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Rivers of War: Snippet Forty Eight

       Last updated: Saturday, April 9, 2005 09:00 EDT



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 48:

    CHAPTER 21

    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.

    And Tiana!

    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.


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