Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Ravine


Sergeant Major Edward Jacobs made his way through the men struggling along the narrow forest road. He was wondering what had happened to the scouts they had sent out, had they reported back or not. He was beginning to think that the officers weren't really in control of things. Neither the captain nor the lieutenant had mentioned anything to him of the scouts having returned.

"Begging your pardon Sir, but have the scouts returned?" Jacobs asked Lieutenant Robert Cooke.

Cooke stopped for a moment and stood by the side of the trail, watching the men file past. He looked at the Sergeant Major and asked, "The scouts haven't returned?" The lieutenant looked slightly confused.

"Bollocks! Begging your pardon Sir, I need to speak with the Captain straightaway!" Jacobs abruptly headed towards the head of the column, leaving the lieutenant staring at his back.

Captain Samuel Jenkins was limping badly, he had stepped on a hidden tree root next to the path and twisted his ankle. That, plus the almost complete lack of sleep the night before, had put him in a foul mood. As the heat and humidity continued to rise, his head began to throb most horribly as well.

When Sergeant Major Jacobs came up to him and started asking questions about the scouts, he nearly barked at the man, then he stopped. Oh Dear God, he had completely forgotten about the two men he had sent out ahead on the day before.

Raising a hand, Jenkins halted the column.

"They've not returned, have they?" Jenkins said, looking at his sergeant major, not only the oldest soldier in the company but the most experienced.

"No Sir, I should have brought this to your attention earlier, sorry Sir."

"No Sarn't Major, my responsibility. Should we send a party ahead to look for them?"

"Let me take two men and..."

"No Jacobs, we can't afford to lose you, pick an experienced corporal and one other man, have them go out a hundred paces ahead of the column. I fear the earlier scouts may have fallen afoul of the savages."

Corporal Donald Lester and Private James Knowlton were only fifty paces ahead of the main column when they found what they were looking for. Knowlton took one look and began to vomit.

The bodies of Abraham Parker and Jedediah Maxwell had been stripped, scalped, and disemboweled. After a day in the summer heat, they looked hideous. The smell was overpowering. Corporal Lester had seen such things on the frontier before, these men were left as a warning.

"Knowlton, pull yourself together, the column is coming up." Lester looked at the two corpses then back to the column, he could see the captain and the sergeant major at the front. If it were up to him, he would about face the column and march back to Portsmouth. The frontier could burn for all he cared.

Molly Henderson was on her last legs. The Indian who had captured her seemed tireless, needing only brief rests while continuing to move forward, mile after endless mile. The only time he stopped for longer than a few minutes was at night, after the moon had set.

Her clothing was filthy and torn, the man was never out of sight for more than a few minutes. She had had difficulty relieving herself during the first day of her captivity, now the idea of the man watching her no longer bothered her as much. Her dead mother would no doubt be shocked at her behavior.

Still and all, though Molly was still trying to keep pace, she hoped that they would arrive at whatever destination the man had in mind. She was quite sure that she couldn't bear much more of this.

Bull Elk had his warriors in position. It was difficult getting them to sit and wait for the English column to arrive, the men were young and for many this would be their first time in battle. They were excited and ready for war.

Bull Elk had sent Grey Raven and his band on a long path around to the rear of the English column. Once the English entered the ravine, Bull Elk's men would begin to shoot at the English, when Grey Raven heard the sound of firelocks, he would strike at the rear of the English.

Bull Elk anticipated that many scalps would be taken this day.

Captain Jenkins was frustrated, it had been a very long day for the young militia officer.

"Are you sure this is the only way through?" He said that as he surveyed the terrain to their front. A fairly deep ravine which the path went down into, which was choked with tangled deadfall and trees from an old flood. The path was clear, but if they had to get off of that path, there was absolutely no room at all to deploy the men.

"Yes Sir, this is it, it's only a half-mile or so to the other side, shouldn't be a problem." William Taylor was familiar with the area, before joining the militia he had been a trader. He had traveled this way many times.

"We could proceed north for a couple of days, but that would put us in some very rugged country. This is the quickest way." Taylor, though he knew the Indians well, was nervous. He was beginning to regret joining the militia.

"We camp here for the night. Give the men a chance to rest. In the morning we'll push on, I want to get through this mess as fast as possible. Lieutenant!" He called to Lieutenant Cooke, who had been commanding the rear guard but had come forward to report a problem with one of the oxen.

"Sir, one of the oxen..."

"Not now Cooke, we're camping here for the night. I want a strong picket all around. Sergeant Major, assist the Lieutenant."

"Sir!" Jacobs set off to get the first sentinels out.

"Now what's this about an ox?"

"One of the animals had gone lame Sir. What should we..."

"Butcher it, at least the men can have fresh meat tonight. Private Harrow knows what to do, he was a butcher back in England. Now step lively laddie boy, we only have a few hours of daylight left!"

Bull Elk looked thoughtful for a moment, then he looked again at the messenger. "Grey Raven is sure they have stopped for the night?"

The messenger explained how they had nearly blundered into the tail of the English column. They had stopped in time and while waiting for the English to begin moving again, they had seen the English butcher one of their animals and begin preparing it for a meal. They had laid out a campsite and had sent sentries out around that campsite. Grey Raven was sure.

"They must want to spend the night resting before crossing the ravine. A wise move. It also gives us time to rest. Return to Grey Raven and tell him to wait on the English, watch them but do not attack. Harass them but do not take unnecessary chances. We want them to be wary and sleepless this night."

As the messenger loped off to return to Grey Raven's war band, Bull Elk again looked thoughtful, "This Englishman may not be such a fool after all. But we shall see what the night brings."

The harvest of scalps would have to wait.

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  1. "Harass them but do not take unnecessary chances." Bad call, Bull Elk! Melt away quietly, take a brief rest, waiting for the British to gorge themselves and become complacent, and restful. Use your most experienced warriors to quietly kill the sentries, then sweep through the camp, leaving none alive. Harassing them will only keep them on edge, and alert.
    I know, the young bucks are going to chafe at the bit all the more, and that will make things difficult. They must be assured of the ultimate success of the plan. That is the true role of leadership, is to inspire confidence, but only if they do as they are told. Any outstanding rabble rousers must be dealt with sharply, to avoid them forming defiant alliances and ruining the plan.

    The upcoming conflict will test the quality of leadership on both sides.

    And then there's that fickle muse, sitting on Sarge's shoulder, whispering tales of which we the readers know naught...

    Save me a chunk of meat from that ox, sounds tasty about now!

    1. Keep in mind that many Indians didn't like to fight at night, for many reasons. Also, not all war chiefs are great tacticians, fighting against other Indians is one thing, fighting against Europeans is quite another. This militia company is not your standard colonial militia company. These men were raised by the Governor of New Hampshire, are embodied for the length of the coming conflict and are in the pay of the colonial government. Outside of the British Army, they're the closest thing to professional soldiers in the New World at this time.

      Then again, there is my Muse, just waiting to send the story down a path no one, not even I, suspected.

    2. The hard-won experience in these wars would serve the Colonial militia well in the future war for Independence. OJT is a bitch in combat but also a truly effective teacher - for the survivors.
      You've sucked me right in Sarge, my ancestors could have been in that column.
      Boat Guy

    3. A number of veterans of the French and Indian Wars were still around for the Revolution. Good thing too.

    4. Yes the myth of the Colonial Militia being rag-tag still persists when in truth they numbered more combat veterans than the Regulars and by spring 1775 were as well-trained.

    5. It was their generals who had the biggest learning curve, maneuvering large bodies of men can be learned only by maneuvering large bodies of men.

    6. In response to Boat Guy - one of the things that the movie "The Patriot" got right was frontiers-fighters learned to fight nasty, downright nasty, during the French & Indian Wars. And there's a neat trick to using a tomahawk or boarding hatchet in one hand and a knife or unloaded musket/rifle in the other that is just damned dangerous (knife or gun is a very narrow shield that can also be used as a weapon.)

      And, after the F&I Wars, a lot of Colonial Militia was better trained because the local militias kept up weekly or monthly militia practice and dealt with local law enforcement issues and dealt with random Indian incursions. All of that and, except for a few 'big' cities, most of the Colonies were still spread out rural areas with clumps of habitations for protection. Didn't hurt that a lot more of the Colonials hunted than the city-folk most likely impressed into His Majesty's Army.

    7. We still didn't defeat the British Army until we learned to fight like them. With a lot of French help as well.

    8. Yup. Kind of hard to use slinky hit and run tactics when your enemy is standing in a big open field all clumped together where they can use mass firepower against anyone stupid enough to try hit and run tactics against them.

      Though, in movement to and from the big open fields, while transitioning through woods, that's where hit-and-run tactics come to use.

      The French helped immensely. I have never forgotten how much they helped, between providing arms and providing leaders, their Navy kept the Brits busy.

    9. Not to mention inflicting a very rare defeat on the Royal Navy off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay in 1782 (known as The Battle of the Chesapeake, also known as the Battle of the Virginia Capes, or simply the Battle of the Capes.) It's one of the big reasons for Cornwallis surrendering at Yorktown.

    10. (Don McCollor)...The converse was that the British could not inflict a decisive defeat on the Colonials either as long as they did not fight like the British. There was no critical infrastructure to capture, and massed troops controlled only the ground they stood on. The Colonials could lose if they tried to fight like the British too soon (Washington came close at Manhattan). It was not like war as the British knew. The Colonials had the option of retreating into a forest twice as large as Europe...

    11. I was with you up to "retreating into a forest," they would have starved in no time at all. Armies require supplies, there wasn't enough in the forest to keep an army an alive. See Arnold's expedition to Quebec in the winter of 1775. But yes, the continent itself was too big to hold as an invader. The British were successful in North America only as long as the colonists tolerated them. In Canada they did, in the 13 Colonies they did not. Arrogance on the part of the British government (King, Parliament, and the Prime Minister) doomed their holdings south of Canada before the first musket shot at Lexington.

      Not to point fingers, but we made the same mistake in Afghanistan.

    12. (Don McCollor)...You are correct Sarge, it was not a real option for an army. For the same reason, the British could not pursue them. [My apologies, I quoted without reference from Howard Fast's "The Unvanquished"]...

    13. The Crown counted on the Colonists to remain loyal, about a third did (from most sources I've seen). Another third didn't care one way or the other, they just wanted to live their lives. That final third made it happen, some reluctantly, some whole-heartedly. But those numbers seem to fit many such cases. Even today.

  2. We shall see soon. Attack on encamped British could backfire if they keep their powder dry, why risk big casualties when you can slowly whittle enemy away? Just like o the road to Gandamak....
    Well, I am actually more interested in our captive girl's fate, where doest he Native man leading her?
    Maybe to those French guys who could get her maybe not to her own lines, but European society at least...

    1. The Indians have a few muskets, but they're not really trained in their proper use. So their rate of fire and accuracy (such as it was for a smoothbore musket) will suffer. The Indians will also fire as individuals, lessening the impact of their fire. On the other hand, the militia can't just wait them out, they need to move, either forward to the river, or back to Rumford, before their provisions run out.

      We shall see what the Fates have in store for young Molly Henderson. I will say this much, she's a survivor.

  3. "No Jacobs, we can't afford to lose you, pick an experienced corporal and one other man"....equivalent of the Red Shirt Security men in the original Star Trek...

    One of the things that sticks in my mind - no idea from where - is how surprised and somewhat impressed everyone was by the amount of distance. the war bands would travel on foot (similar, actually to the Scottish Highlanders prior to 1745).

    War in the Americas pre-European settlement was very different experience from European War. The tribes figured this out too late.

    (Sarge, for super fun, you should do a series on the Viking Settlement of the New World. That would be awesome!)

    1. Red shirts and Vikings...

      Now there's a thought.


    2. To quote Doc "I'm your huckleberry"
      Several years back my place of employment issued red polo and t-shirts to the rank and file of the organization to better identify us in the field. Most disliked it and now, many years later, I'm the only one who still wears them. Mainly as a middle finger and an up yours (they've since issued heavy sweat inducing fire retardant junk) I'm a red shirt just like Scotty.
      Kirk:"Chekov, whats out there?"
      Chekov:"Wikings Captain, Wikings!"

    3. speaking of Vikings...
      this one series:

      I know Japanese animation is not everyones cup of tea, but this one is well above average show.

    4. Vikings vs Skraelings, now that's a match I wanna see! Plus it's a story that really needs to be told in a non-hokey way that shows both peoples as more civilized than how they are commonly shown (one of the biggest turnoffs to History Channel's "Vikings" series was the bullscat outfits and ramshackle huts that they had the Scandinavians living in. Sure, build beautiful boats able to travel, well, across the ocean but couldn't build a breeze-tight building to handle fierce Norse winters. Jerks...)

      The Native populations around 1100 AD were different than the populations 600 years later. Kinda reminds me of the Seal People in the movie/book "The Eagle." A race of people even the local indigenous semi-proto Scots/Irish/Pict were afraid of. And very 'proto-Amerind' in the way they were portrayed (which, apparently, they were as they were proto-amerinds that sailed their great canoes eastwardly during the Roman warming period... at least in the movie/book.)

    5. The Seal People impressed the Hell out of me.

    6. One of my favorite movies, as it does a good job of showing Romano-Britain in a much better light than most 'period pieces.'

    7. I think I've watched it at least three times. A very good movie.

  4. Hey AFSarge;

    You are correct, the indians didn't like fighting at night, it was alien to their way of war, "offending the great spirit" was a big part of it. Indians were more spiritual than the colonist by far. it looks like a modicum of common sense is starting to open up in the column. Patrick D suggestion was spot on, That's how I would have done it, but that is predicated on the "western way of battle", and that is alien to the indians way of war.

    1. Oh, most colonists were very spiritual, just differently spiritual.

      The Indians were very tied into their animalistic religions, which tended to deal with spirits and boojums, all which do bad things at night (like, well, lone wolf or group wolf attacks, but wolves are 'nice' right?)

      The Indians also are very much skirmish troops. Dash in, if met with stiff resistance, dash out. Circle, dash in again. Like a pack of wolves attacking.

      Europeans and Colonists are very much heavy shock infantry/cavalry. Stay together, move slower than the skirmishers and scouts, and when faced with resistance, clump together and either stand or move forward into the attack and curb-stomp, hack, shoot and stab whatever gets within reach. Plow through the target, break it, then pursue.

      When you look at the few times a large Indian 'army' won against a large Colonial/European/American army, it was when the war leaders of the Indians were able to get their own troops to act like shock troops. I don't count Little Big Horn/Greasy Grass in this because, even though the Indians had vast numbers of troops, the US did not and helped the Indians by breaking into even smaller packets. Gorgeous George was an idiot. If he had kept his troops together and used scouts correctly (and kept his light artillery and the Gatling guns).... it would have been a more even match. As it was, the Cavalry lasted longer than they should have.

    2. Technology coupled with training usually trumps bravery, if the numbers aren't too lopsided. (Rorke's Drift vs Isandlwana springs to mind.)

    3. Good leadership helps a lot, too. Rorke's drift vs Isandlwana Springs also comes to mind.

    4. True dat. Shows what a good J.O. can do with the support of talented NCOs.

  5. Nice. Molly will make, if she survives and is rescued before going 'Native,' a good frontier wife. Probably become a better shot than many men, too. That's one of the many things that shocked a lot of Europeans, that the Colonial frontier wife would actively engage in home defense. Which, come to think of it, is weird, because the medieval ladies were often tasked in home defense also (doesn't take much to shoot arrows or drop things from castle and town walls.)

    Be kinda nice if Molly shivved her captor, and then wandered around till she found our two French boys, or some rugged frontiersman. Even funnier if she was carrying around a severed head or scalp...

    Good idea to rest and feed before tackling a choke point like the ravine. Ravines, even small ones, are definitely places one doesn't want to get trapped in when tired. Trust me. Been there, done that, enjoyed the living heck out of it because it was just 'playing' and not real life.

    How deep is the ravine? 50', 100' or deeper? I've trudged through some hellacious ones in Tennesee and one in Palatka, Fl. (you would not expect a huge ravine in the middle of Florida, but, well, the middle is over 100' above sea level and can generate some heck of rolling terrain features (in northwest Gainesville, that would be rolling 'hills' and 'dips' that give over a 60' elevation change in short order. Really fun to ride a bike on, not.)

    Inexperienced natives and ill-prepared but well equipped colonials. This ravines battle sounds like it's going to be interesting. Especially if the colonial leader sends out night scouts. Looking forward to the next segment.

    1. I rather like Molly. Then again, I kinda like Short Bear as well, he seems like a decent chap...

      We'll see where The Muse takes me.


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