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.
Yes. Won’t you please tell us how a girl might catch a man’s eye?
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.
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…
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?
Maybe someone could lend you one.
“A virtuous woman selects wool and flax and works with eager hands…”
Yes, Hazel, have you got any handiwork you might show him?
She’s got cords a wood stacked at every house in the holler.
That won’t do.
They always say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’
Well, clearly that didn’t work.
You should try ignoring him. Pretend you don’t even know him.
That’s exactly what he wants. That won’t work neither.
Speaking of ignoring – ain’t it ‘bout time one of you checked on that pack out back?
Get on with you! Go run the woods a bit.
Bless their hearts, are they all still sittin’ there?
Not no more, they ain’t.
Besides, that’s just to blow a spark into a flame. That don’t create the spark. Something honest has got to do that.
It never hurts to dote and laugh at all his jokes.
How am I supposed to do that if’n I’m pretending I don’t know who he is?
Are you gonna argue back every time we try to help?
Maybe she should just give up?
No. Something’s got to work.
“The virtuous woman gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family…”
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…
She cain’t cook.
She cain’t cook?
Surely you can fix something. Pie? Soup Beans? Gravy? Corn Pone?
I always had to knead the bread. I can make bread.
That’s it! You’ll bake him some bread.
Yes! There you go. That’s it.
I knew we’d be able find some way.
Indeed. A promising plan—if anyone had flour.
No one has flour? Catherine? Loretta? Rachel? Louisa Mae? What about wheat? I’ll grind it myself.
I’m sorry, child.
Wheat is twice the price it was a year ago and I expect it’ll be $50 a bushel before this war’s over.
Well, let’s just think of something else to catch Zeke’s eye.
Because Zeke’s jilted her, honey, and she’s trying to win him back.
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?
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.
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.
Aye Law! Wouldn’t that be the day. A bunch of women raiding the Confederate storehouse.
It’s been done afore.
Some women already stole it?
Naw. I’da heard about it if someone had.
What are you talking about ‘It’s been done afore’?
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.
It’s from the Carolina Watchman, a newspaper out of Salisbury.
Whatcha givin’ me this fer?
To wipe your nose with. Read it!
‘A Female Raid.’
I cain’t read that old newspaper, the print’s too tiny.
‘A Female Raid. March 23, 1863’
Just over a year ago.
“Between 40 and 50 soldiers’ wives, followed by a numerous train of curious female observers, made an attack—“
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.”
“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.
Aye Law! What’s next?
Then Mr. Spraug, then Mr. Weil, then Mr. Foster… Then the train depot. Read them how the other reporter writes it.
“..they met, some 50 or 75 in number, with axes and hatchets,
Axes and hatchets? Let me read that…
“…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… “
I don’t see that working in his favor.
“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.’”
Do I want to hear what comes next?
“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. . .”
Weren’t you in Salisbury last year?
Yes, she were.
Are you suggesting…?
Britt 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.