I was always a believer in karma. I often wondered how that incident from years ago would come back to haunt me. In a way, I felt like King David. One thing was for certain - I was tired of the anticipation. I was ready for it to be over no matter the cost. I wanted this beast gone.
Thursday, October 13, 1864
It was late afternoon when we rode into Talbotton, GA. We had been riding through the countryside admiring the changing colors of the trees and bright white cotton fields. The cool air brought by the fall season was a great relief.
I did not plan to stay in town long so I directed both of my lieutenants to keep pushing the cavalry column through the main street. People in this war weary town lined the road just to get a glimpse of my soldiers. As I watched my troops, a man wearing a fine suit and top hat approached me on horseback.
He spoke first, "Good evening sir. Welcome to Talbotton. My name is James Persons. I serve on the city council. Where, may I ask, are you boys from?"
I replied, "We are from Micanopy, FL. I'm Captain Cantwell, but everyone calls me Dave. This is the 'Micanopy Mounted Company.'"
"You boys are a long way from home, but we're glad to have you here," Councilman Persons said. "Many people in town have been uneasy since Atlanta fell to the Union. Everyone is concerned that Sherman will march south - our way. I think the site of soldiers may put some of the town folk at ease. Are you just passing through or do you plan to set up camp here?"
"I have orders to meet a supply train here before we join up with forces south of Atlanta. I would like to head a little further up the road just outside of town," I replied. "I want to make sure my men stay out of trouble. Do you know of a good area north of town where we can set up camp?"
"I have a ranch a few miles north of here. You are welcome to stay there if you would like," Councilman Persons replied. "I should warn you though. I raise sheep, so its not one of the best smelling places on God's green Earth."
We laughed and I thanked Councilman Persons for his generosity. I called my lieutenants over and he gave us directions to the ranch so we could set up camp. They saluted and went back to work directing the company. It was getting late and I could see the moon beginning to rise. It was about full.
As I watched the end of the column come near, I noticed several familiar faces from my past. I couldn't believe it. It was Elizabeth Baron. She was riding in a small buggy with her father and brothers trailing behind on horseback. Mr. Baron and his sons must have avoided the draft by paying soldiers to fight on their behalf. I wanted to disappear into the cavalry column with the rest of the men, but I knew it was impossible. Try blending in with a captain's double-breasted cavalry jacket and an all-yellow kepi. Elizabeth and her father finally noticed me and approached.
Elizabeth spoke first, "Hello Dave. It has been a long time. I'm glad to see you are doing well." Elizabeth never hinted at the incident from years ago.
"Thank you Elizabeth," I said as I tipped my hat. "I'm glad to see you are all faring well despite the war—"
Mr. Baron interrupted me, "I'm surprised to see you here Dave. I would have thought that a man like you—with your father's connections—would be serving as a staff officer in Lee's army."
"My father and I are not speaking at this time," I responded.
"I'm not surprised," Mr. Baron said. "If I had a son who—" " Elizabeth's brothers began to shift in their saddles.
Elizabeth took over the conversation, "Father—"please. We do not have time for this. We're running late. We should have been home over an hour ago." Elizabeth looked back at me, "Good luck Dave."
With the awkward situation over, we parted ways.
Thursday Night, October 13, 1864
When I arrived at the ranch, my company had already set up camp and started their duties. A couple of the soldiers had set up my tent and hung our company's flag above the entrance. Our flag was modeled after the Confederate stars and bars. We had placed the name of our company inside the white bar and put a picture of the territorial seal of Florida in the center of the circle of eleven stars. The design for the seal came from my militia jacket from the Third Seminole War. When I transferred the buttons to my new jacket in '61, my company took note and agreed unanimously that the symbol needed to appear on our flag.
In a way, our flag symbolized our ordeal. We were limited in supplies and we had to use whatever was available. That's why this stop in Talbotton was so important. We needed those supply wagons before we could join up with forces north of us. Our ammunition was low, our clothing barely resembled uniforms, and we needed rations.
Despite the shortages, the morale of the men was high. I could tell they were antsy. They had no way of knowing what fate awaited them in north Georgia. Any other year, they would be preparing for a festive All Hallowe'en. Up until a few weeks ago, we had served as a home guard unit. We mainly patrolled our local area for Union troops and guarded cattle shipments heading north to feed other troops. We never participated in any major engagements other than a couple of minor skirmishes.
After I took care of my horse, Levy, I settled into my tent. I took my jacket and kepi off and placed them on the table. I looked at my pocket watch. It was late—11:00 PM. I put my pocket watch away and lay back on my cot with my hands behind my head. As I gazed at the roof of my tent, I began to think about Elizabeth. I thought about our wedding.
It was early October 1855 when I arrived back in Apalachicola, FL. I met my sweetheart right outside the church that night just like we had agreed. It was about midnight. We had to be careful because I knew my father would find us easily. He owned several plantations and a large shipping company in town. These operations allowed him to set up connections in Tallahassee and across the Panhandle. He knew everything that occurred in the state. It was a wonder that we found a minister to marry us, but he could tell we were in love and he was more concerned about our happiness. The minister never mentioned a word of the wedding to my folks. After the ceremony, we took our bags and headed to the docks.
We moved quickly. My family was out of town and it was about 1 AM, so we had less of a chance of being recognized by someone. I managed to find a Scottish captain who was preparing to leave port. He had taken on a load of cotton and was heading for Europe. He agreed to take my new wife and I to Cedar Key, FL, but we needed to take a rowboat into port once we arrived near the town. The captain refused to dock his ship. We agreed, paid the captain his fee, and boarded the vessel.
When Cedar Key was in sight, my wife and I loaded into a rowboat with our luggage and a couple of sailors lowered us down to the water. The captain waved goodbye and continued with his trip. I must have rowed for an hour, but it was worth it. We were finally together. When we made it to Cedar Key, we rented a room at a local hotel. We considered this our honeymoon.
After a couple of days, I started looking for work so we could start our new lives together. Since Cedar Key was a port town, I thought it would be easy to find work. This proved to be harder than I thought. I started to give up hope until I came across an ad for ranch hands in a town called Micanopy. Fortunately, I had some experience in cattle ranching on my father's land before he sent me to the Virginia Military Institute.
A load scream brought me back to reality. I rose straight up in my cot. I had fallen asleep and had been dreaming. My pocket watch said it was midnight. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my carbine, and ran towards the direction of the scream suspecting we were under attack. Many of the men were taking cover waiting for orders.
When I got to the scene, I found a couple of soldiers and Councilman Persons standing around a body. It was a soldier who was on guard duty. The site was gruesome. He wasn't shot like I was expecting. His body had been mutilated—barely recognizable.
"What happened," I asked one of the soldiers.
The soldier shook his head in disbelief, "I don't know. It was so quick. I just talked to him a couple of minutes ago while I was smoking my pipe. He was fine. As soon as I heard the scream, I ran over, but he was already dead by the time I arrived."
The second soldier spoke, "It must've been a bear."
Councilman Persons chimed in, "This was no bear. I've seen this before."
"What was it?" I asked.
"It was a werewolf," Councilman Persons replied.
"I don't believe in folklore Councilman Persons," I responded.
"It first appeared before the war," Councilman Persons continued. He didn't even acknowledge my last remark. "The beast roamed the county at night during full moons. It mainly attacked sheep and such. Some ranchers claimed they saw it. Some were even killed by it when they were defending their property. No one has seen it for years. I was hoping it was gone for good."
I looked at the soldiers and they were staring at Councilman Persons in shock. Their faces had turned white. I decided it was time to bring the conversation back to reality.
"Councilman Persons, please go back to bed. We will take over from here," I said.
Councilman Persons walked back to his house in disbelief. Both soldiers and I covered the dead man's face with his jacket and buried him in front of a large oak tree. We carved the soldier's name onto the tree as a makeshift headstone.
Friday, October 14, 1864
I rode into town the next day and went to the telegraph office. Before I left Florida, I was instructed to send headquarters a telegram each day and inform them of my whereabouts. In today's telegram, I explained that we had arrived in Talbotton and were waiting on supplies. I also detailed the soldier's death from the previous night.
When I left the telegraph office, I noticed Mr. Baron, Councilman Persons, and a group of men talking in front of the saloon. Councilman Persons waved me over to join the group.
"Good morning Dave," Councilman Persons began. "We were talking about the incident at the ranch last night. It sounds like your stay might be extended."
"What would make you say that?" I asked.
Councilman Persons looked to the man on his right. "Jock is another rancher who lives south of here. He heard the supply wagons you are waiting on were attacked by the beast."
Jacques "Jock" Buisson was an old and soft-spoken Frenchman from New Orleans who had served in Napoleon's army as a young boy. Jock's father moved him and his family to New Orleans shortly after Waterloo. Jock had arrived in Georgia decades ago to start his own ranch.
"Do you honestly believe that?" I asked Councilman Persons.
"It's true cap-e-ton," Jock replied in his French accent. He removed a pipe from his mouth. "The beast attacked the soldiers guarding the wagons last night. A beast, at least eight feet tall, attacked them. They put up a fight, but two soldiers were killed. Mr. Baron even saw it on his property."
I looked at Mr. Baron and noticed that he had several treated wounds on his hand. Mr. Baron refused to look at me.
Councilman Persons started talking, "Mr. Baron shot at the beast last night. He said he saw it eyeing his livestock. When he pulled his revolver from his holster, it attacked and knocked him off of his horse. It hurried away into the woods before it could be shot."
"Councilman Persons," I said. "If this beast is truly a werewolf, like you claimed last night, don't you think you would know who it is by now?"
"But Captain Cantwell—" Councilman Persons said.
I continued, "How could a beast such as this roam the countryside for so long? A rancher would have killed the thing by now. Also, this thing seems to kill everyone it comes into contact with. Why would this werewolf only knock Mr. Baron off of his horse and disappear into the night? This doesn't make sense."
"Cap-e-ton," Jock replied. "We're not talking about a typical wolf. This is a beast from Hell. I've heard stories about these beasts roaming the countryside of France. They killed hundreds of people. Some of the best hunters in the country could not stop them."
"Gentlemen—this has been an interesting conversation, but I'm afraid I must get back to my company," I said.
We said our goodbyes and I rode back to the ranch.
Friday Night, October 14, 1864
The moon had risen over the horizon. We had one more night before it was full. I admired the site of the moon and settled into my tent to rest. We had spent the day drilling and completing our normal camp duties. I was glad to finally be settling down. As I lay back in my cot, I began to think about when my wife and I first arrived in Micanopy.
It was late October 1855 when we arrived. By this time, both of our families had disowned us. We rented a small home in town and I kept busy working on different ranches and working any odd jobs I could find. My wife, meanwhile, stayed busy sewing and selling her items in town.
When the Third Seminole War broke out, I thought I would put my military skills from the VMI to use. While my wife stayed in Micanopy, I left for Tampa and enlisted in the Florida militia. It wasn't at all what I expected. We mainly spent our time tracking Chief Billy Bowlegs and his warriors. There were no major battles like in previous wars, but I did manage to save some money.
In late May 1858, I returned home to my wife for good. We took the money we had saved and put a down payment on some property just outside of Micanopy. We realized at that moment we had made it. It took us three years and our families were against us every step of the way, but we had made it. We had our own home, a way to support ourselves, and we were together. But there was one thing that still didn't feel right. I felt guilty over it.
A scream in the distance woke me from my dream. It was midnight. I grabbed my carbine and ran towards the direction of the scream. It was a repeat of the night before. I was the first one at the scene this time, except there was no body to be found—just a large pool of blood. One look at the dirt revealed there was a brief struggle. This time the soldier's body had been dragged away.
As I was staring at the pool of blood in disbelief, Councilman Persons walked up behind me.
"Do you believe me now Captain?" Councilman Persons asked.
My jaw was still hanging open when my first lieutenant and a couple of privates arrived. The site of the blood shocked them.
"Councilman Persons," I began. "I don't know what to believe at this point. I agree there is something stocking my men. Not a beast as you say, but something more realistic."
I turned to my first lieutenant and said, "This thing seems to attack our men only at midnight. We should be safe for the rest of the night. Tomorrow we will be prepared. We are going to kill this beast so we can bring peace to this county once and for all."
Saturday, October 15, 1864
Things were looking grim the next morning. During the night, five soldiers had deserted their posts. The rest of the men barely slept and we were still short on supplies. I thought it would be best if everyone rested this morning. I was hoping the daylight would put everyone at ease.
Meanwhile, Councilman Persons, both of my lieutenants, and I scouted the ranch. I had thought of a plan during the night to basically fortify the property. My plan was to place lines of men, spaced evenly, along the parameter of the ranch. If the beast managed to make it through the first line of soldiers, a second line of soldiers placed further inside the property could alert the others once it was spotted. Councilman Persons aided us greatly in picking strategic spots. I could tell he was ready to be rid of the so-called werewolf.
Once we had determined the best locations to place the men, I left my lieutenants to assign the men to their posts and make preparations for tonight. I went ahead and rode into town to send another telegram to headquarters and check on the supply wagons.
When I arrived in town, I was surprised to find the streets almost empty. Word must have traveled about the killings. In the telegraph office, both of the employees seemed tense. They informed me that the supply wagons were halted again due to another guard being slaughtered. I alerted headquarters about the recent killings and explained that we had made plans to hunt the beast attacking the soldiers.
When I left the telegraph office, I was shocked to see Elizabeth. She was in her buggy just riding through town like any typical day. She seemed to be completely at ease. Elizabeth noticed me and stopped her horse where I was standing.
"Dave," Elizabeth began. "How are you holding up at the ranch? I heard someone was killed last night."
"We're on our toes," I replied. "I'm afraid the morale of my men is falling."
"What are you going to do—leave?" she asked.
"I can't leave until I receive the supplies we need or receive orders from headquarters," I responded.
"What are you going to do tonight?" Elizabeth asked.
"I have no choice but to try and kill the beast tonight," I responded. "I have a plan. I've placed two lines of men around the parameter of the ranch to alert the rest of the company when it arrives. We will be prepared tonight."
Elizabeth asked me another question, "Do you believe the werewolf story circulating around town?"
"Of course not," I said. "I do not believe in those legends. Do you?"
"You never know," she said. "They started somehow."
We said goodbye to each other and parted ways. On my ride back to the ranch, I wondered if there was any merit to the werewolf story. If it was true, who could it be? It could be anyone in town. Then a thought struck me. Maybe it was Mr. Baron. It made sense. The soldiers from the supply wagon supposedly fought the beast. That would explain the wounds on his hand. Also, why would the beast let him go the other night? This was a werewolf that killed anything it came into contact with. Mr. Baron also hated me and I'm sure wanted revenge for what I did to Elizabeth. That would explain why my soldiers were being attacked.
"This is ridiculous," I said to myself. "There are no such things as werewolves."
I looked down at my horse, "Come on Levy, we have a long night ahead of us."
Saturday Night, October 15, 1864
It was 11:00 PM by my watch and the moon was full with a reddish hue—a blood moon as some would say. Every soldier in the company was tense. We were all in position anticipating the arrival of the beast. The orders I gave were simple. I asked for the men to call out the moment they spotted the beast. After it was spotted, the rest of the company was to move towards that direction and fire at the beast the moment they had a chance.
The wait was the absolute worse. I was tired, tense, and I wasn't sure how the events would unfold tonight. I had all of my revolvers loaded and in their holsters. My carbine was in a holster strapped to my saddle. I looked down at Levy and could tell the small cracker horse was uneasy. Either way, Levy and I were ready for the first man to call out. As I waited for the beast to show its face, I started thinking about Elizabeth again. I thought back to our wedding day.
It was late September 1855. Our marriage was pre-arranged when Elizabeth and I were only children. Both of our fathers knew each other and felt the marriage was a good match in later years. I had graduated from the VMI and was destined to take over my father's investments. My father envisioned me working as a politician, just like him. Elizabeth had been to some of the finest schools in France and oozed class. Our families felt we would be unstoppable and could possibly make it to the White House.
Our wedding day was a site. At the request of Mr. Baron, the wedding was held in Talbotton. The entire region knew about the wedding. Some of Georgia's elite, such as plantation owners, businessmen, and politicians, were cordially invited to the event of a lifetime. It would have made royalty flush.
I found it to be the worse time of my life. My father and I had an argument the night before and everything on the day of the wedding was moving quickly. The fact of the matter was, I was torn. I was thinking of my dear sweetheart, Martha, at home. We had secretly dated for years. When my father found out, he did everything possible to sabotage the relationship. Even going as far as threatening to ruin her parents and chase them both out of town.
That was when I saw my chance. One hour before the ceremony was to take place, I was alone. I thought about my situation. I had two choices: I could spend the rest of my life living a lie and have some of the finest luxuries and opportunities at my disposal. Or I could spend the rest of my life with my true love.
I left the church without anyone knowing. I never looked back. I left Talbotton and sent a telegram to Apalachicola when I rode into the next town. In it, I asked Martha to marry me. I received a response shortly: "Yes." After the reply, I left for Apalachicola and barely stopped during the entire trip. When I arrived home, I asked Martha to meet me in front of the church. I married my true love and we boarded the ship that eventually took us to Cedar Key.
A soft noise in the distance interrupted my thoughts. I heard the horses stir. Then, a loud gunshot rang out. It was midnight.
"I've spotted it!" a soldier yelled.
I directed Levy to run in the direction of the yelling. As I rode, I heard screaming followed by more gunshots. When I arrived, one soldier was wounded and screaming in pain. I looked at the ground and saw a trail of blood from another soldier stretching into the darkness of the nearby woods.
Then I heard another scream in the distance followed by the sounds of a shotgun.
"It's over here now! God help us all!" a soldier yelled.
I had poor Levy running as hard as possible in the direction of the yelling. He was breathing heavily. When I arrived at the scene I saw two soldiers on their backs. One was covered in blood - dead. The other was wounded and trying to say something. I barely made out what he said. He was in shock.
The soldier spoke the same phrase over and over, "We can't stop it."
Then there was another scream about 100 feet away. The sounds of carbines firing followed. I directed Levy to run as fast as possible in that direction. Then, I heard another scream in the opposite direction. Levy stopped.
"God help us! It's huge!" a soldier yelled.
More gunshots ensued. I heard screams and gunshots all around me. I panicked. I didn't know where to go first. Levy was spinning in circles from all of the commotion.
Then, in the moon lit field, I saw a dark figure crawl into the open. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was the beast. It stood up on its hind legs. It had to be at least eight, maybe nine, feet tall. Its long claws were clearly visible and I could see fur raised on its back. It lifted its snout and let out a great howl.
I grabbed my carbine and pulled it out of the holster. I knew I might only get one, maybe two, chances at the shot so I was careful. My stirrups pressed tightly against Levy's sides. I took aim at the torso of the beast and fired. The beast moved at the same time and I missed the shot.
I took aim again and fired. This time was different. I saw the beast's right arm jerk back. I had hit it, but not enough to slow it down. The beast quickly ran off and disappeared into the night.
Sunday, October 16, 1864
It was late morning and the sun was beginning to warm the Earth. Our dead and wounded were laying in organized rows in front of the tents. Our company doctor was treating each of the wounded as best as he could with our limited supplies. As I helped the doctor, I noticed a horse and buggy coming down the road. I took a closer look at the driver. It was Elizabeth. I stopped what I was doing and walked towards the road to greet her.
She stopped her buggy when she saw me. She paused and didn't say a word. I found it odd. I assumed she was thinking about the awkward meeting in town Thursday afternoon.
After the pause, Elizabeth reached into a sack with her right hand and pulled out a telegram. "This came for you today," she began. "I assumed you would be too busy to ride into town today."
As she handed the telegram to me, I was in shock. Wrapped around her right hand was a blood stained cloth covering a wound. It was in the same area where I managed to shoot the beast last night. I'm sure Elizabeth could tell from the look on my face that the reality of the situation was dawning on me. My hand was trembling as I took the telegram from her.
"I loved you Dave." Those were the only words Elizabeth said. She gave me a slight smile and lightly shook the reins in her left hand, directing her horse to continue down the road.
I was still in shock as I watched Elizabeth go around a turn in the road and disappear behind the trees. I forgot all about the telegram I was holding. I must have stood in that spot for five minutes before I read the message. It was from headquarters:
Captain David Cantwell—
Because of your recent reports, your judgment has been called into question. You are to relinquish command of the company to your first lieutenant and report to Charleston, SC where a panel will determine your fitness to command troops.
—Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, C.S.A.