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Rivers of War: Snippet Forty One

       Last updated: Wednesday, March 30, 2005 10:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 41:


    CHAPTER 18

    August 24, 1814 Washington, D.C.

    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.


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