1812: The Rivers of War
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS: U.S. negotiator at the peace talks with the British being held in the Belgian city of Ghent; son of John Adams, the second president of the United States.
JOHN A RMSTRONG: U.S. secretary of war.
CHARLES BALL: Freedman; U.S. Navy gunner.
JOSHUA BARNEY: Commodore, U.S. Navy.
JACOB BROWN: U.S. general in command of the Army of the Niagara.
JOHN COFFEE: A close friend and associate of Andrew Jackson, as well as his top subordinate officer.
HENRY CROWELL: Freedman; teamster, owning his own wagon.
PATRICK DRISCOL: Sergeant, U.S. Army.
SAM HOUSTON: Ensign in the Thirty-ninth U.S. Infantry; adopted son of the Cherokee chief John Jolly; his Cherokee name was Colonneh, which means "The Raven."
NDREW JACKSON: Commanding general of the Tennessee militia; later, major general in the regular U.S. Army, in command of U.S. forces in the southern theater in the War of 1812.
FRANCIS SCOTT KEY: Lawyer and poet.
MARIE LAVEAU: New Orleans voudou queen.
JAMES M ADISON: President of the United States.
ANTHONY MCPARLAND: Private, U.S. Army.
JAMES MONROE: U.S. secretary of state.
LEMUEL MONTGOMERY: Major in the Thirty-ninth U.S. infantry; personal friend of Andrew Jackson.
DAVID MORGAN: Brigadier general; commander of U.S. forces on the west bank of the Mississippi River in the New Orleans campaign.
DANIEL PATTERSON: Commodore, U.S. Navy; in command of American naval forces during the New Orleans campaign.
JOHN ENDLETON: Corporal in the Baltimore United Volunteers, a militia dragoon unit.
JOHN REID: Andrew Jackson's aide.
WINFIELD SCOTT: Brigadier general, U.S. Army; Brown's top subordinate officer.
W ILLIAMS SIMMONS: Accountant, formerly employed in the War Department.
W ILLIAM WINDER: Brigadier general, U.S. Army, in command of the defense of Washington, D.C.
THE R IDGE: A major Cherokee chief; took the name Major Ridge after the battle of the Horseshoe Bend.
JAMES AND JOHN R OGERS: Tiana Ross's half brothers, nephews of chief John Jolly.
CAPTAIN JOHN R OGERS: Father of Tiana, James, and John; although a Scots-American, he was an informal member of the Cherokee tribe and adviser to John Jolly; his nickname was "Hell-Fire Jack."
TIANA R OGERS: Niece of Cherokee chief John Jolly.
JOHN ROSS: Young Cherokee leader; very influential in the tribe, although not a chief.
S EQUOYAH: Cherokee warrior; developer of the Cherokee written language.
N ANCY W ARD: Leader of the Cherokee women's council, holding the title of Ghighua, "War Woman" or "Beloved Woman."
WILLIAM WEATHERFORD: Principal war leader of the Red Stick faction of the Creeks during the Creek War; also known as Chief Red Eagle.
SIR ALEXANDER COCHRANE: Vice admiral, in top command of Britain's operations against the U.S. south of Canada.
G EORGE C OCKBURN: Rear admiral, British navy.
SAMUEL G IBBS: Major general; Pakenham's top subordinate.
JAMES M ONEY: Captain, Royal Marines.
THOMAS M ULLINS: Lieutenant colonel; commander of the Forty-fourth Foot Regiment.
SIR EDWARD PAKENHAM: Major general; replaces Robert Ross as commander of British land forces in the New Orleans campaign.
ROBERT R ENNIE: Colonel; commander of the Forty-third Light Infantry.
PHINEAS R IALL: Major general, commander of British forces on the Niagara front.
ROBERT R OSS: Major general, commander of British army forces in the Chesapeake Bay campaign.
WILLIAM T HORNTON: Colonel, in command of the Eighty-fifth Foot Regiment.
MAY 30, 1806
Logan County, Kentucky
The duel was to be held just across the state line in Kentucky. The government of Tennessee would enjoy the luxury of looking the other way. Although the illegal affair involved some of its more prominent citizens, their activities would be taking place outside its legal jurisdiction.
Kentucky would do the same, of course, simply because the perpetrators would be out of the state as soon as it was over. And they were all a bunch of cussed Tennesseans, anyway.
The first group was in high spirits as they made their way to the agreed-upon dueling ground.
"Twenty-four feet, you say?" asked Charles Dickinson, who was to be one of the principals in the duel. He said it with a smile on his face; as well he might, since it was a pointless question. He'd already asked it a dozen times that morning, and received the same answer every time.
Dickinson had finished reloading his pistol. He waved it toward a nearby tree. "That tree looks to be standing about eight paces away. Pick a leaf, gentlemen, if you would."
His companions-half a dozen of the "gay blades of Nashville," as the newspapers liked to call them-were feeling just as festive as Dickinson. After a short and energetic wrangle, they settled upon a particular and distinctive leaf.
No sooner had they done so than the pistol in Dickinson's hand came up, quickly and smoothly. The gun fired, and the leaf fluttered to the ground. Dickinson's shot had severed the stem.
By contrast, the mood of the other party was grim.
"You don't stand a chance against him," stated the principal's second, General Thomas Overton. "Dickinson's probably the best shot in the whole of Tennessee."
His companion, a fellow general of the Tennessee militia, nodded silently. The nod was somewhat on the jerky side, though the man showed no sign of nervousness. His bony head was perched atop a narrow neck, which connected it to a slender body that looked to be all bone and gristle.
"I'll have to take the first shot," he declared. "No point trying to beat Dickinson there."
Overton winced. "You may very well not survive that first shot," he observed bleakly.
The principal shrugged. "Oh, I think I'll be all right. Long enough, anyway. And I don't see where I've got any choice, anyhow. I said I'd kill the bastard, and I intend to be true to my word. Whatever it takes."
The surgeon who accompanied the two generals said nothing. He didn't even wince, although he'd be the one who'd have to keep the general alive afterward, if that was possible.
There was no point in wincing. A man might as well wince at the movement of the tides.
Once both parties had arrived at the dueling ground, the lots were drawn. Dickinson's second, Dr. Hanson Catlett, won the choice of position. Overton would have the count.
There was no point in delaying the affair. As soon as the principals had taken their positions, at the twenty-four-foot distance they'd agreed upon, Overton's voice rang out.
"Are you ready?"
"I am ready," Dickinson replied cheerfully.
"I am ready," came the stolid voice of his opponent.
"Fere!" cried Overton, pronouncing the word in his old-country accent.
Dickinson's pistol came up like a streaking lizard. The gun fired the instant it bore on the target.
The Tennessee general hadn't even lifted his firearm yet. A puff of dust rose from the breast of his coat. He staggered back a couple of paces, clenching his teeth. Slowly, he raised his left hand and pressed it to his chest.
But he never lost his grip on the pistol in his right hand.
Dickinson gaped, drawing back a step. "Great God!" he cried out. "Did I miss him?"
"Back to the mark, sir!" roared Overton. He raised his own pistol and aimed it at Dickinson. "Back to the mark, I say!"
Dickinson's face went blank. He stepped forward and resumed his position at the mark, his pistol now lowered to his side. He'd had his shot, and by custom, he had to wait his opponent's return.
All eyes moved to the opponent. The situation was clear. Honor had been satisfied, beyond any shadow of a doubt. A magnanimous man would respond by refusing the shot, or simply firing into the air.
This particular Tennessee general was already famous for any number of things. Magnanimity was not one of them. Slowly and deliberately, he raised his pistol and took aim. He squeezed the trigger.
Nothing, beyond the slight click as the hammer stopped at half cock.
Everyone held their breath. What would the general do now?
His companions, who knew him very well, didn't hold their breath for more than a second.
The general drew back the hammer and fired again.
Dickinson reeled, struck below the ribs.
His friends leaped to his side, catching him even before he fell. They lowered him to the ground and began stripping off his coat. Blood was spilling everywhere.
"Passed right through him!" one of them called out. "He's bleeding buckets!"
Overton strode over to the wounded man, but the surgeon didn't bother to follow. From his experience, he knew Dickinson would die from such a wound, no matter what anyone did. And he had his own principal to attend to.
"Let me see your wound, General," he said quietly. "You were hit, I believe?"
The general took his eyes off the sight of his opponent, lying there on the ground. As always, the surgeon was struck by the color of those eyes. A sort of bright blue that wasn't particularly pale, but still always reminded him of ice.
The blue eyes were startled now. "I believe he did pink me a little. Forgot all about it."
He opened the coat. After some probing, the surgeon determined that Dickinson's bullet had broken two ribs and was buried somewhere in the general's chest.
He shook his head. "I don't think I'll be able to remove it. It'll be too close to your heart."
The general shrugged, without even wincing at the pain that movement must have caused him. "I'll just have to live with it, then."
Overton left the group of men clustered around the fallen Dickinson and walked back. "He won't want anything more of you, General. He'll be dead by tomorrow."
He then took the general by the arm and began leading him away. As he did so, two of Dickinson's companions rose from the shattered body and came charging toward them. Overton half raised his pistol by way of warning.
But the two men, though furious, were not armed. Or, at least, they didn't have any pistols in their hands.
"That was ungallant, sir!" one of them cried. " Ungallant, I say!"
The general glared at him. Before he could speak, though, the other man joined in.
"And you may be sure that we will publish a report on this affair! There will be a scandal! Be sure of it, sir! Charles Dickinson is a popular man in Nashville!"
"Publish what you will," snarled the general, "but I caution you not to publish anything like Dickinson did, or I'll challenge you, too."
Then the pain from his wound caused his teeth to clench, for a moment. The general's long and gaunt jaws lent themselves well to teeth clenching.
"He insulted my wife, once," he continued. "I let that pass after he apologized, since he'd spoken the words while drunk in a tavern. But then he called me a coward, and a blackguard, and a worthless scoundrel, and did so in print. Be careful, sirs, I urge you."
The general turned away, then, finally allowing Overton to guide him off the killing field.
One of Dickinson's companions looked to the surgeon. "It was ungallant, sir. I say it again."
The surgeon spread his hands. The gesture wasn't a pacific one, just a recognition of reality.
"He said he'd kill Dickinson, and he did. Even-deliberately, mind you-took the first shot in order to do it. What did you expect from him, sir? He is Andrew Jackson. Such is the nature of the man."
FEBRUARY 6, 1814
Fort Strother, Mississippi Territory
The first time Sam Houston set eyes on Andrew Jackson, the general's left arm was in a sling, and he was losing his temper.
"Do I make myself clear, sir?"
Jackson's eyes were like small blue volcanoes erupting under bushy blond eyebrows and an even bushier head of sandy-gray hair. The scar on his forehead actually seemed to be throbbing.
Sam had heard tales about that scar. Supposedly, it had been put there decades ago, during the Revolution, by a British officer. After seizing the home occupied by Jackson and his family in the Carolinas, the Redcoat had ordered a thirteen-year-old Jackson to shine his boots. Jackson had flat refused, and hadn't changed his mind even after the officer slashed him with a saber.
When he'd first heard the story, Sam had been skeptical. Now, watching Jackson with his own two eyes, he didn't doubt it any longer. The general's jaws were clenched, his bony fists were clenched, his whipcord body was clenched. He seemed ready to jump right out of his uniform and start pummeling the officer who was facing him.
"Answer me, blast you!" Jackson bellowed. Shrieked, rather, since he had a high-pitched voice. The general thrust his head forward so aggressively, his chin leading the way like the ram on an ancient war galley, that his fancy hat fell right off his head. The two-cornered general's hat landed on its side, like a shipwreck on a reef. Jackson paid no attention to the mishap.
The officer who was facing him-somebody in the Tennessee militia, judging from the uniform-was doing his level best not to wilt under Jackson's fury. But his level best…
Wasn't good enough. Not even close.
The man sidled backward a step, his eyes avoiding Jackson's accusing gaze. "Tarnation, General," he muttered, "you can't just-"
"Yes, sir, I can! And, yes, sir-I most certainly will! I've done it before, and I'll do it again!"
For the first time, Jackson seemed to catch sight of the two officers who had entered his command tent. He glared at General John Coffee first. But the glare was fleeting, nothing more than a split second's reflex.
"Coffee," he stated tersely. The greeting had an approving air to it, from what Sam could tell.
But then the glare turned on Sam himself, so he didn't have any time to ponder the matter.
It was quite a glare, too. Easily worthy of one of the heroes in Sam's treasured Iliad. Maybe not quite up to the standards of Achilles, but certainly the equal of anything Agamemnon or Menelaus could have managed.
"And you, sir!" the general barked. "You're wearing the uniform of a regular soldier in the army of the United States of America. Can I assume that you will follow orders?"
The general's eyes flicked to the militia officer. Jackson said nothing, but the glance alone was enough to make clear what he thought of the fellow.
Sam might have been amused, except he was starting to become angry himself. He didn't like bullies, never had, and the general looked to be about as bad a bully as he'd ever encountered.
"Yes, sir," he said stiffly, straightening up to his full height of six feet two inches. "I took the oath and I'll obey orders. Presuming the orders are lawful, that is."
With that, he fell silent. For a moment, it looked to Sam as if the general would literally explode. His pale face seemed so suffused with blood and fury that his temples threatened to burst. Both of them were throbbing now.
Then, to Sam's surprise, the general grunted a little laugh. "Ha! Got some backbone, do you? Good."
Jackson pointed a stiff finger at the target of his rage. "The issue in question here, young ensign, is whether or not these miserable militiamen will be allowed to desert their country in its time of need. I have informed this-this-this -individual that I will have shot any militiaman who attempts to desert."
The fact that the general's left arm was in a sling only added emphasis to the rigid, accusing finger of the other hand. For two reasons. First, because Jackson seemed to have an uncanny knack for striking dramatic poses. The lion, wounded, yet still able to challenge the hyena. Second, because the militia officer knew-so did everyone, including Sam himself-that the wound in question was the result of a recent shootout at a hotel in Nashville between Jackson and his friend Coffee and the Benton brothers. The pose might be histrionic, but Jackson's capacity for violence was by now a legend on the frontier.
Again, that jaw thrusting forth. " Damn me if I won't, sir!" he roared. "I'll shoot them myself, if I have to!"
The jaw receded, leaving the man a sinking wreck. Jackson's eyes turned back to Sam. "I will trust you to carry out the order, young ensign. If you've got spine enough to stand up to me, you ought to have spine enough to shoot a worthless deserter."
The officer, though sinking, hadn't quite dropped out of sight yet.
"General," he pleaded, "the terms under which the men enlisted-"
"Blast your terms, sir! Blast them, I say!"
This time, Jackson's finger pointed out of the tent. "Do the Red Sticks care about your 'terms'? I'll crush those savages, so help me I will-and you'll be there to help me do it. You will, sir! Don't doubt it! Or I'll crush you first!
"Now get out of my sight. Your protest has been heard, adjudged wanting in all right or reason, and summarily dismissed."
With that, the general took a half step back himself, as if he'd encountered a bad smell. The officer took advantage of the momentary space and scuttled out of the tent.
After he was gone, Jackson shook his head. "God save us from militiamen," he growled. "Lawyers, every one of them. And shysters at that."
His eyes came back to Sam, ranging, for a moment, up and down the uniform that identified him as a regular in the Thirty-ninth Infantry, U.S. Army. While European armies had adopted close-bodied coats or jackets in the course of the Napoleonic wars, American uniforms remained the traditional cutaway style, with elaborate lapels, facings, and turnbacks. Coats were still closed with hooks and eyes rather than buttons.
Sam's uniform was typical. The coat was blue and long-skirted, with scarlet cuffs and a standing collar. The woolen trousers were white, plain, and tucked into his boots. He had his tall leather infantry cap-often called a "tombstone shako"-tucked neatly into the crook of his arm.
After an inspection that lasted for several seconds, Jackson seemed satisfied. "Fortunately," he continued, "I now have real soldiers on the spot. What's your name, Ensign? And how long have you been serving the colors?"
"Sam Houston, sir. I enlisted in March of last year."
Jackson eyebrows lowered slightly. "Houston. I believe I've heard about you. Aren't you the one who was adopted by the Cherokee?"
The sentence seemed almost like an accusation, but… not exactly. Sam couldn't really tell what lay beneath it.
"Yes, sir," he replied. "When I was sixteen, after I ran away from home. I lived for three years with John Jolly and his people. He's the one adopted me, and gave me my Cherokee name."
"And that is?"
" Colonneh, sir. It means 'The Raven.' "
Jackson sniffed. "Nasty birds, ravens. On the other hand, they're also tough, and smart. Let's hope they picked the right name. Do you speak the language?"
"Do you get along with the savages?"
"Very well, sir." Sam's big shoulders shifted. "And I don't take kindly to people insulting my family."
Jackson surprised him again. The general grinned-rather cheerfully, it seemed. "It's against the law to challenge a superior officer, youngster, so you'd best leave the rest of that thought unspoken. I'd have to shoot you dead, and I'd prefer not to do that. Still and all, I'll refrain from using the term. In your presence, at least." There was a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
The general rubbed his long chin. "I can use you for liaison then, if Coffee needs it. We've got five hundred Cherokees allied with us in this campaign, and about a hundred friendly Creeks. Do you speak their language, too?"
Sam hesitated. That was a hard question to answer. The Creek Confederacy was an amalgam of a number of tribes of different origins, further divided between the so-called Upper and Lower Towns. The term "Creek" itself was a white man's word. Creeks were more likely to think of themselves as Coweta or Alabama or Tuskegee.
"Well…" he began.
But apparently Jackson understood the reality of the situation. "Any of the dialects?"
"I can get along, sir, with some of them. I speak a little Choctaw, also."
"No Choctaws with us on this campaign, so that doesn't matter. It might later, though. Once we're done with the Red Sticks, we'll be facing the British, you can be sure of it. Maybe the Spanish, as well. John? Do you want him? If you do, I'll have Colonel Williams detach him from duty with his regiment."
The officer who had accompanied Houston shrugged his shoulders. "I could certainly use Ensign Houston, General, but I don't really need him. At least a third of the Cherokees speak English. The Ridge doesn't, true enough, but he's got that young John Ross fellow to translate for him." Major Coffee chuckled. "Of course, I don't think Ross really speaks Cherokee all that well. But we'll get along, true enough."
Jackson nodded. "All right, then. To tell you the truth, John, it'd probably be better to keep the ensign with his unit. I'll be counting on the Thirty-ninth to keep the ragtag-and-bobtail in line." He glanced at the flap of the tent through which the militia officer had beat a hasty retreat. "I think I did a pretty good job of bullying the little piglet. But you know as well as I do that they need bullying on a regular basis. How was my tantrum, by the way?"
Coffee smiled. "Pretty good. Not your very best, though." The major looked down at Jackson's hat, which was still lying on the floor. "For a really top performance, you should have stomped on the hat."
The general stared down at the object in question. "Tarnation. I didn't think of that." He seemed genuinely aggrieved.
Jackson stooped over and picked up the hat, brushed it off, then jammed it back onto his head. By the time he was finished, Sam was thoroughly amazed at the transformation in the man. The general who now stood before him, smiling and relaxed, seemed like a completely different person.
Jackson gave him a cool, thin smile. "A lesson here, Ensign Houston, which will stand you in good stead. A reputation, once developed, is as valuable as a fine sword."
Then the smile became very thin. "But don't forget that it has to be a valid reputation. Or the sword's got no edge. I will shoot the bastards, if I have to."
There didn't seem to be much to say to that, so Sam kept his mouth shut. After a moment, the general turned away and motioned for them to follow him to a table that stood in the corner of the tent. "And now, John, let's discuss the campaign."
There was a large map spread across the table. "The Georgians are worthless, as usual," Jackson growled. "There's nobody quicker to steal land from Indians, but whenever it comes to having to actually fight the savages-"
He broke off, tossing Sam a sly glance. "Excuse me, Ensign. I should have said 'the gentlemen of the red-skinned race.' But whatever you call them, the Georgians run for cover every blasted time they appear. I just got word that General Floyd has retreated-again-and relinquished command to Colonel Milton at Fort Hull. Who'll probably be just as useless as every Georgian seems to be. So it'll be up to us Tennesseans to put an end to the Red Sticks."
Coffee studied the map intently, as did Sam. It was hand-drawn, and showed the terrain of the Territory of Mississippi, where the Red Sticks were concentrated. The Red Stick faction of the Creeks, the southern allies of Tecumseh, came mainly from the Confederacy's Upper Towns. By and large, the Lower Town Creeks had either remained neutral or were allied with the United States.
American newspapers tended to portray the Red Stick war as an attack on white settlers. It was that, certainly, but it was more in the way of a civil war among the Creeks themselves. The people massacred at Fort Mims by the Red Sticks a few months earlier, on August 30, had mainly been Creeks, not whites. Mixed-bloods, true, most of them-but the same could be said of the Red Sticks, especially their leaders. Tecumseh and his brother The Prophet had sought to unite all Indians against the whites. But, like most Indians, they viewed the distinction between "red men" and "white men" more along cultural lines than strictly racial ones. Many of Tecumseh's followers, especially the Creek warriors of the Red Stick faction, had some white ancestors themselves.
Tecumseh himself was dead now, killed in Canada in October, when U.S. forces under the command of General William Henry Harrison had defeated the British and their Indian allies at the battle of the Thames. It was reported that Colonel Richard Johnson, who'd led the final cavalry charge and had been badly wounded in the affray, had shot Tecumseh personally. But the fires Tecumseh and his brother The Prophet had lit among the many Indian tribes were still burning in the southern territories of the United States.
Coffee rubbed his chin. "Are you sure you don't want to wait for the Georgians to regroup, General?" His finger traced the lines of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers. "We're not going to move easily through this terrain. It's pretty much pure wilderness, by all accounts I've received."
Jackson shook his head impatiently. "We haven't time for a slow campaign, John. The real enemy is the British, don't ever forget it. We've got to crush this uprising as soon as possible or we'll still be tied up when the British arrive."
"You may be jumping to conclusions, General. Napoleon might beat them, you know, even after his defeat at Leipzig. If he does, the British won't be in any position to send more troops all the way across the Atlantic."
Sam was a little surprised that Coffee didn't hesitate to argue the matter. After witnessing the Homeric temper tantrum Jackson had just thrown, Sam himself would have been a little hesitant to disagree with him under any circumstances.
But the general didn't seem to mind. "All my hopes are with Napoleon, to be sure. But…" He sighed. "The bastards are already into France itself. Marching on Paris, according to the latest news. I just can't assume that he'll win. And if he loses, which at this point I'd have to say he probably will, then the British Empire is going to bring all its power down on us. With the Spanish holding their coats. Before that happens, we've got to have the savages under control."
Again, he gave Sam that sidelong glance. "Begging your pardon, Ensign."
Sam suppressed a sigh of his own. He had a sneaking suspicion the general was going to needle him on the subject for… quite some time.
Jackson turned back to the map, his own finger tracing a route along the Coosa. "I intend to start our march as soon as possible. We'll follow the Coosa down to here, at which point we'll move eastward toward Emuckfaw. From there, we'll just be a short distance upriver from the horseshoe bend on the Tallapoosa, where Chief Menawa and Weatherford and about a thousand Red Stick warriors have forted up.
"John, I'll want you and your cavalry-you'll be working with the Cherokees, too-"
When The Ridge and his companion saw the militia officer come scuttling out of General Jackson's tent, they said nothing, but they did exchange a little smile. Some of the Creeks had already started calling the American general "Sharp Knife," and The Ridge was pretty sure it wouldn't be long before the Cherokees who were Jackson's allies would be doing the same.
The smile faded soon enough, however. When it came to the Americans, there wasn't much for Cherokees to smile about.
Many Creeks, and a fair number of Cherokees and Choctaws, would explain it on the simple grounds that the Americans were white people, and, as such, a fickle and treacherous race. But The Ridge didn't think even the Red Sticks really believed that. Maybe in the North they did, where Tecumseh himself had come from. The Ridge didn't really know that much about those tribes, even though the stories claimed the Cherokee themselves had come from the North, long ago. Those stories were probably true, he mused, since the Cherokees spoke a language that was similar to the Iroquois.
But racial explanations didn't make much sense to The Ridge, and never had. He was himself mostly a full-blood, yet all he had to do was look around him to see the extent to which "the Cherokees" had long ago begun to change, on that level which the whites called "race." Even the name "Cherokee" was of white origin. The term the Cherokee themselves used was "Ani-Yunwiya," which meant the "Real People" or the "Principal People."
All he had to do was look at the man squatting next to him, in fact. Young John Ross.
To all outward appearances, John Ross was a white man himself. His skin was as pale as any white man's; his hair was red; his eyes were blue. Nor was that a freak of nature. Measured by blood, John Ross was a white man. The Ridge didn't know him well yet, since he'd only just met him on this campaign, but he knew some of the man's ancestry. Seven of his eight immediate progenitors were white people, mostly of Scot extraction. Only one of them, his great-grandmother Ghigooie of the Bird Clan, had been a Cherokee.
But the way the Cherokee measured such things, that made John Ross a member of the clan. The fact that he looked like a Scotsman simply didn't matter, as far as they were concerned. The Ani-Yunwiya traced lineage through the mother's line, not the father's. The white man's concept of "race" was an alien one. The people whom the Americans called "Indians" actually belonged to a wide variety of peoples, who spoke different languages and had different customs.
No, The Ridge wasn't really an Indian, except insofar as the white people placed him in that category. But because they did, he had to deal with it, because he had to deal with them.
From his own viewpoint, though, he was Ani-Yunwiya, because he belonged to one of the seven Cherokee clans. The Deer Clan. Beyond that, he recognized kinship with many other tribes, since Cherokees often married outside the seven clans.
John Ross probably had a better understanding of the white way of thinking, even if he didn't agree with it. Despite his youthful age, Ross had already acquired a reputation among his people, and he was emerging as a Cherokee leader. Certainly no one doubted his loyalties to the Bird Clan.
Things were no different with their Red Stick enemies. Somewhere in the distance to the south, the Red Stick faction of the Creeks had forted up on a bend of the Tallapoosa River in an attempt to withstand Jackson's coming assault. Their loyalties to their own leaders were fierce, but had little to do with race. Their central war chief was a man who, like most Indians of the time, had two names. Red Eagle, and
… William Weatherford.
Like Ross, Weatherford had more white than Indian ancestors. That hadn't stopped him from leading the successful attack on Fort Mims, although rumor had it that Weatherford had tried to prevent the massacre of the fort's population. But The Ridge was quite sure that race had nothing to do with the massacre, either. Most of the people massacred at Fort Mims had been Creek half-bloods, just like Weatherford himself and many of his Red Stick followers. The different ways in which white people and red people measured difference to begin with was just one of the many problems they had faced, separately and together, for over two centuries now.
The Ridge had seen the sea, several times since his youth, and had never forgotten the inexorable power of the tides. They couldn't be stopped, certainly. But perhaps they could be channeled.
John Ross was somewhat in awe of The Ridge, and so he took his cue from his older companion's unreadable countenance, and his still manner of watching things.
"Stoic." That's what white Americans would have labeled The Ridge. The word wouldn't have meant anything to the man himself, since he spoke no En-glish and was basically illiterate. But John himself was fluent in English-more so than he was in Cherokee, in fact-and he was a voracious reader.
Still, John was a Cherokee, and he thought like one. So he knew that "stoic" was a misnomer. The Ridge's manner did not derive from the ancient philosophies of the Romans, whom most Americans saw as their political forefathers. John Ross had read some of those Roman texts in school, as did most educated children, but he was sure The Ridge had never even heard of them.
No, The Ridge's manner came from the traditions of his own people. The stillness of hunters waiting for prey; the patience of the river bottoms where a people grew its beans, squash, and corn.
The Ridge was in his early forties. He was well known among the Cherokee as an advocate of finding workable compromises with the whites, and even adopting many of their practices, when it made sense. But, in other ways, he was something of a throwback. One of the great ancient ones, John Ross liked to imagine, come back to life in the Cherokee time of need. The Ridge wasn't entirely a pureblood, since his mother's father had been a Scot frontiersman. But there was no trace of that ancestry in his form and figure. The Ridge was as dark-skinned as any Cherokee, with the dramatic nose and cheeks to go with his powerful build. He'd been named for his hunting prowess. "The Ridge" was an English translation of the Cherokee Kahnungdatlageh, which meant "the man who walks on the mountaintop."
He had been a blooded warrior at the age of seventeen, killing one of the white Tennesseans who had been allied with the Unakas. By the time he was thirty, he was one of the Cherokees' most influential chiefs. He was often referred to as asga siti. The term was usually translated into English as "dreadful," although for Cherokees themselves the connotations were more that of "terrifying" or "formidable."
Still, The Ridge had for at least a decade been the principal voice among the Cherokee, advocating an end to the ancient Blood Law that kept the Cherokees-like most Indian nations-continually embroiled in clan feuds.
John's own musings were interrupted by new movement at the entrance to the general's tent. Two more American officers were emerging.
The Ridge was already studying them. One of them, rather.
The man on the left, John Coffee, wasn't the object of his scrutiny-he was already well known to the Cherokee. It was the young officer who accompanied Coffee whom The Ridge found interesting.
Physically, at least, he was certainly impressive. Very tall, broad-shouldered, and with a muscular physique. But The Ridge could outwrestle almost any man he'd ever met, so that was of no interest to him. Instead, he focused on the young officer's face.
That face had possibilities, he decided. The blue eyes looked to be intelligent, and the mouth seemed to be one that smiled easily. Better still, one that could tell jokes.
"Is that the one?"
John Ross nodded.
The adopted son of Oolooteka, "he who puts the drum away"-or John Jolly, as he was often called. John Jolly was a fairly minor chief among the Cherokee, but his older brother Tahlonteskee wielded great influence. Mostly a bad influence, The Ridge thought, since Tahlonteskee was the most prominent advocate of moving the tribe to the West. Indeed, Tahlonteskee had already done so, leading a thousand people in his own clan across the great river into the region the Americans called Arkansas.
At best, The Ridge thought the decision had been premature. But Tahlonteskee wasn't the only one who was advocating that course of action. His younger brother John Jolly did so as well, although he hadn't yet made the move himself. Their position was especially influential among the purebloods.
"I think we will talk to him," The Ridge announced.
John Ross started to rise. The Ridge placed a hand on his forearm and drew him gently back down. "Not now. After the battle."
Ross shot him a questioning glance. The Ridge allowed himself another little smile. "Whatever else is different about Americans, one thing is not. They prize courage as much as we do. So. After the battle. He will be a great deal older then than he is now, once that day is over, and everyone will know a great deal more about him."
Finally, Sam couldn't keep the question from bursting out.
"He was faking it?"
As they walked away from Jackson's tent, General Coffee cast the young ensign a sidelong stare.
"I have known Andy Jackson for ten years, both as a friend and a business partner. I married his wife's niece, and I fought a duel with Dickinson's friend McNairy two months before Andy killed Dickinson. I know him as well as anyone does. Andy Jackson doesn't fake anything.
"It's just…" Coffee looked away, as if gathering his thoughts. "It's a little hard to explain. Let's just say that the general is a lot smarter than most people think he is."
Something in Sam's face must have made it clear that he wasn't satisfied with the explanation. Coffee issued a little chuckle.
"All right, then let me put it this way. With Andy Jackson, you just never know. He does, in fact, have a temper that can shake buildings. And he can be as cold-blooded and ruthless as anyone you'll ever meet. You heard about the time a company of militiamen tried to march back to Tennessee-it happened last November-because their term of enlistment was up? Andy rode out on his horse, planted himself square in front of them, and leveled his rifle at them. Said he'd shoot the first man who took another step."
Sam nodded. By now, the story was famous-notorious, more like-all over the frontier. He'd even heard that it was stirring up a ruckus in Washington, D.C.
"And there's the time Hall told Jackson his brigade was planning to desert-this happened at Fort Deposit, a month later. The story goes that Jackson had two cannons trained on them. Then mounted his horse and swore that he'd have them fired on, despite the fact that he and his horse were right there in the line of fire. You heard that one, too, I'd wager."
"Well, both stories are absolutely true. In every detail. I was an eyewitness to the first one myself. And I can tell you there wasn't a single one of those militiamen who doubted for a minute that Andy would pull the trigger. They don't call him 'Old Hickory' for nothing."
The two men walked on in silence for a moment, negotiating their way around a group of soldiers who were squatting at a campfire. After they were past, they found themselves picking their way a little more slowly, now that the sun had set. Coffee spoke again.
"You just never know, that's the point. And that's the way Andy likes it. Did they tell you when you were a kid that bullies are always cowards?"
Sam laughed softly. "Yeah, but I didn't believe it, even then."
"Smart lad. It's pure horseshit-and Andy Jackson is the living proof of it. He's a ferocious bully, and he's a sneaky, conniving bastard who won't hesitate for a second to trade on that reputation. But he doesn't have a cowardly bone in his body. Even his fingernails have guts."
Coffee stopped then and turned to face Sam straight on. The general was as big as Houston, so their eyes were on a level. There was still enough light shed by the sundown to enable Sam to make out his features. Coffee's round face was surmounted by a mass of black hair and centered on a prominent nose. He had very dark eyes. Despite the natural solemnity of the face, Sam thought he detected a trace of a smile playing across the general's lips.
"And I'll tell you what else is true, young man. The British probably will beat Napoleon. And if they do, they'll send their crack units here-Wellington's veterans-to crush the only republic left on the face of the earth."
Sam thought that was a bit of an exaggeration. The Swiss were a republic, and they were likely to survive the fall of Napoleon. However…
He wasn't inclined to argue the point, since he understood what Coffee was saying. The Swiss had been around for centuries, and they weren't any sort of threat to the aristocracies that ruled Europe. The United States, on the other hand, really stuck in their craw.
"If they can get away with it," Coffee continued, "don't think for a moment that the British wouldn't love to throw our little revolution here into the waste heap. If they can land and seize control of the gulf, along with the mouth of the Mississippi, they'll have us by the throat."
He stopped talking for a moment, and cocked his head questioningly.
Sam nodded in agreement, and firmly. He'd already come to the same conclusions.
"Okay, then." Coffee turned and resumed walking. "So here's what else is true. Just be damn glad that conniving, way-smarter-than-he-looks, bullying son-of-a-bitch Andy Jackson is in command. We'll need him, before this is over."
MARCH 27, 1814
The Battle of the Horseshoe Bend
The next time Sam Houston encountered Andrew Jackson, the general was hollering again, but this time Sam couldn't make out the words.
First, because Jackson wasn't the only one hollering. So were a thousand Red Stick warriors hemmed in behind their barricade on a horseshoe bend in the Tallapoosa, with about two and a half thousand white soldiers and militiamen facing them.
Secondly, because the hostile Creeks trapped behind their own fortifications were beating war drums. Lots of war drums, from the sound they were making.
And, thirdly, because up close, even two cannons make an incredible racket.
It was late morning when Sam and his superior officer, Major Lemuel Montgomery, came up the rise where the general had set up his field headquarters. Topping the rise, Sam saw the two cannons Jackson had hauled with him across the wilderness positioned atop a small hill overlooking the fortifications the Red Sticks had erected. Sam had been in the army long enough now to recognize the cannons as a six-pounder and a three-pounder.
Field guns. No more, and the three-pounder was something of a lightweight, at that. Nevertheless, Sam had been hearing the racket they made ever since the Thirty-ninth Infantry had arrived at the battlefield and had taken up their position. The Thirty-ninth was at one end of a field that sloped down toward the other end, which was closed off by the Creek fortifications. Now that he was close enough, he could see that the guns hadn't done any damage worth talking about to the enemy's fieldworks.
He wasn't really surprised, though, getting his first good look at those fortifications. The Red Sticks had had months to prepare for this attack, and obviously they hadn't wasted the time. The barricade they'd put up across the neck of the peninsula was impressive. Very, very impressive.
Moments later Montgomery and Houston were just a few feet away from Jackson. Seeing them, the general waved his hand in the direction of the fortifications. The nearest part of the wall stood less than a hundred yards from the position Jackson had taken on the hill. The farthest part of it, Sam estimated, was another three hundred yards distant.
"Have you ever seen anything like it, Lemuel?" Jackson demanded. His tone was half angry; the other half contained grudging respect. "Tarnation, who would have thought those savages would come up with something this well made?"
Jackson's blue eyes flitted to Sam, and a sarcastic little smile came to his lips. "Begging the ensign's pardon."
Sam decided to ignore the remark. Truth be told, he wasn't any too fond of the Red Sticks himself. He didn't consider them savages, as such, the way most white people did. But they'd certainly behaved savagely since they'd organized themselves in response to the religious preaching of Tecumseh's brother, the prophet Tenskwatawa. That had been true even before the massacre at Fort Mims.
Sam frowned as he studied the fortifications. The breastwork that the Red Sticks had erected across the neck of the peninsula consisted of heavy timber-solid logs, most of it-laid in a wall ranging anywhere from five to eight feet tall. The solidity of the structure made it effectively impervious to the small cannons Jackson had with him. The double row of firing ports and the zigzag design of it gave the defenders the ability to bring enfilade fire on anyone advancing across the open field that stretched in front.
True, as was almost invariably the case in Indian wars, the Creek warriors were poorly supplied with guns. They were probably just as poorly supplied with ammunition. But, with those fortifications, even the bows with which most of the Red Sticks would be armed could be devastating.
Houston could see Major Montgomery's face tightening, the way a man's will when he's arriving at a very unpleasant conclusion.
"We'll have to try a frontal assault, then, General."
Jackson nodded. "I'm afraid so. I'd hoped the cannons…" He waved that thought away impatiently. "I'll need to rely on you and your regulars, Lemuel. Pass the word to Colonel Williams to get ready."
"Yes, sir." Montgomery winced slightly, as the six-pounder went off again, just a few feet away. "How soon?"
"I'm not sure, yet." Jackson took off his hat and ran long, bony fingers through his hair. Because his left arm was still in a sling, he had to use the same right hand that was holding the hat. The result was to dishevel his stiff, sandy-gray hair all the more.
Then he gestured with the hat toward the Tallapoosa. The river wasn't far off, but it couldn't be seen through the heavily forested area. This late in March, this far south, most of the trees already had foliage on them.
"I sent Coffee and his cavalry and all of the Cherokees to ford the Tallapoosa two miles away, then circle around to the other side of the river. Mainly, I just wanted to make sure the Red Sticks were trapped. I intend to crush them here, once and for all, and I don't want any of them escaping. But…"
He clamped the hat back on his head. "John's an energetic officer. He may be able to distract their attention with a diversion of some kind. So let's wait another hour and a half. In the meantime, I'll keep peppering them with cannon fire. Even if it doesn't look to be doing any good, that should keep their attention fixed on us, instead of the riverbank."
Montgomery pulled out a watch. "That'd be half-past noon, General. I'll tell the colonel."
Jackson nodded. Montgomery squared his shoulders. "I'll lead the assault myself."
The general nodded again. Then, abruptly, he stuck out his hand. "Take care, Lemuel." There was quite a bit of warmth in his tone. Houston had heard that Jackson and the major had been personal friends since before the war started.
To his surprise, after Jackson finished shaking hands with Montgomery, the general thrust his hand at Sam. "And you, as well, Ensign Houston. I will rely upon you to carry forward if… anything untoward happens to Major Montgomery."
Jackson's grip was firm. Sam hoped the same was true of his own. "I will, sir. You can count on it."
He even managed not to wince when another cannon went off. Fortunately, it was only the three-pounder.
Slowly, The Ridge moved a branch, just enough to afford him a good view of the opposite bank of the Tallapoosa. Behind him and spread out on both sides, hidden in the forest, hundreds of Cherokee warriors crouched. General Coffee and his cavalry were somewhere farther back, having agreed to follow The Ridge's advice and stay well out of sight of whatever Red Sticks might be watching the river.
In theory, Jackson's Cherokee allies were led by their chief, Gideon Morgan, to whom the Americans had given the rank of colonel. But that was mainly due to Morgan's fluency with the English language. In practice, as the campaign against the Red Sticks had unfolded, it was The Ridge who'd come to be the central war leader, and the one whom General Coffee relied upon. The Ridge had started the campaign with the lowly American rank of lieutenant, but now he was a major.
Observing nothing on the other side except a line of beached Creek canoes, The Ridge examined the river itself for a moment. The muddy waters of the Tallapoosa were moving fairly quickly, but he didn't think it would be impossible to swim across. Not even difficult, really, since the distance wasn't that great.
He went back to studying the opposite bank, with the patience of a hunter.
Nothing. There might well be some warriors in the vicinity, but it was becoming obvious the Red Sticks hadn't thought to place a guard on the river.
He wasn't surprised. He could hear the sounds of fighting off in the distance, and had been hearing them for quite some time. By now, the Red Stick warriors would be concentrated at or near the fortifications that stretched across the neck of the peninsula, hundreds of yards away from the river's curve. The terrain directly opposite The Ridge's location was flat, once the riverbank itself was surmounted, and it wasn't as heavily forested as most of the region.
Somewhere in the distance he thought he could see the high ground that was reported to form the center of the peninsula, and he was pretty sure the Creek village itself would be located at the foot of it. That area would be guarded, but the river itself wasn't being watched. Not closely, at least.
Moving slowly again, The Ridge let the branch slide back into position, no more abruptly than if it had been moved by the wind. Then, he turned his head and considered the Cherokees who were clustered nearby.
He dismissed John Ross without even a thought. The youngster seemed stalwart enough, but had no real experience in this sort of fighting. The Americans had made him an adjutant, and had given him the rank of a second lieutenant. But, again, that had been mostly due to his familiarity with English. For something like this, The Ridge wanted a more experienced man. Besides, it would take a good swimmer, and The Ridge had no idea how well Ross could handle himself in the water.
His eyes fell on The Whale. The man's name wasn't simply due to his size. The Ridge made a subtle summoning gesture with his head, and The Whale eased his way forward.
"Right across the river," The Ridge murmured. He slid aside a little so The Whale could take his own peek.
After carefully parting the branches and examining the canoes on the other side, The Whale grunted softly. "I'll take two men with me. Won't take long, so have everyone ready."
He turned away and softly called out two names. As the men rose from their crouch, The Whale led them a short distance upstream. They'd start their crossing far enough above the beached canoes that the current wouldn't sweep them right on past.
Then The Ridge glanced at John Ross again. If the youngster harbored any resentment because he hadn't been chosen for the task, there was no sign of it on his expression or in his posture. The Ridge was pleased, but not surprised. He'd already come to the conclusion that Ross was exceptionally levelheaded, and as such not subject to public bravado that infected most men his age.
There remained, of course, the question of Ross's courage. The American ensign wasn't the only young man in the group for whom this would be the first real test in battle. But there, too, The Ridge expected the young Cherokee to acquit himself well enough.
Well enough was all The Ridge asked for this day. The Cherokees already had enough warriors who had proven their fighting abilities. The Ridge himself was one of them. What they lacked were leaders who could negotiate their way through the tangled thicket of politics that confronted their nation in a world being swept over by a tide of white settlers.
He had high hopes for John Ross. Because of his background, Ross had a far greater familiarity with the subtleties of American customs than did most Cherokees. Certainly far more than The Ridge himself. The Ridge had never visited the home of the Ross family, near Lookout Mountain, but he had heard tales about it. The two-story log house was said to be full of books and maps and newspapers-even newspapers from England. John had been brought up in Cherokee country, in a Cherokee family, but as a boy he'd been tutored by a white man; and, as a youth, he had attended a white man's academy in Tennessee.
The value of such an education was unquestionable, in these difficult days. The proof of it was an even greater marvel than a two-story house full of books. John Ross had formed a business partnership with Timothy Meigs, the son of the well-known Indian agent Colonel Meigs. They had taken good advantage of the lucrative government contracts produced by the Americans' wars against the British and the Creeks. In the short few months before Ross had joined the Cherokee force that now fought alongside Jackson, he'd become a prosperous man, even as white men measured such things.
A Cherokee-not more than twenty-three years old-becoming wealthy from trading with white men! That was what the American missionaries called a "miracle."
As he ruminated, The Ridge listened for The Whale and his two companions. That was a waste of effort, really, since he knew full well that the men would perform their task soundlessly.
Sure enough, the first sign The Ridge got of their progress was the sight of the three warriors, coming down the river. The Whale and his companions, all of them expert swimmers, were crossing the stream without trying to fight the current, moving quickly, surely, and quietly.
"Get ready!" he hissed. The words were pitched in such a way that, while they wouldn't be heard by anyone across the river, they would alert all of the nearest Cherokee warriors. He could rely on them to pass the word along to the remaining hundreds crouched farther back in the forest.
That left only…
The Ridge hesitated. On the one hand, he wanted to observe the young man next to him under fire. On the other hand, it was also critical that the American cavalrymen didn't work at cross-purposes with what the Cherokee warriors were going to be doing. Once everyone started piling across the river, there was a serious risk that the allies would start killing one another in the midst of the chaos. White soldiers, even regulars, were notorious for not making fine distinctions between friendly and hostile Indians, especially once their blood was up.
Granted, most Indians didn't make fine distinctions between friendly and hostile whites, as well. But in situations like this one, the white soldiers had the advantage of wearing uniforms, which the Indians didn't.
For this campaign, it had been mutually agreed that all the Cherokees would wear two distinctive feathers and a deer tail in their headbands. The Ridge was hoping that would be enough to keep the American soldiers from firing on Cherokees by accident. Still, it would be smart to make sure that Coffee knew exactly what they were doing-and Ross was the obvious person to send as his liaison. The young Cherokee's English was fluent. More than fluent, really, since English was his native language.
So The Ridge arrived at his decision. "Find General Coffee and tell him we're crossing the river," he ordered Ross. "Do what you can to make sure the Americans don't start shooting at us, once they follow us across."
Ross's mouth quirked. "They're cavalrymen, don't forget. By the time they finally bring themselves to abandon their precious horses-since there's no way to get them across the river easily-it'll probably all be over, anyway."
The Ridge chuckled softly. There was quite a bit of truth to what Ross said, but…
"Do it anyway."
Ross hesitated. Just long enough, The Ridge understood, to make clear that he wasn't afraid to join the fight. It was very smoothly done, for such a young man. Then, moving not quite as quietly as an experienced warrior would have, Ross faded into the forest and was gone.
The Ridge turned his attention back across the river. The Whale and his companions had reached the canoes and were already sliding three of them into the water. They were big canoes, and they'd have only one man guiding each one. The current being what it was, they'd come across the river quite a ways farther down from his position. He did a quick estimate of where they'd land, rose from his crouch, and started heading that way.
His own movements, unlike those of Ross, were almost completely silent. That was simply long habit, so ingrained that The Ridge wasn't even conscious of it. The noise of the battle being waged somewhere on the other side of the small peninsula was such that even if he had set off an explosion on his side of the river, it probably wouldn't have been noticed.
Major Montgomery pulled out his watch.
"Fifteen minutes," he announced.
"We're ready, sir," stated Houston. The two officers were standing twenty yards in front of the arrayed lines of the Thirty-ninth Infantry, facing the enemy fortifications.
Montgomery took the time to move back and inspect the ranks himself. That wasn't because he doubted the ensign's assessment; it was simply because Montgomery had learned-largely from watching General Jackson-that soldiers were steadied by the immediate and visible presence of the officers who would lead them in an attack.
"God, I love regulars," the major murmured. Montgomery himself was only a "regular" in a purely formal sense. Still, even in his short military career, he'd come to share Jackson's distrust of militia volunteers.
Taken as individuals, militiamen were no different from regular soldiers. Better men, actually, in most ways. Certainly, as a rule, more successful men. The regular army was notorious for attracting vagabonds and drunkards to join its ranks, just for the sake of the steady pay and regular provisions; whereas militiamen were frequently respected members of their communities.
But even those members of the militias who weren't lawyers soon enough adopted a lawyerly view of their rights and obligations. That usually meant a keen sense of the right to leave the service the moment their short term of enlistment was up.
As he walked slowly down the well-formed ranks of the Thirty-ninth Infantry, here and there giving a soldier a careful inspection, Major Montgomery's lips twisted into a half-sarcastic little smile.
Regulars, God bless 'em.
Most of the men were armed with the older-style Model 1795. 69-caliber musket that Jackson had wanted for this campaign. The weapon wasn't as handy as the Model 1803. 54-caliber Harpers Ferry musket that was the standard issue for regulars, but it had the advantage of a fixed bayonet mount-and all the bayonets were fixed. Jackson believed in the value of cold steel.
They looked splendid, too, in their real uniforms with their high-collared blue coats and white trousers. Best of all, Jackson's quartermaster had somehow managed to finagle iron cap plates for the Thirty-ninth's tall headgear. The men would go into battle with their heads shining the regiment's name in the sunlight, instead of having to make do with painted imitations.
Vagabonds or not, when the time came these regular soldiers could be counted upon to do their duty, and do it well. Whatever coat of mail they might pass on to their offspring, assuming they knew who their bastards were in the first place, it might well include a half-empty bottle of whiskey as part of the insignia. Should, by all rights, for at least half of them. Still, there'd be no petticoats there. Not a one.
Montgomery came back forward to stand alongside Ensign Houston. He pulled out his watch again.
"Five minutes to go. And, yes, we're ready."
There were some Creek warriors not far from the riverbank, as it turned out. Even if they hadn't been posted as guards, they were too alert not to notice when The Whale and his two companions started sliding canoes into the river.
With a great shout, several of them rushed down to the water's edge, waving the crimson-painted war clubs that had given the Red Sticks their name. Most of the clubs were the type known as atassa, which were very similar in shape and design to a sword, concentrating the force of the blow on a narrow wooden edge. Many, however, were ball-headed clubs, or tomahawks with flint or iron blades.
The Whale's two companions got their canoes into the river and started paddling them across. But The Whale himself had some trouble untying the tether on his chosen canoe. By the time he got the canoe freed, it was too late. The Red Sticks were right on him.
The Whale hadn't encumbered himself with weapons when he swam the river, so all he had for defense was the canoe's paddle. The Ridge saw him rise up and smash the first Red Stick in the ribs with the edge of it. The Creek warrior went down instantly. His rib cage must have been shattered, and he might even be dead. The Whale was very strong.
But there were four more Red Sticks surrounding the intruder. He was only able to block one club strike and break another warrior's arm before he was struck down himself, his head bleeding profusely. Half-dazed, The Whale dropped his paddle and scrambled into some brush by the riverbank.
No doubt the Creeks would have followed him and finished him off, but by then one of them had caught sight of the hundreds of Cherokees massed in the woods on the other side of the river. He gestured to his fellow warriors, and the expression on their faces almost caused The Ridge to laugh.
Meanwhile, the two canoes were already more than half the distance across, and it was obvious to the Creeks that they would soon be facing an invasion of their fortress on its unprotected river side.
So, they left The Whale unmolested and began running back to alert the rest of the Red Sticks. By the time they were all out of sight, the captured canoes had reached the southern bank. The Ridge was the first to pile in. The Whale and his companions had taken care, right off, to seize the paddles for all the canoes and stack them in the ones they'd seized. So all the Cherokees who crammed into the canoes could help drive them back across the river. As experienced as they were with such things, it took less than a minute before they were starting to clamber onto the opposite bank.
The Ridge didn't bother giving any orders, now. Cherokees might not have the mindless discipline of white soldiers, but they didn't need to be told the obvious. Several Cherokee warriors, each holding a paddle, were already untying the rest of the canoes. They'd paddle them back across to load up more warriors. Within a few minutes, the vanguard that had crossed in the first two canoes would be reinforced by hundreds more.
"Can The Ridge handle it alone?" General Coffee asked, leaning forward in the saddle.
John Ross nodded firmly. "Yes, sir. And, ah…" His voice trailed off, as he searched for the right words.
Coffee frowned. "Yes, I think I know what you're getting at. He's more worried about being shot by my soldiers than he is about the Creeks, isn't he? Can't say I blame him."
Coffee pursed his lips and stared into the distance, examining what he could see of the river.
"All right, then. I'll keep my cavalry on this side for an hour. But I'll have them spread out all the way around the horseshoe, with orders to shoot any Indian who tries to swim across. The one thing General Jackson is determined about is that we're going to crush the Red Sticks, here and now. They'll either surrender or die. None of them are going to escape."
He looked down at Ross again, his expression bleak. "You understand? Make sure you tell The Ridge to keep his Cherokees on the other side, once they've crossed, no matter how desperate it gets. Those fancy feathers and a deer's tail won't look like anything once they're soaking wet and dragging behind heads of men swimming across the river. They'll just get shot in the heat of battle…"
He didn't finish the sentence, because he didn't need to. Ross understood the harsh realities as well as anyone. To most white men, one Indian looked just like the next. There were some who could tell the difference between the hair styles worn by the different Indian tribes, but not many. All the more so because of the habit men had in the southern tribes of wearing turbans as often as not.
John suppressed a sigh. This was no time to dwell on the unfairness of life. There was still a battle to be fought and won, this day.
"I'll tell him, sir," he said, then he raced off.
A horseman came charging up the field toward Montgomery and Houston, where they were standing in front of the Thirty-ninth. Even at a distance, Sam was pretty sure it was the same militia officer he'd seen harangued by Jackson the day he arrived in Fort Strother. Houston had good eyesight.
Montgomery had been on the verge of ordering the attack. But, seeing the oncoming officer, he held off. "Better see what he has to say. Jackson must have sent him." The major snorted. "The blasted fool. On a field like this, he'll break that horse's leg if he isn't careful."
Even on an uphill slope, at the pace he was driving his mount, the militia officer would arrive within seconds. Sam was already certain he knew the message he was bringing. The officer had plucked off his hat and was waving it frantically toward the Creek fieldworks, using only one hand to guide the horse.
"Blasted fool," Montgomery repeated.
"Sir, I think General Coffee-or the Cherokees, more likely-just launched an attack on the enemy from across the river," Sam said.
Montgomery squinted at the log fortifications. The open field which led to that barricade sloped from a rise to the north of the peninsula. The Thirty-ninth was arrayed on that rise, ready to start its charge. Most of the charge would be on level ground, since the rise ended less than half the distance to the wall. But their current position did give them, at the moment, a decent view over the top of the enemy fieldworks.
"I think you're right. I can see Red Sticks-quite a few of them-scrambling away from the barricade."
Sam was pretty sure his eyes were better than the major's, and he'd already seen the same thing.
But there was no longer any need for them to guess. The militia officer finally came within shouting range.
"The general says to attack at once! Coffee has launched a diversion in the enemy's rear!"
"That's it, then," Montgomery said. He drew his sword, which, like Sam's, was scabbarded on a two-inch waist belt. Thereafter, the swords parted company. Officers were expected to purchase their own weapons, and Montgomery was a prosperous man. His weapon was a fine clipped-point saber, silver-mounted with eagle pommel and an ivory grip. Sam's was a straight sword he'd purchased from a down-at-heels artillery officer who'd resigned from the service. The sword could best be described as utilitarian.
On the positive side, Sam had also bargained well enough to get the man's pistol in the deal. He didn't think much of the sword, but the sidearm was a dandy Model 1805 Harpers Ferry cavalryman's pistol. It was against regulations, true, but he'd stuffed it into his waistband that morning, and Montgomery hadn't done more than look at it cross-eyed for a few seconds.
Jackson hadn't looked at it at all.
Montgomery hawked up some phlegm and spit on the ground. Then, loudly, he said, "Ensign, give the signal!"
Trying not to smile, Sam waved his hand, and the drum began pounding the signal to advance.
Their one and only drum. When Jackson's army had marched out of Fort Strother on March 13, to begin what everyone hoped would be the final campaign against the Red Sticks, it had been discovered that there was only one drummer boy left in the little army. All the others, it seemed, had reached the end of their enlistment, and had gone home.
Another commander might have been nonplussed by the fact. But Old Hickory, after five minutes worth of yelling about worthless thirteen-year-old lawyers, had simply snarled that men could march as easily to a single drum as they could to a thousand. They'd just have to listen a little harder.
So as the drum began its own battle against the din, the men began to move.
They had several hundred yards to cover, and Montgomery paced the charge accordingly. At the beginning, it was more in the way of a fast march than a "charge," properly speaking. Sam was eager to close with the enemy-just to get rid of his nervous energy, really, not because he felt any bloodlust. Still, he appreciated the major's foresight.
Maybe Homer's ancient Achaean heroes could run hundred of yards and fight a battle at the end-though Sam had his doubts-but their feebler modern descendants would be winded if they tried to do the same. The pace Major Montgomery established wouldn't tire out soldiers who were accustomed to frontier wilderness terrain. Sam guessed that the major would only order a real charge once they were within fifty yards or so of the breastworks.
True enough, that meant they'd be exposed to enemy fire that much longer, out in the open. Still, better that than to try to scale those fieldworks exhausted and out of breath.
It was hard, though, at least for Sam, to maintain that disciplined pace. Already, the Creeks were starting to fire arrows at the oncoming Thirty-ninth. They'd save their powder and bullets until the infantry regulars were within a hundred yards.
Sam's mother routinely accused him of being "high-strung." True, his mother was a harsh woman, given to exaggeration when she criticized someone-which she did frequently, especially her children. Still, he knew there was at least some truth to it.
So, he did his best to dampen the instincts that were shrieking to send him racing toward the enemy. He still didn't feel anything resembling the wrath of Achilles-which, in and of itself, suited him just fine. Sam had never much liked Achilles. He'd always found the Trojan Hector a far more appealing character.
No, it wasn't bloodlust or fury, he finally decided. He had no particular desire to pitch headlong into battle, no matter how much he wanted to make a name for himself. He was simply wound tight and ready to run, like a racehorse, now that the contest was under way.
That realization helped him to focus. Sam Houston had determined that he would pass through his life like a fine thoroughbred, not a plow horse. Better a short and glorious life than a long and dull one.
"Better yet," he murmured, "a long and glorious life."
"I'm sorry, Ensign, I didn't catch that," said Major Montgomery, marching along next to him.
Embarrassed, Sam cleared his throat and tightened his grip on the sword. "Nothing, sir. Just talking to myself."
Sam eyed an arrow that was speeding in his direction. More and more were falling now, though few were yet finding their targets. He didn't break stride, but he did edge slightly to his right, almost crowding Montgomery. The arrow passed safely three feet to his left.
"Don't," said the major. The word was spoken firmly, even sternly, but the tone wasn't accusatory. "In a fight, you can't see every danger. Just ignore it all, young man. That'll help steady the men-and it's in God's hand now anyway."
And that, too, young Sam Houston filed away for later study. He suspected the major was right-but he still thought it was a foolish way to fight a battle. Of course, that might just be his Cherokee upbringing at work. Cherokees, like all Indians Sam knew of, generally thought that the white man's headlong way of fighting was just plain stupid.
Perhaps it was. But it was also a fact that white men eventually won their wars with Indians, if not always all the battles. Maybe this was part of it.
He chewed on that concept, too, for a time. Indeed, he became so engrossed in thought that Montgomery's bellow caught him by surprise.
Breaking into a run, the major led the way, waving his saber. The fieldworks weren't more than fifty yards distant now.
By the time John Ross got back to the river and crossed on the first available canoe, the battle on the other side-between The Ridge's Cherokees and the Red Sticks-was well under way.
It was a swirling, confused melee; hundreds of Indian warriors fighting singly or in small clusters, clubbing and stabbing one another among twice that many tall trees. John heard some shots ring out, as well. The Cherokees had been provided with guns by Jackson. Not enough to arm every warrior, to be sure; but they had gotten far more guns from the Americans than the Red Sticks had been able to obtain from the British and Spanish enclaves down on the coast.
But there weren't that many shots, for this size of a battle. Even someone as inexperienced in fighting as John Ross could tell as much. He wasn't surprised, though, now that he saw the terrain. The fight between Cherokees and Creeks on the southern end of the peninsula was simply too close up, too entangled in forest and brush. By the time a man could see his opponent, his gun usually wouldn't be any more use than a large and clumsy club. That being so, why not use a real war club from the outset?
John, on the other hand, was no more proficient with traditional Cherokee weapons than he was with the Cherokee language. His loyalties to his nation were clear, but the truth was that he was far more comfortable with the white man's ways of doing most things.
So, like any young white man would have done in his first battle, Lieutenant John Ross drew his pistol and charged forward. He would have preferred a rifle, but proper officers didn't carry such.
Less than fifteen seconds later, John was glad he'd been armed with only a pistol. A Red Stick came around a tree, screaming out a war cry, and tried to brain him with his war club. John barely had time to throw up his arm and block the blow. Fortunately, his forearm intercepted the club well down the shaft, or he would have had a broken arm instead of just a badly bruised one.
The Red Stick drew the club back for another blow. He was a terrifying sight, in that moment. His mouth was open in a rictus of fury, and his painted face made him look like a demon.
John never knew, then or later, whether he pulled the trigger of his pistol out of fear or rage, or just pure reflex. Probably all at the same time, he concluded.
He wasn't even aware that the gun had gone off-the sound of it was overwhelmed by the chorus of war cries and the confusion of the moment. Then he saw the Red Stick's left leg flung aside and a spray of blood erupt from his thigh. The warrior's strike missed him by a good foot, and the warrior himself staggered for two paces before collapsing.
But to John's dismay he rose again, almost instantly, screaming another war cry. The. 62-caliber bullet would have shattered the bone, had it struck the leg squarely. But it had only inflicted a flesh wound. A bad one, to be sure-the man would eventually bleed to death if he didn't tie up his leg-but not bad enough to stop him.
John stepped back, wondering what to do. Even against a half-crippled opponent, his pistol with its twelve-inch barrel was a poor match against a real war club, especially when the club was being wielded by a religious fanatic. What was worse, he certainly didn't have time to reload.
The Red Stick lurched toward him, still screaming. The smartest thing for John to do was simply to run away, of course. Fanatic or not, the Creek would have no chance of catching him, not with that bad a leg wound. Or by the time he did, at any rate, John would have been able to reload.
But John couldn't stomach the thought of being seen as a coward. So, he braced himself, took a firm grip on the pistol butt, and decided he'd try to deflect the coming blow Then another Cherokee came around the same tree, as silent as a ghost, and shattered the Red Stick's skull with a single blow. From the amount of blood and hair and gore that was already covering his ball-headed war club, this wasn't the first brain he'd spilled that day. The warrior paused to stare at John.
"Stupid," the Cherokee growled in English. "Why didn't you just run away?"
The newcomer was no older than John himself. He glanced around quickly to make sure there were no other enemies in the immediate vicinity, and then grinned at him. "Stupid will make you dead," he continued, but he said it quite cheerfully now. "I'm James Rogers. You?"
He'd never met Rogers, but he'd heard of him. He was one of the sons of Captain John Rogers, the Scottish sometime-adventurer and sometime-adviser for John Jolly's chiefdom. The sons were said to be close friends, in fact, of the American ensign Houston whom The Ridge had found so interesting.
Rogers grin widened still further. "You're John Ross?" He switched to Cherokee, in which he proved to be quite a bit more fluent than John himself. "From the way you look and the uniform you're wearing, I thought you were an American. The John Ross, from Ross Landing? The same one who made a fortune swapping stuff with the Americans down on the river by Chatanuga?"
In keeping with the language, Rogers used the Cherokee name for Lookout Mountain.
"In that case," Rogers jibed, switching back to English, "you've got no excuse. I'm only half Scot. You're supposed to be much smarter than me."
Ross grinned back. "That's only if you believe what the Scots say."
Rogers pointed at John's pistol with his gruesome club. "Better reload that thing now. This fight is turning into a mess."
Trying to keep his hands from shaking, John did as Rogers suggested. "I'm looking for The Ridge," he told Rogers. "I've got to warn him that Coffee has all his men lined up on the river, ready to shoot anyone who tries to cross back over. That means Creeks, not us, of course, but…"
Rogers barked a laugh. John grimaced.
"Exactly. So I need to find-"
"It doesn't matter. The Ridge has no intention of retreating, believe me. We'll stay here until it's done." Rogers waved his club in a little half circle. "As for where he is, who knows? Best advice I can give you is just to follow the screaming. Wherever it's loudest, you'll probably find The Ridge. He does love that sword the Americans gave him."
Rogers eyed the pistol. "You reload pretty well, I'll give you that. So if you don't mind, I think I'll stay with you. I'll handle any Red Sticks who make it past your deadly gunfire."
"That probably means most of them," John admitted.
"Probably," Rogers agreed amiably. "But 'most' is still better than 'all.' "
They encountered two more Red Sticks before they finally found The Ridge. Ross fired twice, missing both times. Rogers did all the killing, although Ross had one of the men grappled by the legs before James brained him.
"You'll make a good diplomat, people say," Rogers commented idly, as they moved through the trees.
John hoped he was right. He'd certainly never be famous as a warrior.
Sam ran pretty well for a man of his size, but he couldn't match Montgomery.
The major was a big man himself, as tall as Sam if not as heavily built, but he just seemed to bound through the hail of arrows and bullets now being fired at the oncoming Thirty-ninth by the Red Sticks forted up behind their barricade.
Sam took his lead and example from Montgomery, not knowing what else to do. There was something bizarre about the whole experience. It just didn't seem reasonable for a man to race through deadly missiles with less thought and concern than he'd give so many raindrops in a shower.
It wasn't that Sam was scared, really, although by all rights he should have been frightened out of his wits. This was easily the most dangerous thing he'd ever done in his life, and he wasn't a cautious man.
He'd been even less cautious as a teenager. Plenty of his Tennessee townsmen in Maryville had thought the sixteen-year-old boy had been a lunatic to run away from home and travel through sixty miles of wilderness to live with savage Indians for three years. But it had seemed a reasonable proposition to Sam, at the time, compared to working on his mother's farm or as a clerk in his brother's general store. Still did, for that matter. Clerking wasn't what it was cracked up to be, and farming was worse yet.
So, he'd enlisted and given his oath, even pressed for a commission as an officer. The government having carried out its part of the bargain, Sam was now obliged to make good on his end of the deal. And if that involved charging a log wall armed with nothing more than a sword and a pistol, well, so be it. The Red Sticks pelting him with arrows and bullets were just…
Irrelevant, he decided. Sam, who'd memorized two-thirds of the poem, conjured up something from Alexander Pope's marvelous translation of the Iliad to steady himself.
But know, whatever fate I am to try
By no dishonest wound shall Hector die;
I shall not fall a fugitive at least,
My soul shall bravely issue from my breast.
When Montgomery reached the wall he was ten feet ahead of Sam. The major clambered up the log fortifications using only his left hand, still waving his saber in the right.
He shouted something. Sam thought it was Follow me! but he wasn't sure. Between the gunfire and the screams of the Red Sticks on the other side of the barricade, he couldn't hear himself think.
Not that there was any thinking to be done, really. It all seemed very simple. Climb the wall, get on the other side, do your best to beat down your enemies before they did the same to you.
Montgomery reached the top of the wall and dropped into a crouch, ready to leap across.
Then he shouted again. It was a wordless cry, this time, nothing more than a dying reflex as lungs emptied for the last time. Sam was sure of that. He could see the blood and brains erupting from a bullet that passed right through Montgomery's head.
The major fell back to the ground, his body passing Sam as he clambered up the wall.
"Follow me!" Sam shouted. Pretty damn good and loud, too, he thought. But he didn't try to wave the sword he carried in his hand. He'd save that for when he reached the top.
Finally he was at the top of the wall. It had seemed to take forever. Since Montgomery's crouch hadn't done much good for him, Sam decided to emulate what he imagined an Achaean would have done. Achilles, anyway, if not Odysseus.
He started to rise. Started to raise his sword, ready to wave it about now and shout Follow me! again. The painted faces of the Red Stick warriors staring up at him from the ground below were just a colorful blur in his mind.
He never even saw the arrow coming.
Fortunately, his foot slipped just as he started to stand, and what would have been a heroic posture turned into an ungainly sprawl. Fortunately, because had he kept his footing, that arrow would have plunged deep into his groin. As it was, the missile simply sliced a gash along the outside of his thigh before caroming off to the side.
It didn't even hurt. Sam realized he'd been wounded only when he spotted the blood soaking his trouser leg.
But he just shrugged it off. He was a big man, there was a lot of meat and muscle there, and the wound wasn't spouting the way it would if an artery had been severed. It was, quite literally, nothing but a flesh wound.
Besides, Sam had far more pressing concerns. Sprawled across the wall the way he was, his head was now within reach of the enemy-and, sure enough, a Red Stick was trying to brain him with an atassa.
Frantically, Sam brought up the sword. By sheer good luck more than any conscious intent, the blade intercepted the haft of the club. There wasn't enough power in that awkward parry to do more than deflect the club, but deflected it was. Off balance, the Red Stick stumbled past.
Seeing nothing else to do, Sam threw himself off the wall and landed on his hands and knees on the enemy side of the barricade. Instantly, he came to his feet, feeling a rush of relief greater than anything he'd ever felt in his life. Whatever happened now, at least he'd be standing up to face it.
What was happening now was that the same Red Stick was trying to brain him again. For the first time since the battle began, Sam got angry.
That bastard was trying to kill him!
Stupid bastard, too. Most white men didn't really know how to handle an Indian war club up close. Guns and knives were a white man's weapons. But Sam had been trained in wrestling and hand-to-hand fighting by his Cherokee friends John and James Rogers. James, in particular, was a veritable wizard with a war club.
His reflexes took over. A sword wasn't quite as handy as a war club, but close enough. Sam parried the strike and returned the favor.
He discovered that a sword had both an advantage and a disadvantage over a war club.
The advantage was that it had a blade.
The disadvantage was that it had a blade.
Sam was strong, even for his size. He'd brained the Red Stick, sure enough. And now he had a sword stuck in the man's skull.
No time to work it loose, either. Two more Red Sticks were upon him, and still more were aiming their bows his way.
There was nothing he could do about the arrows that would be coming. He left the sword where it was, drew his pistol, and fired it at point-blank range into the chest of one of the two Red Sticks. Then, threw the pistol into the face of the other and grappled with him.
A good hip roll and the warrior was slammed into the ground with enough force to wind him and jar the war club out of his hand. Sam dove for it, eager to have a usable weapon. He didn't even notice that the headlong plunge took him out of the path of three arrows that sank into the wooden barricade behind.
He came up with the atassa just in time to see dozens of Thirty-ninth Infantry soldiers pouring over the wall. With their blue coats, they looked like a wave crashing over a too-flimsy dike.
The Red Sticks at the wall reeled back from the assault. Sam charged forward to place himself once again at the lead.
"Follow me!" he bellowed again, waving the war club.
Even at the time, he thought it was a silly war cry. He had no idea where he was leading them, after all. It just seemed like the right thing to do, under the circumstances.
When he was excited, Andrew Jackson's high-pitched voice was often unpleasant, even shrill. But it was a piercing voice on the battlefield, able to cut through almost any din of shouting and gunfire.
It was certainly doing so now. From his vantage point atop the hill, Jackson had acquired a perfect view of the storming of the barricade. There'd been a sharp pang of grief, of course, when he saw his good friend Lemuel Montgomery killed. But, as always with Jackson, grief would have to wait its turn when more pressing matters were at hand. Whatever else, the man was a fighter first and foremost. And, for him, the excitement of battle would always override anything else at the time.
He was excited now. Excited enough, even, to lapse into profanity.
"Goddamn me, but that's a soldier!" He snatched off his fancy hat and waved it like a sword. "Go for 'em, lad! Give the savage bastards Jesse!"
The men standing around him matched his grin. Most of them were artillerymen, and they were out of the battle now, so they had plenty to grin about anyway.
Jackson jammed the hat back on his head. Then, still grinning, he turned to one of his aides.
"Do remind me, however, not to call them savages in the presence of that fine young fellow. He might take umbrage, and I do believe he'd be dangerous in a duel."
The aide grunted. "Especially if he had the choice of weapons."
Jackson's grin became wider than ever. Wider, and more savage than any of the men killing each other on the field below, of whatever color.
Leading, Sam soon discovered, was pretty much indistinguishable from chasing. Once their fortifications were overrun, the Creeks seemed to have no idea what to do. Not surprising, really. It was unusual enough for Indians to have built such an impressive line of defense. Sam would have been astonished to discover that they'd prepared lines of retreat, as well.
But they hadn't, as he expected. The Creeks reminded him of the Icelandic clansmen he'd read about in Sturluson's stories, based on ancient Icelandic sagas. Endless clan feuds which produced a race of hardy, resourceful, and ferocious warriors.
But not soldiers, really. Certainly not in the modern sense of the term. They just didn't have the ingrained customs and habits that produced ranks of disciplined men who formed what could properly be called an "army."
Sam knew that it would have taken all of Chief Menawa and William Weatherford's authority and political skills to have gotten the Red Sticks to build that breastwork at all. There was no chance they would have gotten them to build a secondary line of defense-or even, for that matter, have developed a battle plan that provided clear contingencies in the event that the fortifications were overrun.
So, now, everything was confusion and chaos. As individual warriors, the hundreds of Red Sticks still at large on the peninsula were as feisty as ever. More so, probably, since desperation had been added to fanaticism and the ever-present Indian courage, to keep them fighting. But they were fighting as individuals, now. Or, at most, in small clusters gathered around the figure of one of the chiefs or war leaders.
Following that initial heady charge after the retreating Creeks, therefore, Sam called a halt to the pursuit. He also was discovering that battles were incredibly exhausting, something Homer hadn't mentioned in his poems. Despite being in better physical condition than most of his men, Sam was just about winded.
Houston's voice had none of Jackson's piercing qualities, but it was still a big man's voice-and that of a man who'd never been in the least bit bashful. So when he called out the order, it brought the soldiers up short, quick enough. And, soon thereafter he had their lines reformed. He even took the time to make sure that every soldier had reloaded, and done it properly. In the heat of a battle, it was common for soldiers to forget to reload, or to double-load-and it was by no means unheard of for an excited man to fire a ramrod instead of a bullet. Which left him with neither a ramrod nor the means to reload his weapon.
That done, he ordered the soldiers forward in a steady march, ready to fire a volley as soon as any cluster of Red Sticks large enough to warrant a volley appeared. They'll do so soon enough, he thought. He could hear the sounds of fighting on the other side of the high ground, and he was sure that by now the Cherokees had crossed the river in large numbers.
Coffee's cavalrymen, too, perhaps, but Sam suspected it was mostly Cherokees who'd crossed the river. Coffee and his cavalry were probably still on the opposite bank, chewing on the matter.
John Ross and James Rogers found The Ridge, ironically enough, only by circling around in the chaos of the battle and coming back to the riverbank. Some of the Red Sticks were trying their best to escape across the Tallapoosa, and The Ridge was just as determined to see to it they didn't.
He was in the water himself, in fact, when they found him. Standing thigh deep in the muddy current and battling it out with a Creek warrior.
It was an arresting tableau, and for a moment John was transfixed by the sight. Somewhere along the line, The Ridge must have lost his sword-indeed, any weapon he might have been carrying. He was grappling the Red Stick, hand to hand. The Creek was the taller man, though he didn't have The Ridge's width of shoulder and muscular mass, so it was a fairly even match.
But he was much younger, too, and didn't have The Ridge's experience. In a wrestler's movement too quick for John to follow, The Ridge freed one of his hands, snatched a knife scabbarded at the Red Stick's waist, and stabbed him in the belly with it.
The Creek warrior screeched in pain and fury. He grappled The Ridge all the harder, ignoring the blood spilling out of his body. He got a better grip on his opponent, since that quick knife thrust had removed one of The Ridge's arms from the wrestling match.
Despite his terrible wound, John thought the Creek might still have a chance to win the fight. Hesitantly, he raised his pistol. He was afraid to fire, though. He just wasn't a good enough shot, even at this short range, to be sure he'd hit the right target.
James's hand on his arm brought the pistol down.
Rogers had seen what Ross hadn't-yet another Cherokee warrior ready to jump into the river from nearby brush.
The new arrival went into the water and with three powerful and steady strides came up next to the two combatants. He had a spear in his hand, and the thrust that followed had all the cold and terrible precision of a wasp sting. The blade of the spear sank deep into the lower back of the Creek, well away from any part of The Ridge.
The Cherokee withdrew the spear with an expert and vicious twist of his wrists. The Red Stick was paralyzed by pain and shock, his back arched like a bow. The Ridge pushed him away and stepped back, leaving a clear target.
The second spear thrust went right through the man. John, paralyzed himself by the spectacle, saw several inches of the blade protruding from the Creek's abdomen. Blood poured off the spear, adding its burden to water already stained bright red despite the muddy current.
James's hand went to John's shoulder, and gave it a little shake. "Come on," he murmured. "Let's give him the warning."
John shook his head to clear the moment's horror. "Yes," was all he could say.
As soon as he'd gotten out of the water, they told The Ridge of Coffee's plan. He gave the opposite bank of the river nothing more than a quick glance. By this stage in the battle, John realized, the warning was almost pointless. Coffee's cavalrymen were already visible all along the riverbank. They were dismounted, and had brought their rifles up, ready to shoot any Creek who tried to cross.
And anybody else, most likely.
But The Ridge seemed more interested in Ross himself. He looked the younger man up and down, slowly and carefully. John was suddenly glad for his scuffled appearance. Even more, for the bruise on his cheek that he'd picked up when James hadn't deflected a war club quite in time. Most of all, for the blood spattered all over his American-style uniform. True, none of it was his; and, true also, the enemy blood had been spattered onto him by the efforts of his companion. Still, it was living proof that he'd been in the thick of battle; and, whatever else, he hadn't flinched.
The Ridge grunted, and looked to James. "How is he doing?"
James smiled, in his easy manner. "Well enough. I think he'll make a better politician than a warrior, though."
Honesty compelled John to speak, then. "I can't do much worse."
The Ridge was back to studying him. Then, after a few seconds, he grunted again.
"You're here," he said softly. "Good politicians are harder to find than warriors anyway."
For the first time since John Ross had met The Ridge, the older man actually smiled. The expression looked almost weird, on that blocky and fearsome face.
But John thought it might be the best smile he'd ever seen. He'd never doubted his own loyalties-nor did anyone, he thought-but his upbringing had always left him feeling like something of an outsider in the Cherokee world. In much the same way, he suspected, that the American ensign who was about his own age must often feel among white people. How could an adopted Cherokee feel otherwise?
Yet, somehow, though none of the blood covering him was his own, nor had any of it been put there by his own deeds, he knew that he had just crossed a final line this day.
The Ridge had smiled upon him. Every Cherokee knew that The Ridge almost never smiled.
Andrew Jackson found Sam Houston on the high ground, after it had been cleared of hostiles. The ensign was hobbling along in the company of two Cherokees, engaged in what appeared from a distance to be a cheerful and animated discussion. They might have been arguing about a horse race, for all the general could tell.
He didn't know either of the young Indians, but he knew they were Cherokees. They might have been Creeks, true, since there were about a hundred friendly Creeks participating in this battle on the American side, under the leadership of the headman of Coweta, William Mackintosh. But Jackson, unlike many white men, could see at a glance the subtle difference between Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws. Sometimes even Seminoles, although it was always harder with them. The Seminoles were more in the way of a split off from the Creeks than a truly separate tribe.
There was no significant difference in the features between a member of one southern tribe and another. But they all had distinctive clothing, accoutrements, and ways of styling their hair.
White people coming from the long-settled East, when they first encountered southern Indians, were frequently taken aback by their appearance. The general had often been amused by the phenomenon. The southern Indians, except when they painted themselves up for war or ceremonies, or stripped down to loincloths to play the stickball game they were so fanatical about, just didn't look like "wild Injuns." They looked exotic, to be sure, but it was the exoticism of such long-civilized peoples as the Arabs or the Hindoos.
They wore European-style cloth shirts, often with wide and decorated collars, and leggings that were certainly not European in design but resembled Araby pantaloons more than they did an easterner's notion of "Indian leggings." And their headgear, if they wore any, would be a turban or an elaborate cloth cap. Not the feathered headband everyone seemed to expect.
In the last few decades, some of those distinctive features had begun to blur and fade-the elaborate facial tattoos of the previous century had almost vanished-as more and more of the southern tribesmen adopted the ways and customs of the white settlers. Many had become Christians, and the missionaries always encouraged the adoption of white habits and economic practices, as well as the religion itself. But even those who hadn't adopted the white man's religion had adopted much else.
The Ridge, for instance, still adhered to his tribe's traditional religious practices, but Jackson knew he'd been among the first of the Cherokees to erect his own separate log dwelling, in the American style, apart from the traditional Cherokee town. It was said that he had a chimney, in fact, and a well-built one at that. He'd also abandoned hunting, despite his own fame as a hunter, in favor of tending orchards and raising livestock-much of the labor, as was true for prosperous whites in the South, being done by black slaves he'd purchased. From accounts Jackson had heard, The Ridge's plantation at Oothcaloga was the equal in size and prosperity to that of almost any white man's on the frontier.
The Ridge had even placed his oldest son, John, with some Moravian missionaries in a boardinghouse at Spring Place, at the age of seven, so that he might learn to read and write and speak English fluently. His daughter Nancy, too. And he'd convinced his brother Watie to do the same with his oldest son, Gallegina-or Buck Watie, as he was known in English.
The general had mixed feelings on the subject. On the one hand, he thought that the ideal solution to the Indian problem would be for the savages to adopt the white man's ways completely. He'd already decided that if they did so, he'd throw his considerable influence into granting them full rights of citizenship, and not just the limited rights possessed by freedmen.
For all that he clashed frequently with the missionaries and Indian agents like Colonel Meigs over what Jackson considered their coddling of the savages, he didn't fundamentally disagree with their assessment that Indians might be the equal of white men. As individuals, he'd always found many of the savages to be impressive people. He'd even taken into his household a little Creek boy named Lyncoya who had been orphaned in last year's battle at Tallushatchee, and intended to adopt him legally once the war was over.
But… that was the problem, when looked at from the other side. Impressive people were also stubborn, independent, and fractious people. Jackson didn't fault them for it-rather admired them, in fact, since he was stubborn, independent, and fractious himself. But what he could admire in an individual, he could not admire in nations that were opposed to his own. Certainly not when the British and Spanish empires he so utterly detested were always ready and eager to foment unrest among the savages, and use them as weapons against his beloved republic.
So, watching the young American ensign enjoying the comradeship of two young Cherokees, the general saw a very mixed blessing.
Something in his skeptical expression must have emboldened one of his aides to speak.
"And will you look at that! There's still a battle raging, and there they are, jabbering away like heathens."
The aide was a young officer, and new to Jackson's service. Knowing what was coming, the other officer who stood with them-Major John Reid, that was, who'd been Jackson's secretary for a year now-sidled back a step or two.
Fury was always close to the surface with Andrew Jackson, and it could erupt as instantly as a volcano.
The general spun around, his face red, and thrust his long jaw not six inches from the face of the aide.
"You, sir! When the day comes that I see you fearlessly charging the enemy, you may presume to criticize such a man. Until that day comes-and I am not holding my breath in anticipation -you will keep your mouth shut. Do I make myself clear?"
The young officer blanched, and his eyes went so wide Jackson could see the veins in the corners. Jackson's voice, filled with rage, cut like a knife. The aide was too shocked even to step back. He just gaped.
"Answer me, blast you!"
"Yes, sir," the man finally squeaked. "Yes, sir!"
The general continued to glare at him, for long and silent seconds. Finally, with a contemptuous gesture, Jackson waved him away.
"Get out of my sight," he growled. "Somewhere to the rear, where your talents might find some use. Count bullets or something, you miserable clerk. Better yet, count rations. You probably wouldn't recognize a bullet if you saw one."
His right hand went to the hilt of the sword scabbarded to his waist. There was no conscious intent to draw the weapon; it was just the instinctive reflex of a man for whom intimidation was second nature. The aide scurried off like a lizard on a hot rock.
As Jackson's temper settled, he saw that the altercation had drawn the attention of Houston and his Cherokee companions. The three of them were standing some forty feet away, staring at him.
Unwilling, for the moment, to take his right hand from the sword, Jackson summoned the ensign with a jerk of his head.
Houston came over, as quickly as he could given that he was limping. The two Cherokees followed at a slower pace. Something of a reluctant pace, it might be said.
When Houston drew near, Jackson nodded. "That was well done, young man. Very well done, indeed. A most gallant charge. Please accept my admiration and respect, as well as the gratitude of your nation. I'll see to it that you get a promotion."
"Thank you, sir."
Jackson finally took his hand from the sword hilt and pointed at the bandage on Houston's leg. "Your wound?"
Houston stared down at the bandage, which had a few fresh red spots mixed in with the brown of old bloodstains. "Oh, it's not much, sir. It's still bleeding some, but I'll manage well enough till this is over. Certainly not as bad as it was for poor Major Montgomery."
A look of regret passed over the general's face. "Yes. Well, it's not over yet."
Houston smiled thinly. "Not hardly, sir." He turned and pointed toward the river. "Between us and the Cherokees, we've driven the Red Sticks off the high ground, but there are still plenty of them forted up here and there in the forest. This peninsula must comprise hundreds of acres, all told. As heavily wooded as it is…"
Jackson nodded, understanding full well the realities of warfare in the wilderness. The Indian warrior wasn't the match of the white man in a pitched battle on an open field, or in a siege. They lacked the organization and discipline for such. But in their own element they were unsurpassed; as dangerous as wild boars.
"Any chance they'll surrender?"
"I doubt it very much, sir. Not yet, anyway. There's still plenty of fight in 'em." The ensign gave the sky a glance, gauging the sun. "They'll for sure try to hold out until sunset, and then make their escape across the river."
Jackson glared again, although not with the sheer volcanic fury that he'd unleashed on the aide.
"Tarnation, I've given Coffee clear and firm instructions-"
The ensign was bold enough to interrupt. Jackson was rather impressed.
"And he's carried them out, sir." Houston gestured toward the two Indians, who were now standing only a few feet away. "This is my old friend James Rogers-he's the one on the left with the war club. And Lieutenant Ross. John Ross, that is. I just met him for the first time today, but I'd heard of him."
Jackson gave the two Cherokees a quick examination, most of which was spent studying the war club Rogers held. Clearly enough, it had been put to good use.
He grunted his satisfaction, then cocked an eyebrow at the ensign. "And the point is? I'm assuming you didn't interrupt your commanding officer in the midst of a battle simply to introduce your friends."
Houston flushed. The ruddy complexion under his mass of chestnut hair turned pink. He looked like one of the brightly painted Christmas ornaments that German immigrants were starting to turn into a popular custom. It was all the general could do not to burst into laughter. Despite the severity of his rebuke, he approved of this young ensign. Approved of him mightily and heartily, in fact.
"Lieutenant Ross here serves as one of General Coffee's aides, sir," Houston explained. "He was the one Coffee sent to warn The Ridge not to cross the river again. Which he did-he and James spoke to The Ridge himself." Houston squared his shoulder and stood very straight. "That's because it was The Ridge and the Cherokees who grabbed some canoes and created the diversion that gave us our initial advantage."
The last statement was spoken in a slightly combative tone. Not belligerent, precisely. And not precisely aimed at Jackson. But Houston sounded like a man who felt he'd made his point, and had been proven right.
Yet again Jackson stifled a smile. For all that he routinely referred to Indians as savages, he understood them quite well. He wasn't all that different himself, in many ways. Like any Cherokee or Creek or Choctaw chief, he magnified his own influence by gathering young leaders around him and making them his proteges. Political authority, among white men on the frontier as much as the Indians, was mostly an informal matter.
But it wasn't enough for his proteges to be smart and capable. Not enough, even, to be physically courageous, as well. They also had to have the strength of character to stand up to Jackson himself, if need be. Without that, they were useless to him.
Andrew Jackson had been a bully as far back as he could remember. As a boy, he'd bullied other boys; as a man, other men. He'd bully anyone he could, and he'd do it in a heartbeat.
He was phenomenally good at it, too. That wasn't and never had been because he was an especially large man. Although, even there, Jackson's whipcord body was one that could do far better in a fight than many people would have suspected just looking at him.
Yes, Jackson was a bully, and he made no apologies for the fact. Indeed, he worked at it, the way a smart man works to improve his skills. It enabled him to get things accomplished he could not have accomplished otherwise.
But he also knew-he'd seen it all his life-that a stupid bully collected nothing around him but yes-men, fawners, toadies, and lickspittles. Who, as a rule, were good for absolutely nothing else. And what did that accomplish?
So. Ensign Houston was looking better all the time. Jackson was starting to develop great hopes for him.
But that was for later. Today, there was still a battle to be won.
He looked up at the sky. There were still several hours of daylight left, even this early in the year with the solstice just passed. Enough time, he thought, to drive the matter through before night fell.
Whatever else, Jackson wanted the Creeks defeated-no, more than that: broken and pulverized-before the sun set.
It wasn't so much that he feared fighting them in the dark, though that certainly wasn't something he looked forward to. But Jackson knew from long experience that the red men were in many ways a more practical breed than whites. They had their superstitions, to be sure, but they had their reason, as well. Indians preferred ambush and surprise attacks to open battle, and they simply weren't given to pointless last stands. Not, at least, if there was a viable alternative.
Which there would be, if hundreds of them were still at large come nightfall. There was no way in creation that John Coffee, even if he had thrice the force he had covering the riverbank, could prevent Creeks from escaping the trap under cover of darkness.
"All right," he said. "Is there any place in the peninsula where they seemed to be centered?"
Houston's eyes ranged the forested peninsula. "I don't think so, sir, but it's hard to tell. Everything's pretty confused right now, what with the Thirty-ninth and the militiamen milling around on this side of the peninsula and the Cherokees starting down by the river. We met them on the high ground-"
He grinned coldly for moment. "I even managed to discourage the militiamen from shooting at The Ridge and his men, if you can believe such a wonder."
His hand slid to the butt of his pistol, which was stuck in his waistband. The ensign had apparently made a priority of recovering it, after that initial dramatic charge across the barricade.
Again, Jackson had to stifle a smile. He was pretty sure that Houston's "discouragement" had included threatening at least one militiaman with the nonregulation weapon. Possibly several of them. Under that genial, boyish exterior, Jackson suspected that Houston could throw an impressive temper tantrum himself.
"Indeed," the general said mildly, looking down at Houston's large hand covering the pistol butt. "I have found myself that militiamen generally need discouragement, from time to time. And even more in the way of encouragement. They're a flighty bunch."
Houston took the hand away from the pistol. The gesture was almost surreptitious. There'd be some complaints coming from the officers, Jackson knew, about the coarse young regular officer who'd had the unmitigated gall to bully -outright bullying, sir!- stalwart citizens of Tennessee who were temporarily serving under the colors.
Jackson wasn't concerned about it. He could bully militia officers in his sleep. With a handful of exceptions, he wouldn't trade the young ensign standing before him for all the militia officers in the United States. If they complained, he'd set them straight.
Hurrying past the awkwardness, Houston continued. "If I might make so bold, sir, I'd recommend that we take the time to reorganize, and then start driv-ing the Creeks in that direction." He pointed toward a portion of the forest that seemed indistinguishable from any other. "I've been told there's a ravine down that way that'd wind up making the bottom of the trap."
Jackson ignored the presumptuousness of an ensign telling him that they had to "reorganize"-as if that wouldn't be blindingly obvious to the most incompetent general in history. The rest of the advice seemed sound enough.
"See to it then, Ensign. Pass the word to Colonel Williams yourself. I'll handle the militiamen."
There were still skirmishes taking place here and there, but the immediate vicinity was relatively calm.
The Red Stick village had been all but destroyed. As he searched for Colonel Williams among the soldiers who were milling about, John Ross and James Rogers following close behind, Houston came upon a militiaman standing over an old Creek man. The Creek must have been addled as well as elderly, because-right there in the middle of a battle-he was squatting on the ground, pounding corn with a mortar.
The militiamen raised his musket and shot the old man in the head.
The bullet passed right through the skull, blowing blood and brains and pieces of bone all over the ground. Then, kneeling next to the corpse, the militiaman pulled out his knife and cut away the old man's breechclout. Following that, he started to make an incision in the corpse's leg, beginning just above the heel.
Houston froze. His companions also stopped, and stood silently.
The killing had been bad enough, since the old idiot was obviously no danger to anyone. Now-Sam had heard tales, but never really believed them-the militiaman was going to skin a long strap from the body, most likely to use it for a set of reins. Boasting rights, among his buddies when he got home.
The paralysis broke before the militiaman's cut got past the buttock. Houston limped over, feeling light-headed. Horror was replaced by fury.
"What in the blazes are you doing?"
The militiaman was so engrossed in his work that he apparently missed the meaning of Houston's tone.
"Finally killed me an injun," he said gleefully, not even looking up. "First chance I got today. Them cussed regulars-"
The rest was lost in a squawk of surprise when Houston grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and, in a single one-armed heave, hauled him to his feet. The man gaped up at him.
Sam batted the knife out of his hand, then backhanded him hard enough to split his lip.
The soldier shook his head, half dazed. That had been a powerful blow, even though it hadn't been delivered by a closed fist.
"Hey!" he squawked. His hand flew up to his bleeding mouth.
"Tell you what," Sam said thinly. "I just realized that while I've killed me some injuns today, I ain't killed me a single stinking militiaman."
He drew his pistol. The man stared at it, his face suddenly going pale.
"Hey!" he protested again, the word garbled by the hand that was still covering his mouth.
For a moment, Houston glared down at him. He was sorely tempted to drive the butt of the pistol right into the man's face. As strong as he was, and as angry as he was, he'd smash the man's hand, as well as his mouth. Probably break his jaw in the bargain, even with the hand absorbing the impact.
No. He reined in his temper. Enough was enough. The old Creek was dead anyway, and he couldn't let the situation spin out of control.
He looked around. Three other militiamen stood nearby, staring at him. Two of them had brought their rifles halfway up.
He grinned humorlessly and cocked the pistol, though he didn't-quite-point it at them. "Go ahead," he said. "This worthless bastard's too mangy-looking to make me a good set of reins. But any one of you will do. Any one at all."
The three men all swallowed. Their eyes flitted back and forth between Houston and his two Cherokee companions.
John Ross didn't really know what to do. He looked to James to get some guidance, but realized immediately that would be no help. Like Houston, James was grinning now, too. He'd sidled over a few paces, clearly ready to hurl himself at the militiamen once Houston fired the pistol. They were close enough that he could probably get in among them with his war club before they could shoot him.
There'd be one less by then, anyway. John had no doubt at all that Houston was prepared to fire-and not much doubt that, at this range, he'd hit his target squarely. There was something almost frighteningly competent about the big young American.
Ross knew as well that, for James, the only issue involved here was what amounted to an incipient clan feud-and The Raven, white man or not, was part of his clan. That made it all very simple for him.
The murdered old man had been nothing to Rogers. Just an enemy-and killing noncombatants was as common among Indians as it was among whites. So was mutilating their corpses. In one of the atrocities committed by the followers of Tecumseh last year, which had triggered off the current war, they'd not only murdered seven white settlers on the Ohio but had disemboweled a pregnant woman and impaled her unborn baby on a stake.
Here and now, if Houston hadn't intervened, Rogers would have passed by without comment. He might have given the matter a second glance. Then, again, he might not have.
But Houston had intervened, and that made it a clan matter. So James was ready to kill as soon as the fight erupted.
For a moment, John wished that his own thoughts and sentiments were as clear and straightforward. But only for a moment. James Rogers's traditional way of thinking would lead the Cherokee to disaster, just as surely as Tecumseh's new way of thinking had led his followers to their doom. John could see that disaster coming, the way a man can see a thunderstorm developing in the distance.
He was pretty sure The Ridge could see it coming also.
He had no idea what to do about it, not yet. If there was anything that could be done at all. What he did know was that if there was any solution, it would come from people who could think a little crookedly. People like himself, who'd always felt somewhat twisted in the world.
And, maybe, people like this peculiar young ensign, who was prepared to start killing men of his own race over what amounted to a moral abstraction.
John decided that was good enough, for the moment. Who was to say how new clans emerged? It was all lost somewhere back in time, in a thousand different stories and legends. Maybe a new one was being born here. Or something similar enough.
He drew his own pistol and cocked it. Quite proud, for an instant, that his hands weren't shaking at all. Granted, he'd probably miss his target. He'd missed just about everything else he'd tried to shoot that day. But he'd give it his level best, for sure.
Hearing the sound of Ross's pistol being cocked, too, the militiamen suddenly broke. Houston could tell-knew it for a certainty-even though there was no visible sign beyond the fact that one of them stepped a half pace back. It was just, somehow, obvious.
The general wouldn't thank him any if Houston started a side war between the Cherokees and regulars against the Tennessee militia, who constituted not only the majority of Jackson's army but, push come to shove, his political constituency as well. Certainly not over an issue like a murdered old Creek.
He uncocked his own pistol then, and shoved it back into his waistband. "The general gave clear and direct orders," he announced loudly. "And you heard them. No killing of noncombatants."
He cleared his throat. "It's my responsibility to enforce discipline. Which-"
He glanced down at the militiaman he'd cuffed. Blood from the split lip was seeping through his fingers. It was a cheery sight.
"I have," he concluded. He waved his hand in a peremptory gesture. "So go on about your business, men. That's an order. I'm on an errand for the general."
With that, he turned away and began limping in the direction he thought-for no good reason, really-he was most likely to find Colonel Williams.
Ross hurried to follow. When James Rogers caught up to them, he was still grinning.
"Too bad," he said. "It would have been a good fight. We'd have won, too."
An hour later, Jackson was ready to start the final drive. By then, hundreds of Red Sticks had already been slaughtered in the fighting. As poorly equipped as they were with firearms, they hadn't been able to fight very effectively once the Cherokees erupted into their rear and the Thirty-ninth breached the barricade.
Jackson had indeed given orders before the battle started that the Creek noncombatants were to be spared. There weren't many on the peninsula, not more than a few hundred, since the Red Sticks had sent away most of their women and children and old folks before Jackson's army arrived. But any Red Stick warrior who didn't surrender was to be killed. And he knew perfectly well that his soldiers-especially the militiamen-hadn't bothered to ask.
Jackson didn't blame them. In this sort of chaotic brawl not even the regulars would follow the established laws of war, at least not very often, and the general wasn't about to ask any questions. It just didn't pay to do so.
Still, there'd been several incidents reported to him. In most cases, Jackson was inclined to accept the explanation that the killings had been accidental. They probably were, in truth, at least half the time. A woman running through the woods was just a blur of movement to a soldier whose nerves were at a fever pitch due to fear and battle fury. He'd shoot first and think later. So would Jackson himself, being honest.
However, there'd been one case involving a small boy that had angered Jackson as much as it had the officer who'd reported to him. Confused and frightened, the boy-he hadn't been more than five or six years old-had stumbled into a group of American soldiers. One of them had bashed his brains out with the butt of his musket.
Even then, for Jackson, the issue wasn't the killing as such. The officer reported that the culprit had justified his deed on the grounds that if the boy had lived he'd have grown into a warrior-so why not kill him now when it was still easy? It was a sentiment that Jackson didn't share-not quite-but he had no trouble at all understanding it.
Yet that was beside the point. The general had given his orders, clear and simple, and a soldier-a regular, too, to make it worse-had taken it upon himself to disobey them. If he could find out who the man was, he'd have him punished.
That wasn't likely, though. The officer who'd reported the outrage had been from a different unit, and didn't know the man's name. The odds were slim that the culprit's own superior officer would identify him-and the odds that his fellow soldiers would do so were exactly zero.
The general smiled thinly. Quite unlike-ha!-the instant readiness of a militia officer to report to him half an hour before, hotly and angrily, that Ensign Houston had brutalized an honest citizen of Tennessee and threatened several others just because…
Well, you know how it is, General, the boys like to have their trophies…
Jackson had given him short shrift. But the incident was enough to crystallize his feeling that this battle had gotten a little out of control. He didn't object to killing Indians, not in the least. In fact, he'd planned the entire campaign in such a way as to trap the Red Sticks on this horseshoe bend of the Tallapoosa so he could kill as many of them as possible. Still, a civilized nation did have its established rules of war, and it had to follow them or it would become no better than the savages themselves.
"We'll give them a last chance to surrender," he announced.
The officers gathered around him exchanged looks. Finally, Major Reid was bold enough to speak.
"Uh, who, General? What I mean is, who's supposed to take them the offer?" Reid looked down at the ravine where most of the surviving Red Sticks were now forted up.
"Forted up" was the phrase, too. The Red Sticks hadn't had the time to build anything as solid and well designed as the barricade they'd placed across the neck of the peninsula. But the southern tribes were all woodsmen, and in the few hours they'd had, the warriors had been able to erect a rather substantial breastwork down there. Storming it would be a dangerous business.
Given the desperation and fanaticism of the Red Sticks, it would be equally dangerous taking them an offer to surrender.
Jackson's eyes moved past the little cluster of aides gathered immediately around him. He was looking for a particular officer, among the several hundred soldiers milling about in the immediate vicinity. He'd be there, for sure.
Sure enough, he found the young man quickly, even in that crowd. Partly because of his height, but partly because of the two Indians standing next to him. The three of them seemed to have become well-nigh inseparable in the course of the battle, and they stood out in a crowd.
Houston was perhaps thirty yards away, but his eyes met the general's immediately. Jackson suspected he'd been anticipating the summons. Indeed, the young ensign began walking toward him immediately, without even waiting for a command.
Limping toward him, rather-and the limp seemed to have gotten worse. Jackson wasn't surprised. A flesh wound is still a real wound, and even a man as big as Houston would be feeling the effects of it this many hours later.
Still and all, it was a very firm sort of limp. Whatever pain and weariness the ensign might be feeling, it was clear enough that his determination hadn't flagged.
When Houston drew near, he spoke without being asked to do so.
"I'll take them the offer, sir. But I can tell you right now it's a waste of time."
Houston jerked his head, indicating the ravine behind him. "Me and James and John snuck down there a little while back. I know the lingo well enough-James knows it even better-that we got the gist of it. They've got some shamans down there with them, and they've been busy firing them up for a last stand."
Jackson snorted. "Are they still claiming their magic will turn our bullets into water?"
"Yes, sir. They aren't calling out for all the cats to be killed, though. Of course, I doubt me there's a cat in the world dumb enough to be within a hundred miles of this place."
Jackson chuckled harshly. One of the Cherokee prophets following Tecumseh had been a half-blood by the name of Charley. His white ancestry notwithstanding, Charley had become famous for demanding that the Cherokees abandon all the cursed ways of the white man. All of them, not just the books and mills and orchards and clothes and featherbeds and tables. He'd been especially incensed by the new habit of keeping domestic cats. All cats were to be killed!
He might have even swayed the Cherokee, for he was eloquent enough, whatever you thought of his notions. But The Ridge had put a stop to it. He'd stood up at the council meeting after Charley had predicted the immediate demise of anyone who opposed him and challenged him to make good his claim. A small mob of Charley's followers had attacked The Ridge then, but he'd battled them off long enough for his friend Jesse Vann and other allies to rally to his aid.
The brawl that followed had been inconclusive, since one of the old influential chiefs had managed to stop the fray. But the fact remained that The Ridge had defied one of Tecumseh's prophets and lived. That had been enough to produce a rapid decline in the prestige of Tecumseh's adherents, at least among the Cherokee.
"But regardless of whether or not they've decided to spare the cats, sir, I can tell you that they aren't relenting about anything else." The ensign shrugged. "I'll take them the offer, if you want, sir. But I'd just as soon lead a charge on them right now and be done with it. I'd a lot rather get shot carrying a sword than a white flag. Stupid, that."
Then, more quietly: "They aren't going to surrender, General. There's not a chance in creation."
Jackson rubbed his jaw, pondering the matter. "You say you'll volunteer to lead the charge?"
"Yes, sir," replied Houston, calmly and firmly. "I will."
Jackson thought about it some more. His decision teetered on a sharp edge.
In the end, it was the ensign himself who decided the matter for him. The ensign… and his two Cherokee companions.
To blazes with the Red Sticks. Jackson didn't want to risk losing such a promising young man, certainly not in something as quixotic as a doomed parlay attempt. All the more so because this war with the Creeks was just the opening skirmish in the coming battle with the British. He wanted Houston around for that.
As for the charge…
Jackson's eyes moved to the two Cherokees who accompanied Houston, but had stayed back when he came up to speak to the general.
"Never mind. As you say, the offer's probably pointless. And now that I think about it, a straight-up charge is probably just as pointless.
"Can you find The Ridge?"
"Yes, sir." Houston jerked his head again. "He and his people are staying down by the river, to help General Coffee kill any Red Sticks who might still be trying to cross."
There was a slight twist in the set of the ensign's lips. A trace of bitter irony, Jackson thought. The general was pretty sure that the real reason The Ridge had taken his Cherokees away from the high ground was to avoid any clashes they might get into with the Tennessee militiamen.
So Jackson came to his decision. "Go find him, if you would. Ask him to bring a number of his men with him. Provide them with an escort. Use your own platoon. Just bring them up here. They've got bows, yes?"
Houston nodded. "Quite a few, although most of them are armed with guns."
"Quite a few will be enough." Jackson pointed toward the ravine. "From every description I've gotten, those breastworks can be set aflame. Let's see if Cherokee fire arrows will do the trick."
They did. By nightfall, the ravine was a blazing inferno.
Every Red Stick who tried to escape was shot down.
The next morning, the killing continued, here and there, as occasional bands of Red Sticks were uncovered elsewhere on the peninsula. No quarter was offered; no quarter was asked for; no quarter was given.
Halfway through the morning, Jackson ordered a body count. To make sure that no dead hostile was counted twice, he ordered their noses cut off once the count was made. Scalping was pointless, since most of the dead Red Sticks had already been scalped the day before. Sometimes by white soldiers, sometimes by Cherokees-often enough, by other Creeks. The Red Sticks had waged a savage civil war against any Creeks who opposed them, and now the favor was being returned by their own tribesmen.
The nose count came to some five hundred fifty. When Coffee crossed the river and reported on the action that had taken place there, he told the general that he estimated he and his men had left another three hundred and fifty or so dead in the water. He didn't think more than a hundred, at most, had managed to escape.
Jackson thought that estimate was too optimistic. Creeks, like all the southern tribes, were as adept in the water as they were in the woods. He was pretty sure the number who had escaped across the river was higher.
Nonetheless, out of approximately one thousand Red Sticks who had forted up on the horseshoe bend of the Tallapoosa, at least eight hundred were dead. It was as complete and as bloody a victory as he could have hoped for.
There were only two dark spots on the victory for Andrew Jackson. The first was the death of his friend Lemuel Montgomery, who had died heroically leading the charge on the barricade.
The second was that both Chief Menawa and-even worse-William Weatherford had been among those Red Sticks who had escaped the trap.
Weatherford, as it turned out, had never been caught in the trap in the first place. Jackson discovered from interrogations of the surviving Creeks that Weatherford had left the horseshoe bend several days before the battle started, in an attempt to recruit more followers for his cause.
Weatherford had led the massacre at Fort Mims, the act that had triggered the Creek War. Jackson wanted him badly. But he'd catch him, sooner or later.
And then he'd hang him.
APRIL 18, 1814
Fort Jackson, Mississippi Territory
As befitted the most junior officer in the gathering, newly promoted to the rank of second lieutenant, Sam Houston stood toward the back of the large tent in Fort Jackson. The canopy served as a field headquarters for the general whose name had been given to the newly constructed fort.
Houston was perfectly happy with the arrangement. Andrew Jackson was having another temper tantrum, and Sam didn't particularly want to have the general's attention drawn to him.
Not that there was much danger of that. Leaving aside the fact that Jackson had made his approval of Houston eminently clear since the Horseshoe Bend, there were other people in the tent to draw the general's ire.
Two colonels, to be precise.
Very shortly, it was reported, Major General Thomas Pinckney would be arriving at the fort. Once he did so, as the senior general, his authority would supersede Jackson's. But, in the meantime, Jackson was still in command-and the two colonels in question, having recently arrived at the fort with their units, had made it quite clear that they didn't consider him qualified for the position.
Homer Milton and Gilbert Russell were only colonels, but they were both commissioned officers in the regular army, whereas Jackson's majestic rank of major general was that of the Tennessee militia. Jackson might favor regular soldiers, but, technically speaking, he was nothing but a militiaman himself. Both colonels had stated outright that they considered Jackson's authority over them to be a simple formality.
To make things worse, while Russell had commanded his Mississippi troops fairly well-it had been his men who cleared most of the hostile Creeks from the lower Alabama River back in February-the same could not be said of Milton. He and the Georgia troops had been, in Sam's opinion, well-nigh useless all the way through the campaign.
"-good for nothing except plundering friendly Indians!" Jackson shrilled. "Couldn't be found, it goes without saying, anywhere near the hostiles!"
The general waved angrily toward the north. "I've already lost The Ridge and most of my Cherokees on account of you! When word came through that your stinking militia stole their livestock and ruined their fields and orchards while they were down here fighting the Red Sticks-"
Milton was no shrinking violet himself.
"General, you'd already discharged the Cherokees yourself before the word arrived. And since when have you cared what happened to any such savage?" he sneered.
Sam held his breath, and he could see General Coffee and Major Reid doing the same. Up until now, this had just been a run-of-the-mill Jackson tirade.
It was fascinating, really. Jackson was the only man Sam had ever seen who could somehow turn livid with fury and ashen with rage at the same time. "Bright pale," you might call the color of his face.
The general said nothing, as seconds dragged on. He just gave Milton his patented double-barreled blue-eyed glare. And if the glare was as rigidly fixed as an iron bar, the rest of Jackson wasn't. His tall, whipcord body was almost vibrating like a harp string-or a bowstring being drawn.
Even the haughty colonel finally realized he'd gone too far. "Sir," he added lamely.
Jackson snatched off his hat and slammed it onto the table next to him, scattering papers in the process. There had been a big map which had covered it, and that spilled halfway onto the ground.
"I gave them my word, sir-and you made me into a liar! Savages be damned! My word is my word!"
For a moment, Sam thought the general might actually strike the colonel with his fist. It was clenched-so was his left one, even in the sling-and there was spittle coming from the corners of Jackson's mouth. If they hadn't both been in uniform, Sam was pretty sure he would have challenged Milton to a duel right there on the spot.
" That's the issue here, sir!" Jackson gritted. For an instant, his angry eyes flitted to the other colonel. "At least he "-a jerk of the head toward Russell-"had enough grace not to steal from his Choctaws and Chickasaws!"
It was all Sam could do not to grin. He'd gotten to know the general a lot better over the past few weeks, since the battle at the Horseshoe Bend, and one of the things he'd learned was that Coffee was right. Jackson's rages were genuine enough, to be sure-but that never stopped the general from using them with all the cold-blooded skill of a master swordsman in a fight. Milton's blundering arrogance had given Jackson the opportunity to peel Russell away from him, and the general hadn't missed the chance.
Russell, clearly enough, was by now just looking for a way out of the brawl. He wasn't any happier than Milton was at the situation, but he had enough sense to realize that Jackson's victory at the bend had made him the popular hero of the southwestern states and territories. That would draw plenty of favorable notice in Washington, D.C., as well.
A lot more favorable notice than it should have, he no doubt felt, but American victories on land in the war that had begun with Britain in 1812 had been few and far between.
Very few, and very far between. The American navy had acquitted itself well, even if many of its heroes, like Oliver Hazard Perry and Isaac Hull, were from the same New England that was largely opposed to the war with Britain. But the record of the American army had generally been poor, outside of Harrison's victory over Tecumseh at the Thames. And sometimes it had been downright dismal.
The very first major offensive launched by the United States, an attempt at conquering Canada led by the governor of Michigan, William Hull-he'd been made a brigadier general, for the purpose-had ended with Hull's ignominious surrender, along with the taking of the town of Detroit.
So Jackson's triumph at the Horseshoe Bend had given Americans a much-needed boost. Granted, Hull had faced British regulars, along with hostile Indians, while Jackson's victory had been over Indians fighting on their own. Still, a resounding victory was a resounding victory.
Now Colonel Russell edged back a pace. Colonel Milton, seeing him do so out of the corner of an eye, finally had enough sense to realize that he'd dug himself into a hole. So, he tried to climb out of it.
Unfortunately, he did so ass backward.
"I agree that it was most unfortunate, General, but-"
"It wasn't 'unfortunate,' Colonel-it was an outrage! And leaving aside the stain on my reputation, it presents me with a rather massive practical problem." Jackson snatched his hat back off the table and jabbed with it toward the tent's entrance. Once, twice, thrice.
"There are still, by all reports, at least a thousand Creek hostiles gathered around the Spanish forts at Pensacola and Apalachicola. And you can be sure the British agents there will be arming them-runaway Negro slaves, too-and keeping them in the fight while they bring their regulars to our shores. I was counting on having the Cherokees return to service with me in a few months. Now-thanks to you-!"
Jackson having given him the opening, Russell took it eagerly enough. Let his fellow colonel in the regulars sink on his own. "The Choctaws and Chickasaws are still with us, sir," he said righteously.
Jackson's glare never left Milton's face, even as he replied. "That's fine and dandy, Colonel Russell. The fact remains that I probably lost the Cherokees for the rest of the war, and I doubt very much if as many Choctaws will step forward to take their place. Much less Chickasaws. There aren't more than four thousand Chickasaws in the whole world to begin with." Jackson's glare intensified. "That's our situation, thanks to these Georgian thieves!"
Milton scowled, but looked away. "They're not my Georgians, sir," he grumbled. "Most of my troops are from South Carolina. The plundering was done without my knowledge by Georgia militiamen"-he tried one last sally-"and probably some Tennesseans with them."
If Milton thought Jackson would rise to that bait, he was mistaken. "Probably," Jackson grunted. "And so what? Since you seem so preoccupied with the formal matters of command, Colonel Milton, let me ask you a simple question. Which one of us was in charge of operations in the state of Georgia? Me, or you?"
There was no safe answer to that question, so Milton subsided into a mulish silence.
After a few seconds, apparently having decided he'd won his point, Jackson jammed the hat back on his head. That hat was something of a marvel. Somehow, despite all the abuse Jackson inflicted upon the innocent headgear-Sam had now seen him stomp on it twice-the thing still retained a visible resemblance to a general's official hat.
Of course, it might not be the same hat. Sam wouldn't have been surprised to discover that one of the chests in Jackson's baggage was chock full of the things. The general was perfectly capable of planning ahead of time to bring enough hats with him that he could stomp a dozen of them into oblivion and still appear the next day, as fancily dressed as ever.
While the officers continued their glaring match, Sam spent his time coming to a decision.
There were a lot of things about Andrew Jackson that he didn't like-some, he downright detested-but, overall, he had come to develop a profound respect for the man. Even admiration, for that matter.
Say whatever else you would about Jackson, Sam didn't think there was another man in the country who could have driven this campaign through so relentlessly and effectively, especially given the fact that the general's own health had been wrecked in the process. He'd probably never recover from the bullet wounds in his arm and shoulder that the Benton brothers had inflicted on him last September, in their brawl at the City Hotel in Nashville. He might have, if he'd followed medical advice. But Jackson had refused, as soon as word arrived of the massacre at Fort Mims, in order to assume command of the Tennessee militia. He'd started the campaign just a few weeks after the shoot-out, and had led the whole thing with his left arm wrapped in a sling.
Sam didn't share Jackson's intense hatred of the British, but he did agree with the general that the current war wasn't the meaningless joke that so many New Englanders thought it was. If the British got the chance, they'd crush the new American republic. Cripple it, for sure. And now that they looked to be on the verge of finally defeating Napoleon, they'd get their chance. They'd send Wellington's veterans across the Atlantic. Except for some of Napoleon's elite units, those were probably the best regular soldiers anywhere in the modern world.
The war was just heating up, in short-and Sam Houston couldn't think of a commanding officer he'd rather be serving than Andrew Jackson. Whatever his faults.
And being honest, there was the fact that Sam was ambitious. Like many young men who came from poor circumstances, Sam treasured the republic because it allowed for young men like himself to advance as far as they could, based on their own merits. Sam had every intention of taking advantage of that opportunity.
On the other hand, he wasn't naive, either. "Merits" were fine and dandy, but having a powerful patron would help an awful lot. The United States was a fine place for a young man to advance himself. Far better than any of the aristocrat-riddled countries of Europe, to be sure. But it was no paradise. Connections and influence mattered, plenty.
Jackson had already made clear that he was willing to make Sam one of his proteges. So far, though, Sam had held off from any definite commitment. Partly, because Jackson's harsh attitudes repelled him some; mostly, just because there had been no clear and specific way to do so.
There was now, however-and Sam wasn't surprised at all to see that, as soon as the two colonels finally left, Jackson turned to peer at the most junior officer in the tent. He could almost read the general's mind.
Sam cleared his throat. "I think I've got a way to bring the Cherokees back, sir, yes. But…"
The words trailed off. Sam wasn't a coward-he certainly wasn't bashful-but even he found that piercing, blue-eyed gaze a bit intimidating.
Jackson's smile was razor thin. "But there are some conditions. Yes, I thought there might be."
The general glanced at Coffee and Reid. "Gentleman, if I could have some privacy?"
Nodding, Coffee left.
Major Reid was already passing through the tent flap.
When they were gone, Jackson took off his hat and gestured with it toward a chair on the other side of the table. "Have a seat, Sam."
It was the first time he'd ever used Houston's first name. After Sam took his seat, Jackson laid the hat on the table-gently, this time, taking care not to damage it even further-and pulled out a chair on his side. As soon as the general sat down, he spoke.
"I'm going to break them, Sam. All of them. The Cherokees and the Choctaws just as much as the Creeks. Don't have any doubt about it. Know that, right from the start."
Sam took a deep breath. Before he could say anything, Jackson waved his hand impatiently.
"Spare me your objections. Tarnation, I didn't say it was fair. What in the name of Jesse has 'fair' got to do with any of it? Is it fair that a Cherokee needs eight square miles of land to enjoy his customs and habits, but a crofter in Scotland or Ireland-or England, or Germany, for that matter-has to eke out a living on a tiny patch of poor dirt? Am I supposed to tell my kinsmen-yours, too-who are pouring into America that they should go back and knuckle their foreheads to their noble betters in the old country?"
He laughed harshly. "Not a chance, Sam. I wouldn't do it even if I could. My loyalties are clear. They're to my own people, and be damned to anyone else. That I learned from my good old mother. And you're going to have to make the same decision, one way or the other."
Sam had been holding his breath all the way through, without realizing it. Now, he let it out.
"I don't have a problem with that, General. A man should have his loyalties, and live by them. But I do have a problem-might, anyway-with how it's done."
"I don't care how it's done," Jackson said firmly. He ran bony fingers through his hair. "If it can be done humanely, though, then that would be fine by me."
For a moment, his face came as close to softening as that intrinsically ferocious face ever could. "I know the Indians are calling me 'Sharp Knife,' and frankly I don't regret the fact. Not one bit. Rather like it, actually, since it makes things easier for me. But I don't cut people for the pleasure of it, either."
That was true enough. Andrew Jackson was probably the most belligerent man Sam had ever met, but he wasn't one of those people who took a sick enjoyment in inflicting pain. He could be utterly callous, yes, but you couldn't honestly call him cruel. By reputation, he even treated his slaves better than most plantation owners-although God help a slave who was insubordinate or tried to run away. Jackson would have them lashed, chained, and then sell them.
Sam thought about it. "It won't be easy," he said.
"To put it mildly! Say whatever else you want about the sava-ah, our noble red brethren-but nobody's ever accused them of being cowards. Sure, they'll resist. I'll still break them. If I have to, I'll crush them out of existence. Just like some of my none-too-noble ancestors crushed others out of existence. Where are the Ostrogoths and the Lombards now?" The general flicked fingers across his cheek. "Somewhere in here-and in your face, too-mixed in with everything else."
Sam wasn't surprised by the general's knowledge of history. Whether or not there were any extra hats in Jackson's chests, Sam knew there were books. And not just the Bible and The Vicar of Wakefield that, by reputation, were said to be Jackson's only reading matter. The general's written English might be riddled with eccentric spelling and syntax, but Jackson was far better educated-self-educated, anyway-than most people realized.
"I don't care about that part of it either," Sam said bluntly. "The Indians aren't any different from our own barbarian ancestors. The Cherokees haven't been in their area for more than a few centuries, probably. They came from farther north, driven out by some other tribe-and I'm sure they didn't hesitate to drive someone else out to make room for themselves. The whole Creek Confederacy is a patchwork of conquered tribes, when you get right down to it.
"Still and all, they aren't Huns. Once the Creeks broke a tribe, they let them join. Are you prepared to do the same? Make them citizens?"
To Sam's surprise, Jackson nodded.
" Real citizens, I mean. Not that half-and-half business we do with the freedmen."
Freedmen weren't slaves, but they weren't really citizens, either. Not, at least, in any state Sam knew about it. They couldn't run for office-couldn't even vote, for that matter-and were restricted by law in any number of other ways. They couldn't marry whites, for instance.
Jackson shrugged. "I'm not the Almighty, Sam. I don't have a problem with letting the Indians become full citizens of the country -if they agree to give up their independence. But that's just my personal opinion. You know as well as I do that most states wouldn't agree to it. Not in full, anyway."
Sam was rather proud of the fact that his eyes-blue, like the general's, if a softer shade-never left Jackson's face.
After a moment, it was the general who looked away. "All right, tarnation. I'll promise to do what I can. Within reason."
Jackson usually couldn't stay seated for very long. He rose to his feet, and began pacing.
"But that's no real solution, and you know it as well as I do." Jackson jerked his head toward the entrance of the tent. "Is that John Ross fellow still here with you?"
Sam nodded. "Yes, he is. He and James Rogers decided to stay, when all the other Cherokees left. I'm pretty sure The Ridge-Major Ridge, he's calling himself now-told them to do so."
Jackson grinned. " Major Ridge, is it? He'll grab what he wants from us, in other words, and leave aside the rest. So, tell me, Sam: Is that young Ross, who looks like the spitting image of a Scotsman, any different from the rest? Is he more willing than any of them to give up his political independence?"
The worst thing to do when dealing with the general was to lie, or even to try fudging the truth. "No, sir. He's flexible, mind you. But he's just as determined as any of them to stay a Cherokee. There are some exceptions, but not many of them would want to become U.S. citizens, even if they had the chance."
"I didn't think so. And that leaves us with only two options. Let's face the truth squarely, Sam."
Again, the general jerked his head toward the tent flap. "The United States of America already has an estimated eight million citizens, with more coming across the Atlantic every week. There were eighty thousand Americans alone just in Tennessee when we got statehood twenty years ago-and the population's probably doubled since then. How many Cherokees are there, all told? For that matter, how many people in all the southern tribes put together?"
Sam spread his hands. "Who knows, really? At a guess-but it's probably a pretty fair one-I'd say there are about twenty thousand Cherokees. They're the biggest tribe, except for maybe the Creeks, so
… All told? Maybe eighty thousand."
Jackson nodded. "And that's eighty thousand people. Not eighty thousand warriors. At best, I doubt all the tribes together could field fifteen thousand men in a war. Not all at once, anyway. And however fierce they can be in a battle, their tribes are fragile because of the way they live. I'll just burn them out, all of them, like I've been doing to the Creeks. They'll surrender soon enough."
The general's word were harsh, but Sam knew they weren't anything more than the simple truth. Jackson's soldiers had been systematically burning the towns and riverbank crops of the hostile Creeks as they marched. By now, the Upper Town Creeks were on the edge of starvation, and hundreds of them were coming in to surrender. Soon, it would be thousands.
The traditional way of war among the southern tribes was a thing of clan feuds and tribal clashes. Short battles and ambushes, usually, followed by a peace settlement. The kind of relentless total war Jackson was waging was simply not something they could deal with.
Jackson drove it home, as relentlessly as he'd driven the campaign. "They don't stand a chance, Sam, not in the long run. Leave me out of it. Leave the whole U.S. Army out of it. Then what? I'm not even their worst enemy. They can call me Sharp Knife, but what do they think those cussed Georgians are? Tens of thousands of rapacious little razors, that's what."
And that, too, was no more than the truth. Even by the standards of white settlers on the frontier, the Georgians were notorious for their land avarice. They were just about as notorious-among Tennesseans, anyway-for not being worth a damn in a straight-up war against the hostiles. But it didn't matter, not in the long run. Georgians might run for cover every time the Indians went on the warpath, but they were back again soon enough. Killing Indians whenever they had a chance, grabbing their land, burning everything they couldn't steal.
If they had the martial reputation of locusts, they had the voracity as well. And the numbers.
"You could…" But Sam didn't even have the chance to finish the sentence.
"Stop them? How?" Jackson's expression wasn't quite a sneer. Not quite. "How am I-how is the whole U.S. government, for that matter-supposed to stop hundreds of thousands of settlers from shoving in on Indian land? Stop playing the innocent, Sam. You know those people as well as I do, because they're our own. The 'people of the western waters,' some call them. They're Scots-Irish immigrants, the most of them. Being honest, not all that much different from the Indians. Just as feisty, for sure-and there are a sight more of them."
Sam couldn't help but smile. The truth was, the people who had produced both he and Jackson weren't very far removed from being barbarians themselves, even today. They were flooding into North America just like, in ancient days, the Gauls and Germans had flooded into Western Europe. Today's "people of the western waters" had been yesterday's border reivers, often enough.
"How is anyone supposed to stop them, Sam?" The general picked up his hat and, for a moment, looked like he might smash it back onto the table.
"What would it take?" he demanded. "I'll tell you what."
He did smash the hat back on the table. "We'd have to scrap our precious republic and replace it with something like the stinking tsars have set up in Russia, that's what. Turn everyone into serfs so we could establish a level of taxation necessary to keep a huge standing army in the field. That would keep the people in their place. Over my dead body!"
Sam studied the hat. He'd studied mathematics, too, when he'd been a schoolboy. And he could recognize an immovable equation when he saw one.
Jackson flicked the much-battered hat aside. "So that's one option," he stated flatly. "Give it twenty years-thirty, at the outside-and 'the Cherokees' will just be a name. Something schoolboys study in books."
Sam took another deep breath. He took off his own cap and ran fingers through his hair. "And the other?"
"You know it as well as I do. Relocation. Let the Cherokees -all of the southern tribes-move across the Mississippi. If they want to keep their independence, fine. Let 'em do it somewhere else."
Sam smiled crookedly. "You sound like my foster father-his older brother Tahlonteskee, even more. That's what they've been advocating for almost twenty years now."
Sam's hair was even bushier than the general's, so he could keep busy with it for a while. "Not with much luck, though, in terms of convincing most of the Cherokees. Their opponents keep asking difficult questions. Just for starters: What's to keep the same thing from happening down the road a spell? Give it another fifty years-a century, for sure-and there'll be more settlers wanting their new land."
The general started fiddling with his hat, trying awkwardly with one hand to press it back into shape. Sam's smile got more crooked still, and he reached across the table.
"Here, General, let me do that. Out of curiosity, by the way, do you have a bunch of these stashed away somewhere?"
Jackson handed over the hat, chuckling. "Of course." A long, bony finger indicated one of the chests in a corner of the tent. "I had Rachel send me half a dozen, after Coffee gave me the idea. I'd like to salvage this one, though, if we can. I've only got two left, and the things are blasted expensive."
As Sam did his best to knead the hat back into shape, Jackson went on.
"If that turns out to be the case, then to blazes with them. Am I supposed to be their nursemaid, too? Tarnation, Sam, if the Indians are given half a century to put together a real nation of their own out there-and they still can't manage the affair-then let them go the way of all broken nations. Let them join the Babylonians and the Trojans. That's just the way it is. Always has been, always will be-just like the British will break us if we let them."
That seemed fair enough, to Sam, at least in the broad strokes. The devil, of course, was in the details.
"I'll help you, sir, as best as I can," he said evenly. "I'll do my best to convince them. But you know as well as I do that there are a hundred different problems. The help that the U.S. government always promises the Indians somehow never materializes, or if it does so, it's always in dribs and drabs. Why? Well, let's start with the fact that most Indian agents are crooks and swindlers and thieves, and the ones who aren't-like Colonel Meigs or Benjamin Hawkins-are the ones you usually quarrel with the most."
Jackson glared at him. "Can't stand the bastards," he growled. "Nothing but blasted injun lovers, the both of 'em."
"So am I, General," Sam said mildly, "when you get right down to it. I grew up among them, and I've got as many Cherokee friends as I do white ones. If I'd stayed a few more years, I'd probably have wound up marrying a Cherokee girl. I can even tell you her name. Tiana Rogers, my foster father's niece." He handed the hat back to Jackson.
Jackson snatched the hat, still glaring. Sam sat up straight in his chair and returned the glare without flinching. "That's the way it is, sir. Take it or leave it."
After a moment, and not to Sam's surprise-no longer, now that he'd taken the general's measure-Jackson began to chuckle.
"My own injun lover, is it?" He placed the hat gently back on his head. "Well, why not? Maybe you can do with magic and your glib tongue what I'd have to do with a sword and a torch. Well, if you can, I won't object."
Sam took another deep breath. "That's not enough, General."
The glare flared up again. It was like staring into two blue furnaces.
"What?" he demanded. "You're adding conditions, too?"
Sam smiled easily, and spread his hands again. "I wouldn't call them 'conditions,' sir. Not exactly. Let's just say I want a promise from you that you'll back me up, when the time comes, as much as I'll back you up until then. I don't know when or where that'll be, I admit, or even if it'll ever be. But I still want your word on it."
At first Jackson didn't say a word, and, for a moment, Sam was sure that he was about to snap a flat and angry refusal.
But, whatever he would have done, he was interrupted before he could respond. A man stepped through the tent's entrance, pushing the flap aside, and came two steps into the tent. Then he stood still and very erect. He had a dark complexion, like a part-blood Indian, but he was wearing a white man's clothes.
Jackson's glare was transferred onto him. "Who in the blazes are you, sir? I don't recall inviting you to intrude upon my privacy!"
The man replied in perfectly fluent English. "Yes, you did. The word is in all the towns that you are looking for William Weatherford."
Jackson lunged to his feet, his anger instantly replaced by eagerness. "You know where the murdering bastard's to be found? Splendid! There'll be a reward for you, be sure of it."
The man's face showed no expression at all. Suddenly, Sam rose and reached for his sword.
But the man ignored him.
"I am not an informer. I am William Weatherford. Also known as Red Eagle. I led the attack on Fort Mims. They say you intend to hang me for it.
"Do it then, Sharp Knife."
Jackson's eyes flicked to his own sword, still in its scabbard and leaning against a tent post. Then, seeing that Houston already had his pistol out, the general turned his attention to Weatherford.
"How did you get into the fort?" he demanded.
For the first time since he'd entered the tent, there was an expression on Weatherford's face. Not much of one, just a slight smile.
"You called upon all Creek chiefs to come in and surrender, didn't you? I was one of them. I came in and surrendered. The soldiers didn't seem to know what to do, so I just rode in past them."
"You were supposed to be brought here in manacles and chains!" Jackson snapped.
Weatherford's smile widened a bit. "And who was supposed to chain me?"
The smile went away. Weatherford spread his hands. "If you need the chains, Sharp Knife, send for them. I came unarmed. And I simply came to surrender."
It was the first time since Houston had met Jackson that the general seemed genuinely taken aback by anything. Confused, even, as if he didn't know what to do. It was an odd experience; unsettling, in its own way.
Jackson's angry eyes moved away from Weatherford and fell on Houston. Seeing the pistol in Sam's hand-half raised if not yet cocked-he made a sudden, abrupt, impatient gesture with his hand.
"Oh, put that away."
"Yes, sir." Houston slid the pistol back into his waistband-but only far enough to hold it there. He'd still be able to get it out quickly. "Do you want me to send for soldiers, sir? And manacles?"
Jackson glared at him. Sam just returned the glare with a mild gaze, saying nothing.
Jackson looked back at Weatherford; then, suddenly, slapped the table with his open hand. " Tarnation, sir! If you'd been brought to me as I commanded, I'd have known what to do."
"Why should your life be any simpler than mine?" Weatherford demanded. The Red Stick war leader shrugged. "I am in your power, Sharp Knife. Do with me as you please. I am a soldier. I have done your people all the harm that I could. I fought them, and I fought them bravely. If I still had an army to command, I would be fighting you still."
He seemed to shudder a little. "But I have none. My people are all gone. I can do nothing more than to weep over the misfortunes of my nation."
By the time he was done, the expression on Jackson's face had undergone a sea change. There was still anger there, yes, but…
Jackson rallied. "You massacred hundreds at Fort Mims! Women and children!"
"And you massacred women and children at Tallushatchee."
Even Jackson's innate self-righteousness couldn't prevent him from wincing. Sam hadn't been at that battle, since the Thirty-ninth Infantry hadn't yet joined up with Jackson's Tennessee militia. But he'd heard tales of it.
The Creeks at Tallushatchee, unlike those at the Horseshoe Bend, had been caught by surprise by Jackson's advance. Hundreds of women and children had been trapped in the village. Whether or not any of them had been deliberately massacred-and, given the temper of militiamen after Fort Mims, Sam was quite sure that some of them had-many had died as the village caught fire and burned. Sam had heard one Tennessee militiaman who'd been present describe to him, in a weird sort of half-horrified glee, how he'd watched a Creek child burn to death after crawling halfway out of a flaming cabin.
You could see the grease coming out of him, I swear!
Jackson's jaws were tight. "I gave no orders-"
"Neither did I," Weatherford said sharply. "I tried to stop the massacre. But my warriors were out of control by then-don't tell me you've never had that happen to you as well, General Jackson." His face grew stony. "They even threatened to kill me, at one point, if I persisted in trying to stop them. Tempers were very high."
Jackson's hand came up, and he stroked his jaw, as if trying to knead out the tension. Then, he grunted.
The wordless sound was one of grudging recognition. The story that Weatherford had tried to stop the massacre was by now well known. Enough survivors had reported it that even many white settlers were inclined to accept the story. There was even a rumor that Weatherford had agreed to accept command over the Red Sticks only because the fanatics had taken his family hostage. Whether that was true or not, Sam had no idea.
And, clearly enough, Weatherford wasn't going to say anything more about it. This wasn't a man who was trying to beg for mercy, not even by pleading extenuating circumstances. Even his rejoinder concerning the massacre had been that of an accuser, not a criminal seeing leniency.
Jackson removed his hat and placed it on the table. The motion was precise, almost delicate, as if he were using the moment to marshal his thoughts.
"All right," he said quietly. "War's a nasty business at the best of times, as I well know. I won't hold the massacre at Fort Mims against you."
Sam could tell that the general was doing his best to appear solemn and grave. But he couldn't quite keep the admiration he so obviously felt for Weatherford's courage from showing, not so much in his face, but in his posture. More than anything else, Andy Jackson despised cowardice. And whatever else you might say about William Weatherford, he whom the Creeks called Chief Red Eagle, he was no coward.
"All right," Jackson repeated, uttering the words sharply this time. A command, now, not a judgment. "I'll give orders that you are not to be detained or molested in any way. But understand this, William Weatherford. The war is over, we won, and you have no choice but to surrender. If your surrender is an honest one, that'll be the end of it. But if-"
Weatherford made an abrupt gesture with his hand. "Please, General. We are both warriors. My nation is beaten, and I must now look to salvaging what I can. If I had a choice…"
He took a deep breath. "But I have no choice. Not any longer. Once I could lead my warriors into battle, but I have no warriors left. Their bones are at Talladega, Tallushatchee, Emuckfaw, and Tohopeka."
Tohopeka was the Creek name for their encampment at the horseshoe bend. Even though Weatherford hadn't been at that battle himself, he'd clearly heard the tales. He hadn't been able even to pronounce the name without hesitating a moment, in order to swallow.
The Creek war leader looked away, sighing for the first time since he'd entered Jackson's tent. "If I'd been left to fight only the Georgians, I'd still be fighting. I could have raised our corn on one side of the river and fought them on the other. But you came, and destroyed us. So it was. I will accept your terms, General Jackson, and urge others to do the same. I will fight you no longer. Such is my word."
Jackson nodded, and stepped to the tent entrance. Pulling aside the flap, he called for Major Reid.
The next few minutes were rather amusing, Sam thought, although he was careful not to let any of that humor show on his face. He wasn't sure which part of it he found the funniest-Reid's astonishment, Jackson's increasingly exasperated attempts not to explain himself, or Weatherford's none-too-successful struggle to hide his own amusement.
But, eventually, it was done. Reid escorted Weatherford out of the tent. He did so with an odd combination of diffidence, wariness, and uncertainty. Much the way an angel might have ushered a devil out of heaven, after God had pronounced him not really such a bad fellow, after all.
After they were gone, Jackson continued to stare at the now-closed flap of the tent. "They are a brave people," Sam heard him murmur, as if he were talking to himself. "That, whatever else."
Abruptly, he turned to Houston.
"All right, Sam. You have my word. If the time comes when you can work out a satisfactory solution, I'll back you. To the hilt."
The general grinned, and rather savagely. "Mind you, I may well be cursing you at the same time, and damning you for a fool. But I'll do it in private. Or perhaps to your face. I might prefer it that way."
Sam smiled. "Well, sure. I wouldn't expect anything else."
Jackson went back to the table and sat down. "Where do you plan to start?"
Seeing the look of confusion that appeared on Sam's face, Jackson barked a laugh. Cawed a laugh, rather.
"Thought so! Fine and sentimental speeches are easy, young man. The trick is in the doing. "
Sam's mind was still a blank. The general pointed to the other chair. "Sit down. Let an old warhorse get you started."
After Sam took his seat, Jackson rearranged the large map so that it again covered most of the table. Then, he pointed to the junction of Tennessee, Georgia, and the Territory of Mississippi.
"Start there, Sam. The Ridge lives somewhere here in north Georgia, and most of the other major chiefs aren't far away. Take Lieutenant Ross with you. See if you can talk The Ridge-and any other chiefs, for that matter-into going to Washington. You'll serve as their guide and official liaison with the government."
That was the last thing Sam had expected to hear.
"Washington? You mean the capital?"
"Where else? You want to guide an official Cherokee delegation to any other town named Washington?"
Sam's mind was still a blank. The general smiled smugly.
"Let them see Washington, Sam. Let them see for themselves that there's more to America-more strength, too-than the white settlers they usually encounter."
Sam winced. "I don't know if that'll do much good, General. The Ridge has already been to Washington."
Jackson frowned. "He has?"
"Several years ago. There was a dispute among the Cherokees-sharp one, too-when Tahlonteskee and Black Fox tried to get the tribe to agree to the first proposal for a big land swap. It was tied to relocation across the Mississippi. The Ridge was opposed to it, so the Cherokees elected him to be part of the delegation that went to Washington for further negotiations. I don't think he met with the president, but I know he met with Secretary of War Dearborn. John Jolly told me about it."
"Dearborn! That worthless old coot." Jackson scowled, looking at the map. "I didn't know that. Still… That was back when? 1808? Madison's administration is now in office, and Secretary of War Armstrong is a different creature altogether. He might actually do something."
Sam hesitated. True enough, John Armstrong was a very different man from the tired old general who had served Thomas Jefferson as secretary of war. But the country had been at peace in 1808, too, whereas today…
Doing something, whatever that might come to mean, would inevitably entail spending money- and plenty of it-or those were just two meaningless words. No Indian tribe was wealthy, at least not in terms of movable property. Asking them to relocate beyond the Mississippi without providing them with massive assistance before, during, and after the relocation was just a pipe dream. And given the demands of the current war with Britain, Sam doubted the government had much money to throw at anything else. Especially not the Department of War, which was legally charged with handling all Indian affairs.
Jackson seemed to read his thoughts easily enough.
"Patience, youngster," he said, still smiling. "You know as well as I do that no Indian tribe-certainly not those cantankerous Cherokees-will be making any big decision quickly. And they've got a few years, anyway, before the rope starts to tighten."
Sam looked at him skeptically. Jackson cawed another little laugh. "I said I'd break them if they tried to resist me for too long. I didn't say I was Attila the Hun. Besides-"
The general began tracing lines on the map. "The Cherokees-Choctaws and Chickasaws, too-are down the road. Quite a ways, unless I miss my guess. Our main enemies are the British and Spanish, don't ever forget that. So the first thing I intend to do, at the upcoming negotiations with the Creeks, is strip the Creeks of half their land. This half."
His finger quickly traced the area he proposed to seize from the Creeks. "That'll create a buffer zone between the Creeks and the Spanish territories. They won't be able to get war supplies from our enemies, any longer."
Sam grimaced. "General, most of that land belongs to friendly Creeks. The Lower Towns. The same ones who were allied with us in the recent battles."
Jackson glared at him. "Allies! That's just because the Red Sticks had them by the throat. They sent us a few hundred warriors, here and there, never more than that and never all at one time. And you know as well as I do that if the British had landed soon enough on the coast, and waved guns under his nose, that Big Warrior would have switched sides in a heartbeat."
That was true enough, so Sam couldn't argue the point. Despite occasional clashes-the last major one had been the battle at Etowah in 1793-the Cherokees had usually been allied with the United States since its creation, and before that with the colonists against the British. The same was true for the Choctaws.
The Creeks, on the other hand, had maintained close ties with the British and the Spanish for many decades.
Sam didn't trust Big Warrior's change of allegiance any more than Jackson did. Traditionally, the Lower Town Creeks and the Seminoles had been the southern Indian tribes most closely tied to the British and Spanish. The only reason the Lower Town Creeks had allied with the United States was because the civil war launched by the Red Sticks had been an immediate danger to them, and Britain and Spain had been too preoccupied with their war with Napoleon to provide much in the way of assistance.
"And it's all beside the point, anyway," Jackson continued. He jabbed his forefinger at a spot on the map, then at another. Both spots were on the coast. One was marked Pensacola; the other, Apalachicola. "Don't forget-ever-that the Indians are a sideshow. The real enemy is down here. Spanish Florida is a running wound in the side of our republic. As long as the Dons hold territory in North America, the British will use it as an invasion route whenever they can-and as a conduit to arm and stir up the Creeks and Seminoles against us year-round, year after year. As well as any other tribe they can reach and influence-and provide with arms."
As long as the British held Canada and the Spanish held Florida, Sam realized, the United States would be caught in a vise. Granted, the Spanish Empire was a shadow of its former self. But they'd let the British do the dirty work for them, and Britain looked to be emerging from the Napoleonic wars as the most powerful empire in the world. If the British could seize New Orleans and the mouth of the Mississippi, the two-sided vise would become a three-sided one.
So Sam could understand the cold-blooded logic of Jackson's plans. By stripping away the southern half of Creek territory and opening it up to white settlers, the general would separate Spanish Florida from all the southern tribes except the Seminoles. Whatever clashes the Creeks-or the Cherokees, Choctaws, and Chickasaws, for that matter-had in the future with the United States, they'd have to fight them without access to guns and ammunition from the European powers. Which meant, in practice, that they couldn't really fight at all. The destruction of Tecumseh's forces had demonstrated graphically that poorly armed Indians couldn't hope to defeat the United States in an open battle.
That still left the Seminoles, of course. That breakaway portion of the Creek Confederacy was already entrenched in Florida.
Sam cocked his head, studying the general. "And that'll be stage two of your strategy, won't it? You'll go after the Seminoles."
"Blast the Seminoles, lad. I'll use the Seminoles as an excuse to go after the Dons." Then, scowling: "Not that I've got any problem at all with crushing the Seminoles. But if they were just down there in Florida on their own, they'd be a minor problem, at best."
Abruptly, he rose to his feet. "It's the Dons I'm after! I swear, I will have them out of North America entirely. I'd love to take Cuba from them, too-let the Negro rebels have Hispaniola, I don't care much about that-but I doubt I can. Still, I'll settle for driving the Dons off the continent entirely. Let them rot on their islands."
Sam couldn't help but laugh. It was like hearing a man complaining that he didn't think he'd be able to fly to the moon after he climbed the tallest mountain.
"Uh, General… you do know that official U.S. policy is to stay on good terms with the Spanish?"
Jackson snorted. "That'll change. If needs be, I'll force those fools in Washington to change it."
A light was beginning to dawn. "I see. My Cherokee delegation to Washington is just an excuse, really. What's more important is that I might have an opportunity to talk to someone while I'm there. Say, Secretary Monroe."
Jackson waggled the hand that was draped in the sling. "Well, not exactly. I actually do have hopes that something might come out of the Cherokees going back to Washington. It's not just a masquerade. But, yes. Monroe will be the next president, most likely. I don't have anything specific in mind, but from what I've seen of him he seems a substantial sort of man. Quite unlike-"
He broke off abruptly. Not even Andy Jackson was prepared to openly deride his own president. Not, at least, in front of a junior officer.
But he didn't need to say anything. The animosity between Andrew Jackson and James Madison was well known on the frontier. In Washington, too, for that matter, unless Sam missed his guess. It dated back to Thomas Jefferson's attempt to have Aaron Burr convicted of treason during the last year of his administration. The trial had become a national spectacle. Jackson had supported Burr. Madison, of course, being the secretary of state at the time and the man most people assumed would be the next president, had supported Jefferson.
Jackson, in his inimitable manner, had publicly pilloried Madison. He'd pilloried Jefferson, too, but that was nothing new. The animosity between Jackson and Jefferson dated back even further.
Once Madison became president, needless to say, he hadn't forgotten the episode. When the war with Britain erupted, he'd repaid Jackson by passing him over when he was selecting generals for the regular army.
Monroe, on the other hand…
Jackson continued. "I don't know Monroe well, you understand. But I was deeply impressed by his vigorous protest of Britain's policies when he was ambassador to the Court of St. James. He's likely to make a good chief executive, I think."
"I understand, sir," said Sam. "And if I get the chance to speak to him-"
"Oh, you will. Have no doubt about that." His tone was now harsh. "Whether those bast-ah, people in Washington like me or not, they have to live with me now. They're counting on me to keep the British at bay here in the South-and I daresay I'll have more success than they've had dealing with them in Canada."
He cleared his throat noisily, almost triumphantly. "I'll write several letters for you to take along, Sam. You'll get to see the secretary of state. Count on it."
Sam rose to his feet. "Best I be off, then. It'll take me several months to convince the Cherokees to send another delegation to Washington. If I can do it at all, which I rather doubt."
"Just do your best. If nothing else, just go yourself. See if young Ross will accompany you. He's said to be a rising man among the Cherokees. And he's too young, I assume, to have seen the capital?"
Sam shrugged. "So far as I know. I'll find out. But even if he agrees to come with me, he's not on the council. So he won't represent anyone but himself."
"Well, you never know how these things will work out, in the end. Ross might well grow into his new role. And, remember, you've still got a few years before…"
Jackson smiled grimly. "Before you call in your promise-or I drive over whatever promise you couldn't come up with."
Sam nodded. "And in the meantime?"
"I'll have Colonel Williams release you from the Thirty-ninth, for detached duty. But by the end of the year, I expect, I'll be facing the British. Either in New Orleans or Mobile. So come back from Washington as soon as possible. I could use an officer like you then, Sam. I'll find a suitable place for you, be sure of it."
"By the end of the year…" Sam mused. "That should be enough."
The general stuck out his hand, and Sam shook it. "In eight months then, Captain Houston. I'll expect you back no later than mid-December."
Sam raised an eyebrow. Jackson just grinned.
"One of those letters will include my strong recommendation that you be promoted to captain." He cleared his throat again, just as noisily and even more triumphantly. "And I daresay they'll listen to me this time. After the Horseshoe Bend, I daresay they will. "
JUNE 4, 1814
Near Buffalo, New York
Training camp for the Army of the Niagara
Two soldiers manhandled each condemned man, forcing them to their knees just in front of the graves. The five condemned men were dressed in white robes, with hoods of the same color covering their faces. Their hands were tied behind their backs.
General Jacob Brown, commander of the small Army of the Niagara, had left the training of the regiments in the hands of his subordinate, Brigadier Winfield Scott. Scott was a stickler-many of his soldiers would have said a maniac-on the subject of camp sanitation, as well as discipline in general. "Efficiency," he liked to say, "is just one of many necessary soldierly qualities." The same bullets that slew the deserters would serve to transport them to their graves.
Four of the condemned men made no sound. The fifth, on the far right, was sobbing uncontrollably. The sound was quite audible, despite the hood that was covering his face.
And well he might sob, thought Sergeant Patrick Driscol harshly, as he made his final inspection. The condemned man's name was Anthony McParland, and he was a "man" in name only. McParland had tried to desert the army not two weeks after his seventeenth birthday. "Desperately homesick," the little puler had claimed at his court-martial.
Driscol wasn't moved by McParland's age, much less the puling. He might have been, except that the young soldier was another Ulsterman. Came from that stock, at least, even if he'd been born in America.
Like many of the United Irishmen who had taken refuge in the United States after the British crushed the rebellion of 1798, Sergeant Driscol hated two things above all.
Second, any man-or boy, and be damned-who capitulated to the Sassenach.
For Driscol-who'd spent several years in the French armies before emigrating to America-"capitulation" most certainly included desertion. And the penalty for desertion in time of war was death.
He came to the end of the line, and examined the trembling figure for a few seconds. Then, he straightened up and stalked off.
The five condemned men were well separated, to allow for the large firing squads. There were a dozen men in each squad-a preposterous waste of effort, to Driscol's mind, not to mention a waste of ammunition that could be better used against the enemy. But Brigadier Scott had been firm on the matter. He'd said he didn't want any one man knowing for sure that he'd been the agent of death.
There'd been a sixth man convicted of desertion also. But, in light of extenuating circumstances, the court-martial had not sentenced him to death as it had the other five. Instead, he'd had his ears cut off, the letter D branded into his cheek, and he had been dishonorably discharged from the service.
Once he was out of the line of fire, Driscol turned and squared his shoulders.
"Ready!" he called out. The sergeant had a loud voice, trained over the years to penetrate the cacophony of battlefields.
Sixty muskets were leveled, a dozen at each condemned man.
Sixty hammers were cocked.
Driscol gave a last glance at the shrouded figure of young McParland. The front of his robe was stained wet.
Let the little bastard remember that, too. And if he forgets, I'll make sure to remind him.
He turned his head and looked at the general. Brigadier Scott was sitting on his horse, some forty yards away.
Scott looked every inch the officer, despite his youth. The sergeant had known plenty of peacock officers in his day. Scott might have the vanity of a peacock, but he had the soul of a fighter.
That was all Sergeant Patrick Liam Driscol cared about. He'd been born in County Antrim, in Ireland, of Scottish Presbyterian stock. His father and older brother had been members of the United Irishmen and had died in the rebellion of 1798. Patrick himself had participated in the final battle, near the town of Antrim, that had seen the rebels broken.
Patiently, he waited for the general to steel himself. Driscol knew the moment, when it came. The general had a little way of twitching his shoulders to steady himself. Another man might simply square them, but Scott was too energetic.
This past November, when he'd still been a colonel, Scott had ridden a horse through sleet and snow for thirty hours straight in order to join a battle. That alone, in an American army whose top officers were more prone to spending thirty hours straight in taverns or lying in bed complaining about their illnesses, had been enough to endear Brigadier Scott to the sergeant from County Antrim.
Scott gave him a little nod. Not bothering to turn his head-he had a very powerful voice-the sergeant called out the command.
Sixty muskets roared. The sound of them-one-fifth, to be precise, an entire bloody squad-was off a bit.
He turned his head to see the results. Young McParland was lying curled up on the ground.
As if the pitiful wretch had actually been shot!
Worthless little shit. It was all Driscol could do not to heave a sigh. He had his orders, after all.
The sergeant's eyes quickly scanned the other four men. Three of them were no longer visible. The volleys had done their work, hurling them into the pits. To Driscol's disgust, however, one of the men was sprawled across the edge of his grave. His robe was soaked red, and the body under it would be a broken ruin. But the man seemed to be twitching a bit.
Driscol drew his pistol and stalked over, glaring at that particular squad along the way. He'd be having some words with those sluggards later that day, they could be sure of it. From the sickly look on their faces, they knew it themselves.
The sergeant reached the man lying at the edge of the grave. He cocked his pistol, took aim, and blew the deserter's brains out. Then, with a boot, rolled the corpse into the pit.
That done, he walked down the line, taking a moment at each grave to inspect the body lying in it. They were all dead.
That left McParland.
Driscol marched over to the white-shrouded figure, twitching and trembling on the far right. The sergeant still had his weapon in his hand, since the barrel was a bit hot yet. For a moment, he was tempted to pistol-whip the sobbing wretch.
Driscol was a squat, powerful man. He reached down with his left hand, seized McParland by the scruff of the neck, and jerked him to his feet.
"Get up, you sniveling bastard."
With the same hand, he snatched McParland's hood off. Under normal conditions, McParland's eyes were hazel, but the tears had left them looking more like slimy mud at the moment. The boy's legs were shaking, too.
"If you fall down," Driscol snarled, "I'll give you the boots. I swear I will. And my boots will make you think you're being trampled by cattle. I swear they will."
McParland stared at him. Then, slowly, he peered down at his own body.
"I'm still alive," he whispered.
"No thanks to me," Driscol growled. "You're a shame and a disgrace to Ulstermen. I'd have shot you dead and not thought twice about it. But the brigadier there"-the sergeant twitched his head toward Scott on his horse-"was of the opinion that a bawling babe might still be able to learn a lesson. Waste of time, in my opinion. But… he's the commander, and I'm the sergeant, and so you're still alive. The muskets of your firing squad were loaded with blanks."
McParland was still staring down at his unmarked body. Unmarked by blood and gore, at least. The urine stain was quite visible-as was the smell of feces. The boy had beshat himself as well.
"I can't believe it," McParland whispered.
"Neither can I," grumbled Driscol. "The brigadier also instructed me to pay special attention to your training from now on. God help me."
Driscol hefted the pistol, looking at McParland with a speculative eye. He smiled. It was a very, very, very thin smile. "You'll be doing me the favor, I hope, of trying to desert again. Then we can just shoot you properly and be done with it."
McParland started shaking his head violently. "Never do it again!" he choked.
Driscol didn't try to suppress his sigh, this time. "I was afraid you might say that."
That evening, after Driscol had finished stripping the hides off the squad that had done such a slovenly job of executing their assigned deserter, the sergeant went to visit the brigadier. Scott had instructed him to make an appearance after the men were settled down.
Scott wasn't one of those officers who made a show of sleeping in a tent like his men, at least not when the army was camped at a proper base. There'd been a farmhouse on the grounds, vacated by its residents. Two years of fighting on the contested soil that lay between the United States and Canada had left half the towns on either side of the border nothing much more than burned shells. The house, however, remained intact, and the brigadier had cheerfully sequestered the building and turned it into his headquarters.
Most of the soldiers of the Army of the Niagara had ascribed that action to Scott's desire to sleep in a real bed, and eat his meals off a real table. There was some truth to that, of course, but Sergeant Driscol knew that Scott's principal motive had been more straightforward. The brigadier was bound and determined to make full and proper use of the months he'd had since General Brown had turned command over to him, while Brown himself returned to his headquarters at Sackets Harbor. Scott had used those months, that blessed lull in the fighting, to train an American army that, for the first time since the war began, had a real chance of matching British regulars in a battle on the open field.
Scott was a superb trainer of troops, as efficient with the business as he was energetic. Efficiency, however, meant that his headquarters was exactly that-a military headquarters, not a lounging area for officers looking to idle away the day in chitchat, and the evenings in drinking bouts.
So the brigadier had his feather bed, and ate on his table. But most of the farmhouse was devoted to keeping and maintaining the records of the army's training, supplies, and sanitation. And God help the subordinate officer whom Scott discovered using the headquarters for any purpose other than that.
The sentry ushered Driscol into the room that served Scott as a combination study and chamber he used for discussions he wanted to keep private. Then the man left to find the brigadier and tell him the sergeant had arrived.
While he waited, Driscol took the time to admire Scott's bookcase. That bookcase had become famous, in its own way-notorious to the soldiers who got the assignment of lugging it around. It was five feet tall, solidly built and heavy, and contained the brigadier's impressive military library. Scott took it everywhere he went-except directly into battle, of course.
As with so many things about Winfield Scott, the library was contradictory. On the one hand, the thing could be looked upon as an extravagant affectation. On the other hand…
Scott had read the books in that library. Done more than simply read them-he'd studied them thoroughly and systematically, with a mind that was acute and a memory that was well-nigh phenomenal. Each and every one of them: the writings of the great French military engineer Vauban, Frederick the Great's Principes Generaux de la Guerre, Guibert's Essai General de Tactique along with several other French military manuals, Wolfe's Instructions to Young Officers, and dozens of other volumes relevant to the duties of an officer. Many of them were biographies of great military leaders of the past.
When Sergeant Driscol had first showed up in Scott's camp, he'd been astonished to discover that Scott was organizing and drilling his men using the same principles and methods that Driscol himself had learned in Napoleon's army. Granted, the brigadier's grasp of those methods was a bit on the academic side, but he'd been ready enough-even eager-to modify them in light of the practical suggestions made by Driscol and the handful of other men in the Army of the Niagara who had experience with European wars.
If Scott could be prickly in his dealings with other officers-and he could-he was never prickly dealing with competent sergeants. Driscol had also noted that Scott's abusiveness toward other officers was usually well deserved, and that the often-rude brigadier could get along quite well with officers who showed a fighting spirit.
General Wilkinson had been a sluggard, not to mention a thief, even if it had been most impolitic for Scott to say so publicly. And if Scott had initially been abrasive toward General Jacob Brown because he felt-correctly-that Brown was an amateur from the New York militia who'd been jumped over him due to political connections, he'd warmed to the man after Brown had demonstrated that he was willing to fight the British, instead of finding reasons to avoid them.
Since then, in fact, Scott and Brown had developed quite a friendly and productive relationship.
Driscol's musings were interrupted by the brigadier's voice, coming from the door.
"I've told you before, Sergeant, you're welcome to borrow any of those books should you choose to do so. Just make sure you bring them back in good condition."
Driscol turned and saluted. " 'Twould be a waste, sir. I know my letters, well enough, for practical matters. But those writings are a bit beyond me, much as I can admire them from a distance. I'm afraid my schooling was interrupted-permanently, as things turned out-by Lord Cornwallis. May he and all his ilk rot in hell."
Scott's eyes tightened slightly. The brigadier was six feet four inches tall, with a well-built frame and a head so handsome it would have suited an ancient statue. For a moment, as he peered down at the squat, broad-shouldered sergeant who was almost eight inches shorter than he was-and whose visage no classic sculptor would have even considered for a model-he resembled a refined aristocrat casting a cold eye upon a crude peasant.
It was all Driscol could do not to laugh. Despite the ease of his working relationship with Scott, the two men were very far apart in the way they looked upon matters other than military. Winfield Scott was as close as Americans ever got to having a nobility, born as he'd been into the Virginia gentry. And, leaving aside his birth, Scott's social and political attitudes were such that many people accused him of being a barely veiled Federalist in a poorly fitting Republican costume.
The sergeant, on the other hand, possessed-gloried in, rather-the kind of ferociously egalitarian ideology that made any proper Federalist splutter with indignation. Like all United Irishmen, Driscol had been weaned on the ideals of the French Revolution, and after his emigration to the United States, he'd promptly sided with the radical wing of Jeffersonian democracy. Insofar as he favored any American political figures, the most promising of the lot looked to be that notorious southerner Andrew Jackson. The man was said to be a maniac by the gentility, at least, which was always a promising sign.
And, needless to say, Driscol lifted his glass in salute once a year, on July 11. The anniversary of the day when Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton dead in a duel, before the Federalist schemer could foist a new aristocracy on the great American republic.
The brigadier issued a little exasperated sigh. "Irishmen and their feuds," he muttered. Manfully, and as befitted a mere sergeant, Driscol refrained from pointing out that the record of personal feuds between officers in the U.S. Army made Irish history look like a chronicle of brotherly love. As frequently as the brigadier himself participated in those follies, he was by no means the worst offender, either.
Something of Driscol's sarcastic thoughts must have shown on his face, though, because Scott's glower was replaced by a wry smile. "Though I suppose the fault can be found elsewhere, as well." The brigadier clasped his hands behind his back and leaned forward.
"Patrick," he said, lapsing into rare informality, "I will repeat my offer. Just say the word, and I'll get you a commission."
Driscol gave his head a little shake. "No, sir. Thank you, but no. I'm a natural sergeant, and the rank suits me fine. Besides…"
He hesitated, gauging Scott's temper. Then, with a shrug so slight it was barely perceptible, plowed on. "If I were an officer, I'd be duty bound to treat British prisoners-especially officers-with respect and courtesy. That would be, ah… difficult."
Again, the brigadier issued an exasperated sigh. But he didn't press the matter. Scott was something of an Anglophile, as was commonly true for Americans of his class. But he had enough intelligence to understand that the world looked different to someone who'd seen his father tortured to death at the orders of British officers.
"So be it," he stated. "At least I'll still have the best sergeant in the army. So, have you spoken to the boy yet?"
"No, sir. I'll wait till later tonight. For the moment, the best thing for the little bastard's quaking soul is to wallow in the admiration of his mates."
Scott cocked his head quizzically. "Admiration? I'd have thought. .."
Driscol smiled. "Oh, it'll be a very adulterated sort of admiration, sir. To the untrained ear, most of it will sound like ridicule and derision. But admiration it is, be sure of it-with more than a trace of envy."
The brigadier kept his head cocked, inviting Driscol to continue.
"It's like this, sir. Poor boys have little enough to brag about, and precious few accomplishments to their name-nor any great prospects of improving their lot. As it is, assuming he lives that long, young McParland will be able to brag to his grandchildren that he was once executed by a firing squad, and lived to tell the tale. Of course, by then the story will have changed a great deal. His offense will have become quite a bit more glamorous than desertion-something along the lines of heroic insubordination in the face of a tyrannical officer, I imagine-and there'll certainly be no mention of the sobbing and incontinence."
Scott chuckled. "I understand. Still, I'd think there'd be some of the soldiers who'll harass the boy."
Driscol's jaw tightened. "Never you mind about that, sir. Such matters are beneath notice for an officer of your rank. I'll deal with the matter, should it arise."
The brigadier studied him for a moment. Then, smiled thinly. "Yes. I imagine you will. Very well, Sergeant. It's a small thing, but I'd appreciate it if you'd check in on the boy tonight."
Then Scott unclasped his hand and pointed to a nearby table covered with papers. "Meanwhile, there is news. Some good, some bad. The bad news is that Napoleon has abdicated the throne. On April 6, according to the newspaper accounts I received from the capital. That means the British no longer have their hands tied. They'll be coming at us full force, now. Wellington's veterans, for sure; perhaps Wellington himself."
Driscol took a deep breath, absorbing the information. That part of it, concerning the future actions of the British, he gave but a moment's notice. The Sassenach were a given. Mostly, he pondered the fate of Napoleon, a man he'd once admired deeply, and had fought for until the emperor's overweening ambition had finally driven Driscol to leave his service and come to America.
"On a more cheery note," Scott continued, "I just received word from General Brown. He's on his way back to Buffalo and expects to arrive within the week. He proposes to advance on the enemy no later than the end of the month."
Driscol grunted his satisfaction. Say what you would about Jacob Brown, the man was a fighter. The New Yorker had no formal military training at all, and was hopelessly lost when it came to the fine points of tactics and maneuvers. But he was willing to leave such matters to Scott, and, best of all, he didn't get in Scott's way.
"You'll be commanding the First Brigade, sir?"
Scott nodded. "Yes. The Ninth, Eleventh, Twenty-second, and Twenty-fifth Regiments. Ripley will be in command of the Second Brigade." Scott's air of satisfaction faded a bit. "The ragtag-and-bobtail-the Pennsylvania and New York militia units; some Indians and Canadian volunteers, also-will be dignified with the title of 'Third Brigade.' Porter from New York will command them."
A politician. That figured. But Driscol didn't care about Porter and his puffed-up "Third Brigade" any more than Scott did. Whatever real fighting was done would be done by the regulars.
"I'll see to it the men are ready, sir."
"Thank you, Sergeant."
When Driscol entered the tent McParland shared with several other enlisted men, a quick and hard glance was all it took to send the rest scuttling hurriedly into the night beyond. McParland himself remained on his pallet, doing his best not to cower.
His best was… pitiful.
"Oh, be done with it," Driscol growled. "The monster from Antrim got his jollies today, well enough. I just came to see how you were doing."
The boy sniffed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. "I'm all right, Sergeant." He was honest enough to add: "Once I got cleaned up, anyway."
Driscol studied him, for a moment. Then, pulled up the only stool in the tent and sat on it.
"I won't desert again, Sergeant. I promise."
"Promises are for officers and gentlemen, youngster. The likes of you and me have simpler ways. You tell me you won't do it again, and there's an end to the matter. If things turn out otherwise, I'll shoot you myself. Certainly won't bother wasting ammunition with another firing squad."
McParland wiped his nose again. "I wasn't scared, Sergeant. Of the Brits, I mean. I was just awful homesick. I miss my mother something terrible."
Driscol looked at him bleakly. "Homesick? Try watching your home burn to the ground, sometime, torched by British soldiers. Miss your mother? My mother passed when I was six, taken by disease like so many on the island. I have longer memories of my father. The most vivid of them was watching him die after being chained to a tripod in the center of our town and given five hundred lashes by a British soldier."
The sergeant's voice was low and level, but the cold rage that flowed underneath was enough to paralyze McParland's nose wiping.
"So fuck you and your homesickness, McParland," Driscol continued. "I don't want to hear about it. If the Sassenach win this war, you'll have plenty to be really sick about, believe you me. And in the meantime-"
He jabbed a stiff, stubby finger at the young soldier. "You enlisted in the United States Army and you will damn well do your duty. With no whining, no puling, no sobbing, and no pissing and shitting in your trousers. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir. Uh, Sergeant."
Driscol nodded, rose from the stool, and left the tent. Once outside, his eyes ranged from one campfire to another, looking for his next target.
Corporal Hancock and Privates Lannigan and Wright were crouched around a campfire, exchanging sarcastic remarks about a certain incontinent teenager, when a figure stepped out of the shadows and cast a pall upon their comradely conversation.
Short and squat, he reminded Hancock of a troll, straight out of fairy tales. Without a word of greeting, the troll moved forward into the light and squatted by the fire. Then, drew forth his dirk and began heating the blade over the flames.
"There's always at least one nasty bully in every regiment," the troll commented. He rotated the blade, exposing both sides to the heat. "Pitiful, really, since they're always such wretched amateurs."
The troll said nothing, for a moment. Then: "Did you admire the way I cropped the sixth one's ears, lads? Efficient, I thought. The hot blade cauterized the wounds as soon as it made them. Saved the surgeon no end of work."
Hancock remembered flinching as the troll had done the manual labor involved in the punishment of the sixth deserter, who hadn't been executed. He'd severed the man's ears and branded his cheek-and his boot had been enough to send the man flying out of the camp.
Apparently satisfied with the temperature of the blade, the troll withdrew it from the flames. Then, slowly, he gazed from one soldier to the next. The troll had rather light-colored eyes, Hancock recalled, at least in the sunshine. An odd shade of blue-green that matched his pale complexion. At the moment, however, they were black pits. Above those sunken eyes, the low, broad brow seemed like a stone. The nose between them, a crag; the cheeks on either side, a pair of bony bastions. It was best not to think about the mouth and jaws at all.
"If there's any bullying of young McParland, I'll find out about it. Don't think I won't. If I question a soldier with my spirit in the work, his bowels will turn to water."
The hellhole eyes looked down on the blade, which was still shining slightly from the heat. "And when I do, the bullies will discover their true place in the world. Very quickly and, oh… so very thoroughly."
With that, the troll rose and left the campfire. You couldn't say he "walked," exactly. Human beings walk. It was more of a lurch, except that it was astonishingly quiet, and there was no air of unsteadiness about it at all. The three soldiers remained silent for long moments afterward.
"He wouldn't," Private Wright finally protested. "It's against the rules."
Corporal Hancock and Private Lannigan agreed with him immediately. But the conversation around the campfire failed to regain its former wit.
Before long, they went off to their separate tents.
JULY 3, 1814
Daybreak, near Fort Erie
Canadian side of the Niagara River
It had been quite a picture, although not one the brigadier would ever commission for a portrait.
As the American expeditionary force neared the Canadian shore of the Niagara, in the early hours of the morning, Winfield Scott demonstrated his leadership qualities by drawing his sword, waving it about in a splendidly martial fashion, and being the first man in his army to wade ashore, crying out Follow me!
A pity, though, that he hadn't waited until they'd actually reached the shore, or ascertained the depth of the water. The last sight Patrick Driscol had of the brigadier was the startled expression on his face. A moment later, all that could be seen was the sword, still above the surface. Not the hilt, though-that, and the hand holding it, had quite disappeared, although the blade itself was waving about energetically.
Of Scott himself, there was nothing to be seen.
There was always this to be said for Winfield Scott, though: he was never the man to let a minor mishap get between him and his conception of heroic destiny. Where another man might have dropped the sword and swum back to the surface, Scott plunged resolutely onward. Driscol and the rest of the soldiers tracked the brigadier's progress by following the sword blade as it cut its way toward the shore like the fin of a shark.
A very slow shark. And no shark's fin ever bobbed up and down and wobbled back and forth the way Scott's sword did. Driscol could just imagine the muddy and treacherous footing the brigadier was fighting his way through on the river bottom, while trying to hold his breath.
Still, he made it. Far enough, at least, that he was finally able to bring his head above the surface and cry out. And he still sounded like an officer barking out a command.
Not even Driscol could keep from laughing, at that point.
"Everyone's safely ashore, sir," Driscol reported to the brigadier a short time later. "There were some British pickets, but they ran off after firing just a few shots. Into the air, so far as I can tell. We suffered no casualties at all."
"Other than to my dignity," Scott chuckled, looking down at his still-sodden and somewhat bedraggled uniform. "I hate to think what it'll cost me to have the damage repaired."
On another occasion, the ruin visited upon his beloved uniform would have caused those words to be uttered in a snarl. But Winfield Scott was as pugnacious a commanding officer in the field as any Driscol had ever encountered, saving Napoleon himself. If he didn't love the carnage of war, he did love the excitement of the enterprise. The man was in his element, now, and his spirits couldn't be shaken by something as petty as a dunking.
Assuming the United States won this war, Driscol had already decided that he'd remain in the army. He was thirty-two years old, and after sixteen years of soldiering he figured he was too old to take up another occupation. However, he'd also decided that once peace had arrived, he'd find some quiet and discreet way to separate himself from Scott's entourage.
In a war-certainly in a battle-there wasn't another officer in the U.S. Army that Driscol would rather serve under. But in time of peace, he had no desire to be a master sergeant under Scott's command. For that, he wanted a different sort of officer. One who, at the very least, wouldn't be quarreling constantly with other officers and embroiling his subordinates in his personal feuds, just because he didn't have a real war to fight.
But that problem was for a later day-assuming Driscoll lived that long. He might very well not. The British forces charged with protecting the peninsula that jutted between Lake Erie and the Niagara were headquartered at Fort George, under the command of Major General Phineas Riall-who also had a reputation for being aggressive. There was sure to be a battle soon, and most likely a savage one. Riall wasn't the sort of officer who'd allow the American army to challenge British dominance on the open field, as General Brown and Brigadier Scott now proposed to do.
"Cousin Jonathan" was the derisive term British officers used to refer to the Americans. They were convinced that while Cousin Jonathan could manage well enough in a border fray, where half the combatants on both sides were savage Indians, the Americans had neither the skill nor the fortitude to match the British army on a battlefield.
There was more than a little truth to the British sneers. The kind of battle that Sergeant Driscol had experienced in Napoleon's wars could only be fought effectively by a real army. Standing up to musket volleys at close range on an open plain was simply beyond the capacity of militias or poorly trained troops.
Indians wouldn't even try. As in almost every war that had taken place on American soil for the past two centuries, there were Indians fighting on both sides in this one. Scott had learned that Riall's army maintained several hundred Mohawks as allies. On the American side, Porter's Third Brigade had about as many Indians. From a different tribe, Driscol assumed, although he didn't know which one. The sergeant hadn't been in the United States long enough-and, then, not in the right part of the country-to learn the Indians' complex tribal and clan distinctions.
Nor did he care, in the end. Driscol didn't have anything against Indians in particular, but he considered them irrelevant to his business. Indians made fine scouts and skirmishers, from what little he had seen of them, and that was it. Such qualities didn't impress Driscol for the simple reason that the same could be said of his own Scots-Irish kinfolk back home in Ireland. And he'd seen with his own eyes how pitiful a reed that was when the iron rod of the British army came down.
Battles against the likes of Wellington's men wouldn't be won by scouts and skirmishers. They hadn't been in Ireland; they wouldn't be here in America.
Scott's voice broke into his musing. "And the supplies?"
"All ashore, sir. The quartermasters have the matter in hand. I checked."
"Splendid." The brigadier examined the sunrise for a few seconds. "We've got plenty of time to converge on Fort Erie by noon. Assuming Porter doesn't get lost, of course. But Ripley and his brigade are landing only a mile away upstream, so we should have established contact with them well before then. That's what matters."
When General Brown had divided the Army of the Niagara between his two brigadiers for this campaign, he'd given the bulk of them-four out of the six regiments-to Winfield Scott. Not because he thought badly of the other brigadier, Eleazar Ripley, but simply because he had complete confidence in Scott. Brown, a former county judge and state legislator, might not know the technical details of soldiering-Driscol suspected the major general couldn't even post camp guards properly-but he was an excellent judge of men.
There was a pitched battle coming, and General Brown wanted the bulk of his forces under the command of Winfield Scott. He was taking a risk in so doing, of course, because Scott was prone to rashness. But Brown was the sort of officer who'd always prefer to fail through acts of commission, rather than omission. The sergeant couldn't fault him for that. It was a refreshing change from the usual run of American generals, who could find endless reasons to avoid fighting British regulars.
Somewhat to Driscol's surprise, Porter and his Third Brigade didn't get lost. By midday, the three columns of the Army of the Niagara converged on Fort Erie, according to plan.
The siege that followed was a simple affair, even by the standards of warfare in North America. The British holding the fort numbered but one hundred and seventy men. They were facing a besieging force of almost four thousand soldiers, more than three thousand of whom were regulars.
"They'll hold out just long enough to satisfy honor," Driscol predicted, when Scott asked the sergeant's opinion. "You can expect them to surrender by sundown."
The brigadier scowled at the enemy fortress. "I hate to lose the rest of the day. I'm thinking perhaps we should just take it with a charge."
Driscol restrained a sigh. Scott's aggressiveness was an asset for the American army, but it did need to be checked from time to time.
"Sir, it'd take us till midafternoon anyway to organize and carry through a frontal assault," he pointed out mildly. "We'd gain but two or three hours, and at the cost of fairly heavy casualties, leaving the army exhausted. Storming a fortress is bloody and tiring work."
Scott was too good a general not to know that Driscol was right, but he kept scowling for hours. Driscol made it a point to remain by his side throughout the rest of the day. Just in case the brigadier needed to be gently restrained again.
Driscol's prediction proved accurate almost to the minute. At five o'clock in the afternoon, the British defenders surrendered Fort Erie.
As he watched his men escorting the captured British soldiers to the rear-a friendly enough affair, on both sides, since calm reason had prevailed over silly belligerence-Scott finally stopped scowling.
"Well, you were right, Sergeant," he commented gruffly to Driscol.
"You're quite welcome, sir," Driscol replied easily.
Moments later, though, Scott was starting to scowl again. Driscol decided it would be best to cheer him up with the prospect of looming difficulties and desperate circumstances.
"By now, of course, the main British army at Fort George will have learned that we've landed on their shores. The pickets would have brought Riall the news. He'll already have his troops marching south to meet us."
"Will he, then?" Scott clapped his hands together. "How soon, do you think?"
"Sometime on the morrow."
"That quickly? Fort George is well over twenty miles away."
Driscol gave him a level gaze. "That's a professional British army we're about to smash into, sir. Sometime on the morrow. Be sure of it."
General Brown didn't propose to wait for them, however. He arrived at Fort Erie soon after it was taken, and ordered Scott to move his First Brigade north the next morning.
"We should be able to seize the bridge over the Chippewa before the enemy arrives," said Brown.
Scott nodded. "We need that bridge, or we'll lose days. So far as I know, there aren't any fords across the Chippewa unless you go pretty far upstream, off to the west."
Driscol kept his mouth shut, as protocol demanded. In point of fact, he thought the American generals were indulging themselves in a fantasy. The Chippewa River was a bit closer to Fort Erie than it was to Fort George, true. But an officer like Riall would send out an advance force, to delay the American approach until Riall himself could arrive with the main body of his army. Driscol was fairly certain the British would get to the bridge first.
In this, as in so many ways, the level of professionalism of the British army was simply superior to that of the American one. Scott had done wonders with the Army of the Niagara in the months he'd had to train it. But months of training couldn't possibly match the decades of experience the British army had amassed in pitched battles and maneuvers on the European continent. Driscol thought that Scott had shaped the army well enough to match the British on the open field of battle, if not in the maneuvers that led up to it. And that was as much as the sergeant could ask for.
He'd have a chance, finally, to face the Sassenach on something close to even terms.
Somewhere on the plain south of the Chippewa, he thought to himself. That's where it'll happen.
It was as good a place as any for the man from County Antrim to get his revenge, or meet his death. Most likely both, he guessed.
JULY 4, 1814
"God damn them!" Scott snarled, blatantly disregarding his firm and clear regulations prohibiting blasphemy.
Of course, other men took the Lord's name in vain when they did so. The brigadier didn't, since-surely-the Almighty was in agreement with his viewpoint.
Patrick Driscol wasn't going to argue the matter. First, because he was a sergeant. Secondly, because given his deist views, he didn't care much about blasphemy anyway. Finally, because he shared the brigadier's attitude toward the object of the curse-the Sassenach; who better deserved damnation? However, he didn't share the brigadier's surprise and disgruntlement.
Just as Driscol had foreseen the night before, within an hour after marching north that morning, Scott's brigade had begun encountering British detachments. The detachments hadn't sought any decisive engagement, where they would have been overwhelmed by Scott's numbers. They had simply been sent to delay the American advance long enough to enable Riall and his main force to seize the bridge over the Chippewa, and establish a firm foothold.
With the Chippewa bridge in their possession, the British would enjoy a very strong defensive position from which to resist any further American encroachment into Canada.
It was the best move for the British commander to have made. Brown's forces numbered almost four thousand men, of whom three-fourths were regulars. To oppose it, Riall had no more than two thousand men at his immediate disposal in Fort George, according to the intelligence Scott had collected. Granted, Riall probably didn't realize what a high percentage of Brown's army was made up of regular soldiers. Because of supply shortages, most of the American regulars were wearing undyed gray uniforms, barely distinguishable from the standard militia issue. Only a few actually had the regulation blue coats and white trousers.
Still, outnumbered two to one, Riall would probably wait behind his defensive lines until Lieutenant General Drummond could bring up reinforcements from other British units in Canada.
So, the entire day of July 4 was spent in a frustrating series of minor engagements with British skirmishers. Just to make things worse, the day had turned out hot and dry. For an army tramping up a road, that translated into "very dusty."
Again, Driscol was impressed with Scott's ability to keep driving the brigade forward. The sergeant hadn't expected to reach the Chippewa until sometime on the fifth, but Scott managed to get his brigade there by late afternoon of Independence Day. In the process, he left the rest of Brown's army lagging far behind.
Nevertheless, the brigadier's energy and determination turned out to be futile. By the time the First Brigade was in sight of the Chippewa, Riall and his army were thoroughly entrenched.
" Damn them!" Scott repeated. He sat back in his saddle and glared at the enemy force across the river. Then, sighing softly, he turned his head and scanned the terrain his brigade had just passed through.
Driscol waited patiently for the command, even though he knew perfectly well what it would be. Not even a commanding officer as impetuous as Winfield Scott would be rash enough to order a brigade of thirteen hundred men to attack a force of almost two thousand men who had a river to provide them with a defensive position.
A commander unsure of himself might have kept his brigade muddling around in the open field south of the Chippewa, but Scott was no indecisive muddler. Since he couldn't attack, the only intelligent thing to do was retreat half a mile and have his brigade take up defensive positions of their own.
"We'll move back across Street's Creek," Scott announced to his aides. "See to it, if you would."
The junior officers trotted off to attend to the matter. Driscol, as he usually did unless Scott gave him a specific order, remained behind.
Scott often asked his advice, though rarely when other officers were around to overhear. He was notorious for being self-confident to the point of rashness, but at least half of that was for public show. In private, Driscol had found that Scott was quite willing to solicit the opinion of his master sergeant. Whatever else, the brigadier was no fool.
"What do you think, Sergeant? Not much chance, I suppose, that we could get Riall to come at us directly."
From the vantage point of his own saddle, Driscol examined the terrain. Off to the right, the Niagara River formed the boundary to the east, and the Chippewa to the north. Without boats, there was no way to cross the Niagara at all, and no way to cross the Chippewa except at the bridge. To the south, where the American units were already starting to move back, lay Street's Creek, nestled a short distance back into the trees. The creek wasn't the barrier that the Chippewa was, but it would still provide the Americans with a reasonably strong defensive position of their own.
Between Street's Creek and the Chippewa lay an open plain one mile deep and about the same distance wide. There was a dense woodland to their left, on the western side of the plain, which completed the enclosure.
In short, it was a classic battlefield terrain. There was a clearly defined open area for the clash of arms, and no easy way for either side to maneuver around it. The trick, of course, would be to get the British to come out onto the field at all. Why should they? They were the defending force, and they were outnumbered to boot, with a very strong position from which to break any further American advance.
"Probably not, sir," the sergeant replied. "Although…"
A bit surprised, Scott lifted his eyebrow. "Although… what?"
Driscol paused for a few more seconds, studying the American troops moving to the rear.
"Well, it's the uniforms, sir. From a distance, they look just like militia uniforms." He turned his head and scanned the British forces across the Chippewa. "Riall's an aggressive sort of general, by all accounts. We're so far ahead of the rest of the army that he has us outnumbered, for the moment. And if he thinks we're just a militia force…"
"Interesting point," Scott murmured. "Yes, he does have us outnumbered at the moment. About seventeen hundred men, as best as I can determine, to face our thirteen hundred in the brigade."
Scott thought about it himself, and then shook his head regretfully. "It's still not likely he'll come out. Certainly not today, as late as it is in the afternoon. And by tomorrow, General Brown will have arrived with the rest of our army."
Driscol was amused. Most American officers would have been relieved to avoid an open battle with British regulars. Scott was disgruntled that the enemy wouldn't come out for it.
Driscol nodded. "You're most likely right, sir. Still, if he thinks we're militiamen, Riall might just think he could rout us easily."
"I fear it's not likely to happen, Sergeant. If I were in Riall's position, I certainly wouldn't take the chance."
With some difficulty, Driscol managed to keep a straight face. He knew perfectly well that if the positions had been reversed, Scott would already have been marching his army onto the field.
But he kept all that to himself.
"I'll be seeing to the men's encampment then, sir. It's beginning to look like rain."
Scott nodded. "Thank you, sergeant. There's nothing else to do at the moment. Damn them."
JULY 5, 1814
The Battle of Chippewa
Brown and the rest of the army began arriving just before midnight, in the middle of a downpour. Ripley's brigade made camp south of Scott's brigade, eager to get their tents up.
By the morning of the fifth, the rain had stopped, and the sun had returned. The heat soon dried up the traces, leaving the ground as dusty as ever. Scott's pickets started exchanging gunfire with British skirmishers who'd taken up positions in the woods to the west. The presence of the enemy there was a nuisance, but nothing worse than that. Still, after hours of it, Brown was annoyed enough to order Porter to take his Third Brigade of militiamen and their Indian allies, and clear the skirmishers out of the woods.
Porter and his men began moving into the woods late in the afternoon. While they did so, Scott decided that he would use the rest of day to march his brigade across Street's Creek and engage in a full drill in front of the main British forces. The brigadier was frustrated by inaction.
"If nothing else," he told Driscol, "we can thumb our noses at the enemy. Show them we're not intimidated. Besides, I don't want the men getting rusty."
Driscol thought it was a lot of foolishness, but he went about the brigadier's business, getting the men ready for the drill. As he did so, he noticed General Brown and several of his aides trotting toward the woods. Brown had apparently decided to see how Porter was getting along.
Not well, it seemed. There was a sudden burst of gunfire from the direction of the trees, which turned into what sounded like a small running battle. Driscol assumed the British had decided to reinforce their skirmishers in the woods.
But he didn't see anything further. Even if he hadn't been preoccupied with his own affairs, the screen of trees and brush along the banks of the creek blocked his view of the plain to the north.
"We've got them pinned in the woods, sir," Riall's aide said to him, after he took the report from the courier.
Major General Riall nodded. Then, smiled rather ferociously. "Time to teach Cousin Jonathan what's what, then, wouldn't you say? Order the army across the bridge."
When General Brown saw the first of Porter's militiamen stumbling out of the woods, he scowled. His scowl deepened when he saw the cloud of dust starting to rise in the north.
He lifted himself up in the stirrups in order to get a better view. After a few seconds he started seeing British uniforms, flashing like gleams in the dust.
"Good God. They're coming across the bridge."
His eyes swept back and forth across the field. It was obvious that Riall had sent enough reinforcements into the woods to tie up Porter's brigade. If he moved his main army onto the plain quickly enough, he had a fair chance of capturing Porter and his men before they could disengage.
Instead of simply waiting behind defensive lines, Riall had decided to lay a little trap.
"Ha!" Brown's scowl changed into a grin. If Scott could get his brigade onto the plain quickly enough to forestall Riall's advance, that would allow them time enough for Brown himself to race back and bring up Ripley's brigade as a reinforcement…
He jabbed a finger in the direction of the woods. "Get in there-all of you-and stiffen up Porter. Tell him to hold."
Without another word, he turned his horse and began galloping back toward the bridge across Street's Creek.
Sergeant Driscol was in the leading ranks of the First Brigade as it began crossing over the Street's Creek bridge. He was on foot now, not on horseback, since in the coming drill he'd be assuming his normal position in the battle formation. General Scott and two of his officers were the only mounted men in the vicinity. They were ahead of him, and they weren't throwing up enough dust to obscure Driscol's vision.
As soon as the sergeant saw the cloud of dust to the north, he figured out what was happening. He began to alert the brigadier, but saw that it wasn't necessary. Scott was already perched high in his stirrups, staring at the sight.
Then, an oncoming horseman made the whole issue a moot one.
It was General Brown, galloping recklessly across the field, grinning like a lunatic.
He didn't even slow down. He thundered past Scott and Driscol, pointing behind him with a finger. " You will have a battle! " he shouted gaily, and then he was gone.
By now, Scott was grinning himself. He began bellowing orders. By the time those orders got to the master sergeant, Driscol had already taken care of what needed doing. Seeing that, Scott's grin widened even further.
"We shall whip them, Sergeant! Watch and see!"
Driscol shared the brigadier's hopes, but not his anticipation. Brown's entire army might outnumber Riall's, but Scott's First Brigade didn't. Driscol doubted if Brown could get the Second Brigade moved up before nightfall. In the battle that was about to take place, Scott would face something like seventeen hundred British regulars with only thirteen hundred men of his own.
No American army since the war began had beaten an equal-size British force on an open battlefield. Not regulars matched against regulars. Now, Scott proposed to do it while outnumbered four to three.
So be it. It seemed a nice countryside. Not Ireland, true, but still a pleasant enough place to die.
Half an hour later, the two armies were taking positions facing each other on the plain by the Niagara, and Private McParland was scared out of his wits. Drill was one thing. But finally seeing red-coated British troops maneuvering on a plain with all the precision of a machine-well, that was something else entirely. The enemy army reminded the teenage soldier of the brightly painted threshing machine he'd seen once at a county fair. With him and his mates as the grain about to be haplessly mangled.
Desperately, he tried to control his terror. And, like many of the men around him, he found his anchor in the sight of Sergeant Driscol.
He was there, of course. Where else would he? Stalking calmly back and forth in front of the troops, living up to the name his men had recently given him.
Off in the distance, young McParland could see Brigadier Scott, shouting something to another group of soldiers. McParland couldn't make out the words, but he was quite sure that Scott was exhorting the troops. The brigadier was a fine speechifier, as he'd demonstrated in the past any number of times.
Sergeant Driscol's notion of "exhortation," on the other hand, was
About what you'd expect from a troll.
You will not flinch. You will not quaver. Forget those wretched Sassenach, boys. If a man so much as twitches, I will cut him up for my soup. You will face lead with serenity. You will face bayonets with a laugh. Because if you don't, you will face my gaping gullet.
The beast went on in that vein for another minute or so. By the time he was done, McParland felt himself settling down. Not so much because he was scared of the troll's wrath any longer-the youngster would surely be dead soon, anyway, so what difference did it make?-but because he knew for sure and certain that the enemy was doomed. The British might have precision and training and experience and all the rest. But did they have their own troll?
Not a chance. McParland didn't think there were more than six trolls in the whole world. Eight, tops.
"We'll let them fire the first volley," Scott announced.
Driscol nodded and walked off. He wasn't entirely sure himself that was the right thing to do, but…
Maybe. That first hammering volley was a treasure for an army, to be sure. But if it was fired that little bit too soon, it wouldn't have any effect on well-trained troops except to prove to them that they could stand up to it. Thereafter, the force that had taken the first blow and rebounded had that little extra edge to their confidence.
And that was what it was all about, in the end. Confidence. For all the intricacy of the firing movements and the endless training it took to get men to do it properly in the midst of carnage, musket battles on an open field-where one line of men hammered at another at point-blank range-could only be described as sheer brutality. Driscol wasn't a learned man, but he knew something of the history of warfare. He didn't think there was really anything like it, unless you went back over two thousand years to the days of the Greek hoplites.
To win such battles, one thing was needed above all. The confidence-say better, arrogance-of Achilles and Ajax. Pain and suffering and wounds were irrelevant. All that mattered was that you did not break.
You died, but you did not break.
Once he got back to his position, he decided to brighten up the spirits of the troops a bit more.
If you break, I will hound you to the gates of hell. If you waver, I will rend your flesh. If you hesitate "Oh, just shut up, will you?" McParland hissed under his breath. But he held his musket at precisely the right angle when he said it. The musket was properly loaded, and the ramrod back in its place.
By an odd quirk of the air, that little hiss made its way to the sergeant's ears. It was all Driscol could do not to laugh aloud. His exhortations had succeeded in their purpose. The spirits of the troops were as bright as the sunshine. In a manner of speaking.
The British fired the first volley. When the smoke cleared, Major General Riall watched the American forces maneuvering calmly to close the gaps left by the dead and wounded. Then he saw the first American volley coming like a thunderclap, with none of the raggedness he'd expected.
He rose up in his saddle.
"Those aren't militiamen. By God, those are regulars!"
One of his aides shook his head. "We still have them outnumbered, sir."
"So we do. Still and all, I wouldn't have thought Cousin Jonathan had it in him."
Some part of McParland's brain was astonished to discover that he was still alive. The man right next to him had been smashed flat.
The British had a small battery of nine guns with them. From the quantity of gore splattered all over McParland, the young soldier assumed his mate had been hit by a grapeshot and not a musket ball. There was something sticking to the seventeen-year-old's trouser leg that looked like a piece of intestine.
But he didn't have time to think about it. McParland brought his musket up on command. Noting, in some odd, new, confident part of his brain, that all of his mates had brought their muskets up at exactly the same time, and at exactly the same level. He could see them out of the corners of his eyes. Not as men, really, but simply as an endless gray line. Like a short cliff, standing on a plain.
He didn't aim the musket, of course. Just leveled it and pointed it in the general direction of the enemy. He pulled the trigger when he heard the troll's command.
To Sergeant Driscoll, that first volley fired by his own men was like a taste of the finest whiskey. In times past, he'd always been able to tell the difference between an American and a British volley, just by the sound alone. British volleys were as they should be: crisp, like thunderbolts. American volleys were altogether different; haphazard gusts trying to match a hurricane.
On the field of open battle, the volley reigned supreme. That wasn't due to the tactics involved, but because a good volley reinforced what was essential in musket battles: confidence.
A good, proper volley stiffened the men. A ragged one tore at their certainty. It was as simple as that. Musket battles were won by morale, not bullets.
When the smoke cleared, McParland saw that the troll was still standing there, untouched by the carnage. He wasn't surprised. McParland thought the troll probably had a magical shield that deflected enemy musket balls and grapeshot. Or maybe it was simply that the lead bullets were terrified of him, too.
McParland went through the motions, easily, quickly. He discovered that the concentration needed to reload a musket kept his mind off anything else.
Step forward! Ten paces!
Somewhere in the middle of those paces, another British volley ripped through the ranks. McParland saw a nearby soldier clutch his face with both hands, spilling his musket to the ground. An instant later, blood was gushing through the fingers and the man toppled next to his musket. There was no hole in the back of his head, but, from the completely limp and lifeless look of the body, McParland was pretty sure the big musket ball had jellied the man's brains.
But the teenager didn't really think about it. His mind was entirely focused on the need to close ranks to make good the gaps. Between them, over the months, Brigadier Scott and his troll of a master sergeant had trained McParland to do, and do, and do-and never to think. Not in a battle.
"I want that battery taken out, Captain! Do you hear me? Move your three guns forward. Charge them if you have to, but get close enough to take them out with canister!"
For all the fury of his words, Scott's tone was lively. Almost cheerful. Captain Nathan Towson was a good artillery officer, and Scott was confident that he'd get the job done.
He had other things on his mind, anyway. Porter's Third Brigade had been beaten, and they were in full flight out of the woods. Scott had to protect his now-exposed left flank.
"Major Jesup! Take your Twenty-fifth Regiment and swing them around to cover the left!"
Jesup was another good officer. Scott seemed to collect them like a magnet, in time of war.
It was going well. Driscol could tell, from long experience, despite not being able to see much due to the gun smoke that now obscured most of the field. The men had suffered casualties, but had kept moving forward despite them-and, now, with ever-growing confidence that they could do so.
So, another volley.
It was a given that men died in battles, winners and losers both. Victory was all that mattered.
McParland wondered-not until he'd pulled the trigger, of course-how the troll managed to project his voice so well in the middle of a battle. The words were quite clear, even crisp-quite unlike the monster's normal rasp, which had always reminded McParland of a dull saw hitting a knot in a log.
That penetrating voice, in fact, was the only thing McParland had heard clearly since the battle began. Abstractly, he'd known that battles would be noisy affairs. But the reality made the word "noisy" seem meaningless. It was like being in the middle of a thunderstorm, except the clouds were light instead of dark. The volleys came like flashes of lightning. And with white gun smoke hanging everywhere, McParland couldn't usually see more than fifteen feet in any direction.
Step forward! Ten paces!
Major General Phineas Riall stared at the battlefield. Four volleys had been exchanged, each at ever-closer range, and the American forces hadn't so much as wavered. If anything, their volleys were even surer than those of the British.
An aide next to him made a slight shake of the head. Riall had served in the British army for twenty years, and was as well trained as any British officer. But his service had been entirely in the West Indies.
The aide, he recalled, had fought Napoleon's army on the continent.
Towson's three guns along the Niagara were starting to silence the British battery. Scott peered at the other side of the field. Jesup and his Twenty-fifth had succeeded in anchoring the American left flank, but the movement had opened a gap in his lines. So Scott ordered McNair and his Ninth Regiment to move to the left. The fact remained that the British army was larger than his own, and there was no way Scott could match the lines without creating a gap somewhere. That was dangerous.
On the other hand, Riall's force had moved forward far enough that the British right was no longer anchored on the woods.
There was a maneuver…
Risky, of course, and not usually tried in a real battle. But if it was done well enough…
"Yes," Scott murmured. "In for a penny, in for a pound."
"Excuse me, sir?" asked one of his aides.
Scott grinned. "I was just remarking that the whole point of fighting a battle is to win the thing. Let us do so, Lieutenant.
"Take orders to Major McNair. Tell him I want the Ninth Regiment to keep moving left. When his forces meet up with Jesup's, I want them to wheel inward, facing northeast. Riall's right is hanging in the open, so McNair and Jesup should be able to bring enfilade fire on them, and roll up their flank. They'll break."
The lieutenant hesitated a moment, before racing off with the orders. Even he could see that Scott's maneuver was going to open a great, gaping hole in the center of the American force. If the British moved quickly enough, they'd smash through before the flanking attack could be brought to bear.
In effect, Scott was gambling that his American army could outmaneuver a British army in the middle of a battle, while standing its ground against superior forces in what was now practically a point-blank contest of musket volleys.
The lieutenant probably thought he was insane.
"He's insane!" snarled Riall. "What lunatic is in command over there?"
"I suspect that's Winfield Scott's brigade, sir," replied the aide. "He's said to be bold. Even, ah, rash."
"He's insane," Riall repeated. "Send forward the Royal Scots and the One Hundredth Foot. We'll smash this thing before it gets started."
One of the couriers raced off to give the command. The aide kept his own counsel. It was possible, of course, that Riall was right. But the aide couldn't help remembering that the word "insane" had been applied quite often to Napoleon, as well.
To be sure, in the end, they'd beaten Napoleon. But not before the madman had won a lot of battles.
For a moment, the clouds of gun smoke cleared enough for Driscol to see what Scott was doing with the other regiments. He understood the maneuver immediately-and it was all he could do not to whoop with glee.
Driscol's own Twenty-second Regiment had pinned the British, and now-finally, at last!-an American army had a general worthy of its soldiers. Scott would match their confidence with his own, using the kind of bold and daring stroke that Napoleon would have favored.
Suddenly, the sergeant was spun completely around. The blow didn't even register as such until he stumbled to one knee. Then, looking down at his left arm, he saw that a musket ball had struck it.
Destroyed it, rather. Driscol had seen more battle wounds than he could remember. If he survived the battle, he knew that he was looking at an amputation.
At the very least. The elbow was a shattered mass of flesh and blood. That meant an amputation somewhere in the upper arm, not the lower. Most men did not survive such, not in the conditions of a battlefield surgery. Not for long. If blood loss and shock didn't kill them, infection would.
So be it. It was a given that wounded men died after battles. Winners and losers alike. All that mattered was victory.
Then the pain arrived, in a searing wave that all but blinded him for a moment. He gritted his teeth, and pulled away from it by sheer force of will. Still on one knee, Driscol called out the commands.
Ten paces forward!
It seemed to McParland as if the troll's voice was a bit off. But he didn't give it much thought. Truth to tell, the young soldier was hardly thinking at all any longer. Reality had shrunk down to an endless cycle of repeated actions. There was nothing much beyond that, other than noticing-briefly, and without dwelling on the matter-the bodies of his mates as they were flung aside or crumpled to the ground, often showing hideous wounds.
So it came as a complete surprise when he stumbled across the troll's body as he stepped forward into the gun smoke.
Stumbled against it, rather. The troll was down on one knee, but he wasn't dead. His left arm looked to be a complete ruin from the elbow down, and he was awkwardly trying to bind it up with his one good hand. McParland realized that he had shouted the last orders even after he had been wounded.
Very badly wounded, from the look of it.
The troll glanced up at him. "Bind this for me, would you? Then help me up."
Confused, McParland looked down at his musket. How was he supposed to…
"Just put the bloody thing down!" the troll rasped. "Consider yourself on detached duty for the rest of the battle, young McParland. I promise I won't stand you before a firing squad."
McParland had been trained to dress wounds, so once his mind cleared, he set down the musket and went about the business, quickly and efficiently. That done, he helped the troll to get back on his feet.
"Where are the boys, lad? I'm feeling a bit light-headed."
McParland did a quick estimate, in the battle murk.
"They've made the paces, Sergeant."
The young private didn't think, with a wound like that, he'd have been able to do more than croak. Or scream. But the troll's bellowing, piercing voice had not a quaver in it this time.
The volley hammered every other thought or sensation aside. It really was like standing right next to a lightning bolt. Or so McParland imagined. He'd never actually stood right next to a lightning bolt, since he wasn't insane.
Or hadn't been, at least, until some mad impulse he could no longer remember clearly had led him to volunteer for the army.
Amazingly, the troll was now grinning.
"It's going well, lad. I can tell. The volleys have that sure and certain victorious air about them."
McParland had no idea how the troll had come to that conclusion. As far as he could tell, the universe was a place of sheer confusion. The volleys weren't so much sounds as periodic, paralyzing bursts of chaos.
Still, the words cheered him up.
Why not? If anyone could make sense out of this madness, it would be a troll.
"Help me forward now, lad. I will not fall until I see the Sassenach broken. In front of me, goddamn them. Lying at my feet, whipped like curs."
Again, that voice. Like a lightning bolt itself.
Ten paces forward!
The aide saw the truth before Riall could bring himself to accept it.
"If we pull back now, sir, we can still salvage the army. Wait another few minutes, and…"
Riall glared at him. Then, went back to glaring at the battlefield.
The aide waited.
A minute went by. Then another.
The British army was caught in a vise from which they barely had time to extricate themselves. Scott's flanking attack, however reckless it might have been, had been carried out so well and so swiftly that Riall's forces hadn't been able to move quickly enough to counter it.
In truth, they hadn't moved at all. The American lines in front of them had never flinched. Indeed, had kept coming forward every time they fired.
"Never seen the like," Riall muttered. "What has Cousin Jonathan been eating lately?"
French food, the aide was tempted to reply. But, wisely, he refrained from uttering the quip. Riall didn't have a good sense of humor even on his best days.
Which this one most certainly was not.
"Order retreat. We'll fall back across the Chippewa, while we still hold the bridge."
The British soldiers didn't start breaking until the order came. Even then, stiffened by professional training and experience, they were never routed. But the last few minutes were ghastly. Captain Townsend brought his guns forward and added canister to the havoc being wreaked by the American musketeers, who were now firing from oblique angles into a mass of soldiers caught in the closing trap.
They got out, but not before they left more than five hundred men on the field, dead or wounded.
American casualties were only three hundred or so.
"I'm still alive," McParland said wonderingly. "Not a scratch on me."
The troll said nothing. Just watched, with a look of satisfaction on his face fiercer than anything McParland had ever seen, as the last British soldiers stumbled across the distant bridge. The ground that lay between them and that bridge looked like a red carpet, from the uniforms on the broken bodies covering it. And the blood, of course.
The most amazing thing happened then. McParland never told anyone, afterward, because he knew he'd be called a liar. But the troll's eyes filled with tears.
"Those bastards broke two of my nations," he heard him whisper. "They won't break this one."
After a few seconds, McParland cleared his throat. "Sergeant, we'd really better get you to the surgeon. That's a nasty wound. Really nasty."
The sergeant glanced down at his left arm.
"Oh, aye. I'll lose most of it. I doubt me if even a top surgeon in Philadelphia could fix this ruin-and there'll be no top surgeons in an army camp, you can be sure of that."
McParland turned him around and they began hobbling away.
"On the bright side," Driscol continued, "I'll just grow myself another arm."
By the time McParland got him to the surgeon's tent, he decided the sergeant was joking. He wasn't certain, though.
For a wonder, the surgeon was sober.
Better still, from Driscol's viewpoint, he was a young man. The sergeant's experience had been that the practice of medicine affected men like alcohol affected those with the curse of drunkenness. The more they studied, the worse they got. Middle-aged doctors were as dangerous as vipers; elderly ones, deadly as the Grim Reaper himself.
"The arm'll have to come off, Sergeant," the young surgeon said firmly, leaning over Driscol where he lay on a pallet in the surgeon's tent. "You'll almost certainly get gangrene, with that bad a wound. Your elbow's pretty well gone, anyway. Even if we left your arm and you didn't get gangrene, you'd never be able to use it again."
He moved off, heading toward one of the tables onto which his assistants were hoisting a wounded soldier. After he was gone, Driscol rolled his head and gave young McParland a cheerful grin. He hoped it was cheerful, anyway.
"D'you ever hear such nonsense, lad? Even with a ruined elbow, I could still use my fingers to count money."
McParland even managed to return the grin with one of his own. Well, a sickly smile-but Driscol suspected his own grin was on the sickly side itself.
"What they pay us, Sergeant, I think you'll only need the fingers of one hand for that. And you're right-handed anyway."
Driscol pursed his lips, as if giving the matter careful consideration. "True enough. I'll take your advice, then." He raised his uninjured right arm, extending a warning finger. "Mind you, youngster, if we ever take Montreal and I don't get my fair share of the loot on account of my missing arm, I'm taking it out of your pickings."
McParland nodded nervously. The sergeant was sure the nervousness was due entirely to the horrid surroundings of the surgeon's tent, not his jocular threat. For all the boasts of American politicians and generals, the chances that the U.S. Army would ever take Montreal were about as good as Driscol's chances to survive gangrene if he tried to keep his arm.
Driscol didn't fault the youngster for being twitchy. Hardened veteran that he was, the sergeant found the surgeon's tent unsettling-and would have, even if he hadn't been one of the wounded men waiting his turn.
The sawdust in the boxes under the two cutting tables was soaked through with blood from the operations, and the blood was seeping onto the dirt floor. That was probably just as well, since it provided the flies swarming in the tent with a ready feasting ground, and distracted them from feeding directly off the wounds. Still, between the festering blood and the gore from intestinal injuries, the stench in the tent was incredible.
No such side benefit could be found from the noises that also saturated the tent, unfortunately. The screams and groans and moans and muffled prayers blended into each like a cacophony straight from hell. The surgeon almost had to shout, in order to be heard at all.
Driscol watched as the doctor and his assistants amputated a soldier's mangled foot on the table nearest him. For all the grisliness of the work, it was done swiftly and expertly. Two of the assistants kept the man's shoulders pinned and two others restrained the legs. Once the patient was securely immobilized and a tourniquet tightened around his leg, the surgeon cut the flesh all around the ankle, right down to the bone; then, peeled the flesh back so as to expose the bone farther up from the incision itself. He'd sever the bone as far up the leg as he could. That way, the resulting stump would have some padding over the bone's end, once it healed.
That was assuming, of course, that the patient didn't die before then, from one of several common diseases brought on by amputation. Which, he very well might. Almost a fourth of all men who had amputations done after a battle died later from infection.
No, Driscol reminded himself, never being one to shy away from the cold facts. That "one-fourth" applied to men who had their lower limbs amputated. The death rate was much higher for men who, like Driscol, had the cut made above the knee or elbow.
So be it. Driscol distracted himself, as best he could, by continuing to watch the surgeon at his work.
The blade the man used to slice flesh was no delicate instrument. It reminded Driscol, more than anything else, of a smaller version of the flensing blades used by whalers. It'd make a decent weapon in a tavern brawl, in fact, even if it wasn't quite long enough to be suitable on a battlefield.
Fortunately for everyone concerned, the soldier being operated on had fainted from the agony at that point. So he missed entirely the heart of the operation, which came when the surgeon took up a saw and hacked through the bone. Driscol was impressed by the surgeon's speed. No master carpenter could have done better, he thought.
The sergeant could only hope the man would cut off his arm as smoothly and efficiently.
That done, the severed foot was tossed onto a nearby pile of such horrid objects. The flies over there were a seething little mountain of insects. The surgeon sewed up the severed arteries; then, still working as quickly as ever, folded the flaps of flesh and skin over the end of the bone and sewed everything up.
A bandage was then placed on the bleeding stump, and it was done. The assistants heaved the unconscious soldier off the table and carried him out of the tent. He'd recuperate-and, hopefully, survive-in a different tent set aside for the purpose.
While the surgeon waited for his helpers to return, he washed his hands in a bowl of water. Then cleaned the blade and the saw using a sponge soaked in the same bowl.
Driscol couldn't really see the point of that. By now, the water in the bowl wasn't much thinner than blood itself, as often as it had been reused for the purpose.
The surgeon's eyes ranged around the tent, quickly examining the dozen or so wounded soldiers who lay in it. Experienced eyes, obviously, despite the surgeon's youth. Driscol could see him quickly dismissing about half the cases as either hopeless or so chancy that he wouldn't spend time on them while men who might survive were kept waiting.
That meant he dismissed almost any kind of major abdominal, chest, or head wound as beyond his treatment. About the only exception to that rule was that battlefield surgeons would usually attempt to extract a bullet that hadn't penetrated any deeper than a finger's length. If it had…
Well, they'd just leave it alone. If the man survived, the bullet would sometimes work its way closer to the surface, where they could eventually get to it. Driscol had known a soldier in the French army who'd survived such a bullet wound-and then, eight years later, finally had the thing extracted. By then, it lay just under the skin.
For all practical purposes, the job of an army surgeon was to cut off hands, feet, arms, and legs. Nothing else, really.
Fair enough, Driscol thought. Two-thirds to three-fourths of all battlefield wounds were suffered in the extremities, to begin with-and those same wounds accounted for almost all the survivors. Men shot or stabbed in the torso or the head almost invariably died, unless the wound was a superficial one.
The surgeon's gaze fell on Driscol. On his mangled arm, rather. The sergeant didn't think the surgeon had even looked at his face-and he was quite sure he wouldn't remember Driscol if they ever met again.
"You're next," he said.
Driscol saw the assistants coming back into the tent.
There was no point in dallying. "Do it, then."
"I've got some antifogmatic I can give you," said the surgeon.
"Whiskey or rum?"
Driscol sneered. "And it'll be raw, too. Not that I'd touch any kind of rum. It'll be whiskey, or no drink at all."
"Sergeant, this is going to hurt. A lot."
Driscol's sneer remained firm and unwavering. "Is it, now? Sawing through my flesh and bone is going to hurt. I'm shocked to hear it."
Driscol decided he'd teased the surgeon long enough to maintain discipline among the troops, when word got back. "Never mind. I've got something better in my kit. Private, my tent's not far off. Rummage around in my pack and you'll find a bottle of laudanum. I keep it for just such a mishap. Bring it here, would you?"
McParland was gone in a flash.
Driscol closed his eyes. The pain had become constant and savage, but the sergeant was no stranger to suffering. The more so when he still had his duty to perform. Driscol had known for years that attention to duty was a better distraction from pain than anything else.
By the time McParland got back, the sergeant's reputation would have climbed still higher among the troops-or sunk lower, depending on how you looked at it. Word would spread like wildfire that the troll was delaying his amputation because he'd gotten into an argument with the surgeon over the respective merits of rum versus whiskey.
He grinned at the thought. Every corporal and private in the Twenty-second Regiment who heard the tale-which would be all of them, eventually-would see it as proof that the master sergeant was indeed an inhuman creature, and an insane one at that.
But Driscol was quite sure that, forever after, whiskey would be the spirit of choice of the regiment. Within a day, any new recruit unfortunate enough to have smuggled in some rum would be forced to get rid of it. The ridicule would be unbearable.
Henceforth, for the Twenty-second Regiment, rum would be a drink for sissies.
Laudanum took a bit longer to take effect than raw spirits would have. But it hardly mattered, since it wasn't as if the surgeon had been kept waiting. Few lumberjacks in the world used a saw more vigorously and more continuously than an army surgeon after a major battle.
"And now we're back to you, Sergeant," the surgeon said finally. Through blurred vision, Driscol saw the young doctor leaning over him again. The man's cheap frock coat was a bloody mess.
Driscol was in a haze, now, but he had enough consciousness left to peer up at McParland. The private's face was a blob, but he could still recognize the anxiety, if not quite the features on which that anxiety was displayed.
"Help the surgeon and his boys get me onto the table, McParland. And then help them hold the arm while he saws it off. I may twitch just a bit."
The effort of moving to the table almost drained him of consciousness. He had just enough of his wits left to whisper one last request.
"Do me the favor, youngster. If I scream anything untoward, keep it to yourself, would you?"
Even with the laudanum, the brief time that followed was agonizing beyond belief.
But McParland assured the sergeant afterward that the only thing he had screamed during the operation was Fuck the Sassenach!
"You hollered that mebbe a hunnerd times."
Driscol thought McParland might be fudging the truth. He'd never know, since his own memory was thankfully nothing but a blur. It didn't matter, really, so long as McParland passed the same story along to the troops.
The surgeon, as usual, just tossed the severed arm onto the pile of limbs, but McParland dug it back out. He was determined to give the troll's limb a proper burial.
On the battlefield itself-with a squad to fire a proper salute. McParland would fire one of the muskets himself.
Winfield Scott came to visit Driscol the next day. The brigadier's first words were typical of the man-direct and to the point.
"Will you consider that commission now, Patrick? With only one arm, your days as an active-duty sergeant are over. The best you could hope for would be a position in the quartermaster corps. And you're not a good enough thief for that job. You'd wind up in the poorhouse."
Driscol squinted at him. "And is this your idea of cheering up the troops, sir? Offering them a choice between becoming a bloody officer, or a life of squalor?"
Scott looked surprised. "Well. Yes."
Driscol chuckled, though it came out rasping. "Napoleon would have handed me a miniature marshal's baton-just a promissory note, as it were, not the real thing-and given me a pension that'd vanish within eight months when he needed the money for another campaign. The assurances of the mighty. Water poured on sand."
Coming from someone else, those words might have angered Scott. As it was, the brigadier simply smiled.
"Well, to be honest, once the war is over a U.S. Army commission is likely to be about as valuable as one of Napoleon's little sticks. I'll try for captain, Patrick, but we'll probably have to settle for first lieutenant. Still, it'll be better than nothing."
Driscol had now been given several hours to ponder bleakly on his future, and had come to the same conclusion himself. "Aye, sir, I'll take it. And thank you."
"The thanks are entirely due the other way, Sergeant." The words were said forcefully, as well they might be. The brigadier's glorious victory at the Chippewa had ensured his career, and enriched his own future prospects-assuming he survived the war, of course. And while that victory was due in part to Scott's own skill and courage, a great deal of it was due to men like Patrick Driscol.
The brigadier cleared his throat.
"I must be off, I'm afraid. Riall's retreating to Fort George, and General Brown wants to press the campaign. Rightly so, of course. Now's not the time to give the enemy any breathing space."
He cleared his throat again. "Patrick, the worst place for you to stay is here in this tent."
Driscol's chuckle was even harsher, now. "Do tell. A man's got a better chance of surviving a battle in the first rank than he does surviving a stay in a camp surgery."
Scott nodded. "So I propose to transfer you to Washington. I'll send along orders to have you placed in military quarters there. And"-here the brigadier's face brightened-"I happen to know a splendid doctor there. A very fine gentleman by the name of Jeremy Boulder. He has real medical degrees and everything. Studied under Benjamin Rush himself! I'll also send a letter asking him to take you under his care."
That news did not cheer up Driscol. A real doctor, with real degrees-a fine gentleman, no less-who'd studied under the most famous medical practitioner in the United States…
He might as well just shoot himself in the head.
But he saw no point in arguing the matter with someone from Scott's class. There'd be time enough and opportunity to evade a "real doctor" once he got to Washington.
Assuming he got there in the first place. Driscol looked down at the stump that protruded below his left shoulder. It was all that remained of his arm. The bandages covering the stump were crusted with dried blood, and the thing ached constantly. It would do worse than ache, too, once the last of the laudanum was gone. There was no way that Driscol, even as tough as he was, could survive a journey to Washington unless he gave himself several weeks to heal first.
Alas, surviving several weeks in an army surgical camp was a chancy prospect.
From the look on his face, which was no longer cheery at all, it was obvious that Scott understood as much himself. The brigadier grimaced. "Very well. I'll leave instructions to have inquiries made with the local residents. There might be a farmer nearby who'd be willing to take you in."
Driscol barely managed to keep from laughing aloud. The chance was just about nil that any local resident, such as were left, would be willing to take in a wounded soldier. That was just as true of American citizens living across the river as Canadian ones on this side. The war had ravaged the area for two years-and, to make things worse, the American army had conspicuously failed to make good on its promises to carry the war past the border territories. For the citizens of upper New York, the slogan On to Montreal! garnered as much respect as continental money, bungtown coppers, and wildcat banknotes.
The assurances of the mighty.
Water poured on sand.
Driscol caught a sudden little motion out of the corner of his eye. McParland had more or less informally attached himself to the sergeant since the battle. As was usually the case, he was perched on a stool nearby in the tent.
He turned his head. "You wanted to say something, Private?"
McParland looked simultaneously eager and… worried. He cleared his throat. Cleared it again.
"Oh, just speak up, lad!" Driscol growled "I promise I won't have you shot. Neither will the brigadier."
"Well. It's just. Well… My family's not far away from here, Sergeant. We live on a farm just a few miles north of Dansville." The young soldier flushed a little. "That's why, uh, I tried to run away. My home being so close and all. It's less'n seventy-five miles away."
Eagerness pushed aside anxiety: "And my mother's a right slick healer." He gave Scott an apologetic glance. "Of course, she bean't a real doctor. Don't have any degrees or such."
Scott sniffed, as well he might. McParland's family was no doubt dirt poor. And while his mother might have some medical skills in the way of farmwives the world over, she'd be riddled with herbalist nonsense and have no proper sense at all of modern medical theories.
Driscol seized the offer like a drowning man seizes a lifeline.
"Done, then! I can survive seventy-five miles." He cocked an eye at the brigadier. "You'd need to place Private McParland on detached duty, sir, as my escort. I couldn't manage the trip on my own-and I'll need him for the introductions anyway."
To his credit, Scott didn't hesitate. Whatever his own opinion of a farmwife's medical care, he wasn't blind to the fact that anything was better than leaving Driscol to rot in an army camp.
"Very well. I'll write up orders sending both of you to the private's home. But I'll expect you"-here he shot McParland a stern look-" both of you, mind, to show up in Washington as soon as possible. Leaving aside the fact that you do need proper medical treatment as soon as possible, Sergeant Driscol, there's the little matter of your commission."
"Aye, sir. We'll be along to the capital as soon as I can manage the trip."
He meant it, too, although he had no intention of looking up Scott's precious real doctor, the fine gentleman Jeremy Boulder.
Driscol came from a poor family himself-albeit his father had been a village blacksmith rather than a farmer-and he had no illusions as to the joys of country living. A poor family like McParland's would be hard-pressed to provide for themselves, let alone another adult, especially one who was unable to work. To be sure, they'd eventually be recompensed by the government for the expense. They might even be lucky enough to get payment in some real currency, such as the Spanish reale, which was the most favored coinage in the United States. But they were just as likely to be paid in shaky state banknotes. And, no matter how they got paid, the money would take its sweet merry time getting to them.
Still, anything was better than an army surgery.
"It's settled then," Scott said firmly. "I'll look forward to seeing you again, the next time I'm in Washington. The Lord Almighty knows when that'll be, though."
Driscol spent most of the trip to Dansville in agony, and the exhaustion that came from it. Only long experience as a horseman and his own innate resilience kept him from falling off the saddle. By the time they arrived at McParland's home, the sergeant was hanging on to life by a thread.
It was as poor a farm as he'd expected, just a one-room log cabin with a puncheon floor. And his bed was nothing but a straw mattress and some cheap blankets, which he'd have to share with McParland and one of his brothers.
"So, Anthony," said Mr. McParland, after Driscol was tucked into his straw bed. The sergeant was still just conscious enough to hear the conversation across the cabin. "Is this sergeant a friend of yours?"
"Uh, he bean't exactly a friend, Pa. Uh." Smiling slightly, and with his eyes closed, Driscol waited to hear what lies the boy would tell. They'd just be small ones yet, he thought.
"That is, actually… Well, the sergeant was in charge of my firing squad."
Driscol heard young McParland clear his throat. "My firing squad, Pa. I got charged with desertion. Which, uh, well, I did. Desert, I mean. Well, I tried, anyway. They caught me."
Another clearing of the throat. "Truth is, I didn't get five miles. Brigadier Scott's cavalry were a lot better than we thought they'd be."
Without opening his eyes-he didn't think he could have, anyway, the lids felt so heavy-Driscol managed a harsh little chuckle.
"Don't you be blaming the cavalry, youngster. We caught you because I was in charge. You think you lot were the first deserters I've ever been sent after? Ha. Sorry bastards tried to leave the emperor's service all the time. I know all the stupid little tricks."
There was silence in the cabin.
Then, Driscol heard the voice of one of the younger brothers. He wasn't sure which one, even though he'd been introduced to all of them when he arrived. Thomas, he thought, who was about fourteen years old.
"Well, if that don't beat all creation! What happened then? How come you're still alive?"
"The brigadier thought I was too young to get shot. So the muskets of my firing squad bean't loaded with real bullets. Just blanks."
Silence. Then, again, young Thomas: "Were you scared?"
Here comes the first lie, Driscol thought. But McParland surprised him.
"Scared as you can imagine. I pissed my pants. Even before the guns went off."
That was as far as honesty would take him, it seemed. But Driscol, even hovering on the edge of the grave, wasn't about to let him get away with it.
"And then you shat your trousers when the guns did go off. I could smell it five feet off."
Silence, for a few seconds.
"Well, yeah. I did."
Silence, again. Driscol was tempted to open his eyes to see if McParland's father was reaching for an ax, or if his mother was busy rummaging in the bins to find something suitably poisonous. But it was too much effort, and he hurt too much really to care anyway.
Besides, he'd grown up in a poor Scots-Irish family like this one. He was pretty sure he was safe.
McParland, on the other hand, wasn't nearly as secure.
"Well!" exclaimed Mrs. McParland. "If that don't make me crawl all over to think of it. But I'm glad somebody finally gave you the whupping you deserve! You little wretch! Trying to desert- when you'd given your word. "
"And facing the Sassenach," growled the boy's father. "I oughta shoot you for real myself."
Enough was enough. "Leave the boy be," Driscol rasped. "He was just homesick, is all. 'Twas nae cowardice. He stood against the bastards at the Chippewa, just the few days later. I know, I was right by him. Never flinched the once, and fired every shot on command."
By now, word of the great American victory had spread throughout the area. Driscol knew it would be racing like wildfire across the entire nation.
Even with his eyes closed, he could sense the calm-no, satisfaction-easing into the silence of the cabin.
"Well," said Mrs. McParland. "That's true."
"Can't nobody dubiate that," agreed the father. "So I guess I won't take down the musket after all. Not even the belt."
In the days that followed, young McParland's honesty slipped a bit. Small crowds of people-young men and boys, especially-gathered about the farmhouse to hear Anthony's tales of the glorious deed at the Chippewa. The story of his execution was a favorite bit-there was no way for him to avoid it, of course-but there was never any further mention of his trousers being soiled.
Nor was Driscol inclined to make good the lack. Moderation in all things, he decided -including honesty. The boy had learned his lesson, and even managed to be truthful enough with his family. Anything more would be an exercise in cruel ridicule.
If the sergeant from County Antrim was as harsh as Irish poverty, he wasn't cruel. Cruelty was a vice of the wealthy, especially the Sassenach. Such, at least, was his firm conviction.
It hardly mattered, anyway. The glory of the Chippewa was enough to wash away all sins, and cover all blemishes. Within the week, young Anthony McParland-for the first time in his life-was a hero to his neighbors. And Driscol, a veritable legend.
Soon, Driscol was strong enough to move about and sit at the table for his meals. Thereafter, given his own iron constitution and the fare provided by Mrs. McParland, his recuperation sped up still further.
"It bean't much," she said apologetically, the first time Driscol sat down to dinner.
He examined the food. Looked at from one angle, "bean't much" was certainly accurate. Salt pork and potatoes sauced with hog's lard-the staple in the diet of poor Americans. There'd be pudding for dessert, maybe.
For breakfast, as he'd had every morning since he'd arrived, there'd been porridge. Porridge every day-and that would be true if he stayed here for ten years.
For lunch, nothing more than bread smeared with apple butter.
There was plenty of it. And if the fare itself got tedious, Driscol could always cheer himself up with philosophical ruminations.
As, indeed, he proceeded to do right then and there. "It suits me just fine, Mrs. McParland. The Sassenach sneer at us, you know, for being a nation of drunkards, tobacco spitters, and fat eaters."
"Do they really?"
"Oh, yes. I've read some of the newspaper accounts." He ladled some salt pork and potatoes onto his plate. "But I recall that they used to sneer at us for exactly the same thing in Ireland-and added, to the bargain, the sneer that we were too poor to afford much in the way of whiskey or tobacco or fat."
He ladled more salt pork and potatoes onto the plate.
"Here in America, on the other hand, we can afford plenty of it. So…" He ladled still more onto his plate. "This suits me just fine."
Mr. McParland grunted his agreement. He grunted instead of speaking, because his mouth was full. After he finished swallowing that first great bite, he added his own philosophical observations.
"And we bean't forced to listen to Church of England sermons about our sinful ways, neither."
Young Thomas spoke up. "There's Church of England people here, too, Pa."
His father sneered. "So? They don't swagger about giving orders, do they?"
"And they've even got a sense of shame," Driscol pointed out. "At least here they label their cowardly Anglican superstitions by the name of 'Episcopalianism.' Might I have some more tea, Mrs. McParland?"
"Why, of course, Sergeant." She refilled his cup from a kettle she brought over from the stove.
It was a large kettle, full of the strong and bitter tea that was more or less the recognized national drink of Americans. When they weren't drinking whiskey, that is. Like most American farmwives, Mrs. McParland always had a kettle of it brewing.
"The Sassenach sneer at our tea, too," Driscol commented mildly.
"They're just jealous!" piped Thomas.
Driscol nodded. "Right you are, lad."
By the end of that evening, Mrs. McParland apparently decided that Sergeant Driscol was one of their own. Even if he had, in a manner of speaking, executed her oldest son.
So the next morning, Driscol got a treat for breakfast. Instead of the constant porridge, Mrs. McParland fished some eggs out of a barrel of limewater, where they were kept fresh. Then, she fried them up in the hearth, in one of the three-legged skillets that people called "spiders."
She tried to apologize again, but Driscol would have none of it.
"This will do me wonders, Mrs. McParland." He wasn't lying, either.
A few weeks later, word arrived. There'd been another great battle at Lundy's Lane toward the end of July, just a few miles north of the Chippewa. The British were claiming it as a victory, because they'd been in possession of the field when the day was done. But, after hearing the details, Driscol assured the anxious visitors to the farm that the battle had really been pretty much of a draw.
A draw, and a horrible carnage, from the sound of it. Each army had lost at least eight hundred men. Not to Driscol's surprise, an inordinate percentage of the American losses had come from Winfield Scott's First Brigade. The brigadier had been in the forefront of the fighting, leading his men with a white plume held over his head. He'd had two horses shot out from under him.
During the fighting, which continued into the night, Scott's shoulder had been smashed by a musket ball, and he'd been taken unconscious to the rear. General Jacob Brown had been badly wounded, also-and so had the Major Jesup who'd led the Twenty-fifth Regiment so ably at the Chippewa. Brown had been wounded twice, once by a musket ball in the thigh and then by a cannon ball that ricocheted into his rib cage. He'd had to relinquish command to General Ripley, who'd ordered the army to retire from the field.
The American army had retired in good order and there'd been no rout-no pursuit of any kind-so the British claims of a "victory" were more a formality than anything else. The British army had been so badly savaged itself at Lundy's Lane that it was in no position to do anything further.
Most important of all, Driscol knew, was that the U.S. Army had been able to withstand such a holocaust in the first place. Battlefield victories and defeats came and went. What mattered was the quality of the army that was shaped by them. Driscol doubted if the stalemate on the northern front would ever be broken. But more than ever, it seemed likely that the British would abandon their efforts to prosecute the war in that theater. The American forces that faced them there were simply too good, too well trained-and now, too well blooded in battlefield experience.
The loss of Brown and Scott would hurt, of course. From the news accounts, Scott would be out of the war for a number of months, recuperating from his wound. But Eleazar Ripley was quite competent, if not as aggressive a general as either Scott or Brown. He was certainly no poltroon or fumbler, like so many previous American commanders had been on the Canadian front.
So. The war would be moving elsewhere; to the eastern seaboard, where coastal towns in Maryland and Delaware were being ravaged by Admiral Cockburn, and-above all-to the South.
New Orleans was the prize the British would be eyeing now. If they could seize the mouth of the Mississippi, they'd have their hands on the throat of America's commerce.
Driscol was becoming impatient, which meant that he was recovering well. His arm still ached, and he was still much weaker than normal, but it was time he got back to the fight. As much as he could manage with only one arm, at least.
"We'll leave tomorrow," he announced.
The family must have been expecting it, since there was no show of surprise.
McParland didn't try to talk him out of it. For a wonder, he didn't even break into tears.
They were given a heroes' send-off. Mrs. McParland went so far as to pack them a small cask full of her salt pork, which was quite a sacrifice for such a poor family. The money from the government, needless to say, hadn't arrived yet. But Driscol assured the good farmwife that once he arrived in Washington and was able to snarl at a lazy War Department clerk, the money would be sent off right slick.
By then, she wasn't inclined to doubt him.
JUNE 17, 1814
The Tennessee River, above Chatanuga
Tiana Rogers stared down at the arrow stuck into the side of the canoe, less than a hand's span from her hip. The tip of the blade had punched right through the thin wall of the craft and almost penetrated her skin. The shaft of the arrow was still thrumming.
For just an instant, she was paralyzed.
If I get killed on this trip, all because of Sam Houston, I'll kill him! I swear I will!
The circular absurdity of the thought caused her to burst into laughter. Her older brothers James and John were already rolling the canoe, and Tiana threw her weight into the motion also. So, to her regret a moment later, she fell into the river with an open mouth and came up under the shelter of the canoe shell coughing up water.
At least she'd had the satisfaction of knowing she'd die laughing. With the pride of a sixteen-year-old girl, that was not a small matter.
It was nearly dark under the canoe. The vessel's walls were thick enough to block out sunlight, so the only light in the small open-air space under the shell was coming up through the muddy water. Still, she had no trouble seeing the grin on the face of her brother James.
"What's so funny?" demanded John, always the more serious of the two.
James had an uncanny knack for reading her mind. "She's probably thinking how silly it'd be to get killed chasing after The Raven. Might as well chase a real bird."
Tiana saw no reason to dignify that with a response. Besides, John was still talking.
"Creeks, d'you think? We'd better start moving to the other shore. If they keep firing, they'll eventually rip it to pieces."
As if to illustrate his point, they heard two thunk ing noises in close succession. Somewhere toward the bow of the canoe. Tiana saw that more arrow blades had punched through.
Then came two muffled booms.
"That'll be John Ross and Sequoyah, shooting back from the other canoe," James stated. "John won't hit anything, but Sequoyah's a good shot. They might drive them off. Let me take a look."
James moved easily in the water, even though he was encumbered in travel clothing. He vanished from under the canoe shell.
He was back in less than half a minute.
"They drove them off, all right. For the time being, anyway. Let's roll the canoe. It'd still be a smart idea to push it to the other shore, using it for shelter-but it'll be a lot easier with the thing sitting right side up."
"Make sure all our gear is still tied in, first," John cautioned. "Washington is still a long ways off."
"What's the point?" James demanded. "If something came loose and went into the river, we'll never find it anyway."
But he was already moving under the shell, checking their goods, which were bound up in oilskins and lashed securely to the canoe frame. The American capital was a long ways off, and their journey had only just begun.
Some time later, on the southern shore of the river, they did their best to dry their clothes without taking them off. None of them thought the attack was over, and they didn't want to be caught naked. The first thing they'd done, of course, was patch the holes in the canoe.
"Wasn't Creeks," Sequoyah said in his usual terse manner. "I saw the war paint on one of them. Got a good look, before I shot him. Chickasaws."
John Ross frowned. It was an oddly mixed expression, Tiana thought, somehow managing to combine ruefulness and doubt at the same time.
"I missed my own shot. But why would the Chickasaws be attacking us? They're our allies in this war."
Seeing the annoyed look on Sequoyah's face, he hastened to add: "I'm not arguing about the paint. I didn't see it well enough myself to know. I just don't understand the reason for it."
James Rogers chuckled harshly. "You spend too much time reading American books and newspapers. What's the 'war' and 'allies' got to do with anything? This'll be a clan fight."
The last and oldest member of their six-person party spoke up. Nancy Ward, that was.
"I'm sure James is right. There was a killing nearly two months ago, farther down the river at a trading post below the Suck. One of James Vann's relatives-second cousin, I think-was said to have killed a Chickasaw."
James and John Rogers nodded, as if that explained the matter completely.
Ross, on the other hand, rolled his eyes, and Sequoyah shook his head. Like Tiana, both of them thought the situation was absurd.
She glanced at Nancy Ward, and saw that the old woman had a tight, disapproving look on her face. Clearly enough, Nancy was of the same mind.
It was odd, Tiana thought, how differently her brothers seemed to look at the world. James and John were just as mixed as she was-which meant, in terms of blood, that they were actually more white than Cherokee. But both of them held to a very traditional Cherokee viewpoint. One that she couldn't entirely embrace.
John Ross didn't think that way, either, which might be explained by the fact that seven of his eight great-grandparents were Scots.
But Nancy Ward was a full-blood, even if her second husband had been a white man. And her way of thinking was a lot closer to Ross and Sequoyah and Tiana herself than to her brothers.
"James Vann." Ross pronounced the words as if they left a bad taste in his mouth. Which, they probably did.
Vann had been a prominent Cherokee. He was dead now, murdered over five years ago by an unknown assailant. It could have been just about anyone, as many enemies as the man had made in his brutal life. No one, not even his own clan, had tried to find out who'd done it. But he'd left a legacy that continued to this day. Unfortunately, Vann had been a town chief, as well as a prosperous mixed-blood trader. He'd had more than one wife, a slew of offspring and relatives, and a small host of hangers-on. No doubt it was one of those who had killed the Chickasaw at the Trading Post.
The person who'd done it, like James Vann himself, wouldn't have given a moment's thought to the political repercussions of his violence. Neither, probably, had his victim. The Chickasaw was just as likely to be a mixed-blood as the Vann cousin, and just as loosely connected to his clan.
But that didn't matter. When a killing like that happened, the ancient customs came into play. The dead Chickasaw's clan would be out looking for revenge-and any Cherokee would do. The fact that there was a war going on, in which both the Chickasaws and the Cherokees were allied with the Americans, just didn't matter.
Angrily, Ross scuffed the soil of the riverbank with his boot. "It's no wonder the Americans always play us for fools! The British and the French and the Spanish, too. Half our people-every tribe's-are too busy with their idiotic feuds to even think about what's happening to us all."
James Rogers shrugged. "I'm not going to argue the point, since I probably agree with you. But so what? Before we start for Washington, we've got to get to Oothcaloga and meet up with The Raven. That's a fair distance itself-and those Chickasaws won't have given up. We probably just ran into a few of them, and now they'll gather their whole war party.
"This thing isn't over yet."
Cherokee Territory, in northern Georgia
"No, Colonneh. If I go, it will seem like an official delegation. And no such thing has been approved by the council."
Major Ridge smiled wryly. "You lived among us. You know how quick one chief is to suspect another of conniving with the Americans. If I go with you to Washington-and especially if I agree to anything while I'm there-I'll be accused of being bribed when I come back."
Sam tried to come up with some way to argue the point, and couldn't. It was true enough. On both counts, for that matter, since it wasn't simply a matter of suspicion. Bribing chiefs was a standard method by which the United States sowed division among the Indian tribes, and bent them to its will.
They were standing on the porch of Major Ridge's big house. Suppressing a sigh, Sam let his gaze wander for a moment across the landscape.
It was a prosperous-looking countryside, with its well-tended orchards and grazing cattle. Sam could see a few signs left of the depredations committed by the marauding Georgia militiamen, but not many. That wasn't surprising, given that Major Ridge had been home for weeks before Sam arrived, and had something like twenty slaves to do the work of repairing the damage.
Sam had wound up being delayed in Fort Jackson for some time before he set off on his expedition. In the meantime, James Rogers had returned to his uncle John Jolly's island on the Tennessee, with Sequoyah and John Ross in tow. James had wanted his brother John to join them on the expedition to Washington, and Ross wanted to visit his family in nearby Chatanuga before they left. Especially his wife, Quatie, whom he'd only married a few months ago.
They'd probably all be on their way back here, by now. They'd agreed to meet up at Major Ridge's plantation before starting off for the capital.
Alas, it looked as if the main reason Sam had set Oothcaloga as the meeting place had become a moot point. Major Ridge's refusal to accompany them had been stated in a friendly manner, but very firmly nonetheless.
Ridge was not considered asga siti for nothing. If the man said "no," the word meant "no."
"However," Major Ridge continued, "if John Ross and Sequoyah go with you, as you say they plan to, I will promise to pay careful attention to what they tell me when they return."
He said nothing about James and John Rogers. That didn't surprise Sam. The two Rogers brothers were excellent warriors, but neither of them had a reputation for anything other than their fighting skills.
"John Ross and Sequoyah have earned enough respect for their words to carry weight, when they return," said Ridge. "But neither of them is a recognized chief, so we will avoid that problem. That will be better all the way around, Colonneh. We will get the advantage of a good discussion in the council, without the chiefly rivalries and suspicions. Trust my judgment, if you would."
Sam nodded. Started to, rather. The nod broke off into a frozen little gesture when he saw that the smile on Major Ridge's face had become very wry.
"However, there is a way you can keep me directly connected to the situation, without requiring my own participation."
Ridge turned and beckoned to someone who had been lurking inside the house, so silently that Sam hadn't known they were there. Two young boys stepped forward onto the porch, followed by a girl. The boys looked to Sam to be about twelve years old. The girl, perhaps two years older.
Ridge placed his hand on the shoulder of one of the boys. "This is my son, who is known as John Ridge, though his Cherokee name is Skahtlelohkee. And the girl is my daughter, whose American name is Nancy." His other hand came down upon the shoulder of the second boy. "And this is my nephew Gallegina-or Buck Watie, as he is often called. All three of them have been studying at Spring Place, at the school set up by the Gambolds."
Sam knew of the school at Spring Place, although he'd never visited it himself. The Reverend John Gambold and his wife were Moravian missionaries who'd emigrated to the United States from Germany. Since then, they'd devoted themselves to bringing learning and the Christian faith to Indians on the southwest frontier.
He had a bad feeling he knew what was coming.
Sure enough, Ridge continued:
"They came home just recently. The Gambolds are fine people, but I would like to place the children in a school which is more substantial, where they can continue their education in the American manner. Since you are going to Washington anyway, I wish you to do me the favor…"
So now I'm a nursemaid, Sam thought sourly.
He couldn't refuse, of course, given the nature of his mission. If he was to get any significant number of Cherokees to return to rejoin General Jackson's forces, Major Ridge would be the key to his success. Most of the other Cherokee chiefs were still too furious at the wreckage the Georgian militia had made of their homes and lands-while they'd been down in Alabama fighting as Jackson's allies, no less!-to even consider joining Sam's proposed expedition to Washington, much less volunteer to fight any further in the war.
Gloomily, he wondered what else could go wrong.
With the Rogers brothers involved…
By sundown, Tiana and her companions had made it to a small island where they decided to rest for the night. The isolation gave them the advantage of enjoying a campfire. No revenge-seeking Chickasaws could attack them there without making some noise crossing the water-and Tiana's brothers had even better hearing than she did.
"Wait'll Colonneh sees you!" James laughed, as he fed fuel to the fire. He was grinning widely. "He thought you were joking when you told him, three years ago, that you'd have him for a husband."
"I was joking," Tiana said, with as much dignity as she could manage.
Was I? she wondered.
It was hard to remember. The difference between a sixteen-year-old and a thirteen-year-old girl was enormous. At the time, Sam Houston had seemed as glamorous and exciting a husband as any Tiana could imagine. Exotic, yet familiar enough with Cherokee life to make such a union seem possible. Not to mention witty, intelligent, good-natured. Even good-looking.
But she wasn't sure, anymore. She was a lot more practical-minded than she'd been at the age of thirteen. And Sam Houston had been gone from John Jolly's island for those three years, back to the American society he'd come from. So she'd had time to think about things without the distraction of his presence.
Marriage to a white American certainly wasn't out of the question. Her own mother had done it, after all. But whether it would be successful or not depended mostly on the man's ambitions.
The ambitions of Captain Jack Rogers had been those of an adventurer, who liked the frontier and intended to stay there. "Hell-Fire Jack," they called Tiana's father, and for good reason. He didn't care in the least about the good opinion of proper society, as Americans figured it. If they chose to call him a "squaw man," he'd return the sneer with plenty of his own. What did he care? It wasn't as if he was planning to run for office, or get appointed to some prestigious position.
Sam Houston, on the other hand, had different ambitions. Tiana was pretty sure of that. And whatever his other qualities, he was not a man to let sentiment get in the way of his goals. He wouldn't do anything immoral to advance himself, as he saw it-and Sam had a pretty good sense of morals. But he'd stay focused on his purpose, and not let himself get diverted by passion or desire.
Something of her skeptical thoughts must have shown in her face, even in the dim light of the campfire. Old Nancy Ward leaned over and asked her softly: "So why did you come, girl?"
Tiana shifted her shoulders. "I don't know. I guess I just needed to find out. Or I'd wonder about it for years."
"You think so?" Tiana was genuinely interested in the old woman's opinion. Nancy Ward was a Ghighua. The Cherokee word had several translations into English. "War Woman" was one of them. But Tiana just thought of her as "wise."
The old woman smiled, wisely. "Oh, yes. Best reason there is to do anything, I sometimes think."
JUNE 18, 1814
Tiana and her companions left the island before daybreak, hoping to elude the Chickasaws altogether. If they pushed hard, they'd be safe by midafternoon, and they could make it to Ross Landing by nightfall. The area around Chatanuga was not one any hostile Chickasaws would venture near.
Her brother James predicted that the maneuver wouldn't work, and it didn't take long to find out that he was right. Just as the sun was coming up, they saw two canoes coming upriver toward them. Even at a distance, they could see that the canoes were packed with painted warriors.
"Chickasaws, sure enough," James said, reading the colors on the distant faces. That was enough, even if he couldn't see the specific patterns yet. He swiveled and studied the river behind them.
"Go back?" asked his brother. "Or go ashore?"
"Neither, I think. There's at least one canoe back there, although I can barely see it." His eyes quickly scanned both riverbanks. "And they've probably got warriors in the woods, too."
The canoe bearing John Ross, Sequoyah, and Nancy Ward drew alongside.
"What should we do?" asked Ross. The question was asked flatly and calmly. Technically, it could be argued that Ross was in charge of the expedition. But the young man was self-confident enough to know that James Rogers would have a better idea what to do than he would.
"Go at them directly. That'll keep the numbers closer to even. And they'll have the sun in their eyes, this time of day. If we can get past them, they'll never catch us."
His brother John winced. "True -if we get past them. They've got five men on each of those canoes, to match against our total of five."
Seeing that Nancy Ward was giving him a cold look, he hastily added: "Six, I mean."
Ward snorted, and drew a pistol from under her wrap. The Spanish-made weapon looked even older than she did. "I knew how to use this before your grandfather was born."
She wasn't bragging, either. Nancy Ward had earned the title of War Woman among the Cherokee following the battle of Taliwa, against the Creeks, sixty years ago. After her husband Kingfisher had been killed, Nancy had picked up his gun and led the final charge that drove the enemy off. She'd been eighteen years old, at the time.
"Does everyone have a gun?" asked Ross. The question was really aimed at Tiana. He already knew that the four men in the party did.
"No," she replied. "Just this." She unlaced a small parcel at her feet and drew out a knife.
James shook his head. "Actually, she does have a gun. Or will have"-he pointed into the other boat-"after you lend her your rifle."
Ross stared down at the weapon in question. It was a very expensive-looking rifled musket. The kind of hunting weapon that only a rich family like the Rosses could afford.
"Don't be stupid," James said curtly. He bent down, lifted his own musket, and passed it forward to his brother John. "We've got three long guns. Sequoyah's got one of them, and he's a good shot. I'm giving mine to my brother, because John's a better shot than I am. And our sister is a better shot with a rifle or musket than either one of us. Probably with a pistol, too."
He flashed her a grin. "But I can still outwrestle her. So can John. Although neither one of us has tried in a while. Too risky, with her temper."
After a moment, Ross's face got that easy, relaxed smile Tiana had come to recognize in the days since she'd met him. He really was a very self-assured young man.
She decided that she liked him. It was too bad that he was already married, to a woman named Quatie. He'd probably make a better husband than Sam Houston, even if he wasn't as handsome.
Ross handed the rifle to her across the little distance separating the canoes. "I probably couldn't hit anything with it until we got close. And if I understand the plan right, we're going to keep as much distance as we can."
He cocked an eye at James. Tiana's brother smiled blandly.
"We'll go straight at the Chickasaw canoes until we get within musket range. Then we'll veer off and try to pass them on the southern side."
"Shooting all the way," his brother muttered. "As great war plans go, this one isn't going to be remembered."
"Best I could come up with." James hefted his paddle and began stroking again.
"We'll lead. You follow," he said to Ross and Sequoyah. Ross was in the rear of their canoe, Sequoyah in the bow. He'd stop paddling once they got near enough, then use his musket. In the middle, Nancy Ward had her pistol resting in her lap.
Tiana, also in the middle of her canoe, admired her newly acquired rifle. It was a beautiful-looking thing.
"I don't like Chickasaws," she pronounced.
"Who does?" said James, from behind her. "And when did you ever meet any Chickasaws?"
"This is the first time. I'm a good judge of character."
That was enough to make James laugh out loud. "Saying that! With you coming on this trip for no good reason than chasing after a bird!"
The plan went wrong right from the start. The first shot fired was by one of the oncoming Chickasaws. It was a stupid shot, made while they were still out of range.
Dumbfounded, Tiana saw her brother John twist suddenly. Then, clap one hand to his face.
She looked down and saw that his paddle had been shot right through, shattered by the lucky bullet just below John's grip, as he'd been raising it for another stroke. What was left of it, he tossed into the river while he pawed at his eyes.
"Splinters," he hissed. "Can't see a thing."
"It'll be up to you and Sequoyah, Tiana," James said grimly. "Don't miss."
He started picking up the stroke, to make good for their brother's incapacity. Tiana gauged the distance and shook her head.
"Stop paddling. The current's not bad, as long as you aren't rocking the canoe."
With a quick backstroke, James brought the canoe almost to a standstill. He was just as proficient with a paddle as he was with a war club. Next to him, moving more awkwardly, John Ross did the same.
"Have at it, girl," James said.
Tiana brought the fancy rifle up to her shoulder, sighting down the barrel. Ross's gun even had a rear sight, to match up against the front one. That'd be pointless with a smoothbore musket.
The range was long, well over a hundred yards, and probably closer to two. On dry land, braced properly, Tiana would have been confident enough in the shot, even with one of her father's muskets. Here, sitting in a canoe braced only with her own knees…
But the current was smooth, so the canoe was almost steady now that James had stopped paddling. And with the rising sun behind her, she had an excellent view of the target.
She'd trust John Ross, she decided. He might be a bad shot, but by all accounts the man was a shrewd trader. He'd have bought the best rifle available.
She aimed at the lead warrior in the canoe on the left. She'd try for a belly shot, as low as she could. If she missed, at least she might damage the canoe.
As always, when the gun went off, she was a little surprised. One of the reasons Tiana was such a good shot was that she knew how to squeeze a trigger instead of jerking it. She ascribed that to the superior virtues of women, trained in such practical and patient arts as sewing. Men, hunters, always tried to do things with a swagger.
"Hoo!" she heard James bellow. "Knocked him flat!"
She looked up and saw that he was right. Her shot must have caught the Chickasaw in the bow square on.
As good a rifle as Ross would have bought, her bullet might have passed right through the first man and hit the one behind him. The whole crew of that canoe collapsed into a confused pile, and the craft itself began yawing to the side.
She glanced at the canoe next to hers, and saw that Sequoyah had already assessed the new situation. He had his own musket up, aiming it at the other canoe.
Then, he shook his head and lowered the weapon. "Still too far, with my gun. If I miss the shot, I'll have to waste time reloading."
"Keep paddling ahead?" Ross asked.
"No," replied James. "Just keep the boats steady in the current, to give Sequoyah and Tiana as good a shot as possible. Let them come to us, while the sun's still half blinding them. The longer it takes, the better. Tiana will need a lot of time to reload that rifle."
He twisted in his seat, squinting back. "The canoe behind us is still a long way upriver. I'm sure they thought we'd go ashore. So they stayed back as far as possible. That way they wouldn't be swept past our landing spot by the current."
Tiana heard her brother John chuckle, even as he kept wiping his eyes. "Can you blame them? Who'd expect Cherokees to turn a simple river fight into a stupid formal duel? Good thing our father isn't here."
Tiana chuckled herself. Her father had fought a number of duels in his life, but not one of them had been what you could call "formal." Hell-Fire Jack's opinion of formality in a gunfight ranked somewhere below his opinion of worms.
Best time to shoot a man is before he's even got a gun in his hand. Better yet, before he's even looking at you. Best of all, when he's drunk or asleep, or both.
"Stop pawing at your eyes!" Tiana snapped, trying to keep her mind focused. "Splash some water on your face." Unkindly, she added: "Even blind, you ought to be able to find some water. We're in the middle of a river."
John leaned over and stretched out his right hand. Then, started splashing water into his eyes.
"They say white men have tender and sensitive girls for sisters," he muttered. "Mothers, too."
"Not that I've seen," Tiana retorted. "Maybe in the East. The way Sam tells it, his mother-"
"Tiana!" James barked. "You'd better get started on your reload. That's a rifle, not a smoothbore musket."
The reproof was unnecessary, since Tiana had already started. But, in the time that followed-it seemed like half a day-she realized why James had spoken so sharply.
Tiana had never fired a rifle before, and had been delighted by the result. Now, reloading one, she understood why warriors tended to curse the things-and why even American or European armies rarely used them.
A smoothbore musket could be reloaded in less than a minute. A rifle…
At one point, she almost despaired completely. Trying to force the bullet down that long and rifled barrel with a ramrod wasn't beyond her strength, as such. Tiana was a very big woman and had the muscles to match her size. If she'd been standing, she'd have done it readily enough. Not easily, no. But she'd have done it, since she could have leaned her weight into the task.
But sitting in a canoe! That required pure strength of arm and shoulder. Nor did she dare to use the measure of last resort, which would have been to slam the butt against the ground. As dangerous as that was on dry land-the gun could easily go off-it was impossible in a canoe. Any impact hard enough to force the bullet down past the rifling would punch right through the thin hull.
Somewhere in the middle of her labors, she heard Sequoyah's musket go off. Again, James gave out that exultant "hoo!," but Tiana didn't look up.
"Just wounded him, I think," she heard Sequoyah say apologetically.
"Who cares?" came James's reply. "That other canoe just started moving again, and now this one will be slowed. We'll have time for at least one more shot for both of you. For that matter, we've got John's-"
Tiana shook her head. "No. I want to save John's musket until the end."
She glanced up quickly, then focused back on her task. "They're still more than a hundred yards off. I probably couldn't hit them with the musket anyway. I'm surprised Sequoyah did."
Eventually, it was done. Tiana had barely enough strength left to bring the rifle back to her shoulders, and she worried that she might be too weak to hold the gun steady.
It didn't matter. By now, the nearest Chickasaw canoe was within fifty yards. That was the one Sequoyah had targeted, not the one she'd shot at.
At that range, Tiana could hit practically anything, even with a smoothbore.
Two of the Chickasaws, she saw, had already fired their guns. One, a musket; the other-stupid fool!-a pistol. Vaguely, she could remember hearing the sounds of the gunshots.
That left one Chickasaw with a loaded gun, the man farthest to the rear. He was starting to bring his musket up.
Tiana blew him right out of the canoe. Ross's rifle was a heavy caliber, with a bore well over half an inch. The bullet must have struck the man in the middle of the chest. He almost did a full back somersault before his body hit the water.
Then Sequoyah's gun fired again. The Chickasaw with the pistol seemed to fold up and collapse into the canoe.
"Three down!" barked James. "Forget that one. We'll go around them, Ross. Start paddling. "
A moment later, both canoes were driving through the water again. Not a moment too soon, either. Out of the corner of her eye, Tiana saw something flashing toward them.
Turning her head, she saw an arrow plunge into the river, not more than five yards away. A second later, another one did the same, even closer.
Looking up, she could see several Chickasaw warriors on the north bank of the river. They were armed with bows. The traditional weapons were too awkward to use well in a canoe, so they must have given their few guns to the men who'd be carrying the attack onto the river.
They weren't awkward to use on land, though. And "traditional" didn't mean the same as "ineffective." They were within bow range, too, even if at the extreme edge of it.
Tiana had seen the results of wounds inflicted by arrows. Worse than gunshot wounds, usually, since it was impossible to draw out the barbed arrowheads. They either had to be cut out or pushed all the way through the flesh. Removing the hideous things often caused more damage than the initial wound itself. They had to be removed, too. Bullets, dull and blunt, normally did little further damage once they were lodged in a body. And they tended to work their own way out, over time.
Not arrowheads, with their sharp edges. They'd keep cutting up flesh every time a person moved-and the barbs would make them work their way still deeper.
James was obviously of the same mind. Instead of staying as far away from the enemy canoe as possible, he steered directly for it. The enemy warriors on the shore wouldn't dare fire at them, right next to one of their own canoes. Although they were still within bow range, they were far enough away that the Chickasaws on the shore couldn't aim very carefully.
"Get ready," he hissed. "There's still two of them left in that canoe."
Three, really, since the man Sequoyah had wounded wasn't completely out of the fight. In fact, he seemed to have the only remaining unfired gun. A pistol, which he could use even with one shoulder maimed. If he was tough enough.
He was. Tiana could see him raising the pistol, grimacing like a madman. At the point-blank range James was bringing them into, he couldn't possibly miss.
"Here!" she heard John cry out. Still blinded from the splinters, her brother had been coolheaded enough to follow the progress of the battle by hearing alone. He was holding up his musket, thrusting it in her direction, gripping it one-handed by the barrel.
Even if Tiana had had the time to reload Ross's rifle, she wouldn't have had the strength. But the musket was already loaded. All she had to do was shoot.
She brought it quickly to her shoulder. But then she realized that James had already brought their canoe almost even with the enemy's.
The Chickasaw canoe was on her right. Tiana was right-handed.
She didn't even think to shift the butt to her left shoulder. That would have made for an awkward shot, but still an easy one to make, at such close range.
Instead, from reflex and excitement, she twisted and rose to a crouch. Brought the musket up.
"Tiana!" James shouted.
She fired the gun. The Chickasaw with the pistol went over the side of his canoe, spraying blood everywhere. The bullet had struck him in the neck, just above the chestbone.
Tiana went right over the side of her own canoe, almost capsizing it. Her brother's musket had been as heavy a caliber as Ross's rifle. Half standing as she'd been, poorly balanced, the recoil had sent her sailing.
But she didn't let go of the musket. Tiana was almost as good a swimmer as her brothers, so she had her head back above the water within seconds. This time she'd remembered to close her mouth, too. She shook her head vigorously, to clear her eyes.
Unfortunately, that shook loose her turban, which must have starting coming undone somewhere in the course of the fight. Tiana's hair was long, and black-and she never tied it back when she was wearing a turban. So, at the same time that she shook water out of her eyes, she shook her hair into them.
By the time she clawed the hair aside, the two canoes were side by side. James was now standing, his legs spaced and maintaining his balance. He held his paddle as easily as a war club.
One of the two remaining Chickasaws swung his own paddle. James parried the blow easily and then batted the man off the canoe. It was almost a gentle swipe. James simply wanted to clear him aside so he could concentrate on the second warrior, and he didn't want to risk losing his own balance.
Fighting in a canoe was… tricky. As Tiana had just discovered.
The Chickasaw turned his plunge off the canoe into a fairly graceful dive. He landed in the water not far from Tiana herself. But she paid him no attention, since her eyes were riveted on the battle between James and the last warrior in the canoe.
James would win it, she was sure of that. She'd been told by old warriors that James was as good with a war club as any they'd ever seen-and a paddle makes for a pretty fair improvisation.
But he never had to. Another gun went off, just as the Chickasaw was rearing up for a strike. A pistol, by the sound. That surprised Tiana, since-if she remembered everything clearly-by now Sequoyah would have had his musket reloaded.
She looked over at the other canoe and saw that the shot had been fired by Nancy Ward. There was something grim and merciless about the old woman's eyes as she watched the last Chickasaw topple overboard.
Nancy Ward was almost eighty years old. For a moment, Tiana was frozen by the sight. Half exultant-if she could be like that, at that age!-and half petrified. It was like watching some ancient, terrible creature, rising from its lair.
The voice of John Ross broke the trance.
"Tiana! Look out!"
Startled, Tiana tore her eyes away and saw that the Chickasaw whom James had sent into the river was now swimming toward her.
The half grin, half snarl on his painted face would have been enough to make clear his intentions. Even if he hadn't had his knife clenched between his teeth so that his hands would be free, allowing him to swim more quickly.
Tiana had been in a lot of fights, the way girls will. A couple of them had been ferocious, with Tiana leaving her opponent unconscious. In one case, the person had received a broken arm.
This had been her first real battle, however, fought with weapons and with deadly purpose. But of all the things that happened that day, this attack was the only one that made her truly furious.
Why is he doing this?
"You idiot!" she shrieked, as the man came up to her. His last breaststroke left his head completely exposed.
Tiana was six feet tall, strong for her size, and a very good swimmer. A powerful thrust of her legs sent her up. She raised the musket out of the water, holding it in one hand.
The Chickasaw's eyes widened. He hadn't spotted the musket.
"Idiot!" she shrieked again. Her grip on the musket butt felt like iron. So did the butt strike itself, when it came down on the warrior's head.
His eyes rolled up. Blood spurted from the corners of his mouth as his jaws clenched on the knife between his teeth.
Tiana brought the butt up for another strike, but by the time she could kick her legs again to get into position, the Chickasaw was gone. She thought she might have felt his fingers tugging on one of her leggings, for just a moment, as he sank beneath the surface.
But she wasn't sure. As hard as she'd hit him, he'd been too dazed to do anything that wasn't pure reflex. He'd probably drown, unless someone fished him out.
Which Tiana had no intention of doing. She started swimming back to the canoe. Moving more awkwardly than she normally would have. Whatever else, she wasn't going to let go of the musket. There were monsters in the river.
James hauled her aboard, none too gently. Just a powerful heave that sent her sprawling into the canoe, while he went back to paddling.
"Next time," he growled, "don't stand up to fight in a canoe. Unless you know what you're doing. Which you don't."
Tiana made no retort. She was too busy scrabbling to get her head above the side of the vessel, so she could see what was happening with the other enemy canoe.
It was now at least forty yards off. The three men left in it-she must have hit two of them, after all, with that first rifle shot-were just staring. Then, as if her gaze was the trigger, they suddenly started paddling away.
Sequoyah had never fired again, she realized. She looked over and saw that the lame warrior was just sitting in his canoe, calmly and confidently, his musket ready. He'd been waiting for the enemy to come closer so he could kill one of them.
But the Chickasaws had had enough.
Shakily, but proudly, Tiana realized that this fight on the river was going to become a small legend of its own. Six Cherokees-one of them an old woman-had faced almost twice that number of enemies. And they'd left seven of them dead or badly wounded, while not suffering a single casualty of their own.
She gloated too soon. The one and only casualty they suffered that day happened two seconds later. An arrow fired from the riverbank almost maimed her. Fortunately, the wicked arrowhead left only a gash on the back of her left hand, before slicing off into the water. If it had struck her wrist squarely, she'd have lost the hand.
"You're lucky," Nancy Ward said to her later, once they came ashore several miles farther down the river.
The old woman finished replacing Tiana's own quick dressing with an expert bandage. "It didn't cut any of the tendons. You'll have a scar there, for a while. But I think it'll eventually fade away."
Tiana hoped it wouldn't, although she didn't say it aloud. Nancy Ward had been her heroine since she'd been a little girl. And now, Tiana had the visible proof that she wasn't unfit to travel in her company.
"And don't get too swellheaded," Nancy murmured. " That's a much worse kind of wound. Most people never recover from it."
"I won't," Tiana promised.
Nancy patted her cheek. "Oh, yes, you will. Why shouldn't you? You were very brave, and very good-and you can take that from a woman who knows. Just don't let the swelling get too big, that's all."
Alas, James must have heard the softly spoken words. He had very good hearing.
"No chance of that," he chuckled. "The Raven'll shrink her head right down. Best-looking girl in John Jolly's band, and he won't pay any attention to her at all."
She scowled at him. That was probably true, but…
Her other brother was grinning at her, too! John had finally washed the splinters out of his eyes. Luckily, there didn't seem to be any permanent damage.
"What are you looking at?" she demanded. "Now that looking doesn't do anybody any good."
John's grin just widened. "Oh, how quick with a blade she is! What you'd expect, of course, from a great warrior woman. But you still shouldn't sneer at your brother, even if his own exploits didn't match yours."
Tiana glared at both of them. "The two of you are making fun of me."
"No, we're not," James said. To her surprise, his tone was firm and calm, not jocular. "We're just telling you the truth."
"You should find a different husband," John agreed. "Colonneh isn't right for you."
"Find me a better one, then!" Tiana snapped.
James and John looked at each other. Then smiled.
She'd been afraid they would.
JUNE 28, 1814
"Of course we had to bring our sister with us," James Rogers said firmly. "She needs a better education than she can get with the Moravians."
He shot Sam a sly look. "She'd have been furious with us if we hadn't, seeing as how she insists that you're her future husband. But how can she manage that-you being a fancy officer now-if she doesn't get a proper American education?"
Sam rolled his eyes.
Tiana was the half sister of the Rogers brothers. He'd met her during the three years he'd lived with John Jolly and his people on their island in the Tennessee River. When he'd first arrived, Tiana had been ten years old and more or less oblivious to the sixteen-year-old white boy who'd dropped into their midst. By the time he'd left, however, she'd been thirteen and he'd been nineteen-and Cherokee girls married young. On the day he left, she'd publicly announced that she'd have him for a husband, when the time came.
Sam would have laughed it off, except… Tiana was ferociously strong-willed. John Rogers had laughed, at the time, and Tiana had promptly knocked him off his feet. Even at thirteen, she was a big girl.
In the weeks that had passed while Sam waited at Oothcaloga-even with such an informal party, the Cherokee notables insisted on lengthy discussions and extensive debates-James Rogers had made it back to John Jolly's island on the Tennessee. As planned, he'd picked up his brother John, who hadn't been at the Horseshoe because of a broken foot. Nothing spectacular, in the way of injuries-a horse had stepped on it.
What Sam hadn't expected was that he'd bring back his sister, too. But Tiana was here now, sure enough. Packed for travel, and grinning ear to ear.
Her father was off somewhere, on one of his mysterious-and probably illegal-expeditions. So he hadn't come. Neither had her uncle John Jolly. Sam's foster father usually didn't leave the island in the river where he'd created something of a refuge for his band of Cherokees. But it seemed that Jolly was in support of the notion also, even if-for the same reasons as Major Ridge-he didn't feel it would be wise for him to go to Washington himself. Jolly was a small chief, but he was still a chief.
And, besides, his ties to his brother Tahlonteskee were well known, and Tahlonteskee was a major chief-a status he had not lost simply because he'd led his thousand Cherokees to settle in the land across the Mississippi River. The "Western Cherokees," as they were coming to be known, were still considered by everyone-including themselves-to be part of the Cherokee Nation.
To Sam's absolute astonishment, however, Tiana had been accompanied by yet another woman. A woman who was so old that Sam was amazed she'd made the trip at all.
Nancy Ward. Or Nan'yehi, to use her Cherokee name. The last-and some said, the greatest-of the Cherokee Ghighua. The title was sometimes translated into English as "Beloved Woman," and sometimes as "War Woman." However it was translated, the Ghighua occupied an extremely prestigious place among the matrilineal Cherokee, perhaps none more so than Nancy Ward.
"Leave aside the girl's claims to be your future wife, Colonneh," Nancy told him quietly in private, that evening. "That's as may be-and you could do worse anyway. She's even good-looking. What's important is that she's willing to do it."
"She has as much interest in further formal education as a she-bear," Sam complained. "John Jolly and Captain John practically had to hog-tie her to keep her in the Moravian school."
The old woman grinned. "Stop exaggerating. She's not as big as a bear. Not quite. I admit she has something of a she-bear's temperament. You should have seen her in the fight on the river! Even better than me in my first battle, and I was two years older.
"And so what? She'll be placed with Major Ridge's daughter Nancy, in whatever American school you find for them-and Nancy's just as strong-willed as Tiana, even if she's a lot quieter about it. She'll see to it that Tiana settles down, and even studies."
The arguments of Nancy Ward-even the threats and entreaties of Tiana Rogers herself-Sam might have resisted. In truth, the problem wasn't that he found the prospect of Tiana's company unpleasant. Rather the opposite, in fact. The girl was good-looking, now that she was sixteen years old-downright beautiful, in fact-and Sam had always appreciated her intelligence and good humor.
That was the problem. If Sam had intended to make his life among the Cherokee, Tiana would make him a splendid wife. But, he didn't plan to settle with the tribe. Even before the Horseshoe Bend, Sam's ambitions had been turned elsewhere.
Now, with Andrew Jackson's friendship and patronage, he had the prospect of a career in the political arena, at the national level. Such a career, however, required a suitable wife-which no Cherokee girl, no matter how accomplished, would be considered by proper American society.
Sam might regret that fact, but a fact it remained nonetheless. And he wasn't about to dishonor himself by playing with Tiana's emotions, as tempting as that might be. He'd never be able to look at himself in a mirror again.
"I don't know…" he muttered feebly.
"Do it," Nancy insisted.
Despite her age, Nancy Ward's voice was still firm-and her tone, unwavering. That wasn't surprising, really, given the way she'd first earned her position as Ghighua in the battle of Taliwa.
Since then, however, she had carved out a reputation as a shrewd diplomat and strategist for the entire Cherokee Nation. Ward was the leader of the women's council and she had a voice in the general council of the chiefs. For decades now, she'd advocated a policy of trying to find some sort of suitable accommodation with the American settlers, and had proven to be flexible in her methods. No Cherokee doubted her devotion to the nation, but she sometimes left them confused by her subtlety.
"Do it," she repeated. Then, giving Sam a considering look through very shrewd eyes, she added: "The girl's marital ambitions are irrelevant. So are yours, Colonneh. What matters here isn't Tiana anyway, but Major Ridge's children. It's Major Ridge who's the key. That's the reason I came down here at all. To talk to him. "
Sam had wondered about that. The woman normally didn't leave her home at Chota any longer.
"You're not coming with us to Washington, then?" he asked cautiously, doing his best not to let his relief show. As hale and healthy as Nancy was, she was still close to eighty years old, and the trip to the capital would be a long and arduous one.
"At my age? Don't be silly." Nancy chuckled drily. "You're worrying too much, for a youngster. It'll work out, well enough. For one thing, I think Ridge's daughter Nancy is formidable in her own manner. She may even be able to keep Tiana from braining some stupid white girl."
The old woman shook her head. "Of which there are a multitude. How did those fools ever let their men shackle them so?"
Sam rubbed his jaw.
And that was another problem! White men and Cherokees had radically different notions of the proper place of women. One of the biggest complaints among the crusty and conservative Cherokee shamans, in fact, was that Cherokee women who married white men became unnaturally submissive.
There was some truth to the charge, too, although few if any Cherokee women would ever be as submissive as most white women were. Sam knew of one Methodist preacher who regularly beat his wife with a horsewhip. The wife was white herself, of course. A wife among the Cherokee would never tolerate such treatment-and, even if she were inclined to, her brothers and uncles and cousins would soon wreak their vengeance on the husband.
Their actions would be supported by Cherokee law and custom, too. In white society, a woman became essentially her husband's chattel after marriage. If he divorced her, she would be left penniless and destitute. In Cherokee society, in the event of divorce, the wife kept all the property and the husband went on his way, taking only his personal belongings.
White Americans were often astonished to learn that a fair number of white women who'd been captured by Indians refused to return to white society after they were "rescued." But Sam wasn't, not with his knowledge of the frontier. To be sure, women of America's eastern gentility would be appalled at the living conditions of the Cherokee, much less the prospect of having a red-skinned husband. But most captured white women were frontier people themselves, and their conditions, living in primitive log cabins, were essentially no better than those of Cherokees.
The main difference was that while a Cherokee husband was just as likely to get drunk as a white one-probably even more likely, in truth-he wouldn't beat her.
Something of his gloomy thoughts must have been evident in his expression. Nancy Ward's old eyes seemed to get a little twinkle in them.
"Our people are not so different as all that, young Colonneh. Do not forget that I married a white man after Kingfisher died. Bryant Ward, from whom I took my new last name in the American way, and had children by him. It can be done. Even if-" She laughed. "That Scots-Irish man sometimes drove me crazy, the way they will."
Scots-Irish. Sam's own ancestry, as well as Jackson's and that of most white frontiersmen. A hard people, often a harsh one, shaped by centuries of conflict. As he'd said to the general, not very far removed from barbarism themselves.
But, like the Indians, always a brave folk. Perhaps, out of that mutual courage, something might be done. Granted, every other characteristic of the two nations worked against what he was trying to accomplish. Pigheadedness, first and foremost. The Scots-Irish even worse than the Cherokee.
"All right," he sighed. He didn't really have a choice, anyway. "I'll give it a try."
AUGUST 24, 1814
Weeks later, they finally arrived at the outskirts of Washington. With no major problems or incidents along the way, to Sam's surprise. But just when he thought the worst was past, all hell seemed to be breaking loose.
Naturally, Tiana was grinning at him. Naturally, the girl was her usual disrespectful self.
"So much for impressing us with the famous American capital city!" she cackled. "We got here just in time to watch the British burn it down!"
"They haven't burned it yet, " Sam growled. Honesty forced him to add: "Although I admit, from the rumors, they may be about to."
He started muttering under his breath.
John Ross, riding next to him, cast him a quizzical look. "What did you say?"
Houston sighed. "I was just quoting from Homer's Iliad. "
He watched gloomily as another carriage raced past them along the road. Sam and his small expedition had been on that road since daybreak, and the nation's capital was almost in sight.
The carriage, like all the others that had forced them to move aside that morning, was racing away from Washington.
Sam repeated the verses, this time loudly enough for John to understand them:
"In thronging crowds they issue to the plains,
No man nor woman in the walls remains:
In ev'ry face the self-same grief is shown,
And Troy sends forth one universal groan."
"You think it's true, then?" Ross asked.
Sam shrugged. "The danger must be exaggerated. I don't actually think the British plan to gut and roast American babies for breakfast, after raping all their mothers. But, yes, the gist of it seems to be true. The British have landed, and are advancing on Washington. Worse, from what I can tell, nobody seems to think the U.S. forces stationed there are going to stop them."
Another carriage appeared-no, two-coming around the bend ahead, moving far too swiftly to be safe on such a poorly maintained road. That would have been true even if both carriages hadn't been overloaded with passengers and baggage.
Sam edged his horse still farther to the side.
The driver of the second carriage shouted at them as he raced by. "Flee for your lives! Cockburn is here!"
Of all the British officers fighting against the United States in the war, none had as unsavory a reputation as Rear Admiral George Cockburn. Cockburn was the top naval subordinate of Alexander Cochrane, the vice admiral in overall command of Britain's operations in North America, and he'd taken personal charge of the British navy's campaign to destroy American towns along the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Cockburn was so feared and hated that one American had reportedly offered a reward of $1,000 for his head-and $500 for each of his ears.
Cockburn claimed publicly that his actions were justified, simply a retaliation for American outrages against the private property of Canadian citizens. And…
Sam suspected there was plenty of truth to his claim. If there was one subject on which Sam Houston had come to be in full agreement with Andrew Jackson-not to mention George Washington, in times past-it was that militias were usually more trouble than they were worth. Without a commander like Andrew Jackson breathing fire on them, militias were prone to run away in battles and spend more time pillaging and committing outrages than anything else. Often enough, against completely innocent parties.
Sam glanced back at the group he was escorting to Washington. The smallness of that group was due, in fact, to the depredations of the Georgia militiamen. If it hadn't been for them, he'd probably have been able to convince half-a-dozen Cherokee chiefs to come along.
Another carriage careened past them, even more heavily loaded. The driver gave no notice to the Indians who sat on horseback by the side of the road. He did, however, glare at Houston and John Ross.
That was probably due to the clothes they were wearing, and the fact that Ross looked like a white man. That morning, for the first time since they began their long journey from northern Georgia, Sam had put aside his traveling clothes and donned his army uniform. John Ross had done the same. Their new uniforms, in fact, with the captain's epaulet on Houston's right shoulder, and the first lieutenant's epaulet on Ross's left. Jackson's field promotions wouldn't be official until the War Department approved them, but the general had never been one to let clerks tell him what to do. If he said Sam Houston was a captain in the U.S. Army, and John Ross was a first lieutenant, then so it was-and Jackson made sure they had the insignia to prove it before they left.
Sam cleared his throat, but before he could speak, Ross intercepted him.
"Yes, I know. We're officers in the U.S. Army, and we have a duty to help defend the capital." He grinned, broadly. "Even me, I suppose. Wonder of wonders."
Ross swiveled in his saddle and regarded the rest of the party. "I don't doubt that the Rogers brothers will accompany us, just for the sake of a good fight. But we'd be better off asking them to escort the children somewhere safe." He gave Sequoyah an apologetic glance. "And they'll need a wiser and more experienced head, of course, to keep them out of trouble."
That was diplomatically done, Sam mused, as he'd come to expect from Ross. Sequoyah's club foot left him somewhat touchy on the subject of his courage. No one doubted the bravery of the man, but the fact remained that he was lame and would hinder them if they found themselves forced to move quickly.
Which, alas, was very likely to happen.
Yet another carriage went careening by. From the look of the wheels, Sam suspected it would collapse into a heap of kindling within another five or six miles.
Before they could find out whether or not Sequoyah would object to Ross's suggestion, it all became a moot point.
" I'm not a child! " shrilled Tiana.
Almost immediately, the other children joined in. It quickly became obvious that unless Houston and Ross proposed to become a two-man firing squad, they had a full-fledged mutiny on their hands.
And the mutineers were winning.
"All right, then!" Sam finally shouted. "We'll stick together. But I'm warning you-I intend to fight the British, and it won't be my fault if you get yourselves shot!"
The Rogers brothers didn't say a thing. They just looked smug. The Ridge and Watie children responded with youthful bravado.
But it was Tiana's reply that worried Sam the most.
I love big fires…
Did not bode well. Either as a prediction of the future, or an indicator of the girl's temperament.
Patrick Driscol gazed out of the upper-story window of his boardinghouse in Baltimore, at the crowd swarming in the streets below. The citizens of Baltimore, unlike those of the capital, had responded to the news of the British landing with determination, instead of panic. These crowds weren't loading carriages with their goods in order to flee the city before the enemy arrived. They were loading wagons with provisions and tools, in order to strengthen the fortifications that would keep the Sassenach from entering Baltimore in the first place.
"The difference is always in the quality of command," Driscol stated. "Remember that, lad."
He pointed a stubby finger toward Fort McHenry. "To be sure, having a real fortress helps. But those idiots in the War Department could have done as much for Washington-and still can, if they try. Well enough to hold off this sorry lot of invaders, who are gambling like madmen with this risky attack on Washington. But, sadly for us, and for reasons I cannot begin to imagine, Secretary Armstrong chose to place the capital's defenses under the command of"-he pronounced the name with clear disgust-"Brigadier General William Winder. Who is a complete and unmitigated incompetent ass."
"He was polite enough to you when you reported for duty," McParland pointed out. "Even if he did tell you there was no suitable military housing in Washington, and that you'd have to come up here to Baltimore."
"I didn't say he was an impolite bastard. I said he was an incompetent ass. The fact that a man may be a gentleman does not qualify him to be a commanding general.
"As a colonel, Winder undermined Smyth at Black Rock-no great accomplishment, though, seeing as Smyth was an incompetent ass himself. For that, the powers that be made Winder a brigadier. Then, he and Chandler botched the campaign at Stoney Creek. Even managed to get themselves captured while wandering around in the dark. Whereupon, after Winder was returned in a prisoner exchange, the War Department rewarded him again, placing the silly dolt in charge of the capital's defenses."
Driscol surveyed the mob milling below, noting the firm purpose in what easily could have degenerated into chaos.
"On the other hand, I've got to give credit here to the mayor of the town, who rallied its citizens. And to their own trust in Lieutenant Colonel Armistead and his regular troops and sailors manning Fort McHenry. Confidence, lad, that's the key. Even with militiamen and civilian volunteers, you can accomplish wonders so long as you are confident. Baltimore will stand, watch and see if I'm not right. Whereas Washington…"
He shook his head gloomily. "Winder is the sort of man who frets every morning over which boot to put on first. He'll dilly and dally and charge back and forth, issuing orders which contradict the orders he gave an hour before-and, all the while, preventing anyone more capable from taking charge."
McParland stared to the south, toward Washington. "Good thing we're here in Baltimore, then."
Driscol started to say something, but he was interrupted by a knock on the door. He recognized the knock as that of their elderly landlady. Mrs. Young was a timid woman, and she never presumed to enter the room without knocking at least three times, each knock more hesitant than the last.
So it was a surprise to see that the door suddenly flew open before either he or McParland had a chance to move toward it. A beefy and imposing man came bursting through, almost pushing Mrs. Young aside.
"There you are!" the fellow boomed, half cheerfully and half accusingly. He placed a large valise on the table by the door. Judging from the clump it made coming down, the thing was heavy. "The merry chase you've led me!"
Driscol didn't say anything, peering back and forth between the man and his valise. That thing looked suspiciously familiar.
His worst fears were confirmed. The voice continued to boom.
"Winfield made me promise him I'd take you under my care! I daren't do otherwise, you know, now that word's come down that he'll survive his own wounds! So let's be at it!"
Driscol stared at him in horror. The lofty brow. The blue eyes, gleaming with certainties. The firm mouth-no hesitations there-and the chin, which was firmer still.
"Dr., ah, Boulder?" he croaked. "Jeremy Boulder?"
"The very same!" boomed the doctor. Then he saw the dismay so apparent on Driscol's face. "Oh, you needn't worry about the expense, my good fellow! Winfield assured me that he'd cover the bill, even if the War Department reneged."
Boulder opened the valise and began rummaging within. "You're a very fortunate man, you know. I studied under Benjamin Rush himself."
Driscol, always calm in battle, felt light-headed and dizzy. Benjamin Rush was the most famous doctor in the United States, a towering figure in American medicine. It was also said of him that he'd drained more blood than all the generals in North America.
"We'll start with the leeches, of course. Then put you on a rigid regimen of daily puking and purging. Plenty of dosages of calomel, it goes without saying. A wondrous drug! ' The Sampson of Materia Medica, ' Dr. Rush calls it."
Driscol didn't doubt it. Like Samson, calomel had slain its thousands.
Benjamin Rush was nothing if not a theoretical man. One of his many theories, Driscol had been told, was that Negroes were caused by a peculiar form of leprosy. No telling what the great doctor might prescribe as the remedy for that condition. Skin the poor black bastards alive, probably, and smear calomel over the bodies. After bleeding them with leeches.
It was time for Driscol to demonstrate his own command qualities, now that he stared certain death in the face. He reached out his remaining hand, seized McParland's arm in a grip of iron, and propelled the youngster toward the door.
"I'm afraid that'll all have to wait, Doctor. Just got our orders. We're commanded-at once-to Washington, to join in the capital's defense. We'll face a firing squad if we dally."
He shouldered the doctor aside as he passed through the door. With his left shoulder, having no choice in the matter, which produced a spike of agony. The stump still hadn't completely healed.
But Driscol ignored the pain resolutely. Wounds, even great ones like the loss of an arm, could be dealt with. Death was absolute.
Boulder boomed protests behind them as Driscol hurried his young companion down the steep and rickety staircase. All water off Driscol's back. Far better to face the Sassenach in all their fury than a proper doctor.
At the foot of the stairs, he paused just long enough to retrieve their weapons from the closet where Mrs. Young had insisted they be kept. Then he located their landlady and paid her the rent due.
"Will you be back?" she asked in a quavering voice. She glanced nervously toward the stairs. The door at the top shut with a bang.
"May as well rent out the room to someone else," Driscoll gruffed. He could see the doctor's thick legs coming down the staircase. Each step, naturally, boomed. "Who knows when we'll be back, if at all?"
He hustled McParland through the front door before the doctor could make his way down. "The vagaries of a soldier's life, I'm afraid! S'been a pleasure staying in your house, Mrs. Young."
"You sure, Sergeant?" McParland asked, once they reached the safety of the street, and put some distance between themselves and the doctor. "Uh, Lieutenant, I mean. I guess."
Technically, the promotion still hadn't gone through. Neither had the pay increase. The wheels of the War Department turned very slowly.
"Am I sure?" Driscol snorted. "You must be joking. If I'm to be bled any further, thank you, I'll have it be done by bullets and bayonets. I'll have a much better chance of surviving."
Driscol continued to exercise his talent for decisive command by sequestering a wagon, three blocks away. This wagon, unlike most of the ones that were crowding the streets of Baltimore, wasn't heading toward the fortifications, laden with tools. Instead it was heading inward, toward the city center, loaded with foodstuffs.
Best of all, the driver was a black man. Driscol didn't have much experience with the Negroes of America, but he was reasonably certain that it would be easier to browbeat this fellow than it would a white man.
"And we'll need you to drive it, too," he finished. He lifted the stump of his arm. "Afraid my wagon-driving days are over, and…"
He left off the rest. There was no point in publicly humiliating McParland. His family was too poor to afford a wagon, so McParland had no experience driving one. The same had been true of Driscol's family, but he'd learned to drive a wagon as he had learned most everything except his personal beliefs and blacksmithing, during his years in Napoleon's service.
The lieutenant's tone addressing the Negro was firm but pleasant enough, as if he was unaware of the pistol and sword belted to his waist or the musket that McParland wasn't quite pointing up at the black man.
The wagon driver was relatively young, not more than thirty, and very powerfully built. At the moment, however, despite his Herculean physique, he bore a close resemblance to a rabbit paralyzed by the sight of a snake. The only thing that seemed firm about him was his grip on the reins.
"I'm a freedman, sir," he protested. "Was born free, too."
"All the better!" Driscol stated forcefully. "You won't need an explanation to keep your master from whipping you, after he finds out that you've gone."
Despite the assuredness of his words, however, Driscol was taken aback. He had assumed that the man was a slave. His clothing was shabby, but the wagon he was guiding was well built, and obviously well maintained. From the look of the thing, Driscol had thought it belonged to a prosperous farmer. The sort of vehicle that could serve to haul produce on weekdays, and the farmer and his family to church on Sunday.
The black man's dark eyes flicked back and forth from Driscol to the wagon. The lovingly maintained wagon, Driscol now realized.
The soldier from County Antrim felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was no stranger to poverty himself, and he knew how thin the shield could be that kept destitution at bay. He'd intended to write the man a note, providing him with an official excuse to deflect the wrath of his master. Now that he understood the driver was a freedman…
He sighed and reached for his purse. With only one hand, the task was a bit awkward. But recent experience had taught him how to manage it, well enough.
"It's all I own, sir," pleaded the Negro. "Took me eight years working in the foundry to save up enough to buy it. Spend most every half cent I can raise to keep it up proper."
The purse now open, Driscol sighed again and dug deeply into it. That wasn't hard to do, alas.
At least the few coins he came up with were good Spanish currency. Unfortunately, most of those were reales, what New Englanders called ninepence and Pennsylvanians called elevenpence, but most Americans usually referred to simply as a "bit." A reale was worth approximately one-eighth of a dollar. "Two bits" was the standard slang for a quarter dollar, since, in normal exchange, Spanish coinage was a lot more common than American.
Still, as modest as it was, a reale was real money, and nobody doubted it. So were the two American half-eagles nestled among them. Those were genuine gold, not paper issued from a state or wildcat bank somewhere.
The driver was still looking forlorn, although the sheer desperation that had been on his face earlier was gone. Driscol examined the wagon for a moment, estimating its worth, and then sighed again.
"Look, my man," he said, "the chances are that you'll earn more money selling your produce in Washington than you will here -and you'll probably pick up a princely payment from people desperate to be taken out of the capital."
"And if I don't? What if the Sassenach burn my wagon, too?"
Driscol was startled, hearing that term issue so unexpectedly from the lips of a black man. He'd thought most Negroes in America were rather partial to the British, since one of the favored British tactics in the war was to free slaves and try to use them against their former masters. So, at least, claimed the shrill accounts in the newspapers.
The startled look he shot the Negro brought, for the first time, something other than fear and anxiety to the black man's face. Amusement, or something close.
"They're mostly Irishmen in Foxall's Foundry, sir," the driver said quietly. "I got along well with some of them."
The emphasis was on the word some. Driscol wasn't surprised. Plenty of his countrymen-even former United Irishmen-had begun acting like Sassenach themselves, once they arrived in America. They did so, not because they were any richer than they'd been in Ireland, but simply because they now had Negroes they could lord it over. It was a side of human nature that Driscol had seen many times. Give some men, be they never so wretched, a different breed of men they can sneer at and feel superior to, and they will often enough become the willing lickspittle of the rich and mighty.
The fact that Driscol understood the phenomenon did not make him despise it any the less. The Sassenach had left his father dying on an iron tripod, but that Scots-Irish blacksmith's ideals had not soaked into the ground along with his blood. Not so long as his son was still alive, anyway.
"Some colored folk can believe the promises of Englishmen," the driver continued, "but not me. I can read, sir. Not too well, but well enough to figure out that slaves 'freed' by Sassenach are just cannon fodder for 'em."
"And isn't that the truth?" Driscol growled. "Stupid bastards. Just as stupid as all the Irishmen and Scotsmen who choose to wear English colors."
For the first time, he studied the black driver as he might study any man. And found himself feeling slightly ashamed that it was the first time he'd done so, since he'd arrived in the New World.
"Not so 'new' after all, I guess," he chided himself under his breath. "Da would whup me good."
"I didn't catch that, sir."
"Never mind," Driscol muttered. He reached into the special pocket of the purse and drew out his prize. Four years, now, he'd hoarded the thing. A genuine Portuguese joe, a gold coin worth about eight dollars.
"Look here. You get us to Washington, and if anything happens to the wagon, I'll give you this. I know it won't replace the wagon, but it'll go a ways toward it. And… well, it's all I have.
"But one way or the other, I am going to Washington."
By the time they'd reached Baltimore's limits, the driver seemed to have relaxed. Enough to have exchanged names with Driscol-his own name was Henry Crowell-and even swap a jest.
"Never seen a man so eager to head toward trouble. You must be running away from a woman, Lieutenant."
"Worse!" barked Driscol. "I'm running away from a doctor. Did you know you have leprosy, by the way?"
Crowell's eyes widened. He glanced at Driscol, who was sitting right beside him on the driver's bench, and making no apparent effort to keep his distance. "If that's so, Lieutenant, you must be crazy."
"It's a special kind of leprosy," Driscol countered. "Only Negroes have it. That's why you're black. Not contagious to white people, not even Irishmen."
Crowell looked down at his dark hands, holding the reins in a sure and powerful grip. "Do tell. Where did you learn that, Lieutenant?"
"From the same doctor I'm running from."
"Oh." Crowell clucked and flipped the reins. The carriage sped up just that little bit.
The closer they got to the capital, the more they were slowed on their journey by refugee-laden carriages coming up the road. Fortunately, Crowell's wagon was a lot more substantial than most of the fancy carriages headed away from Washington, so the evacuees more often made way for him, rather than the other way around. As was generally the case, in Driscol's experience, only people of means could afford to flee a city that was coming under attack-and people like that typically owned carriages designed for elegance rather than endurance. Pound for pound and horse for horse, they were simply no match for Crowell's vehicle.
Had Crowell been alone, of course, he wouldn't have dared to bully his way through such a flood of gentility. But Driscol didn't hesitate to use his uniform to indicate his authority-or, for that matter, the threat of McParland's musket, on the one occasion when an offended party made a vehement protest.
Halfway to Washington, they even picked up an escort. Several dozen armed and mounted men were milling around outside a roadway tavern, appearing more confused than inebriated.
Driscol recognized the look of leaderless soldiers. Militiamen of some sort, going by the flamboyant nature of their uniforms. Cavalrymen, presumably, given that some of the men were on horseback, and most of the others had their horses by the reins.
"And who're you?" he barked, as soon as the wagon reached them. He stood up, giving them a full view of his uniform and sword, and the lieutenant's epaulet that sat on his shoulder. If the sight of his left sleeve, tied up just a few inches below the epaulet, detracted from the impression, he could see no sign of it.
" Answer me, blast you!" he bellowed.
One of the mounted men-they were all youngsters, most of them still teenagers-gave him a salute that was so awkwardly exaggerated that Driscol almost burst into laughter.
"I'm Corporal John Pendleton, sir. We're part of the United Volunteers. From Baltimore. Uh, we're supposed to be attached to General Tobias Stansbury's Fifth Regiment, but… uh, well."
Plaintively, another one of the would-be soldiers piped up: "Do you know where we might find the Fifth Regiment, sir? We haven't seen hide nor hair of General Stansbury."
Driscol snorted. "Threatening to level cannon fire against newspapermen, I should imagine."
He made no effort to disguise the contempt in his voice. General Stansbury's principal claim to fame in the war had been his refusal to protect the antiwar Baltimore newspaper, the Federal Republican and Commercial Intelligencer, when it came under attack at the outset of the conflict, from a prowar mob. When asked for his assistance by the sheriff, Stansbury had proclaimed that the newspaper deserved to be blown up, and that he was rather inclined to level it with his cannons than protect it.
The fact that, politically speaking, Driscol shared the general's attitude toward the Federalist newspaper in question was beside the point. He had no more liking for lynch mobs than he did for Sassenach.
"Ah, yes, Stansbury," Driscol sneered. "I can well imagine you're having difficulty finding the fine general, what with an actual armed enemy to face."
That bordered on gross insubordination, but he didn't really care. If there was any advantage to losing an arm, it was that it tended to put everything else into a certain perspective.
Still, there was no point in letting the youngsters stew on his words. Best to put them to good use.
"Since you're unattached, I'm assigning you to my unit. I'm on my way to special duty in Washington." That sounded better than on medical leave, fleeing a doctor, he thought. "As of this moment, you are attached to General Winfield Scott's First Brigade."
The eyes of all the young cavalrymen went wide. They were more like half-baked dragoons, really; at least two of them were having trouble with their horses. But it didn't matter. As Driscol had known it would, the name General Winfield Scott served as a talisman. Scott was a genuine war hero. Unlike such wretches as Stansbury, the brigadier had won a real battle against British regulars.
He pointed behind the wagon. "Most of you, take up positions in the rear. You, Pendleton, and you"-he pointed to the other youngster who had spoken up-"ride ahead of us."
From then on, they made excellent progress. Not even the most desperate or arrogant refugee would argue passage with a cavalry troop, small though it might be. Certainly not one that rode as confidently as one of General Scott's units, half-baked teenage dragoons or not.
They stopped only once, at Driscol's insistence. The young cavalrymen were all for pressing onward, but Driscol had too much experience to make that mistake.
"Never go into a battle on an empty stomach, lads. We can spare the few minutes for a late breakfast."
Fortunately, there were some smoked hams in the wagon. Fortunately also, most of the youngsters came from well-to-do families living in Baltimore, and could afford to pay Crowell for them. For those few who couldn't, Driscol borrowed a pen and some notepaper from Pendleton-it seemed the boy was a budding Caesar, who had hopes of recording his exploits for posterity-and solemnly scribbled out "official War Department obligations." He gave them to Crowell to redeem…
Well, whenever and however. In truth, the notes were probably about as good as Driscol's well-nigh illegible handwriting.
"I'm sorry, Henry," he said softly, "but it's the best I can do. I just won't lead men, much less boys, into a fight when they're getting weak from hunger."
"Never you mind, Lieutenant," murmured Crowell, just as solemnly tucking the notes away in his waistband. "I'll make out fine. As much as you overcharged the rest of them."
Washington was a ghost town.
Almost all shops and offices were locked and shuttered by the time they arrived, in the sultry heat of midafternoon. The city's residents were either in flight or hiding in their homes. Before long, they found streets that were full enough, to be sure-but with soldiers, mostly militiamen, in full and furious retreat. Rout, it would be better to say.
By putting together accounts blurted out by fleeing soldiers, Driscol learned that a battle had already been fought. Just outside the capital, it seemed, at the town of Bladensburg.
General Winder had led the American forces, and it sounded as if it had been more farce than anything else. Commodore Barney's regular naval artillerymen and Captain Miller's marines had given a very good account of themselves, by the reports. But when the militiamen who were supposed to be guarding their flank ran away after firing not more than two ragged volleys, the artillerymen and marines had been overwhelmed.
For the rest, the less said the better. With uncertain and incompetent officers like Winder leading them, militia forces were about as reliable as rotten wood. At least Beale's men had put up a bit of a fight before deserting the artillery and marines. The Second and Thirty-sixth Regiments of militia hadn't even managed that much. The British had unleashed their newfangled and much-feared Congreve rockets, and as soon as they started hissing down like aerial serpents, those regiments had broken and run. Never fired a shot, apparently.
And General Stansbury? Oh, he'd made a splendid showing, in the beginning-riding up and down the lines loudly proclaiming that he'd have any man who ran away sabered by his officers. Fat lot of good that piece of loudmouthery had done him. When the Congreve rockets started flying, the officers had raced off the field just as fast as the men.
Driscol was tempted to rub salt in the wounds, but the abashed looks on the faces of his newly acquired dragoons were good enough. General Stansbury was a joke, and there was no pride to be found in being considered part of his regiment.
Leave it at that. By now it was obvious to Driscol's experienced eye that the young dragoons had shifted their tacit allegiance over to him. And why not? Their uniforms were too idiosyncratic to register any specific unit identity, and they were volunteers anyway. That being the case, far better to be associated with the name of the hero of Chippewa and his now-legendary First Brigade. Who was to say otherwise? No one, besides Driscol or McParland-and Driscol had no intention of doing so, and McParland would lead where he followed.
Leading them where, though?
Once they reached Pennsylvania Avenue, Driscol could no longer evade the question. Even if his little troop had been composed of grizzled veterans from the emperor's Imperial Guard, they'd be no match for an army of British regulars.
He didn't dare hesitate for long, either. Soldiers like the ones who followed him needed a confident commander even more than veteran regulars. Whether he made the right decision or not wasn't as important as that he made some decision.
In the end, he was the only one who appreciated the irony. He gave a firm order "To the president's house!"
– knowing full well he was just dodging the responsibility. Postponing it, at least. The brick building that housed the War Department stood right next to the president's mansion. Who was to say? Maybe Driscol would find someone in authority there, who would be able to take charge.
Besides, he told himself as his little troop began trotting down Pennsylvania Avenue, if nothing else, the sight of the mansion would bolster his soldiers' morale. The official residence of the nation's chief executive was one of the very few things about Washington, D.C., that was genuinely impressive.
Even if, he'd been told, the roof still leaked.
As Driscol and his party made their way up Pennsylvania Avenue, soldiers from various fragments of the army that had been routed at Bladensburg fell in alongside them. Judging from their loud complaints, it was obvious that all of them were disgruntled, and many were downright angry at the situation. These men hadn't been beaten, really. They'd been routed due to confusion and inexperience, or because they'd been given orders to retreat. Much against their will, in many cases.
"That blasted Winder's a traitor, I'm telling you!" shouted one young sailor. He and a dozen of his mates were from the artillery battery under the command of Commodore Barney. That was, by all accounts and not just their own, one of the few units which had fought well at Bladensburg. They hadn't retreated until the militiamen guarding their flank had broken, and Barney himself had been badly wounded.
"The only reason we're heading to Georgetown is because those are Winder's orders!" another sailor protested. "The hull army's supposed to gather and reorganize there. And don't that just cap the climax!"
Angrily, the naval artilleryman pointed down Pennsylvania Avenue. "Why in Sam Hill aren't we planning to defend the Capitol? A gang of Baltimore plug-uglies could hold the place!"
Looking back down the avenue in the direction the sailor was pointing, Driscol decided he was right. Pennsylvania Avenue was littered with soldiers and sailors plodding sullenly toward Georgetown. There was a good-sized military force there, if it could be organized and given firm leadership.
The more so, because the nation's Capitol building could easily be transformed into something of a fortress. The twin buildings stood atop Jenkins Hill-what people were now starting to call Capitol Hill-so they occupied the high ground in the area. And the two wings were solidly built, with thick brick walls clad in sandstone, even if they were only linked by a covered wooden walkway. The central dome that was intended to connect the two houses of the nation's legislature hadn't yet been erected.
All the better, Driscol thought to himself. The British would be approaching from the east, and artillery could be emplaced between the two buildings. Riflemen firing from the windows could protect the artillerymen while they did the real slaughtering of the Sassenach as they were struggling their way up the hill.
He could see it all in his mind, quite vividly. The enemy could eventually seize the impromptu fortress, but that would take time and require heavy casualties, neither of which the British could afford. This raid of theirs, Driscol was well-nigh certain, was a risky gamble on their part. There was no possibility that the British forces could hope to hold the area for more than a few days. Washington was just too close to the centers of the U.S. population. Their real target was New Orleans and the mouth of the Mississippi. That, they could hold, if they took it.
This was simply a diversion, he thought, to keep Americans confused and befuddled while the enemy organized their main strike in the Gulf of Mexico. But, that being so, Admiral Cochrane couldn't afford to suffer many casualties here. He'd need those soldiers later. And if Cochrane allowed his little army to spend too much time in Washington, the risk would grow by the hour that they might be cut off and captured by American forces coming to the capital city from the surrounding area.
Driscol suspected that this entire operation was really Rear Admiral Cockburn's pet project, which he'd foisted on a somewhat reluctant Cochrane. Cockburn seemed to take a special glee in burning American property. He was said to be much offended by the way he'd been portayed in American newspapers, none more so than Washington's National Intelligencer.
Driscol looked down at the aggrieved sailor and his companions. They could be a start, coupled with his few dozen young dragoons…
Then, mentally, he shook his head. He was a practical and hardheaded man, and he knew full well that he was not the officer to rally broken and confused troops like these. His new rank notwithstanding, Driscol was a sergeant by training and by temperament. If someone else rallied some troops, then-oh, certainly-he would know what to do with them. He'd keep them firm, if nothing else. But the rallying itself had to be done by a different sort of officer.
It didn't even have to be a commander like Winfield Scott, for that matter. Military skill, knowledge, and experience wasn't really needed here. Someone like General Jacob Brown would do splendidly. Brown was almost as tall as Scott, possibly even more handsome and imposing looking, and every bit as decisive. And he could speechify well, too.
Decisiveness aside, Driscol was none of those things. He knew perfectly well how he appeared to the sailors who were staring up at him. Squat, troll ugly, weathered, and battered by life-and now missing an arm, to boot. A figure to bolster men, not to inspire them. The fact that he'd appeared before them on a wagon driven by a Negro instead of riding a horse didn't help any, of course.
Then again, maybe inspiration could be found up ahead. The president's mansion was only a short distance away.
"Fall in with us," Driscol commanded, pointing to the impressive-looking edifice. "Let's see if there's someone in command there who isn't a fool and a poltroon."
"He's a traitor, I tell you!" the sailor insisted. But he and his mates seemed to be relieved to find someone willing to take charge.
As the sailors started to take their positions, Driscol leaned over and bestowed a smile upon them.
"A lesson here, lads, which I've spent a lifetime learning. Never explain something on the grounds of wickedness, when simple stupidity will do the trick."
The sailors looked dubious. Driscol nodded his head firmly. "Oh, yes, it's quite true. Brigadier Scott even told me an ancient philosopher had proved it. Fellow by the name of Ockham."
He straightened up in the wagon seat. "The English, of course, being the exception that proves the rule."
"You know Brigadier Scott?" asked one of the sailors. For the first time, the expression on his face and that of his mates as they looked up at Driscol was not and who is this ragamuffin?
Before Driscol could answer, McParland piped up. The young private was sitting atop the foodstuffs stacked in the wagon bed.
"Sure does! He was the brigadier's master sergeant. Got a field promotion to lieutenant after he lost his arm at the Chippewa." Pride filled the youngster's voice. "He was in my regiment, the Twenty-second. I was right there when he got wounded. Sergeant Driscol never even flinched. Just had me bind up the wound while he kept shouting the firing orders."
Now they were genuinely impressed. That still wasn't the same thing as inspiration. But it was a start.
As his ragtag little army continued toward the president's house, Driscol turned his head, to give McParland a meaningful look. He'd learned by now that the seventeen-year-old boy was quick-witted, despite his rural ignorance. McParland took the hint, and slid off the wagon. He'd walk alongside the sailors the rest of the way, regaling them with tales of exploits.
Mostly his own, of course.
"Whatever you do…" McParland's voice drifted forward. The boy still hadn't learned that a "whisper" addressed to a dozen people carried almost as far as a shout. "… don't ever cross the sergeant. Uh, lieutenant, I mean." A few words faded off; then: "… not sure he's really human. A lot of the fellows thought he was one of those trolls you hear about in…"
It was all Driscol could do to maintain a solemn face.
"… made the mistake of arguing with him over an order when I first showed up in the regiment. Next thing I knew he had me in front of a firing squad."
Driscol didn't need to turn around. He could practically see the wide eyes of the young sailors.
"-'strue! The muskets was loaded with blanks, o' course, or I wouldn't be here today to tell the tale. But I almost pissed my pants-and let me tell you, I never argued with the sergeant again.
" Nobody does, what knows him. He tells you to jump into a lake, all you ask is 'how far'."
A good start, indeed.
"I will have those twelve-pounders, sir!" Sam Houston insisted, rising in the saddle. "What's the gol-derned use of hauling the things all the way to Georgetown?"
After clambering aboard his own horse, William Simmons glared at him.
"None, Captain, for all I know! But General Winder has given explicit orders for all troops to abandon the capital and rally at Georgetown. Unless you intend to be insubordinate, you must follow his orders. And so must I-and I will not have these guns fall into the hands of the enemy!"
Sam studied the man for a moment. Simmons was an accountant for the War Department, for whom the entire day had been hours of sheer chaos. The intense heat of an August day in Washington didn't help matters. There were clouds gathering in the sky, but the humidity was as intense as ever. By now, in the middle of the afternoon, the man was a festering bundle of weariness, anger, uncertainty, and confusion.
Unfortunately, although he was a civilian, Simmons's position gave him something in the way of authority here, for the mob of militiamen who'd gathered around the president's house. The fact that Simmons had taken it upon himself to order the mansion's sole remaining servant to bring out the presidential brandy and serve it as refreshments for the soldiers had sealed the matter.
There was no point in pulling out lofty citations from the Iliad in this situation. That left wheedling and conniving. Sam was good at both of those, too, if his mother's opinion was anything to go by.
Sam gave the accountant his most winning smile, then pointed to the carriage of the nearest twelve-pounder, perched beside the front gate of the president's house. "I ask you to consider something, sir. These are ornamental guns, you know. Look at the carriages. Purely decorative! Those wheels will break long before you could reach the heights of Georgetown."
Simmons stared at the two cannons. Sam's statements were…
Preposterous. The field guns were perfectly serviceable, and their carriages in splendid condition.
Before he could say anything, however, Sam hurried on, now speaking quietly. "It's an explanation, after all, should General Winder ever inquire about the matter."
For a moment, Sam thought Simmons's angry expression was aimed at him.
"That's hardly likely!" the accountant snapped. Then, sourly: "I was dismissed from the War Department just last month, you know-after twenty years of service." His expression turned more sullen than ever. "'Twas due to a clash between myself and Secretary of War Armstrong, concerning proper accounting procedures. All the sense in the world is wasted on men like him and Winder."
For a moment, Sam considered using Simmons's newly admitted lack of authority against him. But that wouldn't do much good with the militiamen who surrounded them. In Sam's experience, men were prone to support any fine fellow who handed out free liquor.
Again, Odysseus was called for, not Achilles.
"It was certainly unfortunate that Secretary Armstrong chose to place General Winder in command of the city's defenses. What could he have been thinking?"
"What, indeed!" Simmons barked. He gazed for a moment longer on the twelve-pounders, before his eyes came back to Sam.
"And just what do you propose to do with them, my fine young captain? Two twelve-pounders will hardly hold off the enemy."
Truth to tell, Sam didn't really have a good answer to that question. All he knew was that the moment he caught sight of those two splendid guns, when he and his companions arrived at the president's house, he was bound and determined to do something with them.
But this was no time for public uncertainty. "General Jackson had but a six- and a three-pounder at the Horseshoe Bend, you know. I was there, and I can tell you they gave excellent service."
That was a black lie. The things had been completely useless, and Sam had the scar on his leg to prove it. Nevertheless, he pressed on with assurance and good cheer. "These will do well enough, Mr. Simmons."
"And how do you even propose to use them? You told me you were an infantry officer, not an artilleryman. You're facing British regulars here, Captain, not wild savages."
Mention of "wild savages" drew the accountant's skeptical eyes to Sam's small group of companions.
Fortunately, Sequoyah and the Ridge children had donned American clothing that morning. Unfortunately, the Rogers brothers had done no such thing. James hadn't even bothered to tuck away his beloved war club.
Tiana Rogers was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, she too had outfitted herself in American apparel for the occasion. On the other hand, the big girl was far too imposing and good-looking, in her exotic way, not to draw attention to herself.
Skepticism was growing rapidly in the accountant's expression. Sam drew himself up haughtily.
"A delegation from the Cherokee Nation, sent here expressly by General Jackson. Even includes two of their princesses."
Nancy Ridge looked suitably solemn and demure.
Tiana, alas, grinned like a hoyden.
Best to distract the accountant, Sam thought hurriedly. He pointed a finger at John Ross, whose appearance and uniform made him look like a white man. "Lieutenant Ross here is a wizard with artillery, sir. Very experienced with the big guns."
John's eyes widened. Sam ignored him and pressed forward.
"Oh, yes," he said, chuckling. "General Jackson gave him no choice in the matter, seeing as how the lieutenant can't hit the broad side of a barn with a pistol or a musket. But give him a proper- size gun-!"
Wide as saucers.
Forward, ever forward.
"Indeed so. Ross is murderous with the big guns. He'll wreak havoc upon the enemy, Mr. Simmons, be sure of it! Grapeshot is his preferred ball, of course."
Then, Sam decided it was time to add a modicum of truth to the matter. Just a pinch.
"Look, Mr. Simmons," he said softly, almost conspiratorially. "I don't honestly know if the lieutenant can make good his bloodthirsty boasts. Achilles himself would be daunted by the task. But if nothing else, he and I are determined not to let the British come into the city. Certainly not without at least firing some shots. We need those guns, sir. "
By now, a large crowd of soldiers had gathered around the two men on horseback. While they'd been arguing, a new batch of men had come up and pushed their way to the front of the mob. These looked to be under some sort of discipline, at least, even if the lieutenant in command had only one arm and was riding on a wagon instead of a horse.
On the positive side, the newly arrived officer was glaring at Simmons, not Sam. Quite a ferocious glare it was, too. The one-armed lieutenant's face looked as if it belonged to Grendel's brother, or one of the monsters in the Grimm brothers' fairy tales.
Simmons spotted the same ogre's glare. He threw up his hands.
"Oh, do as you will, then! The cannons are yours, Captain Houston, if you'd be such a fool."
And with that, he rode off.
Driscol arrived in time to hear most of the exchange. He didn't think he'd ever heard such a magnificent pile of lies, exaggerations, and pure hornswaggling in his entire life.
Whoever this big young captain was, he had to be a Scots-Irishman. Nobody else would be mad enough to entertain the idea of stopping the British with just two cannons and a small band of Indians.
He was a joy to behold.
The captain's blue eyes turned on him now, along with a grin as cheerful and confident as anything Driscol could have hoped for.
Oh, aye, he'll do splendidly. And who knows, he might even survive. Stranger things have happened.
Driscol returned the grin with a thin smile of his own.
"I dare say yon 'artilleryman' Lieutenant Ross wouldn't know one end of a cannon from the other. Judging from his expression. But as it happens, sir…"
Driscol swiveled in the seat. "Naval gunners, front and forward!" he barked.
The sailors trotted up as smartly as you please. The lieutenant turned back to the captain.
"Commodore Barney's men, these are, sir. They'll know how to handle the guns, once they're positioned at the Capitol."
There wasn't so much as a flicker in the young captain's expression, even though he had a subordinate officer tacitly telling him what to do. Then, just a second later, the grin grew wider still. The captain edged his horse alongside the wagon.
He leaned over, speaking quietly enough that only Driscol and Henry Crowell could hear him.
"I've got no idea what I'm doing, Lieutenant, save that I will fight the British bastards." The captain gave the black driver a cool, considering look, as if gauging his ability to keep from gossiping. "So I'll be delighted to hear any suggestions you might have."
The look impressed Driscol in a way that the ready grin, the handsome face, and the confident shoulders hadn't. The soldier from County Antrim had known plenty of young and self-assured officers, some of whom had made excellent leaders on a battlefield. Few of them, on the other hand, had been clear-eyed enough to understand that a menial was still a man, even a black one, and couldn't be dismissed with no more thought than you'd give the livestock.
Driscol, in turn, glanced at the captain's Indian companions. There was a tale there, too, he was certain.
He started to look away from the group, but a flash of teeth drew his eyes back.
Lord in Heaven.
Driscol hadn't paid any attention at the time to the big girl whom the captain had claimed to be an Indian princess of some sort. His focus had been entirely on the captain's argument with the officious clerk, and he'd dismissed the statement as just another of the captain's Niagara Falls of balderdash and bunkum. Now…
The "princess" was exchanging a jest with a young Indian warrior who looked to be some sort of relation. That big smile, on that face-perched as it was atop a supple body whose graceful form couldn't possibly be disguised, even in a modest settler's dress It took a real effort for Driscol to tear his eyes away. This was no time for such thoughts. It was hardly as if that smile had been aimed at him, in any event.
"I know what I'm doing, yes, sir," he growled, more gruffly than he'd really intended. "I served under Generals Brown and Scott in the Niagara campaign, and before that for some years with Napoleon. I was at Jena and Austerlitz both, and more other battles than I care to remember."
The captain's grin shallowed into a simple smile. "Oh, splendid. I'll give the speeches and wave my sword about, then, while you whisper sage advice into my ear."
"My thoughts exactly, sir. You lead the men, and I'll keep them steady."
The captain examined Driscol carefully. By the time he was done, there was but a trace of the smile left. "Steady. I imagine you're good at that."
"None better, sir. If I say so myself."
The captain nodded. "I'm Sam Houston, from Tennessee. You?"
"Patrick Driscol. From Country Antrim originally. That's in northern-"
Houston clucked. "Please, Patrick! Do I look like an Englishman? My own sainted forefather, the good gentleman John Houston, arrived in this country from Belfast almost a century ago. Hauling with him a keg full of sovereigns he claimed to have earned honestly, mind you. Though I have my doubts, just as I suspect my ancestors weren't really Scot baronets who served as archers for Jeanne d'Arc when she marched from Orleans to Reims. We Scots-Irish tell a lot of tall tales, you know?"
An impulse Driscol couldn't control took over his mouth. "Oh, aye. Tales of Indian princesses and such."
Houston glanced back at the girl in question. "That tale's taller that it should be, I suppose, but it's not invented from whole cloth. Tiana really does come from a chiefly family."
When his eyes came back, Driscol was surprised to see the shrewdness there. He hadn't suspected that, in such a man.
"I'll introduce you later," Houston said. "Mind you, I'd still like to get the children off to a place of safety, but… They're all from chiefly families, and headstrong as you could ask for. Tiana most of all. So I doubt me I'll be able to shake them loose."
Driscol shook his head, trying to concentrate on the task at hand.
For the first time, it dawned on him that he might have gotten more than he bargained for when he seized upon this brash young captain as his chosen champion. Champions always had a will of their own, of course. So much was a given. But could he possibly possess subtlety as well?
A little shudder twitched his shoulders. A big hand clapped down on the nearest, blithely ignoring the arm that was missing below. "And now, Lieutenant. The Capitol, you say?"
Houston looked at the president's mansion. "I'd thought to make a stand here, myself."
Driscol started to explain the superior merits of the Capitol as a make-do fortress, but Houston cut him off.
"I'll take your word for it. It doesn't really matter, now that I think about it. If I survive this mad adventure, I'll eventually have to report to General Jackson. And if I had to tell Old Hickory that I chose to defend the nation's executive house instead of the legislature…"
The captain's own shoulders twitched.
"He'd curse me for a Federalist, see if he wouldn't."
Sam had acted impetuously, because his military apprenticeship under Andrew Jackson had made some of the General's attitudes rub off. Right at the top of the list was Old Hickory's intransigence in the face of an enemy. Now, though, Sam had to make good on his boasts. He was all of twenty-one years old, and the captain's epaulet on his right shoulder wasn't even official yet.
His first step was clear enough. In point of fact, the carriages of the two twelve-pounders were in splendid condition, and the guns could quite easily be hauled the one mile distance to the Capitol simply by having militiamen and Barney's sailors haul them by hand.
But then what?
To make things worse, now that the impulse of the moment had passed, Sam was beginning to fret over the situation with the children. Major Ridge and John Jolly had not sent their children to Washington in order for Sam to lead them into the middle of a pitched battle.
But what was he to do with them? There was no chance of finding a proper family in Washington who would take in the children. Certainly not at the moment. Half of the city's proper families had already fled, and the rest were huddling fearfully in their homes. That would have been true even if the children in question had been white, much less Cherokee.
And even if he could find someone, the chances were slim to none that he could get the children themselves to agree.
Nancy Ridge… maybe. But her brother John and her cousin Buck were at a fever pitch of excitement, the way only twelve-year-old boys can be. Whatever Sam's qualms, they were looking forward eagerly to the prospect of a battle. The tales they'd be able to tell when they got back! The status they'd achieve!
The Cherokee weren't a "warrior tribe" in the same sense that some of the tribes on the plains were, or the fierce Chickasaws. But they bore precious little resemblance to Quakers either.
Sam glanced at her, riding her horse not far away. The sixteen-year-old girl might be wearing modest American lady's attire, but the easy and athletic way she sat the horse would have made her Indian origins clear to anyone, even without the coppery skin tone. Not to mention the way she'd hoisted the dress above her knees, to leave her legs clear!
Her eyes were literally gleaming. If Sam tried to place her out of harm's way she'd be likely to stab him. Nor did Sam doubt that she had a knife hidden somewhere in her pack. Possibly even a pistol.
Fortunately, Sam's newfound adviser stepped into the breach.
"I don't see much chance of getting your wards anywhere to safety at the moment, sir," Driscol said quietly. "But the Capitol's quite the huge place, you know, and very solidly constructed. I'm sure we can find somewhere sheltered enough for them. They should be safe, unless the enemy breaches the walls."
Uncertainly, Sam eyed the great buildings they were marching toward. It was late in the afternoon by now, and the sun was beginning to dip toward the west. The golden rays reflecting off the Capitol made the twin edifices seem even more imposing than usual.
"What if the British do breach the walls?"
Driscol shrugged. "That's as may be, sir. But I don't think you've much choice. And-ah…" He cleared his throat.
Sam smiled. "Yes, Lieutenant Driscol, I know. I should be focusing my attention on planning the defense, not worrying about what might happen should my plans fail. Still, I do have a personal responsibility here."
He came to a decision. After all these weeks of travel, he'd come to know Sequoyah pretty well. The lamed Cherokee might be prickly about his condition, but underneath he was quite a levelheaded fellow. So long as his honor was respected, he was willing enough to be practical.
"A moment, please, Lieutenant." Sam turned his horse and trotted over to the Cherokee.
He returned with a sense of relief. "He's agreed to take charge of them once we get there," he told Driscol. "We'll need people to reload anyway, he reminded me, and take care of the wounded."
Driscol studied the children dubiously, for a moment. "But will they agree?"
Sam smiled ruefully. "Tiana, who knows? Especially once the battle starts. But the others will. Have you much experience with Cherokees, Lieutenant?"
"None at all, sir. Precious little with any of the tribes, even the Iroquois."
Sam nodded. "Well, don't believe most of what you hear. The children will be rambunctious, but they'll listen to Sequoyah. And now, Lieutenant, what's next?"
"We should place the cannons between the buildings, sir. That'll give them a clear line of fire at the approaching enemy, with excellent protection on their flanks. With this many men at our disposal we'll be able to erect solid breastworks for the guns, too."
Sam looked around at the little army that they'd assembled.
Not so little, actually, not any longer. Most of the militiamen who'd been gathered at the president's house had chosen to join them. Not more than a couple of dozen had followed the accountant Simmons toward Georgetown. Between those who had stayed and the volunteer Baltimore dragoons Driscol had brought, and the dozens of sailors from Barney's regular naval unit, they'd started down Pennsylvania avenue with a force of some three or four hundred men.
To be sure, calling that mob a "force" was a little ridiculous. There wasn't a semblance of order among them, leaving aside Barney's sailors and, to a degree, Driscol's young Baltimore dragoons. Still, the men seemed determined enough-even eager.
The ones who'd chosen to accompany Sam were those who hadn't been completely demoralized by the rout at Bladensburg. Clearly enough, they intended to redeem themselves, now that someone had taken charge and proposed to lead them into battle instead of further retreat.
The farther down Pennsylvania Avenue they went, the more men they picked up, too. The broad boulevard that formed the spine of the capital city was full of troops slogging disconsolately toward Georgetown. From what Sam could determine, American casualties at Bladensburg had been light. There were enough men here, if Sam could rally them, to create something for which the name "army" wouldn't be a joke.
He gave it his best, speechifying to the retreating troops from the saddle all the way down the avenue. By the time they drew up before the Capitol, his voice was hoarse.
"Well, that's that," he said to Driscol glumly. Sam was learning for himself what experienced commanders had known for millennia-routed soldiers, even if not badly mauled, were usually too demoralized to be of any use for a while. Most of them had had enough of fighting for one day.
Sam looked over the milling mob-there was even less in the way of order now than ever-and estimated he had not more than a thousand men. "It's not much," he said. "But it was the best I could do."
Driscol was half astonished and half amused at the gloominess in the young officer's voice.
The lieutenant had known marshals in Napoleon's army who'd have done well to rally a portion of the men that Houston had, under the circumstances. The big captain was a wizard at the work. He'd been able to project just the right combination of breezy self-confidence and good cheer to turn the trick.
Even wit, for a wonder.
To be sure, the captain's frequent citations from the Iliad probably seemed odd to most of the soldiery. They would have understood the references well enough. The Greek classics, along with the history of the Roman republic, were the staples of education at the time. But precious few of them would have taken the time and effort to memorize most of Homer's epic poem.
Still, if the citations made the captain seem a bit eccentric, they also made clear that he was an educated man-always something that Americans respected. Better still, it had shamed those among the crowd who were likewise educated, reminding them of their duty.
There were quite a few of those, too. Many of the volunteer units who had assembled in Washington to participate in the battle of Bladensburg were militias drawn from the city itself or nearby Baltimore. They included in their number many young men from the educated classes.
Best of all, though, had been the jokes accompanying the citations. By itself Let fierce Achilles, dreadful in his rage,
The god propitiate, and the pest assuage
– might have rung hollow. But coupled with "So, I am told, cried General Winder as he galloped westward! Who can refuse such a call?"
It drew quite a laugh, even from men such as these. And another fifty or so turned aside and joined Houston's forces marching toward the Capitol.
A thousand men, where Driscol had thought five hundred the best they could hope for. With a thousand men, and a commander to inspire them-and a fortress to defend, always far easier for untrained troops to manage than an open battlefield…
"Never you mind, sir," he rasped. "We can win this thing."
Houston's eyes widened. "D'you think so? Really?"
"Oh, aye, sir. I've no doubt of it at all."
Within an hour after they arrived at the Capitol, Sam was thanking-silently but no less fervently for all that-the great good luck that had brought Driscol to him. On his own, there wasn't a chance in the world that Sam could have brought order and discipline to the mob of soldiers who poured into the twin buildings.
Driscol managed it easily. There was just something about the squat Scots-Irish soldier that settled everyone down.
Steady. The word hardly scratched the surface of the matter. You might as well describe a mountain as "weighty." Driscol's blocky forehead and jaws exuded the sureness of theologians; his cold, pale eyes, the certainty of damnation if his dictums were not followed. Even the missing arm added to the effect.
Had anyone had any doubts, Driscol settled them within five minutes of their arrival at the Capitol.
"I must insist that my detachment be assigned to defend the Senate, sir!" blustered a florid-faced young militia lieutenant. He swept off his hat and waved it dramatically. "Ours is the senior unit of the brigade, and we should be assigned to defend the senior house!"
For a moment, Sam was too astonished by the absurdity of the demand to know what to do. But then Driscol was there, and it all became a moot point.
Driscol's bellow was an odd sort of thing. Loud and penetrating, not so much because of its volume but its sheer menace. As if a file peeling away metal had taken on a human voice.
The young private who seemed to be Driscol's inseparable companion was at his side in an instant. "Yes, Serg-uh, sir."
Driscol jabbed a finger at the militia lieutenant. "Aim your musket at this insubordinate."
The musket came up. Firmly couched against the private's shoulder, it was pointed squarely at the lieutenant's chest. The muzzle of the gun seemed almost as wide as the militia officer's eyes, though it was not as wide-not nearly-as his gaping mouth.
"Arm your musket."
Driscol's icy gaze had never left the lieutenant's face. "You have five seconds," he rasped, "to obey orders."
He added no threat, made no reference to the alternative if the lieutenant disobeyed. To do so would have been…
So, so unnecessary. No one present at the scene doubted that Private McParland would pull the trigger on Driscol's command. Instantly and unquestionably.
The lieutenant himself might have been too shocked to manage Driscol's five-second time limit. Fortunately, another member of his unit grabbed him by the arm and jerked him away. Then hastily led the lieutenant and the rest of the unit toward the House of Representatives.
Driscol moved off, seemingly as unconcerned as a housewife who had just finished sweeping the floor.
"Steady," Sam murmured to himself, some time later, as he stood between the two buildings and surveyed the ground that sloped down to the east of the Capitol. Even to his inexperienced eye, it was obvious that his jury-rigged military force had the advantage of position. Not only did the two buildings of the Capitol provide a ready-made and solid fortress, but the terrain over which the British would have to launch an assault against it was superb.
Superb, at least, from the American point of view. Sam didn't doubt that the British soldiers who'd have to come across in the face of heavy fire would hate it. Washington, D.C., had been created out of what amounted to something of a swamp. Much of the city's ground still wasn't far removed from that condition. After a rainfall, Sam had been told, even Pennsylvania Avenue was likely to turn into a sea of mud. The ground east of the Capitol hadn't been worked on much, and it was wet and soggy almost all of the time.
Close to marshland, in short. That also meant there wasn't much in the way of trees or even tall brush to obscure the field of vision, as Sam's men aimed their cannons and muskets at the advancing enemy. The British would have to cross hundred of yards in the open, on treacherous footing, before they reached the Capitol-and then, they would have to make the final charge uphill.
"A perfect killing field." So Driscol had named it, with a cold satisfaction in his voice that almost made Sam shiver.
There was something primevally savage about the lieutenant, beneath the tightly disciplined exterior. Sam had no trouble at all imagining Driscol as an ancient Scot or Irish warrior, charging his enemy stark naked to display his sneering courage, armed only with blue paint covering his body, and a great claymore.
Certainly his Cherokee companions hadn't missed that lurking essence of the man. "One of the old true-bloods," he'd heard James Rogers murmur to his brother John, not long after they'd met Driscol.
John had nodded-and Tiana, also hearing the exchange, had given Driscol a long and considering look. So long and so considering, in fact, that Sam had felt a little surge of jealousy.
He shook off the thoughts, and went back to watching the lieutenant at work. Driscol had the two twelve-pounders already in position, and Barney's sailors were directing a veritable horde of soldiers in creating proper breastworks to shelter the guns. The interaction between the lieutenant and his men had become easy and relaxed.
There'd been no repetition of the incident with the militia officer. Once Driscol's authority had been firmly established, the troops at the Capitol had discovered other qualities to the lieutenant who served as Sam's second in command. Driscol was usually gruff and sometimes sarcastic, but he also had a sense of humor. A sarcastic remark, following some soldierly foolishness, would invariably be followed by a relaxed and matter-of-fact solution to the problem. If Driscol would brook no insubordination, he also held no grudges.
Most of all, he exuded confidence. He didn't exactly inspire men, the way Sam himself could. Driscol simply wasn't the man to give speeches and appeal to lofty sentiments. But he provided them with the surety they needed, after the momentary elation produced by speeches began to fade. Like a solid boulder, exposed by a receding tide, to which men could anchor themselves.
They needed that boulder, because even those mostly inexperienced soldiers knew full well that war was ultimately a deadly and practical business. The finest exhortations in the world couldn't conceal that reality for very long. Soon enough, the men had to face the real problems-a fortress that wasn't really a fortress; units that weren't yet really an army; guns that were short of ammunition; an oncoming enemy that was not a bard's insubstantial spirit.
But, always, Driscol was there to lead them to a solution of those practical problems.
He did so again, in the next five minutes.
When they'd arrived at the Capitol they'd found two eighteen-pounders already positioned there. But jubilation soon gave way to frustration. They discovered that Commodore Barney's sailing master John Webster had hauled off two of the four cannons that had originally been there, after Winder ordered him to bring the cannons to Georgetown. Unable to round up enough wagons to draw more than two of the guns, Webster had spiked the other two in order to prevent them being used by the enemy.
"Any chance of getting them back in service?" Sam asked the sailor who'd more or less placed himself in charge of Barney's gunners.
To Sam's surprise, that had been one of the black sailors among them, Charles Ball. Ball's fellow white gunners made no objection, either.
Sam had heard that the U.S. Navy, unlike the army, did not restrict Negroes from joining the service. But he hadn't realized the full extent of it. For naval artillerymen, it seemed, competence was more important than skin color.
Ball shook his head gloomily. "Webster knows what he's about, Captain. He spiked the guns with rattail files. Hardened metal like that…" The sailor shrugged. "We could drill them out, eventually. But it'd take forever, and we'd need a big supply of drill bits to begin with. Which we don't have a one."
Someone tugged at Sam's sleeve. Turning his head, he saw it was the black teamster who'd handled the wagon that had brought Driscol to the president's mansion. He didn't know the man's name. Had completely forgotten about him, in fact.
"I used to work at Foxall's Foundry, Captain. There's drill bits there, and it's not too far away."
Ball shook his head.
"Still wouldn't do no good, sir. It'd take hours to get the spikes out of those guns. Prob'ly couldn't do it at all until sometime tomorrow." He swiveled his head to the east, the direction from which the British would be arriving. "We won't have enough time before they get here."
Ball brought his gaze back to the teamster. "There's guns there, too, though, idn't there? We could use those. And we could sure as creation use more ammunition and shot."
The teamster looked dubious. "Well… my wagon's big enough to haul powder and some shot. Some shot. And I guess we could hook up a gun or two to the back of the wagon. But…"
The expression on his face was very dubious now. So, for that matter, was the expression on the face of the black gunner's mate.
Suddenly, Sam understood the problem. A white man entering Foxall's Foundry and hauling away materials would be presumed to be going about official and legitimate business. That would be true even if he wasn't wearing a uniform, since many civilians had been providing assistance to the army.
A black man would be presumed a thief-or, worse yet, a runaway slave providing supplies to the enemy. He'd likely be shot, or hanged on the spot.
"What's your name?" he asked the teamster.
"Henry Crowell, Captain."
Sam nodded. "Here's how it'll be, Henry." He glanced around and spotted Driscol's young companion, standing not far from the lieutenant.
McParland trotted over.
"You already know Henry, I believe."
"Yes, sir." McParland gave the black teamster a cordial smile.
"I want you to provide him with an escort. He'll be going to Foxall's Foundry to bring us some supplies. I'll need you to verify his credentials, in the event someone might question his purpose. I'll write you out some official orders, which you can show anyone who asks. If they won't accept that-"
"I'll shoot 'em, sir. Not a problem." The private's bland assurance gave way to uncertainty. He glanced toward Driscol. "But-"
"I'll inform the lieutenant," Sam said firmly. He started to add something else, but saw that Driscol already was coming over.
Once Driscol was apprised of the situation, he immediately agreed with Sam. "But we can do better than that. We can round up some more wagons along the way, with enough men. Most of them are just standing around doing nothing now, anyway."
He turned to McParland. "Find Corporal Pendleton. Tell him and his unit of Baltimore dragoons to go with you. That'll give you enough men-in fancy uniforms, to make things perfect-that you'll be able to sequester some more wagons. Bring back as much as you can." He nodded toward Crowell. "For the rest, just do whatever Henry tells you to do."
McParland left, with Henry Crowell in tow. The teamster was still looking a bit dubious, but Sam spotted a little gleam in his eyes, as well. It wasn't often that a black man had a unit of white soldiers not only providing him with an escort but, effectively, under his command.
Chuckling, he turned back to Charles Ball. The gunner's mate also seemed amused. Or, perhaps, simply gratified.
"That'll do us good, sir," he said eagerly. "Real good. Foxall's is the biggest gunmaker in the country."
Sam nodded. Then, examining the useless eighteen-pounders, he sighed heavily. "May as well add these to the breastworks, I guess."
"Might as well," agreed Driscol. "If the heavy bastards can't shoot, they can still stop enemy shot."
Driscol left, then, to oversee the men who were bringing some smaller guns into position alongside the twelve-pounders.
There were six guns, all told. On either side of the twelve-pounders, Barney's sailors were wrestling into position four other cannons that Sam had been able to round up from retreating troops who had chosen to join him. None of them were bigger than six-pounders, true, and there were but two of those. But what was probably more important was that the pair of six-pounders had been in the possession of some more stray sailors from Commodore Barney's unit. Stubborn-and still furious over the debacle at Bladensburg-the sailors had insisted on saving their guns and hauling them all the way back to Washington.
They'd be put to good use now, and there were finally enough of Barney's sailors in Sam's impromptu army that he could be confident his artillery would be handled with professional skill. With a battery of six guns, protected by the hastily erected but solid fortifications, the American force holding the Capitol could inflict some real damage on the enemy.
Sam would catch hell for those fortifications, in a day or two. Breastworks required wood, brick, or shaped stone to form suitable berms for the artillery, even if most of the material was dirt.
The only such substances ready-made in the area were the fittings of the Capitol itself.
For the most part, the men had been able to use wood planks taken from the covered walkway that ran between the buildings, once they tore it down, or the timber used for the flooring of the public galleries. It was amazing, really, how quickly that many men could tear something down, when they put their minds to it.
Still, for much of the underlying frame of the breastwork that would be shielding the twelve-pounder on the north, near the Senate building, they'd had to use the broken-up mahogany desks and chairs of the senators themselves.
But that was just furniture, when all was said and done. The real trouble would come from the House of Representatives. Sam was as sure of it as he was of the sunrise.
Alas, before Sam or Driscol noticed them doing it, some enthusiasts had taken it upon themselves to tear down the eastern entrance doors and add their heavy wooden substance to the breastworks.
"Oh, splendid!" Driscol had snarled at them, pointing an accusing finger at the now-gaping holes of the doorways. "In the olden days, enemies were required to use battering rams. Nowadays, we have cretins to do their work for them."
Abashed, the guilty soldiery avoided his glare. After a moment, Driscol snorted.
"Well, it's done. Now-"
His stubby finger was still pointed at the House, like a small cannon.
"Go in there and find something we can use to replace the doors. Something that will-ah, never mind. The Lord only knows what you'd come up with. I'll find it. Just follow me."
Find something, he did. And such was Driscol's grim and certain purpose that not even Sam dared to object.
One door of the House was now blocked by the great stone frieze which had once hung over the statue of Liberty. Only a portion of the bald eagle depicted on that frieze could be seen from the outside, since the eagle's wings spanned a good twelve feet-and it took a dozen men to shove it aside whenever someone actually needed to use the door.
The Liberty itself had done to block the other door. Once the mob of soldierly fortifiers had put it in place, of course, the door had become effectively impassable. The marble statue was bigger than life-size, what with Liberty herself seated on a pedestal, her left hand holding a cap of liberty and her right a scroll representing the Constitution.
It was a foregone conclusion that if Sam survived this battle, he'd catch merry hell.
"I heard the sculptor worked on it for years," Sam had heard one of the soldiers say to another, as they manhandled the great thing into the doorway. "They say he was coughing up blood at the end, from the consumption that killed him."
"I can believe it," grunted another. "I'm like to be coughing up blood myself, soon enough, just from moving the blasted thing."
Oh, merry hell indeed. But it still beat giving up the Capitol without a fight.
Shortly before eight o'clock of the evening, the British army arrived and took up position about half a mile to the east of the Capitol. By then, the sun was starting to set, but the enemy forces were easily visible. There were great flames rising from the nearby Navy Yard, which added their own light to the scene. The nation's premier naval arsenal and shipbuilding facilities had been set afire by its so-called defenders, long before the enemy arrived. By now, the place was a raging inferno.
That had been done by orders from above, apparently.
Houston damned General Winder yet again.
Just as the sun was going down, a British officer and two soldiers appeared on the ground east of the Capitol. The officer was waving a white flag and the soldiers were carrying a man on a stretcher. Sam sent one of Ball's gunners out to provide them with assurances of a safe conduct.
When the gunner got back, the British lagging behind due to their burden, he was practically hopping with glee.
"It's Commodore Barney!" he shouted. "It's the commodore!"
Sure enough. The two British soldiers carried him up to the breastworks and deposited the stretcher on the ground. Then made a hurried exit. The officer didn't leave, however, until he'd taken a little time to examine the newly-erected fortifications. From what Sam could tell from his expression, the officer-a captain, if Sam was interpreting the insignia properly-seemed both surprised and concerned by what he saw.
The commodore was gravely injured, from the wound in his thigh he'd received during his valiant stand at Bladensburg. But he was still conscious, and lucid.
Even cheery, once he saw the preparations that were in progress.
Several of the artillerymen picked up the stretcher and carried Commodore Barney into the central chamber of the House of Representatives. There, they lowered him gently onto one of the settees that had been brought into the chamber. Following Driscol's suggestion, Sam had designated the central chambers of both buildings to be the areas where the wounded would be taken. Fortunately, the enthusiasts hadn't initially thought to include upholstered furniture in the breastworks-and by the time they did think of it, Driscol was there to stop them.
"How did you convince them to let you go, sir?" asked Charles Ball.
Weakly, but actually smiling, Barney shook his head. "There was no need for me to convince anyone, Charles. After having one of their surgeons treat my wound, the British volunteered to let me go. General Ross and Admiral Cockburn themselves came to visit me. Very fine gentlemen, I must say! General Ross was especially effusive with his praise for our gallant stand at Bladensburg."
Ball and the small crowd of artillerymen swelled with pride. But out of the corner of his eye, Sam saw Driscol scowling. The Scots-Irish lieutenant, clearly enough, thought the phrase "very fine gentlemen" fit English generals and admirals about as well as it would the devil himself. Driscol, unlike Sam-but very much like Andrew Jackson-positively hated the English.
"Oh, yes," Barney continued. "We chatted a bit, and then General Ross told me he was giving me parole, and I was at liberty to go either to Washington or to Baltimore. I chose Washington, and Captain Wainwright-another very fine gentleman-volunteered to see to it."
The commodore looked away from the little mob of his admiring artillerymen and brought Sam under his eyes.
"But enough of that! Who are you, Captain? And am I right in assuming that you intend to defend the Capitol?"
Sam took the questions in reverse order. "Uh, yes, sir. We do, indeed, plan to defend the Capitol. I'm Captain Sam Houston, from the Thirty-ninth U.S. Infantry. I'm on detached duty here in Washington, at the orders of General Andrew Jackson. Just arrived in the city this morning, as it happens."
Sam hesitated then, but only for a second. With another man, he might have left it at that. But Joshua Barney-his reputation even more than his clear and inquisitive gaze-required a full and honest answer. As a young naval officer, the commodore had been one of the new republic's heroes during the war for independence. Now in his fifties, his conduct during the current war had shown that the decades had not taken a toll on his spirit. So Sam continued.
"My rank as captain hasn't been approved yet, though, by the War Department."
"But it was approved by General Jackson. That should be good enough, I think." The commodore's shrewd eyes moved to Driscol. "And you, sir?"
"Lieutenant Patrick Driscol. I'm from General Brown's Army of the Niagara. General Scott's First Brigade." He lifted his left stump. "Lost this at the Chippewa, and I was in Baltimore recuperating when the word came of the British landing."
"So, naturally, you hurried down to join the fight." Barney lowered his head to the cushion, closing his eyes. For all his good spirits, the commodore was obviously still very weak. "God help a nation which can produce such splendid junior officers-and such a sorry lot of generals."
Both Sam and Driscol cleared their throats simultaneously. Still without opening his eyes, Barney smiled. "Oh, please, gentlemen. You can be certain that I exempt Generals Jackson, Brown, and Scott from that blanket condemnation. But, alas, they are elsewhere. Here we are blessed with such as General William Winder-and that arrogant ass Armstrong. Perhaps the only secretary of war one can imagine who would neglect the defenses of his own capital city."
Sam wasn't sure if that was outright insubordination on the commodore's part. Normally, of course, for an officer to publicly ridicule his superior authorities would be considered so. But Barney was in the navy, and thus fell under the command of Secretary of the Navy William Jones, not Armstrong. And he hadn't said anything sarcastic about President Madison.
Not that Sam cared, anyway.
"Be that as it may, sir, we still propose to defend the Capitol, whatever it takes."
Barney's eyes opened, staring at the domed roof of the chamber far above. His gaze moved from one to another of the multitude of square plateglass sunlights.
"The roof's pinewood, but it's clad in sheet-iron. Not many people know that." His eyes moved to the semicircular interior walls of the chamber and the fluted Corinthian columns above them. "Those are decorative, but the outer walls are worthy of the pharaohs. You may not be such a lunatic as you think, Captain Houston."
The commodore closed his eyes again. "Lunatic or not, however, you have my blessing. I'll not have the enemy come into the capital without bleeding on the way. I believe I am the senior officer present?"
"Very well. I'm too badly injured to participate in the fight personally-nor could I do so in good conscience in any event, given the terms of my parole. But my wound gives me an honorable way to remain here, so long as I take up no arms myself. And, in the meantime"-here he spoke loudly enough to be heard by any of the several hundred soldiers and sailors who had crowded their way into the chamber-"you have my full confidence and authority, Captain Houston. Do the best you can."
"Good God!" Rear Admiral George Cockburn exclaimed gaily, as he peered through his telescope. "Your captain was quite right. They do have a statue perched in one of the doorways. Great ugly thing, too." He lowered the telescope, chuckling. "One must grant this much to Cousin Jonathan-he certainly has a flair for the dramatic."
General Robert Ross wasn't going to let the matter slide so easily as all that. "And was Captain Wainwright also correct in his other observations?"
He already knew the answer to the question, since Ross possessed his own telescope. But the question served to remind Admiral Cockburn that the task which Cockburn had so breezily assured everyone would be as easy as a London promenade was proving more difficult by the moment-and, from Ross's viewpoint, it was bad enough already.
Since Cockburn's only response was a twist of the lips, Ross plowed on.
"It's all very well, Admiral Cockburn, to make sneering jests about Cousin Jonathan's capacity for headlong and panicky flight. But it wasn't your sailors who paid the butcher's bill at Bladensburg. It was my men-and the bill was disturbingly steep."
"We won handily, didn't we?"
Ross restrained his temper. "Oh, to be sure, all the historians will say so, when this is all over and done. A decisive victory, indeed. But historians don't pay butcher's bills either. Resounding victory or not, the fact remains that the American casualties at Bladensburg were light, and the casualties of my infantry brigades were anything but."
Cockburn avoided the general's hard gaze. Annoyed still more, Ross pressed home his point.
"It might be true that Cousin Jonathan is prone to panic-though there's always the hammering Riall took recently on the Niagara to prove that needn't be so. But American infantrymen are also liable to be remarkably good shots, for the few rounds they manage to fire before running away. And whatever the shortcomings of American infantry-do I need to tell an admiral this much?-we've been continually surprised since the war began at the professional level of American artillery. If the enemy infantry is often feckless, the artillery almost never is. Commodore Barney's men proved it once again at Bladensburg. They were as staunch as they were deadly, too. At the end, some of them had to be bayoneted with the fuses still in their hands."
What is it about sailors, Ross wondered, that seems to make it necessary for them to keep learning the same lessons, over and over again? Did the citrus juice in the drinking water pickle their brains?
By now, one would think, they would have learned how perilous it was to underestimate American gunnery. Mighty the British navy might be, compared to the tiny upstart rival that Cousin Jonathan had put to sea in the war. Still, in engagement after engagement, the Americans had demonstrated that their gunnery, if nothing else, was consistently superior to British.
Cockburn still hadn't answered the original question. Ross cleared his throat. "Did you hear me, Admiral?"
"Yes, yes," Cockburn replied, waving his hand impatiently. "Cousin Jonathan does have some guns up there, as well."
"Among which are two twelve-pounders. And are they as well fortified and positioned as Captain Wainwright stated?"
Cockburn simply shrugged. As always, the rear admiral wasn't a man to let minor impediments stand in the way of his enthusiasms.
"Please, General Ross! You know as well as I do that the forces holding those grotesque buildings can't be more than the shattered fragments of disparate units. They'll have neither leadership nor morale, be sure of it."
"I am sure of no such thing!" Ross snapped. Courtesy toward naval colleagues was well and good, but there were limits. Ross was a general who, for all his skill and capability, was solicitous toward his men. He was willing enough to lose soldiers for a good purpose, but he balked at doing so simply because a bloody admiral had a pet peeve and was an arrogant ass to boot.
Even the admiral's choice of terms betrayed his invariant bigotry. "Grotesque." Ross himself thought the Capitol was quite majestic in its design and appearance, even if he was rather amused by the fact. The pugnacious little American republic was every bit as prone to erect grandiose public structures as any king or emperor of Europe.
He pointed at the edifice in question. "No doubt the Capitol is now manned by men from disparate units. But where you do conclude from this that their leadership and morale are wanting? I conclude the exact opposite. Somebody had to have rallied those men, and the men themselves will be self-selected by the very process."
"It's Cousin Jonathan, for the love of God!" Cockburn snapped angrily. "A windbag gave a speech and empty heads were swayed by it. What else do you expect from a sorry lot of republicans?"
It was all Ross could do not to roll his eyes. Sorry lot of republicans, was it? Like the same republicans who, not so many years ago in France, had sent packing every monarchical army that attacked them? The same sorry lot of republicans who, less than three months earlier, had broken superior British forces at the Chippewa?
There were times he found Cockburn well-nigh insufferable.
Alas, while Ross had become Cockburn's superior as soon as British forces set foot on land, he was still subordinate to Admiral Cochrane. And, alas again, Cochrane had supported Cockburn every step of the way.
"The vice admiral wants those buildings taken, General Ross. Taken, then burnt to the ground."
Burnt to the ground- as if brick and stone were flammable substances! To be sure, Ross could wreck the Capitol, assuming he could take it in the first place. But without spending time and effort they couldn't afford to blow them up-not to mention a huge supply of powder, which they didn't possess either-there was no way that he could do more than have the buildings gutted by fire. If Cousin Jonathan was skilled enough to have erected that magnificent structure in the first place, he would certainly have it rebuilt soon enough after the British left.
And leave they would-and none too quickly to suit Ross. This raid concocted by admirals never would have worked at all if the American secretary of war hadn't been astonishingly slack at preparing his capital city against attack. In that regard, if nothing else, Ross would allow that the Navy's intelligence had been quite accurate.
Still, not even the admirals thought the British forces who had landed on the shores of Chesapeake Bay could possibly hold the area for any length of time. Cockburn and Ross had only a few thousand men under their command. By now, American reinforcements would be pouring toward Washington. Within a few days, if they didn't extricate themselves, the British would be swamped and forced to surrender.
Ross tightened his jaws with exasperation. The sole purpose of this flamboyant raid was to "make a demonstration." Of what? the general wondered. British talent for arson?
"Do you hear me, General?"
"Yes, I heard you, Admiral Cockburn."
"Look on the bright side, Robert," Cockburn said, smiling again. He pointed toward Ross's army. "We must outnumber them by at least three to one, even leaving aside the gross disparity in training and professionalism."
That… was true enough. Even Ross found some comfort, following the admiral's pointing finger. His soldiers were taking up their formations with experienced ease and skill. The red-coated ranks and files, with their shakos high and their bayonets higher still, seemed to ooze with confidence.
The problem was the terrain, combined with the solidity of the Capitol. For all practical purposes, the houses of the American legislature were a ready-made fortress. If Ross were meeting the enemy on an open field, he knew full well he'd brush them aside. But his own long experience in the peninsular campaign and other theaters in Europe had taught him just how difficult it could be to storm a fortress held by resolute and well-armed men. Disparity in number and skill be damned.
However, there was nothing for it. The attempt had to be made.
He took a long, deep breath. Then: "Very well. I'll order the assault."
" Are they mad? " General Winder bellowed. "I gave explicit orders for all units to abandon the capital and regroup here in Georgetown!"
His eyes ranged wildly about the tavern where he and several of the nation's cabinet had set up a temporary headquarters. More in the way of a momentary resting place, actually for the secretaries of war and the treasury.
President Madison and his cabinet had called a hasty emergency meeting at the president's mansion, after the disaster at Bladensburg. They had determined that the nation's executives would quickly disperse, lest the British invaders capture them all at one swoop. Madison, accompanied by Secretary of the Navy Jones and Attorney General Richard Rush, had already left Georgetown. His intended destination was Wiley's Tavern, some sixteen miles to the northwest, where the president's wife, Dolley, awaited him.
Secretary of War Armstrong and Secretary of the Treasury George Campbell had been about to leave the tavern when word arrived that forces of the United States were making a stand at the Capitol. They'd delayed their departure in order to discuss this unexpected turn of events with General Winder and Secretary of State Monroe.
"Who is in command over there?" Winder demanded. "I'll have him shot for insubordination and treason!"
Armstrong exchanged glances with James Monroe, who was sitting across the table from him. Despite the smoke and dim lighting in the tavern, Monroe's expression was clear enough. The secretary of state's tight jaws made it obvious that, had he the authority, he would be more inclined to have General Winder placed before that firing squad.
So would Armstrong himself, for that matter. He was a ruined man, and he knew it. He would accept responsibility for neglecting the capital's defenses, for which, in truth, he'd done little more than create the impressively named "Tenth Military District." But of all the poor decisions the secretary of war regretted, the one he regretted the most was having made William Winder the commanding general of the newly formed district.
It had seemed a clever enough idea, at the time. A former general himself, Armstrong hadn't really expected the British to attack the capital in the first place. So what did it matter which officer was placed in charge?
Armstrong still didn't understand the military logic behind their operation, in fact, since Baltimore offered a far more suitable target.
Rational or not, though, the British had chosen to attack Washington instead of Baltimore. General Winder had made a complete hash of the business, as one might expect from a man whose only previous military accomplishment had been his ignominious capture at the battle of Stoney Creek. Giving command of the Tenth Military District to Winder had seemed a sensible way at the time to enlist the political support of Maryland for strengthening the defenses of Baltimore. William Winder was a prominent attorney in Baltimore; better still, his uncle Levin Winder was the governor of Maryland. But Armstrong was deeply regretting that decision now.
All in the past.
"I can't undermine him now, James," Armstrong murmured softly to the secretary of state. "Bad as Winder might be, to shred the military chain of command under these circumstances would create the worst situation possible."
Monroe glared at Winder. The general took no notice, since he was far too preoccupied with roaring outrage and indignation and shouting threats of bloody punishment to be paying any attention to the cabinet members who were whispering at their table in the corner.
"You told him yourself the Capitol would make a splendid fortress," Monroe hissed to Armstrong. "And I agreed with you. Just a short time ago, when we all met there after that farce at Bladensburg."
Armstrong shrugged uncomfortably. True, he had. The fact had been obvious to anyone with real military experience. It had been equally obvious to Monroe, who'd fought in the Revolution. But Winder had been on the verge of hysteria, after Bladensburg, and Armstrong hadn't felt it possible to press the matter.
"What difference would it have made?" he asked Monroe softly. "Yes, the Capitol would have been a fine place to make a stand-but not under Winder. Certainly not in the condition he was in at the time. What was I to do, James? Relieve him on the spot? And who should I have replaced him with?"
Monroe sighed. "Curse the luck that Winfield Scott's wounds proved too grave for him to take the post."
Armstrong nodded. The brilliant young brigadier had been everyone's first choice for commander of the Tenth Military District. Unfortunately, the injuries Scott had received at Lundy's Lane were taking months to heal. The brigadier was still recuperating in New Jersey.
"We do what we can, James. The question that now faces us, is: What do we do?"
General Winder's bellows provided one answer.
"I'll have him shot! I swear I will! What is his name?"
A hesitant voice answered. It was the accountant, Simmons. "Huston, I believe. I'm not sure of his first name, General. Sam, maybe. He's got some wild injuns with him, too. Frightful-looking creatures."
"Well then, General Sam Huston will go before the wall! See if he won't!"
Armstrong frowned. He had a good memory for names, and there was no General Huston serving in the U.S. Army. Nor in any of the state militias, as far as he knew. And what would a group of Indians be doing accompanying a general, anyway?
He cocked at inquisitive eye at one of his secretaries, seated at the same table. The efficient young man was already flipping through the files he'd salvaged from the War Department.
"Huston, Huston," the clerk muttered. "There's no Huston of any rank in-oh, wait."
The clerk looked up. "There is an officer by the name of Sam Houston, sir. From Tennessee. He's in the Thirty-ninth Infantry, and apparently conducted himself very well at the Horseshoe Bend. But he's certainly not a general. "
"What is he, then?"
The clerk looked back down at the file. "Well, there's some question about that. Technically, he's just an ensign. General Jackson gave him a field promotion to captain, but the recommendation hasn't yet been approved by the War Department."
Armstrong almost laughed at that, despite the circumstances. One of Jackson's frontier roughnecks, and an ensign to boot! It figured, though. Say what you would about Andrew Jackson, the man was a fighter. Had he been in command of the Tenth Military District, the British would have had to contest every inch of soil from the minute they landed.
Monroe and Armstrong looked at each other for a long moment. They weren't on good terms personally. None of the Virginians in Madison's cabinet had much of a liking for the secretary of war, who'd been a New York senator. Most of that was just typical Virginian clannishness, Armstrong supposed, though he'd allow that some of it was due to his own abrasive personality.
That, too, was all in the past. Armstrong's political career was finished. He'd be the one who'd take most of the blame for the disaster here, of that he was certain.
All that remained was to salvage what he could of his own honor.
"I can't undermine Winder, James," he repeated softly. "Until we've formally replaced him, we have to leave him in charge. At least publicly. Or we'll have pure chaos."
He gave Monroe a long look from lowered brows. It might almost be called an accusatory gaze; it was certainly a challenging one.
"That's because I'm the secretary of war, and therefore his direct superior. You, however, are not." With that, his voice took on a challenging note, and he peered expectantly at Monroe.
Who, in turn, stared back at Armstrong. Then, looked away for a few seconds. Then, looked back.
"Can you keep him distracted?"
Armstrong smiled thinly. "Oh, yes, James. That I can do. With Winder, it's not even difficult."
Monroe nodded. "I'll be off, then."
The secretary of state rose from the table and moved as quickly as he could toward the tavern entrance, without moving so quickly that Winder might notice his departure.
No fear of that, really. Winder was now bellowing the details of the firing squad, down to the caliber of the muskets. Armstrong watched him for a while. It seemed, under the circumstances, as good a distraction for the general as any.
Outside, in the tavern courtyard, a servant brought up Monroe's horse.
"On to Frederick now, sir?" asked the lieutenant in charge of the small force of dragoons who escorted the secretary of state.
"No. We're going back into the city. The Capitol, to be precise."
Since John Ross had no idea what he should be doing, he simply attached himself to Sam Houston. He trotted along with him as the young maybe-captain charged back and forth from the House to the Senate to the artillery battery emplaced between the two and gave speech after speech.
Houston was a superb speechifyer, too. Even a Cherokee like Ross, accustomed to the eloquence of chiefs' councils, was impressed.
John had no idea if Houston was citing the quotations from the Iliad properly. He'd read the poem, once, but he certainly hadn't impressed it to memory. On the other hand, it hardly mattered. John was quite sure that none of the soldiers manning the Capitol had memorized the poem, either, so who could argue the matter?
And if Sam's rendition of the Iliad was his own half-remembered words instead of those of Pope, then the breezy youngster from Tennessee was something of a poet himself.
Shall I my prize resign
With tame content, and thou possess'd of thine?
Great as thou art, and like a god in fight,
Think not to rob me of a soldier's right.
It sounded splendid in the House of Representatives, regardless of whose words they actually were. And it seemed to lift the spirits of the men.
When he said as much to Houston, as they hurried across to the Senate, Sam just grinned at him.
"Not too appropriate a citation, perhaps. They were disputing over a captured woman, you know, not a nation's capital. But it seemed suitable to the occasion, so long as I kept it to a few lines."
Suddenly the grin was replaced by a frown. "Speaking of women, where is Tiana now?"
It was John's turn to grin. For all the martial speeches, the only actual battle Houston had fought so far had been his desperate struggle to keep Tiana Rogers from accompanying him everywhere he went. Partly because he was worried about her safety; partly because Tiana would inevitably distract the men; but mostly, he confided to Ross, because he was in enough trouble as it was. If Tiana remained at his side during the battle, the gossip would have it afterward that she was his concubine. So fornication would be added to the charges of treason and insubordination!
Americans were odd, John mused, when it came to sex. Cherokees were far more rational on the subject. Marriage was taken seriously among them, and adultery was frowned upon, of course. But it was also taken more or less for granted that energetic and curious youngsters would inevitably do what they would do, and where was the harm? Granted, such a relaxed attitude was easier for a matrilineal society than one that, like the American, granted ridiculous authority to fathers and husbands.
"Bastardy," an obsession for the whites, was almost a meaningless term for Cherokees. A child's place came from the mother's position, not the father's.
"She's sulking in her tent, I imagine," John replied.
Sam flashed another grin. But they were already striding into the Senate, and it was time for another speech.
"And will we be become one with the Trojans, boys?" Sam bellowed, gesturing to the soldiers.
"My heroes slain, my bridal bed o'erturned,
My daughters ravished, and my city burn'd,
My bleeding infants dash'd against the floor-"
"No, sir! No, sir!" came the responding roar.
The exclamation, coming unexpectedly out of the shadows, literally made Henry Crowell jump. Except for a few lamps here and there, there was no illumination in the cavernous foundry at night.
Not this night, anyway. On some other nights, in the past, work crews laboring on a rush order would have kept the foundry lit just by the nature of their work. In years past, Henry had put in a fair number of sixteen-hour days himself.
He peered into the darkness. That voice…
"Is that you, Mr. Kendall?"
A figure came from behind one of the furnaces, dressed in heavy work clothes, a musket in his hands. "Yes, it's me all right. What are you doing here, Henry?"
Kendall's voice wasn't quite suspicious, and the musket wasn't quite pointing directly at him. Still, Henry figured a quick explanation was in order.
"I was sent here by Captain Houston, Mr. Kendall. Me and"-he turned and gestured behind him-"these other men."
Henry had been the first one through the door, and he was relieved to see Pendleton coming forward. Even in the poor lighting, the young volunteer's uniform was flamboyantly visible.
"The captain's in charge of the Capitol's defense," Henry elaborated. "He instructed me and these Baltimore dragoons to come to the foundry and see if we could find some ammunition and shot. Maybe some ordnance, too."
He completed the introductions. "Corporal, this here is Mr. David Kendall. He used to be my foreman, when I worked at Foxall's."
By now, Kendall was relaxing. He even seemed pleased to see them. He leaned the musket against a pillar and slapped his hands together. "Defend the Capitol! Yes, you'll need some shot and powder for that. Be right down magged without it!"
He turned and headed toward the interior of the foundry, waving for Henry to follow. "I've got better, too. There's a couple of three-pounders just finished and ready. You can take them back with you."
Even with his limp, Kendall soon outdistanced the men who were following him. It had been several years since Henry had worked in Foxall's, and he'd half forgotten the complicated layout of the place. There were too many half-seen obstructions for him to want to risk getting bruised-or worse. The only soft thing in a foundry is human flesh.
"He seems to like you well enough," Pendleton commented. "Lucky thing, eh?"
Henry shook his head. "Well, I suppose he ought to. He got that limp some years ago when a blank rolled onto his leg. Liked to have crushed it completely, 'cept I picked up one end of it so's he could get out from under."
Pendleton looked puzzled. "Blank?"
"One of them." Henry pointed at a solid bar of iron they were moving past. It was over six inches in diameter and several feet long.
Pendleton ogled the thing. "That must weigh…"
"Don't know how much, exactly. A lot. Thought my back would break by the end."
Now Pendleton was ogling him.
"I'm powerful strong," Henry said, half apologetically.
He needed that strength, later. One of the three-pounders got stuck while the dragoons tried to haul it out through the dark foundry, after they fit it onto its carriage. Henry freed the wheel by the simple expedient of lifting it up.
"Remind me not to arm-wrestle you," Pendleton murmured.
Kendall barked a laugh. "I can't remember anybody being dumb enough to arm-wrestle him since the first week he started working here. How old was you then, Henry?"
"Sixteen, Mr. Kendall."
"Well, you haven't lost it, even living that easy new life of yours as a teamster." He patted Henry's heavy shoulder and gave the dragoons a friendly nod. "Good luck, boys, and do the best you can."
Before he'd gone more than two blocks, two well-dressed, middle-aged white civilians armed with muskets accosted Henry on the lead wagon. The only real trouble came after they left the foundry.
"What're you doing, boy?" demanded one of them.
Henry didn't need to answer. Pendleton trotted his horse forward, holding up his own musket and glowering as fiercely as a youngster can.
"You there! We're on official military business!" he snapped. "Now move out of the way!"
Seeing other dragoons coming up behind him, as well as two more wagons, the civilians backed off. One of them, however, didn't move quite fast enough to suit Pendleton.
"Keep dawdling like that," he snarled, "and we'll make you arm-wrestle Henry here."
"You'll look good," another dragoon commented, "your arm in a sling. All busted up the way it'll be."
Tiana wasn't sulking in her tent. In fact, she wasn't sulking at all.
Not any longer, anyway.
She'd given in to Sam's demands that she remain behind while he dashed to and fro rallying the soldiers. No sooner had he left, however, than her sullen resentment had turned impish.
Houston had told her and the other children-as if she were a "child"!-to remain in the Senate. So, naturally, as soon as he had left with John Ross in tow, she led them across to the House of Representatives. Even Sequoyah didn't argue the matter. She thought he was a bit disgruntled himself, at being left out of the battle.
It had been a fortunate move, even if driven only by rebellious impulse. In the Senate, she and the Ridge children had just been underfoot. But, once in the House, she discovered Commodore Barney, lying wounded on his settee. The small mob of admirers who had earlier surrounded the commodore was gone, and he was looking a bit forlorn. He was obviously in considerable pain, too, now that the excitement of his arrival was past.
Tiana needed something to keep her mind off the coming battle. So she decided to tend to the commodore's injuries.
The man seemed surprised-even a bit shocked-by the easy and casual manner in which she went about the business. Why? she wondered. Injuries, even injuries taken in battle, were messy and undignified by their very nature. The scars to come would be suitable objects for boasting, but the open wounds themselves were simply ugly.
"They did a good job," she pronounced, after lacing and buttoning the commodore back up. "I don't care for that poultice, but I suppose it'll do."
"You speak English?" he asked, still rather wide-eyed.
Tiana snorted, then muttered something in Cherokee.
"I'm sorry, lass. I didn't understand that."
Tiana decided the mutter was probably best left untranslated.
"Of course I speak English, Commodore. I can read it, too. My father's a Scotsman, and he's hardly the only one in my family tree. Many Cherokees speak English."
She pointed to the Ridge children. "They can read and speak the language, too. They've been studying with the Moravians."
Barney's eyes moved to the youngsters. Nancy Ridge smiled shyly. John Ridge and Buck Watie just looked solemn.
"Indeed." The commodore cleared his throat. "A day of many surprises for me, then-or perhaps I should say, considerable learning."
He looked back at Tiana. "What are you doing here, if I might ask, in the company of Captain Houston?"
Tiana stood up, grinning. "Major Ridge-he's one of our chiefs and the father of John and Nancy here-wanted his children to get a better American education. So he asked Sam to bring them to Washington with him and find them a proper school. I came because… Well, I felt like it."
Like a small whirlwind, Sam Houston and John Ross came blowing into the chamber, followed by a gaggle of soldiers who seemed to be serving them as an escort. Sam's eyebrows went up a bit, seeing Tiana and the children in the chamber, but-wisely-he just went on his way. Tiana could hear him start speechifying again as soon as he left. His booming voice penetrated back into the chamber from one of the adjoining rooms.
"To human force and human skill the field:
Dark show'rs of javelins fly from foes to foes;
Now here, now there, the tide of combat flows-"
"Does that silly chatter really do any good?" Tiana wondered.
The commodore smiled. "Oh, yes, lass. A great deal, in fact. Not so much the words-never much liked Homer myself, the truth be told-but just the fact that he's spouting them so surely. Terror is the great enemy, in a battle. The first duty of a commander is to slay the monster, which is what your fine young captain is about. And doing splendidly well at it."
Tiana shook her head dubiously. "I'd think-"
She fell silent. Another officer had come into the chamber. This one, with a pace that could be better described as that of the tides.
She met his eyes across the room. Quite pale in color, those eyes had been earlier, when she'd seen them in the sunlight. Now, lit only by the lamps in the chamber, they seemed very dark.
The darkness was the truer color. Asga siti, that man was. More so than even Major Ridge, she thought.
An American girl might have been repelled by that knowledge. Tiana, Cherokee, was not. In the end, nations lived and died by such men.
So she met his gaze calmly and levelly. It was he who looked away.
Ha! He was attracted to her! That was…
Barney's eyes had now moved to the new arrival, as well.
"Lieutenant Driscol," he said. "What a great pleasure to see you here."
Commodore Barney knew very little about Lieutenant Patrick Driscol, beyond the man's name. But he was far too experienced a commander not to recognize what he was, just from watching the way the lieutenant had carried himself thus far.
A great pleasure, indeed. There wasn't a single naval engagement Barney had won in the war of independence-he'd fought thirty-five, in all, and been defeated only five times-that hadn't, in the end, been won because of men such as Driscol. If captains like Houston could rally a broken army, it was only because lieutenants like Driscol provided it with a spine that had remained intact. The Driscols of the world could be beaten, surely. Broken, never.
Barney gestured toward the man, inviting him to approach. It was obvious that the lieutenant had entered the chamber for that very purpose, although Barney glanced up at Tiana, and suppressed a smile. Now that he was here, clearly enough, the good lieutenant had found another item of interest in the place. Even if he was doing his level best not to make it evident.
Driscol came forward, to stand beside the settee.
"May I be of any assistance, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, sir. It's the rockets, Commodore. I was wondering about them."
The lieutenant looked a bit embarrassed, for an instant, the way a master craftsman might when he is forced to confess that he lacks a certain bit of knowledge concerning his own trade.
"It's simply that I've never faced them, sir. The Congreves are a newfangled device, and we never had to deal with them on the continent when I was in the French army. Nor did Riall have any at the Chippewa. But they started using them at Lundy's Lane, and I've heard that Cockburn and Ross seem to have brought shiploads of the things."
The continent. That explained a great deal.
"You were serving with the emperor, I take it?"
Driscol nodded. "Aye, sir. For a goodly number of years."
Barney nodded, then extended a hand toward Tiana. "Help me up, would you, lass?"
A moment later, he was sitting erect. Tiana's grip surprised him with its strength. He was even more surprised at the instant way she acceded to his request. A white girl would have wasted time insisting he was too weak to move.
"Don't worry yourself about the rockets, Lieutenant, at least not beyond the question of morale. The truth? Congreves are frightening, when you first encounter them, but their effect is almost entirely upon the mind. As actual weapons, they don't amount to much."
Driscol's blocky face showed no expression at all. "I'd come to suspect as much, from the accounts I'd heard. Inaccurate, I take it?"
Barney chuckled. "If I was one of the men firing them, I'd be as concerned that the blasted things might decide to land on me as on the enemy. Not to mention the fact that they're bloody dangerous to fire in the first place. From what I've seen, they're far more likely to blow up in your face than even the most poorly made cannon."
Driscol and Barney simultaneously scanned the chamber. They were both gauging the walls that lay beneath the fancy trappings.
"The rockets have no real breaching power, either," Barney stated. "To take the Capitol, firmly defended, the British would be far better off with some real siege guns. But I saw no such at Bladensburg."
The stump of Driscol's left arm twitched, as if he'd begun an old gesture that was now impossible. A moment later, with a rueful little smile on his face, the lieutenant brought up his right hand to scratch his chin.
"The big guns from a ship of the line would do the trick," he commented. "But can you imagine the difficulty of taking such out of a ship, and hauling them here all the way from the coast?"
Barney smiled. "I'm a naval officer myself, Lieutenant Driscol. That's not a chore I'd want to be assigned, for a surety." He shook his head. "No, I don't think you need worry about siege guns. As I said, I saw none at Bladensburg. In fact, I saw little proper artillery at all in the possession of the enemy. Just a barrage of Congreves. Less than a handful of field pieces-two three-pounders and one six-pounder, nothing more."
His good humor faded. "Mind you, the Congreves did quite well when it came to panicking our troops. But that was on an open field, with little enough in the way of shelter. Worst of all, of course, was that our top command was-"
He cleared his throat. "Well. Inadequate to the task, let's say."
Barney peered up at Driscol. The lieutenant was not tall, but he seemed as wide and solid as an old oak.
"I daresay that won't be a problem here."
Driscol's answering smile was a cool thing, just barely this side of cold.
"No, sir. That'll not be a problem here. Captain Houston's not got much in the way of experience, but he's stalwart-and I believe I'll be able to make good his lack when it comes to the rest."
"Yes, I imagine you will." Barney glanced around the chamber again. "It's possible that one of the rockets might by great poor chance come through one of the windows-and then, by still greater poor chance, explode at that very inopportune moment. If so, you'll suffer some bad casualties. But even then, the havoc will be confined to one room of the building."
Driscol nodded. "I've already seen to a surgery, sir. As it happens, there were several doctors among the Baltimore volunteers. Enough to staff surgeries in both wings of the Capitol."
"Proper doctors, is it?" The commodore decided to keep his true feelings to himself. "Well. That'll bolster the men's confidence."
From the momentary look that flashed across the lieutenant's face, Barney suspected that Driscol shared his own low opinion of "proper doctors." In truth, for all that the Cherokee girl's immodesty had startled Barney, he was rather inclined to think that her savage Indian methods of medicine were less likely to produce bad results than those of educated white doctors. For many years now, Barney had noted that the death rate of wounded men taken to a hospital was worse than it was when they were tended on an open field, or even left to their own self-treatment.
"Humours," the doctors claimed, were at the bottom of all illness and disease. If so, Barney was convinced, the "humours" which seemed to follow doctors around were worse than any other.
Lieutenant Ross came in, this time alone. "Captain Houston would like to see you, Lieutenant. He thinks the enemy are beginning their attack."
Driscol departed at once. Barney was pleased, but not surprised, to see the way the man moved-with a tread that covered ground swiftly, but still seemed sure, rather than hurried or nervous. The commodore knew that tread, allowing for the difference between one learned on soil and one learned on a rolling ship's deck. Just so had he himself moved, in times past, when battle loomed.
"Damned if I don't think we'll win this thing," he said softly to himself. "And wouldn't that be a wonder, to save a day I'd thought already lost in ignominy."
The pain and weariness threatened to overwhelm him, now. He gave Tiana a pleading look, and within seconds she had him lowered back on the settee. She was a very graceful girl, he thought, as well as a strong one.
"When this is over," he murmured, "I'll speak to some people I know. I'm quite sure a good school can be found for the children."
Tiana's expression bore a sudden undertone of anger. Barney chuckled. "Oh, please, girl. For you, of course, something more suitable would have to be arranged."
That seemed to mollify her.
But what? he wondered, closing his eyes. There was a notable shortage of finishing schools for Amazons. Nary a single one, as far as he knew.
He heard a familiar hissing sound, muted by the walls, but quite audible nonetheless.
"Well, it's started," he said.
"Are those the Congreve rockets you and the lieutenant were talking about?" asked one of the Cherokee boys.
"Oh, yes. Nasty-sounding things, aren't they? But don't be afraid."
"I'm not!" insisted the lad stoutly. "Just curious."
The commodore didn't believe that for an instant. He himself, for all his experience, had been a little shaken by the dragon fire when he first encountered it. But the boy seemed to believe it, which was all that really mattered.
Joshua Barney couldn't have recited a single verse of the Iliad to save his life or soul. Yet he had no doubt at all that, thousands of years earlier, boys in bronze armor standing atop and in front of the walls of Troy had assured themselves that they were really not afraid.
All lies, of course. But lies that they made true, because they believed them.
All traces of twilight were gone by the time Monroe and his escort reached the president's mansion. But, even in the dark of night, it was impossible to miss the Capitol. That would have been true even if the Naval Yard hadn't been burning like an inferno. A barrage of rockets was blazing down upon the seat of the nation's legislature, adding its own flaring illumination. Clearly enough, the British had decided to soften up the defenses by a bombardment, before trying to storm them.
"Are you certain about this, sir?" asked the lieutenant. The young officer nodded nervously toward the Capitol. "Be a risky business, that, trying to get in."
James Monroe hesitated, before he answered. Now that the task of smuggling his way into a fortress under siege was actually at hand, he found himself hesitating a bit. What sane man wouldn't?
On the other hand, ambition and honor impelled him powerfully forward.
Ambition, because as secretary of state he was widely considered President Madison's logical successor. Armstrong would take the blame for this disaster. If Monroe took his stand with the men defending the Capitol, he would come out of it smelling like the proverbial rose. Assuming he survived, of course. But that was always a risk for one who chose to lead a nation.
Even more, there was honor at stake, too. In the end, perhaps, the survival of the nation itself. Monarchs and their courtiers might flee their capitals easily enough, because their legitimacy was a matter of blood. But if no leading elected official of a republic placed himself beside the valiant junior officers who were resisting the enemy in that republic's very capital, when given the chance, could such a republic deserve the name at all?
"Yes, I'm quite sure. Lead the way, Lieutenant-and quickly. If we arrive before the British fully launch their assault, we should be able to make an entry through one of the western doors."
The moment Driscol emerged onto the open area between the twin buildings of the Capitol and looked across the ground to the east, he knew that the Sassenach were, indeed, forming up for the attack.
Even in the relative darkness, they were an impressive sight. The scarlet uniforms weren't bright, of course, the way they would have been in daylight. But the martial color was clear enough, in the red glow reflected from the low clouds that now covered the sky. The huge, flickering flames from the Navy Yard reflected off the metal trimmings and the gun barrels and the brassards on the shakos, making the assembled force seem even more menacing than it would in daylight.
There was something demonic about the appearance of that half-visible army threatening the Capitol; as if those lobster uniforms were filled with great clawed monsters in fact, instead of men.
Driscol took a deep breath, as he always did before a battle in which he faced British soldiers. He needed that breath, to still an old terror. The very first time he'd seen that sight had been on the road from Randallstown, where the Sassenach had broken the men of County Antrim. Sixteen years old, he'd been that day, armed with nothing better than a pike.
He'd spent the night that followed hiding in the fields, while the British hunted down the United Irishmen and slaughtered them without mercy. Prisoners, the wounded-the Sassenach had murdered them all, and dumped the corpses in a sandpit. One of the bodies had been that of Driscol's older brother.
As always, that one deep breath was enough. His eyes ranged the artillery battery, taking satisfaction in what he saw. The guns themselves were manned by Barney's sailors, which meant he'd have no fear that they'd be handled fumblingly. Nor were these men who would be wondering how soon they should flee.
Better still, the space between the guns was occupied by naval marines. Captain Samuel Miller had led those marines at Bladensburg, and by all accounts they'd acquitted themselves as well as Barney's artillery. There were close to a hundred of them-almost the entirety of Miller's unit, in fact, except those who had been killed or wounded at the earlier encounter.
Unfortunately, Miller himself had been one of those wounded at the battle, so he was not present. But the marines had fallen immediately into practiced formations, and they were accustomed to working closely with Barney's gunners.
So Driscol left them to their own devices. He'd been far more concerned with organizing and steadying the soldiers who'd taken positions inside the two buildings. Those soldiers, sheltered by the walls of the Capitol, were in considerably less danger than the artillerymen and marines. But they had nothing like the experience of the veterans manning the big guns.
Houston came trotting over, the moment he spotted Driscol, with John Ross just a step or two behind him. He looked concerned, but no more so than any commander making his preparations on a battlefield. Driscol couldn't detect so much as a trace of fear in the captain's face.
He wasn't really surprised. He'd learned enough of Houston's actions at the Horseshoe Bend to know that, whatever weaknesses the captain might have, lack of courage was certainly not among them. Driscol had participated in enough headlong frontal assaults in his life to know what it took for a man to be the first over the wall in the face of enemy fire. In sixteen years of almost continual warfare, Driscol had managed the feat only twice. Houston had done it in his very first battle.
"What d'you think, Patrick?" Houston asked as he came up to him. "How soon should we open fire?"
Driscol glanced at Charles Ball, who was standing by the twelve-pounder on the House side of the battery emplacement. In the darkness, it was impossible to discern the black artilleryman's expression, but something about his stance practically quivered exasperation. Houston must have been pestering the poor man since he first spotted the enemy assembling for the attack.
"Might I suggest, sir, that you leave that decision to Ball and his men. They know what they're doing."
Houston looked a bit confused. "But shouldn't I be the one to give the command?"
"Oh, certainly, sir. But the way this works, you see" -here anyway, he told himself-"is that Mr. Ball will give you the meaningful eye, and then you solemnly instruct him to do what he plans to do anyway."
Houston peered over at Ball. "I see. Well, that makes sense."
"And, ah…" Driscol cleared his throat.
Houston grinned in response. "Oh, Patrick, please. I assure you I'm not really a fool, even if I've been charging all over foisting citations from the Iliad on people as if they were patent medicine. I won't pester Charles any longer. I promise."
For such relaxed good sense, a reward seemed in order. "It's perfectly acceptable, of course-when Ball lets you know the time has come-for you to bellow the order in a fine Homeric manner."
"Oh, good. I was looking forward to that. And where will you be, if I need you?"
"It's hard to say, sir. Wherever the troops seem to be the shakiest."
Houston nodded. "You'll have McParland with you, of course. If I might make a suggestion of my own, why don't you ask James and John Rogers to join you, as well?" He pointed to his left. "They're right over there, lurking in the shadows out of old habit. Just tell them I sent you."
Driscol cocked his head a bit, in a questioning gesture.
"Just trust me, Patrick. Whatever McParland can't manage in the way of intimidation, they will. And if it comes to fighting hand to hand-I'll be blunt here-you've only got one arm left. The Rogers brothers will make good the lack. Especially James."
Driscol looked down at his stump. He suddenly realized that he hadn't given that any real thought at all. To be sure, he was right-handed, and he had a pistol stuffed in his waistband. But that was good for only one shot. How was a one-armed man to reload the bloody thing in the middle of a melee?
His eyes moved to the shadows against the wall of the House. He hadn't even spotted the two Cherokees there. That wasn't because of their skin color, which wasn't really all that much darker than a white man's. Like their half sister Tiana, the Rogers brothers probably had as much Scot as Cherokee ancestry.
It was because they were completely still. Even now, when he was trying to spot them, he could barely do so.
For a moment, Driscol felt a little disoriented. His experience at gauging fighting men was extensive, and based on long-standing experience. But he now realized that, as with his missing arm, he'd been blind to what should have been obvious. True, those two Indians might not be of much use standing in a line, armed with muskets. But if the British breached the walls, and the affair was reduced to a desperate business in the rooms and corridors of the Capitol…
"I'll do so, sir. And thank you."
A sudden hissing sound burst upon them from the east, accompanied by a flare of light. Turning their heads, they saw the first volley of rockets coming toward them.
It was as good a time and place as any to find out if the commodore was right. So Driscol never moved. Never so much as twitched a finger. Beside him, Houston did the same, taking his cue from the lieutenant. So did John Ross.
They're certainly spectacular-looking things, Driscol thought, during the few seconds it took the Congreves to make the flight. The sight and sound of them was positively fearsome. But The rockets began landing, those of them that hadn't exploded in the air from short fuses.
– impressive looking and sounding was just about the limit of it. One of the rockets landed not far from the six-pounder, on the northern end of the battery. But as well protected as the battery now was, by the breastworks, the burst caused nothing in the way of casualties, and there was no harm to the gun.
Two others managed to impact the walls of the Senate. By sheer luck, one exploded just as it hit the wall, but it didn't do any real damage beyond shaking loose some of the sandstone cladding. The other one exploded prematurely, so that what hit the walls were simply bits of rocket debris. With walls like that, the British might as well have been throwing pebbles.
There was another rocket that hit the corner of the House, but it caromed off harmlessly into the darkness and exploded a few seconds later, after it had landed on open ground.
Most of the rockets accomplished nothing. Some of them landed far short, others veered wildly to the side, and two sailed over the Capitol entirely.
"Sound and fury, signifying nothing," Houston murmured.
"Is that from the Iliad as well, sir?"
"No, Lieutenant. It's from Shakespeare's Macbeth. "
"Didn't know they had rockets in his day."
"I don't believe they did. But he was more or less meditating on the folly of excessive ambition. I only saw the play performed once, and I suspect the troupe which put it on took some liberties with the text. But I liked that line, and I looked it up later in a copy I found in the possession of a traveling salesman. That line is in the play. I couldn't find the horse race anywhere, though. Or the bearbaiting scene."
The British fired another volley of rockets. Driscol decided that a pleasant literary discussion, conducted in the midst of a rocket cannonade, would have a splendid effect on the troops. Several hundred of them now had their heads sticking out of the windows. And while many were ogling the oncoming rockets, most of them were anxiously watching to see how Houston and Driscol and Ross were behaving.
So he turned away from the oncoming rockets and ignored them completely.
"I've never seen a horse race-much less a bearbaiting-performed on a stage. That sounds rather hard on the flooring."
Houston laughed-and, to Driscol's complete satisfaction, he was still laughing when the second volley of rockets began to land. "Oh, it wasn't performed on a stage. They held it at the race grounds in Nashville. Horse racing is all the rage in Tennessee, you know."
"Cherokees are fond of the sport, too," Ross chimed in. "Not as fond as we are of our ball game, of course."
Out of the corner of his eye, Driscol saw a third volley fired.
"That's quite fascinating," he stated, as if he cared passionately about the entertainment habits of frontiersmen and Indians.
Houston turned to face Driscol squarely now, leaning over the shorter man as if they were both engrossed in conversation. As a display of what the French called sangfroid, it was as good as any Driscol had ever seen on the part of a commander in battle.
Twenty-one years old. Great God, what this man could accomplish with his life! And probably the same for Ross, who's not much older.
Some distance to the east, General Robert Ross lowered his telescope. Then, took a long, slow breath.
This would be no Bladensburg-and Bladensburg had been costly enough.
He hadn't been able to make out the features of the three figures in the distance who seemed to be the American commanders. Even in full daylight, he couldn't have done so. But there'd been enough illumination to make their comportment obvious.
With officers like that to lead them, Ross had no great hope that a simple headlong charge would rattle the enemy enough to send them scampering. He'd been able to do it at Bladensburg because the few stalwart units among the American forces had been left isolated on the open field, after most of their fellow soldiers were routed. Eventually, they'd had no choice but to retreat.
Here, with a fortress to shelter them…
Still worse, he was reasonably sure that the soldiers who'd been rallied at the Capitol were stalwart units, in the main. Ross had rallied troops himself, in the past, and that was almost invariably the pattern.
"Damn all admirals and their cocksure schemes," he muttered under his breath.
But there was nothing for it. Ross had proposed a flanking attack, but Cockburn had objected-and given Admiral Cochrane's support for this expedition, Ross hadn't felt it possible simply to override the objection.
"A flanking attack? That'll take half the night! No, no, Robert-just roll right over the bastards. A few volleys of the Congreves and one staunch charge, and it'll be all over. Cousin Jonathan will be scampering up Pennsylvania Avenue and we'll follow him to burn their president's mansion."
Nothing for it.
Ross took another deep breath and turned his head. "Send forward the Fourth," he commanded his aides. One of the two immediately sped off.
Ross would have preferred using Thornton's Eighty-fifth Foot Regiment. A very stalwart force, that. But the Eighty-fifth needed a rest. The regiment had been handled roughly at Bladensburg, storming a bridge under American artillery fire. Thornton himself had been severely wounded a bit later by grapeshot. The Fourth, on the other hand, had faced only militiamen, who'd soon enough run away.
Looking over the terrain, Ross knew it would soon be covered with carnage. If the Americans held their ground…
His remaining aide said it aloud. "This may prove something of a desperate business, sir."
Do tell, Ross thought sarcastically. A direct frontal assault on a fortress, with riflemen in every port and heavy field artillery well positioned in the middle. And me with nothing but Congreves and three light field pieces.
As if on cue, the six-pounder and the two three-pounders opened fire. That was the entirety of Ross's "battery." It was a pathetic sound, compared to the ferocity of the hissing rockets. But, glumly, Ross knew full well that what little damage the field pieces would do against the heavily built Capitol would probably exceed the effect of the Congreves.
The British general wasn't fond of the cantankerous rockets. Yes, the things were splendid for the morale of his own men-and sometimes shattered an opponent's nerve. But, as actual weapons, he thought they were more trouble than they were worth.
Wellington, he knew, had come to the same conclusion in the course of the Peninsular War. But this expedition fell ultimately under naval command, and admirals loved the blasted things. So, whether he liked it or not, Ross had been saddled with a multitude of rockets, instead of the one good battery of real guns he would have preferred.
Again, as if on cue, one of the Congreves exploded not more than a second after it was fired. Fortunately, the rocket had traveled far enough not to injure the men who had fired it. Ross could only hope that the fragments didn't land on the backs of the Fourth marching across the field.
A flash of white caught his attention, and drew his eyes back to the center. He saw Admiral Cockburn prancing his horse not far behind the men of the Fourth, exhorting them onward. The conflagration at the Navy Yard was now great enough to spill a devil's light over the entire area. The admiral's gold-laced hat and epaulettes gleamed quite brightly.
Cockburn favored a white horse, in a battle. The admiral was nothing if not a showman. For one brief, savage moment, Ross found himself fervently hoping the animal would provide the enemy with an especially clear target.
But that was an unworthy thought, and he drove it under.
Besides, unless Ross was much mistaken, he'd soon enough be joining the admiral. Surpassing him, in fact, because when the battle was most desperate Robert Ross had always been a general who'd led his men from the front, as he had at Bladensburg and many places before it.
He'd do so on a brown horse, though. Courage was essential for a commanding officer-but there was no reason to be stupid as well.
"Bring me my horse," he commanded. The second aide sped off.
"Damn all admirals and their cocksure schemes," Ross muttered again. Louder this time, since there was no longer anyone to hear.
A wave of relief swept over Sam Houston when Charles Ball finally nodded to him. Even the delay at the Horseshoe hadn't seemed as long as the time that had just passed. The Thirty-ninth Infantry at the Horseshoe had waited for an hour and a half before beginning their assault, yes; and the time that had elapsed since the British began their assault on the Capitol hadn't taken but a few minutes. Still, those minutes had seemed endless.
Seeing Ball and the gunners placing their hands over their ears, Sam did the same. " Fire! " he bellowed, in his best imitation of an Achaean captain ordering a charge.
Sam supposed The roar of the battery was enough to numb his mind for an instant.
– that his anxiety was due to the intrinsic difference between being on the defense versus the offense. However long they might have waited at the Horseshoe, they hadn't been worrying that the Creeks were going to attack them. It was one thing to settle your nerves when danger was an abstraction. Quite another to do so when danger took the form of a red-coated machine, grinding steadily toward you in the flickering illumination of a massive bonfire.
Sam peered intently into the darkness, trying to discern what effect the salvo had had on the British. It was hard to see much of anything, since his eyes were tearing up. He'd been standing not far away from Ball's twelve-pounder when it went off, and a little gust of wind had blown the acrid and sulfurous gun smoke back into his face.
After wiping the tears away, Sam glanced at Ball and saw that his eyes looked quite normal.
Ball glanced back at him, then smiled. "Next time, sir-if you'll pardon my boldness in saying so-I suggest you close your eyes. That powder never burns completely, and it can blow anywhere."
Sam nodded. "I'll do so, be sure of it. But what effect did we have? Can you tell?"
"Oh, very good, sir. It's perfect range for grapeshot, and those poor bastards don't have any cover at all. They'll be hurting now. Not enough, of course. Not yet."
As Sam and Ball had been conferring, the gun crews had hurried through their practiced motions. Sooner than Sam would have thought, they were ready to fire again.
At least, this crew was. Looking up and down the line of the battery, Sam's vision was still too impaired to tell if the same was true for the other guns, as well.
He decided he'd done his Homeric duty well enough, for the moment. "Mr. Ball, why don't you take charge of the battery from here on?"
"If you say so, Captain." Ball's eyes flicked back and forth, checking the dispositions of all the crews. Then Sam hastily covered his ears again-and closed his eyes.
Ball's voice was suitably Homeric, too, Sam observed. More so than his own, he suspected, feeling more than a bit chagrined. Embarrassed, too. Belatedly, it also occurred to him that a commander who insisted on doing his men's work for them was a blithering nuisance.
"And yet again," General Ross sighed. American artillery was going to be just as murderous on this field as it had usually proven to be, since the war began.
His horse had been brought to him, by now. He moved immediately toward it. There wasn't a chance in creation that this assault was going to succeed if he wasn't seen by his men in the lead.
Damn all cocksure admirals and their schemes.
James Monroe and his party of dragoons drew up to within a hundred yards of the western side of the Capitol. There were no enemy soldiers anywhere to be seen, although Monroe assumed the cannon roar they'd just heard emanating from the other side of the buildings indicated that the British were beginning their assault.
Now was the time to make their final dash for the Capitol, therefore. Even going up a hill, they'd be within the relative safety of the buildings in less than a minute. They'd have to leave their horses behind, of course.
Alas, one problem remained. The young dragoon lieutenant put it into words.
"How do we keep our own people from shooting us?"
A bit ruefully, Monroe pondered the problem. The illumination thrown over the area by the burning Navy Yard wasn't sufficient enough for the soldiers who were crouched at the windows to distinguish friend from foe, certainly not at a distance.
This would all become a humiliating farce-quite possibly a fatal one-if the secretary and his party were to be driven off by gunfire from the Capitol's defenders.
He decided to risk a straightforward and open approach, moving forward alone and waving a white handkerchief. One man would be less likely to be considered a threat.
Then he heard the sound of wheels coming up the street. Heavily laden wagons, from the clatter they were making.
"Into the shadows!" he hissed, guiding his horse into the darkness that lay between two nearby buildings. His dragoons quickly followed suit.
Half a minute later, they saw three wagons rumbling onto the ground just below Jenkins Hill. The wagons were, indeed, heavily laden-with ammunition, Monroe thought, and there were a couple of three-pounders being towed behind the first two wagons. The driver of the lead wagon was a Negro. The two others were driven by white men wearing some sort of uniform. There were other white men riding escort, all wearing the same uniform.
"They're ours," Monroe stated firmly. The British army had a variety of uniforms beyond the well-known red coats, but these uniforms-for such young men-were too elaborate and fancy for British dragoons. They were exactly the sort of flamboyant uniforms that well-to-do militia volunteers would design for themselves.
There came the sound of another cannonade. Monroe realized that whatever decision he was going to make, it had to be made now. Once the British assault neared the walls of the Capitol, entry would be impossible.
He set his horse trotting forward into the half-lit street.
"Hold!" he cried. "We're Americans!"
Startled, the black driver stopped the lead wagon and stared at him. A couple of the more alert soldiers raised their weapons. Monroe was both amused and relieved to see that the white dragoons, as if acting by sheer reflex, looked to the Negro for guidance.
That was a familiar reaction to a Virginia farmer and slave owner like Monroe, and one he was quite sure he'd not have seen from British soldiers. Many times in his life-he'd done it himself-he'd seen white men engaged in some enterprise about which they knew little turn to a slave to show or tell them what to do. As if, for an instant, the relationship of master and slave was reversed. He'd once commented on the matter to his good friends Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and discovered that they had observed the same thing-and, in the case of both, found yet another subtle sign from Providence that slavery was a dubious institution. For any nation, much less a republic.
Monroe wasn't sure about the matter himself, although he'd learned never to underestimate the philosophical acuity of his two friends. But unlike Jefferson and Madison, Monroe was not inclined toward theoretical ruminations on political affairs. His prominence in the new nation's politics was due to hard work, practical ability, skill in the daily business of legislative committee work, a tightly-focused mind-and the fact that most everyone liked him, because he was a likable man.
All qualities that would be of good use here, as well, especially the latter. Monroe gave the wagon driver his most winning smile and trotted forward in a confident and relaxed manner, as if he had every right and reason to be there, and there was no cause for anxiety on anyone's part.
All of which happened to be true, fortunately. Monroe wasn't really a good liar, despite his years as an ambassador.
"I am James Monroe, the secretary of state," he announced loudly.
The dragoons' eyes grew wide. Those of the driver narrowed.
"By the Lord," the black man said, "so you are. I recognize you, sir!"
Monroe nodded graciously. The driver sat up a little straighter. Clearly enough, he was relieved himself to discover that Monroe and his party of soldiers were not the enemy.
"I've seen you any number of times, sir," the man continued. "My name is Henry Crowell, and I make regular deliveries to the State Department. The War Department, too."
Now that Monroe had pulled up alongside the wagon, he realized that he recognized Crowell himself, although he hadn't known the man's name. He'd seen Crowell a few times, making deliveries. That wasn't surprising, of course. For all that it was the capital city of a nation, Washington, D.C., was still more in the way of a large town than a small city.
He glanced into the wagon. Ball and powder, as he had surmised, along with some tools. He pointed toward the Capitol. "I assume you're taking these supplies in there."
"Yes, sir. I told Captain Houston I was pretty sure I could make the trip and be back before the British attacked."
Captain Houston, then, indeed. And how delightful it was for Monroe to discover that at least one piece of their intelligence had been accurate!
The sound of a third cannonade rolled over the buildings.
"Lead the way then, Crowell, if you would."
"You're coming, sir?"
"Oh, yes." Suddenly, Monroe heard the lighter and sharper sounds of a multitude of muskets being fired. The British must be close now.
"And best quickly, I think."
Robert Ross's horse was shot out from under him by a salvo from the American guns. A grapeshot that shattered the poor beast's skull. It was no new experience for the general, so he landed safely and was on his feet within seconds. He never even lost his grip on his sword.
He could even, for a moment, bless the soggy ground that was causing so much trouble for his advancing soldiers. The mucky soil had cushioned his impact.
His aides were at his side already. One of them started brushing the mud from the general's uniform.
"Leave that alone!" Ross snapped. "Get me another horse."
He had to get in front of this charge and lead it, or it would collapse. The American gunnery was proving even worse than he'd feared. He was certain now that he faced the worst eventuality he might have faced. Those were U.S. Navy sailors manning the guns.
Most British army officers derided Americans as "Cousin Jonathan." But, with a few exceptions like Cockburn, British naval officers did not, and for good reason. Not after the Guerriere and the Frolic and the Macedonian, and Lake Erie.
A horse was brought up. Another brown one, of course. Ross's aides knew his habits.
Once mounted, Ross waved his sword and charged forward. The front line of his army was now within seventy yards of the breastworks, and he could sense them wavering.
They'd suffered fearsome casualties already. The treacherous and slippery ground had slowed the advance, and they'd had to cross hundreds of yards in the face of enemy fire. The fact that it was a night attack hadn't helped them, either. The terrain provided no cover, and the illumination from the burning Navy Yard was enough to provide the enemy gunners with clear targets.
Very heavy fire. As they had demonstrated many times since the war started, American gunners could work their cannons faster than British ones.
Suddenly, the lighter and sharper sound of musket fire was added to the hell's brew. The Fourth had come within range of the multitude of enemy riflemen Ross could see in every window of the two Capitol buildings.
A lot of musket fire. British casualties would start mounting still faster.
"Follow me!" he bellowed. "I'll dine in the Capitol tonight, or in hell!"
Driscol had been waiting patiently, in the Senate room where he'd taken his position with a single platoon. The lieutenant had made no effort to stop the rest of the soldiers, in the other rooms, from firing their muskets whenever they chose, even though he knew most of them would start firing long before the enemy was in range. He'd have had no way of controlling them anyway, scattered as they were throughout the building. Maintaining volley fire wasn't as important in defending a fortress as it was on an open battlefield, anyway.
But he could control that one platoon, and he'd done so easily. No need to bring the threat of McParland and the two savage-looking Cherokees to bear. Driscol didn't even think of them. The troll was in full presence, now, and that was more than enough.
"Easy, boys, easy." He didn't shout the words, didn't need to. Even over the thunder of guns and muskets, Driscol's voice carried easily through the chamber. "Won't be long now. Sassenach officers are vile beasts in every other respect, but they don't lack courage. He'll be coming along any moment. And we'll kill him."
Monroe's final dash to the western doors proved simple. American soldiers were stationed and ready there, of course, and they were indeed anxious. But their anxiety was directed at wondering whether or not Crowell's supply run would make it back in time.
"Let me, sir," Crowell whispered to Monroe, as they neared the Capitol. Realizing the wisdom of the words, Monroe let the driver lead him the rest of the way up the hill. A black face in the fore would mean only one thing to the sentries.
Sure enough, before Crowell had even reached the building-he'd headed for the House-soldiers were coming out to greet him. Unarmed to boot, because they were already racing toward the wagons drawn up below, to help the dragoons unload them and bring in the munitions and other supplies.
So, Monroe's entrance into the Capitol proved something of an anticlimax. None of the soldiers paid any attention to him as they poured out in a little flood. He'd been identified as one of Crowell's companions, which was good enough for his bona fides. For the rest, the soldiers cared only about the black man's precious cargo.
In fact, Monroe had to more or less force his way past them and into the building. Once there, not knowing where else to go, he headed toward the central chamber. By now, the sound of musket fire was continuous. The assault was clearly reaching a climax.
Driscol had good eyes, and particularly good night vision. He'd been hoping for the sight of a white horse, since he detested Cockburn more than he did most Sassenach. But he spotted the brown one easily enough, wasn't fooled for an instant.
"That bastard!" he called out. "The one on the brown horse, charging forward. D'you see him, boys? Look for the sword and the gold fancywork."
Some of the men in the platoon called out their answer, but Driscol didn't need it. He watched the way most of their shoulders shifted slightly, the way those of riflemen do when they've spotted a target. Holding their muskets in a line, these men would probably prove pitiably wretched. But most of them had grown up hunting. If they didn't really know how to fight, they did know how to shoot.
"On my command," Driscol growled. "Any man fires before that, I'll grind his bones for my soup."
He waited, cold and merciless, hunched at one of the windows and gauging the range.
Quite a splendid officer, that was. Fearless and resolute. Probably the very commander himself, Robert Ross.
Which was even more splendid. The best way to kill a snake is to crush the head.
"Fire!" Driscol roared. More of a snarl, really. He controlled his voice, because the acoustics in the chamber were far better than those of a battlefield-and one of his full-throated roars would have startled such men. Might throw off their aim.
Two seconds after the volley went off, Driscol straightened up.
"I'm proud of you, boys," he pronounced.
Two chances saved the life of Robert Ross. The first was that his horse reared up just before the musket volley fired. Startled, probably, by a round from one of the twelve-pounders that flicked its ear. By now, the American gunners were firing canister.
Most of the volley hammered into the horse, killing it instantly. One round struck Ross in the shoulder. The left shoulder, so he retained his grip on the sword. Another struck him in the rib cage, breaking two ribs and channeling down them to exit from his lower back. A third struck him in the right forehead, a glancing shot, not fatal. Not even a serious wound, really, although a bloody one.
But it was quite enough to daze the general. And so it was a senseless man in the saddle as his horse collapsed, not one who could throw himself free. A horse weighing half a ton will crush a man that it falls upon.
The second chance came into play. One of the musket balls passed between Ross's leg and the horse. It did no worse than bruise the general's calf, but it cut the saddle girth as neatly as a razor. The saddle came loose and the horse's dying spasm flung Ross off to the left.
He landed on his side, his right arm crossed below him. Unfortunately, old reflexes had kept an iron grip on the sword, so his already-injured rib cage had a terrible laceration added from the impact of his body upon the sword hilt.
He lay there, limp and unconscious.
"The general's down!" cried one of the aides.
The Irish-born Ross was a popular officer. One of the most popular in the British army, in fact. In an instant, half-a-dozen men were there to bear him away from the field.
Thirty yards to the rear, and somewhat to the left of the field, Admiral Cockburn heard the cry. Cursing, he drove his horse forward to rally the men. Even to an admiral without Ross's experience in such matters, it was obvious that the assault was on the verge of breaking.
"Ah, there he comes," said Driscol with great satisfaction. He swiveled his head back and forth.
"D'you see him, boys? The fancy-looking bastard on that fancy white horse? That'll be Cockburn himself. And I want him dead."
Cockburn gave Ross's body no more than a glance as his horse drove past the group of soldiers carrying the general to the rear. Dead, apparently. Gravely wounded, at least.
At the moment, all that was irrelevant. All that mattered was taking the Capitol. Arrogant and cocksure the admiral might be, but no one had ever accused him of lacking courage or willpower. He himself never gave such matters a single thought.
"Follow me, men!"
For a moment, after the volley was fired, Driscol had his hopes. But then, seeing soldiers carrying Cockburn away, he had to restrain himself from cursing his platoon.
Cockburn wasn't being carried the way Ross had been, like a sack of meal. The admiral was still on his feet-with a man under each shoulder to steady him, true. But Cockburn was still bearing most of his own weight. The admiral had lost his fancy hat, and his steps seemed a bit uncertain. But it was quite obvious that he hadn't been badly wounded. He was probably just dazed, and winded from falling off the horse.
No time for a second volley, either. Not only was Cockburn himself being hustled away quickly, but the entire British line was falling back. It wasn't quite a rout. But a retreat so hasty that within a few seconds Cockburn's figure was completely lost in the fleeing mass.
Ah, well. Charles Ball and his gunners were still firing, of course. Ball was no more the man to show mercy on defeated enemies than Driscol himself. A most fine fellow. So there was always the chance that a stray round still might kill the admiral on his way.
Nervously, one of the volunteers cleared his throat. "Sorry, Lieutenant."
There was a time to browbeat men, and a time to do otherwise, and Driscol knew the difference.
"Never you mind, lad," he said, straightening up from his crouch again. "The chances of war-and we beat the bastards back. A piece of advice, though."
His head swiveled back and forth, giving his men a look that was stern, but not condemning. " Next time you shoot at a man on a white horse, do try to hit the man. Not the horse."
The whole platoon stared out of the windows. Even in the half darkness, the carcass of the horse was easy to spot. Although it was no longer exactly in one piece.
Driscol should have warned them, he supposed. In the darkness, that great gleaming target must have drawn their eyes like a magnet.
"Ah, well," he repeated. He knew the quirky chances of war. No man knew them better.
From their position in the back of the room, where they'd be out of the way of the militiamen, the Rogers brothers watched Patrick Driscol carefully.
Very carefully, just as they had been for hours.
Not because they were concerned about his safety, though. Their new assignment as Driscol's bodyguards had turned out to be almost meaningless. That night, at least. There was now little chance that the British would manage to break their way into the huge building, where the hand-to-hand combat skills of the two brothers would come into play.
Little chance-largely because of Driscol himself.
So, as the night wore on, James and John Rogers had been able to devote more and more of their time to considering Driscol from an entirely different viewpoint.
Within the first hour, his courage and resolution had become obvious. So had his practical intelligence. Thereafter, it was other things they looked for.
A good sense of humor, of course, was the most important thing. He'd need it.
Eventually, after observing the sure and relaxed way Driscol handled a mass of nervous and uncertain soldiers, they were satisfied. For all the lieutenant's grim demeanor, the Rogers brothers hadn't missed the fact that he was far more likely to settle down a young soldier with a jest rather than a curse. Or break up a quarrel with sarcasm, rather than threats.
"He'll do," James pronounced softly.
"Do?" his brother whispered back. "He'd be perfect. Except he's ugly."
Driscol came over to them a short while later.
"It seems you won't have to do much tonight, lads."
They nodded. Then John asked:
"Have you met our sister Tiana, Lieutenant?"
Driscol stared at him for a moment, before looking away. He seemed intent on examining a nearby window. Odd, really, since there was nothing to be seen through it except the night.
He cleared his throat. "Ah. Yes, I believe I have. In a manner of speaking."
James smiled pleasantly. "Oh, that won't do at all. 'A manner of speaking.' No, no. A real introduction is called for. As soon as possible, after the battle."
"We'll see to it," John added. The same serene smile had appeared on his face.
They waited. There was one last thing that needed to be known.
Finally, Driscol cleared his throat again. His eyes never left the window. "Thank you. I'd appreciate that. Very much."
"Consider it done," James said.
Monroe entered the crimson-draped chamber of the House just as a roar of applause went up. The secretary of state had to push his way through a crowd to see what was happening. The chamber seemed to be packed full of soldiers, many of whom had obviously just arrived themselves. All of them were still carrying their muskets, and the soldiers were so full of excitement that Monroe hoped none of them would fire a shot by accident-or even, in the fervor of the moment, fire a celebratory shot into the ceiling.
The assault had been driven off, clearly enough. As soon as the roar began to subside, a penetrating voice rang out.
"These ills shall cease, whene'er by Jove's decree
We crown the bowl to Heav'n and Liberty:
While the proud foe his frustrate triumph mourns,
And Greece indignant thro' her seas returns."
Monroe thought he recognized the passage. If so, a speech given by Hector to his brother Paris predicting the victory of Troy was perhaps unfortunate. If the secretary recalled correctly, Hector himself would be slain by Achilles not long thereafter.
Still The soldiers seemed pleased with the sentiments, and Monroe doubted if many of them understood the irony of the citation. Besides, Monroe was six feet tall. Now that he had finally pushed his way into the chamber, he could see well enough over the heads of most of the men to examine the one who'd given that little classical peroration.
So this was the mysterious "Captain Houston." Monroe couldn't stop himself from barking a little laugh. Great God! The man even looked the part!
Houston was standing before the Speaker's canopied chair, at the south end of the chamber. For a moment, Monroe thought he was standing on a stool, until he realized that the captain himself was simply very tall. Tall, broad-shouldered-and powerful, judging from the nearby soldier half reeling from Houston's friendly clap on the shoulder. Houston's blue eyes, powerful blunt nose, and wide grin radiated confidence and good spirits. The mass of rich chestnut hair the captain exhibited when he swept off his hat capped the image perfectly.
"We beat 'em back slick, boys! I'll be scorched if we didn't send the bastards east of sunrise! It won't convene for them to be marching on us again any time soon!" He gestured with the hat, waving it about flamboyantly. "Let's have three cheers for our Liberty!"
The cheers came-enthusiastically, not dutifully-and there were quite a few more than three. By the time the soldiers subsided, Monroe's ears were ringing.
He'd kept pushing forward, and finally made it to the front row. Thankfully, there seemed to be an open space of some sort at the center of the mob. Once the secretary pushed his way there, he saw the reason for it: Joshua Barney was lying on a settee, attended by a very large and striking Indian girl. Several other Indians were gathered around the settee as well, all but one of them children. Even the excited soldiers had been respectful enough not to crowd the commodore. It was obvious at a glance that Barney was badly injured, and feeling the pain of his wounds.
The presence of the Indians was a mystery, but the commodore himself didn't seem concerned over the matter. Badly injured or not, Barney was conscious and alert. He spotted Monroe at the same moment the secretary of state spotted him.
"Mr. Monroe!" the commodore called out. "Welcome to what is still the Capitol of the United States."
Captain Houston had been about to launch into another peroration, but hearing Barney's words he blinked and closed his mouth. Then he peered intently at the newly arrived figure.
The commodore levered himself up on an elbow and pointed. "It's Mr. James Monroe, Captain. The secretary of state. Mr. Monroe"-the finger pointed the other way-"may I introduce Captain Sam Houston?"
Houston was no older than his early twenties, the secretary gauged, and-for the first time since Monroe had spotted him-he finally looked a bit unsure of himself.
This was no time for uncertainty. Monroe strode forward, bypassing the commodore's settee, his hand outstretched.
"A pleasure to finally meet you, Captain!" he boomed. "And let me be the first to extend to you the congratulations of your grateful nation and government." Monroe would allow himself a little fib here. "Mr. Madison asked me to convey his regards, as well. Alas, he was tied up with matters too pressing to come himself."
That last part was likely true, at least. The president was probably lost, halfway to Wiley's Tavern. The area surrounding Washington was still, in many parts, not far removed from a wilderness. Given the confusion of the moment and having to travel at night-the skies were lowering, too, with a storm in the offing-Madison and his party would have had a rough go of it.
As for the rest…
Well, the secretary was quite certain the president wouldn't begrudge him the little lie. James Monroe and James Madison had been friends for decades, a mutual regard that had not really faltered on those occasions when they'd found themselves on opposite sides of a political dispute or even contesting against each other for the same political position.
Besides, Monroe was quite sure that if Madison had been present at the tavern in Georgetown, he would have agreed to send Monroe to the besieged Capitol. He might very well have tried to come himself, and his cabinet would have had to dissuade him.
Houston's handshake was firm and confident, betraying none of the self-doubts and apprehensions the young captain might be having.
No, not might- was surely having, from the questioning look in his eyes.
The secretary of state was normally reserved in his demeanor, but this was a situation that called for some unbending. So, in addition to the handshake, Monroe clapped a hand on Houston's shoulder and drew him close enough to speak quietly.
"I think you may relax, young man. True enough, the last I saw of General Winder, he was bellowing words which did not bode well for your future. But I daresay the general's influence is already low, and plunging lower by the minute."
Houston's response was a slight grimace. Monroe decided he might as well test the captain's honesty, while he was at it. "You did know General Winder had ordered a general retreat?"
Houston blew a little hiss through his lips. "Well, sir, yes. Although I suppose in my defense I could argue that the man I heard it from-William Simmons, his name-turned out no longer to have any official connection with the government. But I didn't have much doubt-none, really-that he was telling the truth."
"William Simmons." The proverbial bad penny. Monroe's own lips pursed, as if he'd tasted a lemon. "Yes, I know the man. President Madison dismissed him for bitter hostility and rudeness to his superiors-whereupon that wretched accountant blamed Secretary Armstrong for persecuting him."
He released the captain's shoulder, smiling broadly. "It's not a bad defense, actually. I speak as a lawyer of considerable experience. In the confusion of the moment-all the military staff unfortunately gone when you arrived in the capital-when did you arrive, by the way, and for what purpose?-hearing of the order to retreat only from a cashiered accountant, who had no authority over you whatsoever-seeing the obvious chance to rally troops at the Capitol-yes, it's a splendid fortress. Secretary of War Armstrong himself tried to convince Winder of that just this afternoon, but Winder's a blithering fool, and you never heard me say that-you acted on the spur of the moment, according to your duty as you saw it. Yes, that'll do quite nicely, Captain. In the unlikely event of a court-martial. Which is getting more unlikely by the moment. Now that I'm here, your action essentially has the imprimatur of the government, if not its formal sanction and command."
By the time he finished, Monroe's smile was wide indeed. Houston shook his head, and managed to extract the questions out of the flurry of legal points.
"I arrived-we arrived-just this afternoon, sir. The rout from Bladensburg was already under way, with soldiers streaming down Pennsylvania Avenue." He looked uncomfortable. "I should inform you that it's possible-uh, likely, in fact-that in the course of my addresses to the troops on the avenue I may have-well, did-juxtapose General Winder's name to various heroes of the Iliad in a manner which might possibly be construed as derisive. That is, perhaps even insubordinate."
Monroe burst into laughter.
"As to your other question, sir, I arrived as an escort for a party of Cherokees, at General Jackson's behest. In fact-"
Houston turned aside and beckoned someone forward. "May I have the honor to present Lieutenant John Ross. The rank is that of a U.S. officer, but he's a Cherokee. Not a chief, but well regarded by his people nonetheless. Distinguished himself at the Horseshoe."
Monroe was one of the very few members of the nation's eastern seaboard elite who had spent considerable time in the western territories. So he wasn't surprised to see standing before him shortly, in the person of a Cherokee notable, a man whose red hair, blue eyes, and pale skin would have fit well upon any Scotsman.
Ah, the Scots. Monroe had always found it amazing that the dour northerly tribe had somehow managed to foist off onto more Latin folk the reputation for rampant concupiscence that was rightfully theirs. Scots went everywhere, and bred madly wherever they went. Not forgetting, of course, to spout stern Presbyterian homilies all the while.
The young lieutenant had his hand out, and Monroe clasped it with his own.
"A great pleasure to meet you, Lieutenant Ross. Welcome to Washington-though I wish your arrival hadn't been so awkwardly timed."
"The same, sir. And may I extend the best wishes of my nation."
Perfect, fluent English, too.
Monroe looked back at the commodore and his Indian companions.
"I assume these youngsters are with you also?"
"Yes, sir. Their parents have asked us to place them in suitable schools. Major Ridge, in particular. He's the father of the younger girl and one of the boys, and the uncle of the other boy. Uh, he used to be called The Ridge, but you probably never heard of him under either name."
Monroe had heard of The Ridge, actually, but he couldn't recall whatever else he'd heard about him beyond the name itself. Dealings with the Indian tribes fell under the purview of the Department of War, not the Department of State.
"Well, I'm quite sure something suitable can be found. And now, Captain, might I inquire as to your plans?" He turned back, smiling again. "Your immediate plans, I refer to. Regarding the"-he pointed a finger toward the eastern wall-"enemy."
"Oh." Finally remembering the hat he'd snatched off to lead the hurrahs, Houston placed it back on his head and gave a little tug to set it firmly.
"Well, sir. It's like this."
He seemed to be stalling, his eyes looking toward the entrance that led to the adjoining Senate building. A moment later, whatever he saw seemed to cause a trace of relief to come to his face.
Monroe turned and saw another officer coming into the chamber. Almost an apparition, really. Where the six-foot-tall and strongly built secretary of state had been forced to push his way through the mob of soldiers by main force, the middling-height and squat lieutenant seemed to pass through them like Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea. And with only one arm, to boot, where Monroe had had two.
"May I introduce Lieutenant Patrick Driscol, sir. One of Brigadier Scott's officers. Distinguished himself at the Chippewa."
The slight emphasis on the word made it clear that this time Houston was not using it simply as a gallant pleasantry.
Studying the approaching lieutenant carefully, Monroe thought that Captain Houston was quite wrong. "Distinguished himself" wasn't the right phrase, and he was certain the man Driscol himself would have scoffed at it. He had all the earmarks of a soldier risen from the ranks. Monroe had known men like this, in his youth. At the battle of Trenton; again, at Monmouth; most of all, during that terrible winter at Valley Forge.
Officers and gentlemen fought battles and distinguished themselves. Men like Driscol made and broke entire armies, and did so with no more thought than a blacksmith shaping iron at an anvil.
He had his hand extended before the one-armed lieutenant had even begun to raise his. James Monroe was a gentleman born, and of the Virginia gentry at that. But he'd been taught his manners as a twenty-year-old subaltern by a general named George Washington. A ruthless and hard commander, who'd whip an insubordinate or shoot a deserter in an instant, but never once sneered at the men who made him what he was.
"A pleasure, sir," Driscol said, as he took the secretary's hand. He even seemed to mean it.
Houston cleared his throat. "Patrick, the secretary of state was just asking me what my plans were. As they relate to the current conflict."
"Well, Captain, as we were discussing just before the British began their assault"-it was all Monroe could do not to laugh-"you'd planned to give the men some supper after they'd beaten the bastards off. In rotation, of course, following the system I'll have set up, so that we keep sentries in place at all times. In the event of another attack."
"Supper, yes." The captain looked about, doing his best-rather well, in fact-not to look puzzled.
"There's not much, I'm afraid," Driscol continued, every inch the respectful lieutenant, even if Monroe thought his rasping voice could have filed away stone. "Nothing in the Capitol itself, of course, beyond an occasional bottle of spirits hidden away here and there."
Monroe chuckled. "Knowing my legislative colleagues, Lieutenant, you'd have found quite a few of those."
Driscol smiled at him thinly. "Well, yes, sir. About every other desk. I had them all sequestered and stashed away in the Library of Congress. Under a reliable armed guard."
Monroe must have looked a bit skeptical. Driscol's smile thinned still further. "Oh, you may lay your fears to rest on that account, sir. Private McParland will shoot any man who tries to force his way in. And he'll refrain from disobeying my orders himself, you may be sure of it. I executed the lad, once, and he's been the very model of discipline ever since."
Monroe raised one eyebrow. But Driscol was already turning to Houston.
"Captain, there'll be enough food in the packs of the men-some of them, not all, of course-to go around well enough for tonight. No one will eat well, but as long as it's divided evenly-I'll see to that-they'll go hungry, but not famished. And we'll pass around a tot of spirits later. Not enough to inebriate any man, just enough to cheer them up."
"Very well, Lieutenant." Houston seemed oriented again. "But how are we with regard to powder and shot?"
"Well enough for the battery. Ball and his men are experienced. Between what they brought themselves and Henry's supplies, we should have enough to last the night, even if the Sassenach are lunatic enough to try another frontal assault. I doubt that, though. They suffered a fearful slaughter. Still, I've got sentries posted. If they come again, we'll have plenty of warning."
The lieutenant sounded mildly disgruntled at the thought that the British wouldn't attempt another assault. Between the man's demeanor and the Ulster accent, Monroe understood. Driscol was one of those Scots-Irish immigrants whose hatred for the English was corrosive and unrelenting. Under other circumstances, that could pose a problem. Under these As secretary of state, it would be Monroe's task to make peace with the enemy, eventually. The more men like Driscol bled them, the easier that task would be. Problems of another day could be dealt with then.
"We're less well off with the muskets, I'm afraid," Driscol went on, now looking a bit exasperated. "There was no way to keep the silly bugg-ah, militia volunteers-from blasting wildly at anything in sight. Or not in sight, often enough. Some of the men are out of shot or powder entirely, and many of them are low. On the other hand, a fair number never fired their muskets at all. I'll see to a redivision of what we have left, sir. We'll have enough."
He glanced at the secretary of state. "For tonight, that is, and assuming we do nothing more than simply hold the Capitol. But I don't recommend any sallies-and I couldn't begin to predict what the morrow might bring."
Very smooth, this rough lieutenant with the voice like a file. Monroe couldn't have passed the initiative up the chain of command any more slickly himself.
Fortunately, at the age of fifty-six and with many years of experience as a senator, a state governor, an ambassador to three major nations, and a member of the executive cabinet, Monroe was no stranger to finding the initiative deposited firmly in his lap.
"If the British make another attempt on the Capitol, Captain Houston, I shall rely upon you and your men to beat them off. But that is all. "
Driscol's mention of a "sally" had almost made Monroe shudder. The thought of Houston leading untrained and inexperienced men, collected from the pieces of dozens of shattered units, into an assault of his own upon British regulars in the open field… at night, even worse than in broad daylight…
Monroe did shudder, just slightly. Houston flashed him a smile.
"Please, sir. As I've once had the occasion to inform Lieutenant Driscol, I am not actually a fool. I've no more thought of leading a sally against the British tonight than I do of leading a charge against the tides."
His humor was fleeting, though. "But will simply holding the Capitol be enough? It's possible the British may leave things where they are, but I doubt it. There's really nothing stopping them from burning the rest of the city. The public buildings, at least. They may spare the private homes."
Monroe shrugged. "So be it. And so what? Captain, the sole purpose of this British raid was to manufacture a political demonstration. It was designed to humiliate us and undermine national morale, that's all. There's no conceivable military gain for them here. On that subject, at least, I was quite in agreement with Secretary Armstrong, even if-"
He broke off the rest. This wasn't the time nor the place to air the dirty linen of the cabinet. "The point being this: They can burn everything else in the capital, starting with the president's mansion, but this -this alone, never think otherwise-is the seat of the United States government. So long as the Capitol stands against them, they have accomplished nothing but to brand themselves publicly as arsonists and thieves. Petty vandals, no more!"
Deliberately, Monroe had spoken slowly and loudly enough to be heard all through the chamber. A fresh roar of applause went up from the soldiers.
"Just hold the Capitol, Captain Houston," Monroe added quietly. "Do that, and you will have done extraordinarily well. Trust my judgment here, if you would."
"Certainly, sir." Houston hesitated; then: "General Jackson speaks well of you, Mr. Monroe. I, ah, just thought I might mention that."
That was… interesting, although Monroe wasn't really surprised. Before the recent rise to political prominence of western figures such as Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson, Monroe had been the one major politician in America who had generally been attentive and friendly to western interests.
Monroe pondered the matter, as Houston and Driscol went about preparing the troops for a possible new British attack. In less than two years, Monroe would most likely be the new president of the United States. It had become something of a tradition in the new republic for the secretary of state to succeed to the presidency.
Whether the current war with Britain was won or lost, he was well-nigh certain that the western states and territories would dominate many of the concerns of his administration. If the war was lost, as rambunctious grievers and grousers; if it were won, as rambunctious triumphalists. Either way, they'd be an opportunity and a monstrous pain in the neck at one and the same time.
His friend Thomas Jefferson had once said of James Monroe, "Turn his soul wrong side outward and there is not a speck on it." Like all encomiums, especially coming from a personal friend and political ally, Monroe knew that the statement needed to be sprinkled with some salt. But he liked to think it was true enough-and he certainly strove to maintain it as a principle for his own conduct.
So he decided to postpone contemplating the fact that he'd cemented the allegiance of southern and western frontiersmen by his actions this night. For the moment, he'd be guided solely by his assessment of the needs of the nation.
There would be time afterward for a consideration of the political implications. He'd give the matter some real thought then, of course. An upright and honest politician still had to be a politician, or republics would be as fantastical as unicorns.
"There will not be another frontal assault against those murderous guns," Robert Ross hissed. He was in no mood, any longer, to be polite. "I've lost enough men already, Admiral Cockburn, thanks to your headstrong ways."
He rolled his head on the cot in the surgeon's tent, bringing Colonel Arthur Brooke into his field of vision. Brooke was the senior brigade commander and would now have to lead the British army units.
"D'you hear me, Colonel Brooke?" Ross pointed a finger toward the glowering Cockburn. "I am not relinquishing command to him. You will have to lead the men in the field, but my orders are final."
Though enfeebled by pain, Ross matched Cockburn's glare with one of his own. "The admiral may advise you. That is all. You will not attack the Capitol again. Not frontally, at least. We shall begin siege operations."
Cockburn rolled his eyes. He knew as well as Ross did that there would be no time to carry through a successful siege of the Capitol, before the British army would be forced to retreat back to the ships on the coast. The most Brooke could do would be to harass the defenders and keep them from sallying.
Still, Ross felt it necessary to add the directive. He did so because siege preparations would tie up the bulk of his forces, which meant that Cockburn would not have them available for his own uses. Brooke was a solid enough man, but once he left Ross's immediate presence-or Ross lost consciousness again, which was quite likely-Cockburn might be able to sway him to folly. Not a direct attack on the Capitol, to be sure. Given Ross's explicit orders, Brooke would refuse to do that, no matter what Cockburn said. But who was to say what other folly Cockburn might seize upon? The rear admiral's determination to punish Americans wasn't altogether rational.
Great folly, at any rate, which might produce great casualties. Ross would allow the admiral his little pleasures, so long as his men were not placed seriously at risk. If for no other reason, because Ross wanted to get Cockburn away from Brooke and unable to influence him.
"What is the time?" Ross asked.
"Just after ten o'clock of the evening, sir," Brooke replied.
Ross closed his eyes. Pain and exhaustion were threatening to take him under again.
"If you intend to burn the president's mansion, Admiral Cockburn, I would suggest that you get started. You may take a few hundred men with you." His eyelids lifted slightly. "Not more than three hundred, mind. We'll need the rest for the siege."
"Siege!" Cockburn barked sarcastically. But even the admiral understood that Ross would be unmovable. Angrily, Cockburn turned on his heel and stalked out of the tent.
"Follow him, Colonel," Ross ordered. "Let him have enough men for his evening's arson, but that's all. Three hundred, no more."
"Yes, sir." Brooke hurried out.
Once they were gone, the surgeon stepped forward.
"You must let me take the bullet out, General. The longer we wait, the worse the risk. As it is, gangrene…"
Ross shook his head. "Not till this business is over, and I'm sure my men have been removed from peril."
He didn't add-not to the surgeon-that he didn't dare allow himself to be entirely incapacitated. Not yet. If Ross were unconscious for hours, during and after surgery, and therefore unable to lead his men any longer, Cockburn might claim that command of the ground forces fell to him.
The surgeon's expression was exceedingly anxious. "General-"
"Oh, be done with it!" Ross snapped. "I understand the risk, Doctor, and the responsibility is mine. If I die, I die."
There's no reason to be rude to the man, Ross chided himself. He's simply doing his job.
"Consider the bright side, Doctor," he added. "At least I'll return home in good spirits, which is always something an Irishman treasures. Well. Navy rum, at least. Admittedly, it's not my favorite potion."
The doctor smiled crookedly. It was the custom of the empire to return the corpses of top officers to the islands, rather than burying them where they fell. They kept the bodies from rotting during the long voyage by immersing them in casks of rum. It was perhaps undignified, but… it worked. Colonel Brooke came back into the tent a few minutes later.
"The admiral's gone, sir. On his way to the American president's mansion."
Ross nodded. Then, finally, he relinquished his hold on consciousness. Darkness was peace, and a blessing.
"Got himself another white horse, I see," Sam Houston said wryly. He lowered the telescope through which he'd been peering from an upper window on the south side of the House. "There's a man who is set in his ways."
"It is the admiral, then?" asked Driscol. He'd been almost certain, even without the aid of a telescope, but not positive.
The conflagration at the Navy Yard was still growing, and had begun spreading to nearby buildings. They could hear the sound of collapsing structures, as well as periodic explosions as the roaring flames encountered munitions. As impressive as the fire was, however, the Naval Yard was too far away for those flames to pose a direct danger to the Capitol-which also meant that the illumination was still far poorer than daylight.
Sam shrugged. "I could hardly distinguish his features at this distance, even with a glass and even if I knew what he looked like. But unless there's another British naval officer with that much gold braid and a devotion to white horses, I'd say that has to be Cockburn."
Driscol leaned out of the window and looked down. Hungrily, he studied the three-pounder that Ball and his sailors had positioned to guard the southern flank of the Capitol.
"Leave it be, Patrick!" Houston said, laughing and clapping the smaller man on the back. "Clearly he's learned his lesson. He's staying well out of range. Even with a twelve-pounder, it'd be sheer luck to hit the bastard."
Driscol didn't leave off his calculations. "Now, yes. But maybe when he returns he'll get careless." He straightened and pushed himself away from the window. "No harm in being prepared, after all. With your permission, sir, I'll see to it."
Still chuckling, Houston agreed and waved him off. Driscol headed out the door immediately, McParland and the Rogers brothers in tow.
As James passed through the door, he looked back at Sam and grinned.
"Asga siti," James said cheerfully. "Just the way it is."
Houston brought the telescope back to his eye and returned to his study of the enemy movements. He lacked Driscol's experience, but he had no trouble understanding what the British were about. Most of their men had begun setting up their own fieldworks on the ground facing the eastern side of the Capitol. But now they were moving detachments into place, threatening-well, guarding, anyway; they weren't really much of a threat-the northern and southern flanks as well.
At least, looking out from a window on the south side of the House, Sam didn't have to listen to the sounds of injured and dying British soldiers on the grounds to the east.
That was… ghastly.
The heavy musket balls were bad enough. They shattered bones whenever they struck a limb squarely, mangling arms and legs so badly that amputation was almost always required if a man's life was to be saved. But most of the casualties had been inflicted by Ball's cannons, and they'd been firing grapeshot during most of the British assault.
What Ball and his men called "grapeshot," at least, even though Ball had explained to Sam at one point that it wasn't really the nine-shot cluster that the term technically signified to naval men. Apparently, such wired clusters of very large balls caused too much damage to cannons for them to be favored much in land battles. What Ball's gunners were calling "grapeshot" was really just heavy case shot: three-ounce bullets as opposed to the balls weighing half as much that were used in regular canister.
The technical details aside, the heavy balls were utterly deadly within four hundred yards. The British soldiers had been forced to advance that far with no cover whatsoever, over muddy and slippery terrain that they couldn't see well because of the darkness. By the time they'd gotten near enough for Charles and his gunners to switch to canister, they'd already suffered casualties so bad that one volley of canister had been enough to break the final charge.
There were still hundreds of them out there. Many were dead, of course, but the majority were merely injured-if the term "merely" could be applied to the most horrible wounds imaginable.
Thinking about those men, Sam came to a sudden decision. He didn't begrudge Patrick Driscol his feelings toward the English, but Sam simply didn't share them. He closed the telescope and strode from the room, his mind working on who he should send. He'd go himself, but.. .
No. If Driscol didn't strangle him, the secretary of state probably would. When Brooke came back into the surgeon's tent, Ross had only recently returned to consciousness. Considerably to his regret, actually.
"Sorry to disturb you, sir. But the Americans have sent over an envoy under the flag of truce."
"Send him in, please."
A few moments later, a very young and nervous-looking American officer was ushered into the tent. A militia lieutenant, judging from the flamboyant uniform.
"And how may I help you, sir?" Ross asked politely.
The young American swallowed.
Then: "Captain Houston-uh, Secretary of State Monroe agreed, too-sent me to ask you if you plan another assault tonight." Apparently realizing the question was absurd, the flustered youngster hurried on. "Not exactly that. He doesn't expect you to reveal military plans, of course. But, well, he told me to tell you that if you don't try any-uh, I think he said something about respecting the flag of truce-then, uh-he said it looks like a storm is coming, too-uh-that'll make the misery still worse…"
The youngster ground to a halt, desperately trying to reassemble his thoughts, which now bore a close resemblance to a shipwreck.
Ross took pity on him. He seemed a harmless enough lad, and besides, Ross was touched by the gallantry involved. There was often much to like about Cousin Jonathan.
"Yes, I understand. Your-captain, was it?-Houston is extending an offer to cease-fire while we collect up our dead and wounded from the field."
Relieved, the young officer nodded.
"Certainly," Ross stated, as firmly as he could manage. "You may assure your commander that we will make no attempt to take advantage of his gracious offer. See to it, Colonel Brooke, if you please. And send the men out unarmed."
As Brooke left, the American militia lieutenant made to follow. Ross called him back.