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Rivers of War: Snippet Three

       Last updated: Friday, February 4, 2005 09:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 3:

    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—”


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