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A Very Civil Flashman

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When your country calls on you, I always tell young men, it’s your duty to answer. Of course, how you go about answering that call is your own damn business. If you’re smart, and care for your skin as much as I do, you’ll find a way of answering that does a deal for your credit, but spares you the inconvenience of having some nigger or chink trying to blow your innards to kingdom come.

That was just the ticket for me, and while my sojourn at the Ordnance hadn’t quite turned out that way – having secured a safe billet in advance of the Crimean nonsense I’d been dragged unwilling across Russia and half of Asia, chased by Cossacks intent on murder, bullied by that Russian bastard Ignatieff, with his gootchy eye and damnable cigarettes, and fed hasheesh after a fine grapple with Ko Dahli’s daughter (every cloud has a silver lining, do ye know) – it still seemed the safest way to wage war . Anyway, all that happened through my toadying to royalty. They’re a damned dangerous lot, those Hanovers, I can tell you

So when I got the call again in the summer of ’61 it seemed safe enough to answer. England wasn’t involved much in war, anywhere, apart from the on-off skirmishes in the Cape, which, considering the size of the empire then, was quite a thing. Of course the Yankees and the southern states had squared up to each other in the spring, and the serious business soon started. But it wasn’t our fight, do ye see ? Little Vicky had said so loud and clear, and while she ruled in name only she still had a deal of influence – at least when it suited the politicos. So that was that, it seemed. The call to arms would probably be a trip inspecting the troops somewhere, making sure they’d got their boots on the right way round, like as not. A free ride, no danger at all, and another credit – small maybe, but always worth having – in the bank of Flashy’s reputation. Even a seasoned poltroon like me could see no harm in it. More fool me, as ye’ll see, though it did save Lincoln’s Union in the end, not that it was worth a bucket of warm spit, next to keeping my shrinking skin whole. I might have the great warrior reputation, the medals, martial air, and big cavalry whiskers of the popular bluff Harry Flashman, saviour of the empire, but if you know my history you’ll know me as one who’d sell out the empire in a short minute if it kept me from harm. Fortunately for my reputation, no one knew, though a few, like Ignatief, had an inkling, but no proof of any substance.

The devil of it is, it would have been all so different but for my darling Elspeth. I’d just got over the bloody Chinese business and was waiting for my much delayed loot to arrive for disposal. I’d been away so long I’d a suspicion she’d been bedded by half the nobility in London – my little trollop had a rare taste for Adam’s arsenal, as long as it was wrapped in ermine – and I’d no wish to be away again so she could move on to the other half. Fate, as ever, intervened, in the shape of her hellish mother. The old harridan had moved back to Paisley soon after old man Morrison, Elspeth’s father, may he rot in hell, had died more than ten years back. One bright morning in late July, I think it was, a telegram arrived saying the old witch was seriously ill, and of course Elspeth, like the dutiful daughter she liked to think she was, must away to the dark north and minister to the suffering.

‘Why can’t your sisters see to her ?’ says I. ‘There’s three of them and they’re all closer’.

‘Oh, Harry, they can’t see to things the way I can’, says she. ‘Anyway, why don’t you accompany me ? Mama would love to see you, after such a long time’.

I had my doubts about that – unless she was drawing a bead on me with a loaded revolver, of course. You see, I’d bedded my darling featherhead on the banks of the Clyde years before, when billeted on her family, and been forced into marriage at the point of a gun, by her uncle. Not the best way to start with your in-laws, you’ll grant, and things hadn’t improved over time. So that was out of court, straightaway.

‘Business in town’, says I. ‘Can’t spare the time. Well, Elspeth pleaded, and wheedled, and tempted as only Elspeth can but I stood firm. Quite apart from her ghastly mama I’d seen enough of the haggis eaters in China to last me, and an extended visit to Paisley held as much interest as a Methodist service

That settled that, and Elspeth set off for the northbound train from Euston next day, taking herself, a couple of ladies maids, and a mountain of luggage that seemed fit to fill the hold of a small steamer. At least, I thought, I won’t need to keep an eye on her there. Now that she’d ridden so high in the world, as it were, there was as much chance of her finding beddable nobility in Paisley as there was a shylock writing off a debt. With any luck her ministrations might see the old vulture off, and not before time, either, though of course I said nothing of that to Elspeth. It was her mother, after all, and more important, thanks to Morrison’s will, Elspeth held the purse strings.

So there was I, left rattling about the big house in the square, with only the butler, cook, and a couple of housemaids for company, our boy Havvy (Harry Albert Victor, no less) not being due back from boarding school for some weeks. My China loot eventually arrived and I was able to carefully dispose of it in only a few days. Most of it was fine stuff, and found homes, no questions asked or answered, in some surprising places. After all, how do ye think the nobility got so rich ? So I looked to fill the time till my beloved’s return from pretending to be Florence Nightingale. Ten years or so before I’d have turned my hand to some judicious devilment, but things had changed while I’d been away. The baleful, miserable morality of the queen and her poker backed husband Prince Albert had spread through society like a creeping plague, and fornication wasn’t so easy to come by unless you turned to a real woman of the streets, say in Whitechapel, or by the docks, where there were thousands of ‘em. Pound to a pinch of snuff you’d find yourself poxed up in no time flat, and I wasn’t that desperate to take the chance – not yet, at any rate. Even the gaming hells were being shut down by the traps, so there was little amusement to be found there.

So I busied myself the way a gentleman about town does – horses, snooker, and whatever entertainments had escaped the general gloom. One thing I took an interest in was the American war. Having been over there back in the forties I knew a deal of the background – which was to say I knew north and south hated each other, and had done for years. Relations hadn’t improved in the ten years till my next unwilling visit, when I was shanghaied by the mad slaver captain, and sometime fellow of Oriel college, J C Spring (MA, Oxon) to Baltimore with the intent of making me face the consequences of my earlier trip to the land of the brave and the home of the free. Even the best laid plans of mad Oxford dons can go astray, though, and I got mixed up in the Harper’s Ferry raid with another madman, old John Brown, as usual used and abused by all and sundry, from the US government, abolitionists, and white race gangs, to the Underground Railroad. If I believed there was a god I’d think to ask him why he’s put me through such devilishly dangerous situations. I’ve learned to be a peaceable chap, by and large, because I knew devilment had to be paid for, and didn’t go out of my way to seek trouble any more. Somehow, though, despite my efforts, trouble seemed to find me more often than not. I wasn’t misused by old JB, though, who wasn’t a bad old stick, forbye he ended up dancing the Newgate hornpipe in his carpet slippers. That’s another story, though, , but I learned in ’59 that things had got so bad that the tinder to start a war was just waiting on the spark – which turned out to be the gangling, pug ugly lawyer from Kentucky, Lincoln, who’d have given his pension (and mine ) not to start it. So it was no surprise when what you might call a cold war started to turn hot, as states seceded, or attempted to, after Lincoln’s election, to the point where shots were fired, and the Yankee held Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbour, was attacked and taken by the Confederacy in April that year. That my old sparring partner Lincoln was now president just piqued my interest more.

Nowadays you’ll be told that the war was to free the slaves, and in a way it was, but that was secondary, at the beginning, even to Lincoln, who abhorred the whole rotten system. It might surprise that old Flash would say that about it, and in a way it surprises me. But I’d seen it for what it was, first hand, and while I’d no wish to set ‘em free myself, I’d not spare a tear if it was ended – as long as I was still in comfort, naturally. As I said, even in the forties you could see the hate between the two parts of the country. It was like two nations, not one and the slaves were just one of the issues with both sides despising each other because of their differences. The north saw the south as ignorant hayseeds, covered by a veneer of gentility, and living in a past that couldn’t last, while the south hated the north for its liberal weakness, as it saw it, and its barely concealed contempt for its neighbour.

But even these weren’t the real issue. See here now, while Professor Flashy gives you a history lesson in how the real world works. That, as ever, was power, and the exercising of it by those who had it. While the south had remained rural and agricultural the north, swelled by the influx of Europeans since the start of the century, had its own industrial revolution, and this encouraged even more immigration, so that its population and industrial strength grew apace. It had the power to flex its muscles, and having the power, felt that gave it the right to do so, and bedamned to whatever anyone else thought. The south, looking on, and diminishing in power, feared and resented the interference it what it called state’s rights. You might say I’m wrong, and the war was a great noble exercise for freedom. Well, maybe that’s what it became but it didn’t start that way. And if you doubt what I say about power, just look at that rascal Teddy Roosevelt, and his talk of a speaking softly, and carrying a big stick. Not that I’d call him wrong, if you want to keep safe – just that having the big stick, it becomes too easy to find a reason to use it. It’s always been the same – those with power choose to use it in a way they think right, or convince the populace is right, at any rate, and those without it suffer the consequences.

All very interesting, ye may say, but what, after Vicky’s declaration, did this have to do with Britain, and more importantly to Flashy ? Well, if you stick by me you’ll learn the latter presently, but I can tell you the former now.

It was mid August and I was whiling away the morning with the mail and papers. Elspeth had written to say her mother was ‘quite recovered’, unfortunately, but that she was going to stay with her till the end of the month, at least. That set my teeth on edge because I was getting peckish, and I was keen to put her over the jumps again. The cyprians in Whitechapel were beginning to look not half bad, Cupid’s Measles or no. Suddenly there was a sharp, business like rap on the front door. I heard Thompson, the butler, answer it, a few murmured words, and then he slid in through the door like a noiseless ghost – the perfect servant, in fact – with a card on the calling tray.

‘Who the devil is it ?’ says I, as I picked up the pasteboard. R. Hutton Esq, it said. That caused me a pause. For a moment I couldn’t remember a Hutton for the life of me. It soon came back to me though – you don’t forget a killing gent, especially when he’s saved your hide from a Russki assassin. That was when I was out on a shoot with that muffin Prince Albert in the Highlands, who had a rare taste for slaughtering animals, and being stalked by my old sparring partner Ignatieff. I’ll tell you again, royalty are damned dangerous to go about with.

Well, while it took me aback for a second I wasn’t worried, but curious. Hutton was one of us and there was no unpleasantness about to start so I just wondered what the devil he wanted. Anyway, people like Hutton will go where they want, so I told the butler to show him in. A moment later the door opened and in he stepped, the same tall, long jawed fellow I remembered – except that the Hutton I knew should have been in his forties by now, and this young sprig was no more than twenty. He must have caught my surprise because a smile swept briefly across his face.

‘Good morning, Colonel’, says he, ‘I’ve come from Lord Palmerston with this letter for you’, and he handed me an envelope. Old Pam, thinks I. What’s the Prime Minister want from a colonel on half pay ?

I’d got over my surprise, somewhat, and told him, rather gruffly, that he wasn’t the Hutton I’d expected to see.

‘You have the acquaintance of my father, Colonel. I’ve followed him into the family business, as it were. He was eager to call on you himself, but given the nature of the visit it was felt someone less well known was appropriate’.

Well, I could see it now, the same cool, easy manner of his father, masking the careful, watchful eyes. No doubt he always went about heeled, as our American cousins say. Not a man to be trifled with, youngster or no. So he’d followed in his pa’s footsteps, then ? Army, politicos, intelligencers, it’s all the same. Nepotism rules, though I’m damned if I know how my eldest became a bishop. After all, while I may blather and pray like the best of ‘em when my backside is in a sling, once I’d slipped out from under gentle Jesus, meek and mild, don’t cross my mind in a month of Sunday’s. Maybe he got it from his father.

Cool as you like young Hutton directs me back to business – ‘The letter, Colonel, if you please’. So I opened it up, and sure enough there was a note from Pam’s private secretary, requesting a confidential visit to him at his place in Piccadilly. He’d never moved into Downing St, probably because that would have stopped him looking at the popsies in the street, going about their business. For a second I had a cold feeling at the base of my spine. Pam had sent me to the Crimea and India in the past, to my great discomfort. So I asked Hutton ‘What’s the word on this?’ He looked briefly around to make sure Thompson had gone, and that the door was shut, and said quietly ‘The American war, sir’. Well that cheered me up no end. We weren’t involved and Pam probably wanted the benefit of my opinion, knowing I’d travelled there extensively. It being Pam, with a string of paternity suits behind him, he’d probably be just as interested in my tussles with Susie, Cleonie, and all the other women I ridden to hounds with there as well.

So it was off to Piccadilly in a closed carriage, wearing mufti* as it was confidential. It was a short journey and the carriage soon clopped its way to the back of Pam’s fine old house – which I thought was a deuced shame. T’aint often a semi retired staff galloper is summoned to a confidential meeting by the PM, after all. Perhaps I could drop a hint to Billy Russell at The Times, so he could pen a story like ‘Colonel Flashman waits upon Lord Palmerston’, or some such nonsense for the paper. At least it would delight Elspeth as well as cocking a snook at some of my enemies, such as that randy old rip Cardigan. He’d not be called upon to render advice to a pox doctor’s clerk after Balaclava, so to read something like that would infuriate the old snob.

Hutton took me into the house and through to a large drawing room.

‘My lords, Sir George, Colonel Flashman’ he said, as I stepped into the room.

Stood by the fireplace was the tall, grey figure of Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston, who had been in office, or around it, for nearly fifty years. At seventy six he was now two years into his second spell as PM, and in his time had served as both Whig and Tory. Now he was leading a Liberal government. He’d turned down the chance to lead the Tories in’59, and been invited to form a government in June of that year by the Queen – with whom he famously didn’t get on, for a number of reasons, not all of ‘em political. With him were George Lewis, who’d just become War Secretary, and Lord Russell, Foreign Secretary, as well as a couple of confidential clerks.

Pam detached himself from the mantelpiece and walked stiffly over to me, his hand held out.

‘Morning, Flashman. How are ye ?’
‘Good morning, my lord. Well enough, thank’ee, says I.
‘Good, good. Busy are ye, and how’s the delightful Lady Flashman ?’.
I returned that unfortunately she was out of town at present, at which he squinted at me, harrumphed loudly, and adjusted his dreadful false teeth.
‘That’s a shame. Ye’ll be finding London damnably dull, then’.
You see Pam was a bit like me – no, he wasn’t a bully, coward or braggart, even if he did sit in the House of Lords. But he had a fine eye for the ladies, and his mistresses changed as often as the sentries at St James. The Times had taken to calling him Lord Cupid – he never felt the need to be discreet about it and it was partly this that put him in disfavour with virtuous Vickie. Trying to seduce one of her ladies in waiting at Windsor Castle probably didn’t help, either. Still, he was only sixty five at the time.

‘Anyway’, says he, ‘to business. Hutton will have given you an inkling, no doubt. Sit yourself down. You’ll know both Russell and Sir George, of course’.

Well, I knew them well enough to toady in proper style if required – we Flashmans weren’t quite top drawer, do ye know ? But the next thing Pam said knocked me off my stride in an instant.

‘Hutton, you can stay. You’ll be accompanying the Colonel part of the way, so it’s best you know his mission’.

Suddenly that cold feeling I’d had on receiving his summons was back, and with a vengeance. Accompanying me where, and on what mission ? He wasn’t sending me into the jaws of hell again, was he ? No, surely not – Hutton had said America, hadn’t he ? Still, as my bowels began their familiar polka I started to wish I’d accompanied Elspeth to see the old hag – she couldn’t be that good a shot anyway, if I didn’t get too near – or taken to my bed with fever when I saw the letter, or said I was going to join an order of mendicant monks, instead of preening myself about the summons, thinking one of the great statesmen of the age needed humble old Flashy’s advice. As always, in the grip of fear, my face wattles red, rather than blanches white.
Pam squinted at me again and said
‘Do ye know, Flashman, you’ve gone quite red. Do you think we’re sending you to fight the Americans ?’ He wasn’t the first to mistake my singular reaction to fear as martial ardour. Damned useful, when you’re in a funk as often as I am. Still, play the game I thought, and shot back

‘If that’s what’s required, my lord’.

‘I don’t think it will come to that, Flashman’. That was Lewis. ‘Her Majesty’s forces are fully engaged in protecting and policing the empire. We have no cause to interfere in another nation’s disagreements’.

He ain’t as well remembered now as Lord Russell and Palmerston, but before he went early the way of all flesh he was talked of as Liberal leader – would have saved us from that undertaker’s mute Gladstone, at the least. On the other hand he had a reputation as moderate and honest which would no doubt have scuppered him – we like our politicals a bit sneaky, in case the other chap is too. Lewis was clever, as well – my chum Speedicut , knowing my facility for languages, sent me a book of his on romance languages – damn useful, still use it as a doorstop, though it’s a bit battered now, of course.

Of course Russell had to pipe up then, to remind us he was still there. Always a bit of a second rater, Russell, despite his fine aristocratic background. He had the title of Foreign Secretary but it was well known that Palmerston called the tune in foreign affairs – in everything else, too, from what I could see. Russell had been PM in the early ‘50’s and sacked Pam when he’d jumped in too early to welcome Louis Napoleon’s coup. Six weeks later he was out of office – Pam knew too much and had too many connections for Russell to carry on. Here they were again, same room, same government – talk about keeping your enemies closer, eh ? I tell ye, you’d get more consistency from a drunken ‘pash war party than a cabinet government.

‘ Neutrality’s the position for Britain, as Her Majesty has made clear’, says Pam.

No surprise there, then – he and the Queen were more interested in Europe, though for different reasons. For Vicky foreign policy was to be directed to support of monarchies – most of whom she was related to. Pam’s view was that it should increase Britain’s power and influence. Of course that could often add to the discomfort of her brood of European cousins. I was with Pam, though – at least it might stop Albert flooding the place with his brood of relatives – but I’d spare a kind thought for little Willy of Celle, poor, stupid, young bastard.

All by the way for me, of course – when your manly skin is shivering about shot and shell the empire’s fate don’t amount to a hill of beans. Go on, tell me you’d be different, in my place. Still, it was as plain as a pikestaff they were intent sending me of across the Atlantic. Not for war, thank the Lord, but what the devil for ? I couldn’t see any reason at all to send me there.

Pam, being Pam, didn’t beat about the bush.

‘Flashman, we want you to go to America, and assess the military capabilities of the Confederacy. Their recent victory at Manassas was most unexpected. Can they win ? If so we must thoroughly reconsider our policy towards the United States – or what is left of it. You’re the ideal man – travelled there, time in the Ordnance, a good political officer, and an experienced soldier’.

That was the real Palmerston speaking there. He hated the Yankees, and no doubt saw Britain’s advantage if the USA sawed itself in half – as it likely looked to do. He detested the blackbird trade but to many in the country – and Europe, too – slavery wasn’t the issue then. It was a case of the big bully northerner’s cracking down on their spunky southern countrymen. It might have seemed clear, then, but if more had seen the late, unlamented, brute Peter Omohundro and his like they might have thought again. Hard to see straight from three thousand miles, I suppose.

‘Will we be recognising the Confederacy, my lord ?’, says I.

At this Russell jumped in again, probably to show he weren’t there just to pour the tea and butter the muffins.

‘We recognise both parties as belligerents, no more. We must tread a fine line. The Confederacy is anxious to send diplomatic representation to ourselves and the French. Lord Lyons, our man in Washington, has had it direct from Seward, the US Secretary of State, that official recognition of the Confederacy would be considered an unfriendly act. Act hastily and we alienate the USA, and ruin our chances of acting as mediators in this sad affair’.

I knew Seward from ’59 – a charming, silver tongued arm twister, as I’d found out then. Well, it was good old fence sitting to me. Wait for the best moment to pick one side or t’other. Doubt I’d have done anything different, I’m bound to say.

‘We also have considerations of trade, Flashman’, says milord Pam. ‘Not just cotton. We import enormous amounts of wheat and corn from the northern states. We cannot endanger that trade, or we risk unrest in the towns and cities, should it be interrupted’.

Well, I knew the cotton trade was important, but I’d not considered grain. A moment’s thought would have made it clear, though. So many country folk had been crammed into the kennels of the industrial cities and towns to work in the mills and factories that the countryside had lost thousands upon thousands of workers. Where better to make it up than the huge fields of the mid-west ? I’d seen the vast farms, with fields of wheat and corn, stretching endlessly to the horizon. Well, if that’s what’s at stake Flashy had better be damn careful in his report. Not that I cared a fig for the starving masses - more fool them for leaving the land and being crammed into hovels that a Louisiana planter wouldn’t have put his niggers in – but I didn’t care for them tearing up St James’s, and making it difficult to get to my club.

‘Well, my lord, when do I leave and how do I travel ?’ says I. The sooner I knew their plans the sooner I could change them to suit me better. Even twelve years on there were some states in the south I’d as soon not go near.

At this Welsh cut in, this being his bailiwick.

‘Hutton has the details, but in brief you will travel by train to Liverpool and then take a steamer from there to Charleston, in South Carolina. There you will be met by the Confederate military, who will conduct you on a tour of their army. Discretion’s the word, Flashman. For that reason you will not return to the active list – there must be no indication that this is an official visit. Hutton will travel as far as Liverpool to see you aboard ship. We expect you, and your report, back by November’.

Well, that sounded well enough. I wouldn’t have Hutton looking over my shoulder, and I’d no fears about going to Charleston, and being ferried about like a lord by the rebels, who’d no doubt be eager to please. All in all, it sounded a jolly little trip. You’d think, even then, I’d have known better. The signs were all there – summoned by a big wig, for a confidential mission abroad, where all hell was being readied to be let loose. But when you’re bored, and full of yourself, and thinking of the way to use this to make your unearned reputation shine a bit brighter, well you don’t take the long view, do you ?

‘Very good, Sir George, but ain’t the Yankee navy blockading the south ?’, I asked. After all, we expected everyone else to respect our blockades. No doubt the Union would expect the same from us. That was the norm, backed up by international law.

‘The steamer Bermuda, on which you sail, will show that the blockade is ineffective, and merely a paper blockade, therefore not binding in international law’, says Russell.

Having your cake and eating it was what you could call that. I wondered which rat trap legal mind came up with that little idea ? ‘See here, they’re mounting a blockade, but if we get through, t’aint a real blockade, so there’. Lawyers, eh ? Whenever I fret over my soul, and all the damned dirty strokes I’ve pulled, I take comfort that at least I’d never been an attorney.

At that Pam harrumphed loudly again, straightened his wig, stood up and stretched out his hand again.

‘Good luck, Flashman,’ and with that Hutton was guiding me out and back to the carriage.

Hutton had the details down all pat, no error, so the next few days I packed and put things in order, telegraphing Elspeth I was to be away again. To placate her I hinted that it was a mission I’d been sent on by a VIP high up in society. It was true enough and being the daughter of a tradesman who’d bought his peerage she was the most terrible snob. As the Bermuda was due to sail on the 21st Hutton determined we should be in Liverpool by the 19th. To that end he’d booked tickets on a parliamentary from Euston early on that day.

It was the day before and I was just putting the finishing touches to my packing – my trusty .44 Adams and a box of ammunition, as it happens – when Hutton calls round to check the final details.

‘Well, Sir Harry’, he begins, at which I stopped him.

‘Now then, young Richard’, says I, ‘it’s best ye call me Harry from now on, don’t ye think ?’

It wasn’t gammon, giving him my bluff, hearty Harry Flash act. For one thing he was too sharp a cove for that. No, it was just good sense, being a confidential mission and me being known abroad and about. But even a blade like him was pleased, as I could tell from his brief smile. Fame’s a funny thing, and if it comes from doing your duty – or in my case, pretending to do your duty – even a young hard case like Hutton can be smitten, just a little.

Next morning we’re at Euston for the 7:35 train and I was heading for first class when Hutton touches my shoulder and says ‘Second class, Harry. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves’. I suppose it made sense but I wasn’t looking forward to being in with the hoi polloi. Still, I don’t suppose there’d be any bog Irish with a pig and a sack of potatoes in there – in third, you could guarantee it.

With a change in Birmingham the journey was over ten hours, and damned dull, so I won’t bore you with it – except for one detail. The train was coming into Liverpool when it stopped just short of a tunnel. Looking out of the window I could see the engine being uncoupled from the train.

‘What going on here ?’ I said to young Hutton, at which some Cratchit offers that the engine’s too big for the tunnel and the train has to be roped through, and then it rolls down to the station by gravity, with a brake wagon in front.

Well, off we go again, through the tunnel and into the pitch dark, there only being lamps in first class. It must have taken ten minutes and was damned eerie – for one thing it was as black as the earl of hell’s weskit. Put me in mind of my slide down the Jotunsee – the tunnel walls were just as wet for one thing. Still, I didn’t get quite as cold this time.

Once off the train we set off for our accommodation, a little inn called The White Horse, I think it was, a short stroll from Lime St. It isn’t there now, though. The Adelphi Hotel was built on the land there a few years later, and having stayed in both, I can tell you that the Adelphi was more my mark.

 

Still, The White Horse wasn’t a bad little basha, and it was no worse for the saucy little maid who showed us to our rooms. Right my girl, thinks I, I’ll look you up later and see if we can dance the mattress quadrille. Then it was time to get our bearings, and take a turn round Liverpool.

I don’t suppose there’s a city in England like Liverpool, even today. Back in ’61 it was a teeming, booming, rumbustuous place, more of a frontier town like Dodge or Tombstone than an English city. The boom had started on the wealth from the blackbird trade, and while that was in the past the boom had just carried on without a pause. Of course now it was the gateway to the new world, and folk flooded in to take ship across the Atlantic. New sailing lines like Cunard and White Star set up to service this trade, while into the city poured the raw goods for the industries of the north, including King Cotton.

You could see every race and colour filling the city’s streets, and down on the waterfront, either sailing or scheming. Chink, dagoe, wop, every colour of nigger you could name, even Russian, all there to make their fortune in the new world – or the old. But most of all there was paddy. The steady stream from the emerald isle had become a flood after the potato famine, and that water coursed through every street and byway of the city. In one great wave at the start of 1847 it was reckoned that up to three hundred thousand had reached the city from across the Irish Sea. For some it was just a first step to America but more than half of them settled, filling up the cellars and rat holes of the city, taking any work there was, most often at sea or in the docks. They started to change the language too, so that working people began to speak in an accent and dialect quite different from the rest of Lancashire, a fast language with a range of rising and falling tones unique to the area. Mind you, it was still easier on the ear than listening to a Scotsman.
Following the trade came the businesses to service it – bankers, shipping agents, insurance – every sort of legal commerce, and every sort of illegal commerce followed. By 1860 the docks were rivalling London as the country’s biggest. More ships were registered to London, but the greater tonnage was in Liverpool as the Mersey could take the bigger ships London’s river couldn’t.
With all that wealth had come the public works – great buildings in the Greek style, statues and the like, especially in the fashionable area from Lime Street, where Hutton and I stayed, down to St Johns Gardens. Just along from the station was the imposing St Georges Hall, and the beginnings of yet another statue of the great Duke. Nearby on Brown Street was a library and museum, both road and building named after the local merchant who’d sponsored them. Alongside these was no end of works for the improvement of the deserving poor. Endless churches, schools, hospitals and public bath houses, though with so many paddies about they might have saved their money on those. The whole place reeked of money and opulence, and an odious eagerness for advancement.
That was just one side of it, though. Alongside all this worthiness was a level of dirt, squalor, and disease I’d have been shocked at in the slums of Calcutta. You could walk just a few yards off from the fashionable streets and you’d come across a depth of poverty that would have shocked the hardest. Pinch faced, hollow eyed brats, shoeless, in the gutter, drabs I’d turn away even after six months at sea, and gaunt, grey faced men, many younger than me, who looked like a puff of breeze from the river front would carry ‘em away.

Many of them lived in what were called ‘courts’ – a series of houses grouped round a narrow yard at right angles from the street, crowding in on each other. Usually there was only one tap and one lavatory per court and families lived in just one room or maybe the cellar, all thrown in together. Disease was rife. Cholera and typhoid, smallpox and every other illness that comes from dirt and poverty were regular callers, and collected a regular payment. Quite reminded me of Washington in the summer.

Don’t mistake me, though. I’d seen enough pain and misery to last a lifetime and I’d no intention of selling all my worldly goods – well, Elspeth’s goods, actually – and plumping down to do good works there. But it seemed a shame and a waste, and as the country’s window to the world gave a damn bad picture of us, as the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, who’d been US consul there a few years before, noted.

So that was my first view of Liverpool, which some of its wealthier residents styled the second city of the empire, as though that mattered a jot. So much money spent on saving souls and good works, when it would have best been spent on housing and decent sanitation. These do gooders make me sick, interfering to save their own souls, the selfish bastards. They’re just a bunch of damned hypocrites, with their pious come to Jesus blackmail to the poor.

Dispiriting in its way, though by the time we’d had a good supper, washed down by decent Rhenish, I’d quite got over, and after a first rate thrash with the maid, Susie, who was even saucier in bed than out of it, and a good night’s sleep I forgot all about it.
I woke up in capital fettle and was down to breakfast before Hutton.
‘Morning young Richard’, says I when he appeared. ’Sleep well, did ye ?’.
‘Eventually, Harry, eventually’, says he, drily.
Over breakfast we discussed the day. Hutton opined that he should go alone to the Bermuda and make acquaintance of the captain.

‘It wouldn’t do, Harry, for you to be spotted, unlikely though that seems. I will meet with Captain Tessier and determine when he wants you aboard’.

With that he was off so I went to my room with a copy of yesterday’s Times to catch up with any news on the war, among other things. As usual The Thunderer was working itself up into a fine lather about the secessionists and their trade of evil, and missing the whole point – nothing new there, then. After a little while there was a knock on the door and in steps my saucy Susie, but all business now.

‘Beggin’ yer pardon Mr Thompson, but there’s two foreign gents askin’ for you on a matter of business’.

As ye’ll guess I was very leery of this. No one was supposed to know I was here, nor my assumed name.

‘Who are they, Susie ?’ I asked.

‘Didn’t give no names , sir, but they sound American to me’.

Well, thinks I, they know I’m here, and my ‘name’. Best to get an idea what they’re about. Best also not to take any chances, so I had Susie ask them to wait a moment. When she went out I was straight over to my valise for the Adams. Had it been the States I’d have had it in plain view, but it seemed a touch out of place for England, so I kept it concealed but close. A moment later there’s a knock on the door and my visitors came in.

‘Gud day to yew, suh’., says the first one . That answered one question right off. Dixie, devil of a doubt. He was about my age, solid and about middle height, with beard and whiskers. Though he was dressed in mufti he was a Jack Tar. I could smell it on him.

‘Good day, gents’, says I. ‘as I haven’t the pleasure of your acquaintance I don’t know what business we can have’.

‘Your pahdun, suh’, says the first chap. ‘Ahma James Bulloch, o’ the city o’ Savannah, Georgia, and this gennelmun heryur is Mistuh Charles Prioleau, ladely o’ Nawlins, Louisiana, an’ now a pardner in the company o’ Fraser Trenholm, Leverpuhl’. At this the other chap nodded but said nothing, while Bulloch continued.

‘I comment yoa caution, suh, but yew wheel not neet yoa sidearm. We’s here purly on a madder o’ bizness wish may be of innerest to yew. Yew see, suh, we’s informt that yew intend to take ship t’ tha suthurn states. Mr Prioleau an’ miself believe yew can be of assistance t’uz in a manner that likely be beneficial to uz all’.

Well, damn me, how did he know that ? The old, cold feeling in my spine started to flicker again.

Yu’ll have noticed, Mistuh, err…. Thompson, ‘ he continued, ‘ tha’ wit tha outbrek o’ hostilities atween the USA and the Cunfedarate states tha’ the Cunfedaracy luks t’increase its trait wit Yurp, an specially Inklant. Indet, thar‘s a gret deal o’ frenshup an’ a sympathy fo’ tha free states o’ the south in thes gret siddy’.

Well, I couldn’t fault that – there were rebel flags everywhere. Someone had said there were more than in Richmond itself, though who’d have gone to the trouble of counting ‘em all I can’t imagine. In the little time I’d been there I’d caught the talk on the streets – no doubting where the sympathy lay here.

‘Well enough’, says I. ‘I have business in the Carolina’s, but I don’t see how I can be of help to you’ , at which point Prioleau pipes up, but without that damnable Dixie heehaw, thank God.

‘Mr Thompson, our information is that you are going to make a report on what we might call business opportunities in the Confederacy. That report would be of great interest to us, and if it were to accord with our expectations, and give a favourable view of the situation there I believe we could offer you a consideration in the sum of ten thousand pounds for your time and trouble’.

That’s one thing about Americans, Yankee or Dixie, east coast or west, they do like to get to the point where money is concerned. They knew who I was, where and why I was going, and were offering me a nice little purse to write up the Confederacy as though it were the new Roman empire – which gave me an inkling of what I might find there. I discounted the bribe in an instant – shown any interest and they’d have had me as their creature. Anyway, Elspeth spends ten thou’ a year just on clothes.

‘Gentlemen, I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time’, I replied. ‘My report is confidential to my company, and I can’t possibly reveal its contents, when complete, to anyone else’.

At that they looked surprised, damn their eyes, nodded, and sailor Sam said

‘Well suh, yew’s clurlee a gennelmun o’ gret loyalty an’ honour. Wu’ll leaf yew in peece. Howeveer, shuld yew reconcider ahere is the cart o’ Fraser Trenholm’s sester compny in Charlesstun, whirr I belief yew bount. Thay’s mebbe able t’ assist yew in udder madders, shuld problums arice’., and with that they left.

Well, it was obvious all this was an unofficial approach from the Confederates. Thing was, why did they think they could bribe me ? And what the devil had they heard of Flashy’s adventures in their damn country that would make them mention ‘problems’ ? Not that I could see what they would be. I was going as their guest – surely they wouldn’t want any harm to come to me ? I was still mulling it over when Hutton returned with some news that, under the circumstances, was unwelcome.

‘Sailing’s delayed, Harry, till the 22nd. Not all the cargo is aboard. The captain would like you to join the ship tomorrow evening, early on’.

I wasn’t going to mention my visitors to him, but I’d as soon have been away that night. Still, there was no help for it. At least I’d have another chance to trot with Susie. Lunch was the next item on the agenda, and after that Hutton left to send a coded telegraph to London, and I had another visitor.

T’was the same drill as before, Susie announcing, me laying out the Adams again, but with more care this time. I hoped it wasn’t Bulloch with his thick Dixie tongue. Maybe they were upping the ante – every man has his price they’d reason, except they didn’t know mine was a whole skin and a good reputation.

 

A short sharp rap on the door, and in he walks, and it wasn’t either Dixie or his sidekick. A taller, slimmer cove of about my age, bearded and whiskered, though. Straight to the point, as well, though.

‘Good afternoon, Colonel Flashman. Kindly don’t pretend your name is Thompson, or Comber, Prescott, Fitzroy Howard or any other alias you used in the USA. American again, but no son of Dixie this time.

By god, thinks I, our intelligence has more holes than a spinster’s nightdress. No point in gainsaying him, though.

‘Good day to you’, says I. ‘Who the hell are you, and what the devil d’ye want with me ?’.

‘I am Thomas Haines Dudley, sir, and I have the honour of being United States Consul in Liverpool. I was informed of your presence here by Ambassador Adams, in London. He has full intelligence from Secretary Seward in Washington of your time in America. You were watched most closely, sir, most closely’.

I hoped they hadn’t got too near or they’d a’ had an eyeful, what with Annette Manderville and the others I’d tupped over there.

‘Well’, says I, ‘that tells me who you are, but not what ye want’.

‘Why, that’s quite simple’., says he. ‘My duty here is to gather intelligence on the secessionists activities, especially their attempts to purchase war material. Without that trade their insurrection will surely fail. Your duty, sir, is to report honestly on the rebel’s readiness for war. Should you do so your government will see the folly of recognising their claim to independence. That is my business with you, sir, despite the no doubt large bribe your earlier visitors will have offered you’.

‘By god’, says I, ‘are you spying on me here too ? Where the devil did you get this information ?’.

At this he smiled.

‘We have friends in your government. I have also made it my business to build what I believe you would call a bandobast in England to carry out my tasks here’.

‘Well, damn ye, you wasted your time’. I said. ‘ I told ‘em what they could do with their bribe and that I’d write my report as I saw fit’. I would too, at that.

‘That’s very good, Colonel’., says Dudley. ‘But they or their friends will return. They are both persistent and desperate’.

‘My answer won’t change’, I told him.

‘No reason to doubt you, sir, none at all. But temptation can take any man, so I think I’ll need more than your word on it’, he said.

‘What more can I give you ?’.

‘It will be quite sufficient for you to forward copies of your notes during your inspection, and your final report, to addresses in the south I will furnish you with. They will make their way to the right place in due course’.

‘You can go to the devil !’, I shouted. ‘Do ye think I’m a traitor ?’

Well, he didn’t seem a bad sort, but he was certainly enjoying himself, as he proceeded, quite politely, to blackmail me. A born conspirator, no doubt.

‘I told you, sir, that Secretary Seward had full information on your many adventures in America, including after you were recruited to our service. I am prepared to release as much of it as may be required to certain people in your government and society. If I must I doubt that you will be calling on Lord Palmerston, or anyone else, again.

Several things flashed through my mind in an instant. First off, though I doubted I’d be at the Bailey I’d be out of society. Second, Elspeth would be crushed, and might put me on the street. Third, he was only asking me to do what I was supposed to do, anyway. If what he said was right all I had to do to steer my way clear was to be honest, for once. Couldn’t be too hard, even for me, could it ? Only fly in the ointment was reporting to the Yankees. Well, I’d have to deal with that as things allow. After all, when I’m three thousand miles away it’ll take a hell of a time to know whether I’m playing him false or not.

So I hummed and hawed, acted angry, muttered about betrayal, and generally played the outraged patriot, while he stood there watching me, cool as you please.

‘Well, Dudley,’ I said, eventually, ‘despite your threats I’ll report as I see it. If it’s as you say we’ll both be happy’, and I gave him a stern, earnest look. I must have looked like a ruptured bullock.

‘Very good, Colonel. Here’s those addresses you’ll require. He turned away, then stepped back into the room. ‘Just in case you have a change of heart, you might want to fortify your resolve with this’. Then he handed me a small envelope and left.

No doubt what was in it – a nice juicy piece of blackmail, to encourage my best efforts, for certain. Of course I had to look at it at once

It was prime stuff all right – at least if it’s you it’s about. There I was masquerading as Comber, for one, then thundering away with the statuesque Mrs Popplewell on the train – where the hell was that particular observer, I wondered ? Even this little sample was enough to ruin me in society, the way it was now. Still, I wouldn’t need a reminder, whatever Dudley thought, so it was straight over to the fireplace, and a match to the papers before Hutton returned. Then it was a brandy, a large one, and a think.

After Hutton had returned and we’d had dinner we had the prospect of another evening to fill. Hutton clearly felt the need for a dose of culture, as he suggested a visit to the theatre.

‘Look Harry’, he says, ‘There’s a production of Hamlet at The Adelphi. This review is very complimentary, and especially praises the actor playing Hamlet, a chap named Henry Irving’. With that he hands me a copy of the local paper, with a sketch of this Irving feller in character, looking all noble and troubled, like an archdeacon in a harem.

Now I like my culture low, not high, the lower the better. While I could at least understand what was going on in Shakespear, unlike opera, which to me is a load of fat spaghetti’s warbling and screeching, I’d no stomach for watching the Danish ditherer taking upwards of three hours to make his mind up. If I’d been Hamlet I’d have been straight down to Claudius, given him a knock on the noggin, trussed him up like an Alabama turkey, and drowned him in Elsinore’s moat. That’d solve what was rotten in the state of Denmark, no error, without all that mooning about on the battlements. Besides the fellow Irving looked like a muff, so I scotched that right off.

‘Look’ee here, young Richard’, says I, ‘that’s more my style’. as I gave him a handbill for The Hippodrome music hall. It was too. I liked all the noise and the lights, the brightness and colour, the stage door johnnies, and the brash fellows drinking and smoking, belching when they felt like it, with their pretty painted doxies on their arms.

‘Look at the entertainment there. There’s a comedian, Hootin’ Harry, king of fun, a good old oompah band, Professor Le Clerc, mermerist, and Sweet Violet Pye, singer of popular melodies, all topped off by this chap Leotard, the trapeze artist who caused all the uproar in London last May. That’s my idea of a cultured evening’.

So off to The Hippodrome it was, on account of me being the senior, and a damned good evening I had, though Hutton looked bored stiff. The comedian was very low, as was the décolletage on Sweet Violet’s dress, so that it looked like her poonts would pop out when she strained for the high notes. Mesmerist was a frost – I could tell his subjects were all stooges, but the snail eater, Leotard, was astonishing good, leaping between three trapezes, and performing somersaults above our heads, with nought but a few mattresses to save him should he slip. If the frog infantry had shown half as much bottom we’d have been through the Crimea business in half the time. All in all what I call a fine night out – took my mind off my visitors, for one thing.

Next evening I had my traps packed early and was ready to get aboard the Bermuda as soon as may be. Hutton insisted we wait until dusk to lessen the chances of being spotted embarking. As far as I was concerned, after my callers we might as well have walked to the docks at the head of the Brigade of Guards, accompanied by a marching band, for all the good secrecy would do us, but of course he wasn’t to know that. I’d bought little Susie a fine gold chain and locket, which cost me a fair amount of tin. I don’t like being mean with my women, at least when I’m in funds, and it don’t do to give ‘em money, unless they’re professionals, of course. Anyway, she was a nice little chit, and quite brightened my visit to Liverpool. Well, damn me, didn’t she start piping her eye when she opened the little box, and asks for a lock of me hair to put in the locket. Cavalry whiskers, thinks I, they always get to ‘em. I thought of stallioning her again, by way of remembrance, but Hutton was waiting downstairs, so I settled for giving her a big smacking kiss, and squeezed her udders again for luck, then took my leave.

 

Well, if I’d thought the city streets were busy, it was nothing compared to the streets around the docks, and the waterfront itself. The Bermuda was moored up at the Albert Dock and even in the early evening the area down to the waterfront was teeming, and there was a noise and hubbub fit to burst your eardrums. Every other building seemed to be a pub or inn and the sounds of singing and revelry burst out of the windows and doors, great gusts of gaiety and noise bellowing out. It being the docks there were nearly as many brothels as bars. Painted dolly mops called out from doors and windows, or accosted you on the street, offering themselves for trade – Chinese, local lasses, Irish or dusky eastern girls, every shape and hue was available, according to your taste or purse. Quite put me in mind of Ladies Night at the Guards Club, though the street walkers had better manners, of course.

I could barely walk twenty yards without having to dodge round someone, often drunk, blundering straight towards me. The music of pipes, fifes, drums and whistles mixed with the babble and chatter of the folk on the streets so loud that it rivalled the noise from the bars, and you had to shout to make yourself heard. And of course the place was full of crooks and crimpers, conmen and thieves, all ready to separate a sailor from his pay, one way or another. There were beggars too, often old sailors who’d lost their ticket through drink, or been injured on board, lost a limb and were put off. All in all it was as fine a collection of thieves and ne’er do wells as ye’d find north of the House of Commons.

We found our way to the Albert Dock and it was like stepping into a small town, separated from the rest of the city by a tall wall of masonry. On the quayside was every type of commodity you’d think could be found in the world. Iron and steel, manufactured goods, cotton and wool, beef, pork, spices of every type, molasses, rice, tobacco, timber, kegs, barrels and casks, all going out or coming into the country through the port of Liverpool. The activity was ceaseless as goods were loaded on or off the ships, orders were shouted, and carts piled up with trade trundled up and down the dockside.

I could see the Bermuda tied up a little further down. She was a steamer, and while there were a few others tied up they were far outnumbered by sailing ships of all sorts – clippers, barques, coasters and what have you. This was the great age of sail, of course, before the iron and steel ships got bigger and faster, a few years further on, and overtook the sailing ships as the main carriers of commerce.

As we got to her the lookout on the gangplank sang out and gestured us aboard. Clearly we were expected. As we stepped onto the deck we were met by a solid looking bargee of fifty or so, in a pea jacket and peaked cap.

‘Good evening Captain Tessier’, says Hutton. ‘This is your passenger for Charleston, Mr Harry Thompson’.

The good captain nodded, stuck out a paw for a firm handshake, and asked us to wait while he found someone to show me to my billet.

‘Man of few words’, says I to Hutton.

‘That he is, but he’s a good, solid type who’ll get this ship into port, whatever happens. That’s why he was chosen’, he answered.

Then a young seaman came to show me below, so it was a quick handshake and goodbye to young Richard, and then I was following the matelot down a ladder below decks.

 

We slipped out of the Mersey the next morning. Now I’ve crossed the Atlantic in all manner of ships, from a Dahomey slaver, clipper ship, to ocean liner but this was the first time on a blockade runner.

When I say Bermuda was a steamer you mustn’t get the idea that she was like these Cunard monsters being built at present. For one thing she was masted for sailing as well has having a steam engine. No, Bermuda, though an iron ship with a screw propeller, wasn’t much larger than a clipper, something over a thousand tons. She’d been built that year in the north east of England and had then sailed round the coast to Liverpool to cargo. Though she sailed under the red duster she was officered, and owned, secretly, by Americans.

So I wasn’t expecting a pleasure cruise, taking the sea air, at all. Not that I was expecting trouble, either. From all I’d heard the Yankee blockade was stretched thin, running from Virginia to Texas on the Gulf coast, with barely the ships to cover a tenth of that. She did have one surprise for me, though.

We were two days out from England when there was a knock on the door of my cramped little cabin, and a seaman excuses himself and asks could I attend the captain briefly ?

‘Good day to yew, suh’, says the good Captain Tessier as I went in. Not giving me a chance to say anything he continued. ‘Suh, I have to inform yew that our destination is not as originally indicated to yew. We sail for Savannah, not Charleston’.

Well, damme, that was a surprise but Jack Tar carries on, without a by your leave.

‘Do not be concerned for your mission, suh. Savannah is less than one hundred miles south of Charleston and there is a railroad between them. You will be met in Savannah and escorted north to your original destination. Good day to yew, suh’, and I was out of his cabin without getting a word in edgewise.

Well, there was nought for it but sit back and enjoy the voyage as best I could. There was damn all to do but eat, sleep, read, and take the air on the deck. Doubtless all this had been planned in advance to throw off any Union agents the redoubtable Dudley would have watching the docks, passing on anything they could find out to the US Navy. With Bermuda carrying all sort of supplies including rifles, powder, cannon, medicine, and even thousands of pairs of boots she’d be a valuable prize for the Yankees to take, and a sore loss to her owners.

So I settled down to be as comfortable as I could, which wasn’t easy. For one thing she was as noisy as a sail ship, with those infernal, clanking engines, and nearly as smelly as a slaver because she used animal fat to grease her engines, and the hotter the engines got the smellier it was. Another thing was that while a sailing ship would run before foul weather this iron tub just ploughed its way through it, up and down the troughs, and if you didn’t get into your cot and hold hard you’d be rattled around like a stone in a tin can. Still, I was better off than the stokers in the engine room. I’d had a tour of the ship when the seas were calm – the engine room was hot as hell, and the stokers were down there for hours on end, shovelling ton after ton of coal into the furnace. God knows what it was like in a blow – must have been damned dangerous. I suppose they were better off than the blacks I’d helped jam onto the slave decks of the old College, but there couldn’t have been much in it.

So it was about three weeks later, mid September, that we were coming up on the coast of Georgia, with the crew all on lookout for any navy ship waiting to intercept. This was the dangerous end of the voyage. There was no pretence now what Bermuda was doing, and she was the first ship to try it from Europe. While a neutral government wouldn’t attempt to break a legal blockade it had no duty to stop their citizen’s trying to. Despite the Queen’s declaration of Britain’s neutrality the sympathy for the southern cause, and of course the potential profits, made blockade running a certainty. For the owners of the ship and cargo the risk was that either or both could be confiscated. For those on the ships, and most especially Flashy on this particular one, the fear was of interception, for the U S Navy had the authority to open fire and sink a blockade runner if necessary. There was also the hazard of shoals, and of running aground and sinking off the coast. So the closer we got to land the more nervous I became.

As it turned out I was sweating for nothing. Captain Tessier took advantage of a storm and slipped into the Savannah River, taking the south channel past Cockspur Island. Once we passed under the guns of Fort Pulaski, which the southerners had captured from the Federal government a full three months before Fort Sumter, we were home, if not yet dry.

Savannah, which was the Confederacy’s second port on the east coast, after Charleston, stood on the south bank of the river, which formed the border between Georgia and South Carolina to the north, ten miles or more inland. So it took some time to reach the port and city. I sat sweltering in my cabin, waiting to land and get on. Eventually there was a knock on the door and yet another summons to the captain’s billet.

As I went in there was a soldier in the uniform of what I took to be the Confederate army, or some local militia, carrying sergeant’s stripes, sitting with his back to me, drinking lemonade, and chatting amiably to Tessier.

‘Good morning, suh’., say jolly Jack Tar. ‘This heryuh is my good frendt Tom Wilson, who will escort yew to Charleston’. At this the soldier stood up, turned, and stretched out his hand. He was as black as the ace of spades.

For a moment I started and Wilson caught it and said

‘Surprised ta see a nigra in t’army of the Cunfederacy ?’

‘A tad’, I answered, though thinking back now I’m not sure why. After all that evil gorilla Simmons was black and he served the white thugs in the Kuklos from loyalty to his friend and master. Still, he was a slave – could this Wilson be in uniform and be a slave ? He must have guessed what I was thinking for he said

‘Amha free born, suh, and my pa was free afore me. I joint tha milisha to protect my state an’ homeland from those damn interferin’ Yankees. Now,. Misser Thompson, if’n yore ready I’ll take yuh to yore ‘commadashun. We tak the railroad t’ Charlestun tomorrow’.

So it was off the Bermuda, taking my leave of the voluble Captain Tessier, and into Savannah itself. Do you know, the bugger Wilson didn’t even offer to carry my bags !

As we walked along Wilson, who seemed an affable sort, started to tell me something of himself.

‘My pa wus given his freedum in 1835, on account o’ loyal service, so I wus born free. When I growed up I tuk t’ the gun trade. I’s now the armurur for 1st Regiment, Georgia Vulanteers. When we’s seceded ma dooty wus clur – to join tha milisha to defend Georgia. I wusn’t alone – many black folk are servin’ the Confederacy now’.

It was clear now why he’d been picked to escort me to Charleston – to give the lie to the evils of slavery, so old Flashy could report favourable on the good ol’ south. He wasn’t to know I’d seen it first hand for what it was, or he’d have saved his blather.

So he prosed on, about how there were nearly as many free blacks as whites in Savannah, and how they could make themselves free if they wanted, how things were changing for the better, and so on until he began to sound like a drapery salesman. I humoured him, of course, with a sage nod from time to time, and a startled ‘ah’ when he told me that a ‘nigra cud own as much land as a white man, suh, allus providin’ he kin git summun ta sell him sum’.

So I was pleased enough to reach the hotel, The Comer House, I think it was, in Monterey Square, where Wilson tips his hat politely and tells me we’re booked on the 9 o’clock train next morning, and he’d call on me 8:30 sharp, and with that he was off.

Once I’d parked my traps I took a turn round the place – I’d been cooped up for three weeks on the Bermuda after all, so I was ready for a stroll and some different air.

I’d never been to Savannah before, and though I wasn’t there long I found it a pleasant spot. It was neatly laid out on a grid pattern, with many fine parks and squares, sitting on a low bluff above the river. I guessed it had a fine climate too, being so far south. It being September it was pleasantly warm.

Eventually I found myself on the river bluff, on Bay St, where the cotton merchants met at the Factors Walk. With the picking season having started a few weeks before it was damn noisy and busy, so I found a café, ordered a mint julep and settled back with a cheroot to listen to the talk.

The talk, of course, was all of the war, and its effect on trade, especially cotton, which was Savannah’s prime export. Some of the merchants opined that the cotton crop should ‘be left to rot on the dock, as ol’ Jeff Davis seyz, till tha Inglish taks notice, an’ force the Yankees ta negoshiate’. Others thought the trade was essential to provide money for armaments and other imports from Europe that they’d formerly got from the north, and that its price would be at a premium. Both sides of the argument had their point, of course, but they failed to take into account that ‘tha Inglish’ weren’t going to sit on their backsides while they made up their minds what to do with their cotton.

All very interesting stuff, in the context of my mission, but I tired of it after a while, and walked back to the hotel, where I had dinner and spent the evening quietly.
Wilson was prompt next morning and we were at the railroad station in time for the 9 o’clock train on the Charleston and Savannah line. The line had been laid specifically to link the Confederacy’s two main ports on the east coast and was completed just before the war had started. The war increased its importance immensely, and of course it was a prime target for the Union army, trying to cut the link between them. I suppose the journey took about 3 hours, running across rice fields, salt marshes, and over several rivers and creeks before we pulled into Charleston.  Strange enough, the station was outside the town and we had to get transport into Charleston from there. While we clattered along I asked Wilson did he know who was going to be bear leading me about.
    ‘Yes, suh,’ he says. ‘Yoom be seeing Colonel Stooart, o’the cavalry. He’s expectin’ yew’.
    Jeb Stuart, thinks I, it can only be him. I’d read about his exploits in the papers, particularly at Bull Run, or Manassas, as the rebels called it. When I met him he was just a lieutenant, now he was a full colonel. He’d done well, though promotion in wartime is quick, usually because the man you’re replacing is either dead or badly hurt, unless he’s lucky and been promoted because his superior is the dead one. I wondered what he’d have to say to me about the Harper’s Ferry business, where he’d practically begged me, in gestures, to shoot old Osawatomie Brown in the back, before the marines stormed the building. Of course he didn’t know me as Harry Flashman then – the secret service man Messervy had most likely told him I was Comber. So it promised to be a deuced interesting reunion of old comrades in arms, as it were. Well, all that was in the past. No doubt it was my good opinion that he’d be concerned about, under the circumstances.
We soon bowled up to the small hotel Stuart was billeted in, and Wilson took me in, told the front desk clerk I was an expected visitor for the Colonel and took his leave.
I’d been wondering how to play this with Stuart but as it turned out I didn’t need to worry. As soon as I went into his room he stood up, stretched out a hand, and said
‘How are you, Colonel Flashman ?’, in that pleasant southern voice I remembered from Harpers Ferry. He looked much as I saw him then, tall, well built, quite the guardee in fact, and not unlike me, though I’m slightly taller and a touch heavier. My eyes are a different colour as well. One difference was obvious though. Now I’m proud of me whiskers but keep ‘em trimmed and tidy. Stuart’s had wattled tremendous and covered his face like a thickset hedge. Must have been a devil eatin’ his soup, I remember thinking. But then he sat me down kindly and started to talk again.
‘I remember you well from the Ferry’, says he, ‘and your part as Comber was explained to me at the time. But when we knew it was a Colonel Flashman coming I was told about Comber and Flashman by General Lee. Best to avoid any confusion when we met, he said’.
Quite right’, says I , ‘And do call me Harry as it seems we’ll be travelling about together for a while’.
‘Very good, please call me Jeb, then. Now tell me why you didn’t shoot old John Brown in the barn ? Could have saved us a lot of trouble’.
So I gave him the old story I’d given Messervy at the time – that I’d tried to shoot him but the brute Joe had got in the way. That seemed to close that subject and we talked briefly about my mission, and his role, over a lunch brought in. Seems he’d been away directing frontier outposts when news of my tour had been confirmed, and he’d been fetched back as one of the Confederates leading horse soldiers to take me, as another cavalryman, on a sort of grand tour of their army.
That was my first proper introduction to the man who became famous as probably the finest cavalry commander of the war. For he could handle horse soldiers all right – the only other to touch him was George Custer. But unlike Custer, who could be a raving ninny and had a head swollen the size of St Pauls, James Ewell Brown Stuart was a mild, modest, and friendly man, who also happened to be a fighting soldier to match with anyone. His father in law was a senior officer in the Federal army, incidentally, which shows how the whole thing split the country.
After I’d been billeted Stuart suggested an inspection of local forces – there were a couple of regiments of militia in camp there – so in the afternoon I made my way down to the front of the hotel, from where we were to ride out to watch ‘em at drill.
Now I like to cut a dash myself, especially when I’m horsed but the sight of Stuart waiting patiently on a brown mare brought even me up short. Though it was a warmish September day he was wearing a great grey cape, lined with red, and had his cavalry hat worn a slouch, with a big peacock feather stuck in it. There was a flower in his lapel and to complete it all he wore a broad yellow sash over his uniform frock coat. Quite a dandy, and most unexpected – reminded me of a prize sow at a bumpkin’s fair.
So we rode a couple of miles out of town to the camp and watched one of the regiments at drill. They’d only been recently raised but seemed quite proficient, at least on the parade ground. You could tell they’d seen no action, though, as each man’s kit was virtually identical to the next. Soldiers who’ve seen the elephant adapt their kit in all sorts of ways – always made sure I carried a large white hanky, myself. Still, all this identical kit was something I was to find unusual, later on.
‘What do you think of them’, Stuart asks me after a while.
‘They look well enough’, says I, ‘ and for new troops their drill is good. But it’s damn hard to tell how green soldiers will fight until it comes to the sticking point’.
‘True, Harry’, he says, ‘but these men will fight well because they’re fighting for their homes’.
Well I couldn’t argue with that – it’s the best motivation for any soldier, apart from me, of course. So we rode back to town and talked some more about my tour. We were to visit the War Department in Richmond to see how things were set up there, and then Jeb would take me on a tour of some of the units nearer the action – hopefully not too near, I thought.
‘How’s your supply situation, what with the naval blockade ?’ I asked.
‘Best you discuss that with the Quarter Master General in Richmond’, he answered, a bit too quick, I thought. ‘But you had no problems with the blockade’, he went on. ‘I don’t want to discuss strategy’, he continued, ‘it’s not my place, but with reasonable supplies of war material from Europe we’ll make those damned Yankees sick they ever stepped on to our soil’.
Well, here’s a quiet firebrand thinks I, still waters and all that, but I’ll take a look at the supply situation with more interest. Then we were back at the hotel, and Stuart bids me to join him for an early dinner that evening, so we could get the early train to Richmond, which was several days journey away. So I went up to my room, and damn me if there isn’t a note shoved under the door addressed to me saying ‘Enjoying your trip ? ’, followed by the initials THD. God knows how but the Yankees had picked me up already and weren’t going to let me slide away from reporting. I drank rather more brandy than normal that night, though Stuart didn’t seem to notice, as he was doing most of the talking.
So we were up early the next day to travel to Richmond. It was about five hundred miles as the crow flies between Charleston and the Confederate capital but as there was no direct rail route the journey must have been half as much again. Stuart reckoned it would take nearly 3 days, what with changes and overnight stops.
The first train took us north and inland, to a town called Florence, where we changed and took a train back out to the coast, to Wilmington. From there the ride would be more or less north, direct to Richmond.
Now ye might wonder why I’m telling you about this journey, as nothing of note happened on it. Well, to me, what was important was the journey itself, and what it told me, and I found out why we’d needed transport into Charleston from the station.
The trip involved us using the lines of five different railroad companies. Fair enough, you might think. The thing was, not only did you have to change trains, but there were gaps between the different lines. At Wilmington, for example, there was a break of more than a quarter mile between the Wilmington and Manchester line and the Wilmington and Weldon. When we changed at Clover for the last train to Richmond the gap between was the same.
Damned inconvenient you might think, and so it was – in peacetime. In war, when you want to use the railroads to move men and supplies around quickly it was a nightmare. You couldn’t run a train straight through from one place to another. All the men and all the gear would have to detrain, march to the next line, and entrain again. Even if the gaps in the lines had been plugged they were often of different gauges so you couldn’t run straight onto them anyway.
It was a recipe for chaos, with troops loading on and off the trains, gear being unloaded and going missing between trains, and reinforcement and re-supply delayed, maybe at a vital time. I reckon it more than doubled our journey time, and while for one traveller that’s an inconvenience, for an army it could be a disaster. The reason for it all this was money of course, to create jobs and business moving goods between the lines, so everyone had a finger in the pie. But it was no way to run a railroad, at all, and I reckoned it would cost the rebels dear if it stayed that way, as it seemed likely it would.
So it was a tired and damned bored Flashy that rolled into Richmond station on the third day of our journey. Stuart had talked all the way about the Southern cause and their high morale, but also about the importance of the European powers, and how a long war could be damaging to them. He seemed very well informed for a fairly junior officer I remember thinking at the time, especially as he’d never been a political like me, though I suppose he’d been well primed. By this time I’d had enough of his infernal proselytising - he was like a Scotchman on drink – but he was a decent soul, for all his fire eating, and it wouldn’t have been politic to say anything anyway. So I just nodded, and hummed and hawed at the appropriate moment to keep him happy. I’d learned enough to be going on with from the journey itself.
Eventually we rode into Richmond itself and put up in the American Hotel, just off Main Street, and a short walk from the Quartermaster’s offices. The city itself wasn’t that big, especially for a capital, being barely a third the size of Washington, and it lay on the north bank of the James river. It had a lot of history – for America , anyway – and was the place where Patrick Henry had made his famous ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ speech during the revolutionary war. It occurred to me that if someone had served the bugger the latter the country might not have been in the pickle it was. They might have been better off staying in the empire. After all, we managed to deal with the slave question years ago, without any question of a civil war. Still, no enterprising chap took the opportunity to get rid of the Scottish troublemaker, and the present situation was the eventual outcome.
The other thing about Richmond and Washington that was singular was their closeness. There was barely a hundred miles between them, and for the capitals of two armies at war that was damn close. Of course Richmond didn’t become the capital until it seceded in May of ’61. Before then it had been Montgomery, in Alabama, but that was too far south from the frontline, and too small to support the apparatus of a national government. Richmond’s other importance was that it was the site of the Confederacy’s only major armaments works, the Tredegar Iron Foundry, many of whose essential workers were blacks, as it happened.
Well, I was blown after the journey but damn me if Stuart didn’t insist that we inspect the city’s defences before dinner, while there was still light. So he whistled up a couple of nags and we rode north to look at the earthworks there. It was obvious a hell of an effort had been expended on them to make them defensible positions but from all I could see not a one was finished. More to the point there weren’t a single piece of field artillery in place – not a smoothbore, nor howitzer, nor a rifled gun. I seemed to me that the gate was wide open, and if the Union army came in strength all the rebel’s would have to stop them would be horse and foot, and that wouldn’t answer. I said as much to Stuart, to which he replied
‘That’s why we had to give them a bloody nose at Manassas’, as the south referred to Bull Run. ‘They’ve shown no inclination to attack since then’.
Well true enough, there was no sign of a Union army about to heave into view, but if they did there’d be hell to pay. It did occur to me to forward this intelligence to the Yankees, as it might have stopped the whole thing before it got properly started. I soon put it out of thought, though – not while I was so near the firing line, thank’ee. Then it was back to the hotel, for dinner and a rest, thank God, before we went to see the three wise men of the Quartermaster’s board, as Stuart dubbed them – Myers, Northrop, and Gorgas – the next day.
Next morning Stuart accompanied me down Main Street to the Quartermaster’s offices. When we got there Stuart had surprise for me.

‘Before you see the board members, Harry, there’s someone I’d like you to meet first’, and he showed me into a little office.

Now I was expecting to see Davis the President, or at least Robert Lee, but it was neither of them. Instead it was a stoutish chap who looked like a lawyer, which it turned out he originally was. Stuart made the introductions:-

‘Colonel Harry Flashman, sir’, he says. ‘Harry, this is Judah P Benjamin, acting Secretary of War for the Confederacy’.

A sheeny, thinks I. Well, he had the look. But when he spoke it wasn’t Dixie, but a British accent.

‘Good day, Colonel. If you’re surprised by my accent I was formerly a British subject, born in the Indies, but am now a proud citizen of the Confederacy. As yours is an unofficial visit it was thought better that you see a member of the government confidentially, and without any fanfare. Now sir, let’s get to business. What is your opinion of our military situation ?’

As I’d been there barely five minutes there wasn’t a lot I could say other than that while I hadn’t been able to make a proper assessment I could see a clear martial spirit and a readiness for battle everywhere I went, which was true enough.

‘Indeed so, sir, for we are fighting for our freedom and independence. We demand nothing from the Yankees, we just wish to be left alone. Slavery, sir, is not the issue, but liberty’.

He was bound to put it like that, of course. If slavery had been the issue the support they enjoyed in England, in particular, would have drained away quicker than a Russian can empty a bottle of vodka. To be fair, at that time it wasn’t a major issue for the Union just then, either. Anyhow, it seemed I was here for a lecture rather than a discussion, for he soon went on.

‘You will note, Colonel, our signal success of arms recently at Manassas. Let me tell you how that came about, so you will be able to appreciate the military superiority of the Confederacy’. he said.

The South, Benjamin told me, was the heir to the military spirit of the War of Independence. Of the old USA’s eight military academies seven were in the Confederacy, and the south provided a disproportionate number of the pre war US Army’s professional soldiers. ‘For the Yankees, sir, are just shopkeepers, with no martial spirit or military tradition at all’.

Aye, thinks I, but wait till you see how they fill those shops, with all the factories, mines and what have you, the devil a sign of which I’d seen in the south. Still, I didn’t want to burst his bubble, so I let him drone on.

‘In addition’, he continues, ‘the Confederate nation has an experienced military man at its head. President Davis is an army veteran, and a former US Secretary of War. His chief military adviser is the pre-eminent soldier in North America, Robert E Lee. The North’s leadership cannot compare’. Then he went on about how Davis was re-organising the southern forces to reflect the structure of the US Army, forming the state militia companies into regiments, brigades and divisions. Once he finished he looked at me expectantly, so I thought I’d better say something profound.

‘Yes, Mr Secretary, I can see much work has been done to harness and organise that martial spirit you spoke so eloquently of. Still,’ I went on, ‘Colonel Stuart has told me that when war began you had four hundred thousand volunteers, but had to turn half away. Was that due to problems of supply ?’

‘At that time’. he answered, ‘But when you meet the members of the Quartermaster’s board shortly you will see that this has been vigorously addressed’.

Well’, says I, ‘if you can equip those men, train ‘em, and limit your strategy to protection of your independence, then I see a good chance of success’. Benjamin was so happy when I said that .he looked like a pig in muck

I meant it too. It’s a damned sight harder and more costly to attack than defend. If they stuck to preserving their borders they had the advantage, having shorter supply lines, which were internal and easier to protect. They’d be fighting on their own ground against an enemy, moving away from its sources of material, on unfamiliar soil, and open to attack as they moved around.

But, of course, I knew even then that wouldn’t happen. Success, like at Bull Run, has a habit of breeding greater expectations, and I’d caught that in what the locals, military or not, had been saying. ‘On to Washington’, ‘Look how we licked those Yankee yellow bellies’, and ‘One southerner’s worth ten Yankees in a fight’, that was the talk, after a battle that wasn’t much more than a skirmish compared to what was to come. They’d got the smell of victory, and a chance to humiliate their hated neighbours, and that would drive them on. They had as much chance of containing the war as getting a catholic priest off drink.

With that it was a good day, and I was off to see Stuart’s three wise men. For the job they had to do they may as well be the three monkeys, was my first thought.

Not that they weren’t competent, at least two of ‘em, anyway. Abraham Myers, a colonel, was the Quarter Master General, charged with supplying the army with everything from boots and uniforms to tents and wagons. He’d had experience in the US Army before the war but when you realised that, for example, more than 90% of boots and clothing produced in America was made in the Union states you could see the size of the task he faced. If anything the job facing Josiah Gorgas, in charge of ordnance, was even greater. He was to ensure the supply of all weaponry and munitions, from rifle through to cannon, for the Confederate army. Tredegar was the only foundry in the south capable of producing large weapons and they had few facilities for manufacturing small arms – everything else had to be bought in or produced from scratch. While Myers seemed competent Gorgas was first rate, as he outlined his plans for importing arms from Europe and creating new factories in the south, often using tools and equipment captured from the North. He had an energy and vision lacking in the third member of the board, Lucius Northrop.

Northrop was the Commissary General, in charge of obtaining and distributing all the army’s victuals. I took against him at once – he was a peevish sort and full of his own opinions. He spent most of the time berating me because we hadn’t stepped in ‘to stop those foolish Yankees’, and told me not a thing about his plans to distribute the ample food supplies the South produced to his army. He had the easiest job of the three of them but he was the least prepared. As an old friend of Jefferson Davis he must have thought he was untouchable. Just to show you the sort of man he was he’d got into hot water recently for refusing to supply food to Union captives in Libby Prison. That had outraged the decency and generosity of the average southerner and without that friendship he’d have lost his job. Funny they should be that way and then treat their niggers so bad. Still, it was in their constitution that blacks were inferior, so that was that to them.

Anyway, I must have spent a good two hours with them and I came away with a better opinion of their ability to supply their army – Northrop aside, that is. But I was too experienced a hand at this to just take their word for it, and determined to make my own investigation into the situation, by my own means.

While I’d been talking to them Stuart had been in with Benjamin and when he came to fetch me he was beaming from ear to ear, as far as I could tell under that monstrous growth of hair on his face.

‘Good news, Jeb ?’ I says to him.

‘Very good, Harry. But first how were your discussions with the board ?’, he replies.

‘Illuminating. There are two good men in there, and one not so good. I won’t insult you by naming which is which’, I said.

‘No need to’, he says, lowering his voice. ‘Northrop will be a disaster, and it’s only through his friendship with the president he retains his place. We can only hope he has competent deputies’.

‘Well, what’s your news then, Jeb ?’, I asks him.

‘Promotion, Harry. I’m made Brigadier General, effective tomorrow, the 24th’, he answers.

So I proffered him my fin, which he pumped vigorously, as I told him no man deserved it more. Still, it was a hell of a fast rise, captain to brigadier in a few short months. Even the gooseberry eyed chinless wonders so beloved at Horse Guards couldn’t expect that. But I’d no doubt that J E B Stuart would go on to show his worth, none at all.

Of course the upshot of this was that he must be away that evening, to see his family and then attend to his new duties. One of his aides, a Major Beauregard, would take over bear leading me around on my tour. I was sorry to see him go, but it would give me time to do some nosey parkering myself, as the said major wouldn’t be in town until the 25th.

So next morning I was up and out, sharp and early, to get the lie of the land. Now when you’re trying to confirm what some official wallah has told you it’s often best to go to the unofficial sources. Without an escort I couldn’t bowl up to inspect a rebel regiment so I looked out the newspaper offices to see what they were saying.

For a smallish place Richmond had a confounded number of newspapers, but journalists being what they are I was confident of finding some prime intelligence. Trick was, and still is, to be able to sift what they say. Newspapermen aren’t military experts – they’re not experts on anything, in the main – so you have to be careful to see past the bluster and sensation making to find the real story.

I started out at the Richmond Dispatch, telling them I’d been in Dixie quite a while and that I wanted news of the old country. Chances of finding anything about England, or even Europe were slim – for such a big country Americans are damn parochial - but it served as a reason for the editor to have the office clerk fetch out some back issues, and I settled down to see what I could find.

Of course the paper was full of guff like births and marriages but in all that there was some interesting items that set me thinking. One report commended local ladies to make bandages for the future wounded – happy thought ! Now our medical in the Crimea was nothing to boast about, even after the sainted Florence came out but this suggested that nought official had been done to organise proper facilities. Another piece from August wrote about the dangerous conditions in a factory turned over to arms making. There was one congratulating a Reverend Boggs on his election as captain of the 2nd Company of the Richmond Greys. Now I knew both North and South elected company officers but choosing a clergyman seemed a tad excessive. Our vicar had trouble organising a croquet match so what this chap would know about drill, fire and manoeuvre was anyone’s guess. There were numerous notices of thanks from units for the uniforms made or donated by various companies or organisations. Seems Colonel Myers optimism about supply might have been misplaced.

Nor were all the local’s as well disposed to the south’s cause as I was told, either. Both the Dispatch and the Richmond Enquirer reported attempted sabotage, including one attempt to burn down the Tredegar Foundry, One paper, The Whig, listed more than a dozen deaths from illness earlier in the month in the 16th Georgia Regiment, stationed in Richmond. Sickness in an army can spread like the very devil, but it was damned bad for a unit off the firing line, and camped easy, to be so badly affected. How’d they fare when they’re fighting in the mud and dirt, I wondered ? Well I’d learn more from my tour, but what I’d read, and seen about town, made me reconsider what I’d been told the day before.

Now also might have seemed a good time to send my first report north to the Yankees. I’d been giving a deal of thought to this, especially after the little reminder I’d received. In the end I decided that Dudley would have to make do with the final report, which I’d send when I was off American soil. I’d no indication that I was being watched by the rebels when I was on my own, but it’s what I’d have done. If they were watching me they’d surely intercept whatever I posted, and that would lead them to whoever was the Yankee agent in the south, and there’d be hell to pay. Not that I cared a fig for the agent but it would put me in a deuced difficult position, and that wasn’t Flashy’s style at all. No, they’d just have to make do with the final report, whatever it said. Damned amateurish of them to ask, when you thought about it. But I did send a letter to Elspeth, explaining I was in America, on business. With any luck any nosey Yankee spy would assume it was to his people. By the time they realised it wasn’t I should be away home.

Beauregard turned up the next day – he was a stoutish chap, in his thirties, a little shorter than me, with the inevitable whiskers, which were greying prematurely - and I had a busy few weeks of it as we toured Virginia and I looked to the state of General Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Potomac.

As Benjamin had told me, the various state’s militia’s were in the process of being organised into regiments and sworn into the service of the Confederacy. The militia regiments had an inferior status to the Army of the Confederacy, which was a different organisation altogether and senior men like Lee were enrolled in the army to ensure they outranked the militia’s officers.

In short what I saw was an amateur army. Many of the militia regiments had been raised from companies that were more like social clubs, who hadn’t done any serious drill or training for years. When they were mustered into ‘instruction camps’ they had barely three weeks training based on a rewritten version of the US Army handbook of drill and tactics, and no exercises beyond company and regimental level. Their officers were a very mixed bag. There was a good sprinkling of trained professionals – West Pointers and the like – but these were usually appointed by the War Department at regimental level and above. At company level they were elected by the men, sometimes because they were the leading citizen in some backwater the company was from, or in a few cases because they had paid for all the arms and equipment. Military experience and aptitude didn’t seem to rank at all. Still, as you could still buy commissions in the British Army then I don’t suppose I could look too far down my nose at them for that.

Equipment was mixed as well. Many soldiers had the standard Springfield muzzle loaded rifle, or its variants, but there were lots of smoothbores as well, plus Austrian Lorenz rifles and Enfield’s from Britain. Some soldier’s didn’t have any weapons other than those they brought with them, anything from a shotgun or sporting rifle to a pistol. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the odd bill and hook amongst ‘em. You can see the problems of supply this would cause, as they attempted to cater for different types and calibres of ammunition. Not just that, though - if a regiment with smooth bore muskets came up against a Union formation armed with rifled weapons in the open they’d likely be slaughtered before they got themselves into range.

Another thing they wouldn’t realise until they came into action were the problems the differences in each regiment or company’s uniforms would cause. Because units had been supplied piecemeal, and from so many different sources, there were variations in colour and pattern from the regulation grey throughout the army. Those who’d already seen action had often filched equipment from Union prisoners or their dead, adding to the confusion. This hotchpotch of uniforms could cause confusion on the battlefield and lead to casualties as friendly units fired on each other.

Of course there were things to weigh against this. Morale and enthusiasm was high, and they had a cause – however misguided – to believe in. At the senior level they had some experienced men and were probably better off than their opponents in that regard. Still, while Bonaparte thought morale to material was as three is to one, you still needed the material or morale would go faster than you could say Jack Robinson. The three wise men would have their work cut out to keep the army properly supplied and fed.

By the time we got back to Richmond around mid-October I was bone tired, saddle sore, and sick of the sight of eager young men, most of ‘em dirt poor, ready to fight the Yankees and most likely get slaughtered in the process.

As a matter of courtesy I had to see Benjamin again, and naturally he asked what I would be recommending to my government.

‘With respect, Mr Secretary,’ says I, ‘I’m a soldier, not a diplomat. My job is to report, not recommend’.

Of course he pressed me, so while I wouldn’t tell him all, it didn’t seem unreasonable to give him a general idea of my thoughts.

‘What I can say, Mr Secretary, is that your army’s morale is excellent, though they need more training, especially at division and corps level. In general, if your supply situation can be improved as planned, and you keep your objective limited to territorial defence you may well be able to fight the North long enough so that they give up the struggle’, I said.

Well, he was damned pleased with that, as you might expect. What I didn’t add, and shouldn’t have needed to, was that if the rebels overstretched themselves, the war lasted more than a year or eighteen months, or that if the North decided that victory, and not an honourable peace, was what they required, then they were lost. The North had the manpower and industrial strength to crush the rebellion, if it could stomach, inch by grinding, bloody inch, the cost.

By now, though, I was in a hurry to be away, so the next day I was off on that damnable journey back to Charleston, accompanied by Beauregard, where I would be taken by another blockade runner to Havana, via Nassau in the Bahamas, to pick up a steamer home. If I tell you that steamer would be the Trent, you’ll know that my involvement in the war wasn’t over, not by a long way.

I fetched up in Havana around the end of October, and made my first port of call the British Consul, leaving him a copy of my report to dispatch on a later steamer. He was able to tell me that the next ship for England was the mail steamer the Trent, due to leave in a week’s time.

Once I’d been down to the steam office and booked my passage I mailed a copy of my report, plain cover, to Seward in Washington. No doubt he’d been aware of – probably behind - Haines little blackmail, so he’d know what to do with it. Hopefully that would be the end of that – there weren’t much in it that they could argue with, after all.

That left me with a week to fill in Havana, and I’m bound to say I enjoyed the rest. For one thing the climate was much more temperate than, say, Jamaica and the city itself was very elegant, and quite the largest place in the Indies. Cuba was still under Spanish rule, though of course the Yankees were always meddling, and had tried to buy the place a few years before. But it stayed Spanish and Havana was like a fine piece of Castille transported across the ocean, with its wide streets and plazas, palaces and the big, airy houses of the merchants, all decorated in marble and porcelain. Quite made our main place, Kingston, in Jamaica, look like a half built shanty town, which, of course, much of it was.

All this elegance was paid for by tobacco and sugar, with the plantations being worked, as ever, by slaves. But all that was in what the locals called the interior, and if you stayed in Havana all that was quite out of mind.

I spent the week the way the locals did, rising earlyish for a light breakfast of coffee and fruit, followed by a much heavier one mid – morning. Dinner was at three pm, followed by a siesta, and in the evening most people would head to the main square, where a band might be playing, to look around the shops or pay calls, or for the men, to attend the cock fights, which were very popular there.

So I took my ease there, boned up on my Spanish – mainly through the local papers rather than a tussle with a streetwalker, for the authorities bore down hard on that. It was from this I learned the rebels had sent envoys to Cuba, to pick up the next packet to Europe. It was common knowledge, and no secret at all, and generally supported by the locals. The press even named them as Mason and Slidell, and it turned out they were booked on the same steamer as me. Once I knew that I determined I’d steer well clear of them once I was aboard – if they heard I was a senior English officer they’d want to bend my ear about their sacred cause, and I’d had enough of that in the past two months.

I was ready aboard the Trent early on the 7th of November, it would be, and she left that morning, taking the Bahama Channel to St Thomas Island, where she would make a stop. She was an older ship than the Bermuda, so instead of having a screw propeller she was a side paddler. For all I cared she could be rowed by galley slaves, as long as she got me home. So I was in fine spirits as she sailed east along the Cuban coast. I’d be home in three weeks or so, Elspeth would be waiting – there was a thought for a thirsty man – and I’d be able to drop in on milord Pam for some first rate toadying, and have his thanks to exhibit to all and sundry when the time was right. As ever, when I’m full of bounce, fate conspires to trip me up and plunge me headlong into the mire.

We were a day clear of Havana, thrashing east along the Bahama Channel north of Cuba when, around midday, I heard the boom and crash of a naval gun. I tooled out onto the deck to see what the devil was going on, and blow me if there wasn’t a US Navy steam frigate running to intercept us, with her message yards flapping like billy be damned. The Trent just ploughed on though, with the paddles chugging through the water on either side, as fast as they could turn.

The Yankees fired another shot, this time much closer to the bow – I saw the ball plunge into the water, just yards in front of the bow. Time to get below, I thought, for the next one’s for the bow itself. Twasn’t just my normal funk, though. I thought it best to get my report locked in the Trent’s mail room, were it would be as safe as it could be. Unless they meant to take her as a prize, which would mean war, for certain, the mail room would be untouched. As I was making my way down the ship hove to – sensible chap, our Captain Moir, I thought.

It turned out I wasn’t the only one worried about my mail. When I got there one of the rebel’s secretaries was there, depositing papers for safe keeping. Of course I then knew why the Yankees had stopped us. They must have learned that the rebels had two emissaries on board and decided to stop them.

The shooting seemed to have ended so I made my way back on deck to see what was happening. It promised to be quite an entertainment, with the Yankees boarding a neutral ship for whatever reason, and I was keen to see the show. As I got on deck a youngish naval officer heaved himself over the side onto the Trent, and claimed it as a prize of war. He’s not going to take the ship on his own, thinks I, so I looked over the side and there was a whaleboat crowded with two dozen sailors armed with pistols and cutlasses, and another one following from the frigate.

By this time Captain Moir, most of the ship’s crew, and the passengers had come on deck, just as the naval officer pronounces:-

‘I am Lieutenant Donald McNeil Fairfax, USN, of the USS San Jacinto’. By gum, thinks I, they do love to announce themselves yet they sneer at our titles. ‘I am here to arrest the rebel envoys Mason and Slidell, and take this ship as a prize of war’. he goes on.

Well, as you can imagine, this was the wrong side of enough , and passengers and crew began to shout and bawl at the Yankee pipsqueak. This brought his boarding party up scrambling over the side, shouting and waving cutlasses and pistols at all and sundry. Things looked decidedly dicey so I thought it best to pipe up.

‘Hold hard Lieutenant’, says I. ‘Take this ship – a neutral mail steamer – as a prize, and Great Britain will call it an act of war’.

‘We believe that we act within the bounds of international law, as this vessel is carrying contraband in the form of the rebel envoys. And who might you be, sir ?’, he asks me.

‘Flashman, Lt Colonel, of Lord Palmerston’s staff’. No harm in a bit of embellishment, I thought, to lend me more authority. ‘Let me make it clear, Lt Fairfax, law or no law, if you are foolish enough to take this ship your country will be at war with Great Britain and her empire. Surely your president will think one war at a time enough’.

Well that caused him a pause – bit of a black mark on your career if you start a war I suppose. So there was a lot of toing and froing, with the Yankees wanting access to the mail room, it being refused, Fairfax saying he had to obey orders, and demanding the Confederates surrender themselves and so forth. Damn tedious, and as I’d done my bit I stayed out of it. The dangerous moment had passed and this Fairfax looked like a sensible chap who’d had doubts about his orders anyway.

The upshot of it all was that Mason. Slidell, and their secretaries agreed, under protest, to be taken into custody. Slidell had his family aboard so he was keen to avoid any trouble that might endanger them. All fine and dandy you might think, except that Captain Moir and Fairfax asked me to accompany Fairfax back to his ship to explain to his commander, one Captain Wilkes, the consequences of taking the ship as a prize. I could hardly say no, and anyway it was just an inconvenience so I clambered down into the whale boat alongside the rebels, and off we set, as the jolly jack tars rowed us over to the San Jacinto.

This Wilkes chap was waiting on deck as we came aboard, fairly bristling with anger. He was an oldish chap, sixty or so with the same peevish, self centred attitude I’d seen in the Confederate, Northrop, back in Richmond.

‘Lt Fairfax’, says he, ‘have you placed a prize crew aboard that ship ?’

‘No sir’., he replies, and pointing to me, says ‘This is Lt Colonel Flashman, of Lord Palmerston’s staff. He is here to explain the particular circumstances of this situation’.

Wilkes turned towards me, with a cold sneer on his face, and demands to know what business it was of mine. Now I’m not given to violence – at least when it might be returned – but I’d liked to have kicked this arrogant Yankee’s backside for him, good and hard. I’ve never seen anyone, man or woman, look down their nose at me, and not wanted to pay them back, one way or another, and you’ll understand that’s added up to quite a few. Under the circumstances, though, the backside kicking would have to wait, so I turned on my bluff, friendly, Flashy style for him.

‘Good day to you, Captain’ says I, as I proffered him a paw, which he took with reluctance. ‘I’m Harry Flashman, of Lord Palmerston’s staff. I’m here at the request of Captain Moir of the Trent, and with the agreement of your man Lt Fairfax to discuss the situation with you’, I continued.

‘Are you, indeed ?’ he answered. ‘Well, sir, I know from my study of maritime law that I am entitled to seize that ship as she is no more that a blockade runner’.

It was plain as a pikestaff that this pigheaded Yankee was going to be hard work to steer but I carried on humouring him.

‘Yes, Captain’ says I, ‘I can see that the presence of the two southern gentlemen on board the Trent could give you cause to consider taking action. But as they are now aboard your ship, surely you have achieved your aim and can let her – a neutral ship of a sovereign power – continue on her way ?’

‘She is a prize, sir, under international law, and I will take her into port under seizure !’, he shrilled.

I could see this little prima donna was edging towards hysteria, but Fairfax, being a sensible chap, interrupted, as much as to calm him down as for any other reason.

‘Sir’, he says, ‘should we go below and show Colonel Flashman the legal precedents, so that he can more fully understand our position ?’. Our position, not your position, you’ll note. Clever lad, thinks I, he’ll go far.

At this Wilkes nods and Fairfax and I followed him to his cabin where the books of maritime law were set out.

Now I’m no attorney, thank God, but it seemed to me to be the very devil of a pickle. Take Mason and Slidell off and he’s violating the rights of embassy to a non-belligerent. Not take the ship and there could be no hearing in an international prize court of the legality of his actions. Take the ship and the affront to Britain would mean war for certain, whatever the law books said, if the Yankees didn’t make a humiliating climb down. Thinking on it, I realised that was the thing to keep in mind. The least worst solution would be what we had now, so I turned my powers of persuasion, which are considerable even when my own skin ain’t at stake, to get him to be satisfied with what he had.

So we hummed and hawed over the legal books him pointing out some sub clause it had taken the law lords to have made sense of, me playing the bluff soldier ‘not a lawyer damme but I can see yer point Captain, but have ye considered….’. until I’d got him so flummoxed that I could point him to the obvious, buttering him up of course, because he was the sort who liked it, and got peevish when he wasn’t appreciated.

‘Well, Captain’, says I, ‘you’ve clearly done your duty as ye see it in apprehending the envoys. I’m sure the Navy Department and the country will be well pleased . Succeeding in that, would you not think your duty nobly acquitted and that you should turn your energies to the great crusade the USA is engaged upon ? The law is unclear, but whatever you think it says my government will find an opinion contrary to yours. That will mean war with Britain and her empire’.

At this he starts to bluster but I cut him off sharp.

‘Indeed, Captain from your actions here today and the handling of this ship the Royal Navy would find it a mighty undertaking. But it would divert you from your true task, the reunification of your country. I do not think your President would welcome another war at this time’.

Butter ‘em up, do you see, remind them of their duty, and drop a hint of the hell they’ll find if they’re not careful and they’ll take the quickest way out as fast as a rat up a drainpipe.

So Wilkes looked solemnly down at his books, gnawed his knuckles reflectively and said

‘Fairfax, we have accomplished what we intended. Signal the second crew to return and tell the Trent she is free to leave. Colonel Flashman can return on the first boat shortly. Now, Colonel, join me in some refreshment if you will’.

Well, a brandy, or even a whistle belly would have gone down a treat, but it being John Paul Jones navy it was a lemonade, and not unwelcome, as it happened.

A few minutes later I heard hurried footsteps and a shout from Fairfax.

‘Colonel Flashman, the Trent, she’s leaving sir !’.

I was up those stairs like a fox with an arse full of buckshot and damn me there was the Trent steaming away, leaving me with the Yankees.

‘Damn and blast, wait for me’ I bellowed, though there wasn’t a hope in hell of them hearing me. I turned round and there was Wilkes, wearing a sardonic smile.

‘Captain’, I said ‘ you must take me back to the Trent at once’.

‘My apologies’, he answers, ‘but my first responsibility is to the boat crew in the water. By the time we get them aboard she will have long gone’.

‘Well, take me to Havana, then’, I said.

‘Unfortunately you have fully directed my attention to my first duty to return to the fray against the insurrectionists ’, he says. You will have to accompany me to Philadelphia Naval Yard, where I am bound’, and with that he turned on his heel calling his steward to berth me in with that idiot Fairfax, who should have told him to boil his head when he suggested the whole idiotic thing.

So there I was, neatly hoist by my own petard again when I’d tried to do the right thing, stuck on a dry ship and back to the land of the Jonathan’s again. God knows what old Pam will make of this, I thought.

Well, whatever milord would think wasn’t material at that point. What was important, to me at least, was that I was going in the opposite direction to the one I wanted. Having to suffer the smug, priggish Wilkes didn’t make it any easier so I kept out of his way as much as possible.

About a week later the San Jacinto dropped anchor in Hampton Roads, Virginia so Wilkes could go ashore to telegraph the Navy Department about the whole affair. If Wilkes had been hard work before when he returned he was insufferable. It seemed his coup de main had gone down a treat with Welles, Secretary of the Navy, and he’d been ordered to take Mason and Slidell north to Boston, where there was a prison for Confederate captives. As I wasn’t a prisoner, just a damned unwilling passenger, that was a voyage I could miss out on. It seemed the US Navy had the same idea, because when Wilkes returned he came straight to see me.

‘My dear Colonel Flashman,’ he says, beaming all over his stupid face, ‘ Secretary Welles has asked me to convey his thanks for your mediation in this matter. As a neutral you are free to go, of course, but the Secretary will ensure the British Minister in Washington is informed, and you may wish to contact him yourself. In the meantime my orders are to put you off at any port within the Union that you find convenient’, and with that he left.

As far as I was concerned the sooner I was off the better and I began to consider my options. I could take a ship home from either Baltimore or New York, easy enough but if Lyons, our man in Washington, had been told about me I’d little option but to at least telegraph him before I took ship for home. Baltimore was at the head of the Chesapeake where we were moored so I asked Wilkes to put me ashore there and then so I could make my way to Baltimore as soon as I could. Of course with all my gear on the Trent I didn’t have a pot to piss in, but fortunately the Navy Department’s gratitude extended to a loan of $100, for which I solemnly signed an IOU, which I’ve still got somewhere.

I daresay that if Wilkes had been half decent company, or even if the San Jacinto wasn’t a dry ship, I’d have stayed aboard to New York, telegraphed Lyons from there, and been aboard a steamer before he could reply. As usual my eagerness to remove myself from an unpleasant situation was to be my undoing. I was in Baltimore the next day and having found lodgings to await the next boat home, I telegraphed Washington, informing them I was free and easy, and ready to take the next ship out of there.

I had a reply the same day, and it was a damned unwelcome one. I was ordered to report to Washington as soon as may be for urgent discussions. Well, I was flummoxed. All I could think of was they wanted news of my tour as neither of the copies of my report I sent on the Trent and via Havana could have reached home yet.

I was in Washington the next day- it hadn’t improved in the two years since I’d last been there – and found my way to the British Ministry, where all was in uproar about the Trent, would you believe ? It seems that after Wilkes telegraphed the Navy Department the news had broken and the northern papers were full of it. I was in to see the minister. Lyons, straight away. I’d been steered clear of him back in ’59 so this was the first time we’d met. He had a reputation as one of our more capable diplomatics and had come out well for his part in the San Juan Pig War soon after he arrived in Washington. He was Pam’s appointee and looked like he was being groomed for the top diplomatic job, in Paris, as ambassador.

‘Flashman’, he says, ‘come in and sit down. This Trent business is a damnable thing, and could lead us to was with the Americans if not handled carefully. Tell me all about it’.

So I took him through the events of the seizure of Mason and Slidell, and my part in persuading Wilkes not to seize the ship. I didn’t blow my own trumpet – quiet modesty, with a manly mien is the best way – but I gave him the distinct impression that it was a good job Flashy had been there to save the day or who knows what might have happened, so I was taken flat aback by his next words.

‘Well, Flashman, you may come out of this a hero or as the villain who set us at war. You see the point is had they taken the ship as a prize, it could it have been properly adjudicated in a prize court. Just taking the rebels off is a violation of their own doctrine of non-interference with a neutral vessel’.

I started to protest but he interrupted me.

‘No, Flashman, you did the best you could under the circumstances. What the outcome will be, though, is by no means clear. As you will see the North is deeming it a great triumph, and that will make it far more difficult for them to back down. But we will have to be firm as well, and that will complicate the matter. I do not know what President Lincoln may say of the wider aspects – he is a rough and ready sort with little experience in diplomacy. Secretary of State Seward, though, will make a great noise as he hates Britain, though I doubt he will do more. For yourself you must remain in Washington. You have a room at The Willard, in the Ministry’s name. Before you go I’d be obliged if you would dictate what you have told me to one of my secretaries, as a matter of record’.

Once I was settled in the hotel I could see what Lyons meant. All the talk was of the Trent, and what a great triumph it was. Over the next few days the papers were full of it, with every man and his dog opining that Wilkes had acted entirely legally, and Britain could go hang. No doubt the Confederates were well pleased as well, as it would bring Britain into conflict with the North, to their benefit.

So I hung about, cooling my heels, with little reason to visit Lyons, until summoned back over a week later.

‘Flashman’, says he, ‘the news has reached London and I fear the reaction is as bad as I anticipated. It is seen as flagrant breach of maritime law and Lord Russell, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, is preparing a firm response. I have cabled your report to him so it is likely you will be required to offer clarification of some aspects’.

‘In the meantime’, he continued, ‘Seward will bluster and Wilkes is made a hero. Such attitudes will make it more difficult for the USA to back down and release Mason and Slidell, with a formal apology to Great Britain. That, I am sure, is the least Lord Palmerston will demand’.

All very gloomy stuff, and more importantly, it scuppered my chances of getting home any time soon. I was fated to hang around Washington for the foreseeable future until the crisis was over, or it tipped into war.

Eventually, as you’ll know, over the course of the next month or so the talkers resolved it, with much to-ing and fro-ing and Mason and Slidell were eventually released, which concerned me little enough but for one thing.

Russell had prepared a response at the end of November and it was sent to the palace for royal approval. Of course Vicky turned it over to her cabbage eating husband, who found it too belligerent, and softened it, giving the Yankees the escape clause they needed, by suggesting the idiot Wilkes had acted without orders, which was true enough.

All very well you might think, everything’s ticketty boo, and Flashy’ll be on his way home soon. Aye, except for one thing. Prince Albert had seen my report on the business and naturally asked what I had been doing there. Told of my tour of the Confederacy he came up with the idea that I should undertake a similar tour of the Union forces, as part of any settlement, to emphasise Britain’s neutrality. I can see him even now, speaking in that heavily accented English,

‘Flash-mann must stay, to show our earnest-nesssss in this matter’.

No consideration at all for anyone, these royals, and this was typical. With that there was no quick way home for Flashy at all. Prince Albert died of typhoid less than two weeks later, but I’m afraid I kept all my sympathy for myself. I’d a feeling I’d need it.

I heard the happy news of my new attachment at the end of December from Lyons at the Ministry, and any chance of me sliding away from it was put out of court, straight off.

‘Before his sad death his Highness the Prince determined that you should undertake a tour of the federal forces as a sign of Britain’s even handedness’, Lyons told me. ‘Lord Palmerston enthusiastically agrees, and so you will be attached to the headquarters of the Federal government’s Army of the Potomac as an observer for the next few months, under General McClellan. You are to report to his headquarters first thing tomorrow’.

Well, that was some relief, at least. The HQ of the Union army was likely to be the safest place to be, if you had to go anywhere near the war. If I stuck like a limpet to McClellan the chances of me getting near shot and shell must be limited, which suited me very well.

Next morning I reported bright and early to the General’s HQ, on Lafayette Square, near the White House. Believe it or not, the building was owned by the idiot who’d got me into this in the first place – a certain Captain Wilkes.

I’d not met McClellan before but when I’d first reached Washington that autumn the talk was all of him. He was born to a well to do family and was a brilliant West Point graduate but had left the army a few years before. When the war had begun he’d re-enlisted in the militia as a captain. Having made something of a name clearing rebels from West Virginia, he’d been summoned to Washington after Bull Run to take command of the army defending the capital, with the rank of Major General. Now he was head of the entire army, from being a captain a few months before, having manoeuvered his predecessor, the aging hero of the Mexican war, Winfield Scott, into retirement.

I wasn’t kept waiting long, though, and was soon shown in to see the man his army called Little Mac, and the politicians Little Napoleon.

As I went in he stood up and came around his desk to greet me with a firm handshake.

‘Good morning, Colonel’, he says. ‘It’s always a pleasure to meet a distinguished soldier like yourself’.

‘You are too kind’, says I – and he was, though he didn’t know that, of course. ‘I just go where my duty takes me’.

Now I’m a big chap, but even compared to me I couldn’t see why he was called little. He was around middle height, I suppose, but quite stocky and broad shouldered with it, and at just 35, his face was still boyish behind the inevitable whiskers.

‘Well, your duty has now brought you here to me, my dear Colonel’, he answered. ‘Our governments are agreed that you will serve in my HQ as an observer for the next few months. Mr Lincoln is pressing me for plans for an offensive against the rebels. You will be at first hand when that plan is implemented to see how I have trained and organised my Army of the Potomac into a first rate military force’.

Well, I didn’t like the sound of that but I kept my peace and he rang a bell on his desk which brought another officer in.

‘Major Henry here will take over now, Colonel. We will speak again soon’ he said.

So off I went with the said major who proceeded, over the course of the morning, to tell me how McClellan had rebuilt and re-organised the federal army.

After Bull Run in July the Northern army had been a disheartened and disorganised rabble, with many soldiers hanging around the streets, corners and saloons of Washington, with nothing to do but drink and cause trouble. McClellan had taken charge, getting the men back into camp and off the streets, drilling and training them relentlessly, readying them to fight, until they looked and moved like an army again. He’d given them their pride back and the soldiers loved him for it. It’s no small achievement to take a demoralised rabble of tens of thousands and turn them into an army again, as Henry remarked to me. I couldn’t disagree – Little Napoleon obviously had a genius for organisation.

All this had taken place between the summer and early winter, and it occurred to me that having rebuilt the army he might actually want to do something with it. I remarked as much to Henry, mentioning the plans the general had alluded to.

‘Oh yes, indeed’. says Henry. ‘The General has great plans for an offensive against the rebels. If only the politicians would leave him alone and stop meddling in things that are not their concern and which they can have no knowledge of’.

That shook me – that’s an attitude straight from the top, thinks I. Perhaps McClellan’s not the blue eyed boy anymore ?

That’s how it proved to be over the next few weeks, while I was there. Lincoln was always trying to prod him into action and McClellan always came up with excuses – he was outnumbered was a favourite – or else he’d come up with a ridiculous plan that couldn’t be undertaken. He was famously rude to Lincoln, who was his commander in chief, after all, forever snubbing him and showing his contempt for him and all politicians. Lincoln took it in good humour, saying he’d gladly hold his horse, if McClellan won a few battles for him. But of course he didn’t, and during the early part of 1862 the mood towards him began to change, as all Washington got anxious for him to get to grips with the Confederates. As a foreign guest I was on the outside of this, of course, but rumours always get round, especially over a drink with a ‘brother officer’, even if he’s from a foreign army.

Not that I was too concerned about the lack of martial activity. I’d no desire to be at the forefront of this mighty army as it went into action, as McClellan had promised. To fill the long evenings I decided to make my own amusement. As it turned out amusement came to me, in a very familiar form.

It was sometime in mid February, as I recall, and I’d spent the last few weeks on a tour round the Union army, usually accompanied by Major Henry. We’d just been to see a cavalry regiment, who, while they looked well enough in a body, I thought might struggle in an open fight on rougher ground. It also crossed my mind that if McClellan didn’t get his army on the move soon they’d lose their edge. That was by the way, though. I was just going up the steps of the Willard in the early evening when I heard a loud and husky voice call out

‘Lordy, lordy ! Lookee who et es ! Ole Beachy Comber, as ah recall’.

I turned round and saw an old flame – I’m always running into them, usually when I don’t want to – the statuesque Mrs Hannah Popplewell, large as life and twice as noisy. I’d not seen her dressed, much, before, but what she was wearing seemed in keeping – a great purple coat with a thick fur colour, topped off by a monstrous hat. Gaudy, but on a big woman like her, strangely elegant.

Without hesitating she walked up to me threw her big arms round my shoulders and kissed me full on the mouth.

If you’ve read of my time with old John Brown you’ll recall her as the negress strumpet who’d saved me at Harpers Ferry. She worked for the Kuklos, who were determined to defend slavery, but after saving my bacon she became partial to my pork, as it were, and let me escape because of it. With her wrapped all over me now, that pretty pug face close and the smell of her sweet heavy perfume in my nose the memories of an enjoyable but exhausting first acquaintance came flooding back.

Still, I was careful, so when I’d disentangled myself I took her to one side and asked her if she was still involved with them.

‘Kuklos ?’ she said, and laughed noisily. ‘Them boys way too bizzy in da souf to bodder wid ol’ Hannah. Not seen no’ heard of dem for nigh on a year’.

‘Glad to hear it’, says I. ‘They were a damned desperate lot. So why are you here Hannah ? I thought you and Mr Popplewell lived in New York ?’

‘I’s a ladee of bizzness now, on account o’ Popplewell passin’ on, an’ leavin’ all his guds ta me’. she said, with dignity. ‘I keep a house heah, now, for when I’s in town’.

Widow again, was she ? No doubt Mr Popplewell had died a happy man, being killed with kindness, that was for certain. That was by the way now. The immediate business for me was clearly to get athwart that splendid avoirdupois, as soon as may be.

Judging from her smile, and the things that husky voice was whispering in my ear, that was the first item on the menu for her as well. I suggested dinner, she offered dessert, and we were away to my room that minute, and a long tiring night of it I had. I kept my wits about me though – stayed off the drink, double locked the door, and searched her thoroughly – in the nicest possible way – in case she still carried a Derringer.

When I woke up the next morning she was lying drowsily next to me, one great arm across my chest, whispering in my ear that I ‘was the lovinest man she’d evah had, and how’d she do without me ?’.

Well, there was only one answer to that so I suggested that she visit me again that evening.

‘Ah caint, honey. Bizzness in Philly today. Ah’ll be there overnight. I kin see yu heah tomorrow, yes ?’

So we parted and over the next week or so she came to the hotel 3 or 4 times. That was enough to be straight, as she could fair wear a man out – Major Henry remarked on more than one occasion that I looked quite tired.

As far as the war was concerned there was still a devil of a sign that McClellan would get the army moving. There was some fighting on the coast, and Grant in Tennessee was giving the Union their first real victories of the war but there was no indication that the body of the army was going to make a move against Richmond. It wasn’t just Lincoln making noises now, but Congress as well. To McClellan that was anathema. For him war was a professional matter, to be dealt with by soldiers, and contemptible, ignorant politicians must be kept out of it. So it looked like my attachment would end without me seeing any serious fighting, a prospect which pleased me no end.

So I whiled away the days with the army and the nights with Mrs Popplewell, and no need to ask which required most of my energy and application – or interest.

One morning, after another exhausting night, she wrapped her big body around me, nuzzled my ear and suggested we had dinner at her house, where we could spend the night in noisy fornication. That made me wonder, and I asked her straight out, was she up to something ?

‘Now honey, th’only ting I’s up to es yew. Ah didn’ give yew up las’ time, I shure ain’t gonna now. Asides, I’s too bizzy fer all that ole nonsense now’., she said.

That was true enough, and I couldn’t see her playing me false now, after she’d become so attached to my qualities, as it were, so I agreed to call that evening.

I needn’t have worried, though. After a fine – but not heavy – meal it was down to business, and if I thought she was exuberant before, in her own place she was Messalina reborn. We must have weighed thirty stone between us, but I never knew they made swings that strong. I took to visiting her there more often as it was a damn sight more relaxing than the hotel, and drew less attention as well.

We’d taken to sharing a glass of brandy between bouts to revive our ardour, and after one particularly strenuous session I felt the need for a second. I was still being careful of course, but things were easy and relaxed between us and Hannah was quite a sight fetching another glass, her glossy black body glimmering in the candlelight.

So she brought me another drink and I settled back easy to enjoy it, and get my strength back, closing my eyes while Hannah nuzzled away at me suggestively. I could hear her husky voice in my ear, fading in and out as I drifted away on a gentle tide of warmth and drowsiness.

I’ve woken up a prisoner in all manner of cells, from old fashioned dungeon to a dusty Mexican cage out in the open, and its never been a happy experience. When I started to wake up here I was lying on a cold damp floor of packed earth, my tongue swollen like a washrag and my mouth dry as dust. I must have groaned as I came round for I dimly heard a voice and suddenly had cold water dashed in my face. I tried to get up and found myself bound at wrist and ankles. The voice spoke again, more clearly this time.

‘Leroy, Joe, pick him up an’ set him in thet chayre there’.

It sounded horribly familiar, and when I managed to open my eyes I saw the gross, oily figure of Charles La Force, also known as Atropos, brains of the Kuklos. He still dressed like an elegant dandy, blond hair carefully pomaded, but his suit would have made two for me.

‘Good day to yew, Colonel Flashman. So glad we got your name right at last’, he said.

‘Atropos’, I croaked, ‘what the devil do you want with me now ?’

‘Well now, suh’, he says, ‘ain’t that jist the question, tho ? T’aint to pay you no ten thousand dollars for ol’ John Brown that’s for certayne’., and he laughed noisily.

I looked around to get my bearings. They’d had the decency to put my shirt and breeches on me, but it was damn cold so I guessed we must be in a cellar somewhere. There were three other men apart from La Force in the cellar, the afore mentioned Leroy and Joe, who were clearly the foot soldiers in this merry little band, and an older, slightly wizened cove in his late sixties or so. One of the clodhoppers, Joe or Leroy, was stood to one side of me, a billy club in hand, while the other was standing a few feet in front of me, a dim glow behind him, as though from a fire.

‘For God’s sake Atropos’, I said thickly, ‘my mouth’s like sandpaper. I need a drink or I won’t be able to say a thing’.

‘Suh, I must offer that I think you will talk right easy, but to make that talkin’ quicker I guess you kin haf some watter. Leroy’, and he gestured at the thug in front of me. As he moved to get me a drink I could see what was glowing behind him, a small brazier with an iron rod or poker glowing gently at its heart.

‘Thyat theyre’s for a liddle persuadin’, if needs be’, La Force says, leering.

I started to shake and grabbed the proffered cup, glugging down the water in one draught as my mind raced, raging at my stupidity. That black bitch Popplewell had set me up nicely and I’d walked straight into it, telling myself that, like before, she was too partial to the marriage mutton to trick me.

‘Now, suh’ says La Force, as though reading my mind, ‘You must not think too harsh of deah Miz Popplewell. She did not want to give you up but when it comes to the matter she knows wheah her true innerests lie. We know you bin heah for nigh on a month. We’d have tekken you befoah but certayn arrangements had to be made. Now tell me about Joe. Not a wurd of a lie, ‘cos I’ll know. Convince me it weren’t you thet kilt him a’ I’ll let you go. But talk quick an’ easy, else you’ll talk slow an’ hardt’.

I know a liar when I hear one, because I’m such a good one myself. Let me go and
there’d be a trail a mile wide to follow. I’d be lucky if they dropped me in the Potomac in a weighted sack once they’d done. My only chance was to persuade him I’d not shot Simmons, and then try to buy my freedom with some first rate intelligence on McClellan and the Union army, otherwise I’d likely get my weasand slit.

‘Now, suh’. Says La Force, ‘how’d my Joe get kilt ?’
‘Damn it, I don’t know’, I said. ‘It was hell in that shed, guns going off, powder and smoke in the air, swords and bayonets being thrown around. I didn’t even see him go down. Maybe one of the marines did it, for all I know’.

‘He wuz shot twice in the back, close in, with a pistol. Marines wuz all carryin’ rifles, and under orders not to fire. I reckon you know more, and need a liddle persuadin’. Leroy, get the brand’, he said. ‘Burn him light, fust, ta give him a taste. He is a gennelmun, after all’.

As Leroy came forward with the brand Joe, quick as lightning throws a rope round my chest, tying me to the chair, and I fairly started to gibber with fear. My God, I thought they’re going to put that beastly iron on my skin. I could feel the agony of the fire already, and smell the disgusting stink of my burnt flesh. Leroy was getting closer and closer, he was putting to the brand to my arm, I flinched ……

and then he was falling into me, the brand dropping to the floor, blood spurting from his mouth. I rolled to one side to push him off me, and there was a crash and a commotion as heavy feet rushed into the room, pistols cracked, and billy club Joe went down with two bullets in him. It couldn’t have been more than 10 seconds before Leroy was about to brand me, and now there were two dead men oozing blood onto the floor, and La Force was slumped against a wall, whimpering and clutching his shoulder as his elegant silk jacket turned dark with his blood. The old wizened chap stood where he was, not having spoken or moved the entire time, though now because he was covered by a pistol. It was as neat a piece of work as I’d seen since my old sergeant, Hudson, had cut up that swine Gul Shah in that Afghan dungeon all those years ago.

Neat or not, though, this still left Flashy inconveniently placed, lying tied up on the floor and with his shirt covered by the late, inconsiderate bastard, Leroy’s blood.

‘Lend a hand here, gents’. I shouted, and one of the government men – for that’s who they were, no doubt at all – scurried over, cut my bonds, and hauled me to my feet.

‘Are you hurt, Colonel ?’ he says.

‘No, I’m not, thanks to you. Damn cold though’, at which he whistles up a blanket and hands it to me. Who are you then ?’ I went on. ‘How’d you find me ?’.

‘Pinkerton’s men’, he says. ‘Best not say any more here’, and he started to chivvy me outside.

‘What will happen here to Atropos, and the others ?’, I asked, as we made our way up some steps to the street where a carriage was waiting.

‘They’ll be kept under guard here until they’re taken into custody. After that it’s up to the law. La Force, who you call Atropos, may hang for this night’s work - and for others’.

‘Best make sure it’s a strong rope, then’. says I.

At that he grinned and introduced himself as Jim Peters.

‘Are we going to see Pinkerton, then ?’, I asked as we got in the carriage.

‘No, Colonel. We’re going to one of our places where you can clean up and get properly dressed. We’ve sent for your things from the Willard. It won’t be safe for you to go there again, for a while’, he replied.

That set me thinking. Washington wouldn’t be safe for me now at all. That being so surely I could be on my way home. After all, I was supposed to be back in November and now it was heading to March. They couldn’t want me to stay any longer, could they ? With that happy thought in my mind I settled back in the seat, pulled the blanket round me, and watched the dawn come up.

After a shortish ride we arrived at a non-descript building much like the one I’d been in a few years before. There I was given time to attend to my toilet, as it were, and put on some fresh togs, after which they rustled up a decent beef sandwich – not one of their dreadful minced beef things, buried under onions, fortunately – and a pot of coffee, after which I felt fit to face the world again, preferably on a steamer from Baltimore, headed east, a wish I voiced to Peters as soon as I had the chance.

‘Not my decision, Colonel. There’s someone coming from your Ministry to see you shortly’, he replied.

It’d not be the noble lord, I thought, not at this time. Still, as long as he had my ticket home he could be the doorman as far as I was concerned.

About half an hour later the door opened and in came Prosser, one of Lyons deputies, together with another chap, who turned out to be Peter’s senior, whose name now I can’t remember for the life of me.

‘Flashman’ says Prosser, ‘thank the Lord you’re safe’.

‘All in a day’s work’. says I, all bluff, modest Flashy again. ‘Still, how did you know where I was ?’

At this Peter’s senior chimes in.

‘We’d word of both La Force and the Popplewell woman coming to Washington. Given your time here before it couldn’t be coincidence, so we started to watch you. When you were taken from the woman’s house last night we followed, but waited until we were sure La Force was there. He’s one we’ve been after for a long time’.

‘Much obliged for your care’ I said, though if they’d been a mite slower they’d have found a burnt and angry Flashy the cost of their tardiness, I thought to myself. ‘Now Mr Prosser, I believe my mission here is over, and it’s time for me to go home’.

‘I discussed the matter with his Lordship last night, when we knew you were taken’, he said. ‘It’s clearly not safe for you to remain in Washington or even the north eastern United States’.

This was just what I wanted to hear, of course so his next words took me by surprise.

‘Under the particular circumstances, however, his Lordship believes you cannot leave the United States at this time. Your sudden departure would be noticed and remarked upon, and a scandal might ensue, particularly considering all the night’s work you have been busy with. Besides your mission with the Union is not yet complete. You have not visited the western theatre of operations. After consultation with General McClellan it has been decided to send you west to observe the army of General Halleck, and General Grant, in action’.

 

It was more than 800 miles from Washington to where Grant was building his army in the Mississippi valley and by the time we got there I felt like I’d seen more of American railroads than Vanderbilt himself.

I was accompanied by the ubiquitous Major Henry, who was full of bounce at the thought of seeing the front line in the west.

‘Seen much action, have ye ?’ I asked him, though I knew full well he hadn’t.

‘No, Colonel’, he answers, ‘I’ve been on the staff since West Point. But I hope to see some with General Grant, and maybe win my spurs’.

You wouldn’t credit it, would you ? Here was a sturdy regular officer, in his thirties, obviously intelligent, babbling like a fresh faced subaltern at the thought of seeing bloody action close to. Time to take some of the starch out of him, I thought.

‘Well’, I says, ‘I’ve seen my share of war and more besides. Ye may win your spurs, but I hope it’s not at the cost of a cannon ball taking your head off, or a sabre cut to the bone, or maybe a musket ball in the belly, where ye’ll scream for your mother while it takes you hours to die. I’ve seen all that and worse in action’. I could have added that it was usually looking over my shoulder, heading in the opposite direction, but I didn’t, of course. Still, it served enough to quiet him, for a while, at least.

Sure enough, though, he soon pipes up about how, if we’re with Grant, we’re bound to see some fighting, as Grant led from the front.

‘Well enough’ I says. ‘A commander should set an example to his men’. As I wasn’t commanding, however, but merely inspecting, old Flashy would take care to be looking to the security of the commissary train, enquiring if the regimental surgeons had enough bandages, or checking the siting of the latrines, while the eager major was looking to get his fool head blown off, as the Yankees say, standing by Grant’s shoulder. That was if Grant was still in command, of course, and that was by no means certain.

Union strategy in the western theatre was drive south down the river valleys to split the Confederacy into two parts that would be unable to support each other. As part of this strategy in February Grant had captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee river, and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, where the terms he offered for surrender earned him the nickname Unconditional Surrender Grant.

His problem was that his superior in the west, General Henry Halleck, seemed more concerned with politicking his own advancement than prosecuting the war. Halleck was also competing with Buell, the other Union commander in that theatre, for overall command. Also, while he appreciated Grant’s aggressiveness as a field commander he feared that his success would mean Grant would bypass him. To keep him in check Halleck spent much of his time planting doubts with the War Department in Washington about Grant’s fitness to command, suggesting he was a drunk and flouted orders. I got to know Sam Grant well over the years and while he liked his grog he was never a fool to it or let it interfere with his duties. That was all by the way of course, because Halleck seemed to have put Grant under a permanent cloud, on the verge of dismissal or court martial.

The devil of it was that Halleck was no Elphy Bey. He was an intelligent and capable soldier, and a keen student of tactics, which made his posturing far less forgivable than the incompetent vapourings of our late man in Kabul. He had the men and resources to take the war deep into the Confederacy, splitting it in two and posing the threat of rolling it up from the south. Instead he preferred to posture and politic. Of course in America a man can be a soldier one day and a politician the next, while in England we’ve never liked our military to dabble in politics – with good reason when you remember how bad old Nosey was as PM.

Not that I cared a fig for this, of course. The Union could put Mulligan’s pig in charge as long I escaped with a whole carcass, but it created uncertainty in the Federal army, which is never a good thing, and that can cause disaster when action is joined.

So it was to a confused and doubtful army that Henry and I made our way to around the middle of March in ’62, as it prepared for the next stage of the western campaign. Back in the east the ironclads had clashed in Hampton Roads earlier in the month, changing naval warfare completely as wooden ships were shown to be obsolete, but that was a thousand miles away. In the west both the Confederates and Union were about to learn what the real cost of this war would be, at a small place of no account near the Tennessee River, called Shiloh.

The bulk of the Army of the Tennessee was camped at a place called Pittsburgh Landing, by the Tennessee. Henry and I reached it a day or so after Grant had returned from his troubles to retake command. Once we were billeted in a tent Henry went off to find Grant’s HQ. He was soon back, though.

‘Colonel’, he says, ‘ the General has made his headquarters in the town of Savannah, a few miles north of here. However, he attends camp every day so I will endeavour to arrange a meeting tomorrow’.

Well that suited me. I was worn out with travelling so making military small talk was the last thing on my mind just then. Looking round the camp I could see why Grant didn’t set up there, though. While spring was coming it could still be chill and damp. Much more pleasant to be in a comfortable hotel, with a nice soft bed, hot meals, and running water. I said as much to Henry, who looked down his nose at my lack of martial ardour, and suggested that I would complete my inspection far quicker if I didn’t have to ride the 10 miles or so to and from Savannah each day – not that he looked like he’d ever camped rough in his life. With that established we had a meal of fried pork and hard tack, which seemed to be the standard fare and I turned in for the night.

Next morning Henry hurried off to find Grant. He was soon back and chivvying me along to meet him.

‘General Grant is eager to meet you’, says he, ‘and would value the observations of an experienced soldier like yourself’.

Well that’s the sort of encouraging talk I like to hear. After all, while I’d won my laurels most unwillingly I’d been through and done a lot, and picked up a winkle or two in my time. Clearly it was time to come over as the bluff, honest, soldier Flashy again.

While we walked to Grant’s tent I asked how Grant stood with his superiors – his return to command was the talk of the camp, and welcomed by most, as it happened.

‘All uncertainty is now gone. General Grant is now in full command of the army here while his superior, General Halleck, is in overall control of the Western theatre. The general is too good a soldier to be left on the sidelines, and his value is much appreciated in Washington’.

Well, it was easy enough to read what had happened from that. Halleck had got the command he wanted, and Grant had too many friends in Washington, after his victories, for Halleck to put him aside easily. Besides Halleck wasn’t stupid – his nickname in the army, given not entirely kindly, was ‘Old Brains’. He’d be happy enough to have an aggressive commander like Grant under his control, and no doubt he’d take as much credit for Grant’s successes as he could – not that different from most generals I suppose.

Sam Grant’s been dead for around twenty years now, and when people think of him they see him as he was in his later years, greying, with a full beard and carrying some weight. That wasn’t the Grant I shook hands with for the first of many times that misty March morning in 1862. He was about my age, with a slim build, and about middle height, which means I had a good 5 or six inches on him. He had the inevitable whiskers, though he kept ‘em close trimmed, and was neatly dressed, though not dapper. When he spoke it was with a quiet but clear voice, and it seemed as though he could be diffident, almost shy, in company. As I was to see, in battle all that disappeared, and he spoke with a calm authority. Of all his physical features I suppose his eyes were the most noticeable. Bright and steady, without being piercing, they were constantly observing, noting, and storing things into memory.

He stood up from the maps he was studying, and like McClellan before him, came round the table and proffered his paw.

‘Welcome, Colonel’, he says. ‘ It’s an honour to meet a fighting soldier, especially one who wears his country’s highest decoration’.

All bluff and manly I replied that he was making a name as a fighting soldier himself. He allowed himself a brief smile and replied

‘This is just the beginning. I will have many opportunities to lose whatever reputation I may have in the coming battles if we cannot settle this war quickly, as I hope we might. Now then, sit yourself down – you too, Major – and let’s have some coffee and talk of war’.

For the next hour he pumped me for information about the Confederates, and we talked of his victories at the forts the previous month.

‘A lost opportunity’. he said ‘All this confounded nonsense about my command has meant we have missed the chance to push south to Corinth, threaten the rebels supply lines, and be ready to march on Vicksburg. That is the key to the war here in the west. My orders now are to wait on reinforcement from General Buell and together push south and split the Confederacy in two. It is no secret that is our intention here’.

‘With respect, General’, I said, ‘ do you not think that your enemy will consider it best to attack you before General Buell arrives, so he can deal with you both separately?’

‘They have neither the strength or resources at this time’, he said. ‘ I am content that we shall be ready for offensive action well before they are. Now, Colonel, I must return to my duties. I know you are here on behalf of England’s government, but I would welcome any observations you may have about the army here’, and he shook my hand again.

With that we were outside the tent, and it was time to get down to business. Buell wasn’t expected with his army for two weeks or so. If Grant was under orders not to attack until reinforced by him I should have plenty of time to look over the army and be away before battle was joined, which, naturally, was a matter of the highest importance to me.

Pittsburg Landing was, as its name suggests, a steamboat landing on the west bank of the Tennessee. Grant had most of his army of around forty two thousand, many of them raw recruits, in the land between the landing and the little wooden church of Shiloh two miles inland. One division, under General Lew Wallace, had been detached to Crumps Landing, 5 miles or so downstream. The flanks at Pittsburg were protected by two deep creeks, the Owl to the north, and Lick Creek to the south. With the river at his back and his flanks protected the only direction that Grant could be attacked from would be a costly frontal assault, in the area between the two creeks, made more difficult because the landing was on high ground.

All in all it was as good a defensive position as you could want, and would be almost impregnable if earthworks and entrenchments were dug across the gap between the two creeks. Remarking on this to Henry as we looked over the ground that day I was surprised to hear him say that no effort was going to be put into creating defensive positions.

‘Why’, says I,’ ain’t that a bit odd, and maybe dangerous, too ?’

‘If this was considered a permanent position’, says Henry, ‘then, of course defensive earthworks would be built. However, as the General said, no offensive action by the rebels is anticipated. They do not have the strength and it is unlikely they would want to risk their army by leaving a defended position in Corinth. Colonel McPherson, the General’s Chief Engineer, advised that the best defensive line would mean pulling the army back nearer to the river, which would cause logistic problems. The General prefers to use the time to train the army for battle’.

Looking over the army in the next few days I could see the sense in that. Many of them were completely untrained men, who could barely load, aim, and fire a rifle. There was also some indiscipline, with many of the soldiers treating it as a picnic in the woods, going off and firing their rifles just for the hell of it. Some incidents of foraging amounted to little more than theft from the locals. Grant was strict on discipline, so drill and training would keep the soldiers out of trouble and ready them for the offensive battles ahead. As long as they patrolled carefully, particularly ahead of the gap between the creeks, they were in a good position. Unfortunately, as I found out over the next few days, patrolling was sporadic at best. Grant and his staff were so confident the Confederates wouldn’t attack they didn’t take the need for aggressive patrols seriously. All the same, I could see Grant was whipping them into shape the same way McClellan had done for the Army of the Potomac. The difference was that he’d proved himself the fighter that McClellan hadn’t.

My attitude changed, though, when I began to hear reports of sightings of rebel patrols, on either flank of the landing, beyond the creeks, and more often in the country ahead of the gap in front of the landing. After hearing half a dozen reports in ten days I decided I should take my concerns to Grant. My time there was nearly done and a little soldierly advice would make a nice little parting gift. Unfortunately I never got to tell Grant as the night before I was due to see him I fell victim to a nasty form of what the army there called the ‘Tennessee Quickstep’. I woke up in the middle of the night with my guts heaving and bowels quaking, for once not in fear, and alternately running a fever and suffering a chill. As you’ll realise by its nickname it wasn’t an uncommon illness there. Some blamed it on the monotonous diet, others the local water, while some said it was the chill and damp of the air. Whatever the cause it hit me harder than most and in the morning, having been seen by a surgeon, I was ferried in a wagon up to Savannah, where I could be looked after more easily. I never got to make my recommendation about patrols to Grant. If I had it would have saved him a deal of trouble, and more importantly I’d have avoided yet another bullet in the backside.

Whether it was the quickstep or something else, it kept me flat on my back, for most of the time, for nearly a week, and it wasn’t until the afternoon of April 5th that I felt well enough to get up. My sick quarters were at Grant’s HQ so I heard the noise and clatter of the lead units of Buell’s army as they arrived around midday. When I made my way downstairs I found Henry busy with Grant’s staff, organising its disposition. He looked up and said

‘Good afternoon, Colonel. I hope you are feeling better’.

‘Well enough, now, thankee,’ I answered. ‘I hear Buell has arrived. What’s the to- do ? Is his army being sent to reinforce the landing ?’

‘No, Colonel, the General thinks it best they rest after their march. He anticipates no action for some days, until we march south’.

That puzzled me. Buell’s men didn’t look tired, and surely the important business was to join the two armies up, so they couldn’t be attacked and destroyed piecemeal.

‘Have there been more reports of Confederate movement, and has the army stepped up patrols ?’, I asked him.

‘No, sir. There’s been some rebel activity but nothing that indicates any sort of attack is likely’.

Well he’s the general, thinks I. If it stays quiet I’d be pleased, as I could arrange to slip my cable before Grant started his push south. So I just wandered around for the rest of the afternoon, pretending to take an interest in the goings on, while working out my itinerary home.

Grant arrived back at HQ in the early evening. He heard reports of more rebel activity near the landing and had gone down to see for himself. He hobbled in on crutches as his horse had slipped in the dark the night before and he’d wrenched his ankle when it fell.

‘Flashman’, he says on seeing me. ‘Glad to see you better’.

‘Thank you , General. How do things stand at the landing ?’ I answered.

‘All’s quiet. I’ve been down to Sherman and he assures me that all he’s seen are reconnaissance patrols. There is no indication of a general attack being readied, as I’ve just wired to General Halleck’. With that he hobbled into his office, followed by his staff.

I turned in early that night and slept quite well, but woke up early with an appetite – I’d barely eaten for nearly a week. I was just finishing breakfast around 6 am when Grant came in, accompanied by some of his staff. They’d just sat down and Grant had picked up his coffee when there was the sound of dull thuds from the direction of the landing – cannon fire for sure. Grant sat motionless for a moment, coffee untouched in his hand, until an orderly came in and told him a full scale attack had begun. Calm as you like, he put down his coffee, stood up, and said

‘Gentlemen, the ball is in motion. Let’s be off’.

Then, to my horror, he saw me and added

‘Colonel, glad you’re here. You’ll now see at first hand what I expect an old warhorse like you really came to see. Attend on me’.

With that I was caught up in the general rush, with Henry taking my elbow as we followed Grant out.

‘Where the hell are we going ? I asked.

‘To the landing stage here’, Henry replied. ‘The General and his staff will travel by riverboat to Pittsburg Landing from where he can direct the battle’.

So from being halfway home in my mind the day before I was now going to be pitched headlong into another bloody battle. Do you wonder why I think the fates conspire against me ?

Within fifteen minutes we were aboard Grant’s boat, The Tigress, and I watched as he scribbled orders, one to Nelson, one of his divisional commanders, ordering him to move to the opposite side of the landing, and the other to Buell, whose main force had not yet arrived, requesting him to link up at Pittsburg Landing. As the boat chugged south towards the fighting the sound of cannon and then rifle fire grew louder and louder, confirming that a major battle had started.

Soon after 7 am The Tigress reached Crumps Landing, about 5 miles north of the battle, where Lew Wallace was camped with his division. Wallace was already on the deck of his HQ boat waiting. Grant leaned over the rail of the Tigress and shouted to him

‘Get your division ready to march on receipt of orders. Meanwhile patrol in strength west in case they come upon you’.

Wallace nodded and saluted and the Tigress put back into the stream and resumed her chug south. Sometime soon after 8 am we reached Pittsburg Landing, and Grant, and his staff, a reluctant Flashy hiding amongst them, got on their horses and rode straight off into the battle. I remember seeing Grant’s crutches strapped to his horse and wondering if he’d ever get the chance to use them again.

The noise from close by, to the southwest, was tremendous. Artillery thudded, there was a constant racket of rifle fire, and the noise of thousands of men bellowing in fear and shouting in rage as they fought in the woods and fields around the little wooden church at Shiloh came clear to us as we rode onto the river bank. Moving towards the sound of the battle it soon became clear that it was going badly. Thousands of federal soldiers, without weapons and white with fear, were streaming towards the landing in complete disorder. As one soldier ran past McPherson, Grant’s engineer, shouted out to him

‘Why are you running, man ?’

‘Cos I cain’t fly, mister’, was the answer called back over his shoulder.

It seemed an age as Grant sat there motionless taking in the scene, though it can’t have been more than a moment. Then he sat himself upright, called to his staff and began to issue a volley of clear, concise orders in a way I was to see him do so many times again.

First he had his staff working on a wagon train of ammunition to keep a steady supply going to the front, and then dispatched another officer to get Lew Wallace to bring his division up immediately. Next he commandeered two regiments of Iowa infantry who had just landed and put them across the roads by the landing to round up stragglers so they could be fed back into the battle. I rode up with him – one of the regimental commanders didn’t recognise him until he said he was Grant and I nodded in confirmation. That done he set off for the front line himself, dragging a very reluctant and more and more frightened Flashy with him, who was muttering under his breath

‘Where are you going, you bloody fool ? General’s aren’t supposed to go where they might get shot !’

Chapter Text

I’ve seen more battles than I care to remember and they’re all different, in one way or another. But looking out through the mist that early April morning I don’t think I’ve seen a more confused one. It wasn’t one or two major engagements but a series of small, intense and overlapping actions. There wasn’t a single battle line and no appearance of central direction, even from the rebels, who’d started the whole thing. Union reinforcements were called forward not as part of a plan but in response to desperate calls from the front. As they streamed forward an equally large number of fugitives passed through them to the rear. What was clear, though, was that it was the Confederate grey pressing, and the Union blue that was beginning to break. Grant called me forward from where I was skulking at the back.

‘Whaddya think, Flashman ? The rebels seem to be showing more fight than I expected.’ he said, as he chomped on the inevitable cigar.

‘I’ve not seen ‘em fight much, General’, I said. ‘But when I have it’s always been the same – determined and aggressive. To them it’s a sacred cause.’

Grant drew on his cigar reflectively, exhaled, and said, ‘Guess I’ve underestimated those boys. Best get down to whippin’ them, then.’

With that we trotted over to the other Wallace, whose division was the reserve. Wallace quickly outlined how things had begun. Up in front had been Sherman and Prentiss’s divisions. They’d sent out early patrols that had run into Confederate skirmishers from Albert Sydney Johnston’s Army of Mississippi around 5 am. They’d held the rebels off for a while but then the offensive began to roll and they were pushed back. Sherman’s division had borne the brunt of that first attack on the right of the battle, while Prentiss had been unengaged on the left. But as the weight of the attack grew Sherman was driven back, and Prentiss came under heavy pressure as more Union troops were fed in to steady a loose, uneven front.

When Wallace had finished Grant just said ‘Very well, Wallace. Get your men into action at once in support of Prentiss.’, and then, he trotted off, cool as ever, to visit the other divisions. All day, as he rode leisurely round the battlefield, usually with a cigar going, ordinary soldiers looked at him and pointed. Though he didn’t say much, just nodded or acknowledged salutes, his calmness seemed to give heart to the army.

Sherman was our next stop on the battlefield grand tour. His division had seen the heaviest fighting and it showed on him. He was covered in dust and his tie had worked it’s way round so that it was sticking out from one side of his neck. At least one horse had been shot from under him, and he carried a minor hand wound. Yet he was cool and in control, quite unlike the man who’d lost his head, and his command, earlier in the war. As the bullets zipped around us and I hopped nervously from one foot to the other Grant said ‘What’s your situation, Sherman ?’

‘Pretty good, General. Just need to keep the ammunition coming and I reckon we’ll hold ‘em.’, he answered.

‘That’s arranged’, said Grant. ‘I’m off to Prentiss now’, and with that we were cantering away from Sherman.

We found Prentiss and his division, together with more and more of Wallace’s division, in position in a sunken road that ran parallel with the Confederate front. They were taking heavy fire but giving it back, and more. Prentiss bustled over and Grant said simply

‘General, you must hold this ground at all hazards. Lew Wallace’s division is on the march and I expect him to mount an attack that will take the rebels from the rear. You must be the anvil to his hammer.’

‘Very well, sir’, replied Prentiss and we were off again. Thank God for that I thought. Surely we’ll find somewhere Grant can safely direct the battle from, and where I can find a suitable boulder to hide behind. Of course I should have known better by then. For the first few hours we criss crossed the battlefield as Grant assessed the overall situation. At one stage we were stopped in an open space that was slightly elevated. The fire there was hot as hell, yet Grant didn’t seem to notice as he bent slightly forwards on his horse, casting a keen eye on the battle as it roared. After a few minutes I went to one of his staff officers and said

‘Captain Hillyer, don’t you think the General is putting himself at unnecessary risk ?’ At that another officer nudged him and said

‘Go tell the old man to leave here, for God’s sake !’, to which Hillyer replied

‘Tell him yourself. He’ll think me afraid, and so I am, but he shan’t think so.

After a few minutes I couldn’t bear it any longer so I rode up to Grant and told him it was too dangerous and that we didn’t need to be there, at which he looked around briefly, said ‘I guess that’s so’, and we were able to ride away a little to the rear.

Now and then there’d be a brief lull in the battle, in one place or another, but it never lasted long or spread far. From my position with Grant I could see the Union forces were being slowly pushed back to the high ground in front of Pittsburg Landing, except where Prentiss and Wallace held steady in the sunken road. The Confederates launched attack after attack on it, at fearful cost, but it held firm and afterwards they always referred to it as the hornets nest. All this time Grant was looking for Lew Wallace and his division to fall onto the rebel rear.

Still, though, Union troops were buckling and fleeing. Sometimes the rebels would catch up with them and there’d be a bloody slaughter of the fugitives. Even trained men can panic when they first see the elephant and these weren’t only green but had barely a month or six weeks training. At the hornet’s nest I saw men run from battle, and then creep back as though in shame, to take up the fight again. You’d see one come back, shelter as far as he could behind a tree and take up his rifle. Then he’d be joined by another man behind him, firing past him, then another and another until there was a line of six or seven men, one behind the other, firing past the heads of the men in front, using the tree as shelter. There were tales of regimental commanders who’d fled to the rear under the first assault, or been drunk and relieved of command, finding their way into other units and fighting as private soldiers. All afternoon Grant dragged us round the battlefield, pushing fleeing men and units back into the firing line, keeping them at it by his sheer obstinate refusal to acknowledge any prospect of defeat.

Around mid afternoon Buell arrived with the bulk of his men. He and Grant had a hurried discussion on Buell’s boat. Seeing all the stragglers from the battle Buell assumed the worst and asked about a line of retreat, to which Grant replied that he hadn’t considered it as he still expected to win. All he wanted now was for Buell’s men to join the battle. Then they parted and Grant dragged us back into the fire. Later in the afternoon he went back to the hornets nest. The units around Prentiss had fallen back, and it now formed a broad salient into the Confederate line. Again he told Prentiss to hold his position and wait for Lew Wallace, of whom there was the devil a sign of. As we rode away I looked back and saw the Confederates rolling dozens of artillery pieces into position to fire directly into the salient.

‘General Grant,’ I called, ‘you know they can’t hold out there for much longer.’

‘No, they can’t, but maybe they can hold long enough for me to get Wallace and Buell into the fight’, he replied.

Well, they held for another hour or so, buying time for Grant with their blood, under a fearful cannonading. Around 5:30 pm the other Wallace tried to detach his men from combat as he could see their time was up. He got a couple of regiments away, and as the Union troops withdrew they passed a pond to the left and rear of their original line. Many stopped to bathe and drink, turning the water red with their blood. Wallace, though, who was reckoned an up and coming field officer by Grant, was shot through the head, but lingered on for four days before he died. The rebels were then able to outflank Prentiss and his men in the nest and attack from the rear. Eventually he had to surrender but he’d bought Grant the time he needed. Almost as important the Confederate commander at Shiloh, Albert Sidney Johnston, who Jefferson Davis reckoned his best general, was killed driving the rebels at the nest, leaving the less experienced, but maybe smarter – after all he didn’t get killed – Beauregard in command. Perhaps they were exhausted after the fight, perhaps they were looting, but having taken the nest and several thousand prisoners the rebels didn’t push forward any further for some time.

Before the salient’s collapse Grant had ordered his chief of staff, Colonel Joe Webster, to assemble all the available artillery a quarter of a mile or so in from Pittsburg Landing. There were upwards of 50 siege guns and cannons tightly lined up in a shallow crescent overlooking a ravine that the rebels would have to cross if they were to reach the river. By this time we were back at the landing with Grant still as cool as you like, despite the fact that this was his last line of defence. Not that we were safe there - rebel artillery was firing from the woods constantly, and the assembled Union battery and river gunboats were returning fire with interest. One of Grant’s staff was killed by a shell – I’d been stood next to him a moment before, and I still shudder to think of it to this day. Grant, of course, just sat on his horse, unmoved. Someone asked him if he was worried about the situation.

‘Oh no.’ he says. ‘They can’t break our lines tonight – it is too late. Tomorrow we will attack them with fresh troops and drive them, of course.’

He was right about that night. The rebels put in an attack but it didn’t have the strength or momentum to carry the guns so they withdrew, no doubt as exhausted as we were. Soon after Nelson’s 4th Division, part of Buell’s army, arrived on the opposite bank and were ferried across. Lew Wallace and his division also arrived at last, some time after 7pm, to be met with Grant’s fury. Wallace had misunderstood his order and had marched and countermarched his men in the wrong direction on the wrong roads. You could see Grant’s point – if Lew Wallace had arrived as expected the battle could have been finished that day. I’m not sure that Grant ever fully forgave Wallace. But while the fighting was over for the day even the arrival of fresh troops failed to change the air of defeat around the camp. Grant would have none of it though. McPherson rode up to him after inspecting the lines and asked should he make preparations for retreat ?

‘Retreat ?’, snapped Grant. ‘No. I propose to attack them at daylight and whip them !’

Whatever Grant’s mood, for the rest of us it was a damnably dismal night. The rain came down non-stop, it was bone chillingly cold, and the night was as black as the earl of hell’s weskit. The Union gunboats thundered from time to time, keeping everyone awake, though it did serve to hide the cries and groans from the thousands of wounded still out, unattended, on the battlefield. I was with Grant most of the night – the pain from his ankle kept him awake so he got no rest. At one stage he went to a log cabin by the landing that was to have been his HQ but it had been turned into a hospital. He was soon back as he couldn’t abide the sight of all the wounded, and spent the night sheltering under the tree, smoking non-stop.

Somewhere towards midnight I was just walking back to Grant, having stepped out to answer a call of nature, when I bumped into a dishevelled Sherman.

‘Flashman.’, he says. ‘How’s General Grant ? I need to talk to him about retreating.’

‘With respect, General, he has no thought of retreat, and no time for anyone who has. Best talk of something else for now’, I answered.

He nodded and I walked back to Grant with him. Sherman said ‘Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we ?’

‘Yes’, said Grant, as he puffed on his cigar. ‘Lick ‘em tomorrow, though.’

Next day, lick ‘em they did. With fresh troops Grant couldn’t now be beaten, and he and Buell began to attack the Confederate lines at daybreak. I can only think that Beauregard had no idea the Union had been so strongly reinforced, otherwise it made no sense for him to continue. It was a fight he couldn’t win any more, and he’d lose men he couldn’t afford. They’d missed their chance at Shiloh, for the usual reasons an army fails – bad luck, misdirection of their forces, and the sheer bloody mindedness of men like Prentiss and Grant himself. So they fought on until the mid afternoon, when Beauregard recognised the inevitable and broke off the action, with Grant’s men too fagged to mount more than a token pursuit.

For good or ill I missed most of it, and to this day I’m not sure whether I was lucky or not. I might have come through without a scratch and been away home, or God forbid, been killed. Either way my involvement in the Jonathan’s family feud would have been over. What happened kept me stuck in America for far longer than was comfortable, and probably helped turn the war the North’s way.

As usual, that morning Grant had made his way up to the front to see what was going on, and we dismounted as he surveyed the scene. Bullets and musket balls were whizzing around as usual, though none seemed aimed at us directly. Still, I kept my eyes open, and suddenly gawped as I saw a Confederate skirmisher look round a tree a bare hundred yards away and take careful aim at Grant, who was stood just beside me. I make no apology for what I did next – twern’t my war, and I wasn’t the target anyway. If Grant wanted to be a bloody fool and put himself at risk that was his business.

As I moved quickly to get out of his line of fire I tripped over a broken branch, lurched into Grant, and knocked him flat – I’m fourteen stone, after all – just as the rebel fired. Next thing I know there’s a searing pain in my arse as I landed on Grant with a thud, and then I blacked out.

Chapter Text

I’ve always maintained that if you’re going to get wounded somewhere the backside is the best place. Some will hold out for the shoulder, but if it’s a bad one you’ll lose your arm, if you’re lucky. Some shirkers shoot themselves in the foot but that stands out like a whore in church. No, backsides the place, though it hurts like hell, of course, but you won’t die, you’ll just be damned uncomfortable for a while. So when I woke up on my belly the next day I had to think things could have turned out worse. Mind you, you get damned bored lying there. For one thing you get a crick in your neck from looking round all the time.

It was a couple of days later, after I’d been ferried up to Savannah, that I got a visit from Grant.

‘That was a hell of a thing you did for me, Flashman, hell of a thing’, he said ‘You’ve shown me I’m a damned fool sometimes, and I should take more care in future.’

Now you might think I’d be surprised at this – it must have been obvious to anyone with half an eye that in trying to get out of the line of fire I’d tripped up, and lurched into Grant by accident. But do ye see, that’s the thing when you’ve a name as a fire-eater. Everyone assumes that a simple accident is an act of heroism, or at least sharp thinking, because that’s what they expect. I’d grown used to it over the years so I just made the right noises about doing what anyone would do, think nothing of it, and so on. Twasn’t only Grant who thanked me – over the next couple of days Sherman, Prentiss and most of Grant’s senior men were in to say ‘well done, by cracky, you’re a sharp feller, Flashman’ or variations on it so that after a while even I got bored with it and wished they’d leave it alone.

That aside, Grant told me that arrangements were being made to get me back to Washington when my condition allowed, and in the meantime I was to take things easy – as if I could do anything else, flat out on my belly like a stranded whale. A few days later Henry came to see me and I asked him if he knew how the news of the battle was taken back in the east.

‘Well, Colonel,’ he says, ‘with relief at first. But I fear the mood is changing. Many are asking why the army was caught unprepared. General Grant is the subject of much debate and criticism, both in Congress and the newspapers.’

That’s always the way of it, though. Know all politicians and self important journalists, sitting safely a thousand miles away, pontificating on a battle they’ve never seen, when they’ve most likely never fired a shot in anger themselves. Still, when I saw the casualty figures it made me think, just a little. The North had lost around thirteen thousand in all, killed, wounded or missing, while the rebels had lost not far short of eleven thousand. That was more than all the other wars Americans had fought put together. Quite a butcher’s bill, and both sides were now staring into the abyss, with a new realisation of what this war would cost, if it continued. Lincoln came under severe pressure to relieve Grant – it was put about that he’d been saved by Buell, and that he’d been drunk, to which Lincoln replied ‘Find out what he drinks and we’ll give it to all the other generals.’ Another common story was that because of his unpreparedness Union soldiers had been bayoneted as they slept in bivouac. I knew for a fact that this wasn’t true but it helped build up the storm to the point where Lincoln’s closest aide, Colonel McClure, advised him Grant must go. Lincoln simply said ‘I can’t spare this man; he fights’. So Grant survived, though he was sidelined for a time, but Lincoln was proved right in the end, as he usually was about most things.

From my point of view all this was a side issue. The important business for me, now that I’d come through with an almost whole skin, was to get home safe. Still, having seen Grant in action, displaying coolness and authority under murderous fire, it annoyed the soldier in me to see him humiliated. I couldn’t see any other Union general would have done as well, certainly not McClellan. While Grant had been fighting in the west he had shipped his enormous army - though still not big enough he kept saying – to the south east of Richmond, in the land between the York and James rivers, to wage what became called the Peninsular Campaign. Once he got there, though, as usual he sat on his hands, asking for more men, more artillery, more ordnance, telling the War Department he faced a force far larger than it actually was.

By this time, the end of April I suppose, I was back in Washington having endured yet another railroad journey in the company of Major Henry, who I was becoming heartily sick of. For one thing he kept going on about seeing battle, though I don’t recall him firing a shot as we trailed around the battlefield on Grant’s coat tails. Still, I was about to see the back of him. He’d been so taken by Shiloh he’d applied for, and been granted, a transfer to an infantry regiment. That made no sense to me. Good staff men are worth their weight in gold, and while seeing more combat would help develop him, he’d be better used at an army’s HQ. God knows that the Americans didn’t have enough men like him – seeing them over the previous months I had to agree with that cabbage eater who described them as two armed mobs pursuing each other around the countryside, rather then properly trained and organised armies. Still, I thought, with some satisfaction, that wasn’t my problem. Once I was fit for the voyage I’d be off to Baltimore or New York for a steamer home. I should have been back home last November, and now it was early May – the thought of home, Elspeth, and some peace and quiet was like water in a desert to a man dying of thirst.

With Henry gone I thought I might be left to my own devices for a while, and for the most part I was. I was back in the Willard, which worried me a little but Peters, the Pinkerton man I’d met before, came over to see me and reassure me.

‘No, Colonel, you won’t see Kuklos around here any more’, he said. ‘We have ‘em all by the heels now. That fat La Force sang like a bird when he though he might face the rope. He’s safe from that now, but we have him, and all his gang in the north locked up safe and sound.’

 

 

‘All ?’, I said, at which he grinned.

‘All but one, your good friend Mrs Popplewell. She was far too downy a bird to be caught. We haven’t seen her since the night we rescued you from the cellar. She’s not in Washington and I doubt she’s in the northern states either. Anyway’, he continued, ‘I don’t think you’ve anything to fear from her. Her interest in the Kuklos was purely financial.’

Well, in a funny way I was glad Hannah had escaped, and gladder still she wasn’t in Washington. I was in no state to deal with her, either as friend or enemy, and that was a particular well I’d no intention of watering at again.

So I whiled away much of May taking my ease at the Willard, with occasional visits from Peters, who was an affable soul, and the odd one from the British Ministry. Towards the end of the month I was able to get about tolerably well and decided it was time for me to see about getting a boat home. It seemed the same had occurred to our diplomats because one morning towards the end of the month I had a letter from Prosser, one of the Minister’s deputies, asking me to call on him the next morning.

While I’d been playing the wounded Hector in Washington the war had rumbled on. McClellan was still blundering about in the peninsula, getting the odd bloody nose from the rebel commander Joe Johnston, who was ably assisted by the cavalry of my old friend, Jeb Stuart. Halleck had relegated Grant to his second in command as he took overall control of all Union forces in the west, which was effectively a demotion, but at least Grant hadn’t been relieved and stayed in theatre. Late the preceding month, while I had been making my way back to Washington the Union navy had captured New Orleans, the south’s most important seaport, opening the prospect of splitting the Confederacy in half through the river valleys from the north and south. On the downside for the Union Stonewall Jackson was knocking seven bells out of them in the Shenandoah valley.

I’d observed all these important developments with the disinterested air of a knowledgeable spectator while I waited for the wound in my backside to heal. My job was done and it was home, England and beauty for me. That was my mood as I hobbled carefully into Prosser’s office that late May morning.

‘Good day, Colonel’, he said, as I went in. ‘Glad to see you back on your feet.’

‘Thankee’, says I. ‘I’m well enough to travel, which is no doubt why you asked to see me.’

‘Indeed it was, or it was one of the reasons’, he said. ‘If you will excuse me a moment’, and he left the room.

What the devils all this about, thinks I ? Perhaps they want more information about Shiloh, though I’d given chapter and verse to the military attaché over the past few weeks. So I settled back in the late morning sunshine, lit a cheroot, and thought of the voyage home.

 

I was barely a quarter of my way down my cigar when Prosser came back, accompanied by a serious looking Lord Lyons, the British minister. That caused me the first flicker of alarm – you don’t get your top man to give out the boat tickets, even if it’s accompanied by a few pounds from the poor box, after all.

‘Flashman. Good to see you looking so well. Don’t get up’, he said, as I started carefully to get to my feet.

‘Good morning, my lord’, says I. ‘ I suppose this will be the last time we meet, as I expect to be sailing to Europe soon. Is that correct ?’

‘It is, Flashman, it is’, he said, and then added, to my horror, ‘There’s just one more thing we need you to do before you leave. It will only delay your departure a few days.’

‘Oh yes, my lord ? What can that be ?’, I asked.

‘It’s a delicate matter, Flashman, and relies on the good relations you have developed with the Federal army here. Your rescue of General Grant was quite the talk among their senior men. Indeed I doubt whether anyone else is in a position to do what is required’, he said.

‘In that case my lord’, I said, toadying in my best fashion, ‘you can rely on me.’

‘Good, good. I had no doubt of that at all’, he says. ‘It’s a delicate matter vis a vis the relationship between the USA and Canada.’

‘With respect, my lord, the army people aren’t the right ones to ask about that, even if they were likely to tell me, which I doubt’, I answered.

‘It’s not entirely an army matter’, he replied.

Well, I couldn’t think what the devil he wanted so I just sat there and waited for him to get on with it.

‘You’ll recall, Flashman, the border incident on the west coast that I was involved in some years ago ?’, said Lyons. As I nodded he went on

‘Well, there was another some twenty years before that. Indeed, there are many unresolved issues regarding the border between the USA and Canada.’

Of course I knew that, but what that had to do with me I had no idea – unless they wanted to use my diplomatic skills to negotiate? Flashy, special emissary and plenipotentate, eh? But Lyons had said it would only take a few days, so it couldn’t be that, surely ?

 

 

He went on, ‘Knowing military history you’ll recall that Canada has been invaded twice from this soil, once in 1775 before their rebellion, and again in 1812. Both were defeated by our forces and the colonists.’

‘Aye, my lord, I remember’, I said.

‘Now then, Flashman, if the Union should be preserved at the end of this current madness what do you think the United States might do with a large mobilised army, eh ?’, he asked me, with a quizzical look.

Alarm bells were beginning to go off in my head but I still couldn’t put my finger on what he wanted.

‘My lord’, I started to say, but he cut me off.

‘In short, Flashman, Lord Russell and myself believe that they will be strongly tempted to use that army to invade and annexe Canada. We need to discover if that is their intent, and if so, how they mean to accomplish it.’

Suddenly it was all very clear what they wanted from me.

‘Bloody hell’, I shouted. ‘You want me to spy on them ! Are you mad ? If they catch me I’ll swing.’

‘It won’t come to that, Flashman’, said Lyons.

It won’t for you, you aristocratic bastard I thought, but it could for me.

Prosser tried to shush me but I wasn’t to be stopped, while Lyons looked uncomfortable.

‘Look, you say they trust me – I’ll not betray that trust. Many of them are my friends. I’m a gentleman, not a hole in the corner, backstabbing spy. Anyway, you can’t be serious. What makes you think they’ve any intentions of invasion ?’

I’d calmed down a little by now. This was just some mad scheme he and Russell had dreamed up for reasons best known to themselves. Invade Canada ? It was ridiculous. They had enough trouble keeping the place in one piece as it was, without embarking on an invasion of a country even bigger than their own. The next thing Lyons said knocked that argument flat.

‘We have our sources, Flashman. We know the matter has been discussed, but we do not know how far it has gone, and whether it is a firm intention, or if any plans had been made. You can find that out for us. Indeed you are the only hope we have of doing so.’

 

 

This was clearly getting desperate, and I began to cast about for a way out.

‘What of your source ? Can’t they find out ?’, I asked.

‘They are not well enough placed to hear more than rumours and whispers.’

‘Look, my lord, even if they were to invade we control the sea. Eventually we’d get enough men here, and with the help of the colonists throw them out again.’

‘That may be so, Flashman, but at what cost ? To do that we would have to move troops from other parts of the empire, India for example. Weakening our forces there, or in other parts of the empire may provide a tempting opportunity for our rivals throughout the world.

Well, I could see that – that was what that bastard Ignatieff had been up to when he dragged me halfway across Central Asia after Balaclava.

‘So you see, Flashman, the fate of the empire could lie in your hands. If we know of their intentions we can make preparations to deter them. If not …..’, and he trailed off and looked at me solemnly.

There’s always a moment when you know you can’t escape from under, and when Lyons put the fate of the empire on me I knew that was it. If I said ‘no’ word would have gone back to London that I’d shirked, even if it wasn’t said what it was, and I’d be ruined. They’ll never let me in at Whites again, for one thing. All I could do, as ever, with my bowels quaking again, was make the best of it and hope to come out with a whole skin. So I drew myself up in the chair, nodded solemnly, and said

‘In that case, my lord, my duty is clear.’ It was, too. If I couldn’t get their blasted piece of paper safely surely I’d be able to make something plausible up. I’d my own notions of what duty required and it didn’t involve swinging on the end of a Yankee rope.

‘Very good, Flashman’, said Lyons. ‘I had no doubts at all you would agree. Now, I have other business to attend to. Prosser will discuss the matter further.’ With that he scuttled out of the room, no doubt keen to distance himself from this tomfoolery in case it went arse over tit.

‘So what’s this traitor getting out of this ?’ I asked Prosser. He positively bristled in anger.

‘No traitor he, sir ! He has served his country nobly these past two years. The only reward he seeks is the satisfaction of duty done, and his country’s honour unstained, by preventing an act of unprovoked aggression against a neighbour.’

 

 

More fool him, then, I thought. If I might swing if caught for him it was racing certainty. I’d want a clear escape route – or two – a handsome pension, and probably the Archbishopric of Canterbury, before I’d volunteer for such a mission. Not that I ever would volunteer, of course. All that was to one side though. Despite my trepidations I was curious to know how they expected me to get inside the American military and get hold of this secret document. Before I could ask the question, though, Prosser, having got over his fit of pique, told me how I would get through the front door, at least.

‘Now, Flashman’, he says, ‘We’ve had an official request for you to visit the federal army’s HQ to be officially thanked for your heroism in saving General Grant. It’s all very low key, at our request, but I do know that they are going to ask for advice on cavalry tactics. – I believe the rebels have given them a pasting in that area. That will certainly involve you visiting their HQ for a number of days.’

That was likely enough. .I’d seen the Confederate cavalry look as though they’d outclass the North’s. Most of them rode every day and had brought their own horses to war, while many of the Union cavalry had barely seen a horse before they enlisted. You can’t make a clerk a cavalryman by dressing him up and giving him a horse.

‘After that ?’, I said.

‘After that you will have to rely on the natural wit and cunning you have shown throughout your career. Our source will make discreet contact with you once he has verified the existence and location of the document. It is up to you how you obtain access, but it must be done quickly. You will have to leave for England in a few days or suspicions will be aroused. Indeed we have already booked your passage on a steamer from Baltimore next week, to divert their attention.’

So that was their plan, eh ? Get Flashy in the front door, and let him obligingly put his head in the noose while he blunders about looking for a possibly non-existent secret document, in a place he didn’t know, and where he had little or no access. I didn’t like the idea above half when I was first asked, now it stank like a Billingsgate porter. Still, I was committed now. If the worst came to the worst I was sure I could concoct something to convince Prosser and the noble lords that the Yankees had, or hadn’t, depending on how I sniffed the wind, some secret plan to invade Canada.

With that I was ushered out, shuffling to the front door as Prosser told me a closed carriage would take me to the War Department at the corner of 17th and Pennsylvania Avenue, near The White House at 10 sharp the next morning.

Chapter Text

To tell the truth when I was bowling up to the War Department next morning I’d no real idea who I would be seeing. It wouldn’t be McClellan, for sure, as he was still shilly shallying about the Peninsula, taking a beating every time he got near Joe Johnston. In any case he’d been relieved of overall command in March, with Lincoln assuming the role of commander in chief, though the real day to day management of the army was in the hands of the War Board, a panel of five officers chaired by the Adjutant General, Lorenzo Thomas. I doubt it would be someone as exalted as him, as the whole thing was be to be kept quiet. My old friend from the Crimea, Billy Russell, was in the country reporting on the war for The Times. If he got a sniff of the story the idea of British neutrality would take a knock. All I knew was that I would be met at the War Department by another cavalry officer, Major John Buford.

Buford was waiting for me at the top of the short flight of steps when I arrived. He was a tallish man in his mid thirties, with the inevitable moustache but no cavalry whiskers. He saluted and shook hands and said, in an accent of pure Kentucky, ‘Welcome, Colonel.’ By now I’d grown so used to the way the two sides were mixed up in this war I barely raised an eyebrow. I followed him into the building, down a corridor to an office with the name Bayard, Brigadier General, on it. He knocked and we went in.

You’ll mark I mentioned that promotion is quick in wartime ? It certainly was for this young sprig, who couldn’t have been past his mid-twenties but had reached General rank already. For all his youth he had an air of confidence about him as he stood to shake my hand and then bade me to sit down.

‘Your speedy work in saving General Grant has been the talk of the upper echelons of the army, Colonel Flashman.’, he says. ‘You’ve been invited here so that I can pass on the formal thanks of Secretary of War Stanton for your bravery and quick thinking.’ With that he passed over an envelope addressed to me, from Secretary Stanton.

‘You’re very kind’, I said, ‘but in the circumstances I doubt if anyone else would have behaved any different to myself.’

‘Perhaps not, Colonel, but who knows until the circumstance occurs ? To you it did and we have your courage to thank for the safety of one of our leading soldiers,’ said Bayard. ‘Now,’ he continued, ‘grateful though we are, there is another reason we have asked you here, with the permission of the British Minister. That is for your impressions, as a professional cavalry soldier, of the performance of our cavalry compared to the rebel’s, and any suggestions you may have to improve them. Lord knows we have been found wanting in the first year of the war in that area.’

‘I can give you my general impressions, General’, I said, ‘but I saw little cavalry fighting at Shiloh, so I’m not sure I can make specific recommendations based on that.

‘That is understood. What we hoped you would do was spend some time looking at the action reports of our cavalry in company with Major Buford here, and perhaps base some recommendations on that.’ Bayard replied. ‘Of course you won’t have time to look over the ground where these actions took place, some of which is in rebel hands, but Buford can give you access to the maps in our Maps and Plans division, so that should help.’

I must admit I started for a moment when I heard that. If there was a plan to invade Canada that’s where I’d find it. I wondered for a moment if either Bayard or Buford was Lyon’s source. I immediately discounted the General, but Buford was a possibility, though he’d not given an indication it was him. Still, no doubt when the opportunity was there either he or whoever the source was would let me know. But in the meantime I had a few days and access to the very place I needed to go. Perhaps this might be easier than I’d thought.

‘Now then, Colonel, if you’d kindly open the letter from Secretary Stanton’, continued Bayard.

So I turned my attention to the envelope, which contained two sheets of paper which were identical. That was a disappointment as I thought that the second sheet might be some sort of money order – after all, what’s a general worth, these days ? It was a short note commending me for my speed of thought and bravery and offering the thanks of the Republic for saving the life of General Grant. It also bestowed on me an honorary Majority in the Union forces, if I were to accept it.

‘Well, Colonel’, says Bayard, ‘I know the contents of the letter. Will you do us the honour of accepting the commission ? If so you need merely countersign one copy and return it to me. I will arrange the formalities later this week.’

I could hardly say no, and there didn’t seem to be any harm in it – it would put me in even better standing with them for one thing - so I said ‘The honour is all mine’ and signed it extravagantly. I should have known better than to sign anything I didn’t have to. As I returned it Bayard smiled, shook my hand again, and said ‘Now to business’ and we talked of cavalry matters, with Buford enthusiastically joining in, until lunchtime.

After lunch Buford and I retired to another office in the building, which had already been set up for our use. From our discussions that morning it became clear that the Union had realised the shortcomings of their mounted arm compared to the more natural horsemen of the Confederacy. The question was what type of mounted soldier they would find most useful for the new cavalry roles of reconnaissance, harassment, and force screening.

To that end they wanted me to use my knowledge of the rebel cavalry, and my experience as a horse soldier to help them develop a force that was flexible and well trained. One thing they didn’t want, and didn’t need, was a corps of cavalry that would be used for mass charges against infantry, as in Napoleon’s time. The singular lesson of Balaclava aside, horsemen charging infantry armed with rifled weapons, whose range, accuracy, and rate of fire far outweighed the old muskets of 50 years before, was a recipe for suicide.

What I had in mind for them was a hybrid force of soldiers who could fight equally well on foot and as cavalry. The North had started the war with around half a dozen regular cavalry regiments but, given both the time and expense of raising and training new units, had been reluctant to create any more. Another factor was the hilly and broken ground, with frequent forests, over which they expected to fight, where massed cavalry would find it difficult to manoeuvre. Of course having seen the flexibility that the south displayed in using cavalry in various roles, they soon came to realise their mistake. So Buford and I talked of these matters over the course of the afternoon, discussing the size and organisation of such a force, and it’s weapons and role, and how, in general terms, the rebels had used their cavalry over the first part of the war. We parted in the late afternoon, with the objective, the next day, of examining action reports and looking at the related maps where available. That suited me down to the ground – I would get in the holy of holies, as you might call it, and could begin to snoop around to see if any invasion plan existed. I was convinced by now that Buford wasn’t the source. If he had been he’d surely have taken the opportunity to give me a hint, at the very least.

I’d been back at the Willard for an hour or so that evening when there was a discreet knock on my door. I found Prosser at the door, looking conspiratorially around him, to see if he’d been spotted. Once he was inside I gave him an outline of how the day had gone and what was planned for the morrow.

‘Well, Flashman’, he says. ‘I have more information for you. Our source has ascertained the name of the document we are interested in as ‘Case Crimson’, and confirmed that it is indeed held under lock and key in the very place you will be visiting tomorrow. And I have brought you these to help get access to the files’. With that he produced, with a flourish, a set of skeleton keys, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I was beginning to think that this staid diplomat was enjoying his little spy game, as well he might. It weren’t his neck on the line, after all.

I took the keys from him – I’d become a dab hand as a lock pick over the years – and put them in my coat pocket. ‘Now see, here, Prosser, it ain’t going to be easy as ye might think. Don’t come here tomorrow expecting chapter and verse. I need to get the lie of the land, see how the documents are guarded and accounted for, and how I might get this Case Crimson out. It’ll be no damn use if I find the file and get caught with it red handed.’

‘Understood, Colonel, understood. Take your time and be careful, but remember you only have a few days’, he replied, and with that took his leave, while I sat down to ponder how the thing might be done.

 

Overnight I’d had a few thoughts on getting access to the files so when I met Buford the next morning I suggested we had a look at the reports of the cavalry at Bull Run the preceding year, where the famous ‘Black Horse Cavalry’ of the south had fairly routed the panicking federals.

‘Certainly, Colonel’, he answered. ‘It is in another building a few minutes walk away. Can you manage with your wound ? Many of the maps and documents cannot be removed from the office unless accompanied by a written General order. I can arrange for that if necessary.’

Clearly that was no damn good to me – I’d as much interest in seeing the maps themselves as I had in reading a book of Methodist sermons. I needed to get into the office itself so I could snoop about.

‘No need to bother the General, major, I’ll manage. I’m sure he’s more important work to do. In any case we might find we need other documents and have to send for them as well. Much quicker to work over there when we need to’, I replied. With that I picked up my map glass and we set off at a slowish pace to the other building.

With my wound it took nigh on ten minutes to get there. On entering the building I saw there was a desk by the door, manned by an armed sergeant. Buford had to identify himself, vouch for me, and we had to sign a register, noting our time in. Further in from the desk was a low rail that prevented you from walking straight through, with a swinging gate in it, again manned by an armed soldier. It was what I’d expected to see, so there was no surprise there. What was more important was what happened when people left – if they or their belongings were searched that would make the removal of any unauthorised document damned difficult, if not impossible. For that reason I was careful to leave the skeleton keys Prosser had given back at the hotel for this first visit.

Once through the gate we made our way down a narrow corridor until we came into a small office with a sign entitling in ‘Maps and Plans Registry’, in which another cove, civilian this time sat behind a desk, a largish locked cupboard marked ‘Keys’ fixed to the wall behind him. As we went in he got up and said a pleasant ‘good morning’ to Buford, giving me a quizzical look at the same time.

‘Good morning, Mr Robinson’, replied Buford. ‘This gentleman is with me at the express orders of the War Department. We’d like access to the reports and maps relating to Bull Run last year, if you please.’

At this the Crachitt opens his key cupboard and extracts a set of keys, carefully locking it again. After opening a register in which Buford had to sign for the keys, he passed them over and unlocked a door into a room at the side, and ushered us through.

‘You know the location of the documents you require, Major ?’, he said. At Buford’s nod he said, ‘I’ll leave to your work. Please remember to return the keys to me as you leave’, and stepped back into the outer office.

The room we were in was much larger than the office. Around three sides of it were wooden cupboards with drawers, each locked by a single iron bar padlocked to the top of the cupboard. They appeared to be arranged alphabetically, though whether ‘Case Crimson’ would be found somewhere in the cabinets marked ‘C’ I didn’t yet know. At one end of the room, on the right as we entered, were half a dozen large desks and two map tables. Strange enough, there was no one else there, a matter I remarked upon to Buford. The room was little used, he told me, with all but the most secret documents signed out and looked at in the main offices of the department.

With that he started across to the group of cabinets marked ‘B’ and proceeded to unlock the last one.

‘Ye seem to know your way around, Major’, I said.

‘I’m familiar with these documents and their location’, he replied. ‘In any case the filing system is quite simple. All documents and maps are filed under the letter with which their title begins, in one of the cabinets, though maps and documents are held in separate drawers. If you know the name then they are easy to locate, though Mr Robinson maintains a register of what the documents contain, and their contents, in a safe, which he can consult for a visitor if necessary. He seldom needs to – he has been working here for so long and he has a prodigious memory, which allows him to locate almost any document immediately.’ With that he extracted a large file and we walked to one of the map tables to work.

We spent most of the morning going over the various reports of the battle from the unit commanders, paying special attention to those relating to cavalry engagements, making notes about this and that, and using my map glass to examine the ground over which the battle was fought. Around one we broke for lunch, with the intention of returning to main building to make sense of the notes we had made. Buford returned the Bull Run file to it’s cabinet, carefully locked the bar with the padlock, and we stepped into Robinson’s office where he returned the key to the clerk. Then it was back to the foyer to sign out – this was where I’d see whether I could actually get the documents, assuming I could find them, out without being confronted by a search. I needn’t have worried – a salute from the guard on the swing gate as he opened it, and then Buford signed us out with nary a sign of any search of person or belongings. Well, that gave me a chance, but it would have to be carefully managed, and taken in the next few days

. Next day Buford and I signed in again and made our way to the map room we’d been in before. Again, no one else was there, which was a relief because the trick I had in mind would only work once, and it needed the room to be empty. As I settled down I suggested we look over the maps relevant to the recent battle at Williamsburg in the Peninsula campaign between McClellan and the Confederate Longstreet. As Buford spread the map out I made a fuss of patting my pockets and said

‘Damn it, Major, I’ve forgotten my map glass. Must have left it in your office. Will there be one about here, do ye think ?’

‘I can’t see one’, he said.

‘No good without one for this work. I’ll have to go back for it.’, I said, and started to get to my feet slowly.

At this, as I’d expected, Buford protested that I was still suffering from my wound and that it would be quicker for him to fetch it, though of course he’d have to look the cabinet while he was gone, and he hoped I wouldn’t take that as an insult.

‘Not at all’, I replied. ‘Security’s the thing, eh ? I might have to pop out to answer a call so naturally you have to ensure you’ve locked everything up.’ At that he locked the cabinet and sped off back to his office.

I reckoned that the round trip would have taken me twenty minutes in my condition, so a hurrying Buford would do it in less that 15 minutes. I gave myself ten, which should be plenty of time as long as I could locate the document in the cabinet. Having had a snoop the previous day I was pretty sure, if things were filed as Buford had said, where I would find it. Only fly in the ointment was if the clerk or someone else came in, but there was nothing I could do about that, except be as quick as I could. Once he’d closed the door I was at the last but one of the cabinets labelled ‘C’ and had the lock off quicker that I could get Elspeth out of her drawers, which, though I say it myself, is damn quick. There were lots of loosely bound files and it took me a few minutes to sort through them, with sweat breaking out all over me in case someone came in. Time was getting short and I still hadn’t found the damn file. ‘Where’s the bloody thing ?’, I said under my breath as I leafed through all the rubbish an army thinks it needs to keep a file on. At last I found it – ‘Case Crimson’ printed on the front of a paper folder. Without looking at the pages I hurriedly undid the clips, folded and stuffed them in my inside pocket, and then put a sheaf of blank pages in the file so it wouldn’t look empty. As I put the file back in the cabinet I heard Buford exchanging the time of day with Robinson in the outer office – by god he’d been quicker that I thought – and in my feverish hurry to finish I shut the drawer quickly, snagging my sleeve as it closed, and put the bar and padlock together to lock it, just as I heard Buford move towards the door. As he opened it I started to hobble up along the office, as though taking a stretch.

‘Found it, Colonel’, he said as he came in, all cheery, waving the map glass in the air like it was some confounded trophy. Then he noticed me sweating and my face a bright red. ‘What is it, Colonel ? Are you ill ?’, he asked.

‘Just my wound’, I said. ‘I try to keep moving but sometimes I do too much.’

At this he rushed to my side, helped me to the chair, and called for Robinson to fetch a glass of water for me. By the time I’d drunk that I’d calmed down a little, but it had been a damn close call. God knows what I’d have said or done if I’d been caught ferreting about in their files. Still, the hard part of the job was done. Hopefully, once I’d handed the papers over to Prosser I could make my excuses and get the next ship home – unexpected emergency, so sorry, and all that. How he planned to get the document back was his business – if he planned to at all. Most likely the intelligencers would want to keep it for future use. Of course, there’d be hell to pay once the Yankees found it was missing. They might suspect it was me but they’d have no real proof - it could have been anyone who had access, after all. In any case I’d be three thousand miles away by that time. Those were my thoughts as we continued to work through the rest of the day.

Once back in my hotel room that evening I had no qualms about looking at the documents I’d filched on Her Majesty’s Service. After all, it was my liberty, and possibly life, that I’d put at risk. The least I was owed was to see if Russell and Lyons had sent me on a wild goose chase, so I settled down with a brandy to look through ‘Case Crimson’.

It wasn’t a long document – a dozen pages, no more – so whatever it contained obviously wasn’t too detailed. It opened with a general preamble about that size and disposition of our forces in Canada, about which I knew enough to recognise as first rate intelligence. That was just the beginning though. It was, as their Lordships had feared, a blueprint for an invasion of Canada in force by the Yankees, one that was intent on taking over the country on a permanent basis. It didn’t have specific regiments or corps allocated as a full invasion plan would, but it outlined in terms of foot, horse and artillery, the numbers that would be required to invade lower Canada, splitting it in two, and cutting it’s road and rail links. The suggested starting point was a place called Sackett’s Harbour in upper New York State, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, with a line of march along the upper St Lawrence river from Kingston through to Cornwall, in preparation for an assault on Montreal. Another advance would see the Yankee pipsqueaks attempt to capture the Rideau Canal, and then take Ottawa. It went on to estimate the level of reinforcements Britain could expect to despatch and the time it would take to get them to Canada. It’s final recommendation was that after the defeat of the southern rebellion the army should be shifted north in readiness for an invasion as soon as practicable.

I had to take my hat off to Lyons and his source. They had been right all along. Damn me if I didn’t find some anger in myself at the idea of these colonial upstarts invading a peaceful part of the empire just to get their greedy hands on it, causing all sorts of uproar. Not that I was especially fond of Canada, but it was ours and I’d rather we had it than them, damn them. Besides, it was deuced useful for dumping bothersome Scots in. Plainly I had to get this to the Minister as soon as may be, before it was missed, and some federal heavy mob came and barged down my door. With that purpose in mind I folded the papers as small as possible and carefully secreted them in a hidden pocket in my coat, and made my way, very carefully, to the British Ministry.

Prosser was waiting in his office when I got there, and of course I was shown straight in. He stood up looking anxious, and said ‘Success, Colonel ?’, and breathed a sigh of relief as I nodded., and passed the document to him. ‘Wait until I get his Lordship’, he said, and hurried out of the office.

They were both soon back and as I stood up Lyons said simply ‘What do you make of it, Flashman ?’

‘Well. my lord, it’s a serious look at the idea of invasion, and while it lacks detail that can be fleshed out very quickly once the current war ends and the army is available for use elsewhere. I think we should take it very seriously’, I answered.

At that they sat down and read through the papers together, asking for clarification of various military points from me as they read. It didn’t take them too long and at the end Lyons leaned back in his chair, exhaled loudly, and told Prosser to have the documents transcribed in triplicate, and to make arrangements to have two copies sent by messenger to London on separate ships. As he left I said

‘What of me, my lord ? Time I was on my way home.’

‘Yes, indeed, Flashman. You’ve done very well in a difficult situation, and I shall make sure Lord Russell is aware of it when I telegraph him the news later tonight. I will have arrangements made to get you home as soon as possible but in the meantime you should continue working with the Americans. To suddenly leave would be suspicious, especially if they discover the document missing.’

I’d expected that, and it was (mostly) good news. But I could see his point about not disappearing suddenly.

Very good, my lord’, I said, ‘I’ll carry on as before until I hear from the Ministry’, and got up to leave, at which point Lyons jumped up from his chair, came round the desk and shook my hand vigorously, and said

‘You’re a damn brave and resourceful fellow, Flashman. You’ve done your country a great service once again.’

‘Just my duty, my lord, and grateful for the opportunity to do it’, I answered and left for the Willard.

Next morning Buford and I followed our usual routine and signed in at the Maps division. There was one difference though – when we entered the map room it wasn’t empty as it had been before. Allan Pinkerton was sat at a desk with two heavies, glaring at me as I came in. On the desk in front of him was a small button.

Chapter Text

‘Well, noo, then, Colonel. Whit d’ye ken tae that ?’, he said, pointing to the bright, brassy thing on the desk. He looked much the same as he did when I’d first come across him during the Harpers Ferry business. Slightly down at heel, but a burly mid-sized bruiser, with white whiskers and gimlet eyes, sharp behind the steel spectacles.

Well, it was obviously my button – I must have lost it when I snagged my sleeve – but I had the presence of mind not to look to see where it was missing. Equally obviously it must have been found in the cabinet, or Pinkerton wouldn’t have left off from his spy catching for the Union to confront me. Still, all they had was a button – common enough thing – that could have belonged to anyone. If that’s all they had I might be able to bluff my way out of this.

‘My apologies, Mr Pinkerton, all I can say of it is that it’s a button. Why is it important ?’, I asked.

‘I kin see from yer reet sleeve yer missing a very simlar button. If I told ye this button was foond in a cabinet an’ that whin Mr Robinson checked the contents of the cabinet that one very important document was missin’, would ye then be able ta sae more ?’, he replied, fixing those piercing eyes on my face.

‘Still no more than a button to me I’m afraid. What’s this about a document ? Am I supposed to have taken something from here ? I didn’t have access to anything apart from what Major Buford gave me,’ I said.

‘Aye, mebbe not, mebbe so, but I ken yon major left ye alone in here yesterday, as he should no’ ha’ dun. But when someone gaes tae a cabinet and finds a button in it that shuld no’ be there, and then we find an important paper missing, a paper that ye may well ha’ an interest in, and then we find ye’ve bin alone in this very room, ye’ll see we’ve cause tae question. To that end ye’ll nae mind if we search ye. Ye hotel room’s being searched as we spek’.

Well that didn’t worry me, as both papers and keys were with Prosser at the Ministry now, so there was no incriminating evidence on me or in my room. But if I played along too easily they’d perhaps be more suspicious because I was too confident there was nothing to find. Time for bit of outraged John Bull, I thought. That would be in character for me, at the least.

‘Damn your eyes, Pinkerton’, I roared, my face turning bright red. ‘I’m an official guest in this country, helping train your army, and carrying an honorary rank in the U S Army. By whose authority do you act ? I’ve done nothing to warrant this treatment. Wait till his Lordship hears of it!’ I bellowed at him.

‘Yer a fine actor, Flashman’, he replied,’ but ye’ll be searched wither or no’, at which he whistled up his two heavies, who searched me thoroughly and found absolutely nothing of interest at all, of course.

‘I hope you’re satisfied now’, I said, when they’d finished. ‘I am now going to report this outrage to the British Minister. You should hope that it doesn’t spark another incident like the Trent affair last year, or you’ll be looking for another job, all because of a coincidence about a bloody button !’

‘Ye’ll bide here fine awhile. We’ve no heard of whit’s in ye room, yet, fer one. Fer anither, I’m no sure that button can be got in the USA. We’re enquiring on it noo’, Pinkerton replied. ‘E’en if we find nothing at the hotel yer involved – I can smell it on ye, and ye’ve form for this type of thing’. So I had to sit waiting for more than an hour while Pinkerton paced the room, looking at me from all angles, until he got the report that nothing had been found.

‘I take it I’m at liberty now, Pinkerton’, I said.

‘Ye’ll stay in confinement, Colonel, till we hae this all cleared up’, he replied

‘Damn it, man’, I said, ‘You’ve no evidence and I’ve no idea what you’re looking for anyway. If I don’t report back to the British Minister in next few days they’ll start asking questions and there’ll be hell to pay’.

‘If whit I think is true they’ll be in nae hurry tae mek a fuss. If they do mebbe the contents of the document would come oot, and who kens whir that culd lead ? Tae war, mebbes ? As long as ye come tae nae harm they’ll bide content fer awhiles. They’ll know fine well whir ye are’. With that I was taken by the elbows by his two stalwarts and transported to yet another of their nondescript buildings where I was kept prisoner, in some comfort, but prisoner none the less, for the next few weeks, until I got the most surprising summons I think I’ve ever had throughout a long life of knavery and double dealing.

I’d been incarcerated for nearly three months and was beginning to despair of ever getting free. Pinkerton kept pressing me to admit to spying but with no real proof I was safe enough if I said nothing. It turned out the button wasn’t that unusual, so that was no proof. While I’d been there the war had lumbered on, with the Federal side doing most of the lumbering. McClellan had thrashed about in the peninsular, getting nowhere but losing hand over fist to the rebels almost every time they met in battle. Jeb Stuart had made his famous ride around the Union army, not achieving much strategically but boosting southern morale. In the Shenandoah Valley Stonewall Jackson had defeated and forced the withdrawal of a far larger Union force, and Lincoln changed his commander almost as often as I changed my underwear. All the while the summer dragged on and I began to wonder what Lyons was up to. Surely my disappearance had become common knowledge and if the Yankees had nothing on me he must press, however discreetly, for my release ? At the end of August, though, things changed dramatically.

My jailers, from day to day, were friendly enough, but at the end of the August there was a distinct change in their mood, and they became glum and taciturn. I soon found out why. The rebels had given them a second beating at Bull Run in the previous two days, in a far larger battle than the year before, coming within a few miles of Washington before superior numbers of Union forces had managed to stem the advance. Things looked bleak for the North, and calls were loud not just for the generals to be sacked but for Lincoln and his government to go as well. It seemed only a matter of time before France and Britain recognised the Confederacy and that would be it for Lincoln’s crusade to save the union of North and South. Damn bad luck, you might say, but at least it’ll see old Flashy off home. That was the thought that was in my mind when Pinkerton turned up again in the evening, together with his usual pair of heavies, and said brusquely ‘Ye’re tae come wit’ me, noo’, and turned on his heel, while his bruisers made sure I followed. Down some backstairs we went, and I was escorted into yet another closed carriage, ordered to keep quiet, and then the carriage took off at a steady clip. Where the devil was I going now ? Maybe they were taking me to Lyons ? Then the coward in me came out - they were going to top me for spying, and my heart leapt into my mouth, my face went bright red, and I started to sweat before I calmed down. There’d been no trial and any harm done to me could push Britain into open conflict with them. They’d enough on their plate without adding that to the mix. So the carriage bowled along while my mind worked feverishly on the possibilities. I’d just decided that I was being released when the horses came to a stop, the door was opened, and I was whisked in through the back door of the White House.

I was rushed through darkened corridors after Pinkerton, who could move at quite a rate when it suited him, his heavies keeping a tight grip on my arms, until we came up short outside an office with an armed guard outside. Pinkerton looked at the guard who nodded and opened the door to let us in.
I’d no doubt who I was going to see as soon as I saw it was the White House – after all, why take me there other than for that reason – so it was no surprise when I half stumbled into a somewhat dark office, and, as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting saw the great spidery figure of Lincoln as he unfolded himself from his chair behind the giant desk and rose to greet me:-

‘Colonel Flashman’, he said, ‘Pleased to meet you once more. Learned how to club haul a ship yet ?’

He was the same lanky, likeably ugly figure I remembered from the old judge’s house all those years before, a great lick of black hair across his forehead, a long chin with a beard perched on the end as if by accident, and that deep, lined face, with the eyes even more sunken than before, though they still burned with that steady black intensity. He stretched out a bony hand, and bade me sit down, while Pinkerton hovered in the background, silent as a mouse.

‘We have established its Flashman now, and not Comber, Fitzroy Prescott, Tom Arnold, or any other of the many names that seemed to have been used during your quite extensive tour of the USA ?’, he went on, and then looking at Pinkerton quizically. Pinkerton made a sour face and nodded.

‘Well, it’s good to have at least one certainty in all this confusion’, Lincoln said. ‘Now, Colonel, you’ll be wondering why you’ve been brought here. Given the sort of man I know you to be – devious, dishonest, selfish, greedy and with no low amount of animal lust in your soul – I do wonder myself. Now don’t be insulted‘, he said, as I started to protest. ‘Those qualities also make a good lawyer, and I’m one myself, so perhaps we’re not so different, you and I. Still, that’s not to the purpose. What is germane is that I am assured that those qualities, together with an inexplicable gallantry that is quite out of kilter with these other attributes, makes you the ideal man for the mission we have in mind’.
‘I’m sorry, Mr President’, I answered, ‘but I’m a prisoner of yours, held illegally and against my will, not some sort of agent or officer. I’ve no idea what you have planned but I can say with absolute certainty that I’m not the man for it and there’s no way you can make me do it. I’m sure that by now Lord Lyons is agitating for my release. The issue Pinkerton suggested might led to war if publicised would certainly, after your latest defeat, tip English opinion towards a recognition of the Confederacy at the least, if not to open war. You can’t risk that now’.

‘That’s well said’, he answered, ‘and it has the virtue for once, coming from you, of much of it being true. As for whether we can make you do it, we’ll leave that for now. Don’t you want to know what is required ? For a man of your varied and dubious talents it should be quite easy’.

Somehow I doubted that, but it’s always best to listen when you’re in the sort of bind I was in. There may be a way out that your jailers haven’t thought of when they conceived whatever harebrained nonsense they want you to do. So I sat and listened while Lincoln outlined possibly the most stupid, reckless and dangerous piece of idiocy that it was my misfortune to have proposed to me over a long career of dodging and poltroonery. It made my walk through Lucknow disguised as a sepoy with that loudmouthed bog trotter Kavanagh seem like a stroll through Hyde Park with Elspeth. Still, whatever I thought it clearly wasn’t going to stop Lincoln and he launched himself into his idea at once.

‘You know of our latest defeat at Bull Run. It was only by last ditch efforts we prevented a rebel assault on Washington. But as it is we have suffered very heavily. France and England stand on the brink of recognising the Confederacy. Our army is demoralised, the generals are in bitter conflict, and the anti war Democrats, together with those in the Copperheads, are suing for an honourable peace now. All the time their support grows and the anti Republican press clamours for my resignation and a change of government’. He must have seen the look on my face because he said, ‘My aim is the restoration of this union, and my fate, and even the issue of slavery, is of little consequence beside that great cause. If I could save the union by ending slavery I would do so. If I could save the union by keeping slavery I would do so. If the price of bringing the states back together again was my resignation I would do that also. That is my cause and no action that I can take or cause to happen will be left undone to achieve it’.

Now I’ve heard that sort of declaration of selfless sacrifice from politicians more times than I care to count, and like most sensible folk I usually discount it as hot air. A man will say anything to save himself or his place – I should know, I’ve done it often enough myself. But not this time – the union was the cause that motivated Lincoln. It was the air he breathed, it was what kept him on through the dark times – the thought that his beloved republic would become whole once again. It occurred to me that there’d be some damned disappointed abolitionists if the price of union was keeping slavery, but I kept that to myself. Still, it called for something from me so I said ‘It’s not my place to doubt that, Mr President, nor do I. But what I can do to help is quite frankly beyond me’.

‘Ah, yes, that’s what you are interested in, more than anything else, of course. Why should I be surprised ?’, he said. ‘And why should I blame you ? No doubt I would be just the same if I were in your situation. It is very simple. While we have been able to apprehend southern spies because of the diligence of Mr Pinkerton and his men our attempts to gather intelligence on the rebel’s plans have been less successful. Partly because of that we are now in the dangerous situation where another rebel victory could see them recognised by the European powers, with all that means for their ability to succeed in their insurrection. We need to know of their plans, what forces they have available, and where they intend to strike. We need an agent at the heart of their army, who can supply us with such information. In short, Colonel, we want you to go to General Lee and offer your services as a staff officer. From there you can report to us on their plans. Forearmed with this intelligence we will have victories and so bring a quicker end to the secession, and forestall their recognition by England and France’.

My jaw fairly dropped open in shock. ‘You want me to go to Lee, who I’ve never met, as a British officer, and offer to serve in his staff ? You must be mad. Why would he accept or trust me ? I’ve never met him and have no part in this war of yours. Surely they’d have heard of the Grant incident. Why would they think that someone who’d done that would want to help them ? They’d be suspicious immediately – I know I would be’.

‘Lee doesn’t know you, but Stuart, one of his most trusted generals, does as do much of his army and even the Secretary of War. Also, you gave them a favourable report on their prospects in this sad affair. I’ve no doubt that with your special talents you can persuade them that you can be trusted and have some sympathy for their cause’, Lincoln replied.

Well, Mr President’, says I, it’s all supposition, because there is no way that you can make me go’.

‘That’s the nub of it, of course, Colonel. We’ve given a good deal of thought to this. If you won’t help us then we’ll have to give consideration to trying you as a traitor’.

‘A traitor ? I’m not an American – no court in the world would convict me of treason. Nor would my government sit still while this nonsense was played out’, I answered.

‘You’re right, of course’, said Lincoln. ‘No civil court would convict you’, and he looked at me to see my reaction.

‘Well, then’, I started to say when Lincoln continued.

‘Of course as an officer it the US Army your trial would be by Courts Martial. I think your brother officers would take a very dim view of the treason and spying you have engaged in. They may opt to exact the ultimate penalty’.

‘Good god, man,’ I shouted, ‘You can’t be serious. I’ve taken no oath and it’s only an honorary commission. That hare won’t run. Nor would my government sit still to watch it’.

‘How would they know of it ? A military court, convened in the mid West would be a very quiet affair. It would be regrettable but as a lawyer I know the case could be made, and with the mood of the country now, your brother officers are unlikely to exercise leniency if you are found guilty, which I have some certainty you will be. As for your country, once the deed is done would they care to make much of it ? They may think it politic to keep the affair quiet, lest they look impotent. Of course they may not, but regrettably that is unlikely to help you’.

‘They are not my brother officers, and I’m not an officer in the U S Army’, I shouted.

‘That’s the way you see it, of course. I have no certainty, I’m afraid, that in the circumstances, they will feel the same. It’s your choice, of course. But if you look at it from another point of view by serving us in this you will enhance your fame and reputation. England abhors slavery, as I do. Think what a story it would be to have the valiant Sir Harry Flashman taking up the cause of freedom. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were made a lord or baron or whatever such medieval titles you give out over there’.

‘But if the rebels catch me, I’ll swing for sure’, I said miserably.

‘I am convinced, Flashman ‘, said Lincoln, ‘ that given enough warning you could escape The Last Trump. Still, you have your choice. Aid us, gain fame and renown, at the slight risk of a punishment that over the course of your life you have no doubt justly earned, or take the much greater risk of meeting that punishment here and now. What will it be ? ‘ and he sat back down, cracking his knuckles reflectively, while not taking his eyes off my face for a second.

The way he laid it out it was clear what I’d have to do. Painted into a corner again by this genial blackmailer I’d little choice. Oh, of course Lyons would kick up a hell of a fuss if he knew what was planned, but how would he ? They’d held me for long enough without a whisper of protest. I could be spirited out of Washington tonight and they’d know nothing of it. If asked the Yankees could say they released me and had no idea where I was. Without any proof what could the Ministry say, especially if that proof was mouldering away in a box a thousand miles or more to the west ? Not that I was certain even a military court would convict me. But the chance was there – once they got their blood up the Americans could be damned ruthless, and to the devil with the consequences. At the least I’d be dragged across their bloody country for months on end, and I was heartily sick of the place by now. This way I’d stay nearish to the coast and might be able to slip my cable once I was in the south, before I have to do any spying for them.

As it was Lincoln I didn’t try any bravado – he knew me too well for that. ‘I’ve no choice, have I ?’, I said.

‘Not really’, said Lincoln, as he smiled happily. ‘Cheer up, Flashman. We won’t be sending you alone. We wouldn’t want you to get lost on the way, would we? Mr Pinkerton has arranged for a scout – goes by the outlandish name of Wild Bill Hickok. He’ll look after you in every way, till you get to Lee. Fine shot with a pistol, I hear. You might want to keep that in mind’. With that Lincoln stood up, and I was closely escorted out of the room by Pinkerton’s thugs, trailing in the Scottish curmudgeon’s wake.

Chapter Text

I met ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok the very next day, as we were due to go south as soon as maybe. Given what Pinkerton told me of Hickok, who went under several names - ‘So ye’ll have that mooch in commun’, he said – he had a fearsome reputation as a gunfighter, and I wondered what sort of ruffian and blaggard it was my misfortune to have as my keeper for the next 10 days or so. So it was a surprise to be greeted by a genial, well mannered and softly spoken man in his mid twenties. He was tall, broad shouldered, and though when scouting his normal dress was buckskin, that day he was wearing a broadcloth coat and embroidered weskit, looking quite dapper in fact. His auburn hair was worn long, plains style, with his moustaches longer still. He had blue eyes that added to his warm and friendly appearance, though when there was killing to be done the warmth went from them, and they became as hard and cold as ice.

That’s not to say he took killing as a sport – far from it. But he would not be put upon, by anyone, and once a line had been reached you’d better put up or shut up, and if you were foolish enough to put up there was only one outcome. He extended that sort of consideration to others less formidable than him – he once stopped a lynch mob on his own, and he was fiercely against slaving, having grown up on a farm that was a stop on the Underground Railroad. I think, really, that he despised bullies of all sorts, and made it his business, where he could, to deal with those who prey on the weak. It might come as a surprise, then, that we got on from the first, given my own penchant for dishing it out to underlings and fops.

He shook my hand and said in a quiet and neutral mid west accent ‘How’d you do, Colonel ? I’m James Butler Hickok. My friends call me James. Pleased to make your acquaintance’.

‘Call me Harry’, I replied, returning his firm but friendly handshake. I hear you’re something of a pistoleer, spit a fly on the wing, and all that ?’

‘Not a fly, Harry, but a bumble bee in flight, maybe so’, he replied with a grin. He opened his coat and I saw he had two Navy Colt repeaters tucked into a broad sash, butts facing forward for a faster draw.

‘Noo, then, James’, said Pinkerton, ‘do ye have all ready ?’

‘I do, Mr Pinkerton, horses mustered and supplies drawn. We’ll set off late this afternoon, just before dark’, he replied. ‘I’ll get Harry safe and well to Lee so he can do his work’.

‘Gud man. Watch him, tho’. Fer all his gud manners he’s a slippery old fish, this wun. Don’t let him gie ye the slip’, Pinkerton replied, and then he left us to it.

Well, if you know of the course of the war at this stage, in early September ’62, you might guess that our plans were about to change rapidly. James and I were just saddling our horses in the late afternoon when one of Pinkerton’s men came hurrying up to us. We both looked at him expectantly and he said ‘Some important news, gentlemen. No need to ride south. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia have entered Maryland and are riding north and west of Washington. We don’t know his intentions as yet but clearly going south is pointless. To find Lee you will have to follow his army. Once we have more information you’ll be able to make new plans’. With that he hurried off and we unsaddled the horses.

While we waited to see what Lee would do over the next few days I got know James Hickok better, and the more I knew him the better I liked him. You could say his was a strange, even wild, life but it wasn’t so unusual then. Even in the 1860’s America was still barely explored or developed away from the east coast. The interior was vast and empty and the law’s writ only ran so far – outside there things were rough and ready, and the law and its enforcement was the same, usually at the end of a gun or a rope.

James had learned to shoot on his father’s farm as a youngster. He didn’t get on with him and left home at 18, mistakenly thinking he had killed someone in a fight. Over the years he’d scouted, hunted, been a peace officer and tried farming, travelling all over the mid west in the 50’s. He proved handiest with a gun of course, and when the war came he offered himself as a scout to the Union. His prowess with the pistol brought him to Pinkerton’s notice and he began to work for him on various jobs that required a knowledge of the land, quick thinking, and sometimes a quicker gun. But he wasn’t a natural killer, as I said, and like me, he had an eye for the ladies, and a taste for cards and liquor, which meant we got on famously. He never really got to know me beyond that, of course – I made sure he didn’t – but I’ve never felt as safe in a dangerous place as when I was with Wild Bill Hickok. The other side of the coin was I wasn’t likely to cut and run. For all his good nature he hated slavery, as I said, and would do almost anything to see it ended. If Pinkerton told him to keep a close eye on me, then that’s what he’d do.

While James and I were waiting to see where the rebels would go General Lee was having a few surprises of his own. Maryland was a slave state with a legislature that was pro – South so he probably expected a warm welcome and plenty of recruits. What he found was a populace at best lukewarm and in most cases hostile, despite his army marching in singing ‘Maryland, my Maryland’. The locals were also horrified and even amazed at the ragamuffin army entering their state. All the men pro – South seemed to have joined up already, and quite a few of his army deserted, having joined up to defend the south, not invade the north, so rather than gather recruits and swell his forces he actually lost men. Not that Lee was deterred, and his army continued its advance north and west of Washington, having entered the state through the Shenandoah valley, with McClellan, back in command of the Union forces again, stumbling along to intercept him. Once Lee’s general line of advance, north and west towards the Maryland - Pennsylvania border was known, sometime around the 9th or 10th September, Hickok and I set off in cautious pursuit. . As we travelled James had me memorise a list of agents code names and location throughout the south, and how to contact them with any useful information I had.

Maryland’s not a big place, so we reckoned it wouldn’t take us more than 3 or 4 days of easy riding to catch up with the tail of Lee’s army, if it maintained its direction. Not that we wanted to get too close to any action. As James said, it would be no damned good me getting caught up in a battle and being killed, to which I could only say a hearty amen. So we rode north and west at an easy pace through the pleasant Piedmont countryside of the central part of the state, with its rolling hills of oak forest, very pleasant in the early fall sunshine, until we reached a Union regiment, the 27th Indiana, in camp on the outskirts of the town of Frederick, some fifty or more miles north west of Washington, on the evening of 12th September. There we stopped for the night hoping to get some news of the progress of Lee and his army, part of which had camped there earlier that week.

Now you’ll say this is the damnedest thing, and that Flashy’s pulling the long bow again, but next morning, I discovered something that by rights should have ended the war within days, and seen me on my way home at last, without sight of shot and shell again. I was just stretching my legs on the edge of the camp when my eye was caught by something lying in the long grass, just a few yards from me. It looked like a bulky envelope, so naturally I walked over and picked it up. Inside the envelope were three good cigars, carefully wrapped so that they hadn’t got wet. Stroke of luck, thinks I, as I’d run out weeks ago, and I took out my cigar case, unwrapped the cheroots, and stowed them carefully away as I walked back to where Hickok and I had camped the night before. It struck me that it must have been some special sort of paper that kept them so dry so I hauled the envelope out as I got back to where James was brewing coffee over a fire. Opening the paper I saw it was a handwritten note, quite lengthy, titled ‘Special Order 191’. What’s this, I wondered to myself, some sort of ordnance requisition ? Might have some useful information in it if so. Suddenly, as I read on I shouted, without thinking about it, ‘Good God above, Good God above !’

James looked up startled and said, ‘What is it Harry ?’ I just shoved the paper at him and said ‘Read it, man, read it’, and as he did so his eyes went wider and he looked up at me and started to speak, ‘Is this what…’ but I burst in and said ‘It’s Lee’s whole campaign plan. Who’s going where, with what units, their objectives, and when they will rendevous. The whole kit and caboodle. It’s priceless military intelligence. We must get it to McClellan at once. With this he could end the war in a few days, destroy Lee’s army piecemeal, and marched unopposed on Richmond. By God, even Elphy Bey could have made something out of this !’ I shouted.

‘Ellie who ?’, said Hickok, then went on ‘It needs checking, but Harry this might not be genuine. It could have been left here to find, to mislead us’.

‘Bit of a long shot, James, that we’d find it then, don’t ye think ?’, I replied. ‘Anyway it must go up the chain of command as soon as may be. I’ll take to McClellan myself’.

‘Hang on, Harry’, he says. ‘Even if it’s genuine you can’t take it to McClellan anyway. You’ve a secret mission that he knows nothing about – you can’t divert from that, and he can’t know what you’re up to, in case word gets out’.

‘But don’t ye see, this makes my mission unnecessary – this, handled properly, could end the war and I wouldn’t have to go on some bloody silly spying jaunt’, I shouted.

He looked at me a bit oddly for a second after that, and then shook his head and said ‘You could be right – if it’s genuine, and if they haven’t changed their plans. We can’t judge either of that from here. Best we send it to the army, but carry on as we plan. Anyway’, he said with a smile, ‘McClellan will probably sit on it for a week while he decides whether or not to do anything’.

I could see his point, and he could be very insistent, so in the end we got a corporal to fetch his captain, who looked at it and sent it up via his regiment to McClellan’s HQ. As it turned out James was right, McClellan did sit on it for a while, though not as long as a week, and when he did do something it resulted in the bloodiest single day of the war. If I’d gone back with it I’d have kicked McClellan’s idle backside into action and had Lee finished within the week. I’d have been home within a month or so, and missed out on all the blood and fear that was to come. What’s worse, the corporal got all the credit for the find. So there was nothing for it but to take up the trail of Lee’s army, and try to avoid anything unpleasant while we worked out a way for me to approach him. Of course it soon became clear to me that my way in was via Jeb Stuart. He knew me, if only a little, and could vouch for me to some degree, at least. Otherwise how else could I approach Lee ? Just like Lyons, Lincoln and his cohorts had given no thought to how I would accomplish what they wanted – it was just send Flashy off and let him make the best of things. If things come unstuck, aye well, that’s life – probably mine. That’s why I like to steer clear of politicians. They’ve no thought for anyone or anything else but their schemes and plans.

Of course being Stuart he’d want to be in the thick of it so I’d have to be careful when I approached him, which left me with a ticklish problem. If I found him too early I might get caught up in the inevitable battle that Lee’s invasion would cause, but if I waited until after any fighting was over Stuart might have got himself killed, in which case my way into Lee’s HQ was gone. Taking it all into consideration I decided the best course was to wait until after any fighting was over. With any luck the information we’d sent to McClellan might mean that the whole thing was done and dusted anyway and I could go home with a clear conscience – not that a clear conscience was ever a priority for me. In the meantime James and I would try to pick up the trail of Lee’s main body, reasoning that Stuart would have to join up with it at some stage. So we continued to follow the trail of the rebels through Maryland, which wasn’t at all difficult, over the next few days.

Had I known Stuart better perhaps I would have realised that the inevitable was going to happen. Maybe general’s rank had gone to his head but he’d become impulsive and was forever riding off at the head of his cavalry in one direction or another, sometimes for no good reason anyone could discover. While we’d be following Lee at a safe distance Stuart had been criss-crossing the state, going from one position to another and trailing confusion in his wake. So it was that one evening we heard a large body of horsemen on the road behind us who could only be cavalry. James had us turn off the road and ride up a small hill which commanded a good view of the road behind us. Leaving me to tether the horses to a tree on the side of the hill away from the road he climbed carefully to its top with his spyglass. A moment later he was gesturing to me to join him.

Lying down on the crest and looking through the spyglass I could clearly see Jeb Stuart at the head of a column of cavalry about several hundred strong, obviously coming back from scouting for McClellan. Even if I’d not had the glass I could probably have picked him out – he wasn’t that far away and was dressed in his usual flamboyant style. This was clearly the moment I’d been waiting for, so, as agreed with James, I slipped back down to my horse, untied it, and rode quietly to the roadside where Stuart would have to pass. Provided everything went well Hickok would slip away and leave me to my own devices.

It didn’t take long for the column to reach me and as they came close I called out loudly ‘Jeb, Jeb Stuart. It’s me, Harry Flashman. How are ye ?’. Stuart recognised me immediately and rode out of the column to me with a broad smile on his face – at least I think it was a smile, as it was damn difficult to be sure behind that enormous beard. As he reached me he leaned across his horse, hand outstretched and said ‘Harry ! What the devil are you doing here ! Never mind that, it’s good to see you !’, and when a couple of his staff officers cantered over he turned round to them and shouted ‘Now, boys, here’s a real cavalryman ! Never seen a man mount a horse better than Harry here ! A few more like him and we’d trounce those Yankees double quick !’

‘Jeb’, I said, ‘you’re too kind. Anyway, from what I’ve heard you don’t need my help, not by a long chalk. Promoted again, I see. Not a man who deserves it better’.

‘That’s right, Harry. Major General, commanding General Lee’s cavalry now’, he answered, beaming even more.

‘Scouting for McClellan, then ?’, I asked.

‘That’s right, Harry. The Yankees are on their way here. We managed to delay them at one or two places so that the General can bring the army together. We’ll take ‘em on soon, on their own ground, and lick ‘em. That’ll make those Washington fuddyduddies think, and maybe your own and France’s government as well’.

‘How soon ?’, I asked, hoping my voice didn’t betray any anxiety, though my heart was in my mouth.

‘Could be as soon as tomorrow. Why, do you want in on the fight ? He’s a real old warhorse this one !’, he said turning aside to his aides.

Of course that was the last thing I wanted but with Hickok watching from the hill I could hardly say that I wasn’t. Instead I said ‘You couldn’t keep me away, Jeb, but I think I can do something more than just fight, if I can speak to General Lee’. He was startled at that and looked at me more closely.

‘Harry, what do you mean ? How can you help ? Shouldn’t you be back in England by now ? What would your government think, you a serving soldier here now, offering to help the South ?’

I leaned across and spoke quietly in his ear. ‘I’m off the duty list, and how I can help and what my government may think is something I can only discuss with General Lee. Trust me, though, it’s worth it’.

At this he fairly goggled at me. I could see what he was thinking – the fabled prize of foreign recognition of the Confederacy was maybe what I was offering. Had he thought about it he’d have surely realised that a mere colonel couldn’t offer that. But the chance was too tempting to pass up, and in any case he thought I was Pam’s right hand man, so maybe something like that was possible, he’d reason. Of course I’d have a story to spin to Lee when I got to see him, but one that would just hint, rather than make any outrageous offers, while I wormed my way into their good graces. In any case, if there was a battle coming I’d rather be in Lee’s company, surrounded by the army, than stuck out where the shooting and killing was going on. So Jeb took me at my word, foolish chap, and I rode alongside him at the head of his column of cavalry to where Lee and the rest of the rebel army were camped.

After we’d splashed through the shallow waters of the Antietam creek and reached the rebel lines the two columns of cavalry split off from us and rode north to where Stuart had his division camped. Jeb and I continued to ride west through Longstreet’s Corps to where Lee had set up his HQ, just west of the little town of Sharpsburg. As we rode through the rebel troops set up a great view halloo at the sight of Stuart, and shouted at him ‘whin wuz he goin’ t’ ride round them Yankees again, and could they come along ?’ which he acknowledged with a wave of his hat, ostrich feather and all.

We soon reached Lee’s tents and as we dismounted Stuart asked me to wait a moment outside as we handed our horses to a couple of troopers. He slipped past the sentries at the door of the tent and was out within a moment, a broad smile on his face as he gestured me to follow him back in.

Now I’ve been a soldier all my life and I’ve met and served with some of the greatest of the age, from old Colin Campbell, and Chinese Gordon to the great Duke himself. For me the man I was about to meet was a fighting soldier on a par with all those men, but not only that, he was the most decent and kindly man to wear a general’s uniform. Great man is a term bandied about too much, about people who just happen to be a good at something, like that bearded muff Grace, because he can swing a bat a bit, and refuses to walk when he’s out if he can avoid it. That’s not greatness, that’s just talent. Greatness is something more than that – it’s ability, to be sure, but it’s also the courage to weigh and dare great risks, when the fate of your country may depend on it, and to carry the day, despite the odds. That was the difference between Lee and, say, McClellan who lacked the nerve to take the chances Lee did, despite his own clear abilities. If Lee had taken the offer of a senior command within the Union army just before the war started all the long years of slaughter would likely have been avoided, but of course he didn’t and once he was in command he was going to show what a soldier he was, whatever the odds.

As I stepped into the tent Stuart announced me, and he stood up, extending his hand, and wishing me good evening with that formal old Virginia courtesy that he was so noted for. He looked then just as many people now think of him, dressed in a Confederate officer’s uniform, with full beard and whiskers, his longish grey hair brushed on either side of his head. His face was lined and serious, with his mouth turned down, and his eyes set deep under his forehead. Except that there was something wrong with his uniform, as I looked at the 3 stars of rank on his collar. He noticed, of course, at once.

‘Mr Flashman, I wear the stars of a colonel in the army of the Confederacy as that was my last rank in the US Army. I will only take a general’s uniform when it is as a general in the army of a free Confederacy. Now please sit down and have some coffee’, he said as he gestured me to a chair.

‘I know of you, of course, both from Brown’s raid in 1859, and most recently after your tour of inspection of the Confederate States Army late last year. Your comments were very kindly and well received with in the army of the South. Indeed it’s no exaggeration that they managed to quiet some misgivings that a few senior men had about our ability to gain an honourable outcome to this sad situation’, he went on. ‘But tell me, why are you here now, and what is it that you hinted to General Stuart about helping us ? After all, both England’s government and that of France have remained neutral in this affair, beyond offering their services as mediators’.

As I’ve said before, they don’t beat about the bush, Americans, and Lee was no exception. Fortunately I’d expected this and had my answer ready, but not too pat.

‘With respect to General Stuart, I can only discuss certain things with yourself, General Lee. I have no doubt of the honour of the general, and that anything said here would remain confidential, but those are the instructions I am duty bound to follow. My apologies, to you, Jeb’, I said as I turned to him and gave a slight bow’.

‘No need, Harry, I quite understand’, he replied. ‘If you will excuse me, General’, he said to Lee, and left the tent, along with Lee’s aide de campe, Walter Taylor.

‘You have your confidentiality now, Colonel Flashman’, said Lee. ‘Please speak on’.

I drew my chair closer to Lee, leaned forward and began to talk to him in a hushed tone.

‘You have the outline of my report to my chiefs in London. Much of it has been passed onto Paris, and both governments have been impressed by your victories over an adversary regarded as much stronger in resources than the South. In England there is also a lot of sympathy for your cause – that of independence from a larger neighbour. I’m officially attached to the British Ministry in Washington, but I’ve been given leave of absence, and while my journey to meet you is not an official one, it’s looked at with a nod and a wink. At this stage, as you know, we are not taking sides, but my government is not averse to a change in the political situation here – we have our suspicions, backed up by some information I can’t reveal to you as yet, of the USA’s intentions to our colony in Canada’.

‘That is very interesting, Colonel’, Lee replied. ‘I will ensure that this information is passed, in confidence, to President Davis as soon as possible. But that information could have been relayed directly rather than through me. It doesn’t explain why you are here now. Why is that ?’

They’re a suspicious lot, Americans, as you might have noticed. Still, I was ready for that as well. I just had to be careful how I put it – I wouldn’t want to offend Lee’s sense of honour by suggesting I was going to act as their spy.

‘General, I can be of help to you in a number of ways. Attached to your staff I can give insights into the North’s strategies that you may not know of, and other suggestions that may not occur to your staff who, eager though they may be, are rather inexperienced in planning and developing a campaign, with all due respect’.

Lee looked at me steadily, those dark eyes boring into my face, a flicker of suspicion in them. ‘And in return for your suggestions ?’, he asked.

‘Only the opportunity to observe, and report back to my chiefs on your situation, and perhaps outline some deficiencies in armament and material, which if addressed, could tilt the balance to the South. My advice carries some weight, both in the army and with Lord Palmerston’.

Lee leaned back in his chair, looked at me for a few seconds while he thought, and then let out a deep sigh. ‘Many hints, Colonel, and I appreciate why that is so. As the good Lord above knows we have always thought that given sufficient supplies we could protect our borders and persuade our former countrymen of the folly of this war. Of course this goes beyond my authority, and is a political matter. I must send to Richmond for advice and consent for you to remain. In the meantime, if you’ve no objection, I will attach you to your friend Jeb Stuart’s command. If, as I think we will, we give battle to McClellan here you will be in a position there to observe the ebb and flow of any action on the field. Orderly !’, he called.

Naturally I didn’t like the sound of that – that wasn’t what I wanted at all, but under the circumstances I could hardly do anything else but agree. If the worst came to the worst I could always cut and run, blaming the fog of battle for my disappearance, I thought as I was taken out to where Stuart had been waiting with the horses.

‘You’re to come with me Harry. We’ll find you a billet for the night, and see what tomorrow brings’, he said.

As we rode north to where his division was camped we passed through some more rebel units which seemed to have just arrived.

‘Whose troops are these, Jeb ?’, I asked

‘General Jackson’s, Harry, Old Stonewall himself. They’ve just got here after taking Harpers Ferry’.

‘ He’s quite a soldier as well, isn’t he ?’ I said. ‘I’d like to meet him if there’s a chance’.

‘Well, Harry, there he is. Not sure he’s ready for guests yet though’, and he pointed ahead to a group of tents. Outside one of them was a man stood stock still, one arm raised in the air, the other by his side. Damn scruffy he was, too, even in an army poorly equipped in that regard.

‘I can’t see any general, Jeb, just that old tramp stood outside the tent with his arm in the air’, I said.

‘That’s Stonewall, Harry. He thinks he was born with one arm shorter that the other so he does that, sometimes for hours on end, to equalise his circulation. Mad as a rabid skunk, he can be’, and he chuckled at the look on my face.

Chapter Text

As you can imagine the idea of being with Stuart during the forthcoming battle was not to my liking at all. My business required me to be with Lee picking up what intelligence I could until I could slip away to safety and buy my way home. For another thing I’d be far safer with Lee than Stuart, who was madcap enough to ride off to where the fighting was thickest, risking life, limb and sanity at a whim. As it turned out I was safe enough most of the time, though I had, as Lee had suggested, a good view of the overall battle. Still, there were one or two moments that have me feeling queasy even now, over forty years on.

Stuart’s cavalry was stationed on the left wing of Lee’s position, in the north and he’d made use of the high ground there to place his artillery on a hill overlooking any likely advance from Federal forces. His job was to screen the artillery and protect the north flank of Jackson’s corps, which faced northeast. Looking out over the ground in front of Lee’s centre I could see that it was constricted by the Potomac to the west and south, and Antietam creek to the east into perhaps two square miles. Any battle fought there was bound to be at close quarters. There’d been some skirmishing in the woods on the afternoon of the 16th, which gave Lee advanced warning of where the attack might fall first, but the real business started at dawn the next morning.

I’d spent the night in a tent up on the hill with the guns. As the light came up on what looked to be a cool, breezy and overcast day I heard gun fire in the woods below as Union troops advanced through a cornfield towards Jackson’s men stationed south of the forest. As they reached the field Stuart’s guns opened up from enfilade on the heights, while rebel infantry hidden in the cornfield poured volley after volley into the advancing Union men. The field became a scene of bloody slaughter as both sides charged and counter charged while Union guns opened up on Stuart’s artillery in a ferocious duel that seemed to last for hours, and had me scrambling under the ramparts of the rebel position for cover. After about an hour or so the rebels launched a flanking attack from the woods that drove the Union infantry back among their guns, retaking the cornfield. Not that there was any corn left standing – from where I looked down it seemed to be more like a slaughterhouse than a farm. At this point Stuart, having withdrawn many of his guns during the counter battery fire, now had them taken forward to pursue the retreating enemy. He seemed to be looking round for me but I was careful to stay under cover where I could watch the battle develop in some sort of safety.

While the fighting had been developing around the cornfield another Union corps started to advance towards what a whitewashed church just to it’s south east . It didn’t seem to have been co-ordinated with the earlier attack and as that was pushed back Lee was able to move troops down the road running behind the front lines to meet the new attack, as well as bringing up unengaged units from the southern end of the battlefield to hold back the assaults. The whole plan, if there was one, made no sense to me. I could see that the federal forces outnumbered the rebels by quite a margin, yet here was McClellan launching attacks piecemeal and without any co-ordination, on different parts of the line at different times. Had he pressed the entire length of the battlefield he would surely have found a weak point in Lee’s line and broken through.

That seemed to be the way of the battle all day - attacks going in at different places and different times, with bloody counter attacks forcing them back at dreadful cost. Furious fighting continued all morning on the northern end of the battlefield, it’s narrow confines turning it into a killing ground for both sides. About quarter of a mile south of a church ran a narrow sunken farm lane that twisted south, east and then south again. It formed a natural trench that was soon filled with bodies as the Union attempted to take it while the rebels fought like madmen to keep it in their possession.

While this fighting was going on I could see unengaged federal forces in the centre of the battlefield making to attempt to intervene or support the regiments in action, until, at last, around 10 am one corps moved sluggishly forward to attack a bridge over the creek that stood a little to the southwest of Sharpsburg itself. Over the morning they made repeated attempts, at dreadful cost to take the bridge. Eventually, some time around 1 pm their pressure told and they pushed a regiment from Georgia off the bridge and took the ground immediately west of the creek. At the same time the Union assault on the sunken lane also succeeded, as Union infantry seized a knoll overlooking the road and began to enfilade fire down into the Confederate lines. This caused a panic and the entire rebel brigade holding the line streamed back towards Sharpsburg. Lee’s line appeared breached at two points, most dangerously in the centre at the bridge, where a rapid follow up to the success there would have split Lee’s army in two. Now a private soldier could have seen the opportunity, but not McClellan. The advance in the centre stopped while the units that had fought recovered and re-organised when they should have pressed on. But McClellan still had thousands of fresh troops sitting behind the front line, yet seemed to make no attempt to use them to exploit this opportunity.

There was a lull in the fighting then, as both sides took stock, with Lee desperately trying to find enough men to cover the hole which had opened up in the centre of his line. Eventually, in mid afternoon the Federals attacked from in front of the bridge, slowly pushing Jackson’s men back to the outskirts of the little town. It looked for all the world that they were going to succeed, and that even McClellan would see the chance to bring up fresh regiments to break the rebels. It was at that point when another Confederate division appeared as though out of nowhere, and from the south slammed into the side of the Union advance, stopping it in it’s tracks. Some of the rebel’s seemed to be wearing captured blue uniforms, which no doubt added to the confusion, and two Union regiments broke and streamed back to bridge where they managed to stabilise their position on the western side of the creek. It looked to me as though Lee had played his last card, and a determined assault on his position by fresh troops would see him at the end of his rope. Crush his army in the east and Richmond would fall, followed by the rest of the south. Still, McClellan failed to commit his reserves in support of the position at the bridge, and gradually, in the late afternoon, the fighting died away, leaving each side to make the best provision they could for the mass of wounded and injured, and identify and bury the thousands of corpses strewn around the battlefield, most especially in the cornfield and the sunken lane.

As night settled in both sides maintained a cautious truce as they searched for their wounded and exchanged prisoners. Stuart was summoned to Lee’s headquarters for a conference, and to my surprise I was asked to join him - ‘General Lee wants your opinion about the battle, Harry’, said Stuart.

We reached Lee just as Longstreet, who’d commanded the corps in the centre, arrived. As we followed him in Lee stood up and said to him ‘Here’s my old warhorse at last’ with a smile. Lee gestured Stuart and I to seats and began to review the day’s battle. He began by tallying the status of each division, and as he went round his generals and his aides began to work out the scale of losses and the state of his army his face grew more and more mournful. When he reached Hood, whose men had borne the brunt of the initial assault in the north, and asked of his division, Hood simply replied ‘I have no division, General’. At that Lee took off his glasses, shook his head wearily, and gestured for all but the commanders to leave. As I stood to go Lee called me back – ‘Kindly wait, Colonel. I would value your opinion on this day’s grievous work, and what we might expect tomorrow. Now’, he went on, I plan to hold this position tomorrow. I expect a further attack by McClellan. We cannot, as we are, slip away tonight and I do not intend to withdraw during the day, when the Union cavalry may catch us with our backs to them and pin us to the river. Besides, we still have much to do here in carrying the fight to the north so they will realise the foolishness of continuing this war of aggression.’

Well, I was there to gain his good opinion and worm my way into his favour so I decided to risk offering an opinion. ‘With respect, General, I would not expect any further action on McClellan’s behalf’, I said.

‘How so, Colonel ?’, he asked.

‘McClellan is too cautious, sir. He will regard today as a triumph as he has not lost his army and still holds you at bay. He will not want to risk that victory by further aggressive moves. Moreover he is no doubt afraid he faces a far larger force than you have at present – Union intelligence consistently over estimates the size of your army. He’ll be too busy tomorrow telling Washington what a military genius he is to take stock of the overall situation and try to destroy you’, I answered.

‘Well, gentlemen, what do you think of Mr Flashman’s remarks ?’ said Lee, looking round the table.

There was a silence as they thought, then some heads nodded in agreement, and Jeb spoke up – ‘I agree with him, General. From my position today I could see McClellan failed to commit at least two corps and any of his cavalry. I cannot see he has the determination to attack again, after a night where we may have reinforced, if he could not summon the will to attack with all his force when he had so nearly broken our centre at the bridge this afternoon.’ As he spoke more heads nodded, and Lee sighed, turned to me, and said ‘Well, we shall see, but it would seem you have rendered your first service to the Confederacy, Colonel Flashman. I hope you are correct, but we shall still hold our position for the time being, as we take stock of our situation.’

I doubt it was any great surprise to anyone that I was proved right, and the Federal army sat tight all the next day, bar some desultory skirmishing. Not that General Lee was eager for action either. Having look at the scale of slaughter and the depletion of his supplies he realised his army was in no state to take further offensive action and slipped back over the Potomac at Boteler's Ford near Shepherdstown on the night of the 18th, leaving Stuart to go on another madcap ride around the Union army, stealing wagons and supplies. Jubal Early called him the greatest horse thief in history. He hadn’t much time for such adventures, reckoning them a waste of effort, especially when the troops were tired and in need of a rest, not that Old Jube had much good to say about anyone, at any time, of course. Not that I cared overmuch, as Lee kept me with him as he went back into Virginia. You might have thought that McClellan would have followed up on his victory, or at least draw, at Sharpsburg but as ever he sat on his hands and did nothing, allowing the rebels to recuperate from what could have been a disastrous defeat. Lee talked to me a lot over those first few days, as I gradually became his confidante. He’d been impressed by my report the previous autumn on his army, and of course was immensely interested in my knowledge of the Union army. Still, I wasn’t fully admitted to his councils yet so there was little enough I could discover and send back to Pinkerton and his minions. The other part of the job was to mislead and misinform the rebels. I could hardly do that unless I was inside their councils, and it wasn’t going to be something easy to do without being discovered anyway. So I spent my time taking it easy, glad to be out of the firing line while the war continued out in the west, and all around the east, as little battles and skirmishes occurred daily, and waiting to see what chance would bring to let me buy off Lincoln and his threats.

All that suddenly changed within a week or so of the battle, when Lincoln made his emancipation proclamation, freeing all slaves that were in the rebel states. Of course there was outrage among the Confederates, though some took the view that the Yankees might fight for the preservation of the union but not for the abolition of slavery, and that the war would soon end as their troops would desert the field. Others opined that the northerners wouldn’t take kindly to a potential influx of niggers from the south, threatening their jobs, and that would cause the war to end. Everyone knows now how it influenced the situation but it’s effect on me was immediate and considerable.

As soon as he heard the news Lee had me over to his HQ to ask what I thought of the whole idea – he himself looked a little bemused.

‘Well, General’, says I, ‘it’s plain madness. They’re just children – they wouldn’t know what to do with their freedom. Most of ‘em are better off as they are, being looked after. Maybe in a few years, when they’ve been educated, some of ‘em could be freed, but not all, not by a long stretch’. I knew my man, d’you see ? I heard the kindly Lee voice just such opinions, hoping for a peaceful resolution of the slave question in the future. If I agreed with such claptrap he’d be more inclined to listen to me on other things, which was only to my benefit.

‘That is the way I see it, Flashman’, he replied. ‘They are clearly God’s creatures, who we must care for and protect, but they have little intelligence and it is their place to be looked after by the white man. But what of England and France ? Will they now take the North’s part ?’, he asked me.

‘There’ll be some who will, and it will be difficult for either country to recognise the south, now Lincoln has made slavery an issue of the war. That will be its main effect in Europe. If your leaders were hoping for recognition they may have to wait a long time’, I told him.

‘That was my fear – we must win this war quickly now, before the contagion spreads. Given what you said, would you now be willing to help, Colonel, in a more active way ?’, he asked me.

‘General’, I told him, ‘I would do anything to changes things as they are’- and I would, but not quite in the way he thought. With that I was dismissed and I left Lee looking glum and thoughtful. Next day, though, I was summoned again. This time he had Stuart and Stonewall Jackson with him, the latter still looking like he’d slept in the gutter, though this time he wasn’t trying to equalise his circulation by standing on his head, nor was he baying at the moon, fortunately.

‘Flashman’, says Lee, ‘I’ve been in touch with the Secretary of War in Richmond. I’ve told him of your sentiments expressed yesterday, and your desire to play a more active role. He has given his agreement to offering you a commission within the army of the Confederate States of America, working as part of my staff. What do you say ?’

Now I’ve had more commissions than a portrait painter, and most of them damned unwelcome – Sergeant-General in the army of that mad witch Ranavalona in Madagascar was probably the worst of them – but in this case it would see me into the heart of Lee’s planning, so naturally this was one I was happy to take. I’d be in a prime position to find out what I needed and just as important I’d be out of the firing line while doing it. So I smiled, and nodded, and told ‘em ‘I’d be honoured’, at which Jeb beamed widely and produced a complete colonel’s uniform, frock coat, sash, sword and scabbard, trousers and all. Jackson just picked absently at a thread on his upper arm – looking at the state of his uniform I was surprised the sleeve didn’t drop off.

‘With the general’s permission I had this made for you, Harry’, said Jeb. ‘It’s using cloth I took from the Yankees after my latest raid. Try the jacket on’, which I did, and I must say it looked damn well on me. After that it was the rigmarole of swearing an oath (yet another!) to the Confederate States, that I would obey all lawful commands and fight for their honour and freedom etc, etc after which Lee handed me over to his adjutant-general, Colonel Robert Hilton – the man who’d penned the ‘lost order’ I’d picked up in Maryland, though naturally I didn’t mention that.

They kept me busy over the next few weeks, working particularly as liaison with Stuart’s cavalry but I learned enough about their supply state, the casualties and the disposition of their forces to give even McClellan a big enough advantage that he’d have to lever himself and his army out of camp to take them on. The sticky thing was getting the information to him in time for him to use it. Of the list of agents I’d memorised several were in Richmond, which was no real distance by railroad from where the army was camped. Officers were coming and going from the rebel capital all the time, so I reasoned it shouldn’t be too hard to find an excuse to pay a visit myself. All would depend then on which agent was available to pass the information to. Hopefully once I’d made a few visits I’d have done enough for Lincoln to let me off the hook so I could go home at last. After all, the big danger of foreign recognition of the Confederacy had receded since Lincoln’s proclamation in September.

The opportunity soon came and I travelled to Richmond in the company of another staff officer, by the name of Chisholm, to look into the available fodder for Jeb’s cavalry and arrange it’s delivery. The rebels were often forced to live off the land when they campaigned because of their supply situation. Being on home ground Lee was reluctant to start requisitioning supplies from the locals so he sent us back to find what we could in the Confederate capital.

On reaching the city Captain Chisholm invited me to take tea with his wife and family, as Richmond was his home town. As I’d nothing else to do before reporting to the Commissary General – none other than the odious Lucius Northrop I’d met the previous year - the next day, I took him up on his offer. Not that I was looking forward to it but it would have seemed damned rude not to. As we reached his grand house in the very smart Court End neighbourhood – he was from a wealthy plantation family so he knew which side his bread was buttered on – it was all in a hubbub. His wife hadn’t expected him and in his absence had organised a patriotic tea party, at which the principal guest was to be the celebrated actress Patricia Carney, who had won fame in the south for making a toast to Jefferson Davis after a theatrical performance, which resulted in her dismissal from the cast.

Chisholm introduced me to his wife, who was a rather plain, bustling little woman. ‘Do you know, Charles, that Miss Carney is to read to us from various works of patriotic literature ? Won’t that be exciting ?’, she said.

I could have groaned at accepting his invitation when I heard this. It was bound to be as dull as taking tea with the Queen, and the ‘literature’ would be the usual self deceiving rubbish of the holiness of the southern cause, the carpet bagging yankees, and the loyalty of the slaves to their homeland, the south. Still, it did have some compensations, which came mainly in the form of the said actress herself.

She arrived soon afterwards and proved to be quite an attractive lady, in a handsome rather than beautiful sense. She was tall for a woman, with long dark hair tumbling down her back and a wide, open and attractive face. She was also the possessor of a fine set of upper works, which unfortunately were decorously covered, as was the style at such events. You might think my pleasure at meeting her was purely carnal and I have to admit I was getting peckish – I’d not had a woman for a long time – but lust would have to take a back seat, at least for a spell. Patricia Carney was one of Pinkerton’s principal agents in the south.

Of course all the wives there, and the few men, mostly elderly, fawned all over her, which she took with good grace. The readings were as tedious as I supposed but she managed to invest them with enough enthusiasm to thoroughly please her admittedly partisan audience. I was the subject of some attention myself, as an English gentlemen serving in the grey of the Confederacy, with much handshaking and backslapping from the men and shy smiles of approval from the ladies, some of whom were very fetching. Naturally I was introduced to ‘PC’, as everyone called her, after the recital and as we shook hands she tilted her head back and looked me up and down with a lazy languid eye that told me that here was a wanton, and that business and pleasure might mix nicely after all. First though, I had to identify myself to her so that she would know why I was there.

‘A very enjoyable performance’, I said to her. ‘Quite put me in the pink, don’t you know ?’

‘Glad you enjoyed it’, she said, in an accent of the purest south. ‘I play other parts just as well'.

‘Not a doubt of it in the world’, I said. ‘Perhaps I might have a chance to see you perform again, soon.’

‘You never know’, she said. ‘I’m staying at the Powhatan Hotel, corner 11th and Broad streets, opposite City Hall. I expect to be there for the next two weeks. Call on me for tea next time you’re in town and I’ll see what I can do’ and then she turned away to talk to Chisholm’s wife.

Next day, after dealing with the supply question, managing to avoid Northrop while doing so, I made my way to her hotel in the late afternoon. Having established her room was on the first floor I made my way up and knocked on the door.

‘Who’s there ?’ I heard her call.

‘Colonel Flashman.’ I answered. ‘Is it convenient ?’.

The door opened and PC was there. ‘I’ve been expecting you’, she said with a smile. ‘Come in.’ As her clothing was in a state of deshabille it was clear that it wasn’t only secrets we’d be exchanging.

‘Really ?’, I said.

‘Really. James was here a few days ago. He told me you may visit and described you to me so I recognised you the moment I saw you. He didn’t do you justice, though’, she answered with a smile.

‘You and he close, are you ?’, I asked.

‘Very, but not exclusively’, she said.

This was getting more interesting by the minute but I had to keep in mind that all this was just a possible bonus and that the real job was to pass her information, so I said ‘Well, now you have established my bona fides perhaps we can get on with other pressing matters ?’

‘Yes, let’s get that out of the way first, before we move on’, she said, smiling that langorous smile, and she took out a notepad and sat down. It was hard to concentrate with that splendid busom just across the table from me but as I spoke she made swift notes in some sort of ciphered shorthand, so we were soon finished.

‘How soon will Pinkerton get this’, I asked.

‘Within a few days. We have secret couriers available and it’s an easy thing to slip back north if you take care’, she answered. With that she stepped into the bedroom. I hesitated until she called ‘what are you waiting for ?’ so I stepped into the bedroom to find lying on her side on the bed, head propped up on one arm, and covered just by a light gauzey sheet. Clearly I didn’t need another invitation as I threw jacket, boots, trousers and all to the four corners and, yammering lustfully, got her buckled to – it had been months, after all.

Now I’m not immodest about my attraction to the fairer sex and while there’s been a few who’ve turned me down flat, sometimes painfully, if I set my mind to the task there’s not many I can’t charm the clothes off. PC, though, was different. She wasn’t unique but it was unusual for me to hit the motherlode, so to speak, so quickly. I was curious why, so after we’d finished I broached the subject gently.

‘Simple’, she drawled. ‘You’re a good lookin’ fella, and I like doing it. Not much chance in this town as it is, and I talk in my sleep, so I might give myself away. I have to take the opportunity with any decent men like you and James when it comes along.’

Well, it was a compliment in it’s way, I suppose, but not one I’d keep burnished in my memory. After that it was back to business. She had instructions for me to find out if Lee planned any more offensives – campaigning season was coming to an end but it would be just like the old fox to mount a late offensive to catch the federals off guard. With that I took my leave, aiming to get back within a few days to confirm whether or not that there was anything in the offing.

Chapter Text

When I got back to where Lee’s main force was camped, in Winchester, to the northwest of Richmond, I had another surprise, and one which almost derailed me. I’d reported on the availability of fodder and other supplies to Lee’s Quarter Master and was then directed to see the General himself. As I walked up to his tent I could see he was sat outside, being sketched by a familiar figure. When he saw me Lee stood up and called ‘Flashman ! This is an old friend of yours, I believe’, and the artist on the camp stool stood up, and looked round at me. It was Joe Wolseley, who I’d last seen in China. What the devil was he doing here, was my immediate thought, followed by what the devil am I going to tell him ?
‘Good Lord, Flashman, it is you !’ he exclaimed. ‘What are you doing here ?’

‘I could ask the same of you, Joe. You’re surely not here just to sketch, are you ?’ He’d always been a keen artist, young Joe, and was forever sketching and drawing away whenever he got the chance. His talent was all the more remarkable given he’d lost an eye fighting in the Crimea.

‘That’s true enough’, he replied., ’except I’m not in a Confederate colonel’s uniform’.

‘Ah, well, Joe, it’s a long story’, I said, giving him a confidential wink. ‘In the meantime I have to report to the General. I’ll find you later and we can have a talk’.

‘Yes’, said Lee. ‘Please excuse us, Colonel Wolseley. Perhaps you can finish up the sketch later ?’.

After I’d finished my report to Lee I went to find Wolseley. Of first importance was that he hadn’t been through Washington and spoken to Lyons or Prosser there. If he hadn’t I could spin him a tale about being on an official mission – I could hardly tell him I’d been blackmailed by Lincoln to spy for him, after all. If he had, well, I’d need a different story, and I’d have to think fast. So I sought him out and sat down in his tent to have a glass with him. He was still the young, eager and impatient soldier I remembered from China, slim, and with a fair moustache. Never took to his glass eye, though.

‘Now, then, Joe’, says I, ‘if you’re surprised to see me, it’s no more than I am to see you. I’d have expected some warning if it was official business. Been through Washington at all have you ?’

‘No, Harry, it’s not official. I’ve taken a leave of absence to see what’s going on in this unusual war. The Southern army is quite the most interesting I’ve come across’, he replied.

Well, that was one card I could play, official business that he wouldn’t know about, just so long as he’d not been through DC.

‘So how’d you get here then ? T’aint so easy as it once was’, I asked him.

‘I travelled from Canada to Baltimore where I met up with a chap from The Times, name of Lawley. We found people willing to take us down the old smugglers route, then got a boat across the Potomac. Got stopped a few times by Union patrols but we managed to talk our way through. I bypassed Washington altogether’.

‘So you just managed to fetch up at Lee’s HQ from there ?’, I asked.

‘Oh no, Harry. I’d letters of introduction from southerners in Baltimore to Randolph, Secretary for War in Richmond. Once I’d seen him he consented to me visiting Lee, and assigned an officer to escort me. Remarkable man, the General, remarkable. So is General Jackson, Stonewall, they call him, don’t they ? He’s a man soldiers would follow anywhere, I think’.

Aye, they would, thought I, providing he wasn’t standing on his head or hadn’t fallen asleep at the table, halfway through a meal, as he often did.

‘So, Harry. What are you doing here ?’ he asked me.

I looked carefully round, and peeked outside the tent, as though to make sure no one was listening. ‘Well, Joe, if you’d been to the Ministry in Washington and seen some of the senior wallahs there you’d know more, and I’d be able to tell you more. As it is, it’s government business and I can’t say more than that, in case it goes tutti-putti. Can you trust me on it, Joe ?’

‘If I can’t trust Harry Flashman then there’s no man in the army, or even the entire empire I can trust. I’ll say nothing to anyone’, he said with a smile. He thought he knew me well, you see, and why shouldn’t he ? He knew what I’d been through and how I’d sweated and bleed for my medals and reputation. He wasn’t to know that it was all done unwillingly, and even if it was unwilling, I’d done it, and a damn sight more he didn’t know of, for queen and country. Anyway, that little problem was settled, and as Joe was heading back north to Canada, where he was stationed, the following day, we stayed up prosing about old times late into the night.

I was kept busy the next few weeks working on Lee’s plans for another invasion of the north but when he submitted it to Richmond they turned it down flat. This was just the sort of thing that PC needed to hear of so I found another reason to visit her and mixed business with pleasure most enjoyably. Over that time I began to squire her about regularly and we became quite celebrated in Richmond society, the famous actress and the dashing English colonel, fighting for the southern cause. At one stage Chisholm took it on himself to warn me about PC, saying that while she was a distinguished heroine of the Confederacy it was thought she had a reputation that was not quite ‘respectable’, as he put it. I could have given him chapter and verse on that, of course. She was an enthusiastic and accomplished bed partner and we thrashed the mattress with a healthy regularity. Not one of my top women, or even in the second rank, but a pleasing partner all the same. While I was eagerly satisfying my animal lust, as Mr Lincoln would say, the war rumbled on, with fighting mainly out to the west.

October in Richmond can be very warm and pleasant so on one of my visits we took a stroll to one of the parks on the edge of the city, walking through the quiet woodlands, which were quite empty. Turning off the path we found a little clearing where some big logs had been split to make little wooden seats. I checked carefully around but there was no sight or sound of anything nearby except small woodland animals. It was very relaxing with the autumn sunshine breaking through the trees so we sat down and I quietly began to recount the latest intelligence to PC who noted it down in the usual cipher. There’d been some interesting changes in commanders and there was all the usual low level stuff about new regiments that is the bedrock of all military intelligence. We’d been at it about 10 minutes or so and were nearly done when all of a sudden a voice out of nowhere said ‘I ricken I dun heard ‘nuff, now’. Out of the trees stepped a rebel private soldier, and he was pointing a pistol at us.

‘Now, lady’, he says, ‘put them papers down real careful on the seat theyre, an’ step away. You, mister, don’t you mek a move’. As PC put her notes down on the stool and stepped away he edged carefully around the clearing and picked up the papers.

‘All ciphered up’, he said, glancing at PC’s notes. ‘That don’t make no mind. I heard ‘nuff what you bin sayin’ to make th’army look at this to see whit it says’.

‘What the devil’s your game ?’ I bellowed at him, though my bowels were quaking again. ‘How dare you hold up a senior officer and a lady like this !’ He looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t quite place him.

‘Yure no offser, yure jist a dirty, lowdown, Yankee spy. Whin I gets you ta th’army you’ll hang. You may too, lady, an’ fer that I’m sorry’, he said. They do take their precious southern manners too far sometimes, don’t you think ?

Still, I couldn’t place him. It was there in the back of my mind as I thought frantically where I might have seen him and how I could get myself out of this fix, for it was as plain as a pikestaff that he was right, and that I’d be topped, with no end of volunteers willing to tug on the rope as well, if I didn’t escape.

He noticed my stare and grinned with pleasure, revealing a mouth full of blackened and broken teeth. Scrawny little wretch, too.

‘Yure wunderin’ whys I’m here and how I knows to track you, ain’t ye, mister ?’, he said. Without waiting for me to answer he carried on. ‘Well, I dun heard o’ this fancy English soljer serving our General Lee, and the famous lady he bin seen about with so much so I reckined I’d see who they wus. Soon as I saw you I recignised you – you were the one that saved that general at Shiloh, that I was about ta kill. I knew then you weren’t no friend o’the south an’ I’ve bin watchin’ you, till you given yusself away. ‘

Suddenly I recognised him – he was the sharpshooter who’d shot me in the arse when I stumbled into Grant ! He should be dead, or at least a thousand miles away from Richmond, not sneaking around the place spying on me. Of all the confounded bad luck ! I started to wish I’d kept my head down and not been seen about so much with PC, but it was too late for that now.

He smiled again and motioned us to the path. ‘I’m takin’ you in now, an’ we’ll see whit we’ll see. I rickin I’ll be made corpral cos o’ this’.

I thought of making a run for it there and then but in the clearing he’d have put a bullet in my back before I’d gone 10 feet. Maybe I’d get a chance on the path, perhaps shove PC into him and take off through the woods. He’d still have her to take in and by the time they got a search party together it would be dark. If I could evade them till then I should be safe enough. Shame for her of course, she was a fine mount, but I’d be away safe and that’s what mattered.

As we moved towards the path PC essayed a little stumble. Being the well brought up southern boy he was he automatically moved to catch her fall and as his attention shifted briefly from me I took my chance and swung my right fist at him, catching him hard on the side of the head. He went sprawling, the gun flying from his hand onto the path. He was up on all fours in no time and scrambling after the pistol but just before he reached it PC was there, kicking it away from his grasp. By then I‘d caught up with him and as he turned to face me I crashed into him and knocked him flat on his back, with me on top of him. It should have been no contest really, because like all the rebel foot soldiers he was no real size, and must have been less than ten stone – fourteen stone of a desperate Flashy landing on him should have knocked the stuffing out of him. I pounded his figurehead for all I was worth but he was a fighter and fought back as hard as he could, trying to gouge my eyes. In desperation I grabbed the nearest thing to hand, a small rock, and crashed it into his temple. His hands dropped away, and he went limp under me, dead as a doornail.

I shoved myself off him and stood up, breathing heavily and sweating like a racehorse. Still, there was no time to waste, I had to hide the body somewhere as soon as may be. I looked around but at that time of the day, late afternoon, it was still all quiet, with no sign of anyone else about. I quickly dragged him off the path by his jacket into the deeper woods, with PC stumbling after me.

I stopped soon after we were out of sight of the path, about two hundred yards in, dumped his body in the hollow at the base of a tree, and started to gather bracken and fallen branches to cover him up. PC joined me and we quickly had him well hidden. No one would spot him there, and soon enough the animals in the wood would find him and by the time they’d finished with him his own mother wouldn’t recognise him. Callous, ye might think, but he’d pulled a gun on me so he deserved all he got. I emptied his pockets of all paper and anything that would identify him, which, after a brief glance, I carefully burned. It seems that he’d been on sick leave, which explains why he was in Richmond instead of being with his regiment.

PC was looking anxious, though she’d kept her nerve through all this – she was made of stern stuff, that girl. ‘Harry’, she said ‘what if they miss him? What if he’s told someone else?’

‘They’ll just think he deserted. Dozens do every day, I’ve seen the figures, believe me’, I replied. Still, whether he told someone else was a question that had occurred to me. Thinking about it I decided he hadn’t. If he had surely he’d have brought someone with him to back him up and we’d have been well and truly scuppered. No, this little weasel wanted the credit himself and got his just reward, served the selfish bugger right. Share and share alike, that’s always been my motto. Still, it was time to leave the vicinity, on the off chance someone started nosey parkering around. We repaired to a place a few hundred yards from the scene of the crime, as they say now, and I attended to my toilet, using PC’s box of tricks in her bag. I’d no visible damage so it was mainly a case of cleaning myself up. My coat wasn’t torn but it was marked and dirty. Fortunately the night was coming on so once I’d got the worst stains from it you’d have to look hard to see anything, as long as I kept out of the light. All in all, though, it had been a close call, and I need to get indoors and have a drink to steady my nerves, so skirting the edge of the wood we made our way carefully back to the hotel. Once back there I said to PC to be sure to add what had happened to her report – with any luck they’d think it too risky to leave me there and I’d be able to get away with their blessing.

As you might guess I’d steered clear of Richmond for a time until it was clear there was no hue and cry, and no search for his body. Sure enough his name came up on a list of soldiers missing and presumed deserted after a few weeks, which set my mind at rest. But while Lee and his army were sitting pat in Northern Virginia the news I’d sent back to Pinkerton lit a slow fuse that was to end in a disastrous battle for the Union, as they decided to take the offensive.

Chapter Text

Following Antietam Lincoln had tried to prod McClellan into pursuing and destroying Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which they could have done had they acted quickly. But of course McClellan couldn’t be moved and came up with his usual set of excuses about supplies, numbers of men, and probably that his personal latrine was in for mending so that he wouldn’t have to take any action. Lincoln, who’d shown the patience of a saint, finally snapped sometime in November, replacing him with one of his subordinates, Ambrose Burnside. Of course the news soon made its way south very quickly – clearly Pinkerton hadn’t pinched all the Confederate spies yet - and caused Lee to call his senior commanders together. As I was now one of his senior staff men I was in attendance at the conference.

‘Gentlemen’, he began, ‘I believe that the news that Mr Lincoln has replaced his commander will mean further action from the Federal army before winter begins to bite. Having replaced one commander with another, he will be eager to see that his new general has both the will and the stomach to take the fight to the South as soon as possible. I don’t doubt that he is urging Burnside to mount an offensive before the month is out. General Burnside, too, will wish to show his mettle and prove that he is a worthy commander of the Northern forces. From our network of informants in the north we know that the Federal army is being readied for action and is beginning to concentrate near Warrenton. Their intentions are unclear but we must be ready to take the initiative once their objective is known. We cannot let them take the lead. We must pursue, divide and harry them before any offensive can build up its momentum’. With that he dispatched them back to their commands, with orders to be ready to move at a day’s notice.

Of course Lee was right – as he usually was – and the Army of Potomac began to move in the middle of the month, marching to the small town of Falmouth in Virginia, on the Rappahannock River, near to Fredericksburg. Lee sent Longstreet’s First Corps there a few days later, anticipating a battle somewhere to the north of Fredericksburg. But for some reason the Union army was slow in building up its strength and Lee then determined that any battle would take place around Fredericksburg itself, and moved to concentrate the Army of Northern Virginia there. I found myself despatched to Jackson, who’d taken his Second Corps back into the Shenandoah Valley, with orders for him to join Longstreet in Fredericksburg. ‘Request the general to make all speed to join up with First Corps at Fredericksburg’, Lee told me,’ and attach yourself to his command for the time being’. While I was riding with a small escort to Jackson, Longstreet was moving into Fredericksburg, on the opposite side of the river to where the Union build up was continuing.

I reached Jackson sometime in the last week of November and presented Lee’s orders to him, with the compliments of the commander in chief. Now what I’ve said about Jackson may have given you an idea that he was a little strange, or even somewhat unusual, so this is the place to put things straight. Thomas J ‘Stonewall’ Jackson wasn’t a bit odd or strange, or even unusual. He was as mad as a bag of badgers. It wasn’t just his hypochondria, or even his religious mania – he wouldn’t post a letter if it would be in transit on a Sunday, though he had no compunction about fighting on the Sabbath. No, either or both of those things could be discounted as mere quirks shared by many other men. Stonewall Jackson was a maniac about everything from his dress to the way he commanded. I mentioned he could look like a tramp – he refused to wear a fine new uniform his great friend Jeb Stuart had had made for him, thinking such things were mere fripperies. He was notoriously aloof from his commanders, and drove them mad by keeping them in the dark about his plans. He’d have ‘em march all over the place and then make them wait for further orders until he felt it was time to send them, so they’d no idea of his overall strategy. A stern disciplinarian, his notion of a man’s duty was that he should fight and pray, and the intensity of his gaze earned him the nickname "Old Blue Light" and added to the feeling that he wasn’t quite sane. All in all he was as fine a lunatic as you’d find this side of Bedlam Hospital. But outweighing all this were his abilities as a fighter and commander. He kept Union forces nearly four times his number busy in the Shenandoah that year, eventually driving them all out and bringing consternation to the North. Lee called him his right arm, and tolerated all of his eccentricities because of it. Jeb Stuart counted him as his close friend, and admired his fighting spirit. All things considered, though, I hoped that I wouldn’t be too long in the company of this mad and dangerous martinet.

When I went into his headquarters with Lee’s orders he was standing bolt upright against the tent pole, despite there being plenty of chairs about. He wanted his organs to be placed in what he called their natural position, one on top of the other, and often stood that way for hours on end.
Noticing me after a moment, he stirred himself and said ‘Welcome, Flashman. You have orders, or at least some news, for me ?’
‘Yes, sir. Orders from General Lee’ I said, as I passed them to him.

He tore the envelope open almost feverishly and as he read on he began to smile more and more, his eyes glinting in the light of the lamps. Coming to the end he looked up at me and asked if I knew the contents of the orders, and as I nodded he smiled again.

‘Battle calls, Colonel. An army does not win by staying in camp and building earthworks, but going out to strike the enemy, pursuing and destroying him wherever he may be. With God’s will that is what we shall do again before this year is out. We will strike camp first thing tomorrow. It will be a hard march but the earlier we join Longstreet the better it will be. I would rather lose one man in a march that way than lose five men in battle for want of speed. Attend on my staff and I promptly at dawn tomorrow. In the meantime an orderly will show you to where you can rest’, and with that he dismissed me and went back to his pole standing.

True to his word the whole command was up and off first thing in the morning, heading north westwards to join up with Longstreet. You never saw a scruffier army in your life, but for all their untidiness they marched with a speed and eagerness you’d be hard put to see in regiment of the Guards, sometimes covering up to 30 miles a day and earning the nickname of Jacksons’s Foot Cavalry. As things turned out he could have saved his men the effort. When 2nd Corps arrived at Fredericksburg at the end of the month little had happened. The Union army was still on the opposite side of the river, building its strength up slowly, for all the world as those McClellan was still in charge, sitting on his hands and sending messages and excuses back to Washington.

How slow they had been we got a picture of when Jackson took us to meet James Longstreet in his HQ. ‘I tell you Jackson, I don’t know who they got in charge over there, but he’s no quicker than old slowcoach was’, said Longstreet. ‘They’ve been sittin’ over there for over two weeks now, with not a sign of a crossing, though they’re clearly preparing for it. They could have crossed on the 17th or 18th, when we had barely a regiment here to oppose them but they didn’t. I’ve been here over a week with just half our strength, and they still haven’t crossed. If we want to fight them we may end up going over there !’, he continued, laughing.

‘I doubt General Lee would approve of an offensive like that’, said Jackson, joining in the general hilarity. ‘But I can see you’ve used the time to prepare your defences well’.

‘I’ve fortified Marye’s Heights behind the town, and further along south behind a stone wall, facing an open field about a quarter mile across. It’s covered by Alexander’s guns. He tells me a chicken couldn’t live on that field if we open fire on it’, replied Longstreet.

‘You’ll know that General Lee’s orders are for me to link up with your defences to the south, and cover a possible crossing of the river south of town. I hope I get as much time to prepare defences as you have had’, said Jackson, and with that we went back to where his corps was deploying, on the hills south of a tributary of the Rappahannock, Deep Run, with the Richmond and Potomac railroad to our front.

Stonewall got his time to prepare, and plenty of it. We must have had more than a week watching the Federal army build up across the river, with devil of a sign they were about to cross, though cross they must. As time went by Jackson got more and more agitated, impatient for the coming fight. At one stage I thought he might go to Lee and demand that the rebels take the offensive. I’d seen he was a fire eater, of course, but that was no reason to abandon a strong position. I said to Jeb that he seemed remarkably ready to put himself at risk unnecessarily.

‘Ah, Harry, you don’t know the General yet’, he answered. ‘Stonewall believes he is as safe on the battlefield as he is in his bed. He thinks God has already fixed the time of his death, and he is always prepared to meet it, wherever and whenever it may be’. Not a comforting notion, you’ll agree, if your duty happens to keep you alongside him. Well, thinks I, I’d best take a care when I attend on Jackson. He might be prepared to meet his maker but that doesn’t mean he needed a travelling companion who wasn’t.

At last, though, Burnside or whoever was in charge stirred himself and around the 11th December Union engineers began to assemble pontoon bridges in three places across the river. They came under punishing fire from rebel sharpshooters until they put troops across by boat to gain a bridgehead and clear out the rebel snipers. The rebels fell back into Fredericksburg under heavy artillery fire and there was vicious street fighting as the Yankees pursued them through the town. The main force of the enemy then crossed the river and deployed for the forthcoming battle. Needless to say, Stonewall Jackson was beside himself with delight. Still, he had to wait two days longer for the Union to begin their assault, until sometime after 8 am on the 13th, when it was barely daylight, and mist still shrouded the battlefield, and they came forward to attack the defences Jackson had set up over the preceding days.

As the Union troops covered the mile between themselves and Jackson’s lines a battery of just two rebel guns to their left flank opened fire and caused the Federal troops to take cover where they could. The battery held up the advance for around an hour or so, though it was reduced to one gun by Union fire, until it ran out of ammunition. From where I stood with Jackson I could see the blue uniforms rise up from the cold hard ground and resume their advance towards a wood in the centre of his line. As they drew near to the railroad a battery of rebel guns in the trees opened fire, forcing them to ground again. Jackson grunted and said ‘That’ll hold them for a while, but I expect counter battery fire from the Yankees to commence soon’. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the first shells from the Union artillery began to land among the trees where the rebel battery was hidden. The two sides pounded away at each other for an hour, with the Union giving as good as they got and better, as they hammered the trees with their guns. Fortunately we were well away from the action – if you’ve seen what wood splinters sliced from trees by cannon fire can do to flesh you’ll know what I mean. Not just men but the draught horses for the guns were being cut to ribbons as the shells came over in a seemingly never ending rain, crashing down into the trees and sending sharp splinters of wood, flying at the speed of a bullet and sharp as a dagger, amongst the unfortunate men and animals there.

All of sudden a shell hit a rebel ammunition wagon amongst the trees, which exploded like a thunderclap in their lines. The blue coated troops took advantage of all the noise and confusion it caused and rose from cover, charging for the wood with bayonets fixed, yelling fit to burst their lungs. They disappeared from view and Jackson turned his attention for a moment to the other enemy units that were beginning to flood onto the battlefield, anxious in case other regiments came on behind the troops who entered the wood to reinforce their success. He was soon obliged to turn back to the wood, though, as an officer from South Carolina’s in there hurried up and reported that his general had been seriously wounded and his brigade had been pushed out by the Union forces who now held a high point in the centre of the Confederate lines. He responded by sending a runner to Jubal Early with orders to drive the northerners out. This was the crucial point at this end of the battlefield – if the Union could hold and reinforce that point sufficiently they would split the defences and could roll up Jackson’s command in short order. That would dislocate the southern end of Longstreet’s defences and expose his flank to attack. But it seemed the steam had run out of the Union advance, and a little later the rebels pushed them out of the woods and back across the Fredericksburg road. At one point it looked as though Early would pin them to the river and destroy them totally but the Union artillery opened fire in strength and they were forced to give up the chase.

While this had been going on we could hear the sounds of fighting at the northern end of the battlefield, where Longstreet’s men held the strongly defended positions on Marye’s Heights and behind the wall that bordered the sunken road. Jackson began to fret as some fog still lay about the battlefield. He couldn’t be sure he had beaten off the attack completely and he couldn’t see clearly whether he should reinforce Longstreet to the north. He’d no specific orders from Lee on this as the general always gave his commanders a great deal of latitude in conducting a battle, so he could only wait until he had a clearer picture of the battle or he received fresh orders.
The sounds of firing was continuous, though most it was further to the north, where federal troops were obviously trying to rush the heights west of the river, which looked down onto the town itself. I skulked quietly behind Jackson, congratulating myself on, for once, keeping far from harm’s way. He was still fretting away, desperate for more information, so desperate in fact that he hit on a lunatic way to get it and dragged a damn unwilling Flashy along to help.

After a brief and whispered conversation with his chief intelligence wallah the man strode away and a little later returned with a young officer in tow, who strode up to Jackson, saluted and said ‘She’s ready, General, sky looks clear now’. I looked at him curiously, to see what was going on. He was clad in some unusual one piece uniform, almost like an overall, of a type I’d never seen before.

‘Good’, said Jackson. ‘You’ll need an experienced officer to go with you, one who can read the ground, count opposing forces, and spot the main points of attack’. To my horror he turned around and pointed at me. ‘Colonel, go with Lt Brady here. I want a report on the conditions all along the front as far as you can see. Be back here as soon as you can’.
There was little I could say but ‘Yes, sir’ as I hitched up my sword and pistol. Hopefully, if it was just a little reconnaissance I could go along the rear of the line, taking reports from the various commanders on their situation while keeping a safe distance from the firing. Curiously, as I started to tighten my sword belt Brady said, with a smile,
‘Best leave that behind, Colonel. Don’t want no accidents now, do we?’, and he stepped out of the tent, as I hurried along after him. Strangely, instead of heading towards the line he started walking towards the rear, where all the wagons and unwanted gear were parked.

‘You’re going the wrong way’, I called after him, and he turned, stopped to wait for me and said, ‘This way, Colonel. You’ll soon see git to where we’re goin’.
After a few moments walk we went round a barn and there, in a field, was a large, multicoloured balloon, tethered just above the ground, with a basket attached. It was made of strips of silk cloth, orange, pink, green, blue, red – every colour you could think of stitched together like some nightmarish giant teacloth.

I absolutely said ‘Christ Almighty! You’re not expecting me to get into that are you? It sticks out like a sore thumb. We’ll be a target for every Yankee soldier for half a mile around!’

‘No call to worry, Colonel’, he said. ‘We don’t need to go over the lines. We can stay a half a mile back and see all we need to see from there. When we’re in the basket the balloon will be tied to that wagon there, and once the wagons have walked us to near the line we’ll spin out the rope and float up to a couple a thousand feet or so. Horses and wagon will see us steady and you’ll have a fine view. We won’t stay up too long, though. Air’s cold today and as the balloon cools we’ll start to drift down. No way of refilling her up there’. With that he climbed into the basket and I followed reluctantly. The rope tethering us to the ground was loosened slightly and we floated about twenty feet up, while soldiers carefully tied us to the wagon using two separate ropes. Then we set off slowly for the front line. Once we reached a point a few hundred yards behind the lines we stopped, the horses were tethered, and the ropes were slowly paid out from the wagon so the balloon rose gently up. I’d got over my nerves somewhat by now, so I stepped to the basket’s edge, and leaning over carefully, looked out.

As young Brady had promised I could see all of the battle as clear as you like. There were columns of little figures rushing about, cannons flashing, and officers looking through telescopes, the light flashing off the lenses, from the rear as they tried to direct the battle. They looked for all the world like toy soldiers, except that toy soldiers don’t bleed red blood, or have limbs shredded off, and can usually be set to stand up after a battle, no matter what’s supposed to have happened to them. Still, it felt quite eerie to be so high above the battle where it was peaceful and still, watching the slaughter going on below. It was damn cold though - it had been cold on the ground and got colder still as we drifted up. It was a good job I’d taken Brady’s advice and put my gloves on. As we stopped climbing there was a slight tug downwards and I took out my binoculars and began to spot the Union forces and their movements, while Brady made notes. All seemed to be going swimmingly and I was beginning to enjoy myself until there was a loud crash from beneath us, the balloon jerked sickeningly and we both fell to the bottom of the basket as it started drift eastwards in the gentle breeze, towards the battle lines.

Brady was first up and peering over the basket edge. ‘My stars, the wagon and horses have gone!’, he shouted. As I looked over I could see just a smoking ruin a little behind us, where the wagon had been, getting further and further away as we got closer to the front line.

‘Must have been a cannon shell!’, I shouted. ‘Can you steer us back the other way?’

Brady shook his head grimly. ‘Steering and control’s all done by the wagon. All I can do is a change our height some, by throwing out the ballast’.

By this time we were over the federal troops just behind their front line – we must have seemed as big as an elephant as we flew over them. A few optimistic souls took pot shots at us as we passed but they went harmlessly by, until some idiot had the idea to have a company fire a volley at us. As they swung their rifles up I dropped to the floor of the basket – not that there was any protection there, but hopefully they would be aiming at the balloon to bring us down, rather than the basket. Brady plumped down beside me as we heard the balls scream past the basket – one came through the floor, neatly bisecting the few inches of space between us. Most missed the balloon as well, but maybe half a dozen rent great holes in the silk and the air began to rush out as we started to descend quicker and quicker. Brady was up like a scalded cat, looked out, and in a panic began to throw all the ballast out over the side. It made a difference, but we only rose a few feet before we stared to descend again, at a faster rate this time.

I looked out of the basket, clinging tightly to a rope in case the basket tipped over to one side and threw me out. The ground seemed to be coming up at a sickening rate, as we plummeted towards it. Brady shouted ‘We gotta lose more weight’ but there was nothing I could see left to throw out. Then the answer came to me in one of those moments of crystal clarity that have saved my life I don’t know how many times. I stepped to where he was leaning over the edge, grasped his belt firmly, and with a quick movement, threw him over the side. He shrieked as he went over, and as he cart wheeled through the air to the ground I could hear him screaming all the way down, which didn’t take very long, though no doubt he had a different perspective on it. That changed things most satisfactorily. The balloon surged up as the weight was lost – he must have been all of twelve stone – and then, as the air continued to leak, settled back to descend but at a much slower rate now, quite gently in fact. No greater love hath I for a man than for he whose life I have laid down to preserve my own. It wasn’t my idea to get in the blasted thing, after all, and a captain should go down with his ship, even if he gets there before it.

I was about three miles behind the Union lines by now, well away from the firing and with no one else seemingly in sight, as the basket plumped down gently into open grassland, then turned on its side, pitching me out as the canopy billowed gently down over me. I struggled free of it, gathered my wits, and began to make my way carefully back to rebel lines, skirting the battle and taking cover from sight when I heard any noise.

It must have been past eight in the evening when I found my way back to Jackson’s HQ. By this time the firing had ceased though it wasn’t silent by any means. As I was shown in to see him I could see he had, as usual at night, draped his belly with cold towels to relieve what he said was dyspepsia. He looked a damn sight colder than I was, and I was freezing. He looked up and said ‘Heard about the balloon. Thought you were dead or captured. Lt Brady?’

‘Killed in the crash, sir’, I answered – which in a way he was.

He looked reflectively at his belly, sucked on another lemon (his dyspepsia again) and said ‘Very commendable. Very commendable’, and proceeded to tell me how the battle had gone in my absence.

‘’Well’, he said, as I sat down with a hot coffee to warm me up, ‘we beat them, and beat them bloody. Brave, brave men, even though they are the enemy, but badly handled throughout. While you were off in the balloon the fighting shifted north to Longstreet and I was able to move half my command up to support him on the Heights. The Yankees must have tried to storm them more than a dozen times but we cut them down every time. The position was too strong and Burnside attacked it piecemeal. Even if he’d launched greater numbers it likely would still have failed, but it was pure foolishness to attack the way he did. I don’t know their losses but they are far in excess of ours, and will likely be more before the night’s over. There’s hundreds and hundreds of wounded men lying out in the cold who’ll not live through the night, unless they get help’.

I could see that. As I’d moved carefully through the dark back to Jackson’s camp I could hear the moans and cries of wounded men, calling for help, water, their mothers, or whispering their sweetheart’s name and all the while the cries got quieter and quieter as they lapsed into that final cold sleep. Why more wasn’t done to help ‘em I don’t know. Not that it crossed my mind to lend a hand. I’d seen enough death for the day to go seeking for more, and how many could I have saved anyway?

Next day the Confederates stood to first thing, in case of another attack but Burnside had clearly done enough damage to his command not to want to inflict more. A truce was arranged so the Federal army could collect it’s casualties that afternoon and the next day they retreated back across the river to the east bank, no doubt with their morale in their boots, yet again.

Chapter Text

Of course, while the South was jubilant over the victory at Fredericksburg, causing wild celebration and hysterical headlines, in the North the mood couldn’t have been more different. In an effort to restore his reputation and the army’s morale Burnside embarked on another offensive against Lee towards the end of January. He crossed the Rappahannock in mild weather but this soon changed as the rain came down and saturated the unmade roads, turning them into a quagmire through which men struggled up to their knees in mud, while wagons and cannon were completely bogged down, to the great amusement of the rebel army watching. Eventually he had to retreat back across the river with nothing accomplished. While there were no great casualties it was the final nail in Burnside’s coffin, and by the end of the month the Army of the Potomac had yet another commander in chief. I wasn’t there to see this mud march, though. Anticipating a lull in the fighting through the winter Lee had sent me on another hare brained mission, one he told me would suit my ‘special qualities’ – how many times have I heard that, I asked myself ?

PC had left Richmond for the west soon after our encounter with the rebel soldier in the woods, which was a disappointment to me in more than one way, though I could hardly blame her, in the circumstances. She’d passed me on to another agent, an elderly chap, and it was obviously more difficult to find reasonable excuses to visit someone like him instead of squiring PC around town. Given our rather different relationship he also showed no eagerness to press my cause with Pinkerton for a release from spying for him. ‘Ain’t no good askin’ me, mister’, he said. ‘They’ll tell me when you kin go. As far as I kin see that won’t be till war’s over’, a prospect which filled me with despair. So when Lee summoned me to a meeting with him and the rebel’s intelligence chief, a Major Norris, it offered the prospect of getting away from Richmond and Virginia for a while – at least until I found out what the plan was.

Lee and Norris weren’t alone. Sat with them was a young chap, in his mid-twenties I suppose, well dressed, with jet black hair and an ivory skin. He stood up as I entered Lee’s tent, and I could see he was about middle height, and lean, but athletic looking with it.

‘Colonel’, said Norris, making the introductions, ‘this is Mr John Wilkes Booth. You may have heard of him. As well as a famous actor he is a great southern patriot. He has a plan to aid us in this war of liberty in which we think you may be able to play an important part’. At this Wilkes extended a slim hand to shake mine firmly, smiled briefly, nodded, and sat down.

‘I’ll do anything I can to see this war to a favourable outcome’, I said, as I took a seat. ‘What has Mr Booth in mind ?’

‘Best he explain it to you, Flashman’, said Lee. ‘Now, gentlemen, I have other business to attend to, so I will leave you to your discussions’. With that he left the tent, and left me feeling queasy. Like Lyons he didn’t want to sully himself with any intriguing, and that was a plain sign that whatever this actor chap had in mind, I wasn’t going to like it. Norris nodded to Booth, who began to speak.

‘First, Colonel, let me declare my admiration for your loyal and I’m told valuable service to our noble cause. Many of your countrymen are serving with us, seeing the justice of our fight, but none, I believe, has served with more distinction than yourself’. Buttering me up, d’ye see ? A surer indication that there’s some madcap scheme in the offing you’ll never find.

‘You are very generous, Mr Booth’, I replied. ‘How may I be of service to the cause on this particular occasion ?’

‘You’ll acknowledge, Colonel, that the man who instigated this war, and who seeks to oppress a people who merely want to be free, and who desire nothing from the Union other than that, is a despot of the worst kind’, he replied. I must have looked baffled for he went on, ‘Mr Lincoln, who styles himself President of the United States, has waged an illegal war on a free people, invaded their independent homeland without good reason, and caused death and suffering on a degree never witnessed in this fair land before’. He was clearly getting warmed up, for he went on, ‘In addition, he has now proposed the freeing of the blacks so that they should have the same rights in our country, a land made and destined for the white man to own and rule !’

By this time there was a wild light in his eye and I was thinking to myself, aye, aye, Flash, we’ve got ourselves another first rate, copper bottomed, wild eyed fanatic here – not that I interrupted him, as he was in full flow, striding back and forth in front of us, arms waving around in the air. I could see why he was a thespian, though in my experience, which is considerable, there isn’t much difference between the actor and the politician. Still, there was no stopping him, and I sat back to see what else he had to say, glancing at Norris, who, from time to time, rolled his eyes upwards at some particular piece of idiocy. Eventually he came to an end, declaiming that Lincoln was ‘Sir, a despot even to his own people, throwing opponents in jail without trial, and suspending habeas corpus ! This country has not brought forth a man so despicable, so unfit to rule, and so without principle as Mr Abraham Lincoln ! I intend to deal with him as he should be, without delay and with the justice that he so clearly deserves’.

‘Good God’, says I, ‘You’re not planning to assassinate him, are you ? I’ll have no part in murder !’

‘Nothing so gross, Colonel’, Booth replied, somewhat calmer now. ‘I simply intend to abduct Lincoln and bring him to face justice in the free Confederate States of America, as a criminal of war. It is his duty as commander in chief to ensure that his subordinates conduct themselves in a civilized manner during an armed conflict. The ransacking of Fredericksburg by his army in the recent battle is but one example for which he is ultimately responsible. He will not face the justice he deserves in the corrupted courts of the north, so he must face it in the south’.

It’s not often I’m lost for words, but this time all I could do was stare at him, my jaw working, but no sound coming out, as I thought of the sheer imbecility of the idea of kidnapping Lincoln.

Norris spoke first.

‘It’s a bold plan, Colonel, as you clearly think. But while difficult, it’s not impossible. Mr Booth has worked on it for some time. All we require to set it in motion is a suitable opportunity, which could come at any time, and which we must be ready for’.

‘Bold ?’ says I. ‘It’s not bold, it’s lunatic. Even if you get past his guards, how are you going to get him out of Washington ? It’s crawling with Federal troops. How do you expect to avoid them ?’

‘Lincoln has but one guard, a US marshal named Lamon, who is not really a marshal but a friend of Lincoln’s appointed so, to allow him to carry a firearm to protect the criminal. He is untrained, fat, and useless, and will present no obstacle’. This was Booth talking now. He went on ‘Washington would present problems, of that there is no doubt, though I have accomplices and places of safety in the city, which we can use to aid our escape if necessary. Did Major Norris not say this had been long planned ? But that is a last resort. Lincoln often travels out of Washington to visit his commanders and troops to the south and west of the city. He has little guard on these journeys. That is when we will seize him. He will even help us by making our return to Richmond that much shorter. All we need is an indication a few days in advance of one of these visits, so we can refine our plan. We have many agents there who will be able to discover this and warn us’.

‘Suppose you succeed and get him to Richmond ?’, I said. ‘What good will that do ? The federal army will still exist, the war won’t stop because Lincoln isn’t there’.

‘I remind you, Colonel Flashman, that the main purpose of this is justice, to put the criminal aggressor Lincoln on trial for the world to see’, said Booth. ‘If that was all that happened it would still be a noble undertaking. But remember there are many of our northern brethren who oppose the war – the Copperheads for example. There are many others who are now sick of the slaughter, though they may have been in favour of the war at first. Add to them those who oppose emancipation of the negro, for which cause they did not agree to fight. Lincoln now also talks of conscripting men to the army – there will be little enthusiasm for that. The war is held together in the face of all this opposition by one man – Lincoln himself. Without him there the North’s war effort will splinter and collapse’.

‘Whether or not you succeed, I don’t see why you need me’. I said. At this Norris piped up again.

‘You have the required skills as a soldier and conspirator. But more than that, the involvement of a famous and gallant officer of another power in this enterprise will show the world that it is not just a partisan undertaking, but that the aggression being waged on the Confederacy is one that disgusts all decent men, wherever they may be from. Nevertheless, General Lee has determined that there is no compulsion upon you, and that participation must be a voluntary decision of your own’.

It never ceases to surprise me how many people think the lauded Flashy’s participation will lend lustre to their schemes. After all, apart from popular fame, which was mainly in England, I wasn’t really that important, and there were plenty who knew me for what I really was, at least in terms of my womanising and carousing. Still, an idea was beginning to grow in my mind that made me think more seriously about this hare brained scheme, which I’d normally dismiss out of hand. So I said ‘Well, gentlemen, I’ll need to know more detail when the time comes, so I can gauge properly the chances of success, but if it looks feasible, well, I’m your man’.

At this Booth started to wax lyrical about my nobility, and the sacred cause, and all the rest of it but fortunately Norris cut him off, sharpish, and shaking my hand, asked me to be ready at short notice to move as an opportunity could arise at any time. With that I left them to it.

No doubt you’ll be asking yourself why is Flash offering to put his head on the block again, in service of such a ridiculous scheme ? If you think on it a bit longer, though, the answer will become obvious. Whatever the outcome of the plot it would take me back towards the north and away from the hellish mess I was in at present. More to the point I was in a prime position to foil the plot, save Lincoln, and get myself away and home. Save the president from kidnap and humiliation and they could hardly demand any more of me, could they ? That was what formed in my mind when I listened to Booth and Norris blathering on. Still, I had a dilemma. I could tell my contact in Richmond what was planned, in which case Lincoln’s guard would be beefed up, the scheme would be put on the back burner, and no doubt embarrassing questions would be asked in the house about who let the cat out of the bag. If I didn’t tell him the plan might, just might, succeed and I would be no better off. For one thing I couldn’t see the war collapsing quite as readily as Booth believed. The best course for me, and naturally then, the only one that mattered, seemed to be the latter. I was confident I could derail the whole thing when the time was right, and if I did I could claim all the credit, which would make it all the more difficult for Pinkerton to hang onto me. They certainly wouldn’t be able to send me back to Lee, for one thing.

Of course I had to settle into a hotel in Richmond to await the summons, which was no hardship at all. Still, things weren’t as they were there when I’d visited soon after first Bull Run. The blockade was having a marked effect and there were shortages of all sorts of goods. Prices had shot up as well, especially for manufactured items that were normally brought in from the northern states. Food prices were very high as well, particularly meat and dairy foods, which was strange because the South was very productive agriculturally.

I suppose I’d been there a few weeks, filling in time at the War Department when I got a summons from Major Norris, asking me to attend his office at short notice. When I got there Booth was already in attendance, looking mighty pleased with himself, though I had the feeling that was his normal state of mind.

‘News, Colonel Flashman’, said Norris. ‘Our sources tell us Mr Lincoln is due to visit a hospital and some Illinois regiments outside Springfield, some twelve miles south west of Washington, in a week’s time. That gives us plenty of time to plan the capture, and for you and Mr Booth to make your way there, once we have decided on the optimum place to make the attempt’.

‘Just the two of us ?’, I asked. Now the time had come I was getting a little nervous at the prospect. What if Lincoln had a bigger guard than we thought ? This Booth was enough of a hothead to make the attempt anyway, even if Lincoln was accompanied by a full company of infantry. ‘Shouldn’t you be treading the boards somewhere anyway ?’, I said to Booth.

‘We will meet with a number of my accomplices as we ride north to the ambush before Lincoln is due to travel’, puts in Booth. ‘There will be at least five of us and we have no indication that his party will number more than half a dozen. Why should it ? He thinks he will be safe barely twelve miles from Washington. We will show him that he is not. As for my acting it comes second to this task. In any case, I have finished my latest commitment in Boston. If this succeeds I doubt I will return to the theatre in the north for some time’.

With that Norris opened up a map showing the area from DC to Springfield. The road Lincoln was to take ran southwest out of the capital over the Potomac to Springfield through the lower piedmont countryside I’d ridden through before. There were little woods and low, rolling hills beside the road which promised decent cover from which to mount an ambush. The problem was that Lincoln’s journey would take little more than two hours, and we’d only get one attempt, so we had to find the right spot. After a little examination I found a place where the road bent a little more to the south, to avoid a low hill. There were woodlands to the side where we could hide, and once Lincoln’s party had passed the bend we’d be hidden from view to the north. I pointed at it and asked Norris what he thought.

‘Yes, that looks a good place’, he replied. ‘What do you think, Mr Booth ?’.

‘I would leave it up to our military expert to choose the place’, he replied. ‘If the Colonel thinks that is the most favourable place I am content. How will we go about it ?’, he then asked me.

‘We’ll need at least another three men’, I said. ‘I want a scout north of the bend to signal when he spots our quarry, and to warn if they are a larger party, or if there are other travellers following. Another will be a little to the south of the ambush as a lookout there. They can also block any escape along the road by Lincoln’s carriage should they attempt to flee. We will wait in this copse of trees on the south side of the road until they get near to us. The land rises quite sharply on the other side so they won’t be able to escape that way, and we will have cut them off from escaping south. They wouldn’t get far off road against horsemen anyway. What of the rest of Lincoln’s party ?’

At this Norris looked grim. ‘You can’t burden yourself with them, or you will never get Lincoln to Richmond. If they resist you will know what to do. If you capture them I suggest tying them up in the carriage and hiding it in the trees before you make your escape’.

If I didn’t realise I was dealing with a desperate bunch before I knew I was now. Not much Southern chivalry there, thought I. I wondered if they’d want me to put a bullet in Mrs Lincoln, should she happen to be going along for the ride ? I’d put one in Booth first if I had to. I was going to scupper this little show in any case, so for my own sake I wasn’t going to allow any gunfire in the direction of the President and his party. Looking back from all these years I should have killed Booth the first chance I got. It would have saved the Americans an awful lot of trouble and bad blood. Still, at the time I thought again whether I should pass the word to my contact in Richmond but decided against it. This was the best chance I had of getting out and away with an enhanced reputation. I’d find a way to betray Booth and his desperadoes, even if it was on the big day itself.

Over the next few days Norris and I ran through the plan again, and we planned a route to the ambush with one of Booth’s merry men, who’d come down from the north, avoiding areas where we knew there were troops, and taking the backwoods route to the Springfield road. I reckoned it would take three days of careful riding to get to the ambush, and I wanted to be there the night before so I could scout the land and find a safe place for us to lie up overnight.

We got there as planned, the night before, but let me tell you it wasn’t a comfortable journey. It was damnably cold and we could rarely risk a fire so by the time we reached the spot we were going to attempt the kidnap I was stiff, cold, and irritable, as well as beginning to go into my usual state of funk at the prospect of any sort of danger. I thought of slipping off in the night to find a Union army unit but I didn’t know the country well enough and the chances were I’d get lost. I’d no doubt that our little thespian would go ahead without me, and I thought it best to be on hand in case he got trigger happy.

We were up earlyish the next morning. It was a misty, cold day, with some sunshine, but fortunately visibility was quite good. Lincoln was due at Springfield around midday, so we reckoned he’d pass us between 10 and 11 am. I had us all in position by 9 o’clock and as we watched the road was quiet, with what little traffic passed soon disappearing along the road without stopping. The three of us in the ambush party – me, Booth and another chap in his thirties named Ben – took it in turns to watch for our lookout’s signal, watching out for Lincoln and his carriage. Sure enough, soon after 10 am he waved his hat once to say he’d spotted them, then again, twice, to indicate that it was as Booth had expected, a small party in one carriage, with no accompanying escort. I signalled the chap watching the south that they were in sight and he responded, indicating all was clear there as well.

As the carriage carrying Lincoln came closer I could see the president sat in the rear seat, the familiar stove pipe hat on his head. Next to him was a biggish chap who I took to be the US Marshal, and there were two others sat across from them in the rear facing seat. All was quiet as I took another look around to make sure the coast was still clear, then nudged my horse forward at a gentle pace so that we’d intercept them a few hundred yards down the road. Ben started to move ahead so that I had to grab the top of his horse’s crupper to slow him down. ‘Careful, now’, I said. ‘Let’s take it slowly as we planned. We don’t want to warn them by being too eager. Let them think we’re just a few riders planning to join the road ahead of them until we get close’. The carriage rolled on slowly down the road a few hundred yards from us, its passengers completely relaxed and seemed not concerned at our presence.

Once we’d closed the distance by half I spurred my horse, peeled off towards the carriage, leaving them behind, and began to shout ‘Mr Lincoln, Mr Lincoln, it’s Flashman, Flashman’, at the top of my voice. That got a reaction, alright. As I closed the distance to the carriage Lincoln stood up, and all of a sudden it didn’t seem to be Lincoln at all. Any uncertainty was removed when the other men in the carriage produced rifles, and aimed them at me.

‘Christ’, I bellowed, ‘it’s a trap, a trap’ as I jerked the reins to pull my horse away from the carriage. As I turned away one of them must have panicked because he fired at me. I saw the puff of smoke and heard the bullet whizz past, his aim thrown off by my change of direction. Nothing for it then but the old Flashy standby, as I tucked my head down beside the nag’s neck, spurred him hard, and galloped back down the road in the direction the carriage had come from, curving across it and up the slope to the trees on its north side. As I climbed it I saw a troop of blue coated cavalry suddenly emerge from the trees at the top, sabres drawn and ready.

‘Jesus, oh sweet Jesus’, I blubbered, as I saw the tips of the swords glinting in the sun, but there was nothing else for it now, I was riding at full pelt. Pull up short or try to change direction sharply and I’d be thrown and maybe ridden down. All I could was hang on, and look for a gap to ride through the line of horsemen. As I neared the troopers advancing down from the top of the slope I spotted an opening where a fallen tree had forced them to split their line. I charged for it, frantically spurring my horse to break through before they closed their line again, sweeping past the astonished soldiers, and then my horse, who was a game ‘un, leapt the fallen tree and I was into the woodlands. I slowed down for a moment to let us both catch our breath, and as we sucked in the air, I heard shouted orders from an officer, followed by the sound of hooves as two or three cavalry troopers detached themselves from the line and turned back to the woods, clearly intent on finding me. Where the rest were going I could guess easily enough, but that was Booth’s problem, not mine, and he was welcome to it, as I plunged further into the trees.

I spent the next hour or so playing hide and seek from the cavalrymen and I began to get the impression they were trying to shepherd me rather than actually catch me. So it was no great surprise when I reached a clearing near the other side of the wood to find a tall figure on a horse, wearing his trademark buckskins, hand ready on his belt just in case, but with a broad smile on his face. It was James Hickock.

‘Hello Harry’, he said as he spurred his horse over to me. ‘Enjoyed your little adventure this morning, then ?’

‘James’, I cried, as he leaned over and shook my hand, ‘Were you behind all this then ?’.

‘That’s right, Harry. Mr Pinkerton has other sources than you, and we cooked up this little ambush to try and catch Booth and his accomplices when we heard what they’d planned. I’m sorry to say most of ‘em got clear. Rode away like the devil was chasin’ them when the first shot was fired - I wouldn’t want to rely on them in a shoot out ! The guy riding with you was killed, unfortunately, though even if he’d been taken alive I doubt he’d have given evidence against Booth’.

‘Did you know I was coerced into involvement in this madness ?’, I asked him.

‘Yep. It wasn’t any surprise when you broke free and tried to warn them in the carriage. The only thing that went wrong was the damn fool who fired at you – that wasn’t meant to happen. Still, no harm done, and maybe it will work out better this way’.

‘What do you mean ? Surely it’s time for me to come back to Washington and then make my way home ?’, I replied.

‘You would, if I had my way, but Mr Pinkerton thinks you’ve still work to do, and I’ll bet that he’d say that being shot at, and then yelling a warning to them, will convince your rebel friends you’re still on their side. It’s back to the south for you, Harry. I’m afraid. From what he says you’ll be there until we have a decisive victory’.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. People like Pinkerton will use you as much as they can, then drop you – that’s what happens when someone like him becomes a government man – but it was galling to think I’d tried to do the right thing, even if it was for my own benefit, and the whole scheme had gone belly up again.

‘What about Booth ?’, I asked. ‘He’ll be persona non grata in the north now, won’t he ?’.

‘Oh, he’ll be watched, but without catching him at the scene, and no one to give evidence against him except you there’ll not be much that can be done about this day’s work. Anyway’, he went on, ‘best we make camp here for the day, till the dust settles on all this. Tomorrow I’ll guide back to where you can find your way back to Richmond’.

‘Well, I hope the President will learn from this, and have a proper guard in future. I take it he’s nowhere near here today’, I said.

‘Nope, safe in Washington as we speak. The whole thing was set up as a trap. He’d no plans to visit Springfield today at all’, he said. ‘ Whether he’ll have a proper guard is another thing, though. His belief is that if someone wants to kill him they’ll find a way to do it, whether he’s guarded or not. All the purpose a guard will serve then, he says, will be to separate him from the people, and make him seem distant, like some sort of king or emperor. I hope we don’t regret it in the future, but that’s something he’s firm on’.

James, as ever, was as good as his word and I was back in Richmond a couple of days later, and made my way sheepishly to see Norris, my story of the kidnapping debacle already prepared. Booth had beaten me to it, though, and given the good major chapter and verse. Fortunately his story and mine coincided almost completely and I managed to come up smelling of roses yet again, just as Hickok had predicted.

‘Take your ease, Colonel’, said Norris as I hobbled, saddle sore, into his office. ‘Mr Booth was here yesterday and recounted your heroic behaviour and self sacrifice once you divined it was a trap. Very smart work to realise that Mr ‘Lincoln’ was an impostor so quickly, and shout a warning ! All but one of your co-conspirators escaped. Without you they would either be dead or prisoners. Mr Booth was most impressed, especially by the way you rode singlehanded at the cavalry troopers to give him time to escape. You’re truly a gallant officer. We won’t make too much of it publicly but be assured that your actions are the talk of the upper echelons of the army, not that you have anything to prove there, of course. Now, how did you escape from the Yankees ?’

‘Born on a horse, Major, though I say so myself. None of those northern clerks and storekeepers could catch me once I’d broken through. Just had to be careful I didn’t stumble into any of ‘em as I made my way back here’. I told him. Yet again my fire eater reputation had caused all I did to be misinterpreted. Talk about give a dog a bad name, eh ?

‘Well’, he answered with a smile, I don’t think we’ll be trying that again for a while, so your orders, after a night’s rest, are to return to General Lee’s army for a more permanent attachment to old Stonewall’s Corps’, and with that he ushered me out.

While that had gone as well as I could have hoped for I wasn’t keen on the idea of having to follow Jackson around. That man put his head above the parapet far too often for his good, and mine. As it turned out, I was right yet again, and the South was dealt a fearful blow. Still, I don’t want to run ahead of myself, so I’d best get back to the rest of my story.

Chapter Text

James, as ever, was as good as his word and I was back in Richmond a couple of days later, and made my way sheepishly to see Norris, my story of the kidnapping debacle already prepared. Booth had beaten me to it, though, and given the good major chapter and verse. Fortunately his story and mine coincided almost completely and I managed to come up smelling of roses yet again, just as Hickok had predicted.

‘Take your ease, Colonel’, said Norris as I hobbled, saddle sore, into his office. ‘Mr Booth was here yesterday and recounted your heroic behaviour and self sacrifice once you divined it was a trap. Very smart work to realise that Mr ‘Lincoln’ was an impostor so quickly, and shout a warning ! All but one of your co-conspirators escaped. Without you they would either be dead or prisoners. Mr Booth was most impressed, especially by the way you rode singlehanded at the cavalry troopers to give him time to escape. You’re truly a gallant officer. We won’t make too much of it publicly but be assured that your actions are the talk of the upper echelons of the army, not that you have anything to prove there, of course. Now, how did you escape from the Yankees ?’

‘Born on a horse, Major, though I say so myself. None of those northern clerks and storekeepers could catch me once I’d broken through. Just had to be careful I didn’t stumble into any of ‘em as I made my way back here’. I told him. Yet again my fire eater reputation had caused all I did to be misinterpreted. Talk about give a dog a bad name, eh ?

‘Well’, he answered with a smile, I don’t think we’ll be trying that again for a while, so your orders, after a night’s rest, are to return to General Lee’s army for a more permanent attachment to old Stonewall’s Corps’, and with that he ushered me out.

While that had gone as well as I could have hoped for I wasn’t keen on the idea of having to follow Jackson around. That man put his head above the parapet far too often for his good, and mine. As it turned out, I was right yet again, and the South was dealt a fearful blow. Still, I don’t want to run ahead of myself, so I’d best get back to the rest of my story.

The next few weeks were tediously occupied with Lee’s plans for a new campaign, designed again to take the fight to the North and off Confederate territory. Lee wanted to keep the pressure up so the anti war parties in the north would gain popularity and force the war to end before their superior industrial strength and manpower overwhelmed the Confederacy. In addition he wanted to limit damage in the south and if possible capture some supplies that he was desperately in need of. Now Robert Lee stands with anyone as a fighting soldier but to me his plan was strategically flawed because he didn’t have the resources to finally defeat the North in the field. He could win any number of battles but still would find the Union fielding more armies against him, while he couldn’t afford to lose the numbers of men he did. Casualties for both sides in a battle could be around a third of the men fielded, whereas in British army losing a tenth of our men was regarded as a bloodbath. If it was hellish for the North it was completely unsupportable for the Confederacy. He’d have been far better off defending the South’s borders rather than taking the offensive. He’d lose far less men, use fewer supplies and be better able to wear down the enemy so that their morale would collapse and the war end in the rebel’s favour. You may recall that I suggested such a course to Judah Benjamin all those months ago. That was the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis’s view too. Aye, well, perhaps Robert E Lee didn’t have my strategic vision, but whatever the reason Jackson kept his staff hard at it over those weeks, as Lee planned another spring offensive, aimed at circumventing Washington and invading Pennsylvania, posing a threat to the Union’s northern cities. Over in the west Sam Grant was laying siege to Vicksburg, which was the key to controlling all the Mississippi, thereby splitting the Confederacy in two.

Being a staffer for a man like Stonewall wasn’t like it would be for any other commander, Lee included, who tended to work with a minimal staff. For one thing, as I think I mentioned, Jackson liked to keep things close to his chest and would only tell you the minimum amount to enable you to complete your task. He wasn’t keen on delegation either, which I suppose is natural enough given his secrecy, but his aloofness from everyone made it very difficult to get things done properly. His eccentricity was a problem as well – he could fall asleep in the middle of a conversation or meeting, or decide to go and plunge his head in a basin of cold water for as long as he could hold his breath (to help his eyesight !) at a whim. Personally I grew to hate lemons, on which he sucked constantly, though God knows where he managed to get them from. All in all it was about as much fun as a tea party with little Vicky, though without the decent commons you’d get at the Palace. I was beginning to wish myself back in chokey in Washington with Pinkerton – at least you could get a drink there.

But of course while Lee and his commanders were putting together their plans for a spring offensive the Federal army, under ‘Fighting’ Joe Hooker, were hatching their own schemes which brought both sides together in early May, resulting in a huge, improbable victory for the rebels, and one which illustrated that for all his oddities, Jackson was a field commander of the first rate.

Word came of movement by the Army of the Potomac around the end of April as they crossed the rivers and began concentrating in area of Virginia called Spotsylvania County, around a small place called Chancellorsville. It looked like another attempt by the North to force battle by threatening a move on Richmond. By the beginning of May there must have been sixty to seventy thousand Federal soldiers in the area, far outnumbering Lee’s forces which were scattered all over the north of the state, from the main force at Fredericksburg to Longstreet, whose corps was near Norfolk, guarding against a thrust on Richmond from the coast. It would take up to a week for the dispersed units to join up with the main body of Lee’s army facing the new threat, and by that time, properly handled, the northern forces would be able to roll over Lee’s weakened forces and go on to Richmond. Lee being Lee, of course, he didn’t sit on his hands and wait for the enemy to move. Leaving Jubal Early at Fredericksburg to face the balance of the enemy army left there he hurried south, bringing Stonewall Jackson, with an ever reluctant Flashy in tow, in from the east to link up with Richard Anderson’s division at Chancellorsville, which wasn’t much more than a hamlet, dominated by a large mansion at the junction of two roads. By that time intelligence reports estimated that Lee was outnumbered by not far off two to one. A conventional general would have dug in ready to repel the forthcoming assault, but conventional was something that neither Lee or Jackson were.

The first fighting in the battle began on the morning of May 1st, as I, along with the rest of Stonewall’s men, was moving west to join up with Anderson. Union forces attacked Anderson, attempting to force their way out of the scrub, bush and woodland that covered a lot of the area, which was known as the Wilderness of Spotsylvania, to fight in more open ground where their advantage in men and especially guns would tell. It didn’t last long, though, and for some reason the Federal troops fell back to their positions round the mansion house.

I wasn’t the only one surprised at this. I accompanied Jackson to a meeting with Lee that evening at the rebel HQ, which was at the junction of two roads. Both generals were puzzled by the brief advance and withdrawal. ‘Well now, Jackson’, said Lee,’ what do you make of Hooker and his movements?’ He was sat by a camp fire in a clearing, on what looked to be an old packing case. In deference to his chief Jackson plumped himself down on a tree stump opposite him.

‘Very strange, General’, says Jackson. ‘Of all the Yankee commanders he’s probably the most aggressive. It’s not like him to fall back when he’s begun a favourable advance, especially when he needs to get out from under to fight in the open’.

‘I thought the same’. Lee replied. ‘Well, whatever the reason we have to get at him and fight, split his forces and taken them on piece by piece. We can’t sit here waiting to see if he advances from out of his cover, leaving other Union armies free to attack us elsewhere. We need to defeat him here and now so we can respond to other threats. But while he stays in that thicket we can’t get at him without breaking the army. I’ve been down to see it myself. It’s so thick you could lose an army in there, and fighting effectively is impossible. We must get round and turn his flank someways. I’ve sent Stuart to scout around the flanks of the Union position to the west, see if he can find us some way round or through to Hooker’.

Stuart duly obliged, of course, finding a plank road through the woods to the west of Hooker which would allow an attack on the Union right flank, which Stuart reported as totally unprepared. Early next morning, before dawn, we met with General Lee again to decide how to exploit Jeb’s discovery. Both generals pored over a map of the area laid out by one of Lee’s engineers, Jed Hotchkiss, on another cracker box. After a few minutes anxious study Jackson pointed at the map and spoke.

‘General Lee, I propose to go right around there’, he said. Peering nervously over his shoulder I could see he was tracing a route past an old furnace, turning first south and then northward on another turnpike called Brock Rd, then turning eastward onto the Orange Plank Road to take Hooker’s force in the flank. It must have been more than a dozen miles and it was taking a hellish risk because he could be spotted at any time. Quite how big a risk he was taking I hadn’t yet realised.

‘What do you propose to do it with ?’, asked Lee, to which Jackson responded ‘With my whole command’. This was a corps not far short of twenty six thousand men, and prompted Lee to ask ‘What will you leave me here to hold the Federal army with ?’, to which Jackson responded ‘The two divisions you have here’. Now if you’ve been following what I’ve been saying you’ll realise that the rebel army was split in two already, and that Jackson was proposing to split it again, and leave Lee with a mere seventeen thousand men facing a Union force four times his number, which if it realised what was going on, could break out and crush Lee’s men in the time it would take me to eat my dinner. It was a violation of a basic principle of war, compounded by the detachment of Jackson’s large force from the rest of the army in the face of the enemy. But Lee just looked at the map, paused for a moment as he thought, and then just said ‘Well, go ahead’ at which Jackson smiled, saluted and gestured us all to follow him as he prepared to take his entire force on a long and dangerous march round the Union flank.

So off we set soon after, with the owner of the old furnace, a chap named Wellford, as our guide, and the whole manoeuvre was screened by Stuart’s cavalry. It was hard country to cross, even using the roads where we could, as the ground was rough and broken, with little rivers that had to be forded and areas of marshy ground, and all the while we were in fear of being discovered, and of hearing sounds of heavy fighting to the south which could only mean the ruse had been discovered and the Lee’s small force was being crushed by the overwhelming numbers of the enemy army facing him. It took all of the morning and a good part of the afternoon to complete and at one stage I thought the game was up as there was some skirmishing at the rear of our column, but nothing came of it and by mid afternoon the entire corps began to form into battle order in the thick woods and undergrowth to the west of the Federal army’s right flank. There was no sign of the Union cavalry scouting, which was very strange. At around 5 pm Jackson called all his brigade commanders in, issuing them with their final orders and saying that once the attack, scheduled for around 5:30pm, began ‘under no circumstances was there to be any pause in the advance’. As always before a battle there seemed to be a hush in the air, as if even the trees were holding their breath, readying themselves for the onslaught.

It didn’t last long, though, and the rebel army erupted from the woods at the appointed time, bellowing the rebel yell and preceded by sheets of flame as they fired at the unprepared Yankees. The only warning the Federal army had were the hundreds of deer and other wild animals who fled out of the woods in fear of the mass of grey clad men who had begun to move forward out of the tree line. The Union men were sitting playing cards or preparing for supper as the grey wave crashed upon them. Most of them were unarmed, their weapons stacked together so there was little return fire. A few units and individuals attempted to stand against the tide with varying degrees of success but in most cases they broke and ran for cover, as the attack turned into a rout. I was riding with Jackson who, as usual, was just behind the front line watching the progress of the assault and ready to turn it to attack another point if an opportunity should present itself. As the rebels charged forward behind the fleeing Yankees one of his officers called to him ‘They are running too fast for us. We cannot keep up with them’, to which Jackson shouted ‘They never run too fast for me. Press them, press them’ as he drove his men forward. Eventually, though, the steam went out of the attack as other Federal units steadied the line, and the advance stalled. Still, it was an outstanding day. The right wing of the Union army had crumbled, thousands of prisoners had been taken, and Jackson had pushed his men within sight of the Hooker’s headquarters at Chancellorsville and was ready to link up with the rest of Lee’s army, which he had detached from only that morning.

But that wasn’t enough for Jackson. Sensing that confusion was still widespread amongst the Union forces he decided not to wait for the next day, by which time they may have recovered, but to push forward if possible, even by night, link up with Lee, and press his advantage home against the Union army. With a small escort and some of his staff, which included a very nervous Flashy, he rode forward along the plank road to reconnoitre. In his foolhardy eagerness Jackson got ahead of us on his horse, Little Sorrell, and was clearly silhouetted in the cold moonlight. I spurred forward a little and called him to ‘slow down, General, let us catch up with you’, to which he shouted back ‘the danger is all over, the enemy is routed’. As we caught up with him we heard some shouting and then there was the crash of a volley of rifles out of the darkness into our ranks, hitting both horses and men. I don’t know how many were killed in that first volley but I think it was the second that got Stonewall and he was hit several times. His horse bolted, dragging Jackson through the trees, and he smashed his face against the lower branches before one of his staffers, Willbourn, got to him, stopped Little Sorell, and with my help, got Jackson off his horse and onto the ground. He’d been hit at least twice in the left arm and was so dazed we had to take his feet out of his stirrups for him. The arm was smashed – I’d seen wounds like that before, and I knew they’d little chance of saving it. But he didn’t seem to have been hit anywhere vital, so if the sawbones made a good job of it and he didn’t get any infections he’d likely survive to fight again. In the meantime General Hill, commanding the rebel troops who had opened fire on us by mistake, arrived and together with another officer cut off Jackson’s sleeve and staunched the blood with handkerchiefs until we could get him to a doctor. Then we got him on a litter and carried him back to the aid station. At one point one of the bearers was hit by rifle fire and Jackson fell off the litter onto the ground, injuring his chest. Eventually, though, he was carried west to an aid station near the Wilderness Tavern, where, just before midnight his doctor, McGuire, took off his left arm near the shoulder, as well as taking a bullet from his right hand. The arm was buried nearby in the grounds of a mansion owned by a friends of Jackson’s – strange thing to do, I thought at the time, and still do.

While Jackson was out of the fight – it was planned to take him to Richmond to recover when he was strong enough – it didn’t mean the end of the battle. The natural successor to take command of his corps was A P Hill, who’d tended to Jackson after he’d been mistakenly shot by some of Hill’s men. Trouble was that Hill himself was injured soon after, and the command eventually passed to Jeb Stuart, who’d never handled infantry in action before. Despite Lee and Jackson’s daring the battle was still in the balance, with Hooker’s main force still unbroken. If Hooker showed any of the daring and tenacity he had in the past as a corps commander the Confederates would be on a very sticky wicket. Unfortunately for the Yankees all of a sudden Joe Hooker, as he said himself later, lost faith in Joe Hooker, and left the initiative with the rebels. With Jeb being inexperienced in command of a corps I was kept hard at it. For one thing only Pendleton of Jackson’s staff reported to him when he took over. To add to that Jeb had no idea of the disposition of the corps he was taking command of, and as usual Stonewall had kept his plans to himself so even if his full staff had reported it’s likely that Stuart wouldn’t have gained much useful information from them. As the various commanders presented themselves or sent reports Jeb turned to me late that night and said ‘What’s your assessment of the present situation, Harry ?’.

‘Well, Jeb’, I said, ’things have got mighty confused out on the field. Rodes and Colstons brigades will have to be withdrawn to reform – they’ve become thoroughly mixed up pursuing the enemy. Hill’s division can hold off an advance from the direction of the mansion, but any attack we make towards them will be hit very hard by the Union artillery positioned there. I recommend we make plans for an early attack in the morning, and concentrate our fire on their artillery. If we can clear this plateau of their guns’, and I pointed at the map, ‘it will give us a chance to take on their guns defending the mansion, and then put the infantry down the road and attack the western flank of Hooker’s position. Lord knows the men could do with the rest, as well’.

Jeb looked doubtful at that – he was still full of fire and bravado, and eager to impress, given the chance of corps command, but I think my last words swung it.

‘You’re right, Harry. its been a hard day’s fighting for the infantry. I have to think as a corps commander now, not just as a cavalry soldier. Let them rest for a few hours, while we prepare for a morning advance’, he said. With that he sent Jackson’s artillery commander, Alexander, to make a reconnaissance and prepare to place his guns. He soon reported back that the Union army still held the plateau, known as Hazel Grove, to our right flank .

‘It’s the best gun position in the area’, I reminded Jeb, ‘and well worth taking’.

‘I agree, Colonel. We must get our guns up there as soon as we can. The position lets us enfilade the house and most of the enemy’s positions around it’, said Alexander.

‘Get to it, then. Capture it and then get as many pieces up there as you can’, Jeb told him. ‘Now, Harry, I need your help to plan the infantry attack at dawn. General Lee expects us to attack with all three divisions right along the front and reunite the two wings of the army. I’ll lead the attack and I’ll need you alongside’. I hadn’t expected any less from Stuart, but I hoped that he might not drag me along with him. No such luck, of course, and so, with my bowels starting to quake yet again at the prospect of close, deadly action, I set to the task of getting the three divisions organised for the attack and resupplied as far as possible in the time available.

Unfortunately it passed far too quickly, and I found myself alongside Jeb in the early dawn, as the mist began to clear, and the rebels prepared to engage what seemed to be two Union corps entrenched around a clearing in front of Chancellorsville. As the thousands of men cursed, shuffled and coughed in the early light as they made ready it promised to be another hot and bloody day in the life of H Flashman, KCB, lately of Mayfair, London and Leicestershire. How I wished I was back there, and I cursed the twists and turns of ill fortune that had taken me all over this bloody country. Back home I’d be finishing a late breakfast with Elspeth, perhaps looking at The Times or dealing with the post, a pleasant spring ride through the park later maybe, before going out to dinner or the theatre that evening. How long had I been away this time, I thought ? Well over a year, at least. No, it was getting on for two now. Little Havvy would be forgetting what his father looked like, and that thought caused a great sweep of homesickness and longing to well through me, and I nearly had to wipe a tear from my eyes. That shows you how far gone I was, maundering over a noisy, greedy little brat I wasn’t even sure was mine. But instead of all these pleasant, homely activities I was hunched on a borrowed horse behind thousands of ill equipped, ignorant rebel hayseeds ready to fight to the death – mine as well as theirs – in a ridiculous cause they could barely hope to win. Next to me was the biggest target in the Confederate army, with his great sash, stupid plumed hat, huge grey cloak, and personal piper to play ‘Dixie’ for him. It couldn’t have been more obvious who was in command if he’d worn a crown, sat on a throne, and carried an orb and sceptre. Well, I told myself, I won’t make the mistake I did with Grant if it comes to it. Any Union sharpshooter drawing a bead on Stuart won’t find me blocking his line of fire, and I unconsciously tugged on my horse’s bit to pull him a few feet further away from Jeb. He looked round at me and smiled.

‘Old warhorse eager for the fight, Harry ?’, he said. ‘Don’t you fret, it won’t be long now. You’ll soon be in the thick of it. You’d not have it any other way, I know that for sure’. I gave him a wan smile in reply, and then it was time, and the rebels, led by the Stonewall brigade, moved into the attack, with Stuart crying ‘Charge, and remember Jackson !’

We were moving against Union troops entrenched in a clearing before Chancellorsville itself but to get at them the army had to move mainly through the trees and undergrowth that covered the area. It was damned eerie country, with parts of it impenetrable woodland. Even where the ground was clearer the thick undergrowth limited a soldier’s sight so that he might almost stumble into the enemy before seeing him. The ground itself was uneven, with low ridges, narrow ravines, and spots of wet marshy land where streams pooled. I’ve soldiered and fought in mountains, deserts, plains, and jungle, but I can’t recall a landscape as dark and threatening to advance into as that seventy odd square miles in Virginia known as The Wilderness.

Not that it bothered Jeb, of course, who was in his element. He’d replaced his normal coat with a bright blue one, wrapped around with a bright red artillery sash. It was a bright, warm spring morning and he looked as happy as a pig in muck, singing to himself ‘Old Joe Hooker, won't you get out of the Wilderness’.

The leading rebels were less than half a mile from the Yankees and as they moved off the Union artillery began to fire, shredding the trees and loping limbs off men and horses as well as the woods. The noise was deafening, a combination of artillery, gunshots and men screaming and shouting. They soon reached the most forward defences and the fighting became savage, with the two sides often separated by just the log breastworks built by the Federal army. All the time Stuart kept feeding his men forward in waves, trying to overwhelm the defenders by weight of numbers. Once the fighting began in earnest the woods themselves began to burn, the smoke adding to the confusion and fear. Quite a few men, mainly the injured who weren’t able to escape, were burnt alive as the fire took hold, the poor devils.

All that morning Stuart roamed the battlefield like a demon, rushing hither and tither, usually where the fighting was hardest, dragging me with him. His horse was shot from under him within the first hour so he just commandeered another one, and carried on. One minute he was scolding Colston for a botched attack, the next we were dashing across the battlefield so he could redirect the attack of a rebel brigade. At one point he rallied the Stonewall brigade back into battle after they’d been repulsed by picking up a fallen standard, riding into the retreating men, and dragging them forward by his example. It’s still a mystery to me how he – and I - survived that day unhurt. Looking back at it from forty years on it strikes me how similar he was to Grant at Shiloh. His style was different – all dash and vim compared to Grant’s dour presence - but they both led from the front and gave heart to their men by keeping themselves visible, no matter what risks they exposed themselves to. I tell you, this generalship business can be damned dangerous.

Still, for all his inspirational leadership the rebels were having a hard fight of it. The Union men were well entrenched and stood firm as the waves of grey soldiery crashed into their positions. Casualties on both sides were mounting and for two hours the battle ebbed and flowed with no clear advantage. That changed suddenly as cannon fire began to fall from the plateau onto federal guns to the north east, and down onto the clearing where the northern army was concentrated. Alexander had somehow managed to clear Hazel Grove of the enemy, and his guns began to rain bloody ruin down on the defenders below. As Union resistance began to wilt under the cannonade Stuart sent Anderson’s division through on the right of the Federal line, and pushed the rest of Second Corps through the middle. They swept over the last line of defences, surged across a crest, and charged forwards to Chancellorsville itself, Stuart close behind them, yelling ‘Go forward boys ! We have them running, and we’ll keep them at it !’ I wasn’t showing quite the same enthusiasm myself, and allowed my horse to take a stumble that put me off for a few minutes, so that by the time I’d caught up the main fighting was over and the rebel advance had run out of steam in the grounds of the house itself. Soon Lee and Stuart, the army reunited, were riding through the clearing together to the house, as their soldiers cheered them wildly and waved their hats in the air. When things had quietened down a bit I rode over to them.

‘General Lee’, I said, ’Hooker still has sizable forces in the field. We must be ready for further action today’.

‘That is so, Colonel, but don’t you fret, we’ll be ready. Let the boys have their moment. It will stand them in good stead when they next see the enemy’, he replied.

‘ The turning point of the fight was Alexander opening up from the plateau. They took it without a fight. It seems Hooker simply ordered a withdrawal, probably to shorten his lines and avoid leaving his troops in a vulnerable salient. Foolish thing to do in the circumstances. It played right into our hands’, said Stuart.

‘It did, but now, as Flashman says, we must make ready for further fighting. Jubal Early is also holding a sizeable enemy force at Fredericksburg. He may need our assistance’. With that Lee began to organise the army for the next stage of the battle. During the course of the afternoon a large Union force under Sedgewick pushed Early off Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg to the east, and then began to chase him back towards the south of Chancellorsville. Lee despatched troops to stop him and a battle raged over the course of the afternoon around Salem Church and eventually the Union forces were held as night fell. The next day there was more fighting and the Federal troops were pushed back off the Heights but withdrew and defended solidly so that the rebels couldn’t make any further headway against them. Meanwhile Hooker solidified his line and secured a line of retreat across the Rappahannock. I’m glad to say that Stuart’s command took no part in this fighting, and I was able to get my nerve back. A couple of days after that Hooker retreated from the area and the battle was effectively over, though as ever the cost in casualties was staggering – around eighteen thousand for the rebels, a rate of loss they couldn’t hope to bear. They’d also seen that the Federal army were now becoming veterans as well and if led properly would fight just as hard and as well as any southerner. Still, by any measure it was a huge victory for Lee and the south.

While Lee was winning his greatest battle his most trusted lieutenant was losing his final one. The plan to take Jackson to Richmond to recover had been abandoned as his condition worsened and he was being nursed in a room in some farm buildings to the west of the battle, at Guinea’s Station. He was seriously ill not from his wounds nor from any infection resulting from them, but from pneumonia. A few days after the battle, when it became clear how ill he was, Lee sent me, as one of his senior staff men, to see if anything else could be done for him.

When I reached Guinea’s Station I was shown into a small room where a grey faced and sweating Jackson was lying, babbling quietly to himself, in a single bed which faced a small fireplace, a clock ticking quietly on the mantelpiece. His wife Mary, who I’d not met before, was sat by his bed with their baby daughter in her arms. Alongside her was his servant Jim, who’d attended him constantly, and a number of his personal staff. One look at him told me that he wasn’t long for this world – you’ll own I’ve had a fair amount of experience, what with Scud East, Comber, and that Pathan who taught me how to use a lance, amongst the many that I’ve seen shuffle off their mortal coil, as the bard would say - and that was confirmed to me by his doctor, Hunter McGuire, who came over to me as soon I as went in.

‘General Lee has sent me to ask if anything more can be done for Stonewall’, I told him.

‘I fear not, Colonel Flashman, I fear not. I believe the general will not live out the day. He made me tell him the truth a little while ago. All he said in answer was that he was happy it was the Lord’s day, and that he had always wished to die on a Sunday’. I couldn’t see what difference it being a Sunday made but then I wasn’t a god botherer the way Jackson was. As far as I was concerned any day to die was as bad as any other. Still, I thought it politic not to mention that, and instead enquired about how he’d contracted his illness.

‘What’s mystifying General Lee, and a lot more of us, is that he’s dying of pneumonia, not from his wounds. How did that come about ?’, I asked him.

‘I believe that he may have brought it on himself’, answered McGuire. ‘You’ll recall his habit of covering his belly with wet towels to combat his stomach ailments. From when he was first here he was insistent, against all my advice, on continuing with it. It wasn’t until he became delirious that I was able to remove them, but by then it was too late’.

‘Good God’, I said quietly, ‘what a waste’. I looked over at Jackson again – he seemed to have gone into a deep sleep. ‘Well, I’m sorry to hear the news, and General Lee will be sorrier still, but I should report back to him at once’.

‘Can I suggest you wait here a little longer ? As I said I doubt he will last the day, and it will be better that you report back with certain news’, McGuire answered. Waiting around for a dying man to finally expire wasn’t my idea of the way to spend a Sunday afternoon but put like that I didn’t feel I had any choice, so I nodded, then excused myself to get a drink and a bite to eat before I came back to witness the final moments of this little drama.

It was just after 3pm when I was summoned back to Jackson’s deathbed. As I went in he was calling out orders in his delirium to A P Hill. Then he settled back in his bed, and after a few minutes smiled peacefully, sat up, and spoke out quite softly in that quiet room ‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees’. Lying back down, he exhaled his final breath. I looked at the clock on the mantelpiece – it was 3:15. They set the clock to stay at that time, and for all I know it’s still set to it now.

It wasn’t only Mary Anna, his widow, who cried as he died. There were strong men in that room, not used to tears, who dissolved into grief. I was sorry for him myself – he may have been slightly mad, but he was a fine soldier. However, as I don’t make it a habit to hang around deathbeds, I made my excuses about reporting back to Lee to the doctor and left ‘em to it.

Lee’s face when I told him the news was a picture of sadness and pain. It wasn’t just the loss of a great soldier that affected him. He’d no compunction about committing thousands of men to battle, even against the odds, and never let it dissuade him. I think it was the shock of losing Jackson when he seemed likely to have survived, that really affected him. ‘You know, Flashman’, he said to me, ’I wrestled in prayer for him last night, as I have never prayed, I believe, for myself. Now you must excuse me’, he said, turning away with tears in his eyes, ‘I must draft a general order to the army, telling them of this grievous news’. If the outcome of the battle was enough to make Lincoln exclaim ‘My God, what will the country say ?’ the loss of Stonewall Jackson caused an equal amount of consternation in the south – they knew he was irreplaceable. They buried him in the Presbyterian churchyard in Lexington where he’d been a member. They left his arm at Chancellorsville, by the way.

Chapter Text

Jeb didn’t keep command of Jackson’s corps. Lee reorganised the army after Chancellorsville, splitting it into three corps instead of two, Ewell taking over Jackson’s command and A P Hill getting Third Corps. Jeb didn’t take it badly, but he did seem to carry a sense of grievance that he didn’t get enough credit for his actions during the fighting. ‘I don’t mind not getting command, Harry’, he said to me. I’m a cavalryman, and the fact that Stonewall recommended me is more important to me than the promotion itself. But I thought General Lee might have recognised more openly how I turned around a difficult situation’. ‘He knows’, says I, ‘and if he knows the country knows, you can rest assured of that’. I was reassigned to his cavalry division staff. ‘General Ewell brings his own staff’, Lee told me, ‘and Jeb has asked for you as you were of great assistance during the recent battle’.

As for Lee, like all good commanders he was keen to build on his momentum, and went to Richmond in mid – May to lobby for another invasion of the north, this time into Pennsylvania. He took me, amongst others, with him, which gave me an opportunity to pay a visit to my contact in the city to pass on some more intelligence.

‘Now then, mister’, he said to me, ’they’s mighty pleased in Washington with what you dun so far. But they dun said that things is gettin’ tricky, an’ if you can do more than jes get facts, maybe help ‘em win a big battle by doin’ sumthin, they said you could go on home’.

You can imagine my reaction to that. I was already putting my head in the noose by passing them gold plated intelligence. Now they wanted me to do something that would bring suspicion on me publicly if I wasn’t very careful. Still, after Chancellorsville, it showed me how desperate they were. I’d have to see what fortune provided. If something turned up that I could do safely I’d do it – just as equally as I would help the rebels win if I thought it would end the whole ghastly affair. Getting me out from under was my aim, and I didn’t much care who won or lost as long as I got away with a whole skin and unblemished reputation. You have to get your priorities right, after all. It’s not as if I was there willingly, though you could say that about any of the wars I’ve been dragged into, of course.

Meanwhile, Lee had been in discussion with President Davis and the rebel government over his plans to take the war to the Federals again. General Longstreet had suggested moving much of the army westward into Tennessee to relieve pressure on Vicksburg but Lee was against that, arguing that success in the east and a threat to Washington and the other cities there was the surest way to persuade the North to end the war quickly on Southern terms. Having got to know Lee well I think that at heart he was intent on defending the Commonwealth of Virginia more than anything, and that he would do anything to take the fight off the soil of his home state. That attitude coloured his strategic vision throughout the war. Who knows, he may even have fought for the Union if Virginia hadn’t seceded. Anyway, he got approval for his plans and the Confederate army began to prepare for the coming campaign.

He’d also asked for a second cavalry division to be raised but this was refused, so he beefed up Jeb’s division to a total of five brigades by transferring forces from elsewhere. This included the brigade commanded by the aptly nicknamed Grumble Jones from the Shenandoah Valley. I mentioned Jubal Early was a miserable curmudgeon. Well, compared to Grumble he was like a court jester – Jones was by turns irascible, hot headed, bad tempered and plain rude. Jeb wasn’t best pleased about having him under his command, either, and had avoided the situation in the past. While he admired Jones as a soldier he detested him personally. Jones just detested Stuart, calling him a young whippersnapper. Not the best arrangement in the chain of command, you’ll grant – I could see trouble ahead. Lee counselled him to give Jones a chance – ‘Do not let your judgement be warped’, he said.

Still, none of us had the time to bother with that just yet, as we tried to whip the division into shape and find both horses and fodder for them, among a thousand other things. A Confederate cavalry man supplied his own horse and if he lost it he was given leave to find another. This meant hundreds of men missing from the division at a time as they all competed for the increasingly scarce and expensive horses available. And while the horses were able to feed on the spring grass when the division wasn’t in action they couldn’t rely on this when on the move. Fodder had to be found, and the deficiencies in the commissary arrangements meant that it was staff and regimental officers who were engaged in that, instead of training and preparing for the campaign. The army’s quartermasters (remember the three wise men ?) were widely blamed. One young infantry officer called them ‘white livered sons of bitches’ and there were many who agreed with him.

Once the supply questions had been taken care of Jeb and I were back with the cavalry, camped out west of Richmond at Culpepper County. There we put the troops through a strict regime of drill and inspections with two full reviews including a mock battle. He was especially careful of the horses, telling his commanders to use the ‘utmost diligence’ in looking after them. All this kept me busy but I was also completely bored. Not that I wanted any fighting to break the monotony – it was another kind of tussle that I had in mind. Fortunately Jeb’s growing vanity presented me with an opportunity at the start of June.

Now Jeb was always a dandy, but he was also a great flirt and loved to be surrounded by beautiful women, and to cut a dash with them, drinking up their admiring glances. As his fame grew more and more women came to balls and dances that he and his officers held whenever they had an opportunity. But flirt was all he did – it seemed to me a great waste of time and effort, like chasing a fox all over the county and then not killing it – but Jeb was both religious and faithful. Perhaps he viewed himself as a medieval knight, but whatever the reason he didn’t try to make any conquests. All very courtly and romantic, ye might think, but what has it got to do with Flashy ? Well, if Jeb was Sir Galahad, I was the leering satyr at his shoulder, ready to take whatever he refused, at any opportunity.

That came when he arranged another ball in Culpepper Courthouse in early June. The news had spread far and wide and on the day of the ball special trains were laid on, and came brim full of the gentry, especially many young ladies who were attracted by the glamour and heroism of Stuart and his men. Of course I put on my best bib and tucker, tidied my whiskers up, which I’d been letting grow, for my own reasons, and joined the party as early as I could. I wasn’t disappointed – the scene was dazzling, with the room illuminated by dozens of chandeliers, and everything very gay, bright and merry. Not being much of a dancer I made my way to the punchbowl, where I surveyed the scene over the rim of my glass.

There was plenty to look at and I cast my eye over dozens of pretty girls and women, dressed in their finest, who swirled around the dance floor or sat and stood around the walls of the ballroom. As ever in the presence of attractive females I was making a mental assay. That one’s pretty but too young, another redhead was very striking but accompanied by her husband, the brunette’s a beauty but her haughty expression made me think she’d turn her nose up at anything so gross as a tumble. So I mused, chatting idly to the other officers until I turned to get another glass and came face to face with a blond beauty as I almost blundered into her.

She was with her father, an older officer from Texas named Richards, who I knew slightly. Like many others in the army he was a wealthy landowner and had joined up at the war’s start. ‘Colonel Flashman’, he said, ‘Kindly allow me to introduce my daughter Abigail. She’s very eager to make the acquaintance of the famous English officer who is fighting so gallantly in our cause’. Well, if she was eager so was I, and as I bowed slightly to her curtsy I ran a practised eye over her. She was above average height for a woman, but not tall like PC, with blond hair tied up, striking powder blue eyes, and a retrousse nose, with a cupid’s bow of a mouth and a firm little chin beneath it. You could describe her figure as willowy, but the bounties were all there, and in good parade order. I suppose she’d be about twenty – more than old enough, though I doubted whether she’d been saddle broken. I set myself to her charm at once, while her father stood by, the old fool, not having any idea what was on the gallant Flashman’s mind.

‘Well, well’, I said, ‘I thought it was a myth, but now I can see I was wrong, and I’m happy to be so’.

‘Why so, Colonel ?’, she answered in a light voice.

‘I thought the Texas Rose was just a story, but now I see the perfect embodiment of it before my eyes’, says I, at which she smiled widely and fluttered her eyelids at me – a sure sign of encouragement, let me tell you. So I beavered away talking to her, playing down my part in the war in a modest fashion, while giving the impression that if I hadn’t been around the Union army would be in Richmond by now. She drank it all in, smiling wider all the time, until, when her father was called away for a moment, I suggested a walk in the large garden behind the ballroom. She was all eagerness as she slipped her hand lightly on my arm and we stepped out into the late evening sunshine. We took a turn round the garden – it was more like a small park - and presently came to a secluded little arbour where I suggested we take our ease.

‘Now then, Colonel, you’re very gallant, but will I be safe with you ?’, she said.

‘As safe as you could ever be’, I said, without a word of a lie.

It was cooler in the arbour out of the late evening sunshine so Abi drew closer to me as I slipped my arm around her shoulders. She looked up at me and I bent to kiss her. As her lips met mine I felt her tongue slip into my mouth and her hand began to move across my thigh.

I don’t usually care to take my pleasure al fresco - with our weather who would ? But it had been a long time and an experienced soldier knows that sometimes he must take his rations where he finds them. So I set to with a will and soon we were galloping away like an archdeacon on holiday, though I was wrong about her not being saddle broken, as she amply demonstrated. By the time we’d finished it was fully dark and people were beginning to come out to look at the stars so we rearranged our clothes hurriedly and made our way separately back to the ball. We hadn’t been gone long and her father hadn’t missed her or noticed our leaving so when I next bumped into him that evening he was full of bon homme, with no suspicion I’d become his daughter’s latest conquest, because that’s what it was without a doubt – not that I was complaining, of course. ‘Dear Abi is quite taken with you’, he said. ‘You must join us in our temporary lodgings for dinner one evening. Abi will give you a warm welcome, I’m certain of that’, to which I said they were both very kind and I hoped I’d enjoy her company just as much as I had that night.

Next day Stuart had the division in review again, for the benefit of his guests from the night before, with yet another ball in the evening. Watching from a small knoll he was in his element as the troops paraded past led by the horse artillery, with three bands playing music. It ended with cannon firing and a massed charge. The arrangements suited Miss Abi and I very well, as we were able to arrange another tryst with a view to comfort this time, but not everyone was so pleased. The troopers were beginning to complain about all the spit and polish, and while the division looked very fine there were comments both in the army and from journalists that all these parades were a waste of time, and that Jeb should be planning for the future campaigns not organising balls and parties for ‘young empty headed beauties’. Lee had been invited to attend but had cried off with the plea that he ‘had so much work to do’, which really should have given Jeb a clue. He affected to be uninterested in the criticism, especially from the press, who he characterised as jealous but it hurt him deeply whenever his wife Flora sent him a clipping that was critical of him. Quite why he should have become so obsessed with his celebrity I don’t know, but he’d certainly changed from when I first met him back in 1861. Now I’m proud of my fame and reputation but I use it to impress the ladies and intimidate underlings, not for its own sake. With Jeb it was though he was looking to cut a dash all the time and have his name known the length and breadth of the country. Fame does funny things to people I suppose – they become more pompous, self important and impatient, as though the object of everything in the world is to suit their needs and desires – as I remember Cardigan was just the same, though in his case it was because he was a lord, rather for anything he’d accomplished. Still, while Jeb had his run of victories it could be treated as water off a duck’s back. The time to worry would be when he had a setback. He had no end of enemies in and out of the army, waiting for him to have a fall. Jealousy’s a terrible thing. I know, because I’ve been subject to it all through my life, when other people look at my hard won but mostly undeserved laurels.

Lee did attend a final review a few days later. The army was moving north for his planned campaign into Pennsylvania and he wanted to see the condition of the men and horses. There was no mock battle this time but the division, including the artillery batteries, paraded for him, and then accompanied by Stuart and his staff, including me, Lee rode up and down the lines, closely inspecting the state of the division. ‘They look very fine, General Stuart’, he said. ‘Both men and horses seem rested and ready for action. They must advance north on June 9th’ . It wasn’t roses all the way, though. Grumble Jones’s brigade failed to advance into the parade. An aide was sent to see what was going on and I went along with him. We found him lying on the ground, oblivious to all that was going on. The aide told him that Stuart was expecting his brigade to join the parade. ‘Damn the parade and all this showing off’, he shouted. ‘I’ll not waste time and effort so that whippersnapper can preen himself in front of the ladies !’. There was a lot more of it not fit to repeat and when we reported it back to Jeb his face was a picture of fury. It was plain insubordination, of course, and set the pattern for his relationship with one of his senior commanders over the next few months, which was to come to a head some time later.

Stuart had all packed up and ready to leave as directed by Lee but on the morning of June 9th we were woken just before dawn by sounds of gunfire. A courier soon arrived and reported a large force of Union cavalry had crossed the Rappahannock and were advancing on Stuart’s position. As he came out of his tent he called for the HQ baggage train to be sent to the rear. I made sure I was in his view and he called ‘Harry. See to that, will you?’, to which I replied with alacrity ‘At once, General’, which kept me nicely clear of any fighting that day. It was the beginning of the largest cavalry action of the war and a wakeup call to rebels. There was hard fighting all day and as usual Jeb was in the thick of it but he couldn’t claim any glory at the end of the battle. If anything it was a tactical victory for the Union cavalry who showed they were now a match for the rebel’s horsemen. Had they been handled a little more aggressively they could have given the rebels, who were taken completely by surprise, a thorough pasting. Stuart was hugely embarrassed at this happening so soon after his grand reviews. What was worse, it gave his enemies the opportunity they’d been waiting for.

Of course there were jokes and remarks from the infantry, from private soldier upwards, but that could be taken with a pinch of salt. More serious were the comments of other generals, some of which were motivated by spite, but others were honestly critical. When discussing it with Henry McClellan, Stuart’s adjutant, he said to me ‘You know, Harry, the Federal’s matched us this time and they know it. There’ll be no more easy cavalry victories for the General after this’, and I had to agree he was right. Worst of all, though, for Stuart, was the reaction of the southern press especially in Richmond. One paper wrote that his public reputation had suffered badly as a result of something that he maintained was a victory, while another talked of the ‘puffed up cavalry’ that had suffered from ‘neglect and bad management’. Another suggestion was that ‘General Stuart see more, and be seen less’. When he saw these cuttings, sent by his wife Flora with loving reassurances, he was visibly shocked. We did our best to bolster him - ‘ they’re know nothing, know all journalists’, I told him, ‘who’ve never seen a battle’ – but it was no good. He became determined over the next weeks to redeem himself in the eyes of the south by some great deed that might vanquish the memory of what he now felt was a bitter blow to his pride and reputation. That determination became a weakness, and was something I thought I might be able to take advantage should the opportunity arise.

By the last week of June all the preparations were completed and the Army of Northern Virginia was ready to mount its latest invasion of the north. There’d been skirmishing and some quite big actions with the Federal forces all through the month and Jeb was quite active in them but had come through without a scratch. You’d have thought Hooker would have realised something was up but there was no sign of a major offensive by the Union army to disrupt whatever they might have suspected was planned.

Both Lee and Longstreet had sent Stuart messages about his role in the campaign which, taken together, were confusing and conflicting. Jeb had his own notions of what he wanted to do, which were at odds with Lee’s orders. To clarify things Stuart visited Lee at his HQ near Berryville on June 23rd. Some deny the meeting took place but I’m not the only one to write about it – Henry McClellan, Stuart’s adjutant, has mentioned the meeting in his memoirs. Those orders have been picked over by every Tom, Dick and Harry since the end of the war to decide whether they were too vague, or whether Stuart misinterpreted them, willingly or otherwise, to allow himself the maximum latitude. Well, I was there, so I can tell you exactly what was said, so you can make your own judgement based on that, rather than rely on some bumbling academic who’s picked over the bones of it all without ever being within a thousand miles of the place.

Lee began by outlining his general plan to Stuart and the main axis of advance. ‘The army will move up the Shenandoah Valley, then turn north into Pennsylvania, to threaten the enemy’s cities. My aim is to bring Hooker to battle, destroy him, and force the enemy to sue for peace’. Pointing to the maps laid out he gave Stuart his orders. ‘You will take 3 brigades of your division and guard the mountain passes while the Army of Northern Virginia is still south of the Potomac. Then you will cross the river with the remainder of the army and screen the right flank of General Ewell's Second Corps as it advances. I leave it to your judgement where to enter Maryland but once you see that the enemy is moving northward you must waste no time positioning yourself to the right of our advance’.

Well, that was clear enough but Jeb being Jeb had another plan in mind which he asked permission to outline. It can only have been because of Lee’s confidence in Stuart, who he trusted more than any other soldier apart from perhaps Jackson, that he allowed him to continue. ‘Go ahead, General. What do you propose ?’

‘Sir’, said Stuart, ‘the role you have planned for me can be undertaken by the balance of my division. I suggest I take the three brigades northwards, place them between Hooker’s army and Washington, thereby threatening both his rear and the enemy’s capital. There will also be an opportunity to gather supplies from the rich farm country around there’.

Lee smiled indulgently, and looked at Stuart with undisguised affection.

‘Another turn around the Union army, General ? In other circumstances I could permit it, but for this campaign my need for information about Hooker’s movements is paramount. Any supplies you can gather will be useful, certainly, but they are not to impede you and their gathering is not to divert you from the role I have planned. In any case I need to keep the balance of your division to guard the flank and rear of the army as it moves northwards’. With that his military secretary, Marshall, gave Jeb a letter confirming his instructions, which later on was to play an important part in determining Stuart’s actions.

So there you have it, plain as a pikestaff. Much more was discussed in detail regarding the move northwards, supply situation and all but while Stuart had his orders and a little discretion in carrying them out, there was no doubt what Lee wanted him to do. That he didn’t do so was due to a number of reasons, and as you will see, I had a part in that. Back at his HQ he expressed his disappointment that his plan had been rejected to me.

‘Harry, I think the General’s being too cautious in the use of my division. I’m sure that a threat to Hooker’s rear and our proximity to Washington will cause him to pause and split his forces, giving our army a better chance of a decisive victory on northern soil’.

‘Well, Jeb, he has his plan, and he needs you to play your part in it’, I said. ‘It is a cautious use of your cavalry, I agree. But let’s see how things turn out. As you know things change very quickly once a battle has started. After all, you won’t be needed to screen Ewell’s corps then, and a move towards Hooker and around to his rear may be possible’. He nodded in agreement but I could see from his face that he still thought an opportunity was being lost, not least the chance to answer the criticism he had received since Brandy Station.

‘I think the instructions he has committed to paper give me some latitude should that come about’, he said, and passed me an envelope. I opened it and read the letter carefully. It told him he could continue on if he found Hooker’s army was inactive, but he should leave troops to watch him. But it was ambiguous in what route he should take to join up with Ewell, allowing him either to enter Maryland west of the Blue Ridge Mountains or pass around the Federals east of the mountains. Crucially, it gave Stuart the discretion to judge whether he could go around their army ‘without hindrance’. Given what he had been told and what he knew of Lee’s intentions you would have thought that he’d treat this letter with caution, perhaps consider it as Lee’s afterthoughts, should circumstances change. That’s what I’d have done, but Jeb wasn’t thinking of the full picture, and had plans of his own.

The night of 23rd June was damnably damp and uncomfortable, with a pitiless rain pouring down. McClellan and I slept on the porch of Caleb Rector’s house in Atoka, so at least we were out of the downpour, but Jeb insisted on sharing the discomfort of his men, and spent the night sheltering under a tree. The next day he set about organising his command for the march. The three brigades he choose were Hampton’s and those of Fitz and Rooney Lee, Robert Lee’s nephew and son respectively, leaving Grumble Jones behind as he didn’t feel that he could count on his full co-operation. I could see his point but that left old Grumble under the command of Robertson, who was nobody’s idea of a cavalry leader. As we were travelling light without wagons 3 days of rations were prepared, and a horse artillery battery was to accompany the cavalry.

Early in the morning of the next day, Stuart took his staff, including me, and escort off to Salem where his three brigades had assembled. As we started out he was singing away to himself ‘Ho ! for the Valley !’. As the march began the cavalry filed into a column of fours, and we headed east to a pass in the Bull Run Mountains that Jeb had used during second Manassas. John Mosby had scouted the route earlier and reported that Hooker’s army was stretched along a 25-mile arc from Leesburg in Virginia, to Thoroughfare Gap, just west of Haymarket, and the line was so thin that Stuart could easily slip through it, which was music to Jeb’s ears, of course.

Things had changed, though, and when we came out of the pass on the eastern side and began to descend in the dawn light we could see the Yankees on the move northeast, filling the road with infantry, wagons and guns. Our guns were unlimbered and a few shots exchanged before Jeb sent out a patrol towards Gainsville, and pulled the rest of his command back a few miles until the Union forces, which showed no sign of following us, had passed.

Having withdrawn and let the Union forces pass Jeb had to decide, in the light of his orders from Lee, whether to turn back or go on. It was clear now that the Union movement would place them between him and Ewell’s men, so he wouldn’t be able to screen them if he went on. It was equally clear that he should inform Lee of the movement and direction of the enemy troops. But that would mean turning back, and abandoning his plans, something that, after recent events he wasn’t inclined to do. He called me to him.

What do you think Harry ? Go on, or turn back ?’.

To me turn back was the answer, no matter what the contents of Lee’s letter. But that wasn’t what he wanted to hear, that I knew very well. If Lee didn’t get intelligence on Hooker’s movement, and Ewell’s flank was exposed to attack, the rebels could suffer a crushing defeat. If I played my part in that it would allow me to get away from this fearful war. So I told him what he wanted to hear.

‘General Lee has clearly given you discretion to continue if you can. I should think you can link up with Ewell once the enemy has passed by circling around them. It will hardly take any longer than retracing our steps back to find the army’.

At this he nodded and smiled, but for good measure I added ,‘Anyway, we can hardly go back empty handed now. Those vultures in the press would have a field day’. At that his face hardened, he sat upright on his horse and called his brigade commanders together to tell them his decision. ‘Gentlemen’, he said, ‘I still think we can fulfil our mission by continuing on’, and he told them the contents of Lee’s letter.

Chambliss, who was commanding the wounded Rooney Lee’s brigade looked troubled. ‘With respect, General, the letter speaks of being unhindered by the enemy. Doesn’t having to retire before them today mean that condition cannot be fulfilled ?’, he asked.

‘It is my view that once the enemy has passed we shall be able to get round them without difficulty’, Stuart answered. ‘General Lee has given me full authority to make that judgement’.

‘We must at least send a message back to General Lee that Hooker is on the move’, said Hampton. ‘I still think it would be better to retrace our march and link up with the army as they move north’, he continued.

‘That will be done before we go another step forward’, Stuart answered, ‘but we also have a mission to harass the enemy and gather supplies, which we cannot ignore’. Fitz Lee nodded his agreement and said that to him the letter clearly gave Stuart discretion to go forward.

I took out a map and opened it was best I could while mounted. ‘With General Lee moving into Pennsylvania’, I said, ‘we’d be as quick moving slightly east to the fords on the Potomac, and then turning northwest to join the army as we would turning back and chasing after them. We’d also have the chance, as General Stuart says, to make trouble for the enemy as we go’. I traced our route on the map and that seemed to settle the matter.

We spent the day where we were, getting thoroughly soaked overnight as the rain fell yet again. Sleeping on the ground under cape and blankets didn’t agree with me. The cold and wet made my wounds ache like the devil, especially my most recent one in the backside. Much more of this and I’d be tempted to slip away to Baltimore if we got near it, and try and find a ship home.

Next morning we marched slightly southeast, then north, at the walk, to Occoquan Creek, where we stopped at a ford for the night, crossing it the next day and heading north to a place called Fairfax. There was a brief skirmish with some Yankee horsemen as we neared the place but a regiment from the Carolinas saw them off, killing or capturing most of them. In the village we ransacked a couple of warehouses for supplies, which we were in need of ourselves, and Jeb sent a dispatch to Lee updating him of his progress and telling him that he believed Hooker’s army was on the way northwest to Leesburg. Then it was off again towards Rowsers Ford on the Potomac, which we reached some time near sundown.

I rode up with Stuart to the ford. The river was quite wide there, maybe half a mile, and it was swollen with all the recent rain, maybe two feet higher than normal.
‘Harry’, said Stuart, ’get your horse into the river there and see if we can cross’. Reluctantly I spurred my horse gently forward down to the bank and set him into the water. It was damn cold of course, with a strong current, and the water was quickly up to my saddle, so that my backside started to ache again. The worst thing was that I couldn’t rush because of the current and the need to find a safe route, and all the time I was an easy target for any sharpshooter on the other side. Despite the cold I started to sweat and then shiver as I thought of some oafish trooper on the other bank training his rifle on me, firing, and then I imagined the bullet tear into my chest or belly as he added the prize of an enemy staff colonel to his list of kills, while I tumbled off the horse clutching my wound and was swept away by the current, to either drown, bleed to death, or die of exposure to the cold water. Cowardly old Flashman, I can hear you say, and I’ll not disagree. I’ve never pretended to be brave, at least not to myself, anyway. But just let me put you on top of a nervous, fretting horse, who’s probably just as frightened as you are, and into a wide, swollen river running a fast current that’s freezing your backside off, to find a safe crossing for thousands of men, in the certain knowledge that if there is a marksman on the other side you’ll be his first target. Not so easy now, eh ? Fortunately, after a few careful and fearful minutes I reached the other side safe enough, and waved to Jeb, who’d been watching me get across closely. Soon he put Hampton’s men in to cross first, riding single file through the river. It took all night and was a damned dangerous business, the artillery proving especially difficult to get across, but it was managed in the end.

After a few hours rest, and some random vandalism of the canal that ran alongside the river that didn’t seem worth the effort to me we were off north again, split into two columns, and heading to a place called Rockville. I could see Jeb was getting anxious now, as though he was beginning to think he’d made the wrong decision to go on. So he had, but it was my job to make him think otherwise and delay his arrival so the Union forces had a better chance of defeating Lee.

We arrived at the town around midday, having had running fights with Union cavalry all along the way. While his troops tore down telegraph lines and hunted for supplies Jeb sat down and took tea in the house of a local Confederate supporter. All of a sudden a scout came in with a report of a large Union army wagon train heading in our direction. With that Stuart was up and out onto his horse, following the commotion, with us all trailing in his wake till he found the wagon train, with rebel soldiers already swarming all over it. As we caught up with it he said ‘Look at this gentlemen. It must be at least five miles long’. Some of the wagons had been abandoned where they stood, others had been pulled off the road while a few had been set on fire by their drivers, but most were just stopped in the road, their horses or mules stood patiently, waiting for whatever came next. Fitz Lee, having heard the news, came thundering up. ‘By the Lord, Jeb, what a prize for the General ! Those wagons are full of forage for horses and rations for the Union army. They’re a godsend !’. As we watched Stuart’s men were opening bags of feed for their horses, who were half starved by now. Stuart looked doubtful, though.

‘I’m not sure we can spare the time to either destroy them or take them with us’, he said. ‘I need to link up with the rest of the army as soon as I can’.

‘We must take them, General. Part of your mission is to gather supplies, and cause damage to the enemy’, says Lee. ‘This will accomplish both at the same time’.

Stuart still wasn’t convinced. ‘I would rather march down the 7th Street Road and take Abe and his cabinet prisoners. We are but a little distance from Washington. If we aren’t to join up with General Lee immediately I must do something to distract the enemy from his advance’.

‘Pardon me, General’, I put in, ’look at the horses. They’re far too fagged for that. Give ‘em a good feed and a rest, then let’s press on as planned’. Of course that was the opposite of what I wanted him to do, but you have to be a bit subtle about these things, or the game’s up. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to know the chap you’re trying to steer, and what he really wants to do. In this case I knew Jeb’s inclination was to take the wagons, and that he was trying to restore his reputation after Brandy Station, so I added, ‘Of course, while we’re doing that we could have a look at what the wagons are carrying in detail, see if maybe we can take a few along. Might be quite a feat to bring some of them in, and destroy the rest’.

He seized on that and detailed Chambliss to have the wagons inspected and get them in some sort of order. Of course once Chambliss reported back that there were over a hundred wagons in good condition, full of valuable supplies, and that the troopers were already beginning to put them in line he couldn’t leave ‘em, and gave the order to get them all in convoy to take with us. ‘We can’t abandon them for the enemy to regain’, he said, trying to justify it all to himself. It took hours to get them all sorted out, which was most satisfactory, but eventually we were ready to move on again, in the early evening. So we set off, nicely encumbered by a wagon train stretching back miles, slowing the whole expedition down to a slow walk, and reached another small town about ten o’clock that night, Brookville, where Jeb stopped the command for a few hours rest and took the opportunity to parole most of the hundreds of prisoners we had taken over the previous few days. After a few hours we trundled off again at a slow gait, wagons and mules slowing us down more and more. The troopers horses were beginning to give out as well, having covered more than a hundred miles in a few days. Of course, their riders then had to fall out and look for new horses in the surrounding countryside, weakening the command and slowing it further as they tried to catch it up.

On the column slowly went, heading north towards the small town of Westminster and the Pennsylvania border. Fitz Lee and his Virginians got there first and defeated a small enemy cavalry force, as well as capturing some infantry. When Stuart reached the town he was cheered wherever he went, though one woman took to throwing rocks and shouting abuse at the rebels as they passed. Jeb, though, was nodding in the saddle and sometimes we had to hold him on his horse by his sleeves. Early next morning, once the column of wagons had passed through the town, we were off again, weaving our way through to Union Mills a little south of the border. Once there we breakfasted with Fitz Lee on biscuits and shortcake in the house of a sympathiser. But reports of Union cavalry to the north broke up the little party and we headed into Pennsylvania, our flank covered by Lee’s men. By now it was obvious even to Henry McClellan that the wagons were slowing the column down but Stuart wouldn’t hear of abandoning them while there was still a chance they could be saved.

That was open to question, though, when we reached the town of Hanover in Pennsylvania on the morning of the last day of June. We made a hurried march over steep hills, which wore more men and horses down, only to find Federal cavalry in the streets before us, and to the south east of the town. Chambliss men sent them retreating pell mell into the town and one of his batteries unhitched and began shelling the place. Stuart sent orders for him to clear the town and hold it but not to pursue the Yankees too far. But Chambliss reached the centre of town he came across a far larger force than he expected and a charge pushed them back out in chaos. Jeb spurred us up to rally them back into the fight but it was too late for that. As the fleeing rebels flowed around us we could see the advancing enemy so close that we looked like we were at the head of their advance. Now it was every man for himself and as pistols cracked and the bullets whizzed past us we turned and rode for our lives. Naturally being at the back of the party I was first to turn and ride like the devil for the rear but Stuart and the rest weren’t far behind me and I put my nag at a wide gully and cleared it, followed by Stuart, Blackford, and the others. Chasing us off seemed to satisfy the Federal troops but they were now firmly in control of the town and blocked our route north. Through the afternoon the fighting continued on and off but there was nothing for it but to slip away at nightfall and try to find a way around them, wagons and all. Jeb had been given a newspaper that reported Jubal Early’s division had been in the area but left, though unfortunately, from Stuart’s point of view, it didn’t say which direction they’d gone in.

Off we went into the night, this latest march almost proving too much even for Stuart’s veterans, as wagons, horses and mule broke down, and men fell asleep in their saddles. Jeb had us up at the head of the column with Fitz Lee and he called a halt as we reached a small village called Dover. He’d convinced himself that we must keep north to the Susquehanna River, where we’d find the rest of the army, but when one of the villagers told him that Old Jube and his men had marched off to Shippensburg some time the previous day all his plans had to be abandoned.

‘Harry’, he said to me,’ Jubal Early’s division can’t be too far away now. I want you to organise scouting patrols, six of two men each. Send them out south and west fanning out in an arc to find the army and bring us back word’.

‘Very well, Jeb. Anyone you want to go on them in particular ?’, I said.

‘I want you and Major Venable to form one party. You’re our best riders. Put yourself in the centre of the line. If you make contact with the army send the Major back with news. The others I leave to you’, and he rode off the check the state of his men.

It didn’t take long to muster another ten riders and once I’d sent the other patrols on their way Venable and I started south west towards a place called Gettysburg. I suppose it might have been twenty miles and we took it fairly briskly, even though our nags were shot. The further we went the more signs of both armies we found until it became clear that a major encounter battle was building. Coming across Ewell’s Second Corps headquarters around mid afternoon we were directed to Lee’s HQ, a stone house at the centre and rear of the rebel lines, sitting on the Chambersburg Pike. To the south there was heavy fighting as the two sides fought over possession of the little town, and more importantly the higher ground to the south which swelled up into two ridges, one to the west and the other to the east. As we rode on our weary horses through Lee’s camp we were the subject of a lot of pointing and shouting. ‘They’s the cavalry’ was shouted from one man to another, while others called out ‘Hey, mister, is General Stooert here now ? Where he bin ? Gen’l Lees bin lookin’ out fer him all over !’ As we reached Lee’s HQ word had already gone ahead and the General himself was stood outside the stone house, his hands balled into fists, thrust into his sides, his dark eyes looking unwaveringly at me, as we rode to a halt in front of him.

‘Colonel Flashman, where is General Stuart ?’, he asked.

Chapter Text

Answering a question like that out of the blue can be devilish tricky, and even have deadly consequences – I remember some poor unfortunate delivering bad news to the she devil Ranavalona. Her face, if possible, turned even uglier, she shrieked and screamed, then at a signal her guardsmen cut the unlucky devil to pieces with their machetes in front of her – took them hours to clear the mess up, for one thing. So you’ll understand I’m a great believer in not shooting the messenger, and an even greater believer in not being the one who’s delivering the bad news. On this occasion I could hardly avoid it, but fortunately Robert Lee wasn’t the type to summon up the heavies if he heard something he didn’t like. Still, he was as near to anger as I’ve ever seen him, so it was a good job I’d given some thought to what I’d say on the way to find him. Not that my companion Venable was any help. Having seen that Lee was on the edge he jumped in before me.

‘Sir’, he said to Lee, ’with your permission I’ll return to General Stuart. My orders are to go back to him immediately with news of your position so he can rejoin the army’. Lee just nodded and waved him away before he turned his attention back to me. Venable was on his horse and away like a scalded cat before Lee could change his mind, leaving me to face the music alone. ‘Well, Flashman, I’m still waiting on your answer’, he said to me.

Jeb hadn’t told me what to say to Lee when he sent me off – he was too anxious to find him to think of excuses – so, even though I knew Stuart had followed his own inclinations to the letter rather than his orders, I wasn’t going to say anything that would make things any worse for him. For one thing I’d played my part in him trailing his troops all over Virginia and Pennsylvania instead of being where he was needed, so I didn’t want any blame from his actions being traced back to me. A straight answer was what was required here, so I just said ‘About twenty miles northwest, sir, readying his command to rejoin the army’. That seemed to wrong foot him. I suppose he’d been expecting me to explain why Stuart wasn’t where he was meant to be. He waited for a moment before saying anything else. I could he was turning over in his mind whether to grill me about why Stuart had been out of contact for so long. At last he shook his head and said ‘Well, the sooner General Stuart gets here the better. We’ll talk of what he’s been doing the last few days later, but now the battle is joined and there are much more urgent matters to consider. ’Taylor’, he called, to his ever present aide de camp, ’get Stuart’s position from the Colonel and arrange for at least three separate scouting parties to find him and give him our position and an estimate of the situation. Tell him he is to rejoin the army here as soon as he can. Flashman’, he said, turning to me, ’you’re to stay with me now. I’ve no doubt I’ll need a good galloper with an eye for the tactical situation as the battle develops. Major Taylor will appraise you of the current situation shortly’. With that he went back into his HQ.

As I’d thought, the developing battle at Gettysburg was a result of a chance encounter. When Lee had heard that the Army of the Potomac had crossed the river he’d ordered his army to concentrate at Cashtown, some eight miles west of the town. He’d not wanted to fight a major battle until his army was concentrated and he could choose the ground. But the previous day Pettigrew’s brigade had approached Gettysburg and spotted Federal forces in the town. He hadn’t engaged them, but his report had caused his corps commander A P Hill to mount a reconnaissance in force which had run into Union cavalry this morning, and the battle had developed from there.

Of course from the moment the rebels had ventured north again a battle was inevitable, but I doubt whether this ground would have been of Lee’s choosing. Lee himself had only arrived on the scene that afternoon just as the Federal troops were being pushed out of the town and the rebels had secured the two ridges, Seminary and McPherson’s, which were to the west of Gettysburg, running north to south. The Federal troops started to regroup on the high ground south of the small town, Cemetery Ridge and Culp’s Hill, which were around six hundred feet high, I suppose. Lee had his doubts about fighting on this ground but now he’d seen the Union armies break under the weight of the attack in the town he determined to keep the pressure on them. As he observed the battle develop over the next hour or so he realised the importance of the high ground the enemy was consolidating on. He first turned to A P Hill’s 3rd Corps to continue the advance, but Hill declined.  His men, he reported, were exhausted by six hours of hard fighting and he didn’t want push forward troops tired and disorganised, who would probably encounter fresh enemy troops. So Lee drew up an order to Ewell, whose 2nd Corps had pushed the Union troops out of Gettysburg and were the nearest Confederate units to the high ground, to mount an attack on it.

Taylor, his aide de camp, was to ride through the town to Ewell with the order and as he strode towards me Lee called to him ‘Major, take Colonel Flashman with you to observe the action’, and I fell in beside him hoping they could find me a fresh nag, as the one I rode in on was used up.

As I walked along beside him I said ‘Walt, what are General Lee’s orders for General Ewell ?’

‘He is to attack and take the high ground on Cemetery Ridge and Culp’s Hill if practicable’, Taylor answered. ’General Lee wants you to stay with 2nd Corps and observe the attack, reporting back to him directly when it is completed’.

Well, you can guess what I thought of that. It gave Ewell carte blanche to attack or not, as he saw fit. It was an even more ambiguous order than the written one Jeb had relied on during his latest raid. Lee must have known the importance of it – take those heights and they commanded most of the high ground around the town. The Union army wasn’t fully fielded yet and by the time they were the day’s battle would be won and they’d face the suicidal task of assaulting uphill a veteran army that had dug itself in overnight. They’d have to attempt it or admit another crushing defeat on their own soil, but that attempt could break the Federal army in a few hours. It would be Fredericksburg all over again. After Chancellorsville it was doubtful the Union could sustain another such defeat and continue the war. I think this is what Lee wanted all along, and while he hadn’t been able to pick the time and place his army still had the advantage and was in the process of inflicting a crushing defeat on the enemy.

Now if you gave that order to Stonewall he’d be on the move before you could say Jack Robinson, and likely as not have taken both hills in time for supper. But the order wasn’t going to Jackson, it was going to Richard S Ewell, who was by no means a bad soldier, but a far more cautious one than Jackson. Well, at least all I’d have to do was observe, which I would contrive to do from a safe distance, one way or another.

I was given a fresh horse and Taylor and I started down the turnpike from Lee’s HQ down through the little town itself. Its mainly narrow streets were crammed with rebel soldiers and thousands of Union prisoners, all mixed up together. Casualties lay everywhere as makeshift hospitals and aid stations were established in every sort of building or open space. Some Confederate soldiers were ransacking stores, shops and warehouses in search of supplies, while their officers tried to pay off the irate civilian owners with worthless Confederate dollars. It was a scene of merry mayhem and we had to force our way through the crowded streets to the south of the town where Ewell was positioned.

When we found Old Baldy he was issuing orders to get his Corps back together again, and wondering where the hell the missing division of Ted ‘Alleghany’ Johnson’s was, but he looked up at us as we dismounted and saluted him.

‘Well, Major Taylor, have you new orders for me ?’, he asked.

‘General Lee conveys his compliments and asks that you attack the high ground currently held by the enemy, here, on this ridge, and here, on Culp’s Hill’, he said, pointing the positions out on a map, ‘today, if at all practicable’.

‘So I’m to judge that, am I ?’, said Ewell. ‘It’s not an imperative order, then ?’

‘No sir, General Lee expects that you will see the importance of this attack and proceed with it if at all possible. If that is clear I am to return to Army HQ. Colonel Flashman will remain here to observe and report on your progress in due course’.

‘No need to stay any longer, Major. I’ll begin my preparations at once’, Ewell replied and with that Taylor saluted, remounted, and rode back towards the town.

Ewell looked at me sourly. He was a shortish fellow, with goggle eyes and a great bald dome of a head, apart from a fringe of hair at the back, and a big nose that, together with his occasional twitching and fidgeting, reminded you of a bird. He had his share of eccentricities as well, such as sleeping curled around a camp stool, and subsisting almost exclusively on a diet of boiled wheat and milk. He’d been a very competent divisional commander under Jackson despite their different personalities – where Jackson had been pious and stern Ewell could be very amusing and was given to a lot of profanity. The real trouble, though, lay in their differences as generals. Jackson was energetic, adaptable and aggressive, while Ewell was methodical, plodding, and liked clear cut direction from above. Perhaps Lee forgot that he wasn’t dealing with Stonewall as Second Corps commander when he drew up the new orders.

‘What do you make of these orders then, Colonel ?’, Ewell asked me.

‘You know the General’, I answered. ‘He relies on and trusts the judgement of his commanders. He likes to give them wide latitude in carrying out his commands’.

That he does’, Ewell replied. ‘I only hope that I can fulfil that trust today. ‘Let’s see if we can get the attack together before it’s too dark’. With that he called for his horse and set about looking at the state of his corps.

Now I’ve just said I didn’t care which side won this ghastly war and I hadn’t cared before either. If I was safe at home I’d take an interest, and be inclined, I suppose, to the North because of what I’d seen of slavery. The best outcome, for England at least, would be for the two parts of the country to finally saw themselves in half, as they’d been threatening to do for decades. I like Americans, on the whole, as generally kind and generous people but they can be too damn zealous for other people's good when they take it on themselves. A split like that might give ‘em pause for thought, before they decided that everyone else’s business was their business. But I wasn’t safe at home, I was stuck in the middle, with the devil’s own bargain I’d been forced to strike with Lincoln. If the Union won I knew I could rely on him to keep his side of it. If they lost, who could tell what would happen ? Lincoln would be put out of office for certain and no doubt his enemies in the North, of which there were plenty, would pore over every dot and comma of his actions. If it came out that he’d sent Flash off spying on the rebels and how he’d persuaded me to do it I’d be ruined. Much worse still, if I’d not got out of Dixie by then and it came out why I was there my journey home would start at the end of a rope, and be completed in a box. Victory or no, Americans can be damned vindictive sometimes. So there I was, at the end of a day which could see the South victorious if Ewell took that high ground. My duty, to myself, was clear. He was a cautious man, Ewell, as he might well be, having been shot that very day in the wooden leg he lost at Bull Run. If he looked to me for advice he’d found a soothing voice agreeing with his every instinct not to mount an attack, practicable or not. How often over the last few months had I found myself proffering advice that suggested the opposite of what was required, for my own benefit, I wondered ? Perhaps I should have gone into banking.

My alternative careers aside, Ewell was obliged to attempt to mount an attack ‘if practicable’ and so he called for his staff and dragging me along with them set off back to Gettysburg to get his men disentangled and to find a suitable site to place his artillery, for the assault on the high ground.

The scene in the town was, if anything, more confused and chaotic than before, though there were now few civilians on the streets – gone off to spend their Confederate scrip, devil of a doubt. Federal prisoners were still intermingled with the rebel soldiers, and it seemed that no attempt had been made get them properly organised and guarded. Ewell set some of his staff, accompanied by a lavish volley of swearing that was almost poetic, to find the regimental officers and get their regiments formed up and ready to move through the narrow Gettysburg streets southwards to mount the attack. ‘Damn mess, Flashman, damn mess’, he said to me as he looked at the chaos, toning his language down a deal for my delicate ears.

‘It is, General, but there’s still time. The sun won’t set early this time of year so provided your staff get the regiments organised properly an attack should still be possible. I’ve always found it’s important not to let things like this go off half cock, as it always leads to disaster. Get ‘em formed up, with proper artillery support and it’s far more likely to succeed’, I said to him. Ewell, nodded and grunted in agreement, and set to look for a decent platform for his guns.

Now if I’d said that to Jackson I’d have been ignored at best, and more likely thrown out because it was the exact opposite of what was required. In an uncertain situation like this, with Federal troops still scrambling to get up the high ground, get organised, and dig in Ewell should have got whatever units he could find, even if it was the latrine detail or men from the cookhouse, up those hills as soon as he could to find positions to harass the enemy and keep them busy and under fire so they couldn’t organise themselves. He might lose a few men but nothing like the numbers he would lose in an attack the next day. While that was happening he could find more men from the town and get them moving to support the troops he’d already sent up there. That’s what Stonewall, and I daresay Grant, would have done. But it was against Ewell’s instinct, and I just had to play up to that.

He didn’t have much luck in finding a suitable site for his guns either. He was attacking high ground and he needed to find some for his guns so they could gain the necessary elevation but there was none to be found in the south of Gettysburg that offered any sort of field of fire. Of course in the current situation, where it was likely to be a straight infantry fight, with no Federal counter battery fire, artillery wasn’t essential, but it all added to his feelings of uncertainty about mounting the attack at all. As we made our way back to his HQ south of the town Ewell resumed his stream of profanity, aimed especially at the commander of his missing division, Allegheny Johnson, who hadn’t been seen all day.

Back at his HQ officers came and went, and after an hour or so his troops began to form up and ready themselves for the assault, as they were dragged out of the town where many of them, it seems, were searching for a large stock of shoes and boots rumoured to be there. Ewell went outside to look them over as they marched by. Now remember most of these men had been marching and fighting all day under a hot July sun, and were tired, hungry and thirsty. What’s more, they looked it, dusty, down at heel, and their mouths hanging open as they looked desperately around them for a drink.

‘By God, General Ewell’, I said, ‘those men are splendid soldiers ! They look all used up but still they’re ready to fight again ! Shame ye can’t rest ‘em a little, to avoid the inevitable casualties caused by tiredness, but losses or no, they’ll do the job for you, given a little luck, eh ?’

Old Baldy’s eyes goggled as he looked at them, he twitched in his saddle, putting his head on one side, as was his habit, and then ordered his staff to have those units arrived sit and rest while somebody ‘got the poor dumb bastards somethin’ to drink ! But no damned whisky !’, taking the momentum out of the build up nicely. Isaac Trimble, who had no official position but had attached himself to Ewell’s HQ, begged him not to stop the march, and was rewarded with another blast of invective, and ordered to ‘get his ass over to General Lee’ to see if A P Hill’s Corps could give them support when the attack went in. Trimble threw down his sword in disgust and stormed off, and Ewell had to send another officer in his place. While he was away Ewell got word that Johnson’s division had arrived, but also that fresh Union forces were arriving from the east and posed a threat to his flank. That made him more twitchy and nervous but the final straw was the message from Lee that he couldn’t expect any support from Hill’s Corps at this time, as they were exhausted from the earlier fighting.

‘No guns in place’, he said. ‘The men worn out, thirsty, and hungry. No support from A P Hill, and a threat to my flank that Johnson may need to meet. I tell you gentlemen that there is a limit to what we can achieve here today, and we may well have reached it’. There was a hubbub among his staff and senior commanders as he said this. It wasn’t just Trimble who protested at any delay – Jubal Early, who was one of Ewell’s divisional commanders, told him ‘if you do not go up there tonight, it will cost you ten thousand men to do it tomorrow’ and he wasn’t alone. But Ewell was unmovable and until Johnson’s division arrived around 7:30 that evening he did nothing more to mount an attack. Then he detailed two junior officers to try to reach the summit of Culp’s Hill, and when they returned without running into the enemy he turned to Johnson and half heartedly told him to occupy the hill ‘if it was clear of Union troops’. When they came rushing back down after being fired on by Union pickets they reported a large force to be there and Ewell abandoned the attempt altogether. Shortly afterwards Lee arrived at his HQ and after discussing the situation with Old Baldy decided to confirm his dispositions. I accompanied Lee back to the army HQ on the Chambersburg Pike and sat in on the conference he and Old Pete Longstreet had regarding strategy the next day – Lee was keen to hear my opinion of the quality and morale of the Union forces engaged that day. I was shocked to find Arthur Freemantle of the Guards hanging about Lee’s HQ as an informal observer but as he affected no surprise at all on meeting me, and just said ‘Hello, Flash, how are you ?’, I can only assume that he thought I was on a confidential mission, perhaps after talking to Joe Wolseley.

That meant I was party to the dispute between the two senior Confederate generals. Longstreet advised Lee that they should pull out of the area and march eastwards to threaten Washington. He felt that they were going to fight the battle on the Union’s terms, who would be in strong defensive positions that would be costly to take. Better, he said, to withdraw and force them to follow – they could hardly ignore a threat to the capital, after all – and then the rebels could fight them on ground of their choosing.

But Lee’s blood was up, and when that was the case he would brook no argument. "No," he said. "The enemy is there, and I'm going to attack him there. They are there in position, and I am going to whip them or they are going to whip me." That was that, then, and after spending some time considering the options for the following day with his staff and subordinates Lee retired to bed around midnight. I could see that whatever happened, and whoever won, tomorrow was going to be a bloody day. The entire rebel army in the east was at Gettysburg or heading for it, and I’d no reason to doubt the same was true for the Federal army. Once they met there would be an almighty collision. I would have to be careful where I went and what I did when they clashed again in the morning.

I was awake early the next morning, July 2nd, but nowhere near as early as Lee, who apparently rose after just three hours sleep, and after a quick breakfast, began to firm up his plans for the day’s fighting. He instructed Longstreet to march his Corps south, to the left of the Union Line, and roll it up northwards, till they had taken the high ground up Cemetery Ridge completely. Ewell was to move his men south to support the attack. At this Ewell protested that his men would be demoralised if they had to give up ground they had fought so hard for, and that it would release the Union forces they faced, who may reoccupy the town when he moved his Corps southwards, and in any case would be released to be moved wherever it was felt they were needed. In the end Lee relented and ordered him to stage a diversionary attack to stop the enemy reinforcing against Longstreet when his attack went in.

Longstreet again argued for a movement around the south of the Federal army to place the rebels between the Union forces and Washington, but apparently Lee used the same argument that Ewell had – the effect on morale if they gave up hard won ground. I wasn’t there for all this discussion, which took place while I was trying to sleep, but when I saw Longstreet later that morning he didn’t look too happy about it, nor did he look likely to move very quickly.

That was around mid-morning, I suppose, when I’d been summoned to accompany Lee as he rode his lines and took stock of the overall situation before the planned attack began. He was still lacking the intelligence that Stuart, of whom there was still no sign, was expected to provide for him about changes in Federal dispositions so that he could adjust his plans as required. Every time he saw someone he thought might have some idea where his cavalry was he asked them ‘Have you seen General Stuart?’ or ‘Any word of my cavalry?’. But no one had seen hide nor hair of him, and Lee grew more anxious as the time passed and there was no sign of Jeb.

We rode down through Gettysburg to 2nd Corps HQ, near a creek. Ewell wasn’t there but Trimble took Lee up to the cupola of the Almshouse there so he could get a better view of the battlefield. By the time we returned to his HQ a little later he was getting fractious, particularly about Longstreet’s slow progress in getting his command on the road south to assault the Union’s left. Eventually he issued a written order telling Longstreet to march with as much of his corps as was ready to a position on the Emmitsburg Road that would allow him to attack the enemy’s flank there.

The day turned to afternoon and Lee was still waiting anxiously for the word that Longstreet was ready to attack. It must have been early afternoon when his patience gave way and he summoned me. ‘Colonel’, he said, ‘ride after Longstreet and see what progress he is making. Impress upon him that this whole day’s action depends on his attack being made as soon as possible. Report back to me as soon as you have spoken to him’.

I soon caught up with the tail of Longstreet’s men, as they toiled in the hot sun over the unfamiliar Pennsylvania ground, which rose and fell, and was dotted with clumps of trees and rocky outcrops, which they had to march around. To avoid being spotted by Union signallers he had them march away from Gettysburg to the west on the Fairfield road, then turn south, passing behind A P Hill’s 3rd Corp, on Seminary Ridge, which all added to the delay in deployment. Riding past the toiling troopers I found Longstreet watching the progress of his men at the roadside.

‘General Lee’s compliments, sir’, I said. ‘He would like an estimate of when you will be in position to start your attack ?’

‘That would depend on when all of Hood’s division arrives, Flashman. Nor do I have Pickett’s division available as yet’, he replied. ‘I never like to go into battle with one boot off. Inform General Lee that I would like his permission to hold my attack until at least Law’s brigade is available, if not Pickett’s men. I hope that will be around an hour from now, say about 3:30’. I rode straight back to Lee at his HQ and relayed Longstreet’s request to him.

‘I don’t like this delay’, he said. ‘The longer we wait the more the enemy strengthens his defences and the harder the task will be. Flashman, what’s your opinion of Longstreet’s request ?’

‘I doubt he’d be ready to attack much before 3:30 anyway, General. His divisions are still strung out along the line of march. McLaws has all his men but they’re not ready to attack yet, and of course the missing brigade belongs to Hood’s division. I can’t see it would make any difference even if you refused his request’. At this Lee sighed deeply, shrugged his shoulders, and said ‘Very well. Tell the General he may wait. Stay with his Corps until they have taken their objectives, and then report back to me’, and with that he sent me back, again, to Longstreet.

Normally it would suit me very well to be with the commanding general but it was a singular fact of this war that general officers had a far higher casualty rate than would be expected. Quite apart from old Stonewall, which was a mistake, of course, both sides had lost numerous senior men, up to and including Major Generals. So I wasn’t happy to be sent back to a fighting general like Longstreet but there was nothing I could say to avoid it so I just had to get on with it. I took my usual route along the road behind Hill’s Corps but as I got towards 2nd Corps I was amazed to see that part of the Union force, about a corps in size I suppose, had detached itself from their main line of resistance on Cemetery Ridge and was forming a salient facing Longstreet along the Emmitsburg Road. As I got to Longstreet he and Hood were examining the enemy’s new position in astonishment.

‘General Lee has agreed to your request’, I said to Longstreet, who nodded, and pointing at the advanced Union corps said ‘What do you make of that, Colonel ?’. ‘I don’t know what to make of it’, I answered, ‘unless they have advance notice of your orders and want to put a spanner in the works by blocking your line of advance. Otherwise why would they hang out a corps in a position like that, where they’ve no support from the rest of their army and are vulnerable to attack on three sides ?’

‘My thoughts as well’, he answered. ‘Hood wants to swing around south and take them in the rear but that would completely change the plans General Lee has made. When Law’s brigade arrives we’ll put some guns on them to soften them up. They’re a much better target out there than on the ridge. We’ll have to push east into and round them rather than trying to roll up the line from the south. Hood’s division will form the south prong of the attack, while McLaws takes the northern route. General Hood’, he said, turning to him, ‘when you get moving put some men on that first hill, to the south, Round Top, and see what possibilities it offers to bring fire down on the enemy flank, then send a report back to me’.

This was clearly my cue. ‘General, in view of this change of plans I should report back to General Lee so that he is informed of the new situation’, I said.

‘Already taken care of, Colonel’, he replied. ‘I sent a message back while you were on your way here. Might as well stay and enjoy the show. I’d say your horse could do with the rest as well. Probably worth you going in with Hood so that you can see the progress he’s making and report back to General Lee. McLaws division will aim to fix the enemy in the north while Hood tries to unhinge their defence on their left flank. That’s the place to be if you want to be able to report back on our attack’. That, of course, put me right in the place I didn’t want to be, where the fighting was likely to be the hottest, but again there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to get out of it.

Sharp on 4 o’clock Longstreet’s guns opened up and continued their barrage for about thirty minutes. By this time Law’s missing brigade had arrived and was deployed in some woods on the southern extension of Seminary Ridge, with a number of regiments, including the 15th Alabama, detailed to head for the first hill. I was skulking at the back of them, ready to follow at what I hoped was a safe distance. I’d left my horse at Longstreet’s HQ and was on foot – I’d just have been a better target sat on him. As the cannon fire subsided we saw Hood stand up in his stirrups at the front of the Texas Brigade and shout, "Fix bayonets, my brave Texans! Forward and take those heights!". Up went the rebel yell, as, bizarrely, in the background a Confederate band played polkas and waltzes that could be heard above the din of battle. Off we all moved, I with my pistol at the ready, as I let the Alabamans lead the way towards Round Top. To the north of us the rebels were crashing into the exposed line of the forward Union corps and fighting began to break out in places that would become famous for the ferocity and bloodiness of the combat – the Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, and the Wheatfield. Fortunately the hill we were headed for seemed unoccupied and we scrambled up the wooded boulder strewn slopes to reach the top of the hill. It was only about five or six hundred feet high but fear, sweat, and its steep sides made it seem much higher. As I got to the summit behind the infantry the commander of the 15th , Oates, was surveying the smaller hill, slightly to the north east. You’ll know it now as Little Round Top, but it wasn’t called that then, having various names such as Rock Hill, High Knob, Sugar Loaf Hill, or Broad Top Summit.

As I reached him he looked round and said excitedly to me, ‘See that hill there, Flashman ? It’s the key to the whole southern end of the Union line ! Get on there in force and I could hold it against ten times the men I had, and bring down enfilade fire on the Union positions here so they’d have to withdraw ! I could make it a Gibraltar !’

I looked over at the hill. It was a little lower than Round Top, and it was also strewn with boulders. It was much more lightly wooded though, and its western slope did indeed look down on the end and rear of the Federal line. I couldn’t see it being that easy to get artillery up there – its slopes were quite steep – but Oates was right. Get enough men up there and they could make very uncomfortable for the men on Cemetery Ridge. ‘Can’t see any Federal troops up there’, I said.

‘There’s a few’, he replied, ‘but not enough to hold it if we can get there quick’. With that he darted back down the slope, heading for the southern side of the other hill, and bawling for his men to follow him. Confederate guns began to fire in the direction of that hill so they must have spotted Union reinforcements on their way to it. It was now a race to see who could get there first. I followed as the regiment formed up and crossed the broken ground between the hills. I’d no desire to run up the other hill into a volley of rifle fire but being stuck out on my own on Round Top with just a pistol to defend myself wasn’t a good idea either, so I followed at an easy pace as the rebels raced to get to the top of the smaller hill. There was another Alabama regiment to my left but Oates was leading his men through some woods and up to the extreme southern edge of the hill. I was about a hundred yards behind as they ran as fast as they could up the slope, yelling, shouting and cursing as they laboured up the hillside. I don’t know exactly how far up they were when I heard a crashing volley of rifle fire from the top of the hill pour into the line of advancing rebels, which staggered, stopped for a moment, and then reformed and moved on up the slope. By this time, on pure instinct, I found myself behind one of the many large boulders lying across the slope, burrowing in to get as close to the ground as possible. I could hear heavy firing from all round the southern and western sides, with Minie bullets buzzing through the air like swarms of bees, shredding saplings into pieces as they sped to their targets.

Oates men took one volley after another but charged up to the crest and pushed the Federal soldiers off it before they counter attacked and threw the rebels back off the top of the hill. The fighting was hand to hand now, rifles and pistols going off at point blank range, so close that the barrels were almost touching. Again the rebels gained the crest and again they were pushed off as the fighting grew savage. They retired a little down the slope, took cover, and began to exchange rifle fire with the Union men at the top of the hill, thinning out their numbers until they could make another charge. I stayed behind my rock, clinging to it like a shipwrecked lascar. I was there to observe and report, not fight and this was one order I was going obey to the letter.

Up they went again, charging and yelling as they tried to take the crest again. The enemy poured rifle fire into them but couldn’t stop them as the rebels, lead by Oates, pushed them out of their positions at the top of the hill. The slaughter was tremendous, with bodies all over the place, blood was pooling on the ground and splashing the rocks red, and the air was thick with the acrid smell and smoke of gunpowder. Some bodies tumbled down the hillside towards me, showing the marks of three or more separate wounds from different weapons. Then one or two stray bullets whipped past my head and I cowered back behind the rock again. There was another intense burst of fire, the roar of men bellowing, and as it slackened slightly I peered around the base of the boulder to see the rebels had been pushed off the hill top again, and were again taking cover to exchange fire before forming for another charge. Twice more they charged up the hill to the crest, took it and were again thrown back in bitter hand to hand fighting, with rifles used as clubs, crashing onto men’s heads, smashing into faces, or pounding ribs and bellies. They were so close that the victim often tumbled onto their attacker as he fell from his wound, knocking his killer onto the ground. Pistols cracked at point blank range yet missed their targets in the panic and uproar.

After a while the firing slowed down as ammunition began to run out. Oates saw his chance – with his superior numbers he could rush the crest and carry the Union line if the enemy had expended all their bullets. As they formed up for another charge up the slope to the crest there was a tremendous roar from their right flank. I saw that the left of the Union line had risen up, swung like a gate on a post anchored at the centre of their position, and turning down across the hillside with bayonets fixed, charged at the flank of the Alabamans. Some of them panicked at the sight, dropped their rifles, and fled back through their own ranks. Others followed suit, but it wasn’t a general rout then, and Oates was shouting to get the line steady, to turn and face the charge a little down the slope when suddenly, from behind a stone wall to their right, dozens of Federal troops stood up and started to pour rifle fire into their flank. A disordered retreat down the hill side now became a rout, as panicked soldiers fled down the hill, dropping weapons and equipment in a desperate attempt to escape the slaughter. I didn’t wait for them to reach me – I was down that hill like a greyhound as soon as I saw the enemy troops rise up from behind the wall, and let me tell you, no one got to the bottom before me, though it was a close thing.

The struggle for what became known as Little Round Top wasn’t over yet, of course. The Texan Brigade was still attacking the western side of the hill, and was close to carrying it until Union reinforcements came up to bolster the defenders and hold the hill at that point, but for the 15th that fight was over.

I was with Oates as he stood, cursing, as he tallied his losses. He lost nearly half his command killed, wounded or missing, including his brother John, who he’d been forced to leave wounded on the hillside. ‘I tell you, Colonel’, he said to me, ‘if we’d had another regiment come up the hillside on our right we’d have thrown them Yankees off that hill and be smashing into the side of their main line right now’. Then he added to my horror ‘Where were you, sir, during the fighting ?’, to which I could only answer, ‘My orders were to observe and report to General Lee. Mr Oates. I can’t do that if I’m dead or wounded’. ‘Orders are orders, Colonel, and must be obeyed. I apologise if I have impugned your honour’, he replied, but still looked a trifle disappointed I hadn’t been leading the way, flourishing my sabre and getting a bellyful of lead. Sometimes having a reputation as a fire eater can cut both ways.

Once it became clear that the hill remained in Union hands I took my leave of Oates and rode carefully back towards Lee to report. Furious fighting continued along the front and the Union corps that had stood out from the line had vanished, having been smashed to pieces by McLaw’s attack. Everywhere along the southern end of Cemetery Ridge the Union army clung desperately to their defensive positions, while the Army of Northern Virginia fought just as desperately to dislodge them, with men from Anderson’s division, from A P Hill’s Corps, joining the assault on the centre of the Federal line. When I saw the casualties from the fighting there I could consider that I was perhaps lucky that I’d been with Oates and his men instead.

I found General Lee on Seminary Ridge, from where he was observing the battle with his small group of staff officers. He was sat on a stump when I got there, and I rode straight up to him, dismounted, and, after saluting him, said ‘Slow progress for 1st Corps. They tried to take the two hills to the south of Cemetery Ridge but were unsuccessful. They are continuing to attack the southern end of the ridge but are taking heavy casualties’.

‘Ewell will be opening an attack on the north of the ridge shortly’, he said. ‘Those guns you can hear are his artillery firing on the enemy positions on the two hills in preparation. If Longstreet can keep up the pressure in the south it will prevent any reinforcements being shifted from there to reinforce the north. With good coordination and luck Ewell may take the north of the ridge and sweep down the Union line until he links up with Longstreet’.

While I’d been running up and down hills with Longstreet’s men Jeb Stuart had arrived at last. Hearing it from Henry McClellan he told me it was a very painful meeting. As he reported to Lee directly the General said ‘Well, General Stuart, you are here at last’, to which Stuart replied ‘General Lee, I have brought you one hundred and twenty five new wagons’. Lee’s response was stinging. ‘General, they are impediment to me now’. McClellan said Stuart looked as if his face had been slapped, and he turned his eyes to the floor as though he’d been shamed. Lee, seeing his hurt, quickly took his arm by the elbow and said ‘Come, it will be alright’ as they went into his HQ. Stuart was now out on the army’s left flank along York Road. As I said, a kinder, more decent man never wore a general’s uniform, though if Lee had been a little tougher on his subordinates things might have turned out differently for the Confederacy.

Ewell’s infantry attack went in around 7 pm that night. After all my exertions I was pleased to be able to stay around Lee as he watched the fighting from the ridge. Ewell’s artillery, on Benner’s Hill, was in an inferior position to the Union guns and was pummelled into silence by them before the infantry assault. They made some initial gains but were counter attacked and driven off, though they kept a foothold on Culp’s Hill overnight. Apart from some skirmishes the fighting began to die down around 10 o’clock and by 10.30 the loudest noise, as ever after a day’s fighting, were the moans and cries of the wounded and dying still out on the field. The battle wasn’t over yet, though. Lee wanted to defeat and demoralize the Army of the Potomac and he believed, having assaulted both flanks causing heavy losses, that they would now be weakest in their centre, and that is where he intended to strike. He had a fresh division, Pickett’s from Longstreet’s Corps, and he intended to use it. If you think I’ve had too many kind words for Bobby Lee I can tell you that my involvement in the next day’s action had me thinking quite differently about him for a very long time.

Chapter Text

At first light the next morning I accompanied Lee to see Longstreet. They hadn’t spoken face to face the previous evening and Lee was anxious to make sure that Longstreet understood his plan for the day. He wanted early morning attacks by both Longstreet and Ewell, which were to be co-ordinated with each other. Longstreet had different ideas, and wanted to circle south around the two hills I’d been on the day before and attack the Federal army in its rear. He’d gone so far as to issue the necessary orders, which Lee angrily cancelled as soon as he heard of them. Of course this also meant that Ewell would have to delay his attack until Longstreet was ready to follow the new plan, and Lee sent a courier back to him with orders to stand fast until 1st Corps was ready. When the courier arrived he found that instead of waiting on Ewell’s attack the Union forces had counter attacked the rebels in an effort to retake the positions on Culp’s Hill they had lost the day before, taking the initiative and ruining Lee’s plans for a concerted attack. Ewell sent back a terse reply by the courier: "Too late to recall”.

Lee wasn’t downcast at this news though. He still had a fresh division and thought his army invincible. They’d proved themselves so in the past and he knew of no reason this shouldn’t continue, and he still intended to launch an attack as soon as possible on the Union centre.

‘Now, Longstreet’, he said, ‘I want all the available guns concentrated on the enemy centre to bombard them before the infantry attacks. Along with Pickett’s division we will field brigades from Hill’s Corps on the left, under Pettigrew, and two brigades from Anderson’s division to your right. Taylor has the order of battle to discuss with you and Hill. You’ll have upwards of fifteen thousand men to follow in after the artillery has finished’.

Longstreet still wasn’t happy, and he wasn’t the sort of man just to accept orders without question – he seemed to consider himself not a subordinate of Lee’s but his co-commander. ‘ General’, he said ‘I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions, and armies, and should know, as well as any one, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arrayed for battle can take that position’. Lee looked at him anxiously – this was his old warhorse expressing his doubts so he was bound to listen.

Looking at the position they had to assault, and the time the Union army had been given to fortify it I had to agree, and I was grateful that I wasn’t going to be involved. But I didn’t want any doubt about the attack in Lee’s mind at this time so I put in ‘Begging General Longstreet’s pardon, sir, while I’ve no doubt he’s right and that no other fifteen thousand men could do it, these aren’t any ordinary soldiers but the undefeated veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia. If anyone can do it they can’.

Lee brightened up at once. ‘Well said, Colonel Flashman, well said ! This is a battle we must win, and because we must win it, we will win it. The Army of Northern Virginia will understand that !’

Well, if they were going to win it wouldn’t be by the concerted actions of Longstreet and Ewell at separate points of the Union line. The battle at Culp’s Hill lasted from the artillery bombardment begun by the Union army first thing through till eleven or so that morning. Three times the rebels attempted to advance up the hill and were beaten back until finally they were pushed off all together. The fight cost Ewell many casualties, and tied him and his men down, exhausting them before they could support the attack further south. Some say it was a waste of men and supplies that could have been better used elsewhere but taking the hill would have allowed them to threaten the Baltimore Pike, which led to the Union rear and opened the way to Washington and Baltimore. Like many things in war it was a gamble but one worth taking. That it didn’t work out wasn’t for the want of effort and courage on the rebels side.

Still, it left Lee with his final throw, and if Culp’s Hill was a bit of gamble this was one on a Napoleonic scale. All morning he watched as the regiments and brigades gathered facing the centre of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, saying to himself over and over again ‘it must succeed, it must’. It was plain as a pikestaff to the enemy what was going to happen and they could be seen reinforcing their line and bringing up artillery. They had the advantage in moving men and equipment around because it was all done within their lines over shorter distances, taking far less time than for the rebels. The attack was to be preceded by an artillery bombardment with as many guns as could be mustered. This was the key to success. If they could silence the Union guns before the infantry went in casualties would be far lower and they’d have a much greater chance of success. I shuddered as I looked at the preparations on the ridge and thought of all those poor devils who, if the rebel shelling failed, would be walking into a storm of shell, canister, and grapeshot. Rather them than me, I thought. I’d been through Balaclava and the Light Brigade fiasco. If anything this was going to be ten times worse. Just keep me safe up here I thought, holding Lee’s coat and fetching him drinks, that’s all I’ll ask of today.

Lee must have sensed me getting comfortable because he suddenly said ‘Flashman, the artillery barrage is about to begin. Go down to General Longstreet and watch it from there. Come back and report when Pickett is about to lead his men off’. Well, I’d rather have stayed where I was but I should be safe enough if I stayed at the rear watching the fall of shot and I’d be back with Lee before the advance came within range of the Union lines. So I cantered off towards Longstreet and as I was reaching him there was the sound of a pair of cannon going off and at that signal the rebel artillery opened up all at once. There were more than one hundred and fifty guns concentrated on the enemy and the noise of them firing was enormous. Soon the Union artillery started to fire back and by the time I reached Longstreet fire and dense smoke covered the ridge and rolled across the fields, obscuring the view. Longstreet was sitting on a fence on the edge of Spangler's Woods watching the artillery duel. I saluted as I reached him, and he nodded and said ‘General Lee sent you ?’. I answered ‘Yes sir. I’m ordered to observe the effect of the artillery from here and then to report back to him when the advance begins’. Longstreet looked at his watch. ‘That will be fairly soon, I’d say’. Sure enough, after about thirty or forty minutes the shelling began to slacken off, and as the rebel guns began to fall silent so the counter battery fire from the ridge started to fall away, as both sides conserved ammunition.

Looking through a pair of field glasses it was difficult to assess the damage but I wasn’t optimistic about its effect. Still, that wasn’t going to be my problem and I was soon distracted by the arrival of George Pickett who went straight up to Longstreet. He gave him a written message, and after Longstreet had read it Pickett asked "Shall I advance, sir?". Without looking at him or speaking, Longstreet gave a short nod . Picket ran to his horse, gave a quick salute and raced off to get to the head of his troops. He’d been keen as mustard to get his division into battle, and was delighted when they were ordered into the line, but now that he saw the job in front of him some of that zeal had worn off. Longstreet stayed on his fence quiet and dour, his eyes looking at the floor. ‘You may return to General Lee, Colonel’, he said quietly, ’and tell him that Pickett is about to advance to his objective, the copse of trees on the ridge, as instructed’. I saluted, said ‘Yes, sir’ and got back on my horse. On my way back to Lee I passed behind the rebel gun line and I found out why their fire had stopped – they’d run out of ammunition. Staff officers from the artillery were searching for the supply wagons which should have been waiting in the rear but had disappeared.

By the time I’d reached Lee on Seminary Ridge I could see that the advance was almost ready to begin, and it was a splendid sight. The nine brigades of infantry, moving out of the woods where they’d been waiting, were more than a mile across, and were formed up as though on the parade ground, with colours flying and trumpets blowing. They had a little less than a mile of gently undulating ground to cross and I reflected that if their artillery fire hadn’t been effective they wouldn’t be in parade order, or any other order, for very long.

‘Flashman’, said Lee, ’what was your view of the artillery’s effectiveness ?’. ‘Difficult to tell, sir’, I replied ‘but General Longstreet says the advance is ready to start towards the objective’.

‘Good’, he replied. ’Once we get them onto Cemetery Hill we’ll have control of all the roads around it and will have cut off the enemy’s line of retreat’.

I gasped and Lee looked at me. ‘What’s the matter, Flashman ?’ he asked me.

‘Sir’, I blurted out, ‘ General Longstreet’s objective is the copse of trees on the ridge about a quarter of a mile south of Cemetery Hill’.

‘What ?’, he shouted. ‘That’s not the objective ! What good is reaching a clump of barely grown trees ? He must move on to Cemetery Hill, not stop on the ridge ! Flashman, do you know where Longstreet is ?’, he asked me.

‘Yes, sir’, I answered miserably.

‘Then get back there at once and inform him of the correct objective. Ride like the devil, now !’

At that I turned my horse and raced him back past the gunners to where I had last seen Longstreet. As I reached him the march towards the ridge was about to begin. ‘General’, I shouted at him, ‘ your objective is Cemetery Hill. You must not stop on the ridge but push on past it to cut off the enemy from the roads behind the hill !’

Longstreet looked at me amazed.

‘The hill ? When was that decided ?’. He looked again at the columns of infantry ready to advance. ‘Flashman, you must ride to General Pickett at the head of the advance at once. Tell him of the new objective. No one else can get to him as quickly as you !’

‘General’, I began to say, as my bowels started to quake in their old familiar way, ‘I ordered to return to General Lee and confirm that I have conveyed this information as soon as possible’.

‘Well until Pickett and the other commanders who are leading the advance have been told you haven’t done so. It’s no good telling me – it’s Pickett who needs to know. Get up there as fast as you can. No need to get yourself killed by advancing with him. Come back to me once he’s acknowledged the change, then you can report back to General Lee’.

‘Very well, sir’, I answered miserably, as I saluted and rode as fast as I could around the rear of the now advancing infantry, up alongside them, and then broad across their front until I found Pickett’s division. Just as I reached him the Union artillery began sporadic fire and a shell, landing short, sent a splinter into my horse’s flank. He whinnied in pain and fear, and reared up in the air, throwing me and galloping off in terror. I scrambled up, winded but nothing worse, and saw the line of troops was almost upon me, marching in an easy, swinging style but relentless and seemingly unstoppable. They were mostly silent though, no rebel yells splitting the air.

Suddenly a horseman appeared beside me. It was a young lieutenant of Pickett’s staff. He thrust out an arm and helped me scramble onto his horse behind him. ‘Colonel Flashman, what are you doing here ?’, he asked. ‘I must get to General Pickett at once ! Where is he ?’, I replied. ‘I have an urgent message for him’. At that he kicked his horse into motion and we trotted carefully back towards the rear of the advancing brigades, and fell in beside Pickett.

‘Flashman !’, said Pickett. ‘You’re always turning up in the damndest of places ! What is it now ?’

‘General, I’ve an urgent message from General Longstreet and the Commander in Chief’, I said.

‘Best get on with it then’, he replied. ’We’re getting damn close to the sticking point’.

I looked ahead and saw we’d covered nearly half the distance to the ridge, moving at an easy hundred yards a minute. Time for me to deliver my message and get out of the firing line.

‘Well, damn it, Flashman, what’s your message ? I don’t suppose General Lee’s changed his mind and is recalling us from this foolishness ?’, Pickett said.

‘No, sir. Your objective is changed. You are to aim for Cemetery Hill, specifically Ziegler's Grove, and take control of the roads around it’.

Pickett laughed out loud. ‘That all ? Does he want us to move on to New York as well ? He might as well ask for that too, as it’s about as likely !’

I protested that he had to let the other commanders leading the assault, Anderson’s men on the right, and Trimble, leading Pender’s division on the left, know of the change to which he said ‘Don’t you fret, Colonel. I’ll send word. Hill or ridge, cottage or barn, won’t make no difference to me. We’re going to be slaughtered out here on this field, very shortly, so Gen’l Lee can ask for the moon if he wants’. With that he detailed two gallopers to take the message to either flank, then looked back at me. ‘What are your orders now, Flashman ?’

Whatever my orders had been, I wasn’t staying there. I could see the Union army on the ridge hurrying to make ready, cannon still being rolled up to the breastworks they’d built, artillery men scurrying up with ammunition, and thousands of bayonets beside the guns, glinting in the afternoon sun. ‘I’ve to report back to General Longstreet and General Lee that I have delivered the message’, I replied. ‘Can you spare me a horse ?’.

‘You’ll have to borrow a horse from one of my staff’, he said. ‘You’ll find it difficult getting to the rear going through the advance, though, and to get round the front of the infantry now you’d have to ride too close to the enemy lines. I doubt you’d get as warm a welcome as your horse’. As he said that I looked ahead. My horse, finding a long line of men marching towards him, had fled in the only direction he could, towards the Federal army. He was now walking slowly up and down their line, trying to find a way through. As I watched a white flag was raised and two soldiers came out of the line, took his bridle, and to wild cheers from the enemy, brought him into the Union position, where he disappeared from view.

‘Probably the furthest any of this army will get today’, said Pickett. ‘Now, Colonel, you can have Johnson’s horse. Good luck’. I looked at him. I’d always supposed him just a pomaded dandy, but now I could see the raw courage that had let him lead this advance, with the near certainty of either death or horrific injury. Of course he was also a bloody fool, as was any man from Lee downwards who’d connived in this folly. So I just said ‘Good luck to you, General’, and turned to make my way to Johnson to get his horse. Too late. I’d just started towards him when the Union artillery opened up in a furious cannonade.

Almost immediately there was the sharp crump of a shell exploding on the other side of Johnson, lacerating both horse and rider into bloody pieces, and covering me in gore. The concussion knocked me off my feet to the ground, which was probably the best place to be just then. As I looked up enemy artillery fire was now slamming into the front ranks of the advancing infantry, which seemed to stagger, give up a collective moan, and then reform to cover the bloody holes torn in their lines as they continued forwards. Heavy fire was coming from the flanks as well as the front, and the lines of infantry began to shrink as the survivors filled the gaps. Pickett was nowhere to be seen.

The shot was falling all over the field now, but particularly on the first line of advancing men, so I got up and turned to go towards the rear, only to be caught up in the next line of Pickett’s Virginians, and swept forward, against my will, like a piece of flotsam on a breaking wave, to where Union artillery was blasting shot, shell, and canister towards the advancing Confederates, tearing bloody rents in their lines. With the soldiers packed so close, one shell could kill or maim ten men at a time, arms, legs, heads, equipment and all tossed up through the smoke and flame of the battle into the clear air, only to tumble back to earth like some vile rain, onto their horrified comrades. Some men broke and ran at the sight, but most just plodded on, cursing vilely or crying openly, not from fear, but from sorrow at the slaughter of their friends.

We soon reached the Emmitsburg Road. Bordering it was a rail fence that the rebels were forced to climb over, or crawl through gaps torn by the fighting. I tried to crawl through but got my head stuck. As I frantically tried to free myself I could hear the rap, rap, rap of musket balls aimed at me striking the fence on either side. It must have only been a few seconds but it seemed like forever before I managed to free myself and leap over the fence. There was a shallow trench either side of the road and I was tempted to take shelter in one of them, as quite a few men had, but it was no guarantee of safety so I kept moving and clambered in desperate fear over the fence on the other side of the road, surrounded and followed by the other men of the division. Having crossed the road we wheeled to the left to face northeast, exposing our flank to more fire from the ridge, now including musket and rifle fire from the ranks of Union soldiers, standing three or four deep there. East of the road was a large farm which the advance had to negotiate as it headed for the slope. Some soldiers found shelter around its buildings but it also hid some Union skirmishers who took a further toll on the advancing grey line.

I’d taken my pistol out but it was as much use as a peashooter at that range. The rebels were under orders to hold their fire until they closed on the Union line, so there was no fire returned to the hail of bullets being fired down upon us, though of course Union skirmishers closer by were engaged. The small arms fire began to take a toll, as the bullets zipped like angry wasps, striking men’s bodies, causing them to spin round like tops, then flop to the ground, or hitting soldiers in the head, splattering their brains all over their uniforms. One bullet almost completely severed the trigger finger off a soldier near me. He just taped the dangling finger up and when he fired used his second finger. I was shouting and yelling like the rest of them now, but it wasn’t out of anger or sorrow but sheer terror. ‘Oh, God’, I pleaded, ‘let me come through all this, please, and I’ll never mount a whore or cheat at cards again. I’ll go to church and pray, and not bully underlings again. Please God, oh, please !’ God, if he was listening, seemed to know me as well as I knew myself and offered me no immediate way of escaping the carnage.

I’d no idea what was happening elsewhere on the battlefield, though I could guess it was bloody slaughter, but we were beginning to mount the slope of the ridge, though there were far fewer of us now. Coming clear down the slope now was a chant from the enemy above us – ‘Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg’ they sang, reminding us of their slaughter before our lines the previous year, as they poured their fire down on us.

As we ran up the gentle slope, coughing and spluttering in the smoke of the battle, men began to congregate round regimental flags. The enemy concentrated fire on them and the standard bearers were soon shot down, only for someone to pick the flag up again, but then he would be shot. I saw one flag cost the lives of four men on the way up that slope. Needless to say I didn’t pick the damned rag up myself or go anywhere near it.

Now we all seemed to be converging on a low stone wall that thrust out from the Union line, forming a small salient. There was a gap in the Union line there and the point of the attack switched to it. Once we were within a hundred yards of the enemy permission was given to open fire on them, and ragged volleys began to break out. I’m not sure if they hit much but it gave the defenders cause to think and heartened the rebels as they were no longer just targets. But it didn’t stop the Yankee artillery firing and cutting swathes in the line - by now we were so close that they must have been using double canister shot in their guns. Fortunately there seemed to be only one gun facing us directly over the stone wall now. I watched the gun commander started to pull the lanyard to fire it but as I dropped on my belly I saw that he’d been hit as he fired. By the time I was off the ground he was draped, unmoving, across the barrel and the gun had stopped firing..

In the smoke and fury all organisation had been lost and the regiments were all mixed up together. Lew Armistead was up in front of everyone, his hat waving around in the air on the end of his sword as he yelled encouragement to what was left of his brigade. All around, glimpsed through the smoke, officers were doing the same, waving their men on with their swords and shouting orders but the noise of the explosion of shells, zinging bullets and the rattle of rifles was deafening and the commands were lost in the din.

As we reached the wall we crashed into it like a wave breaking on a rock and the fire and fury of the assault forced the few defenders still there back. Armistead pushed his way through to the front again, stood by the wall, and shouted 'Now give 'em the cold steel, boys!’ as rebel soldiers jumped onto and over the wall, followed by Armistead himself. Fighting was hand to hand with men shooting, hacking and stabbing at each other only an arm’s length apart, as the Union soldiers fell back across the clearing to the clump of trees at its rear. Now I was grateful for my pistol in the close quarter fighting as I huddled down by the wall. One infantry man lunged at me with his bayonet but a bullet in the neck put him down. As I turned to get the wall to my back again another discharged his rifle at point blank range but it misfired, thank God, and I shot him in the chest, and he went down, bubbling frothing blood from his mouth.

It looked like we were gaining a foothold in the clearing behind the wall, having pushed the defenders back to the trees a little behind it. Armistead rushed over to claim the capture of a Union cannon, yelling and shouting like the very devil. Then from our right came hundreds of Union soldiers, many of ‘em Zouaves, crashing into the side of the rebels fighting in the trees, and Armistead went down by his cannon, hit at least twice by bullets. I was still near the wall, holding my fire for any immediate threat, and when I saw Armistead go down, and Union reinforcements overwhelming the rebels I knew it was time to go. All attention was on the fight in the woods and clearing so I slipped over the wall and started back down the hill. As I made my way down through the smoke and confusion I could see first a few, and then lines of soldiers moving back down the hill, past the piles of bodies that lay on the slope and in the field. Many of the bodies lay piled a hundred yards before the ridge, as though the wave of the assault had crested there, and broken, and their blood now ran back down the hill in small streams. Nowhere else, it seemed, had the Union line been penetrated. I suppose it had been all of an hour since the rebel lines had stepped out of the tree and I’d been chasing after Pickett with his new orders. Now the Army of Northern Virginia was bloodied and maybe broken.

Bullets were still zipping by, aimed at the retreating soldiers, and some groups turned and fired back, taking the chance of being killed fighting rather than be shot in the back retreating. Most, though got down as quick as they could, carrying or dragging their wounded down with them, having to zigzag around the piles of dead lying in their path. Some soldiers, seeing a senior officer, attached themselves to me. They kept asking me ‘what wuz it all fer, now we’s retreatin, sir ?’. All I could do was shake my head.

By now I’d seen enough of this war to last me a lifetime. Whether or not Lincoln and Pinkerton would release me I wasn’t going spy for them any longer. I was sick of the slaughter and for once it wasn’t just fear, seeing the dead and wounded and picturing myself in their place. No, it was the sheer folly and stupidity of the whole rotten plan, which everyone from the meanest private to the highest general could see was complete madness, sacrificing some of the finest soldiers I’d served with because of the ego of one man, Robert Lee. He’d been told the likely outcome, and begged by his senior commanders to fight a more defensive and winnable battle on ground of his own choosing. But his aggressive style would not allow him to ‘act defensively’, as Raglan might have said, and he always had to push on and strike his enemy, even when the cost of his aggression was huge casualties. Today was the result of that inclination, and the price the south paid for having a man like Lee as commander of its army. Tonight, or whenever the opportunity came I was going to slip away and turn myself over to the Federal army. But I had to see Lee first, and hear what he had to say about this day’s work.

I wasn’t surprised to see him already at the edge of the trees from which the attack had been made. He was riding quietly among the rebels streaming back, talking to them, offering encouragement, and calming down those who were still in a state of panic. As I neared him I could hear him saying to them 'All this will come right in the end; we'll talk it over afterwards; but, in the meantime, all good men must rally. We want all good and true men just now’. His face was a picture of serenity and calmness as he moved among the soldiers. When he saw Pickett, riding pale and silent, in a state of shock, he went over to him immediately and asked of his division. Pickett looked up, eyes brimming with tears and said ‘General, I have no division. Armistead is down, Garnett is down, and Kemper is mortally wounded’, referring to his three brigade commanders. Lee put his hand on Pickett’s shoulder, leaned towards him in a comforting manner, and said ‘Come, General Pickett, this has been my fight and upon my shoulders rest the blame’, then asked him to rally his men behind Seminary Ridge in case of a counter attack. Pickett didn’t smile, but he shook himself into life and began to do as Lee asked.

Then he saw me, and spurred his horse over to me. ‘Flashman’, he said, ‘I feared for you when you didn’t return. General Longstreet told me what has happened to you. Are you hurt ?’. ‘No General’, I said, ‘but there are plenty who are’. He looked up at the battlefield, then back to me. 'This has been a sad day for us, Colonel, a sad day; but we can't expect always to gain victories. This has all been my fault’. I said ‘Yes sir, it is’. He shook his head. ‘You are right to rebuke me. After all is finished here I will offer my resignation to the President. Now get yourself rested and refreshed. I fear Meade may counterattack and we must be ready to receive him’. Then he trotted off to another group of soldiers, struggling back with their wounded, to see how they were and what he could do.

What’s this, you say, old Flash with a hint of sympathy and concern for his fellow man ? Is he going soft ? Well, I’ve no doubt that having made that hellish advance with Pickett’s men has influenced me but while I’m not brave, and wouldn’t have voluntarily attacked the ridge myself for all the tea in China, I can admire the bravery of those who went willingly, and be horrified at the waste of it all.

Of course there was no counter attack from the Federal forces, which was a good job, because it took hours to gather the stragglers together, particularly from Pickett’s division. No doubt Meade’s men were as done in as us and couldn’t find the energy for another fight that day. The only other action to report on was the failure of Stuart’s cavalry to provide a distraction by raiding the union rear three miles east of Gettysburg, where a strong force of Union cavalry had blocked him and he’d withdrawn his division from the field. Then it was time for a reckoning of the casualties and a decision on what to do next.

Pickett could muster not much more than a thousand men from his division by the middle of the evening, out of a total of well over five thousand. Lee had called all his remaining staff together and in A P Hill’s HQ we worked out the losses as accurately as we could. No doubt quite a number of soldiers had seen enough and either deserted or stayed out of sight for a while, getting over the strain of the battle, so it was likely that many more would return, eventually, but tallying up the losses was still a grim business. It was easier to quantify the losses among the senior officers. All three of Pickett’s brigade commanders and all 13 of his regimental commanders were killed, wounded or missing. Looking at the casualties in the army over the past three days we reckoned they couldn’t have been much less than twenty thousand, and may well have been more, a rate not far short of thirty per cent, and totally unsupportable. Lee’s face was grave as he was told the situation.

‘It is clear’, he said, ‘that we cannot continue this campaign. Not only are our losses grievous but we are short of all sorts of supplies, from rifle and artillery ammunition to food, medicine and fodder for the horses. Tomorrow we will stand in a defensive position on this ridge while we prepare to retreat. Now, gentlemen, those who have no further duties tonight should rest . We may well be called upon to fight tomorrow, and if not we will be busy preparing for our return home. I am going to see General Imboden now. I have decided that his cavalry will cover the column taking our wounded back to Virginia. Good night and take your rest where you can’. With that Lee stood up, moving rather stiffly, and left the tent.

Well, if the Army of Northern Virginia was heading south, one small part of it was going to make its move in the opposite direction. I had to be away before the retreat started and the night the battle ended would likely offer the best opportunity, as the chaos of the battle and exhaustion among the men would mean that there would be gaps in the line of guards and pickets, who would be drowsy anyway. Of course I’d have to be careful how I approached the Federal positions. It would have to be in daylight or I’d risk getting shot by some nervous sentry – Stonewall’s fate wasn’t far from the back of my mind. So I’d have to disappear and hole up somewhere out of the way for a time. As Lee’s staff dispersed from Hill’s HQ I made my way to the pup tent I’d been using. Once inside I took out a small bag I’d been carrying with me throughout the campaign, then slipped out of the tent with it, and carefully made my escape down the side of Seminary Ridge that was away from the Union army, and found my way to a thick clump of woodland. I could hear quiet voices talking, and the moans of the wounded but I didn’t bump into anyone else as I made my way there

Once inside the woods I opened the bag. First thing to do was trim my whiskers back. I’d let them grow with this in mind so that when I decamped people wouldn’t be looking for the neat and tidy whiskers I normally favoured but for a fully bearded Flashy. I hacked away at them until the beard was gone, then shaved the stubble using a little water from my canteen until I was left with just a moustache and chin whiskers. Next I trimmed my sideburns as carefully as possible. Once I’d done I looked closely at myself in a small mirror using the light of the moon. A bit untidy perhaps, but good enough to pass for someone else, I thought. Next out of the bag was a change of clothes, all civilian. I took my uniform off, bundled it up and thrust it deep inside some bushes, and put on the crumpled shirt, trousers, and a short jacket. I couldn’t do much about my boots except tuck them under my trousers, but I didn’t look like a soldier any more, but more like a down at heel reporter, which is what I had wanted.

I’d meant to wait the night out there but after a little while I heard voices maybe a hundred yards off, though it was hard to be sure, the way sound carries in the quiet of the dark. I couldn’t risk being caught so I carefully made my way out the woods, and headed west, keeping in the shadows. I took it slowly so I didn’t make any noise. Off to my right I could hear more voices and see some fires burning to the north of a small hill, so I skirted around to its south. Seeing another clump of woodland a little distance away I came out of the shadow of the hill, intending to settle in there for the rest of the night. Just as I set out towards it I heard the unmistakable sound of two rifles being cocked and a voice said ‘Jest wait right there, now, mister’. I turned and saw two rebel soldiers, obviously on guard duty, with their rifles pointing at me. One, a corporal, said to the other ‘He don’t look like no deserter to me, Jem’. ‘No, he don’t, do he ?’ the other hayseed answered. ‘Reckin he more likli’ a spy, then’, Jem continued.

‘Now, gennelman’ I said, putting on southern accent, ‘Ahm jest a noospaper man, frem Richmond, name o’ Prescott Arnold’.

‘Don’t see why no writer’d be sneakin’ about in tha dark, this time o’ night. Reckin’ Jem’s right, and you’s a spy. Cap’n’ll decide in tha’ mornin’. Meantime you kin keep yore hands up and come this way’, and he gestured back in the direction of the camp. ‘ Jem, you kin set him with all them other fellas aheadin’ fur Libby’s Prison’.

(This is the final entry in this packet of the Flashman Papers)