A Daughter Of Liberty

By Chris Bunch and Allan Cole

(Sample Chapters)

 
 

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PROLOGUE

THUNDER, SUMMER THUNDER swept aside the morning's heat-curtain and echoed down the glen and across the river. But lightning and rain would not follow to break the heat.

The thunder came from huge, massed drums. Behind the drums, ten abreast, came the Dutch Guards.

Brian O Seannachain wiped sweat-slick palms dry on his dirty jerkin and braced his pike against the ground.

He hoped that from this day forward Ireland would be free of the foreign king, his German God and his bloody-handed soldiers. That after this day Brian could find his way back, back away from this heat-drenched tidal


 
 

river named the An Boin, back  to his own lands and his own river, the Shannon.

For centuries, his family had farmed the rich land along that river some boasters claimed bore their name. They worked the land through good times when peace hung over Ireland and the men with bloody swords busied themselves in other lands with their killing and the O Seannachains' scythe was a tool for harvesting and the pike was hidden rusting in the thatch. In good times there was food, some for the day and for the winter.

But there were other times, times of famine. And there were times of fear, when the soldiers came across the land. Then the O Seannachains fought. Fought the Romans, the Vikings, the Normans for independence. Then came the English, and the land itself bled. King John. Henry. Elizabeth. Cromwell. Each time the English, quicker with the sword and the lash, won.


 
 

Now, on this hell-baking July day, one thousand six hundred and eighty-nine years after the birth of Our Savior, another battle was to be fought. The last one, some said. Between the Dutch William of Orange, William the chosen Protestant king of England, and James II, the Stuart, the Catholic, dethroned in England, renamed king by a Dublin Parliament.

Drumthunder crashing closer now. Screaming, pain-screaming anger-screaming as the English and their gallow-glasses waded into the neck-deep water of the ford toward Brian and the Irish line. Thud of carbines, dull in the heat. Across the river the crash-crash-crash of cannon, and there was a man pulling himself out of the water toward him, using a handful of willows for a hold, baskethilt sword waving, most unwarlike, peruke and hat sogging down over his face, and his hands flung wide, pitching the long sword high into the air as a musket ball caught him.

A horse screamed beside Brian. There were other horses, armed men astride them, being kicked through the river. Brian set his mind and his feet firm—cavalry would not charge, he had learned in the


 
 

months past in the long dreary retreat from the north, any man or thing that stood firm. But if you turned and ran, you would be ridden down and take a sword, pike or ball in the back. Brian knew this—others did not. He saw the ripple as men shouted. Ran. Banners were cast down, cast away with weapons for ease of flight. He warned himself to not be thinking of that. Concern himself only with this small yardage that was his battlefield. His life, his death would be found here, as white cannon smoke and dust closed the horizons in. A sword cut across his arm, but it was nothing and numb and Brian fought on, stepping aside once, twice, again as the Irish cavalry charged through the lines against the English, Sarsfield's happy banner flashing in the stilly sun, until shouts broke his mind. Shouts that the flank was turned, James had fled, save yourselves my sons, my lads, save yourselves, and the dust lifted.

Brian saw horsemen, English horsemen, crash into the Irish line on the left, wails and the line broke. Broke, and crumbled back, back toward the narrow pass of Duleek toward Dublin and screams from a man Brian had followed north from the River Shannon into battlehell to run, run, we can fight again another day, and then that man went down.


 
 

Brian was running, trying to watch over his shoulder, cavalry, good Irish cavalry holding the ground, even charging the Englishmen as the foot soldiers fled and looming just up in front of him a man shouting something in a tongue that was not Gaelic nor English. Brian slashed with his pike, and the man fell back.

Brian heard hooves behind him, turned, saw cavalry sweeping across this battleground that was becoming a shambles and pain seared, burnt, numbed, and he stumbled, 'most fell, turned, seeing that man he'd but touched pull his sword free, free from Brian's left side, drawback for the killing slash and Brian put the pike through his face.

Christ to lie down just to bleed awhile, Christ for some water, Christ how dry the world is and the sound of battle waver on him. No, he thought. No you will not. You will not fall, you will not stretch yourself on this battlefield for them to find and slaughter you like they have so many of your friends before. You are moving, damn you, damn you. One foot. Now then, another. You can do it. Get that


 
 

damned pike up, see the horseman pull his mount away from the wavering, threatening bloodred tip. Clear now. Clear for the pass. Away from this river and this hell. For home. For the Shannon. But there will not be safety there, because this day is the end. Hide yourself, Brian O Seannachain. Hide yourself well, in the marshes, in the empty moors, in the cities, and then you will hide yourself on foreign shores.

That day in July, 1690, began the Flight of the Wild Geese. Irishmen, driven out of their country. Driven to France, to Germany, to Spain… and to America.

One of them was a pikeman. His name became, in the language of the conqueror, Brian Shannon. He  came with only his wits, the clothes he wore, and the passion to find a land where no man would be his master. It was a poor legacy for the Shannons. But it was all he had.


 
 

Chapter One

On February 22, 1778, Private Emmett Shannon, Fourth New York Regiment, deserted the Continental Army at Valley Forge. He had not suddenly joined the ranks of the summer soldiers and the sunshine patriots so loathed by Tom Paine. The Royal Brute of Britain and his bullies were still insufficiently punished - and Emmett had generations of Irish forebears to revenge.

Nor had physical hardship broken him: twenty pounds lighter, canvas pants flapping in the icy wind, a hacking cough, the half-gill of rice and tablespoon of vinegar that had been his Thanksgiving meal - these were expected in a campaign. He'd learned that the first time he went a-soldiering, almost fifteen years before. Even as a civilian wandering the frontier,  he'd known far harsher winters and suffered


 
 

shorter rations in his thirty-five years. But it was time to go home. His fingers touched the letter folded into a pocket of his hunting shirt, which had arrived two days earlier.

Dear Brother Emmett,

The council has taken our goods and property for debt. We have no furnishings. Not even a bed. Nor do we have wood to last the winter. I fear there will not be food enough to last one half of that. Your two sons are gravely ill and my own children are failing. I do not care for myself, but your poor wife must be crying in Heaven to see such a sight. Please come home soon as I fear we shall all be dead.

Your loving sister, Ruth


 

 

His sister was of a flighty disposition, prone to make a tempest out of a chimney rattler. But whatever was happening in Cherry Valley obviously needed some attention.

It made perfect sense to Emmett that the Committee of Public Safety would persecute the sister and children of a widower fighting for their own cause; or what had become the committee's cause after the destruction of British general Burgoyne at Saratoga. These brave Patriots in Cherry Valley needed an example to show their new fervor.

But this was how the war was being waged, Shannon and his fellow soldiers agreed. The loudest of the Patriots seemed content to let others do the actual fighting while they concentrated on profit. For instance, here at Valley Forge the army was starving, but the burghers just beyond a foraging party's range were untouched by the war and fat as fireside cats. Only the soldiers suffered

Before the war, Valley Forge had been the home of Quaker farmers and a prosperous iron forge and


 

 

 

 

 

gristmill. It made perfect sense to the starving, miserable revolutionary soldiers that this hellhole, originally one of William Penn's properties, had been named the Manor of Mount Joy. Of course, Mount Joy itself was within the campsite, and Mount Misery just outside it.

It was a natural fortress. General Washington, with his surveyor's eye for terrain, had chosen it as the best possible location for the battered Continental Army's winter quarters. About sixteen miles from British-occupied Philadelphia, it had a creek-swollen gorge on its west, the Schuylkill River guarding its borders on the north and east, and steep bluffs on the south. If Lord Howe - commander of the British forces occupying Philadelphia - tired of his mistress's bed and marched out to battle, the American army would face him from a four-foot-deep trench, with earth mounded behind it; earthen forts prepared as strongholds, and a line of sharpened stakes beyond the trenches. A strong position, far better than most of the hasty defenses the Americans had fought from earlier in the war.

The defenses of Valley Forge might be properly laid out, but there was almost no one fit enough to man

them in the event of a battle. About eleven thousand men marched into winter quarters at Valley Forge on December 19. There were less than four thousand left. By February, Valley Forge was a sewer of nearly two thousand acres. When the weather rose above freezing, as it had regularly and unpredictably that winter, the residue of a half-trained, indifferently led army thawed and stank, from shit to garbage to the hundreds of dead horses.

The soldiers themselves felt abandoned by their leaders, politicians, and countrymen.

Emmett Shannon himself had been unpaid for three months. His captain had announced, rather dryly, just after New Year's Day, that the ever-generous Continental Congress had authorized an extra month's pay for any officer or man who would soldier on through the winter. That, too, had never been paid.

On paper the Continental Army was well fed. Each soldier was authorized, daily, a pound of bread, a

pound of meat or salt fish, a pint of milk, a quart of beer, a quart of peas, a quart of beans, and butter. Shannon, waiting for dusk in the reeking murk of his hut, tried to find some humor in that. He had last tasted beef, he calculated, a week ago. Rancid salt beef it was, too. No rations at all had been issued for the last three days. The hooting and cawing had gone up and down the company streets, and then the cants of "No meat, no coat, no flour, no soldier." Shannon didn't bother to join in - that put no victuals on his table. Eventually the chants died away, and there was silence except for the wind snarling outside, whistling through the indifferently mud-caulked timbers of the hut.

Emmett Shannon reconsidered his careful plans for desertion while he waited. The current penalty, he'd heard, was five hundred lashes on the bare back, well laid on. Such a punishment, if he was caught, was unlikely to be carried out. Nor would the previously proclaimed penalty of a hundred lashes. Those unfortunates who'd been stripped and striped in front of their regiment were fairly committed villains who'd also struck an officer - in one case with a ramrod - stolen, or had been imbecile enough to head for the British lines at Philadelphia to join up, only to be captured by their former comrades. But Emmett preferred not to play the odds.

The first and most important step was getting rid of his damned musket. In a way, Emmett was sorry to part with the ten-pound Tower musket that the British called a Brown Bess, for a stupidly sentimental reason: it had been made at, and was stamped behind the lock, DUBLIN CASTLE; about the closest he would ever come to his grandfather's homeland.

But there was no place for sentiment. Shannon gathered musket and the six-pound metal cartridge box filled with balls, powder, and accessories. He headed out from his brigade's position along the bluff into Woodford's brigade, sited across Baptist Road, on of the five rutted trails into Valley Forge.

Eventually he encountered one of Morgan's riflemen who was equipped with a particularly well-mounted and -maintained Pennsylvania long rifle. He offered a trade and was greeted with immediate and total suspicion.


The rifle may have been legendary among the mythmakers, balladeers, and propagandists. But none of them had ever stood on a bare field, discharged one round at the onrushing enemy, and then realized that the British line would be on them before they would be able to reload. On them with needle-sharp, triangular, seventeen-inch bayonets.

After that first engagement, any rifleman who survived was eager to acquire a Brown Bess from a dead Britisher.

A musket and a rifle looked a bit the same. Each was about five feet long and weighed about ten pounds. Both were loaded at the muzzle. Gunpowder, either poured by eye or spilled from a paper tube, went in first. Then the ball - a round cartridge of hand-poured lead about three-quarters of an inch in diameter - was put down the barrel on top of the powder. Both the musket and the rifle ball would be wrapped in a greased linen or buckskin patch. Loose gunpowder was sprinkled in a pan that in-letted into the barrel's base. When the trigger was pulled, the hammer, which actually was a tiny vise holding a piece of flint, would fall and strike sparks from the pan cover - called the frizzen - set off the powder in the pan, and the weapon would fire.

The weapons were very similar - but there were two major differences. Both differences killed riflemen. The musket barrel was a smooth pipe. A ball could be - and in an emergency was - simply dropped down on top of the powder, the weapon hastily lifted and fired. That would work, if the musket ball did not simply roll out of the barrel before the powder went off.

The rifle was a more sophisticated weapon. Its tube was grooved, so the ball would spin as it exited, and gain accuracy. The rifle ball, in turn, was cast so that it fit tightly into the barrel. A rifleman sometimes had to use both his ramrod and a small mallet as well to drive the load home. In that time, a Hessian jaeger would have wreaked the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian on the unfortunate man. For some unknown reason, no rifles had yet been equipped for bayonets. So, once the first ball was discharged, the rifleman's sophisticated instrument of death was nothing more than a club.

So Shannon's offer to Morgan's man was far too good to be believed. The man examined the musket with the care of a horse trader being offered a blind spavined nag with glanders. But he could find no fault. He therefore growled for an explanation. Shannon, smiling guilelessly, gave him one. He had been told off by his sergeant for a foraging party, which would range up toward New Jersey. Shannon had plans of assassinating a deer. "No deer closer'n thirty miles," the rifleman said.

"My deer'll have just two plain horns," Shannon said. "One t'either side of its skull."

A smile flickered across the rifleman's face. "And if you yanked its tail, it'd bawl," he suggested.

"It might," Shannon said.

"The Dutchmen could stand to lose a bullock or two," the man said, and handed over the rifle and shot pouch. That was the hardest part. The rest of the supplies Shannon amassed were either slung around his body or fit handily in the brown, hairygoatskin knapsack acquired from a very dead British grenadier while doing a bit of thoughtful corpse-looting after Saratoga.

There wasn't much to take. For clothing Shannon had a pair of moccasins he'd sewn up early in January, hide traded to him by one of the regiment's butchers; leggings; his deerskin hunting shirt; a ragged pair of pants he'd made from tent canvas - quite explicitly against Washington's orders when the tents were turned in to the quartermaster some months earlier; his rifleman's slouch hat; and a blanket, worn Indian-style, for a coat. A second blanket was rolled and tied across his knapsack.

One thing he would not need was the tarred rope around his waist. Emmett, being a man who had occasionally made his way selling medicine, had scientifically protected himself with the rope against the vapors this fever camp would produce. But now, heading away from the pollution, this would not be necessary.

Shannon heard the tootle and rattle start from behind his hut, down below on Gulph Road. It was time to go. He picked up his rifle and shouldered his pack. He stumbled, nearly fell, and swore. Normally the barrel-chested man carried around 150 pounds on his five-foot, seven-inch frame. No longer. He was in no shape to be walking across the valley, let alone the hundreds of miles to his home. But there was no choice. He walked away without looking back.

There was a cluster of soldiers trailing up the road around the artillery brigade's cannons, vaguely following the sound of music. The music came from the cannoneers' fife and drum corps, and the group was marching in what they thought a proper military formation toward General Washington's quarters on the Potts House. It was the General's birthday, and this was the best his army could do to celebrate.

May you have many more, Shannon thought to himself as he wove his way through the throng. Loathing officers, he respected the general. A rich, slave-owning bastard from Virginia he might be, but he knew how to soldier. He'd been down in the muck and the mire like any rifleman. He'll win this war, Shannon thought, in spite of the fools in the Congress. Maybe when we lick the British he'll lead the army on York or wherever the sons of bitches are hiding. Emmett joined a ragged cheer for the general, then moved on, toward Fort Washington. He found an abandoned breastwork to hide in, and waited. It was freezing, even out of the wind. But Shannon was used to being cold.

Eventually, at sunset, the drumroll started down the line, then went through the second line, the artillery, and the reserve.

Retreat. It got darker and colder. Again the drumbeat sounded through the camp. Tattoo. Nine of the clock.

Shannon gave it another estimated hour, until whatever sentry was on guard should be frozen through, then crept on toward the frozen Schuylkill River. Staying low, eyes widened, looking for a patch of black in the blackness that would mark the sentry, he saw nothing. Then he heard movement as the man came up from a huddle, dropping the blanket he'd had around his shoulders, and there was the click of a musket being brought to full cock.

"Halt," came the challenge. "Who comes there?" Then: "Orkney."

"Otway," answered Shannon. He'd been given the night's password by his sergeant.

"Advance one." Shannon walked toward him. "What's your business?"

"Damned sergeant told me to reinforce the sentry out on the bridge," Shannon said.

"Shit." The sentry was unimpressed. "They reinforce, they send four men. And the corp'ral of the guard."

"Not when the sergeant throws a knave and you hold a king, they don't," Shannon said.

Silence, while the sentry considered the story. Shannon moved closer to the man. He'd rather not. . . but his fingers touched the tomahawk in his belt. The sentry was very young. His clothes were even more ragged than Emmett's. Over his shoulders were the remains of a British greatcoat. His head was bare.

Shannon looked down. The sentry was standing on his tricorner hat. He shifted frequently from naked foot to naked foot. Poor lad, Shannon thought. Shoes without soles. He wondered if there was blood on the frozen ground. "You're deserting," the young man said. The tomahawk was reversed in Shannon's fingers. With luck, he'd be able to knock the man unconscious with the flat, and not kill him.

"Wish't I could as well," the young man added suddenly. "But . . ." and Shannon could see the man's head move. Gesturing downriver. Toward Philadelphia. "Understand the king's got a few troops in the city. Hell. I don't even know if I've got a home to go back to." Shannon had nothing to say. "Better you get moving," the sentry said. "My sergeant's been known to check his posts right around this time. Hopin' to catch us sleeping.Wish't I could. Too damned cold."

"You take a care," Shannon said softly.

"Care or anything else comes my way."

Emmett Shannon slid toward the river, and down it to the ice. He unhooked the cross strap of his knapsack so he could dump it if he went through. Holding his rifle in front of him, he moved out onto the ice. Ten feet from the shore, it groaned. Shannon thought he saw a rock in the dimness, moved toward it, found firmer footing, and continued on. His foot broke through. Shannon flailed back. His foot came out of the water and he was safe. Then, rising blackness in front of him, the opposite shore - with no waiting British patrols. He had made his escape. Now for Cherry Valley, far to the north, and west from Albany, on the New York frontier.

     

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Last Revised: January 29, 2011