately. My men will never ride for you again, Mr. Quantrill."
She stepped back and remounted, taking the reins from Turnbull. Her men turned their horses, pushing Quantrill's raiders out of the way as they prepared to leave. Only when Charity had moved back and was flanked on either side by her followers did Turnbull re-holster his weapon and turn away from Bloody Bill.
Quantrill stood seemingly fixed to the earth as he watched Charity and her men ride out of the camp. He wanted to say something, to somehow remind everyone that he was the dominant commander. However, nothing came to mind. And before he knew it, the Cruzados Territoriales were gone.
* * *
Charity leaned back against her saddle. With red dirt beneath her, she looked up at the Texas stars. The war had been over for three years, but her thoughts still drifted back. Back to Lawrence, Kansas. She hadn't realized it then, but she could see it plainly now. She could never be the same after what had happened that day in August of '63. She had tried her hardest to be a soldier, but she wasn't. Still a warrior perhaps, but not a soldier. The defeat of the Confederacy had settled that once and for all. Her rank and uniform, the cause she had fought for . . . everything just gone. Meaningless.
So now, laying under these stars, she understood what she really was. The only thing she could ever be now. She was an outlaw. A renegade, with all pretense stripped away. There was nothing to fight for, but fight she would. She looked around at the men sleeping around the campfire, and the others keeping watch. She would never fight for a country again, or for a cause. But she would fight for them. The men who had stood by her through it all. Her brothers in arms, who had seen the same horrors she had seen, and come out alive. With their country gone, not one of them had a penny to their name. There was no legal way for them to survive in an occupied state. But they had all learned to live outside the law already.
Her sister lay on the ground next to her. Too young when the war began, but old enough to fight now. Charity had led her men on many missions since the war had ended, but this would be young Maria's first.
"Roth," she said suddenly. "Wake up the men. And that Yankee you brought along too. We ride out at daybreak."
They were in the saddle less than a half hour later. There were seven of them riding that day; the others Charity had sent on ahead to New Mexico. This was to be their last mission in Texas. She rode in the lead, Turnbull on her right, Maria on her left. Nigel Roth rode directly behind them, with Jonas Farragut beside him. Apart from Maria, Farragut was the only one who hadn't served under Charity's command in the war. In fact, he was actually a Yankee, but he was a good hand with a Sharps or a revolver, and Charity had come to trust him. Bringing up the rear were Reb O'Lory and Bill Destry, both steady hands.
A few hours later, a stagecoach pulled to an abrupt halt as masked figures appeared from all sides, holding rifles. With a Colt Dragoon to his head, the driver gave up the strongbox. Not a shot was fired that day. But the seven outlaws left the stage with their saddlebags full of gold that had been claimed by the carpetbaggers. They rode out under Charity's command, heading west. Westward to new opportunities, and new frontiers.