(Read this before the Prologue)
It is war, boys, and we are in it now.
It is said with some accuracy that we, known variously as the First North Carolina Cavalry, Company L of the First NC Volunteers, and them Home Guard thieves, are the meanest and most dissolute soldiers ever to turn a traitorous coat against their own kith and kin. Rascals. Those with high-minded feelings against secession or slavery are well gone, shot down or snuck off in disgust or bettering themselves elsewise, and we are what is left. Card sharps, reprobates, drunkards, deserters from the rebel cause and maybe this one as well, criminals and worse. However we each have a fine mount and we d-n well know how to ride them.
Here’s the thick of it — all that’s Federal about the Old North State these days is our gem of a coast, with us and a mess of Yankees set to choke off southern commerce coming and going. Beaufort, Washington, all the nice port towns save stubborn old Wilmington, a tough nut Burnside and his amphibians can’t crack. But not a hundred miles inland there’s a rail road like a pumping artery feeding Robert Lee guns, good imperial staple cotton uniforms, bacon, all manner of things that make an army go. And smack on that road is quaint little Rocky Mount, where I spent many an hour picking pockets at the Pitt county fair in my callow days. The town possesses a splendid bridge across the Tar river that we are going to burn to flinders. We’ll sever the Wilmington and Weldon and we’ll raise the d-v-l generally. Those are General Potter’s orders and it is his raid. Personally I aim to get some of that bacon.
We’re scouts and videttes. The New York cavalry we are to accompany call it a skylark and mock the good Down East boys we came up with, who’ll surely be eager to wipe the stupid grins off their New York faces. It’ll be hard riding through rough country — creek mazes, pocosin, snake-filled holes, cypress-drenched plantations older far than the Union &c — and we southern boys are raised with rifles in our dirty paws. It won’t be a skylark and there will be plenty of killing bothways. The New Yorkers are panting for the forage, to smashing what they can’t steal or drink, and to tell the truth so are many of us, but not all. Not all by a parcel. For us it’s something of a conundrum, owing to our family and friends and general upbringing in these parts. I do not envy any Company L man who falls into enemy hands, for we may be in the right but we’ve turned against our people. If there’s anything that’ll get southern blood boiling, its somebody who don’t know how to act. But as long as we hang together, to paraphrase Mr. Franklin, we won’t hang separately. Unless, of course, we do.