On a foggy spring morning in 1862, Sarah Browning, eight months pregnant, her two young children standing beside her, watches a train move away from Lake City, Florida, with her husband Alex aboard. She imagines that her own heart rides on the departing train, headed northeast with cars full of confederate soldiers. She wishes she could hold it back for at least one more moment of having Alex at home at their farm, Alligator Creek.
Full of excitement about glorious battles in Virginia, Alex Browning sits in a boxcar, crushed against the bodies of his fellow soldiers. Little can he imagine the terrors awaiting him in Manassas, Gettysburg, Olustee, and the Wilderness. Alex suffers physically and psychologically from his war experiences and from maltreatment at Yankee prisons in Maryland and New York. He returns home on leave twice, fathering two more children.
Without Alex at Alligator Creek, Sarah uses her wit and Christian faith to sustain her as she faces horrific challenges that threaten her and her young children. Childbirth, death of loved ones, her children’s illnesses, poverty, the prejudices of nineteenth century southern society, and years of no communication from Alex threaten to destroy her and her family. Then she makes the most dramatic decision of her life.
Based on a true family story and Civil War history, Alligator Creek presents strong characters, who survived the unique and difficult period of the American Civil War. Sarah and Alexander Browning actually lived in Lake City, Florida, during the 1860’s, and Alexander’s recorded military service includes many of the most famous battles between the generals Grant and Lee.
Raindrops tapping on the stiff canvas tarpaulin wrapped around him gave him a start. He pushed up to sitting position and shoved his cover back. Mud from the sides of the trench oozed through his jacket.
Someone whispered, “Alex, they’re out there.”
Alex struggled into wakefulness. “Who’s out there?”
“Can’t you hear them?”
Alex strained to filter out sounds of rain, wind blowing, men grunting and wheezing. “I hear something, but it’s probably thunder.”
Jacob leaned closer. “It’s not thunder. Something out there is moving.”
Alex held his breath, his heart thumping like a jackrabbit’s leg. “It can’t be. We saw them leaving this afternoon.”
Jacob coughed and cleared his throat. “We thought we saw them. I think we’d better pray.”
Alex began with a shaky voice. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”
Jacob loaded his rifle. “I will fear no evil.” The rain turned to mist and the woods became still as a dead man.
Seconds later, Jacob hissed, “Someone’s marching toward us.”
Alex tightened his grip on his rifle and focused his attention to faint sounds from the woods.
The drizzle became pelting rain, plastering Alex’s hair to his head and streaming down his forehead into his eyes. The rumble before him now sounded like a roaring steam locomotive, but he’d known battles enough to recognize the sound. This was the noise of marching men. A great many men.
Alex pointed his rifle into the unseen enemy in the dark wilderness. He tried to calm himself by recalling events from the past five days—the long march, the face-to-face battles in the Wilderness, the race to Spotsylvania. All blurred into a single unending horror that he expected to recall as his thirtieth birthday for the rest of his life. The days had melted into evenings then blended into mornings, sunlight and rain, and back to nighttime again.
He wondered what would at last bring this nightmare to an end. A surrender by South or North? Would the Yankee bullet fire true this time and bring his life, however mean or fine, to its end? Thunderous marching interrupted his thoughts.
Lester, crouched on Alex’s left with his finger tense on the trigger of his rifle, nudged Alex. “What do you think? Are they attacking or retreating?”
Jacob exhaled a heavy breath. “It’s getting louder. They’ve gotta be advancing, but I don’t know if they’re on our right or left.”
Alex prayed that someone would replace the artillery before the blue onslaught. “If they go left or right, they’ll miss us. Make ready for the worst. I wish we had those cannons guarding us.”
The stomping boots grew even louder. Then, from the fog-shrouded woods, came a deep-throated growl of advancing Bluecoats—a sound totally different from the high-pitched rebel yell. Throngs of close-packed Yanks with fixed bayonets luminous in first light broke out of the mist, coming for the direct center of the U-shaped trench. Alex, Jacob, and Lester fired reflexively at point blank range.
“I got one of ‘em,” Jacob shouted just as Alex missed his target. Alex’s next shot rang true, the bullet blasting the center of the man’s face in a bloody explosion. Alex blanched but reloaded as fast as he could.
On and on they came, line after line, man after man. Alex and his comrades loaded cartridges and fired until their ammunition ran out. Someone yelled, “Fix your bayonets.” Alex snapped his into place. When a Yankee jumped onto the parapet above the trench, Lester sliced his throat. Blood squirted into their faces, mingling with the rain. Max flung his bayoneted rifle like a javelin and pierced the body of an invader. The hammering rain transformed the floor of the trench to muck. Alex dared not look down—he knew he stood on bodies of the dead and wounded, trampled deep into slimy, bloody mud. No one spoke or yelled; they reacted. They used anything—guns, logs, shoes, shovels—to beat off the relentless enemy. Numbed by horror, he became a machine, neither angry nor fearful.
“We can’t keep on,” Jacob gasped at their captain.
A quick answer came back: “Your orders are to stand dead or alive.”
About the Author
Lottie Lipscomb Guttry grew up in the small town of Kilgore, Texas, the site of the famous East Texas Oil Field. She attended Sweet Briar College in Virginia and received a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Texas at Austin, a Master of Arts from Stephen F. Austin College in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a doctorate from Texas A&M University at Commerce. She served as instructor of literature and composition at Kilgore College. She also taught advanced composition, literature, and advanced grammar at the University of Texas at Tyler. She owned and directed Sylvan Learning Center in Longview. During her studies at Stephen F. Austin State University, a professor assigned her class to find and write a family legend. A cousin introduced Lottie to Sarah and Alexander Browning and their story—the basis for her historical novel Alligator Creek. Other publications include a musical, Boom, based on the history of the East Texas Oil Field; a play for children, The Enchanted Swan; a critical article published in the Walt Whitman Review; two devotionals published in The Upper Room; and numerous feature articles for The Longview News and Journal.
Lottie and her husband John, a retired dentist, live in Longview, Texas, near Kilgore, where they both grew up. She participates in the music program at her church, serves as a hospital volunteer, plays duplicate bridge, and travels. She has three grown children and seven grandchildren.