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Chapter 13

July 5, 1814
The Battle of Chippewa

Brown and the rest of the army began arriving just before midnight, in the middle of a downpour. Ripley's brigade made camp south of Scott's brigade, eager to get their tents up.


By the morning of the fifth, the rain had stopped, and the sun had returned. The heat soon dried up the traces, leaving the ground as dusty as ever. Scott's pickets started exchanging gunfire with British skirmishers who'd taken up positions in the woods to the west. The presence of the enemy there was a nuisance, but nothing worse than that. Still, after hours of it, Brown was annoyed enough to order Porter to take his Third Brigade of militiamen and their Indian allies, and clear the skirmishers out of the woods.


Porter and his men began moving into the woods late in the afternoon. While they did so, Scott decided that he would use the rest of day to march his brigade across Street's Creek and engage in a full drill in front of the main British forces. The brigadier was frustrated by inaction.


"If nothing else," he told Driscol, "we can thumb our noses at the enemy. Show them we're not intimidated. Besides, I don't want the men getting rusty."


Driscol thought it was a lot of foolishness, but he went about the brigadier's business, getting the men ready for the drill. As he did so, he noticed General Brown and several of his aides trotting toward the woods. Brown had apparently decided to see how Porter was getting along.


Not well, it seemed. There was a sudden burst of gunfire from the direction of the trees, which turned into what sounded like a small running battle. Driscol assumed the British had decided to reinforce their skirmishers in the woods.


But he didn't see anything further. Even if he hadn't been preoccupied with his own affairs, the screen of trees and brush along the banks of the creek blocked his view of the plain to the north.


"We've got them pinned in the woods, sir," Riall's aide said to him, after he took the report from the courier.


Major General Riall nodded. Then, smiled rather ferociously. "Time to teach Cousin Jonathan what's what, then, wouldn't you say? Order the army across the bridge."


When General Brown saw the first of Porter's militiamen stumbling out of the woods, he scowled. His scowl deepened when he saw the cloud of dust starting to rise in the north.


He lifted himself up in the stirrups in order to get a better view. After a few seconds he started seeing British uniforms, flashing like gleams in the dust.


"Good God. They're coming across the bridge."


His eyes swept back and forth across the field. It was obvious that Riall had sent enough reinforcements into the woods to tie up Porter's brigade. If he moved his main army onto the plain quickly enough, he had a fair chance of capturing Porter and his men before they could disengage.


Instead of simply waiting behind defensive lines, Riall had decided to lay a little trap.


"Ha!" Brown's scowl changed into a grin. If Scott could get his brigade onto the plain quickly enough to forestall Riall's advance, that would allow them time enough for Brown himself to race back and bring up Ripley's brigade as a reinforcement...


He jabbed a finger in the direction of the woods. "Get in there—all of you—and stiffen up Porter. Tell him to hold."


Without another word, he turned his horse and began galloping back toward the bridge across Street's Creek.


* * *

Sergeant Driscol was in the leading ranks of the First Brigade as it began crossing over the Street's Creek bridge. He was on foot now, not on horseback, since in the coming drill he'd be assuming his normal position in the battle formation. General Scott and two of his officers were the only mounted men in the vicinity. They were ahead of him, and they weren't throwing up enough dust to obscure Driscol's vision.


As soon as the sergeant saw the cloud of dust to the north, he figured out what was happening. He began to alert the brigadier, but saw that it wasn't necessary. Scott was already perched high in his stirrups, staring at the sight.


Then, an oncoming horseman made the whole issue a moot one.


It was General Brown, galloping recklessly across the field, grinning like a lunatic.


He didn't even slow down. He thundered past Scott and Driscol, pointing behind him with a finger. "You will have a battle!" he shouted gaily, and then he was gone.


By now, Scott was grinning himself. He began bellowing orders. By the time those orders got to the master sergeant, Driscol had already taken care of what needed doing. Seeing that, Scott's grin widened even further.


"We shall whip them, Sergeant! Watch and see!"


Driscol shared the brigadier's hopes, but not his anticipation. Brown's entire army might outnumber Riall's, but Scott's First Brigade didn't. Driscol doubted if Brown could get the Second Brigade moved up before nightfall. In the battle that was about to take place, Scott would face something like seventeen hundred British regulars with only thirteen hundred men of his own.


No American army since the war began had beaten an equal-size British force on an open battlefield. Not regulars matched against regulars. Now, Scott proposed to do it while outnumbered four to three.


So be it. It seemed a nice countryside. Not Ireland, true, but still a pleasant enough place to die.


Half an hour later, the two armies were taking positions facing each other on the plain by the Niagara, and Private McParland was scared out of his wits. Drill was one thing. But finally seeing red-coated British troops maneuvering on a plain with all the precision of a machine—well, that was something else entirely. The enemy army reminded the teenage soldier of the brightly painted threshing machine he'd seen once at a county fair. With him and his mates as the grain about to be haplessly mangled.


Desperately, he tried to control his terror. And, like many of the men around him, he found his anchor in the sight of Sergeant Driscol.


He was there, of course. Where else would he? Stalking calmly back and forth in front of the troops, living up to the name his men had recently given him.


The troll.


Off in the distance, young McParland could see Brigadier Scott, shouting something to another group of soldiers. McParland couldn't make out the words, but he was quite sure that Scott was exhorting the troops. The brigadier was a fine speechifier, as he'd demonstrated in the past any number of times.


Sergeant Driscol's notion of "exhortation," on the other hand, was...


About what you'd expect from a troll.


You will not flinch. You will not quaver. Forget those wretched Sassenach, boys. If a man so much as twitches, I will cut him up for my soup. You will face lead with serenity. You will face bayonets with a laugh. Because if you don't, you will face my gaping gullet.


The beast went on in that vein for another minute or so. By the time he was done, McParland felt himself settling down. Not so much because he was scared of the troll's wrath any longer— the youngster would surely be dead soon, anyway, so what difference did it make?—but because he knew for sure and certain that the enemy was doomed. The British might have precision and training and experience and all the rest. But did they have their own troll?


Not a chance. McParland didn't think there were more than six trolls in the whole world. Eight, tops.


"We'll let them fire the first volley," Scott announced.


Driscol nodded and walked off. He wasn't entirely sure himself that was the right thing to do, but...


Maybe. That first hammering volley was a treasure for an army, to be sure. But if it was fired that little bit too soon, it wouldn't have any effect on well-trained troops except to prove to them that they could stand up to it. Thereafter, the force that had taken the first blow and rebounded had that little extra edge to their confidence.


And that was what it was all about, in the end. Confidence. For all the intricacy of the firing movements and the endless training it took to get men to do it properly in the midst of carnage, musket battles on an open field—where one line of men hammered at another at point-blank range—could only be described as sheer brutality. Driscol wasn't a learned man, but he knew something of the history of warfare. He didn't think there was really anything like it, unless you went back over two thousand years to the days of the Greek hoplites.


To win such battles, one thing was needed above all. The confidence—say better, arrogance—of Achilles and Ajax. Pain and suffering and wounds were irrelevant. All that mattered was that you did not break.


Ever.


You died, but you did not break.


Once he got back to his position, he decided to brighten up the spirits of the troops a bit more.


If you break, I will hound you to the gates of hell. If you waver, I will rend your flesh. If you hesitate—


"Oh, just shut up, will you?" McParland hissed under his breath. But he held his musket at precisely the right angle when he said it. The musket was properly loaded, and the ramrod back in its place.


By an odd quirk of the air, that little hiss made its way to the sergeant's ears. It was all Driscol could do not to laugh aloud. His exhortations had succeeded in their purpose. The spirits of the troops were as bright as the sunshine. In a manner of speaking.


The British fired the first volley. When the smoke cleared, Major General Riall watched the American forces maneuvering calmly to close the gaps left by the dead and wounded. Then he saw the first American volley coming like a thunderclap, with none of the raggedness he'd expected.


He rose up in his saddle.


"Those aren't militiamen. By God, those are regulars!"


One of his aides shook his head. "We still have them outnumbered, sir."


"So we do. Still and all, I wouldn't have thought Cousin Jonathan had it in him."


Some part of McParland's brain was astonished to discover that he was still alive. The man right next to him had been smashed flat.


The British had a small battery of nine guns with them. From the quantity of gore splattered all over McParland, the young soldier assumed his mate had been hit by a grapeshot and not a musket ball. There was something sticking to the seventeen-year-old's trouser leg that looked like a piece of intestine.


But he didn't have time to think about it. McParland brought his musket up on command. Noting, in some odd, new, confident part of his brain, that all of his mates had brought their muskets up at exactly the same time, and at exactly the same level. He could see them out of the corners of his eyes. Not as men, really, but simply as an endless gray line. Like a short cliff, standing on a plain.


He didn't aim the musket, of course. Just leveled it and pointed it in the general direction of the enemy. He pulled the trigger when he heard the troll's command.


Fire!


To Sergeant Driscoll, that first volley fired by his own men was like a taste of the finest whiskey. In times past, he'd always been able to tell the difference between an American and a British volley, just by the sound alone. British volleys were as they should be: crisp, like thunderbolts. American volleys were altogether different; haphazard gusts trying to match a hurricane.


Not here.


Not today.


On the field of open battle, the volley reigned supreme. That wasn't due to the tactics involved, but because a good volley reinforced what was essential in musket battles: confidence.


A good, proper volley stiffened the men. A ragged one tore at their certainty. It was as simple as that. Musket battles were won by morale, not bullets.


* * *

When the smoke cleared, McParland saw that the troll was still standing there, untouched by the carnage. He wasn't surprised. McParland thought the troll probably had a magical shield that deflected enemy musket balls and grapeshot. Or maybe it was simply that the lead bullets were terrified of him, too.


Reload!


McParland went through the motions, easily, quickly. He discovered that the concentration needed to reload a musket kept his mind off anything else.


Step forward! Ten paces!


Somewhere in the middle of those paces, another British volley ripped through the ranks. McParland saw a nearby soldier clutch his face with both hands, spilling his musket to the ground. An instant later, blood was gushing through the fingers and the man toppled next to his musket. There was no hole in the back of his head, but, from the completely limp and lifeless look of the body, McParland was pretty sure the big musket ball had jellied the man's brains.


But the teenager didn't really think about it. His mind was entirely focused on the need to close ranks to make good the gaps. Between them, over the months, Brigadier Scott and his troll of a master sergeant had trained McParland to do, and do, and do—and never to think. Not in a battle.


"I want that battery taken out, Captain! Do you hear me? Move your three guns forward. Charge them if you have to, but get close enough to take them out with canister!"


For all the fury of his words, Scott's tone was lively. Almost cheerful. Captain Nathan Towson was a good artillery officer, and Scott was confident that he'd get the job done.


He had other things on his mind, anyway. Porter's Third Brigade had been beaten, and they were in full flight out of the woods. Scott had to protect his now-exposed left flank.


"Major Jesup! Take your Twenty-fifth Regiment and swing them around to cover the left!"


Jesup was another good officer. Scott seemed to collect them like a magnet, in time of war.


It was going well. Driscol could tell, from long experience, despite not being able to see much due to the gun smoke that now obscured most of the field. The men had suffered casualties, but had kept moving forward despite them—and, now, with ever-growing confidence that they could do so.


So, another volley.


It was a given that men died in battles, winners and losers both. Victory was all that mattered.


Fire!


McParland wondered—not until he'd pulled the trigger, of course—how the troll managed to project his voice so well in the middle of a battle. The words were quite clear, even crisp— quite unlike the monster's normal rasp, which had always reminded McParland of a dull saw hitting a knot in a log.


That penetrating voice, in fact, was the only thing McParland had heard clearly since the battle began. Abstractly, he'd known that battles would be noisy affairs. But the reality made the word "noisy" seem meaningless. It was like being in the middle of a thunderstorm, except the clouds were light instead of dark. The volleys came like flashes of lightning. And with white gun smoke hanging everywhere, McParland couldn't usually see more than fifteen feet in any direction.


Reload!


Step forward! Ten paces!


"Good God."


Major General Phineas Riall stared at the battlefield. Four volleys had been exchanged, each at ever-closer range, and the American forces hadn't so much as wavered. If anything, their volleys were even surer than those of the British.


An aide next to him made a slight shake of the head. Riall had served in the British army for twenty years, and was as well trained as any British officer. But his service had been entirely in the West Indies.


The aide, he recalled, had fought Napoleon's army on the continent.


Towson's three guns along the Niagara were starting to silence the British battery. Scott peered at the other side of the field. Jesup and his Twenty-fifth had succeeded in anchoring the American left flank, but the movement had opened a gap in his lines. So Scott ordered McNair and his Ninth Regiment to move to the left. The fact remained that the British army was larger than his own, and there was no way Scott could match the lines without creating a gap somewhere. That was dangerous.


On the other hand, Riall's force had moved forward far enough that the British right was no longer anchored on the woods.


There was a maneuver...


Risky, of course, and not usually tried in a real battle. But if it was done well enough...


"Yes," Scott murmured. "In for a penny, in for a pound."


"Excuse me, sir?" asked one of his aides.


Scott grinned. "I was just remarking that the whole point of fighting a battle is to win the thing. Let us do so, Lieutenant.


"Take orders to Major McNair. Tell him I want the Ninth Regiment to keep moving left. When his forces meet up with Jesup's, I want them to wheel inward, facing northeast. Riall's right is hanging in the open, so McNair and Jesup should be able to bring enfilade fire on them, and roll up their flank. They'll break."


The lieutenant hesitated a moment, before racing off with the orders. Even he could see that Scott's maneuver was going to open a great, gaping hole in the center of the American force. If the British moved quickly enough, they'd smash through before the flanking attack could be brought to bear.


In effect, Scott was gambling that his American army could outmaneuver a British army in the middle of a battle, while standing its ground against superior forces in what was now practically a point-blank contest of musket volleys.


The lieutenant probably thought he was insane.


"He's insane!" snarled Riall. "What lunatic is in command over there?"


"I suspect that's Winfield Scott's brigade, sir," replied the aide. "He's said to be bold. Even, ah, rash."


"He's insane," Riall repeated. "Send forward the Royal Scots and the One Hundredth Foot. We'll smash this thing before it gets started."


One of the couriers raced off to give the command. The aide kept his own counsel. It was possible, of course, that Riall was right. But the aide couldn't help remembering that the word "insane" had been applied quite often to Napoleon, as well.


To be sure, in the end, they'd beaten Napoleon. But not before the madman had won a lot of battles.


* * *

For a moment, the clouds of gun smoke cleared enough for Driscol to see what Scott was doing with the other regiments. He understood the maneuver immediately—and it was all he could do not to whoop with glee.


Driscol's own Twenty-second Regiment had pinned the British, and now—finally, at last!—an American army had a general worthy of its soldiers. Scott would match their confidence with his own, using the kind of bold and daring stroke that Napoleon would have favored.


Suddenly, the sergeant was spun completely around. The blow didn't even register as such until he stumbled to one knee. Then, looking down at his left arm, he saw that a musket ball had struck it.


Destroyed it, rather. Driscol had seen more battle wounds than he could remember. If he survived the battle, he knew that he was looking at an amputation.


At the very least. The elbow was a shattered mass of flesh and blood. That meant an amputation somewhere in the upper arm, not the lower. Most men did not survive such, not in the conditions of a battlefield surgery. Not for long. If blood loss and shock didn't kill them, infection would.


So be it. It was a given that wounded men died after battles. Winners and losers alike. All that mattered was victory.


Then the pain arrived, in a searing wave that all but blinded him for a moment. He gritted his teeth, and pulled away from it by sheer force of will. Still on one knee, Driscol called out the commands.


Reload! Ten paces forward!


It seemed to McParland as if the troll's voice was a bit off. But he didn't give it much thought. Truth to tell, the young soldier was hardly thinking at all any longer. Reality had shrunk down to an endless cycle of repeated actions. There was nothing much beyond that, other than noticing—briefly, and without dwelling on the matter—the bodies of his mates as they were flung aside or crumpled to the ground, often showing hideous wounds.


So it came as a complete surprise when he stumbled across the troll's body as he stepped forward into the gun smoke.


Stumbled against it, rather. The troll was down on one knee, but he wasn't dead. His left arm looked to be a complete ruin from the elbow down, and he was awkwardly trying to bind it up with his one good hand. McParland realized that he had shouted the last orders even after he had been wounded.


Very badly wounded, from the look of it.


The troll glanced up at him. "Bind this for me, would you? Then help me up."


Confused, McParland looked down at his musket. How was he supposed to...


"Just put the bloody thing down!" the troll rasped. "Consider yourself on detached duty for the rest of the battle, young Mc-Parland. I promise I won't stand you before a firing squad."


McParland had been trained to dress wounds, so once his mind cleared, he set down the musket and went about the business, quickly and efficiently. That done, he helped the troll to get back on his feet.


"Where are the boys, lad? I'm feeling a bit light-headed."


McParland did a quick estimate, in the battle murk.


"They've made the paces, Sergeant."


The young private didn't think, with a wound like that, he'd have been able to do more than croak. Or scream. But the troll's bellowing, piercing voice had not a quaver in it this time.


"Fire!"


The volley hammered every other thought or sensation aside. It really was like standing right next to a lightning bolt. Or so McParland imagined. He'd never actually stood right next to a lightning bolt, since he wasn't insane.


Or hadn't been, at least, until some mad impulse he could no longer remember clearly had led him to volunteer for the army.


Amazingly, the troll was now grinning.


"It's going well, lad. I can tell. The volleys have that sure and certain victorious air about them."


McParland had no idea how the troll had come to that conclusion. As far as he could tell, the universe was a place of sheer confusion. The volleys weren't so much sounds as periodic, paralyzing bursts of chaos.


Still, the words cheered him up.


Why not? If anyone could make sense out of this madness, it would be a troll.


"Help me forward now, lad. I will not fall until I see the Sassenach broken. In front of me, goddamn them. Lying at my feet, whipped like curs."


Again, that voice. Like a lightning bolt itself.


Reload!


Ten paces forward!


The aide saw the truth before Riall could bring himself to accept it.


"If we pull back now, sir, we can still salvage the army. Wait another few minutes, and..."


Riall glared at him. Then, went back to glaring at the battlefield.


The aide waited.


A minute went by. Then another.


The British army was caught in a vise from which they barely had time to extricate themselves. Scott's flanking attack, however reckless it might have been, had been carried out so well and so swiftly that Riall's forces hadn't been able to move quickly enough to counter it.


In truth, they hadn't moved at all. The American lines in front of them had never flinched. Indeed, had kept coming forward every time they fired.


"Never seen the like," Riall muttered. "What has Cousin Jonathan been eating lately?"


French food, the aide was tempted to reply. But, wisely, he refrained from uttering the quip. Riall didn't have a good sense of humor even on his best days.


Which this one most certainly was not.


"Order retreat. We'll fall back across the Chippewa, while we still hold the bridge."


The British soldiers didn't start breaking until the order came. Even then, stiffened by professional training and experience, they were never routed. But the last few minutes were ghastly. Captain Townsend brought his guns forward and added canister to the havoc being wreaked by the American musketeers, who were now firing from oblique angles into a mass of soldiers caught in the closing trap.


They got out, but not before they left more than five hundred men on the field, dead or wounded.


American casualties were only three hundred or so.


* * *

"I'm still alive," McParland said wonderingly. "Not a scratch on me."


The troll said nothing. Just watched, with a look of satisfaction on his face fiercer than anything McParland had ever seen, as the last British soldiers stumbled across the distant bridge. The ground that lay between them and that bridge looked like a red carpet, from the uniforms on the broken bodies covering it. And the blood, of course.


The most amazing thing happened then. McParland never told anyone, afterward, because he knew he'd be called a liar. But the troll's eyes filled with tears.


"Those bastards broke two of my nations," he heard him whisper. "They won't break this one."


After a few seconds, McParland cleared his throat. "Sergeant, we'd really better get you to the surgeon. That's a nasty wound. Really nasty."


The sergeant glanced down at his left arm.


"Oh, aye. I'll lose most of it. I doubt me if even a top surgeon in Philadelphia could fix this ruin—and there'll be no top surgeons in an army camp, you can be sure of that."


McParland turned him around and they began hobbling away.


"On the bright side," Driscol continued, "I'll just grow myself another arm."


By the time McParland got him to the surgeon's tent, he decided the sergeant was joking. He wasn't certain, though.


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