The Tragedy of War

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th-5Journal entry: January 16, 1858,- Captain, E. Montcreif, Queen’s Light Cavalry.  

Tomorrow morning, my young cousin Edward and I sail with the tide for America. Edward’s father purchased a commission for him and he is officially a subaltern (unassigned, lower officer)  in my old cavalry unit, The Queen’s Light Horse. Edward is eighteen and knows nothing about the military, especially the cavalry. It is my job to make a cavalry officer out of Edward during the next year, until we meet up with the Queen’s Light Horse in India.

I requested 18 months off and Edward is awaiting an official billet. He will be a captain, when a position opens up, despite his inexperience.

We British insist on having officers who are gentlemen of means. Our military is a rigid class system and is preserved by the purchase of commissions for young men of breeding. If you desire a higher rank, your family must be willing to pay more for your position. Edward will be the same rank as me, when a berth opens up in the cavalry; although, I will have seniority. He will remain a subaltern, and hopefully, acquire the skills needed to serve as an officer in the cavalry. This is the British military of the mid-19thCentury and truthfully, why there is an element of incompetence in the officer corps. The men are loyal and brave beyond question.

Incompetence often leads to tragedy, and I was involved in one of the greatest military tragedies of British military history. Yet, I was unwilling to step forward and stop the senseless slaughter of our British Lions on horses. The troopers were brilliant and brave; their glory will live forever, but jackasses led them to their deaths and I was one of them.

Edward is an intelligent lad, filled with hope and excitement about the future. He is tall, strong, handsome, and outgoing and I dread the thought of training a fine young man to be a professional cavalry officer. However, like the common man who signs a twenty-one year enlistment for a penny a day, because there are no other options in our country of fat merchants and bankers. An enlistment is usually considered a lifetime and there is no pension. The options are limited for aristocrats as well. Some of us join the church and settle down with a fat wife and a brood of kids to fleece the flock for decades or we become merchants, bankers, or manage tenant farmers; these are all occupations that bore and disgust me. Although some of us are romantics and want to see the world, and a few want to learn about the true nature of man.

The military allows us to see the world, while maintaining our dignity as British aristocrats. I’ll admit, I have enjoyed the military, especially the cavalry. My first love is the horses; however, training men and horses to function as a precision unit is what I have enjoyed the most.

Unfortunately, there is a fly in the pudding. I am known, throughout the realm, as a hero and everyone accepts me at face value, everyone but me. Unfortunately, I am not considered a hero because of performing a heroic act as a leader of brave men. I am a hero because I survived a cavalry charge of abject horror and incompetence. It is the biggest mistake and disaster of British military history, but because I wasn’t killed by grape shot or a twelve-pound explosive round from a cannon or a bullet from a rifle, while the Russian artillery and infantry had target practice, using us as their pop-up targets, while we charged in the wrong direction, I am a hero.

It is my plan to educate Edward to the finer aspects of military life and the responsibilities of being a leader, but secretly, I hope he develops other interests and I will do my best to divert his attention. The American continent is enormous and the opportunities are everywhere.th-8

We’ll spend four or five weeks crossing the Atlantic and a year or more crossing the North American continent. We will catch a ship from the Pacific Coast and sail to India. It is the type of carefree plan that appeals to young adventurers like Edward, and it will give me the opportunity to transform my young cousin.

Edward rides well enough; he spent a great part of his youth chasing foxes with the hounds and he wrote that he admired the young lasses who rode with the hunt; although I detect a naïve charm in his correspondence and I doubt whether he has much experience with those who ride sidesaddle. That is just as well, perhaps there will be a sassy and sultry American girl who will keep him from the life I chose and plan to quit.

With me, he will learn to survive in the wilderness with a horse, like the Cossacks we hunted and tried to run down. Assuming we survive the trip, Edward will have gone beyond riding a horse on the parade ground or chasing the elusive fox. Those are worthy endeavors, but they won’t prepare you for the centaur-like Cossack with his deadly lance or the wily desert tribesman with his sword.

We each had a room on deck, with a bunk that was nearly as wide as my shoulders, without heat, and with enough room to stand, with bowed head, between the bunk and the bulkhead (wall). Edward’s introduction to Spartan military life was just beginning.

We caught an ebbing tide and set sail at three AM on a cold night with a strong wind and choppy seas. I had sailed before and I could see the misery in Edward’s eyes. He was seasick for days.

The ship’s captain invited us to his table for dinner and we ate well, several nights a week. However, I suspect his main interest was to hear about Balaklava: I recited the accounts that were readily available in the newspapers, with casualty numbers and little else.

The Crimean War was the first war to have correspondents from the newspapers. Around the world, every literate person knew about the war, the massive carnage, and the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade.

Edward and I had long discussions about life, Britain, the empire, horses, women, and what we expected to see in America, during long walks on the deck. We both agreed, sailing was nice for a few days, but the prospect of living on the ocean for months and years seemed to be condemnation to a life of perpetual boredom. The only things that broke up the monotony were heavy seas, strong winds, and storms. We were both glad to be horsemen.

Luckily, the storms gave us favorable winds and the captain used them to our advantage, by keeping aloft as much canvas as possible. We arrived in Baltimore Inner Harbor, four days ahead of schedule.

Baltimore was a booming city and we were fascinated with the dynamic economic energy of the city and decided to tour the metropolitan area for a few days, before taking the Baltimore & Ohio railroad to Wheeling, Virginia. We found a hotel on Pratt Street, a short walk from the harbor and toured the foundries that were building locomotives around the clock on the same street. Not only were they trying to keep up with orders from the United States, but they were also building locomotives for Russia, Europe, South America, and many other locations in the world. We developed a new appreciation for the economic might of the United States.

For dinner, we chose a nice restaurant near the hotel, without realizing it served the community as a bordello as well. We were in uniform and the women were dressed elegantly in evening dresses. They were attractive women, who knew how to smile and flirt with their eyes. They left small cards on our table with their names written in flowery script.

Edward fell for their feminine wiles and was convinced they were attracted to him. I decided to insert myself between visits from our uninvited guests, “Edward, they may find you attractive, but this is their business. When they have exhausted you or your money they will find someone else. He may not have your boyish good looks and charm, but he will have money and that, my young cousin, is why they are here.

“To be practical, there will be many opportunities for romance and feminine companionship, as we follow the sun across this great continent. Here we have an increased chance of catching the venereal diseases associated with these women of compromised virtue, who work the harbor areas. These are not the comely lasses that hang out at hunt club, to play the game of ‘hide the sausage,’ in the forlorn hope of snagging a rich man before settling down with a red-faced farmer to have a brood of kids and live in the same house as their cows and chickens. Those were fun times, back home, but these women are professionals and every man represents a possible cash transaction.”

Edward’s passion cooled and he concentrated on his dinner in silence; until a young red-haired wench bent over the table and while exposing an ample bosom, she wrapped her arms around Edward, kissed his cheek and asked, “Captain Handsome, can we spend some time together and become bosom buddies?”

With his boyish smile, he reached in his pocket for a silver coin and placed it in her bodice, between her breasts. He looked in her eyes and said, “There’s no time tonight, but when we return, I will look for you.” He winked and she stood up after securing the silver coin.

She smiled and winked back at him, “Don’t be too long Captain Handsome. A girl gets lonely.” She walked away with her fingertips lingering as long as possible on Edward’s shoulder.

As she walked away, Edward looked at me to say, “My goodness, it was hard to resist. I think we should leave before I lose my self-control.” I laughed at his joke and thought Edward handled the situation well, since it was extremely unlikely we would ever return.

We walked down Pratt Street to see the sights and passed a courtyard with black men in cages. Many of the men looked feral and some had nasty wounds. A portly well-dressed man walked up to us and said in a thick country accent that was difficult to understand, “They are bound for the market in New Orleans, but if you would like a semi-civilized slave, I will make you a good deal. I am Martin Luther, the owner of these pens and their contents.”

The introductions were made and I had to ask, “Sir, why do you say semi-civilized?”

“These are recalcitrant slaves and runaways. They have proven themselves difficult and unreliable. My men retrain them with the lash and the club, but where they are going, there are slave trainers who have no pity for slaves with bad attitudes.”

We walked along the cages until we came to a cage with women of various ages and sizes, and Mister Luther continued to tell us about the slave trade. “Most of these slaves will be sold to the sugar and rice plantations, in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. They will live two or three years before they are worked to death or succumb to the tropical diseases associated with the climate and stale air. These Africans, from the homeland, need to be worked hard to keep them submissive, but they work them so hard they often die, about the time become well-trained and before they begin turning a realizable profit. It’s a hard business, gentlemen, but it is a lucrative business where demand is always greater than the supply.”

Edward saw a woman who caught his eye. “Mister Luther, tell me about the light-colored woman.”

Luther laughed, “She’s Black Irish and a comely bitch if there ever was one.”

I smiled at Luther and said, “Sir, I have a farm in Ireland and I can assure you, there are no blackamoors in Ireland.”

Mister Luther smiled, showing teeth yellowed by chewing tobacco, “Captain, you have a lot to learn about the slave trade. Her mother was an Irish wench, gathered up by you English as a homeless peasant or beggar or possibly a fomenter of rebellion. They brought the undesirable Irish to the West Indies by the tens of thousands and sold them into slavery. The Irish men were difficult but much easier and safer than the African. When you English stopped the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1810, it made your Irish insurrectionists and peasants more valuable. Thus putting an end to the African slave trade was supposedly a humanitarian gesture, but it made your Irish slave trade much more profitable and the Irish influx was increased. The plantations in North America and South America were crying out for more black slaves, but only a few were getting out of Africa, and those were brought here by the Yankee Clippers owned by the same abolitionists in New England who wanted to keep their profit margins high by eliminating the egalitarian slaver in slow ships. Their ships were so fast, Lord Nelson himself couldn’t have caught them. The Bahamas became a lucrative slave-breeding source and someone came up with the idea of crossing the Irish wench with the African buck and a new breed of very valuable slave was created, the mulatto.”

Luther signaled one of his black workers, “Jojo, bring us the mulatto, Melissa.”

Jojo went into the pen and proceeded to put wrist irons on the young woman and a pair of leather hobbles that kept her from walking a full stride. Luther explained, she is fairly civilized, but I don’t want to be seen running down the streets of Baltimore chasing a mulatto wench like a rutting farm boy chasing a black split tail down a cornrow.

He laughed at his own joke, but failed to notice that we weren’t laughing. When she was standing in front of us, Luther had her turn around. He used a stockman’s cane to pick up the hem of her loose fitting dress above her hips. She had on no underclothing and her figure was a perfect feminine form. He lifted the dress higher to reveal her back and ran his hand over the flawless skin. “No whip has ever cut this back.” He reached downward to grasp a buttock in his hand, he looked at us to say, “Have a feel, she is round and firm like an apple.”

She protested and stepped away. Jojo pulled hard on a leather strap tied to her hobbles and she hit the stone floor hard. Luther lost his temper and yelled at her, “You stand, you high yeller bitch or Jojo will take the whip to you. Now, get back on your feet and act like you have some manners.”

Luther turned to us with a smile, “She’s not dangerous. She just needs a little discipline. A young husband bought her and his wife went crazy with jealousy. She waited until her husband was gone for a few days and she brought me the wench. I am supposed to sell her to a brothel in New Orleans or as far away as possible. It’s kind of funny when you think about it.”

Luther reached down with his stockman’s cane and pulled her dress up slowly, until her whole body was exposed. She trembled in fear, but she didn’t move.

Luther looked at the two of us and said, “I can make you a good deal, if you are interested.”

I was about to say, no thanks, when Edward asked, “How much for the mulatto wench?”

Luther answered immediately, “Six thousand Yankee Dollars.”

“I’ll give you $3,500 U.S., drawn on a note from the Bank of England,” Edward said.

Luther said, “Sold,” and spit in his hand and reached out to shake hands with Edward, “You bought yourself a mulatto, son.”

The papers were drawn up and signed and in no time, my young cousin owned a woman. I didn’t know what he had planned, but our trip was definitely becoming more interesting. Mr. Luther asked if Edward wanted to buy the shackles and hobbles and Edward replied with a loud voice for the benefit of the girl, “No, Mr. Luther, if she runs, I will hunt her down, sell her back to you, and you can sell her to a brothel in New Orleans.”

We walked out of the slave pens owning a light colored woman with exotic features and long raven black hair. Her worn-out dress barely hid her womanly charms and she was barefoot. Edward and I were in our dress uniforms with red jackets. We attracted a lot of attention with our uniforms, but now, we were attracting even more attention.

The clerk at our hotel created a scene when we came in with the girl, but quickly forgot his problems, when Edward laid a silver coin on the counter. Edward pulled the clerk across the counter by his shirt and said, “Be a good sport and bring us a pair of clean sheets and an extra blanket, and heat up some water for a bath. I think I have another coin if you cooperate.”

A copper bathtub was brought into the room and 20 gallons of warm water was used to fill it up. Edward asked Esteben to make sure no one disturbed Melissa while she bathed and he told him he would read at the desk while she was bathing. He left and said he had an errand to run.

Edward at the Bordello

Edward stopped at the bordello and asked to speak to the red-haired woman. She walked into the lobby, a few minutes later, “Soldier boy, you came back to see me.”

“Yes, but I need a little help, of a different type, and I am willing to pay you for your time,” Edward smiled and winked at the woman.

Her curiosity was aroused and she fancied the naïve rascal in the fancy uniform, “OK soldier boy, what’s the deal?”

“I bought a mulatto woman as an experiment. She needs a new set of clothes. Tonight, I am hoping to buy an outfit from you, since you are of a similar body shape. Tomorrow, I will pay you to take her shopping for new clothing and the things a woman needs. In fact, you can buy yourself a new outfit as well.”

She thought for a few minutes and said, “Come with me, to my private room and I will find something for her.” She led Edward out the back door and into an adjacent shed in the back yard. “No man has ever been to my private room. I will expect you to behave yourself like a gentleman.”

Edward grinned and said, “Don’t worry, I am harmless.”

She opened the door and looked into Edward’s eyes as he walked through the door, “You are not harmless, soldier boy. I think you have broken many hearts during your travels.”

Edward said, “This is my first trip, away from home, and I have never been in a woman’s bedroom.”

She moaned and put her hand on her lower abdomen, as if she was in pain, closing her eyes for emphasis. “Where have you been all my life handsome? She opened a drawer and placed some clothes on the bed. “These will make her presentable and she can wear them while we buy her some nice things. Now, tell me your name, Captain Handsome and why you feel you need to buy a woman.”

“My name is Edward. I didn’t buy a woman to own her; I bought her to give her a new life. I can afford to help her, and that is what I am doing.

“Here is a twenty dollar gold piece. I will expect you to be at the hotel room tomorrow at noon. I will give you another gold coin to use for buying the clothes. If things go well, I will have more money for you at the end of the day. Now, you must tell me your name.”

She leaned forward and pulled Edward’s head to her shoulder and whispered, “My name is Sissy. Now kiss me, Edward.”

He turned to look at Sissy and her mouth covered his as if she was starving. He kissed her with innocence and Sissy was overwhelmed with aggressive passion. His voice quaked with fear, “I think … we should stop. I am not ready.”

Sissy seduced him and took his innocence. She felt guilty, but she wanted to possess this young man, even if it was for only a short time. When they both regained their composure, Edward stood up and straightened his uniform, “I am sorry. I was not expecting … I hope we still have our arrangement for tomorrow.”

With a smile and mock seriousness, Sissy said, “We better have our arrangement. I am taking the rest of the evening off. I am suddenly exhausted and I don’t want to be late, to take your latest acquisition shopping. You can stay here with me, if you want. I have never asked a man to stay with me, through the night, that is a rare compliment.”

“No, I better get back or my cousin will worry; besides, I left him with my new acquisition, and he is always at odds with morality. I would love to spend the evening with you, but I am obligated to my cousin.”

Sissy was intrigued, “He seems old enough and capable enough to take care of himself.”

Edward replied, “You don’t understand, he is a war hero who carries around a wagon load of guilt.”

Missy asked, “Why does he carry so much guilt?”

Edward answered, “Because, he is alive and many of his friends and troopers are dead.”

Sissy stood up from the bed and kissed him once more, before they parted for the evening.

Edward found Esteben reading at a small desk, and Sissy asleep in his bed. He waved at his cousin and placed the feminine outfit on the bed. He pulled a chair next to his cousin and Esteben whispered, “Edward are you in control of your faculties?”

Edward thought for a minute, “Yes, indeed; I know what I am doing and I think we can make a difference in the life of a fellow human being.”

“Edward, owning a slave, is not a humanitarian project,” Esteben said with a measure of skepticism.

“I didn’t buy her to own a slave. I bought her to give her a new life. Somewhere between here and San Francisco, we will find her a home and hopefully, a husband. This is my humanitarian project. In the interim, I want to prepare her or educate her to serve as a wife,” Edward finished speaking and there was a soft knocking at the door.

Edward answered the door to find a maid with the sheets and a blanket. He gave her a copper coin and turned to Esteben, “I suppose I will be sleeping on the floor.”

The next morning, the three of them walked to the Baltimore & Ohio train station at Camden Yards to inquire about tickets West. The Baltimore & Ohio ran to Wheeling and from there they could book passage on a riverboat to Saint Louis. They bought three tickets to Wheeling for the next morning and met Sissy at the hotel for lunch. She took Melissa shopping and the men visited some of the horse traders to see what kind of saddle horses they were producing in America.

They met again for dinner; Melissa had acquired some of the mannerisms of Sissy and seemed to be breaking free of a protective shell she had formed around herself. Sissy asked Edward to accompany her on a walk through the city. Edward offered his elbow with a smile and they walked into the evening.

Sissy began the conversation, “Edward, Melissa told me of your plans for her and she told me the two of you are perfect gentlemen.”

Edward said, “I don’t know about perfect, but we are expected to be gentlemen.”

“You are close enough for me,” Sissy offered. “I have saved some money and I want to go west to start a new life, but a woman can’t travel alone in this country. I was wondering if you would allow me to travel with you to St Louis. I think I could start a legitimate business there or maybe find a husband. I need to leave Baltimore; while I am still young and have a chance at starting over.”

Edward stopped and turned to face Sissy, “If you pay your own way, there is no reason why you can’t travel with us for security. I will need to convince Esteben, but you must remember he is a private person with a lot of things on his mind, including, training me to be a cavalry officer. He will object at first, but he is a kind-hearted soul. You will need a ticket.”

“I bought one this afternoon, and I have withdrawn my money from my account. I have no reason to go back to my, place of employment. I am ready to leave with you tomorrow.”

Edward thought for a few minutes and said, “You took a lot for granted, Sissy. I hope Esteben doesn’t pull rank on me and ruin your plans.”

“I have my ticket and I am going on that train, with you or without you. You two can teach Melissa to read and cypher, but you can’t teach her how to be a lady. Although, some people will say I am not a lady, I know how to conduct myself as a lady and I will be a lady, from the minute I leave Baltimore.”

Back at the hotel room, Esteben and Melissa were asleep in the two beds. Sissy and Edward spread the extra bedding on the floor. Edward fell asleep almost immediately. Sissy was thrilled to be sleeping beside Edward and availed herself of the freedom to explore his young body. She smiled and marveled at the sexual response of a young male. Why she couldn’t have met a young man like him sooner. Nature was stingy with these handsome young men, the ones who could please a woman without any prior experience and the ones who could melt your heart with a smile. Women who knew men too well dreamed of men like Edward and women, who really didn’t know men, kept chasing elusive losers and rejects. She wanted to find a man who didn’t know about her past and make him a happy man. This was her ultimate plan. She wanted to find a man like Edward, a man who knew nothing of her past.

They had a carriage waiting for them in the morning and Esteben was more than a little surprised to see Sissy in the morning. The women sat together and talked endlessly about the trip and the mountains. Esteben and Edward moved a few seats away to discuss the proceedings. Edward explained that Sissy had her own ticket and she was leaving her past behind her and starting out new in St Louis or some other new place. She had savings and felt safer not traveling alone.

When Edward told Esteben about Sissy’s vague plan, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s a free country; at least, that is what they say.”

The Story

 The group boarded the train and settled back to observe the scenic ride of a lifetime. Esteben decided it was time to begin the education of his cousin. “Edward, it’s time I told you about my life. It’s too easy to let this beautiful country and its energetic people take my mind away from my troubles. My father, your uncle, was in the diplomatic service of the crown and served in many countries, but he met and married my beautiful mother, Patricia Zavaleta, in Buenos Aries, and I was born 18 months later.

My mother’s family owns a large hacienda, about thirty miles south of the city on the pampas and there, my cousins have untold numbers of cattle and horses. They have the leisure to dedicate their lives to polo and the seduction of maidens. I was fortunate to spend my teenage years on the hacienda and enjoy the decadent life; until my father decided it was time for me to accept the responsibilities of a young British aristocrat, before I became as useless as my polo-playing cousins. He gave me the options of joining the church, but that was not a real option, or I could follow my father in the diplomatic corps, but that was intensely boring, or I could choose the military, the cavalry to be precise. Here, there was adventure and travel.

As you well know, commissions are purchased; although, after Balaclava this system is changing and you will probably be among the last officers to purchase a commission. Officers provide their own horses and equipment, and receive very little in pay. It is a depository for elitists who have nothing to do or those who love the military or God forbid, war. We can resign our commissions or continue to serve with only modest opportunities for advancement during a career; unless, our family pays for a higher commission, say from captain to colonel. Becoming a general requires family and influence.

This was the life I chose, but sometimes I wonder what life would have been like as a diplomat or as an employee of the Hudson Bay or East India Trading companies. My problem was I loved my horses as much as I loved the young girls and their flirting smiles and flashing eyes. The cavalry gave me the opportunity to be in the saddle everyday, and the young ladies are always fascinated with a man in uniform who can ride a horse well. Thus the life of a young cavalry officer suited my lifestyle and I enjoyed the travel, but my good life was destined to change in the year of 1854, on a remote corner of the world called Ukraine.

France, Turkey, Sardinia, and Britain formed an alliance against Russia; negotiations broke down on the control of Christians in the Holy Land and we were destined for an unholy war, and we of the Light Brigade were ordered to illustrate the folly of valor without reason or substance. Yes, we rode into the valley of death, at Balaclava on the 25th of October 1825.

On that fateful day, our commanding officer, Lord Raglan, wanted us to pursue, harass and capture, a retreating enemy artillery battery. Unfortunately, the order was not concise and as the order was passed through the chain of command. The last officer, to deliver the order, a Captain Nolan, during a desperate and critical moment, pointed to the wrong battery, with a sweep of his hand, during a verbal consultation, with our brigade commander, Lord Cardigan. This battery was not retreating; indeed, it was in a secure redoubt, at a distance of about a mile and a half, and down-valley from our position. Attacking this battery alone, along the valley floor would have been formidable, but on the heights above the valley floor, were two artillery batteries and multiple infantry emplacements.

A moment of sanity might have questioned the validity of the order, but we were anxious to prove our valor and loyalty; questioning an order is considered an act of cowardice. In fairness to Captain Nolan, he seemed to realize the mistake and joined the charge, without orders and bolted ahead of our commanding officer, Lord Cardigan, but he was disintegrated by cannon fire within the first moments of the charge. His true intent and whether he wanted to make the correction or join in the glorious charge will never be known.

Six hundred sixty men on horses rode into the valley of death. A valley defended by 5,240 Russian artillery and infantry soldiers. You know the poem:

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Battle of Balaclava, October 25, 1854

Written 1854

 

Half a league half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred:

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns’ he said:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

 

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’

Was there a man dismay’d ?

Not tho’ the soldier knew

Some one had blunder’d:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do & die,

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

 

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

Volley’d & thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell

Rode the six hundred.

 

Flash’d all their sabres bare,

Flash’d as they turn’d in air

Sabring the gunners there,

Charging an army while

All the world wonder’d:

Plunged in the battery-smoke

Right thro’ the line they broke;

Cossack & Russian

Reel’d from the sabre-stroke,

Shatter’d & sunder’d.

Then they rode back, but not

Not the six hundred.

 

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them

Volley’d and thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

While horse & hero fell,

They that had fought so well

Came thro’ the jaws of Death,

Back from the mouth of Hell,

All that was left of them,

Left of six hundred.

 

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wonder’d.

Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred!

 

Edward said, “I was honored to hear you recite those words.”

“Edward, it is my personal epitaph of dishonor. I saw the mistake early on and should have overtaken Lord Cardigan and told him of his blunder, the futility and utter insanity of such a hopeless charge.” The field grade officers argue over what went wrong, but I saw what happened. We had 110 killed and another 161 wounded. Several men who had their horses shot out from under them and they were killed as they tried to crawl back to our lines. I should have stopped the insanity, but I did nothing.”

Three rough looking men brushed by Edward and Esteben, to jerk the women up out of their seats. Esteben yelled at the men to let the women go. The cousins began walking forward when the men turned around with heavy belaying pins from a ship. Esteben continued to walk toward the first man and sliced off his right hand just below the wrist. He sat down on a bench and tried to stop the blood flow. The second man looked at his friend with shocked disbelief and looked at Esteben just in time to see Esteben’s blade before it entered his skull next to his eye and came to rest on the bridge of his nose. He jerked his sword free just in time to meet the charge of the bear-like man holding the two women. The man’s momentum impaled him on Esteben’s sword and the point of the sword was stuck in the man’s spine. The man was silent as Esteben walked him out the door and off the platform, wrenching his sword free just before the man fell beneath the iron wheels. Edward grabbed the man with one hand and walked him out the door to push him off the platform. The third man was still alive, but he was in so much pain he couldn’t move. His life was due to expire in the next few minutes. They dragged him to the door and threw him off the train.

Esteben turned to Edward, “I don’t think Sissy’s employer wanted her to quit. Alright ladies, let’s get some towels and clean up this blood before someone decides to get nosey.”

The men took off their uniforms and dressed like civilians. Esteben said, “From here on, we are two married couples, on our way to Oregon. When we get off this train, we want to get down river as fast as possible. Sissy reached in a bag and produced two gold rings. She gave one to Melissa and they pretended to be married matrons.

Wheeling was an industrial hub, across the river from Ohio and not far from Pennsylvania. Esteben bought a team of mules and a Democrat carriage; they left Wheeling, as fast as possible, heading downstream on the south side of the river. That afternoon they hailed a flat boat headed downstream with two young men, an older black man, and a teenage girl. They were hauling a bale of tobacco and six barrels of whiskey.

Esteben asked if they could buy passage down river. The older boy looked at the rig and asked, “How far ya headed?”

Esteben answered, “We are headed to the West Coast, I am not sure how long we will stay on this river.”

“You will probably get off at Memphis. We might go that far or maybe farther. Would you trade that rig and the mules for a ride downstream?”

Esteben realized it was a steep price, but they didn’t have many options. He wanted to get as far away from Virginia as possible. “Pull in close to the bank and we will load the mules onto the deck and we can load the wagon on top of your pilot house.”

They drove the mules over the gangplank one at a time and the mules were good about loading. They put the Democrat carriage on top of the pilothouse and lashed it down. Everything was loaded in thirty minutes and everyone was glad to be moving once again. The two groups seemed wary of each other, except for the teenage girl. She had long auburn hair and budding feminine charms that were barely concealed beneath a worn out dress that was too small for her. Sissy looked through her bags and found a blue dress that was just a little big for the girl, but a major improvement, since the girl’s feminine parts were now hidden from view. The introductions were made. The boys were brothers, the older one was Luke and the younger one was Orville, the young girl was Ophelia, she was an orphan who had a crush on Orville, and the old black man was Rupert, he was 45 and his hair was turning gray.

Luke started the conversation, “I will assume you are running from the law, like us. Our family farm was north of Wheeling about twenty miles. The sheriff was going to foreclose on us and take our whiskey and tobacco. Well, we runned off and took our money, whiskey, and tobacco before they could serve the papers. Tobacco and whiskey always have value and we’re goin down river to start over. Rupert there, he ain’t really our slave, he’s runned off with us. He knows almost everything and he can keep us out of trouble. We’s hopin’ that you’ins ain’t goin’ to be any trouble; since, you’re travlin’ with women an all. We be a hopin that you two act like true gentlemen.”

“Mister Luke, on my word as an English gentleman and an officer, I will assure you, we will cause you no problems,” Esteben said in his thickest British accent.

“Let me tell you, I am glad to hear that, but there are pirates on this river and we may need men who can fight. Do you have any weapons?”

“Yes, we have swords, but we would prefer to keep them hidden, until we need them.”

“Have you ever been in a scrap, Esteben?”

“Yes, I have seen action in some serious scraps. Edward has only seen action in a minor scrap. You can depend on us. How about you, Luke, have you ever been in a serious scrap?”

“My brother and I have never been in a fight, but our father was a scrapper…and a drunkard. We will fight. It’s in our blood. Rupert has a lot of bitterness bottled-up in his innards. One of these days he will fight and I’ll be on his side.”

“Well let’s hope we have clear sailing and don’t need to defend ourselves against river pirates. Say, the breeze is with us, if you have some canvas, we can rig up a sail and get more speed out of the river yacht.”

The men built a square sail out of an 8-foot piece of canvas, mounted on a twelve-foot mast with a pair of 8-foot yardarms lashed to the mast. Esteben and Edward taught the men the fundamentals of sailing and using the tiller to control the wind. Soon the flatboat was making more than twice the speed of the other boats relying on the current and the men realized they had to pay strict attention to the tiller to control this high rate of speed. Other boats were waving to them and the steam ships were blowing their horns.

The next three nights were moonlit nights and they sailed down river around the clock. They stopped above the falls at Louisville on the Indiana side of the river. There were several flatboats stopped above the falls and everyone wanted to see whether the falls were safe or whether they should wait to cross. One of the flatboats was a slaver with numerous recalcitrant and runaway slaves headed down river to be sold down South.

The boats had the bow and stern tied to trees on the bank and people were anxious to walk about on solid ground. Two men from the slaver walked upstream and saw the boat with the women and Rupert. They asked Esteben if the old black buck was for sale. “No, he’s a member of the family, he will be with us for the rest of his life.”

“What about that yellow woman, she looks like she could be a quadroon or octaroon, I’ll give you top dollar for her or any of those women. We have a bordello in Natchez, Below the Hill, we need fine women like them, all the time.”

“The yellow woman is my wife. She is from the Middle East. I am not going to sell her or any other humans from this boat. Now, it is time for you to leave this boat,” Esteben was losing his patience with the slavers.

The slaver could sense Esteben’s anger rising to the surface. “Hold on friend, this is our business, all we did was ask. If we didn’t ask we wouldn’t stay in business. Have a good evening and good luck crossing the falls in the morning.”

Esteben took note of the cap and ball, single shot, horse pistols each man had stuffed into a sash around his belly. When the rest of the crew returned, Esteben had a plan ready. “The slavers have three men. They will probably come after midnight, when they figure everyone will be asleep. We will leave a lantern on deck and extinguish it about eleven o’clock, as if we have turned in for the night. I will tie a length of black fishing line a few inches above the gangplank. It will be connected to a bottle on deck. The first man to cross the gangplank will knock over the bottle and we will be waiting. Edward and I will use our swords on the first two. When we move, Luke and Orville will use their pistols on anyone who is still on the gangplank. Rupert will use his club to help us finish the first two. The women will run forward with knives lashed to long wooden shafts. They will stick any of the intruders that are still alive. They want to steal Rupert and the women; they will kill us men to get them. It’s too dangerous to cross the falls at night and darkness is the slaver’s friend, but if everyone does their job, we will kill them all and set all those slaves loose on that boat. Does anyone have questions and can everyone do their job?” Everyone shook their head, “Yes.” Esteben got real serious, and said softly, “In war things happen fast and plans can change quickly. It is important to start out with a good plan and adapt quickly. If everyone helps we will win this battle. We must maintain absolute silence, because we want surprise on our side.”

Orville asked a question, “Sir, have you been to war?”

Esteben looked him in the eye and said softly, “I have been in the most horrible warfare man has ever unleashed and I survived, on three continents.” He smiled and winked at Orville as he put his index finger to his lips, indicating it was now time for silence.

A few hours later the bottle was jerked across the deck of the flat boat. The slavers were coming on board. The first two climbed down from the railing without making a sound, but when the feet of the second slaver touched the deck, Esteben and Edward thrust their swords deep into the chests of the two men. Orville and Lucas reached out and fired their pistols simultaneously into the chest of the third man. His lungs were pierced from each side. He fell into the Ohio and was drowning in two feet of water from his own blood mixed with river water. The first two men were agonizing over their sword wounds when Rupert ran forward to brain each one with a hickory club he had carved for the occasion. The men were moaning on the deck when Sissy and Melissa ran forward with their knife/spears and stuck each man several times. Ophelia jumped over the side and stuck the drowning man, several times in the neck with her knife/spear. The fight was over. The two men on deck were thrown overboard and the one who died close to the bank was pulled to the other side of the boat and pushed adrift to cross the falls.

Esteben and Luke walked over to the slaver boat and opened the cages to let the imprisoned slaves free. The blacks were bewildered and afraid to move, but Esteben pointed north and said, “Head North to the promised land, keep moving.” There were several white women and girls in the pilothouse. They looked to be in bad shape, but their prospects up north were better than what was waiting for them down river. Lucas found some money in the pilothouse and gave the people who were still on the boat six dollars each and wished them good luck.

They were the second boat over the falls that morning. It would have been exciting, but they had already seen plenty of excitement that morning. When they crossed over, a corpse was turning over and over in the turbulent water beneath the falls. They assumed it was one of the men they had killed, but they couldn’t get a good look to know for sure.

They floated and sailed past Indiana and Illinois over the next six days. When they floated past the Wabash River, they stayed closer to the Kentucky side of the river, because the Wabash had a reputation for harboring pirates. The wind was blowing so hard and they were sailing so fast, it would have been nearly impossible for any other type of vessel to catch them. A terrible rainstorm with thunder and lightening blew through the area, when we passed they mouth of the infamous river, and there were so many lightening strikes it was easy for the tiller man and the lookout to keep the boat in the middle of the river. The rain and strong winds continued intermittently over the next three days until they joined the Missouri and turned south on the Mississippi. The Mississippi was a slower river and the wind didn’t always cooperate, but they made it to Memphis in three more days. Rupert was trying to keep everyone in good spirits, he asked Luke to buy some milk and butter in town and he would make some cornpone, beans, and bacon for dinner.

Luke left for town with his brother and Edward, and for the first time, Ophelia didn’t tag along with Orville. She spent more time brushing her auburn curls and washing her face while they were on the river. She had quit being a tomboy and tried to copy the mannerisms of Sissy and Melissa. She took every opportunity to look Edward in the eye and smile her best smile. She tried to be near him whenever possible and even took the chance of placing her hand in his while they were sleeping on one occasion. Edward thought it was an accident of fate when he woke up with the sleeping girl’s hand in his. He smiled at her sleeping angelic face and fell back to sleep.

The men came back with a bucket of eggs, a quart of honey, and a gallon of milk. Rupert smiled a big grin and said, “We’s gonna eat good tonight.”

Ophelia had always called Rupert, Uncle, as a means of showing respect. Tonight she asked, “Uncle Rupert, can you teach me to cook as good as you?”

Rupert smiled with a mouthful of white teeth and replied, “O’course, I be’s teachen you how to cook, Missy, but Cookin takes takes a long time to learn an poor people like us learn to cook with what they has. It’s easy to cook usin fancy ingredients, but bein able to set a good meal with just a few ingredients, that takes a special cook. Tonight I’m gonna teach you how to make cornpone, beans, bacon with peppers and onions.

We start with the beans, they been soakin in a bucket for over four hours and now we puts em over the fire. We begin our cornpone next. There’s 8 hungry people, so we start with 4 cups of cornmeal, in a big bowl, add 4 teaspoons of baking powder, 2 teaspoons of salt. Mix the dry ingredients and slowly add the bacon grease and milk until you have a stiff batter. It will take close to two cups of milk and eight tablespoons of bacon grease. We grease up two skillets with lids and put the cornpone into the fire to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Now we got to get the bacon started. We cut up the bacon in finger size pieces and add the Jalapeno. Now, hold the jalapeno by the stem and cut it lengthwise twice and then cut it cross ways into many pieces. Scrape it into the bacon without touching it. The flavor will be released into the bacon and the little pieces won’t be hot to eat. You never touch the cut pieces because the oils will get on your hands an’ on your face an’ eyes and you will feel like you was on fire. Now we add coarse black pepper to the bacon and next we add chopped onions.

Here let me show you how to chop onions without crying. First you put a match in your mouth like a toothpick with the sulfur end out. Notice there are two ends to every onion, cut the top part away leaving a cut surface the size of a silver dollar. Turn the onion over and you have the tiny root stems. Cut through the root stems and you will slice the onion in half. Peel the outer skin away and lay the cut surface down, and now cut the onion into whatever size chunks you desire.

Ophelia got a big smile on her face when she realized she was cooking an entire meal for eight people and it was almost finished. A few minutes later, Rupert said, “Missy, you’se cookin a fine meal.”

Ophelia looked up with a big smile and said, “You a good teacher, Uncle Rupert.” She was gaining confidence and becoming a woman, Ophelia was 16 years old.

Ophelia served everyone their meal and the reviews were outstanding, but when Esteben and Edward complimented her cooking, she felt light-headed and dizzy.

After dinner, Sissy helped Ophelia wash the dishes and the feminine topic of conversation turned to men. Sissy asked, “Ophelia, is Orville your boyfriend?”

Ophelia answered with total innocence, “Yes, I have loved him since I was eight years old. I would sneak away to go fishing or hunting with the boys at every opportunity. They were often mean to me and Orville did his best to ignore me, but where we lived there weren’t many people, so they often let me travel with them. In the beginning, I wanted to be a boy or do boy things, but I was weaker and slower and they often made fun of me. In the last year or two I have become a woman, but they don’t treat me like a woman. Maybe it is because I don’t know how to act like a woman, not like you and Melissa. The men treat the two of you differently.

My mom died when I was young, and where I was raised-up, the missus was mean and ornery, she wanted to get as much work out of me as possible. These boys have been the only happy part of my life; although, they haven’t been all that happy with me. I am glad I came on this trip. Without the boys, my life on this earth would be Hell on earth, but I don’t know how much longer they will let me travel with them or if they team up with some fancy women it will be over for me.”

Sissy wanted to find out how devious or innocent this young beauty actually was, and now she liked her as a person, even though she was a potential rival for Edward. Sissy tried to reassure the young girl, “Ophelia, you are turning into a beautiful woman and I think you have good fortune ahead of you. Don’t you worry; you are not alone in this world. I will take care of you if your fortunes turn for the worst. You can count on me as your friend.”

“Thank you, so kindly, Sissy. You and Melissa are so beautiful, I didn’t think you cared about me.”

“I gave you that dress, didn’t I.”

“Yes and I think of you all the time. It is the most beautiful dress, more beautiful than I ever dreamed of wearing. I try so hard to be like you.”

“Don’t try too hard sweetheart. I wish I could be more like you.”

Later that night, the crew was sitting on the deck and the pilothouse, when Luke asked Esteben, “Captain, this might be our last night together and I must admit, we have had a good time together on this riverboat, but I wonder if we might talk about our lives honestly on this last night. Orville and I have lived through tragedy, but we have survived and I am willing to tell you our story if you will tell me about your life and tragedies.”

Edward thought for a few moments, before he answered, “Luke, I will tell you about tragedy in my life, if you will all agree not to ever question me again. The people on this boat are my fellow travelers and as close to being friends that I have, so fire away Luke. Tell me about growing up in Appalachia.”

Luke started his story at the beginning, “I was born on our family farm to Maybell and Clarence Cleghorn, twenty years ago. My mother was known as the prettiest girl in the county and my father was known as a rounder, a drunk, and a gambler. Maybell was from a wealthy family and she married against their wishes, but they gave her a 160-acre farm as a wedding gift. My father knew how to make good moonshine whiskey, but he wasn’t content waiting for the proceeds. He mortgaged the farm and gambled away the money. My mother died in despair ten years ago and my father lived on the edge, gambling and drinking until he was killed in an argument over a bet on a chicken at a cockfight, two years ago. We tried to pay the mortgage, but the payments were beyond the farm’s ability to pay. We spent the last year planning our escape and building this flatboat. We would have forfeited the tobacco and whiskey with the foreclosure, but we left before the foreclosure, and that is the story of my life.”

Edward spoke up, “I commend you, Luke. You have faced adversity and dealt with your problems. I was born into a much different circumstance. I was born in Argentina. My mother was from an aristocratic Argentinian family and my father was in the British Diplomatic Service. We traveled the world, but my teenage years were spent in Argentina.

Unfortunately, the aristocratic Argentinians who play polo are not motivated to do anything besides polo. I was playing in tournaments with my cousins and their attitudes toward life and work were rubbing off on me. My father pulled me aside and told ne this was not the correct life for a young Englishman. He gave me several options, I could join the church, but I didn’t really consider that one an option, or I could join one of the British International mercantile companies, but life as a clerk didn’t appeal to me, or I could enlist in the army or the Royal Navy. I chose the cavalry, because of my love for horses.

In the British military, officers pay for their commissions. If you want to be a colonel, you are expected to pay more. You purchase your uniforms, your horse, and your equipment. The system worked for a long time, but it is now being revised. I was a captain in the light cavalry. We were used as scouts and as a quick strike force. We were in Ukraine, a country on the other side of the world, in a war against the Russians.

The Russians had an artillery battery that was being pulled back and Lord Raglan wanted our brigade to harass the battery and try to capture the cannons if possible. Unfortunately, the written orders were not concise and the officer delivering the order wasn’t precise when he pointed to the location of the battery and our commanding officer was probably excited when he received the order. Soon we were charging down a valley with cannon and infantry on both sides and into a battery that wasn’t retreating, it was firing directly into the line of our charge.

We charged all alone. The heavy cavalry that was supposed to follow saw the mistake and refused to follow. The captain who delivered the order probably saw the mistake and ran in front of our brigade commander, only to be killed in the first few moments of the charge. Six hundred and sixty men made that desperate and unnecessary charge, against 5,240 Russian artillery and infantry soldiers. Alfred Tennyson wrote a poem to commemorate the charge.

 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

Battle of Balaclava, October 25, 1854

Written 1854

 

Half a league half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred:

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns’ he said:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

 

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’

Was there a man dismay’d ?

Not tho’ the soldier knew

Some one had blunder’d:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do & die,

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

 

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

Volley’d & thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell

Rode the six hundred.

 

Flash’d all their sabres bare,

Flash’d as they turn’d in air

Sabring the gunners there,

Charging an army while

All the world wonder’d:

Plunged in the battery-smoke

Right thro’ the line they broke;

Cossack & Russian

Reel’d from the sabre-stroke,

Shatter’d & sunder’d.

Then they rode back, but not

Not the six hundred.

 

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them

Volley’d and thunder’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

While horse & hero fell,

They that had fought so well

Came thro’ the jaws of Death,

Back from the mouth of Hell,

All that was left of them,

Left of six hundred.

 

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wonder’d.

Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred!

“The listeners were in awe of the story and the poem. Esteben shattered the illusion when he said. The story and the poem stripped me of my dignity and my courage.”

The listeners gasped and got shocked looks on their faces.

“Yes, I lived through the mad dash to Hell and back, and I saw the mistake unfolding. I was in the middle of the pack, leading my unit, but I could see we were running into a trap of our own creation. I should have spurred my horse up to Lord Cardigan and insisted that we turn around or make the correction. It’s possible he would have put me up on charges, because it is extremely unusual to challenge a superior officer. However, we lost 110 killed and had 161 wounded. Several of the men who had horses shot out from under them were shot and killed as they tried to sneak back to our lines. The captain, who dashed in front of Lord Cardigan without orders, was probably trying to divert the charge, and later on that afternoon, while Cardigan was on his yacht, he cursed the man for trying to steal the glory of the charge. Lord Cardigan went straight to his yacht without checking on the welfare of his men or their losses and this is the type of man I would have tried to convince he was making a mistake during the madness of a cavalry charge. I was cowed by the rank and arrogance of our commander. Yet, if I were a better man, a more honorable man, I would have put a stop to the senseless slaughter. Still today, people call me a hero and the bile backs up in my mouth and leaves a terrible taste. When it was over, I looked out on that field of men to see men who trusted me with their lives and their innocent horses, now rotting on a so-called field of glory. It took hours for the moaning and shrieks of men and horses to go silent. Modern warfare is so brutal and horrible it should be avoided at all costs. I am not a hero. I missed my chance at being a hero by not stopping a terrible mistake.”

There was a hushed silence, when Esteben finished his story, until Ophelia started weeping. Sissy put her arm around Ophelia and told her everything will be all right in the near future.

Three more days on the river and they landed in Memphis. The Butterfield Stage Line had just opened for business. The next stage was leaving was leaving on Monday at 8 A.M. and Edward bought four first class seats on the next stage. They had three days to relax and see the sights. The first stage made the trip in 23 days and 23 hours. It had taken the Lewis and Clark, Voyage of Discovery, three years to travel to the West Coast and back, 55 years ago.

There was a desire to shorten the length of time spent on continental travel and mail service, it looked like the Overland Stage Coach was the logical answer. However, the logistics were overwhelming.

 

th-6

 

The leading pages of a work in progress.

A professional horseman for over 40 years, Skook continues to work with horses. He is in an ongoing educational program, learning life's lessons from one of the world's greatest instructors, the horse. Skook has finished an historical novel that traces a mitochondrial line of DNA from 50,000 years ago to the present. It goes to the copyeditor next month.

9 Responses to “The Tragedy of War”

  1. 5

    Spurwing Plover

    So wasnt the Useless Nations suppost to be about nations settling their diffrences peacefuly? looks like the UN has failed miserably less like a dove and more like turkey

  2. 6

    Songbird

    @Spurwing Plover: The U.N. was a flopp from the beginning. Even prior to WWII there was an International law passed to end war. That sure did not work out. I just read about this in a book about Churchill and Roosevelt. While the motives may have been good starting he UN, it has been a waste of time from the beginning in MOP.

    We just dump money down the drain and give small terrorist regimes a voice to their poison. I hear it really gives a big boost to the hooker’s income when they are in secession. War and hookers have been with us since the beginning. If you don’t count Adam and Eve. 🙂 Those that don’t believe in them, surely it has been around since humans evolved.

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