2/3 of the battle scenes drafted. I’ve gone and bought three books to make sure I have my battle scene details right, and to add the details that enrich the story. (Yeah, I should really be buying books, with my income down 50% this month.) It feels like about 80% of what I find on the web about the Civil War is cut-and-paste from the relevant Wikipedia article, and I need some scholarly book-evidence. I bought Gettysburg – the First Day and Gettysburg: The Last Invasion to shore up this section, and The Battles For Spotsylvania Court House And The Road To Yellow Tavern for the last battle scene. Basically I went by the number and quality of Amazon reviews to determine who had the best (and TBH most readable/accessible) books on the subjects.
I’ll spend the next few days on the relevant sections of these books, and if nothing else, I’ll read the whole of “Last Invasion” when I have time. I took a class on the Civil War at uni a few years ago, and I loved it, after a lifetime of apathy on the subject. And now it’s coming in handy! My research for Adam Vance’s military SF series on counterinsurgency and guerrilla warfare, also relevant… The writer’s motto: nothing you see or hear or read or live is wasted; sooner or later everything gets used.
Three battle scenes is a lot of killin’ I know, but this is werewolf paranormal, not squishy poochie romance, so I’d expect readers are prepared for some blood and guts. And each scene is necessary to show Albeus at different phases of “his war.” So, I’ve had no 2000 word days lately, as these research-intensive passages really slow down the output. Not just precise info on the battles, but things like, can I say “like shooting fish in a barrel” or is that an anachronism in 1863? Stuff like that. (Google Ngram finds it in the 1840s, so I’m rolling with it.) But for now I’ll walk around the parts that need deeper research (were there really any trees at the top of that railroad cut at that point?), because I’m in a “flow state” with this book and I (e.g. my bank account) must have it done soon.
Oh, and I got a new computer yesterday for Bradiobook recording, as my old laptop was not up to the task of managing giant sound recordings in progress. I’m TOTALLY STOKED about doing these after pro narrator and voiceover guy Jason Frazier told me I had what it takes, both in my voice and in my technical prowess with the editing process. Dealing with Audible, not so much the stokedness, but we’ll see if it’s realistic for me to do audiobooks without them…probably not, but I want to try. The whole point of my diversification scheme is that Amazon NOT be my sole master and sole source of my income.
At any rate, here it is, raw unedited and to be modified after further research…This picks up right where the excerpt here leaves off.
It was one of war’s terrible mercies that Samuel had died so early. Early enough that Albeus was still fully himself, his old self, capable of pain, loss, sorrow. He could mourn his lover’s death then. Later it would have been impossible.
Over the next two years, his soul would become encased in a carapace of dried blood, bone, and brains, layer after layer of it splattered over him and washed off only in its physical form. Other men lost arms and legs and he walked on, fought on. The rebs were a hydra, but he knew then what most historians would only see later – that there were only so many rebs, while in the North, Irish and Italians and Germans poured into New York from the old world, many of them signed up for soldiers straight off the boat. The North ran on steam and coal and gas, seemingly inexhaustible resources, and the South ran on cotton, a crop that drained the soil dry. And the South’s greatest source of military manpower would remain untapped, because more than the whole might of the Union armies, the rebs feared the idea of one black man with a rifle.
President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January of that year, 1863, finally giving up on reconciliation and accommodation around slavery. The value of their slaves was the keystone of the slave power’s economy, and in a stroke Lincoln had, at least on paper, converted their value to zero. Albeus wondered why it had taken the President so long to see what he had seen since the first day of the war, that only total annihilation would end the war.
The men called him “Sergeant Send” now. At Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, when the fighting had gotten hot and heavy, when close action was required, and when there was a commander with the sense to use stealth and cunning, instead of throwing waves of bodies into hails of bullets, the command was always the same. “Send Finley and his men.”
And now, Gettysburg. The first day of the three day battle started unintentionally. Rebels who’d worn out their footwear long ago heard that there were shoes to be had in Gettysburg. When they arrived, they found the town occupied by two brigades of Union cavalry. This time the Union held the high ground, and the foragers were met with a hail of bullets. The skirmish became a vortex, sucking in reinforcements from both sides, until the battle began of its own accord.
The rebels didn’t have numbers on their sides, but they had something many of the Union soldiers didn’t – an unshakeable conviction in the rightness of their cause, and the fanatical determination to protect their home ground from the invader. For now, anyway, their fierce onslaughts more than made up for their inferior technology and numbers.
A Union brigade was deployed near a railroad cut, a small hillock through which a channel had been blasted to make a level path for the railroad tracks. The rebels drove the Union forces back, and another rout seemed certain.
Then the infantry of Cutler’s Brigade, including the 14th Brooklyn, came to the relief of the cavalry, the irony of which was not lost on Albeus. The longer they could hold the rebs, the more time the Army of the Potomac would have to concentrate at a strategic point.
Colonel Fowler summoned Sergeant Finley to his tent. “Sergeant, this is our plan.”
Finley came to his side and studied the map on the table. “We’ll form to the north of Davis’s brigade, along with the Sixth Wisconsin. If we’re successful, we destroy them. If not…”
He looked at Finley, testing him, measuring him. Albeus knew this was the colonel weighing him for something more than just today’s battle.
“If not, they push us back, then they form up in the railroad cut,” Albeus said, his finger tracing a line on the map. “They’ll either be tempted, or forced, to use it for cover. It’s a highly defensible position, but it’s also a trap.” He met his commander’s eyes. “It’ll be close fighting.”
The colonel looked into the sergeant’s eyes. “Yes, Sergeant. It’ll be bloody work.”
Albeus nodded. “Good.”
Albeus assembled his men. “The rest of our forces are going to fight them head on, but we’re going up the ridge of the railroad cut. If we can get into position there, we can shoot them in the cut like fish in a barrel. The trees on this side haven’t been blown down yet,” he said, a necessary statement since, on many of the battlefields they’d been on, trees lay felled by the scores, weakened by so many bullets chipping away at their trunks.
“By the time we get up there, they may have men on the lookout. Merrick,” he said, “this will be knife work.”
Private Merrick nodded grimly. In the old days, he’d been a knife thrower in a circus. The point then had been to miss the human being on the wheel.
“The cut is angled, rocky, and there’s enough cover at the bottom for them to hide and fire up at us. Aldyne, you have the dynamite?”
Aldyne patted his knapsack, full of sticks with very short fuses. Albeus had seen the new Ketchum grenades, but they were unreliable – they had to land on their noses to explode, and if they didn’t, you’d just handed the enemy a weapon to throw back at you.
Flat on the ground to the west of the cut, Finley and his men watched the Union losing the battle to the Confederate forces under Brigadier General Joseph R. Davis. The northern forces soon withdrew…all but their fellow New Yorkers in the 147th New York Infantry.
“Why aren’t they retreating?” Aldyne cried, watching the men being mowed down like grass. Later they would learn that the commander of the 147th had received the order to retreat but had been felled by a bullet before he could pass it on, and so the regiment stood its ground, taking heavy casualties.
“Come on,” Finley said. He had not asked the colonel if the men could strip out of their gaudy uniforms and camouflage themselves; it was the equivalent of desertion. Albeus had grown to hate the bright red pants, the flashing gold buttons, that made the 14th Brooklyn an easy target for sharpshooters. It was just one more of the follies that this war would end, the idea of the “dashing” uniform that practically shouted “please kill me.”
While the 147th was tragically keeping the rebels occupied, Finley and his men crawled on their bellies toward the cut. He had found accounts of unconventional fighting from the Revolutionary War, accounts that had contributed to the number of lives he’d saved among his own troops. Why this madness, he thought, these orderly formations, walking into slaughter in good order? How had America forgotten what it knew so well a hundred years ago, how to defeat an enemy by fighting on your own terms, not theirs?
But the commanders of both forces, north and south, had been schooled at West Point, in the classical tactics of the old world, and that was what they knew so that was what they did. Elvis-now-Albeus Finley had grown up on the streets of Brooklyn, fighting dirty, and he was no gentleman and if anyone didn’t know by now that this was no gentleman’s war, they were mad.
The 147th finally got the order to retreat, and just as Albeus and the colonel had thought, the Confederates took a defensive position in the railroad cut. In this case, the march of folly was on Albeus’ side. No lookouts were posted on the ridges since nobody expected a sneak attack by a handful of men – why, it just wasn’t done.
The rest of the men of the 14th Brooklyn, along with the 95th New York Volunteers, and the 6th Wisconsin all formed up to face the rebs. Albeus’ commander, Colonel Fowler, maneuvered the men into a battle line north of the railroad cut.
Albeus and his men reached the ridgeline, so close to the rebels they could hear the thumps of bullets into flesh and the grunts of the men who took them.
“Not yet,” Albeus said to Aldyne, who had his sticks of dynamite lined up and ready to go. He knew that if they attacked now, the enemy would retreat out the other end of the cut, away from the battle to come.
He and his men watched the fighting, as their compatriots in blue rushed the grey line, falling in numbers, but a few somehow broke through the wall of bullets, engaging the enemy in hand to hand combat, and each man who made it through made it mathematically more certain that more of those behind him would as well.
Once he would have cried out at the loss, the slaughter, all the handsome young men so alive and happy only the night before, their candles cut short. But now, he only counted them, only counted the yards the wave progressed, counted down till the right moment to strike.
“Light ‘em,” he commanded, and Aldyne lit the sticks, each man taking one and hurling it to the rear of the defense.
Albeus chose his target well, blowing off the legs of the man holding the battle flag of the slave power. Eliminating him caused three other fools to rush to prop up the flag again, removing them from the combat.
“Sergeant Send” and his men didn’t have a battle yell, no wild cry. They were like a pack of wolves, sneaking up on their prey. They clambered down the rocky slope of the cut, hidden from view by the smoke from the dynamite, and began to kill from behind.
The sound of battle changed, the quarters too close now for rifle fire. All you could hear now were the grunts and scuffles of the struggles of men, as if a thousand years of technology had been erased along with the distance between the two forces, hurling them back to the time before the crossbow. Men fought with bayonets and sabers, using rifle butts as clubs, using their fists and their heads.
Albeus had one goal now – the battle flag. Intuitively, he understood what the military would someday call “psychological operations,” the symbolic action that would cause an enemy to lose heart. He bayoneted its standard bearer in the guts, and as it fell with him, another rushed to grab it.
Albeus twisted his rifle, creating a gap in the dead man’s flesh that would release the suction and let him withdraw the blade. Then he plunged the fixed bayonet up through the next man’s jaw, through his brain and out the top of his skull.
Then, and only then, did he let loose his own wild animal cry, louder than any man’s. Every man turned to it, instinctively, and saw the blond giant take the enemy standard and snap its pole in two over his massive thigh. Then he took the ragged end with the flag on it and plunged it into the ground like a spear into the body of the Confederacy.
The rebels broke. Some ran and were shot down, and the rest surrendered. The skirmish was over.
Albeus and his men collapsed against the wall of the cut, after confiscating the canteens of some rebs and drinking their fill of water. He saw the officers of the other regiments, looking at him, scandalized and angry.
A major approached him. His moustaches were furious and magnificent and spoke of glory in battle, but his fresh pale skin and pink cheeks told Albeus how much time the man had spent in battle, and how much time he’d spent inside a tent, looking useful and fetching coffee for his superiors.
“What is your name and rank, soldier?” the major demanded.
“Albeus Finley, sir, Sergeant, 14th Brooklyn.”
“You are out of uniform. And you have behaved…appallingly. Appallingly.”
“I disagree, sir,” Albeus said, straightening up and letting his height do the intimidating for him. “I killed rebs, sir. Lots of them. And took the heart out of the rest.”
“I shall report this to your commander…no. I shall report it to…no, by God, you are arrested. I shall have you hauled in front of General Meade.”
Albeus’ men rose as one, but he motioned them back with a discreet hand signal. “As you wish, sir,” Albeus said.
By God, let them hang me, he thought, suddenly exhausted. Let them hang me and let me be done with all this killing.
He was out of uniform, he robbed the enemy of their dignity by destroying their colors, it was not done, there was no glory in it.
Fuck glory, Albeus thought. This is murder, call it murder and be done with it. And murder is best done quickly and in stealth.
He stood at attention and listened to the major recount the tale of his crimes. General George Meade listened with half an ear, his eyes on the table before him, stacked with paper – the counts of the dead and wounded, the first reports of the day’s skirmishes, the confused accounts of what forces had triumphed where, and who was where now.
At the end, when the major had finished, there was a silence. Albeus could feel the major twitching with impatience, his fingers curling as if he would personally hold the lash that would score the sergeant’s back.
“Leave us,” the general said at last.
The major left quickly. General Meade’s violent temper was already known to the army.
“You’re with the 14th Brooklyn,” the general said, finally looking up and meeting Albeus’ eyes.
“And before the war? Did you have a trade?”
“I was a carpenter, sir.” The past tense seemed appropriate, Albeus realized. He had been, but what was he now, not a machine for making things but a machine for breaking them.
Meade nodded, looking off and musing. “I have been commander of this army for a week now. When they came to tell me that I was replacing Hooker, I was asleep. In the fog of waking, I thought I was being arrested, and tried to remember what I’d done to deserve it.”
He paused. “Do you believe in Providence, sergeant?”
“The idea that a god directs our affairs, that we are here because of that hand? No, sir, I don’t.”
“Hmm. When I was a young man, my father was ruined financially. And because we had no money, I went to West Point, because there were no tuition fees. I graduated nineteenth out of a class of fifty-six students. Hardly the sign from heaven that I would become the head of the Army of the Potomac.”
Albeus said nothing, but felt a kinship with this man. This was no Yankee blue blood who’d been given a rank beyond his capacity because he was a “gentleman.”
“How many men have you killed in this war, Finley?”
“Legions, sir. Uncounted hundreds. A thousand? I stopped counting long ago, sir.”
Meade nodded. “Uncounted thousands more will die before this is over. The major is affronted that you’ve violated the rules of war. You know what would have happened to you and your men, had you been captured out of uniform?”
“We would have been shot as guerrillas, sir, and it would have been a mercy, compared to the prison at Andersonville. We would have died fighting before we’d let the rebs take us there.”
Andersonville was the confederate concentration camp where Union soldiers were starved and beaten, and fully one third of its prisoners would die of disease before the end of the war.
“The rules of war. The very idea is folly. General McClellan told the President at the beginning of the war that a war between two Christian peoples must be conducted with civility.” He snorted. “Fool. He said it would be uncivilized to burn plantations and free slaves and shell cities. The President has, finally, decided otherwise. Armies must do ‘all in their power to help themselves, or hurt the enemy,’ he has said, other than things that are ‘barbarous or cruel.’ Have you ever killed a reb outside the battlefield?”
“Have you tortured a reb prisoner?”
“Well then.” Meade opened a box on the table and pulled out two epaulettes. “Catch.”
Albeus caught them, and looked at them, amazed.
“You’re a brevet captain now, Finley.”
“All new officer ranks must, ridiculously, be approved by Congress. So your captaincy is temporary, I’m afraid. If I’m removed from this position, as those before me have been for their failures, I have no doubt you’ll be busted back to sergeant. But until then, you’re my man, Captain Finley. I’ve already discussed this with Colonel Fowler of the 14th, and he heartily endorses the decision.”
Albeus nodded. Command of a company, a hundred men. It was a grave responsibility, an opportunity.
“Now,” the general said, a surprisingly mischievous twinkle in his eyes. “As a captain you’ll need to purchase a new uniform, one which you’re not to be out of any longer under any circumstances, understood?”
“And if any of your men engage the enemy while out of your splendidly bright and easily targeted uniforms, I don’t want to know about it, understood?”
Albeus grinned. “Yes, sir. You’ll never hear a word about that again.”