An Uncivil Union: The Battle of Burnsville by Britt Kaufman

The following excerpt is from An Uncivil Union: The Battle of Burnsville.An Uncivil Union graphic

In April of 1864, forty Appalachian mountain women raided the Confederate storehouses in Burnsville, North Carolina, and made off with sixty bushels of wheat. The next day, approximately 75 men stormed the same place and made off with 100 new guns and 500 lbs. of bacon. While the names of the women have been lost, their actions are inspiring.

An Uncivil Union: The Battle of Burnsville is a full-length comedy imagined to coincide with these actual historical events. Hazel and Zeke had been engaged before he left to fight in the Civil War, but when he returns wounded, not only has he been changed by the war, so has Hazel. In convoluted attempts to win Zeke back after he breaks it off with her, toughened Hazel sets into action both enormous failure and surprising success. With a host of neighbor women to help her out and throw wrenches, they discover there is grand adventure in life.

The premiere of the play was at Parkway Playhouse in the summer of 2011.

 

 

LOUISA MAE

Yes. Won’t you please tell us how a girl might catch a man’s eye?

 

CATHERINE

Luckily it ain’t so hard as you’d think. Two pints of moonshine, have yourself a big time and the rest falls into place a few months later.

(CATHERINE rubs her belly.)

 

RACHEL

Absolutely not.

 

CATHERINE

There are other ways. That’s just the easiest. First, let’s re-cut the neckline on your dress and then you make sure to lean…

(CATHERINE sizes up HAZEL’S flat chest, while off a ways LOUISA MAE flexes her buxomness.)

Well, that might not be your best attribute… Have you got a pretty underskirt that you might let show a bit? Make him think about what’s underneath?

(HAZEL pulls hers up to reveal pants, while unnoticed, LOUISA MAE reveals her lacy underskirt then hides it.)

Maybe someone could lend you one.

 

RACHEL

“A virtuous woman selects wool and flax and works with eager hands…”

 

LOUISA MAE

Yes, Hazel, have you got any handiwork you might show him?

 

LORETTA

She’s got cords a wood stacked at every house in the holler.

 

CATHERINE

That won’t do.

 

MARTHA

They always say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’

 

HAZEL

Well, clearly that didn’t work.

 

LORETTA

You should try ignoring him. Pretend you don’t even know him.

 

HAZEL

That’s exactly what he wants. That won’t work neither.

 

MARTHA

Speaking of ignoring – ain’t it ‘bout time one of you checked on that pack out back?

 

LORETTA

I’ll look.

(LORETTA opens the back door sticks her head out.)

Get on with you! Go run the woods a bit.

 

RACHEL

Bless their hearts, are they all still sittin’ there?

 

LORETTA

Not no more, they ain’t.

 

 

CATHERINE
(oblivious to the other conversation)

Besides, that’s just to blow a spark into a flame. That don’t create the spark. Something honest has got to do that.

 

MARTHA

It never hurts to dote and laugh at all his jokes.

 

HAZEL

How am I supposed to do that if’n I’m pretending I don’t know who he is?

 

MARTHA

Are you gonna argue back every time we try to help?

 

LOUISA MAE

Maybe she should just give up?

 

HAZEL

No. Something’s got to work.

 

RACHEL

“The virtuous woman gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family…”

 

CATHERINE

Oh! That’s a good one. Everyone knows the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. You can fix him up a meal…

 

MARTHA

She cain’t cook.

 

LOUISA MAE

She cain’t cook?

 

CATHERINE

Surely you can fix something. Pie? Soup Beans? Gravy? Corn Pone?

 

HAZEL

I always had to knead the bread. I can make bread.

 

CATHERINE

That’s it! You’ll bake him some bread.

 

ALL

Yes! There you go. That’s it.

 

MARTHA

I knew we’d be able find some way.

 

LORETTA

Indeed. A promising plan—if anyone had flour.

 

HAZEL

No one has flour? Catherine? Loretta? Rachel? Louisa Mae? What about wheat? I’ll grind it myself.

 

MARTHA

I’m sorry, child.

 

LORETTA

Wheat is twice the price it was a year ago and I expect it’ll be $50 a bushel before this war’s over.

 

CATHERINE

Well, let’s just think of something else to catch Zeke’s eye.

 

LOUISA MAE

Why?

 

RACHEL

Because Zeke’s jilted her, honey, and she’s trying to win him back.

 

LOUISA MAE

No. Why are you tryin’ to figure a new plan? There’s plenty of wheat just sittin’ in Burnsville. Why don’t you ask them for some of it?

 

LORETTA

Yes, of course, bushels of it stored in the Confederate Storehouses for the soldiers. You should walk right up to them soldiers and ask them, ever so polite, with your low neckline and fancy underskirt if they might spare you some.

 

CATHERINE

You’re right. They should spare us some. It’s our younguns who are dying trying to survive this war. They’ve stolen from us enough–just sittin’ on piles of food they might need. That wheat should be ours.

 

MARTHA

Aye Law! Wouldn’t that be the day. A bunch of women raiding the Confederate storehouse.

 

HAZEL

It’s been done afore.

 

LOUISA MAE

Some women already stole it?

 

MARTHA

Naw. I’da heard about it if someone had.

 

CATHERINE

What are you talking about ‘It’s been done afore’?

 

MARTHA

Out with it. If I know anything, it’s when a body is wanting to tell a secret they’ve been holding for a long time.

 

HAZEL

Here.

(HAZEL hands CATHERINE a scrap of newspaper from her pocket.)

 

CATHERINE

What’s this?

 

HAZEL

It’s from the Carolina Watchman, a newspaper out of Salisbury.

 

CATHERINE

Whatcha givin’ me this fer?

 

LORETTA

To wipe your nose with. Read it!

 

CATHERINE

‘A Female Raid.’

 

(CATHERINE squints at the paper.)

I cain’t read that old newspaper, the print’s too tiny.

 

RACHEL

‘A Female Raid. March 23, 1863’

 

MARTHA

Just over a year ago.

 

RACHEL

“Between 40 and 50 soldiers’ wives, followed by a numerous train of curious female observers, made an attack—“

 

LOUISA MAE

An attack?

 

RACHEL

That’s what it says. “..made an attack on several of our businessmen last Wednesday, whom they regarded as speculators in the necessaries of life, for the purpose, as we are informed, of demanding an abatement in prices, … They demanded he should sell them flour at $19.50 per barrel. This he declined to do, alledging that his flour had cost him more than twice that sum. They then said they were determined to have the flour, and would take it, unless he would sell it to them at the price Government was paying for it; and accordingly went to work with hatchets on his store room door.”

 

LOUISA MAE

Hatchets?

 

RACHEL

“After some time spent in vain efforts to open the door, a parley was had, and Mr. Brown agreed to give them, free of charge, ten barrels, if that would satisfy them. They accepted the offer, the flour was rolled out and hauled off.
They next visited Mr. John Enniss, of the firm of Henderson & Enniss, and made a similar demand on him. He gave them three barrels of flour.

 

MARTHA

Aye Law! What’s next?

 

HAZEL AND RACHEL

Mr. Frankford.

 

HAZEL

Then Mr. Spraug, then Mr. Weil, then Mr. Foster… Then the train depot. Read them how the other reporter writes it.

 

RACHEL

“..they met, some 50 or 75 in number, with axes and hatchets,

 

LORETTA

Axes and hatchets? Let me read that…

(LORETTA takes the paper from RACHEL and continues.)

“…and proceeded to the depot of the North Carolina Central Road, to impress some there, but were very politely met by the agent who asked them ‘What on earth is the matter?’
The excited women said they were in search of ‘flour’ . . . and again they demanded the agent that they be allowed to go in. He still refused, but finally agreed to let two go in and examine the flour… “

 

CATHERINE

I don’t see that working in his favor.

 

LORETTA

“A restlessness pervaded the whole body, and but a few moments elapsed before a female voice was heard saying: ‘Let’s go in.’ The agent remarked: ‘Ladies . . . it is useless to attempt it, unless you go in over my dead body.’”

 

LOUISA MAE

Do I want to hear what comes next?

 

RACHEL
(excited, takes the paper away from LORETTA)

“A rush was made, and they went in, and the last I saw of the agent, he was sitting on a log blowing like a March wind. They took ten barrels, and rolled them out and were setting on them, when I left, waiting for a wagon to haul them away. . .”

(long pause)

 

LOUISA MAE

Weren’t you in Salisbury last year?

 

MARTHA

Yes, she were.

 

CATHERINE

Were you…?

 

HAZEL

Mmmm-hmmm.

 

CATHERINE

Are you suggesting…?

 

LORETTA

She is.

 

 

 

Britt KaufmanBritt Kaufmann lives in Burnsville, North Carolina with her husband, three school-aged children, chickens and dog. Her poetry and prose have appeared in various publications: Kakalak Poetry Anthology (2007 & 2008), Main Street Rag, WNC Magazine, Now & Then, WNC Woman, The Mennonite, and The Pedestal Magazine, among others. She was a founding planner of the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival and hosts Eve’s Night Out, a monthly open-mic poetry reading in Burnsville. Her first full-length play, An Uncivil Union: The Battle of Burnsville (a romantic comedy set in the middle of actual events that occurred in Burnsville during the Civil War) was produced as a part of the Parkway Playhouse’s 2011 season.  Her second play Between the Tackles (a play about men watching football), was written with Stephanie Stark-Poling and premiered in September of 2012 on the same stage.  She was awarded a 2012 Regional Artist’s Project Grant to aid the completion and production of this play. Currently she is at work on her 3rd play Holobodies which takes place on a dilapidated space-ship taxi.

Germ Magazine guest author
… is a contributing guest author for Germ, which means the following criteria (and then some) have been met: possessor of a fresh, original voice; creator of fresh, original content; genius storyteller; superlative speller; fantastic dancer; expert joke teller; handy with a toolbox; brilliant at parties; loves us as much as we love them.

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