Homecoming for Vengeance (Preview)


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Chapter One

Georgia, March 1866

I can’t believe it’s over, Jeb Holter thought as he walked out the doors of the Union field hospital where he spent the last ten months recuperating from the Confederate treatment of soldiers. When he had walked through the forbidding doors of Andersonville—the Rebs prison in Georgia, he never dreamed that the treatment there would be so cruel and that the cruelty he experienced would take the toll on him that he now lived with. He was starved almost to the point of death. He battled the disease that spread like wildfire at the prison encampment, and now he was only a shadow of the man he used to be.

At thirty-one, he felt and looked like he was more like forty-one. The ravishes of war and the time at Andersonville had aged him; even his hair had grayed quite a bit at his temples.

Behind him was the Union field hospital and before that Andersonville and before that fighting.

Now, he was making his way home, and that was Missouri. He had no way to get back home except to walk. The train routes, costs, and schedules wouldn’t work for him, and the trains cost money. The Union could not provide everything he needed to get back home. Walking was his only recourse for this leg of his journey.  Normally, trains would be his transportation of choice to return home, but from here in this part of Georgia to Missouri, there were no direct lines. He had missed the transport of prisoners of war with his stint in the hospital. Now, he was forgotten and had no money. Even if he had the fare money, it would require multiple lines to switch and maneuver back to the St. Francois Mountain Range, Green Valley, and his ranch.

Walking allowed him to think. But thinking was all he had been doing for the last ten months at the hospital. His recovery had been long, but his doctors felt he was well enough to be released. He hoped he would be well enough to make it back to his ranch.

Walking the dirt road in Georgia, he remembered the outbreak of war. He joined the war early in the fight. He was a volunteer and decided that the Union’s beliefs were what he also believed in. He had left home with his brother-in-law, John Moore, and both ended up in Georgia to fight.

John … he said his brother-in-law’s name in his head. John’s gone.

Even now, a few years later, he had to remind himself that his best friend was no more. It was hard for him to break the news to his sister, Bessie. He had written to her a few times from the hospital, but he could not tell her that he had died or how he died. Suicide was not an easy thing to say in a letter. He felt it needed to be done in person.

This was his third day walking all alone. He was torn and tattered in his spirit, as well as the clothes he wore upon his back.

The dirt road he was traveling on had taken him past several homesteads in Northwest Georgia.

He saw that this particular homestead he was passing by now had a row of mature maples in front, making the road shady and a cool resting place in the hot May sun. The day before, he had picked apples from an orchard by the road to feed himself on his journey. He reached into his pocket, pulled out the last one, and sat under the homestead’s maple trees to eat. He had finished his food and wished he could find some water when a call from the house echoed out.

“Son, come here.” Jeb turned behind him to see an older gentleman on the porch.

“That’s right, son, come on over here.”

The invitation surprised Jeb, so he got up to see what the man wanted.

He walked over to the gate, cautious because he was still in Reb Country and wearing his Union uniform. “Yes, sir,” Jeb said as he approached the wooden gate.

“Are you hungry and thirsty, son?” the old man asked.

Jeb looked down. It was true; he had just eaten an apple, but he longed for meat to give him strength. “I just had an apple, sir.”

“That’s not near enough for a man to eat. I’m Deacon Cooper. My wife and I want to invite you to our Sunday dinner.”

“That is very kind of you,” Jeb answered. “But I wouldn’t want to put you out. I’m pretty dirty and probably smelly.”

“Pay no attention to that. Mother can wash your clothes and you can wear something of mine until she gets them washed.”

Jeb couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Such kindness from what he would call the enemy.

Mrs. Cooper had joined her husband in front of the house.

“That is Margaret, my wife.”

“Hello, ma’am,” Jeb tilted his hat. “I guess I forgot to tell Mr. Cooper my name. It’s Jeb, Jeb Holter.”

“Well, Jeb Holter, we would sure take it kindly if you joined us.” Mrs. Cooper smiled. “I have roast chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, chitlins, and apple dumplings for dessert.”

It had been a long time since Jeb had eaten any food like Mrs. Cooper described.

“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I would be mighty grateful, but I’m pretty dirty, ma’am.”

“Stuff and nonsense. Pa can warm some water for you to bathe off, and I’ll wash your clothes after dinner.” Mrs. Cooper turned to Mr. Cooper, “You better talk him into staying the night.” She patted her husband as she went in.

“You heard what Mother said. You might as well settle in for the night.”

Mr. Cooper led Jeb indoors to the dining area. “Wait here; I’ll be back with a set of clothes.”

Jeb saw through the hallway that Mrs. Cooper was already in the spare room, busy pouring hot water into a washbasin for Jeb to wash himself off.

“Here, son,” Mr. Cooper came out of the bedroom with a shirt and pair of pants. You can go in there to wash off and change.”

“I have everything all ready for you, dear,” Mrs. Cooper said as she left the room.

Jeb took the clothing and did as Mr. Cooper instructed. When he had finished, he joined the couple waiting for him at the dining table. Mrs. Cooper was laying out the food and table services for three.

The smell is incredible, thought Jeb.

“You can sit there, Jeb, next to Pa,” instructed Mrs. Cooper.

Jeb pulled out the wooden chair from the table and sat down. The Coopers were both looking at him with smiles on their faces.

He wondered how people who were supposed to be his enemy could be so nice to someone once regarded as their enemy.

Mrs. Cooper held out a plate of china for Jeb to take, then she handed one to Mr. Cooper.

Jeb saw that Mr. Cooper had taken the woman’s hand and that she had extended her left hand to him. Unsure, he took her hand, and saw the Coopers bow their heads. Jeb followed their example and lowered his head. Mr. Cooper said a blessing over the food they were about to eat. When he had finished, they let go of their hands, and Mrs. Cooper went about starting to pass the bowls of food, first to Jeb, and then Jeb passed them on to Mr. Cooper.

Jeb thoroughly enjoyed the delicious food that Mrs. Cooper had fixed. He wondered if they ate such enormous meals all the time. He also enjoyed their conversation. Mr. Cooper spoke of the farm, his crops, and cultivating them, as well as the horses in the barn. All of which Jeb had in-depth knowledge of from running his own ranch back at Green Valley. Mrs. Cooper spoke of her flowers and how her family came to live in Georgia.

Then came the topic of war, which Jeb had wished they would never get around to.

“I see you are wearing Union pants,” Mrs. Cooper commented.

“Yes, ma’am,” Jeb answered.

“You look awfully thin, dear; did you have a hard go of it?”

“Well, ma’am, I’m still living, so I can’t complain, but it was pretty hard at times.”

Jeb told of his experience during the war, the fighting, the prison at Andersonville, and then his time at the field hospital.

The Coopers were nonjudgmental and listened intently, asking questions. They were still at the table an hour later, but now the three knew each other’s life stories.

“My oh my, we’ve been talking for hours. It’ll be time to fix supper before long.”

“Well, we might as well stay here then,” Mr. Cooper said, laughing.

“If I’m going fix Jeb’s clothes, I’ll need to get busy,” Mrs. Cooper answered.

After clearing the table, Mrs. Cooper began cleaning Jeb’s clothes. “My, Jeb, I don’t know how these clothes stayed on your body.”

“It was a feat, Mrs. Cooper.” Jeb laughed.

Mrs. Cooper sat back down at the table with her sewing basket. “I’ll tell you what, this shirt is not worth washing. You can have the one Pa gave you; the breeches need some mending. I’ll start that after they dry.”

“You both have been so kind; I wouldn’t want to put you out any further, Mrs. Cooper.”

“It’s no trouble at all. I miss doing it.” Jeb could hear a hint of sadness in her voice.

Mrs. Cooper got up from the table and went to a table in the parlor. She reached for a picture frame on top and then returned to sit down.

“This is our boy, Jamie,” she told Jeb. “He was sixteen when this picture was taken.”

Jeb took the picture frame, looked at the black-and-white picture, and saw a boy of no more than sixteen with dark hair like Mrs. Cooper.

“A mighty fine-looking boy. Where’s he now?” Jeb took a moment to look at the boy’s face. Something struck him as familiar about it.

The Coopers were silent, and then Mr. Cooper spoke up. “You see Jeb, our boy went to war as well. He was just a twenty-year-old boy when he volunteered, but he never made it out alive is what we were told.”

“I’m very sorry,” Jeb said respectfully, “but how do you know he’s not somewhere making his way back home right now, like me?”

“A friend of his wrote a while back and said he was killed, but that son of a gun never said where our boy died. I thought maybe he didn’t know how to write and had someone write the note for him … somehow, son, helping you helps us too. We hope that in our boy’s days away from us, someone, somewhere, showed him kindness too,” Mr. Cooper said, lowering his head.

“Well, now, that’s enough of that,” Mrs. Cooper said, “you men can sit on the porch, and I will get started on the mending.”

Mrs. Cooper took the picture frame, lovingly placed it back on the wooden chest, and then tended to Jeb’s clothing.

Mr. Cooper and Jeb did as they were told and took seats on the porch. They talked and talked until the lightning bugs lit up, and Mrs. Cooper joined them with a tray of sandwiches and cold apple cider.

She handed the men a plate of food and a cup of drink and sat down with them.

“Well, I have the breeches washed, dried, and mended.”

“I surely do appreciate your kindness.”

“I have made a bed up for you in the spare room. I think you will find it very comfortable.”

Jeb stopped eating for a minute and became quiet.

“Anything wrong, son?” Mr. Cooper asked, concerned.

“Mr. Cooper, Mrs. Cooper, never have I known such kindness.”

Mrs. Cooper was the first to speak up, “Jeb dear, I have always believed that somewhere we all have had some stranger who will still remember you because you did something kind for them. I hope that years from now, you’ll remember Deacon and me in that way.”

Mrs. Cooper smiled over to Mr. Cooper.

“She’s right, Jeb. Not only that, my two cents are that there are no strangers here, just friends we haven’t met yet.” He laughed.

Mrs. Cooper stood up, took the used dishes, and placed them again on the tray.

“I think that’s our cue from Mother to tell us we should hit the hay.” Mr. Cooper laughed, standing up.

They all stepped back into the house, saying goodnight to each other.

Mrs. Cooper put the tray on the table and walked over to Jeb. She took Jeb by the arm, raised herself on her tiptoes, and kissed Jeb on the cheek.

“Please don’t mind an old woman’s foolishness, but it’s been a while since I was able to kiss a young man on the cheek before bedtime.”

Jeb felt a pang of regret because his own mother had died when he was young and left his father, Bessie, his sister, and him to build up their ranch without her.

It was nice to have a mother’s touch again.


The next morning, Jeb woke to the smell of coffee on the stove and batter cakes. He dressed and joined the Coopers in the kitchen. They ate their first meal of the day and chatted.

When Jeb finished his meal, he said, “That was the best night’s sleep I had in several years.”

“What are your plans, son?” Mr. Cooper asked.

“As much as I hate leaving here, I need to start my way back home.”

“To Missouri?” Mrs. Cooper asked.


“Son, Mother, and I would like you to have something.” Mr. Cooper stood up.

“Follow me.” Mr. Cooper motioned for Jeb to follow him outside. Jeb and Mrs. Cooper followed him to the corral, where a gelding was eating hay.

Jeb looked to see an auburn Morgan horse with a white mane and tail. “He sure is a beauty,” Jeb remarked enthusiastically.

Mr. Cooper looked at his wife and gave her a wink and a smile.

“He’s all yours, son,” Mr. Cooper said, putting his arm around his wife. “We want you to have him.”

“Mine?” Jeb said, shocked. Jeb approached the horse to get a better look.

“Mr. Cooper, I couldn’t possibly accept him.” Jeb took a step towards the horse and patted his back. “I’m a perfect stranger to you. Why would you do that for someone like me? Not only that, but I couldn’t possibly pay you for what he is worth.” Jeb strode around the horse, eyeing every inch of his form.

“He belonged to Jamie, and we both decided last night that we wanted you to have him,” said Mr. Cooper.

“Not only that,” Mrs. Cooper added, “it will take you forever to make it to Missouri on foot. This way, you can double your time getting home.”

“And Mother and I have put a bundle of supplies together to help you make your way back home.”

Jeb paused and turned toward the Coopers. They had huge smiles on their faces. Jeb couldn’t control his emotions. Such kindness he never knew before. His eyes welled up with water, and he cleared his throat, then spoke.

“I don’t know what to say, except I have had little charity shown me in a long time, and I can never repay your kindness.”

Mrs. Cooper said, “Just know we all aren’t terrible people, and there are many good Southerners who will help their fellow man; it’s the Christian way.”

“Come on, let’s go back to the house.” Mr. Cooper led his wife by the hand.

They went back into the house. Jeb gathered his belongings, approached Mrs. Cooper, kissed her cheek, and shook Mr. Cooper’s hand hard. “I can’t put into words how I feel, but know this: I will forever be indebted to you both.”

Jeb followed the Coopers outside to where the gelding was waiting.

Mr. Cooper had the gelding all saddled up while Jeb had gathered his belongings. He stepped over to Jeb, handed him the reins to the gelding and a canvas bag of supplies, and helped him load it on the back of the horse.

“By the way, his name is Ranger,” Mr. Cooper said.

“Ranger,” Jeb repeated. “That is a fine name.”

Jeb mounted Ranger, paused, and looked hard at the Coopers. He wanted to remember every wrinkle on their faces before moving on. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am.”

The Coopers stood in the corral with their arms around the other’s waist as Jeb situated himself in the saddle of his new horse.

All three were silent. Jeb saw Mrs. Cooper wipe a tear from her eye. He looked at Mr. Cooper, who was always the positive thinker, and saw him smile.

“I don’t know if you’ll ever get to Missouri, but if you ever do, look me up. My ranch is outside Green Valley, which is in the Southeast. It’s called Cedar Creek Ranch. You’ll always have a home there if you ever need it.” Jeb smiled and took one last look at the folks who had quickly become two people who meant very much to him.

The Coopers waved goodbye and watched Jeb take Ranger down their lane and west to his home in Missouri.


March 1866

Another former Union soldier had made his way home, a former soldier and slave.

West of the McGehee Plantation of Tate County, Mississippi, was the Big Muddy, as some had nicknamed it, but officially, it was the Mississippi River. The slaves had another name for it, Old Man River, and they paid tribute to it while singing songs as they picked cotton.

Moses and his wife last saw Old Man River when McGehee purchased them to stock up the plantation. In 1850, they sold him and transported him down the Mississippi on a boat, along with twenty others, to the plantation where they were to construct the plantation house and other required buildings. Two years later, they bought Elizabeth, his wife, and she worked in the house as a maid for the Missus. Now, all these years later, their hopes to be free had all but come true. He wouldn’t feel free until he successfully moved his family westward, out of the South, and to a new life in the West.

Now, the freed slave family camped next to the muddy waters of the great river, making their way west.

Moses Freeman, his wife Lizzy, and their son Joshua had pitched their tent close to the river. The Civil War had ended in April, and Moses fought with the Union Army in the United States Colored Troops regiment after he ran away from the plantation in early 61.

When the war had ended, he risked his life to make his way south again to fetch Lizzy and Joshua from the McGehee Plantation. He intended to get his family and head west, where he had heard that free colored families could make a new start, leaving slavery behind and moving forward to freedom.

“The Lord sure did make a beautiful day today,” Moses whispered to himself as he quietly got up and stepped out of the tent, ensuring that he didn’t disturb his exhausted wife and son, who were still sleeping on the ground.

Moses Freeman used to be Moses McGehee, his last name taken from the surname of his Master Abner McGehee, but now that he was a free man, he intentionally chose Freeman to start a new life with his family out west.

In 1861, when the news of war filtered down to the plantation in Mississippi, he and his friend Daniel decided to escape and head north to join the Union Army. They were successful and fought through the entire war without losing a limb or life. After the war, all he had to his name were twenty dollars in silver pieces, an army-issued pistol, a discarded army canvas tent, and two sway-back, sorry-looking army mules his captain allowed him to take so he could head south to fetch his family.

This was a kind of day that only made a recently freed man feel grateful. Moses sang one of the songs that he and the other slaves sang, picking cotton on hot summer days.

“Oh, freedom over me, and before I’d be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free, and go home to the Lord and be free.”

Moses was of average build, stockier than others, stood five foot eleven inches, and was thirty-two years old. He still wore Union navy blue trousers with a gold stripe on the side and a black shirt.

The breeze was cool but not uncomfortable in the early spring air of northern Mississippi. Moses had awoken early because he knew Lizzy would need kindling for the fire to make breakfast. The sun was rising over the foothills to the east, shining on their encampment as Moses smelled the fresh air and listened to the birds chirping happily from the branches above.

“Daddy,” Joshua called out from the tent, “is it morning?”

“Barely, son.” Moses turned and answered his son in a whisper. “Shhh! I don’t want to wake your mamma just yet. She needs some rest. Now do as I say and go back to sleep, boy!”

Moses got busy collecting the kindling from the area surrounding their tent and noticed something wasn’t quite right. The mules weren’t making any noises. They were unnaturally quiet. He walked over to where he had tied them up the night before, only to find that they weren’t there.

“Dad-blame it,” Moses said out loud. “I know I tied them critters up tightly.”

He rushed around the bushes to see if the mules were anywhere to be found, but they were nowhere in sight.

“Some dang gone crook must’ve stolen them,” he said aloud to himself.

Moses immediately returned to the tent and carefully rummaged through his saddlebag for his pistol. Carefully and quietly, he loaded the Colt revolver with bullets and headed back outside.

“Moses Freeman, what in heaven’s name is going on?” Lizzy asked with her eyes still closed, trying to sleep.

Moses turned back to face his wife. “Go back to sleep, Lizzy.”

Moses held a loaded and ready pistol in his hand. He had to find the mules. If their mules were stolen during the night, they and their captors would most probably be miles away, but without the mules, their family couldn’t go any farther than where they camped out now. Their dream of going west would end, for the time being, at least. They would have to make their way to a town and get jobs to make money to buy two more, which could take a year or more, and a former colored slave would find it hard to find work.

Moses made his way through the brush and down the riverbank to see if maybe they had found a place to get a drink of water, but they were not there, only a riverboat passing by. He hurried back up the riverbank and through the trees. Less than 300 yards from the tent, he heard some movement behind him.

“Lawdy,” he said out loud, relieved, thinking he finally found the mules. The mules must be eating fresh grass behind him. He turned to head toward the sound when everything went black.


“Sorry, boy, for that rifle blow to your head, but it had to be done,” a stranger said to Moses as he put a noose around his neck where he sat with his back up against a boulder. Disorientation and shock overwhelmed Moses. He could not believe what was happening. He saw a group of white men, some still wearing their Confederate breeches and caps and some dressed in Western hats.

“Who are you all?” Moses asked, trying to focus his slightly blurred vision.

The stranger paused, turned to Moses, and answered, “Sergeant Leo Reynolds.”

One man with Reynolds laughed, then added, “AWOL.”

Reynolds strode over to the tent and backed out, holding Moses’ saddlebag.

“Hey Elijah, Reynolds said to the man who had made the joke. “This old boy has fifty dollars in silver in this money pouch.”

“Is that right? Now, how does an old boy like yourself come into twenty dollars of silver?” the man Elijah said as he approached Moses.

“Here’s another bag, Corporal Kelly,” another fella said to Elijah, handing over another bag.

Moses turned to the other direction and saw Elijah Kelly going through Moses’ other saddlebag, but what he saw next sickened him. He saw the bodies of Lizzy and Joshua lying motionless and bloody in the leaves on the ground. They were dead. Moses struggled to stand and went to raise his fists, but it was no use. Someone tied his hands behind his back. Leo Reynolds, Elijah Kelly, and the others laughed as he struggled to set himself free, but the more he struggled, the more his air was being cut off by the noose around his neck.

“Hey, boy, you best be stopping, or you will do the job yourself, and we won’t be to blame for you meeting your family in Glory.” Reynolds laughed as his friends joined him.

“It’s nothing personal, boy,” Kelly added with a lecherous smile. “Oh, by the way, your wife was very pleasant.” He snickered, then turned to his partners in crime. “This is getting tiresome, Leo. Let’s get on with it. Missouri is still a long ride away.”

Reynolds called out to the other men to mount their horses while he climbed up onto his horse.

Kelly walked over to his horse, grabbed the rope tied to Moses’ two mules, and trotted off.

Moses came to terms with the fact that this was his ending, as the noose around his neck lifted him slowly into the air. As he rose, he looked at Lizzy’s and Joshua’s bodies lying on the ground, tears welled up in his eyes, and he prayed, “Lawd, how much more can a colored man take? How can I forget the crack of the whip, the auction block, the iron collar, but most of all Lawd, how can I forget my Lizzy and son lying there in their own blood? Lawd, help me, please.”

Kelly had the end of Moses’ noose in his hand, and then, with one kick to his horse’s ribs, he yelled, “Hiya,” and took off at a gallop, pulling the rope around Moses’ neck tight. Moses slowly choked to death, and the fear of death made him struggle even more. The noose became tighter and tighter the more he moved. But just when he felt he was going to pass out from the lack of oxygen, his struggles broke the branch to which the noose was tied, causing him to fall to the ground. Relieved from the pressure of the rope, he was able to breathe again.

On the ground safely now, he crawled over to the bodies of Lizzy and Joshua lying lifeless and gathered them both into his arms. He cried fiercely. It wasn’t until he could cry no more that he stood up and buried his dead.

Lizzy had always loved the blue violets that grew wild. He gathered up as much as he could find and placed two bunches on each of their graves and looked up to heaven and vowed, “Lizzy, Joshua, I’m goin’ to swear to you this very day that I won’t let these bones of mine rest till each one of those white trash bastards are made to pay.”

Moses stopped for a moment and turned back to take a last look at where his wife and son were lying on the ground. Not since the McGehee plantation funeral for Big Mammy had he been to another funeral. He remembered the women folk sang a song, and the words flowed back into his consciousness. He mouthed the words, slowly singing the song under his breath.

“Swing low, sweet chariot,

coming to carry me home,

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see,

coming to carry me home,

a band of angels coming after me,

coming to carry me home,

swing low, sweet chariot coming to carry me home,

if you get there before I do,

coming to carry me home,

tell all my friends I’m coming too,

coming for to carry me home,

swing low, sweet chariot,

coming for to carry me home.”

Moses gathered up the belongings left on the ground and started making his way up along the banks of the Big Muddy toward Missouri, where he had heard Kelly say he, Reynolds, and their ruffian friends were heading. He took the first step and told himself he was one step closer to getting justice for his family. No matter how long it would take, he would keep walking till he tracked down the murderers of his family.

Chapter Two

Green Valley, Missouri, late March 1866

The morning had dawned with a warm, clear, and sunny presence that hinted summer wasn’t too far away. Green Valley, Missouri, surrounded by the purplish hues of the Ozark mountains, was just below Knob Lick Mountain, the mountain that boarded Jeb’s spread outside of Green Valley.

Jeb maneuvered Ranger carefully, weaving in and out the valley’s cliffs of rock and foliage. Both man and horse were tired and worn from their journey, Jeb from the war and Ranger from the journey of nearly seven hundred miles.

The bag of supplies that the Coppers had packed for him for his fifteen-day journey was his lifeline for his trip home along with Ranger.

“Homecoming for Vengeance” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

After surviving the horrors of Andersonville prison, Union soldier Jeb Holter embarks on a grueling journey back to Missouri. Penniless and alone, his path is altered by an unexpected act of kindness when the grieving Cooper family gifts him a horse and a new resolve to make it home. Missouri, scarred by war and plagued by violence, offers no sanctuary. As he navigates this dangerous landscape, one question haunts him.

Can he find peace in a world that seems intent on tearing itself apart?

Meanwhile, Moses Freeman, a former slave turned Union soldier, is driven by vengeance after rogue Confederate soldiers brutally murder his family. His quest for justice propels him westward, toward the same turbulent region…

Will avenging his family bring the closure he so desperately seeks?

Jeb and Moses’s paths cross in a community on the edge of chaos. Bound by shared grief and a common enemy, they must confront their pasts to protect those they love and reclaim the valley. Will their combined strength be enough to overcome the forces threatening their new beginnings?

“Homecoming for Vengeance” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Legends of the Lawless Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

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