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Rivers of War: Snippet Twenty Three

       Last updated: Friday, March 4, 2005 10:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 23:

    “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, 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 Jeffer-son’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, Lieutenant Houston. I’ll expect you back no later than mid-December.”

    Sam raised an eyebrow. Jackson just grinned.

    “Oh, lieutenant at the very least. 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.”

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