Kit Carson, Pulp Fiction and the death of Mrs. White by Apaches

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

There was no sign of the daughter or servant.  Whether they’d been carried off or never made it here, there was no way of knowing.  There were so many small trails now going in so many directions, it would be impossible to know which to follow.

Cord sat alone, not far from where a couple of soldiers were digging a hole in which to bury Mrs. White.  The arrow had gone straight through her heart, killing her instantly.  Grier was going through the goods that had been abandoned in the haste to abandon the camp.  He was furious at Carson, believing if they had used a white flag the bloodshed could have been averted.

“You doing all right, Elijah?” Carson asked.

“I’m not.”

“What happened?” Carson asked.  “We got split up in the charge.”  He frowned.  “You drinking?”

“I-“ Cord began, but Grier came stomping over, holding something in his hands.

“Found this in her satchel.”  He held a well-thumbed pulp novel.  He extended it to Carson.  “Ever seen it?”

“Yeah, I seen it,” Carson said, not bothering to take the book.

Grier read from the cover.  “’Kit Carson: The Prince of the Gold Hunters’ is what it says.  You’re a giant of a man.  A hero.  Been everywhere, done everything yourself.”  He perused the insert.  “Says here in this story the frontier hero Kit Carson vows to some woman’s parents that he will track down and save their daughter, no matter how long it takes.”

Grier tossed the book to the ground.  He pointed at it.  “The myth.”  Then he pointed at Mrs. White.  “The real Kit Carson.  She must have been reading that, thinking the real deal would be coming for her.  Well, you came.  Didn’t work out, did it?”

Carson was crest-fallen, staring at the book as if it were a rattlesnake.  “I very much regret Mrs. White’s death.”

“It isn’t his fault,” Cord said.

Grier spit.  “A fraud and a drunk.  What a pair.”  He walked away.

Carson went over to the grave.  Cord joined him.  They helped lower her body in, then the two scouts began shoveling dirt, covering her.  When they were done, Carson stood at the foot of the mound of dirt, silent and troubled.

“It’s my fault,” Cord said.  “I had a clear shot at the brave who fired the arrow.  I missed.  He didn’t.”

Carson turned his head.  “You missed?”

Cord held out his hands.  The tremor was noticeable.  “I killed that woman.”

Carson sighed.  “You didn’t save her, but you didn’t kill her.  The Apache done that.”  He faced Cord.  “You need help, Elijah.”


The Battle of First Bull Run is Joined

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Rumble experienced a growing sense of dread as he re-read the orders McDowell had issued the previous night.  It didn’t seem to occur to General McDowell that General Beauregard, whom he faced across Bull Run Creek in Northern Virginia, had sat in the same tactics classes at West Point for four years, taught by the same instructors.

He was alone in the staff tent behind Wilmer McLean’s farmhouse, which McDowell had chosen as his headquarters.  It was five in the morning and according to these orders, some units were already in movement.  The sum of the orders comprised a complicated turning movement for the assault this morning.

While several divisions would attack the Confederate left flank for the turning movement, another element would block reinforcements coming from the Shenandoah Valley, while another element would be a diversion, and another element would protect the rear.

These were not orders for a volunteer army, roughly trained, entering combat for the first time.  These were orders that Napoleon’s Imperial Guard might have a chance to pull off.  And they were orders Napoleon himself might have given, considering that Napoleonic tactics had been the military bible preached at West Point.

In the flickering candlelight, Rumble put the orders down and examined the Henry repeating rifle.  Napoleon had not had such a weapon.  Napoleon had been moldering in a grave for over forty years.  In fact, during the Mexican War, the soldiers had not been armed with rifled muskets as they were now, yet the tactics had not grown with the weaponry.  Rumble consoled himself by figuring Beauregard was issuing a similar set of complicated orders on the other side of Bull Run.  And that Ben was heading west, to join a unit out there with Grant.

The flap on the tent twitched open and an excited young officer with a dispatch case over one shoulder rushed in.  A cascade of golden locks flowed over the newly commissioned officer’s shoulders.  He headed right for a pile of gear, but paused upon seeing Rumble.

“Master of the Horse,” George Armstrong Custer said.  “What brings you here?”

“Lieutenant Custer,” Rumble said.  “I’m on a special assignment.”  Lincoln’s letter was in Rumble’s breast pocket, right next to Lidia and Ben’s etching.

Custer didn’t seem too interested.  “I’m riding dispatches from General Scott to General McDowell.  Just delivered a batch.”  He pulled a stirrup out of the pile.  “Lost mine crossing a river.”

A sharp crack in the distance split the air.  Rumble had heard it before.  A cannon firing. It was followed by a volley from a battery.

“Was that—“ Custer began, but Rumble heard another familiar sound and dove for the dirt.  “Get down!”

A solid shell ripped through the farmhouse, passed through the tent’s canvas, and bounded onto the ground on the far side, its energy finally expended.  Rumble got to his feet, dusting off the dirt.

Custer also got up, a crazed grin on his face.  “Battle!”

The Routine of Beast Barracks at West Point: 1860

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Like cattle to the slaughter, the small herd of new cadets was escorted with many a scream and promise of a dire future to a tent on the edge of the encampment.  They were hustled into line, and sent in, one by one.

Ben was third.  The adjutant seemed bored with the ritual, seated behind a field desk in the tent and looking at a piece of paper.  Ben came to a halt three paces in front of the desk and waited.

“Name, new cadet?”

“Ben Agrippa Rumble.”

The adjutant responded automatically.  “That’s New Cadet Rumble, got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

The adjutant finally looked up.  “We all know you and we know about you, Mister Rumble.  Most of us have, shall we say, shared some libation with you at Benny Havens.  We all know your father.  But none of that matters now.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.  Then.”  The adjutant got to his feet and began issuing orders.  “Come to attention when addressing an upperclassman.  Heels together.  Toes out.  Hands by your side, palms out fingers closed, little fingers on the seams of your trousers, head up, chin in, shoulders thrown back, chest out, belly in, eyes straight ahead.  Stay like that and don’t move.”

The instructions came like bullets, Ben contorting his body to comply.

The adjutant looked past Rumble as another upperclassman entered.  On cue the side flaps on the tent were loosened and dropped, darkening the interior.  The only light came from a single candle flickering on the field desk.  The adjutant left, leaving Rumble alone with the unidentified cadet behind him.

“We have a problem with you, Mister Rumble,” the newcomer said.  “You’ve seen most of us imbibing in your grandfather’s tavern.  Which means you’ve seen most of us violating quite a few regulations.  Once you sign in to the Corps, you will be bound by the honor code.  Do you see the problem?”

“No, sir.”

“Duty requires you tell the truth about what you’ve seen.  You will be bound to that.  If you do not tell the truth, then you are dishonorable.  However, if you tell the truth, then many a fine cadet might have their futures destroyed.  We can’t allow that to happen.”

“It won’t, sir.”

“We can’t take that chance.  I think the sooner you leave the Corps, the better,” the anonymous cadet said.  “You can’t stay.  You’re a threat to too many.  And if you don’t tell the truth, the Vigilance Committee will come for you.  I very strongly suggest you do not sign the roll, and go back down to your grandfather’s tavern.  We are gentlemen here.”

Ben said nothing, feeling a line of sweat course its way down his back in the now-stuffy tent.  The seconds passed.

“Think hard on it,” the upperclassman advised.

When Rumble still said nothing, the upperclassman came so close, Rumble could feel his breath on his neck.  “Don’t push this.  It’s more than just about the tavern and the honor code.  This is a place for gentlemen.  We don’t want your kind here.  The lack of honor is in your blood.”

Ben wheeled.  “And what kind is that?  What do you mean by lack of honor?”

“Watch you tongue!”

“Watch yours!” Ben stepped closer, chest thumping against the upperclassman’s.  “Are you a man?  Willing to face me?”

The upperclassman laughed, even as he backed up.  “You can fight as many of us as you want.  It won’t change a thing.  It won’t change your blood.”

Then with a rustle of canvas he was gone.

The adjutant returned and took his place behind the desk.

“Well, Mister Rumble?”

Ben’s jaw was tight, his muscles vibrating.  “Yes, sir.”

“Do you wish to say something?”

“No, sir.”

The adjutant sighed and pointed at a piece of paper.  “Sign here, indicating you are on the active roster of cadets.”

Ben went to the table, quickly signed, and resumed the position.

“You will go to the quartermasters and be measured for uniform, the barber, the surgeon for exam, the armory to draw a weapon, and you will do all this within the next hour and report back here.”  The adjutant made a great show of checking his pocket watch and making a notation in the log.  “Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You will do all this at the double.  Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You know the four answers you are allowed, don’t you New Cadet Rumble?”

“Yes, sir, no, sir, no excuse, sir and sir, I do not understand.”

“Use the last one sparingly. Go!”

Ben ran from the tent, almost crashing into an upperclass cadet who halted him and berated him for his unmilitary appearance for almost ten minutes, eating into his hour allotment and clearly trying to provoke him into action he would not be able to take back.  With every fiber of his being, Ben bore the insults and hazing.

The days passed in a blur for Ben.  Within a week he learned how to march, carry his musket and some basic maneuvers.  It seemed as if the drum rattled out the marching cadence all day long at the encampment.  The days were long with reveille at 5:00 am.  Then there was roll call to account for everyone.  Then ‘policing’ the tent city, removing anything that wasn’t supposed to there, and it seemed as if the upperclass went out of their way to place disgusting objects in the strangest places for the plebes to find.  And woe unto them if they did not find the objects.  Then drill from 5:30-6:30.  Then arrange their bedding, raise the walls of their tents so it was open to the air, and inspection, and prepare for morning parade.  They marched to the mess hall for breakfast.  Ben had eaten in the mess before so he was prepared for the terrible repast that awaited.

Right after breakfast, which was wolfed down as there was never enough time allowed to properly eat, the guard was mounted.  Then artillery drill from 9:00 to 10:00.  Then back to the tents to clean and polish gear, a never-ending task.  No matter how shiny a cadet made his brass, an upperclassman could always find fault with it.  The march to lunch at 1:00.  Then dancing from 3:00 to 4:00, because every cadet would be an officer and an officer was a gentleman, and a gentleman knew how to dance.  Then another police call.  Then Infantry drill from 5:30 to 6:45 followed by evening parade and inspection.  Then dinner.  Followed by final roll call at 9:30 and lights out at 9:45.

Besides making soldiers, the strict regime forged a class of men that grew tight and developed bonds that would last a lifetime.  Cooperate and graduate was a maxim beat into each plebe from the first day at the Academy, but, strangely, Ben felt his classmates separating from him as each day passed, rather than bonding, no matter how hard he tried to be one of them.

Civil War Comes To West Point

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

“Cadets!” Master of the Horse Rumble snapped as he took the familiar spot on the floor of the riding hall.  “Assemble, in-line, one rank.”

The cadets of the class of 1862 scrambled out of the stands and fell in to the left and right of Rumble.

When all were in place, Rumble issued his second order. “Cadet George Armstrong Custer, front and center.”

With a self-confident grin, Custer stepped out of the ranks and double-timed to a spot just in front of Rumble. Custer was just shy of six feet, broad shouldered and athletic.  He had blue eyes and golden hair that lay on his head in a tumble of curling locks.  The word circulating in Benny Havens was that Custer was quite the lady’s man off-post.  The word circulating in the Academy was that Custer was not quite the academic man, the Immortal in every section, overall ranking last in his class and lingering very close to being boarded out.  In some ways, Custer reminded Rumble of Cord, but there was a dark edge to Custer that disturbed Rumble.

“Double-time to the stables, Mister Custer, and bridle your horse.” Rumble made a show of looking at his pocket watch.  “You have three minutes.”

Custer dashed off.

“Cadets, at ease,” Rumble ordered.

An instant buzz of excited conversation filled the riding hall. War was in the air.  And not just war, but Civil War.  Many southern cadets had already left the Academy, the first as early as the previous November, when a South Carolinian had departed, in anticipation of his state’s secession.  He was followed by all the rest of the cadets from South Carolina, three Mississippians and two Alabamians.

The divide touched the highest ranks of the Academy as the Superintendent appointed back in January, G. T. Beauregard, had lasted only five days before being relieved for his southern sympathies after advising a southern cadet who sought consul on whether to resign: “Watch me; and when I jump, you jump.  What’s the use of jumping too soon?”  With his departure, old Delafield resumed the post for several months before a permanent replacement was appointed.  Delafield was still on post, awaiting his next assignment.

The overwhelming feeling in the press was that most of the Academy was pro-slavery. But that was only to those outside of the gray walls.  Rumble knew the cadets better than they knew themselves and it was more the fact that the southerners who remained were the loudest and most outspoken, airing their opinions freely and to anyone who would listen.  The northern cadets had some sympathy for the plight of their southern brethren, but that sympathy had not been put to the test.  There was a sullenness and brooding among the Northerners that few could interpret.

Behind Rumble, seated in the corner of the stands, writing in a leather journal, was Ben, now a young man of twenty. He’d grown with a spurt when he was sixteen, and was now two inches shy of six feet, but as slender as Grant had been as a cadet and Rumble feared his son would never fill out.  Ben had his mother’s face, soft, freckled and open.  His most distinguishing feature was his bright red hair.  He could be recognized all the way across the Plain from that alone.

This was his first trip back to West Point since Rumble had maneuvered his son’s dismissal from the Corps and his entry into college in Maine. The few days had not been enough to thaw the chill between the two and Rumble had little idea where his son’s feelings lay or what his thoughts were.  But he had kept his promise to Lidia and saved his son from four years of hell and that was enough for now.

Custer came galloping back into the riding hall with a flourish.  He urged the large horse toward the far end of the hall. Despite it’s size, the horse was no York, at least a hand smaller than the long-deceased legend of the riding hall,

“Cadets,” Rumble cried out.  “Attention!”

The line snapped to.  Rumble called out the names of two cadets to take the center position. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that Delafield, his hair whiter than ever, had entered the hall.

“Gentlemen, hold in place, wings forward to observe,” Rumble commanded.

Using the two cadets as anchor, the lines on either side moved forward until all could see the two men in the center.

Custer reached the far end of the hall and waited.

Rumble turned to the line of cadets and raked his gaze left and right.  He remembered Matamoros and the Mexican line, the steel glinting in the sunlight.  He shivered and focused, once more grateful Ben did not wear the cadet gray.  “Mister Custer, you may—“

A plebe came running into the riding hall, uniform collar unbuttoned, face flush with excitement.  “It’s war!  Fort Sumter has been fired upon!”

Discipline vanished as the remaining southern cadets broke into cheers.

12 April: Confederates fire on Fort Sumter WAR!

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

King was taken aback by his first glimpse of the general whom President Jeff Davis had sent to take command of the South Carolina forces.  Another West Pointer, ‘Little Napoleon’, as King had heard him called in whispers, was newly arrived.  Previous to that, he’d been forced out of the position as Superintendent of West Point when Louisiana seceded.  The rumor circulating the city was that Beauregard had had the audacity to file a mileage reimbursement to the United States government for travel from West Point back to his home in New Orleans, before being ordered by Davis to South Carolina.

It had not been paid.

Beauregard did not look like Robert E. Lee, that was for certain. His skin was olive and smooth.  His eyes had a droopy, sleepy appearance, as if he were either preparing to arise before dawn or retire after a late evening.  His hair was an un-natural black, and if King had been better schooled in the ways of narcissism, he might have realized that Beauregard dyed his hair to match his goatee and thick mustache.  Even here, on the eve of battle there were several ladies of Charleston in attendance on his every word and gesture.

“General?” Chesnut called out.

“Yes, Colonel?” Beauregard turned, uncrossing his arms and placing his left hand on the hilt of his sheathed saber as he slipped his right inside his dress coat, where a button was conveniently unfastened.  King saw the circle of newspapermen writing down every movement the general made and every word he uttered as if it were coming down from the mountain.

“Major Anderson gave me a list of conditions for surrender,” Chesnut said.

“’Conditions’?” Beauregard shook his head. “The major is being unreasonable.  He is in no position to give conditions.”

King stepped forward. “Sir, Major Anderson is delaying.  I believe the Yankee navy is preparing a sortie.  This very night.  My reconnaissance cutter spotted a Federal ship making way to the fort.”

Beauregard frowned.  “Captain . . .?”

“King, sir.  The Yankees are preparing to relieve the fort. They drew off when my cutter discovered them, but I fear they will come again in force this very night.  We must act swiftly.”

Beauregard twisted one end of his mustache. “There is much zeal and energy here, but little professional expertise and knowledge in the art of war.  It is not such an easy matter to take a fortified position.”

Memories of Captain McKenzie and the debacle on the Somers whispered like shadows in King’s brain. “General, we can take Sumter now, easily, or face a pitched battle once the United States Navy moves in.  I taught at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.  With all due respect, sir, while you are certainly a master of land warfare, I know battle on the sea.”

Beauregard looked out at the southern belles, the reporters, the militia, and puffed out his chest to make an announcement. “Negotiations have failed.  I must take action.  I will give Major Anderson notification via the mouth of a cannon.”

Exuberant, wild cheers rose from the crowd. Women threw their arms around the nearest man.  Militia and cadets hurried to prepare their cannon.

King didn’t note the few people who stood forlorn, some with tears in their eyes as the implications struck them differently, including his mother, in the shadow of the house overlooking the Battery that used to be her home. Without realizing it, King took up a vantage point underneath the tree from which his father had hung himself.

4:30 am.  Dawn was not far off.

A single mortar shell from Fort Johnson arced overhead and exploded directly above Fort Sumter. There was an eerie pause, as if the ocean was waiting for what came next.

Forty-three cannon and batteries of mortars from Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson, the Battery, and Cummings Point let loose in a barrage worthy of the start of a war.

As the first shells smashed into the brick walls of Fort Sumter, the faint sound of cheering floated across the water from the surrounding land as an undertone to the sharper crack of cannon firing.

King stood underneath the magnificent oak tree and watched the opening of the inevitable war.

The Honor of the South: General Johnston’s Order to the Army of the Mississipi, the evening before Shiloh

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Vicinity Shiloh, regarding Grant’s invading Army of the Tennessee

5 April 1862

To The Soldiers of the Army of the Mississippi:

I have put into motion to offer battle to the invaders of your country.  With the resolution and discipline and valor becoming men fighting, as you are, for all worth living or dying for, you can but march to decisive victory over the agrarian mercenaries sent to subjugate and despoil you of your liberties, property and honor.  Remember the dependence of your mothers, your wives, your sisters, and your children on the result; remember the fair, broad, abounding land, the happy homes and the ties that would be desolated by your defeat.  The eyes and hopes of eight millions of people rest upon you; you are expected to show yourselves worthy of your lineage, worthy of the women of the South, whose noble devotion in this war has never been exceeded in any time.  With such incentives to brave deeds, and with the trust that God is with us, your generals will lead you confidently to the combat—assured of success.

C.S.A. General Sidney Albert Johnston

(West Point class of 1826)

A destitute US Grant frees his only slave

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

The crisply uniformed Lieutenant from Jefferson Barracks paused in shock in the middle of the St. Louis street.  “Sam?  Sam Grant?”

The man he was calling out to was dressed in shoddy clothes and held a wicker basket full of firewood, which he was hawking from the street corner.

A bright smile split Ulysses S. Grant’s haggard face as he recognized his friend.  “Old Pete!”

Grant dropped the firewood and the two men embraced.  The two had seen nothing of each other since Longstreet had stood in as Grant’s best man when he married Julia Dent back in ’48.  Eleven years later it was clear the two men had gone down vastly different paths.

“You look quite sharp indeed,” Grant said to Longstreet.  “Back at the barracks?”

“For now,” Longstreet allowed.  “And you, you’re in the city?”

Grant gestured at the wood.  “Here for the week to work.  I rent a room.  Then walk home each weekend to see Julia and the children at White Haven.”

“Walk?”  Longstreet was surprised.  “It’s over twelve miles.”

“An easy jaunt,” Grant said.  “I’m glad we’ve met.  There’s something that has been troubling me all these years.”  He reached into his pocket and emptied it of the only coin he had, a five dollar gold piece.  “In all the excitement of the wedding I’d forgotten I have a debt I owe you.”  He held out the coin, but Longstreet didn’t take it.

“There’s no need,” Longstreet.  “I’ve long since forgotten it.”

“It’s a debt of honor,” Grant said.  “You loaned me the money when I needed it.”

“Truly, Sam,” Longstreet said.  “No need.”

“You must take it,” Grant insisted.  “I cannot live with anything in my possession which is not mine.”

Face flushed, Longstreet took the coin and awkwardly shoved it into his pocket.

“Do you have the hour?” Grant asked, as if the debt had already disappeared in the current of time now that it was resolved.

“Where’s your watch?” Longstreet asked without thinking.

“Pawned it two years past to make Christmas happen for the children,” Grant said, as always honest to a fault.  “It was a bad year,” he added, as if selling firewood on the street corner was a sign of a much better one.  “The hour, if you don’t mind, Pete?”

“Half past one.”

“Ah!” Grant grabbed his basket.  “I have an appointment I must make.  Would you like to accompany me?”

“Certainly,” Longstreet said.

Grant set off with a purposeful stride, Longstreet at his side.

“I tried farming,” Grant said.  “West Pointers make poor farmers, I’m afraid.  Hardscrabble I called it after some town in the Colorado Territory that Elijah Cord told me about.  You remember Elijah, don’t you?”


“He’s still out west.  A mountain man or some such,” Grant said.  “A noble occupation, but one that does not seem suited to having a family.  Now, while farming would seem to favor family life, it didn’t for me.  Each time it seemed as if things would work, that the crop would come in, I’m afraid nature saw it differently.  A flood.  A late frost in the spring.  An early frost in the fall.  Mother Nature is most unforgiving.”

They turned a corner and the courthouse loomed ahead.  Longstreet eyed it nervously.  “An appointment with the law?”

Grant laughed.  “Yes, but don’t worry, Pete.  I’ve broken no laws.  A matter I need to resolve.”

They took the steps and entered.  Grant wove his way through the crowded hallways and entered a room where a harried clerk was shuffling papers.

“Sir, I am Ulysses Grant.  We have an appointment.”

The clerk flipped through one of the many stacks on his desk.  “Yes, yes.  I’ve got it right here.”  He looked Grant up and down, not impressed, but then saw Longstreet.  “Is this your witness?”

“He is,” Grant said.

“What am I witnessing?” A bemused Longstreet asked.

“I have a slave.”

“Just one?” Longstreet asked.  “My relations, the Dents, certainly have many more than one and must have bestowed more than one on Julia.”

“They did to Julia, but they bestowed one on me,” Grant said.

“Did he run away?” Longstreet asked.

“Gentlemen?” The clerk interrupted.  “Can we get this done?”  He shoved the piece of paper across his desk and pointed at the pen resting next to the ink well.

Grant took the pin, dipped it, then signed.  Then he offered the pen to Longstreet.  The officer leaned over the desk, pen in hand, but paused when he saw the wording.  “You’re freeing your slave?”

“Certainly,” Grant said.

“But . . .” Longstreet grasped for words.  “Sam, an able-bodied slave can fetch over a thousand dollars on the St. Louis market.”

“I’m aware of the market,” Grant said.  “It’s my decision.”  He said the latter with such finality, that Longstreet remembered Mexico and West Point and knew the matter was no longer to be discussed.  He signed.

The clerk took the paper, shook it to dry the ink, then stamped the document.  “Your property is now a freedman.”

Grant turned to Longstreet.  “Thank you, Pete.”

Longstreet took the hand.  “I’ve got to get back to Jefferson Barracks, but perhaps you could come out and visit?”

Grant smiled sadly.  “Not for a while.  But I’m sure we’ll meet again.”

Robert E. Lee of the US Army, Stonewall Jackon & VMI and John Brown’s Hanging

Excerpt from Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

now becoming available in ebook on all platforms. (Smashwords, Nook, Kindle, direct in all formats from Who Dares Wins Publishing)

“If the arsenal had been this well guarded,” Robert E. Lee muttered, “we wouldn’t be going through this.”

The corn-field, long since harvested, was surrounded by soldiers, over a thousand of them, mostly Virginia Militia, dressed in a wide assortment of uniforms, from red to gray to blue to various combinations of them all.  A scaffold waited in the center of the field, quickly and efficiently built even before the verdict had been handed down condemning John Brown.

King said nothing in response to Lee’s remark.  Since the raid six weeks ago, the trial of John Brown had captivated the country, just as Lee had direly predicted.  King’s failure to kill the man had been written off to the heat of battle, not cold calculation.  The identity of the one-armed man he had killed, had jolted King.

Disgusted with the unfolding spectacle, Lee turned his horse and rode away, heading toward a nearby hilltop to watch from a distance.  King stayed in the shadow of the scaffold.

It was a cold December day, the sun chilled and distant in the clear sky overhead.  A wagon came slowly down a dirt road carrying John Brown, dressed all in black, except for red slippers, sitting on a coffin.  His gaze was over the field, toward the Blue Ridge Mountains, adorned with leafless trees.

A drumbeat began to King’s left.  A contingent of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute were lined up immediately around the scaffold, the drummer a young boy in their midst.  They wore red shirts, grey trousers and crossed white belts.  Their officer in charge came over to King right after Lee rode away.

“What’s wrong with the Colonel?”

“Nothing,” King said.  “He sees no need to be close by.”

“You were in the assault?” the VMI instructor asked.

“I was,” King said.

“Thomas Jackson,” the officer introduced himself.

“George King.”

“This is God’s vengeance,” Jackson said as the wagon came to a halt next to the steps to the scaffold.

“It is indeed,” King agreed as the tailgate to the wagon was let down.  John Brown got off his coffin and quickly leapt off the wagon as if eager for his fate.  The sheriff escorted him up the stairs to the platform, where he was positioned over the trap door.  His ankles were tied by deputies while others slid the coffin out of the wagon and put it just below the door.

“He bears his faith well, though,” Jackson commented.

“But on the wrong path,” King said.

“That will be for a higher power than us to decide soon,” Jackson said.

Jackson turned toward his cadets and signaled.  He barked out an order and they snapped to attention as the drumbeat ceased.  A heavy silence descended on the thousands of soldiers and civilians bearing witness.

A hood was place over Brown’s head and then the rope was cinched around his neck.

“Do you want to know when the trap opens?” the sheriff asked Brown, his voice carrying over the silent crowd.

Brown’s response was slightly muffled by the cloth, but audible.  “No.  Just be quick about it.”

Which, of course, they were not.  Like MacKenzie on the Somers, the officials on the scaffold now seemed uncertain as to who was in charge of the fatal moment.  Minutes passed and Brown stood still as hushed conversations went on around him.

The crowd began to grow uneasy as more minutes had passed.  King looked off in the distance and he saw Lee, on his magnificent stallion, watching from a hilltop a mile away.

Finally the sheriff stepped forward, axe in hand.  Without warning, he swung and cut the rope holding the trap door.

John Brown fell and jerked to a halt with a resounding crack.

Not a sound came from the crowd.

The dangling body slowly twisted and turned.


The Last Written Words of John Brown, 2 December 1859

I, John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.  I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.

The first clash of ironclads: The USS Monitor vs the CSS Virginia

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

8 March 1862, Norfolk, Virginia.

“Sir, today is the Sabbath,” King said, “so I think we should celebrate by killing Yankees.”

“Going west didn’t calm you down in the slightest,” Captain Buchanan, former Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, noted.  He was scanning the Union fleet blockading Hampton Roads through a telescope.  “Laundry day in the fleet.  Their riggings are full of it.  I suspect they don’t anticipate being attacked on a Sunday.”

Both men were standing on top the C.S.S. Virginia, once the U.S.S. Merrimack, which King had watched burn when the Confederacy seized Norfolk. The hull and the rusty steam engines were the only things the two had in common.  From the waterline up, the ship had been completely rebuilt with a radical design.  The hull had been sliced along the waterline and a deck planked on.  Over that deck was built an armored casemate framed with two feet of oak and layered with four inches of iron armor.  The sides were sloped to deflect cannon fire.  In sum, she looked like a barn’s metal roof placed on top of a raft.  She had fourteen gun ports, four on each side and three forward and aft.  She was heavy, she was slow, but she was almost impregnable to cannon fire.

King and Buchanan were on the narrow, flat top of the ship, forward of the smoke-stack.  The Virginia was lumbering down the mouth of the James River, toward the Yankee fleet.  Their approach was noted as laundry started to get scooped out of the rigging and sails deployed.  There were five Union man-of-war ahead:  the Cumberland, the Congress, the St. Lawrence, the Roanoke and the Minnesota.  The odds excited King as they extended the opportunity for a great victory, which the South desperately needed.  Travelling east had been galling as the south reeled from the twin defeats of Forts Henry and Donelson and the mood of the people he met was glum.

And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them’,” King quoted.

Buchanan smiled.  “Let us rebuke, Captain King.  Order the gun crews to prepare to fire.”

Duty, Honor, Country is an epic novel spanning the years from 1840 to the battle of Shiloh in 1862.  The first in a series of novels covering history.  I stopped the first book on the first night of Shiloh because that evening the future of the Civil War, and warfare itself, changed dramatically.  More men were killed at Shiloh in one day than in all United States war combined up to that point.

The book will be out a week from today in ebook, Tuesday, the 12th of April, the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

The only mutiny in the US Navy, which led to the founding of Annapolis

I’d never heard of the USS Somers before I started writing Duty, Honor, Country.  Then again, I went to West Point, not the Naval Academy.  I imagine their first year cadets have to memorize something about the ship and it’s infamy.  As the only mutiny the US Navy ever experienced.  And led to the execution of three men, one the son of the Secretary of War.

The entire scene plays out in my novel and here is an excerpt:

November 1842, USS Somers, Atlantic Ocean

“Are you afraid of death? Do you fear a dead man?  And dare you kill a person?”  The questions came in an excited tumble, hushed but insistent.

George King sat on the foremost boom of the USS Somers and restrained himself from shoving the speaker off the wood and into the ocean below. “I don’t believe I’m particularly anxious to die quite yet, but I do not fear death.”

“And killing a man?” Midshipman Philip Spencer, son of the Secretary of War, pressed him.  It was just after mid-watch, the start of the 25th of November, 1842, and the Somers had been at sea since early September.  Stars sparkled overhead as the ship cut a course west across the Atlantic.

“If honor is involved, I could kill a man,” King assured him.

Spencer appeared disappointed with the answer. “Can you keep a secret?”

Now King was in a bind. First, it was wrong to be out on the boom according to ship’s regulations.  The only reason King had agreed was he sensed that Spencer had something of great importance to say and the situation on the Somers had been deteriorating since the ship had turned around and begun its return cruise from Liberia to St. Thomas.  There were one hundred and twenty souls on board the ship, a hundred of them under the age of 18.  There were dark whispers that Spencer was up to something and King wanted to know what it was.  The boom was one of the few places on board where a whispered conversation could be had and not have a half-dozen over-hear it whether they tried to or not.

“I can keep a secret,” he said.

There were only two men on board who could navigate the ship other than the handful of officers, and King had noted Spencer in the company of those two. King has seen Spencer pay them money and slip them illegal liquor.  King had gone under Cromwell’s verbal lashings several times and other less fortunate trainees had felt the Chief’s cat-of-nine-tails tear their skin.

“Will you take an oath?” Spencer pressed.  He was a tall, thin fellow of nineteen who had seemed amiable enough on the outbound voyage from New York City, but King had seen something in his eyes on first meeting that had never left—a sense of instability in the mind.

“An oath on what?”

That gave Spencer pause. “On your family.”

King smiled coldly in the dark.  “Certainly.”

“I lead a group,” Spencer began, “who will take the ship.”

Mutiny?” King couldn’t believe he had just said the word. It was unthinkable.  There had never been a mutiny in the United States Navy.

Prior to this event, midshipman were trained at sea. On the Somers, the vast majority of crew were under 18 as noted.  After this, a decision was made to form a Naval Academy on land, and my fictional character, George King, becomes one of those involved, although it doesn’t work out quite that smoothly.

Tomorrow: The Honor of the South General Johnston’s Order to the Army of the Mississippi the evening before Shiloh