2. The River Fortress
"A Continental Christmas"
My muse has still deserted me, for now, but I was skimming through some old files and found this almost completed draft chapter. I polished it up for release, but I make no promises when the next chapter might surface. It sticks very close to real history, in terms of what's being discussed (if there are actual records of these conversations I am not aware of it), but I have not inserted any of my OC's in this chapter.
And FYI, if the General Alexander / General Stirling thing is confusing - it is also historical fact. The gentleman in question had a dubious claim on a Scottish title and it was sometimes used, while at other times his family name was used instead. Like many history books, I have chosen to use both forms.
Also, I believe I may have forgotten to credit it specifically; part of the scene at the iron works in chapter one was lifted directly from the A&E TV-movie "The Crossing". Much of this segment of the saga was patterned after the same historical events, so it made some sense to me to use it in a couple places.
So, my readers, both loyal and new, please enjoy "The River Fortress".
2. The River Fortress
Dawn, December 9, 1776, McConkey's Ferry, Western Bank of the Delaware River, Pennsylvania
During their perilous crossing of New Jersey during recent weeks, the Continental Army had learned to fear and respect the night, and a collective sigh of relief greeted the cold sunrise on the eastern horizon. Every boat worth the name, and a few that were not, within a forty mile stretch of the Delaware River had been pressed into service, but the remnants of the Continental Army had been successfully carried across in a single night. The exhausted army, and the few supplies and cannons that it had preserved throughout the long retreat through New Jersey, lay in the fields surrounding McConkey's, every one of their boats stacked on the shore. The boats had been stacked on the riverbank itself in order to be visible to the enemy's spyglasses, in order to taunt the redcoats pursuing them for a change.
For now, the river itself was the Continentals' impenetrable fortress, but anyone worth their salt realized that it was only a matter of time before the British might cross. Those from the southern colonies expected the British to build their own boats; those from the North knew the river could freeze over and the British might march across the ice.
A small, makeshift war council had been assembled in McConkey's taproom, and Washington had been seated at the head of the table. "Gentlemen, we are in Pennsylvania," he starkly began the discussion.
General Alexander, otherwise known as Lord Stirling, nodded. "With the mighty Delaware River behind us, every boat upon it denied to the enemy."
"That buys us a few weeks, a month at most." Colonel Glover shrugged; he did not normally attend the council, but Washington had directly invited him this time. "General Washington has only spent one winter in the North, I think. Some of you have spent none. This river will freeze over, I think, and then they can march across on the ice."
"Agreed." General Washington had learned, if nothing else, he could rely on Glover's knowledge of the weather of the North. "This cannot be our winter camp. But it will do for now. Our remaining men are exhausted, our supplies nearly gone, except a few of military nature, which are no use to an army that will fight no battles. A few kegs of fine Carribean gunpowder will do us no good in keeping the men warm and fed. We must appeal to Congress and the people for food and blankets and funds."
"And we must begin to plan for spring." General Alexander nodded.
"No, General. We must plan for January. Most of the army's enlistment papers expire at the end of this month." General Washington coldly corrected. "Morale is low, and many of the men we have left will choose to go home, having stayed this long only to honor their promise to stay. They are here simply because of a point of personal honor - that they stayed as long as they said they would, such that none in their town or village can say that they quit or broke their word. Very few will be willing to join, or re-enlist in, an army which has not won a battle in over a year, failed to even force its enemy off a position in nine months, and cannot even keep its men clothed and fed. In short, if we do not do something, make a bold statement, convince these men that we have a cause worth staying for, then by the second week of January there will be no army. And that will be the end. Which is a pity, because the army across the river... they cannot win this war, they do not know how."
"That is preposterous, sir!" General Alexander objected. "They are the best trained army in the world, and if they are not, then their Hessian mercenaries are. Of course they know how to win."
"A battle, yes, but not the war." Washington protested. "They expect a political victory. They think that they can take our great cities, and force us to negotiate. This is why they held onto Boston for nearly a year after we trapped them in it, and why they took New York. They think that they can defeat us on the battlefield, and force us to negotiate. They do not understand that they cannot force us to sacrifice our freedom; they do not understand what this war is truly about. They think they are fighting a government, not the people ourselves. They also think they cannot lose this war, because we cannot take their cities, and we cannot defeat their armies. A proper European war, as they see it, ends with the victor's troops in their opponent's capital city. Even if there had been a successful invasion of England in the last seven hundred years, I think you will all agree that the Continental Army would be incapable of carrying one out. Especially considering that our entire Navy is but a fraction of the size of the fleet the British have in New York. I do not even count the ships they have on the high seas, or in Europe. No, gentlemen, our duty is, and must be, simply to keep our army in the field until they realize that they are wrong, and until the people of England will no longer support the politicians and the generals who wish to continue."
Glover nodded. "So in a way, every morning that the Continental Army is still here, is a minor victory. But that is not enough for the men to believe in. Because as much as the British do not know how to win the war, our own men do not believe that we know either."
"No, it is not enough for the men, and that is why we need a plan. We need to give them something to believe in." Dead silence filled the room. "I propose we erect a temporary camp where we are, and this conference will gather every second day at high sun. We need a plan, and we need a victory."