August 1814 to the Present - Fredrickson's Story.
"I needed a change of scenery after our business in France came to an end. I ran into Harry Smith, who was about to leave for America and just happened to need an adjutant. General Ross cleared the appointment, so off we went to teach the Jonathans a lesson. Ten days voyage out of Bordeaux, we took on fresh meat and water at San Miguel in the Azores. From there, it took us a month to cross the Atlantic. It was a pleasant enough trip. In July, all the officers boarded the Royal Oak. They'd set up a stage on the quarterdeck, and the ship's crew put on a performance of 'The Apprentice' that would have done London proud. Later the deck was cleared for a dance. Ladies were in short supply, but I twirled the deck with a delightful ensign. You should have seen Admiral Cochrane, prancing with such vigor I thought his wig would fly off. I lost count of how many parties I went to. We put into Bermuda on the 24th, I think. Nice island, Bermuda. You should visit there sometime. While we were there, we picked up a company of Creek Indians from this neck of the woods. Apparently, they were real eager to pay the Yankees back for the war they had just lost, and had persuaded our liaison down in Louisiana to give them passage to link up with our force. We knew that we had no scouts to match them. We got to stretch our legs on the beaches for a few days, and set off for America in early August. Word got through the fleet that we were going to burn Washington. The Americans, we heard, were so disorganized and unprepared that we would have an easy time of it."
"The army disembarked in the middle of the night, at the mouth of the Patuxent River, four thousand of us. By morning, we were all on shore. General Ross and Rear Admiral Cockburn were in joint command. Cockburn was leading a flotilla of small craft filled with marines up the river parallel to their march. They would guard our flank. General Ross would catch up the next day. We were all in high spirits, figuring that if we could beat Napoleon, no Yankee upstarts could give us any trouble. The heights around the river seemed natural gunposts, but no one shot at us. The Jonathans were unprepared. The fleet kept us covered; if any one had fired of us, they would have brought a broadside down on their heads."
"The next day, General Ross and his staff, including Major Smith and myself, followed the army to the nearest town, Benedict. We could see cornfields, green meadows, a few small houses. The town was abandoned, no sign of the Yankees anywhere. The army had made camp, and a lot of the soldiers had gone into the farm buildings to see what type of food they could find, and there was quite a lot of it. After a month of salt beef and ship's biscuit, fresh fruit, milk and meat were welcome. The lads gave us three hearty cheers as we rode into the camp. We all felt that with General Ross, we couldn't lose. Two American renegades came into the camp, we put them to work as guides.
We broke camp the next day, late in the afternoon, and tramped for eight hours. The heat was grueling. We've both been hot in Spain, but this was so wet that it wrung everything out of you. I expected all of us to melt away as we marched, there would be piles of uniforms in a line along the road. What was more, the lads were out of shape from all the time we had spent on board ship. A lot of the men fell out along the side. Ross had the band play "Hail the Conquering Hero" to inspire us. It didn't help much. We set up camp in the next town, Nottingham. Most of the stragglers came in before dark. That night, a detachment of American cavalry showed up on the ridge ahead of us, but a brace of our Congreve rockets sent them scattering."
"We heard rumors that some sort of enemy force was in the area, but we saw no sign of it. After another scorching day's march, we came to a pretty village called Upper Marlborough, orchards and flowerbeds all around it. We drooped our gear and were glad to do it. Once again, the Jonathans had left when they heard we were dropping by. So we went from house to house. I foraged a chicken, some bread, and a bottle of excellent whiskey. We feasted well that night. Admiral Cockburn came ashore and joined us that night, bringing five hundred marines with him. We were now only a day's march from Washington. Major Smith went to the staff meeting and came back to tell us that next day, we would go for the capitol."
"The next day, Wednesday 24th of August it was, we were up at first light. We rode with Ross to the front of the column to see if Washington was in sight, when we came under fire from a battery of six cannon setting up just ahead on the road. They didn't hit with a single shot. We sent a company out to outflank them, but they had already turned and run. The men were joking that the Americans' must have had rabbits in their ancestry. We started out across open fields, then cut our way along a path through tangled woods so narrow that we could only march four abreast. At least we got out of the sun. The lads' legs hurt like hell, it would take several days more marching to put us in the shape we had been in on the Peninsula. We came out of the woods and began to see houses and cornfields. We began to pick up the pace, but it was too much for some of the lads. A few fell stone dead in their tracks, and a lot of others lagged behind or dropped out alongside. We just had to hope they would catch up before we needed them. Late in the morning, we called a halt. I think I was asleep before my head reached the ground, but we were up and marching again before I knew it. I was with the 21st, in the second column, just entering another deserted village, Bladensburg, as the first column was filing out of it. As we approached, we started hearing scattered muskets and cannon from the heights facing the village. Apparently, the Yankees had scraped together an army somewhere and were determined to contest our passage over the Potomac. We began to march at the double-step when an officer told us that we had met the enemy, and the 21st was to come to the 85th's support immediately. We pushed through the town and saw about five thousand of the enemy drawn up on the heights in front of a long, rickety bridge leading across the river. On the other side, we could see what had to be Washington on the horizon. Thorton had hurled the 85th at the bridge in two columns. From our left, a flight of Congreves hurtled towards a group of civilian horsemen behind the Jonathan center, causing them to withdraw farther to the rear. I later learned that they were President Madison and his cabinet."
"Thorton hadn't waited for us, and the forward ranks of the 85th got cut up pretty badly by grape-shot. None reached the bridge, and the rest of the columns scattered for cover among the houses. The Yanks kept firing, and they were doing us damage. Thorton rode among them, calling on them to charge the bridge again. He led the charge, with more luck than sense. The 85th pushed through heavy fire, both from the artillery and from American riflemen hidden near a barn on our right. At about this time, Major Smith rode up told the 21st to deploy. Before we could ask 'where?' Smith had ridden off again. We set the light company up in an orchard on the left that gave us a good field of fire. Another force of riflemen was coming up to hit the 85th on the left, but we poured fire into them and they turned towards us. The shooting got quite hot and heavy for a while. Those American riflemen are nothing to sneer at, but today, their officers didn't know what they were doing."
"A lot of the 85th fell, but they knew enough not to stop. The Jonathan riflemen gave way first, and they left the flank of the militia to their left exposed. These were amateurs, they let off one quick volley over our heads and took off to an orchard to the rear. Another force of militia was coming past the barn to their aid, but they thought better of it when they saw the 85th pushing forward. They did better, got off five or six shots. It looked like they might hold, but a horseman rode up to their rear, shouted some orders, and they pulled back. A new battery of cannon was hitting us from behind the barn, but they withdrew when the American left began to give way. Soon, the Yanks were in general retreat across the field, and we pressed them hard. A troop of Jonathan cavalry that we hadn't even known was hiding in a ravine just beyond the barn now stuck their heads up. We peppered them with rockets and grapeshot and they broke for the bridge. They got mixed up with a artillery company that had limbered up its guns, and the whole got tangled in a hopeless mess. The Yanks on foot had to get out of the way or be trampled. As the 85th pushed closer, the Jonathans sorted themselves out and began to cross the bridge. Here and there, I'd see officers waving their swords around trying to form new lines, but no one was paying attention. Once or twice, a company or two would try to make a stand, but one volley from the 85th and they'd break again. The officers would have no choice but to follow. The 21st advanced on the flank, we kept up the fire, and a lot of them didn't get away. Men in the second ranks who hadn't even been touched by any of our fire were carried away by the panic of the first ranks, most without firing a shot. What looked like two regiments of regulars were set up to hit us on the right, but they had to pull back when the third column, the 4th, the 23rd, and 44th, came up on our left. They hit the American artillery batteries that were still holding firm on the high ground, and the Americans hit back. Just like with Thorton, the front ranks took all the punishment, and they fell back. I directed the Light Company of the 21st to start taking out the gunners and loaders in that sector. Then General Ross rode to the head of the 4th to lead the next charge. Some militiamen who were holding on the American right flank fired on the column, but they gave way and the militia on their left had to pull back from their exposed flank. They ran like sheep chased by wolves."
"Now the Jonathan center began to give way, but they at least kept up a fire.
Finally, they saw how exposed they were, with both flanks given way, and they pulled back across the bridge. Finally, all that was left to oppose us was a regiment of American Marines who had some support from a battery of big naval guns, directly in front of the bridge. If the rest of the Yanks had fought like these boys, we might have been the ones to give way. As it was, they covered the retreat for the rest of their army. The 85th kept on trying to get a foothold on the road leading to the bridge, and those big brass guns kept on blasting them loose. I saw Thorton's horse go down. He got to his feet but got hit in the leg a few minutes later. The 4th closed in on the Jonathans from the other flank, but they wouldn't give way. Then I saw Ross's horse die under him. By this time, all the horses in the American artillery train were dead, so they couldn't have retreated even if they wanted to, not unless they wanted to abandon their guns. They had to be almost out of ammunition.
I could see the officer saying something to his men. He must have been telling them to save themselves, because most of the Marines set off across the bridge, leaving only five men to keep the guns going. I guess I forgot I was now a staff officer, because I ended up taking a company of the 21st and wading into the river. We climbed onto the bridge behind them and came at their rear while the 85th rushed their front again. We had a fierce time of it, they kept on firing the cannon while we shot them down. They fought us with ramrods and sponges. Finally, their commander was too badly hurt to fight anymore, and his men were all dead. We asked him to surrender, and he agreed. I found out later that his name was Commodore Joshua Barney, and he had been a privateer and a thorn in the side of the Royal Navy for years.
Admiral Cockburn came onto the bridge at last, and Commodore Barney said to him 'Well Admiral, you have got hold of me at last.'
Cockburn answered gently 'Do not let us speak on that subject, Commodore. I regret to see you in this state. I hope you are not seriously hurt.'
Barney answered 'Quite enough to prevent my giving you any trouble for some time.'
"We gave him over to our surgeon to have his injuries tended. We all admired his bravery, and General Ross declared then and there that Barney was paroled and free to go as soon as his wounds had healed."
"And that is why I am not overconfident, even though this war has been going our way for over two years. The Jonathans can fight like hell, they just need officers who know their arses from their elbows."
"Anyway, General Ross must have figured that I was worth the extra pay, because he raised me to major for my part in silencing Commodore Barney's guns."
Sharpe nodded to himself, obviously, Fredrickson was flourishing in his new assignment, and he was glad for his friend's advancement.
"You were there when we burned Washington, weren't you, William?"
Fredrickson's expression grew almost grim, it was plain it was a distasteful memory.
"We were exhausted by the heat and had taken some losses, so we stayed in Bladensburg for several hours. Then we crossed the bridge and reached Washington at about eight o'clock. The army made camp about a quarter mile east of the city. The sun was setting as I led the guard detachment that accompanied Ross, Smith, and Cockburn as they approached the capital. The city seemed deserted. We were carrying a flag of truce, but no one came out to meet us. We were a few hundred yards from the Capitol building when someone shot at us from a brick house on the right. One of my men fell dead, another was wounded in the arm. General Ross' horse fell dead, the second he had lost that day. He tumbled to the ground, but was unhurt. We rushed the house, but whoever had fired the shots had fled out the back door. We set fire to the house."
"Cockburn sent back for the rest of the troops. His orders were that all public buildings were to be burnt, but we would respect private property unless it was used for hostile purposes against us. We were to start with the Capitol building."
"We broke in through the eastern entrance doors. They were twice as tall as I was. The interior was magnificent. Richard, you know me to be an educated, civilized man, so you can understand why this leaves such a bad taste in my mouth. You should have seen the chamber of the House of Representatives. It was draped in crimson, lined with fluted Corinthian columns. Above the Speaker's canopy was a life-size marble statue of Liberty sitting on a pedestal, with a huge fresco of an eagle behind it. It was as good a piece of art as anything I've seen in Italy. Burning it was an act of barbarism. We made a bonfire of the furniture in the center of the chamber, and used powder from the rockets to light it. The flames spread quickly. I couldn't force myself to watch. I walked out as the curtains draped between the columns caught. All was lost, destroyed. Downstairs, there was less furniture to burn, so we had to pull out window frames, shutters and doors for the bonfire. "
"But even worse was the west wing. The Library of Congress was housed there. If I had been there, I would have tried to save it, even if I had to stand against Cockburn, but it was already blazing by the time I got there. It was a magnificent chamber, with a tall, lofty vaulted ceiling. Almost three thousand books were lost, some of them original editions. As we moved away from the Capitol, I looked back. The wings were shrouded in fire and belching black smoke. It was dark now, and flames soared high through the arched windows. Then the roof of the House fell in, and a huge sheet of flame rose into the sky. It must have been visible for miles."
"Another company had started a fire in the Supreme Court Building. They had to haul in furniture from outside. Flames were licking around the Doric columns. They burned away to almost nothing, but the roof held firm. Whoever built it knew what he was doing. The sound of burning was like thunder."
"We headed west next, to the President's House. There was about a hundred of us. We marched in absolute silence. As we proceeded down the avenue, I could see a great fire to the south, where we had no troops. The Americans had burnt their own shipyard, to keep us from capturing it, and the fire had spread to nearby homes. We had resolved to respect people's private property, but it was burned nonetheless. It was so strange, a double row of poplar trees flanked the way, and seemed so orderly, while about all was chaos. A gentleman in a house we passed opened his window to watch us, and we all doffed our hats to him as we marched past. Periodically, Ross would call out to onlookers that they were to stay in their homes, and that private property would be respected."
"We found the President's Mansion deserted and quiet. When we entered the dining room, we found the dinner table handsomely set for forty people. We were hungry and thirsty after a long, hot march, and we fell on the feast and devoured it. I've never tasted finer vintages than those from Mr. Madison's cellars. We toasted to peace with America and down with Madison."
"Then we ran through the rooms, looting and snatching souvenirs. Admiral Cockburn took a sofa cushion and an old tricorn hat. Some soldiers put on fresh shirts taken from presidential drawers. Another grabbed a portrait of the President's wife. He said he would keep her safe in London. Lieutenant Urquhart took the President's ceremonial sword. And have you noticed my fine new wig? It used to sit on the head of President James Madison."
"We found plenty of fuel. There were twenty-three rooms full of crimson sofas, writing tables, stools, commodes, pianos, sideboards and posted beds. There were three dozen gilded chairs with red velvet lining, marked with the American Seal. We didn't even have to start a bonfire. Soldiers with torches ran through the mansion, setting fire to beds and curtains, and soon the whole house was blazing. We stood outside in awful silence as the fire reddened the heavens. But once again, though gutted, most of the stone exterior withstood the heat."
"Next we headed east, to torch the Treasury building. It burned in short order. As the flames took it, some of my men saw a strong iron door, which they though might lead to something of value. They could not force it, so one of them broke a window and climbed through. He found himself in a chamber filled with strongly locked boxes, but he had time to hand out only one and then get out himself before the fire reached the room . When they forced the lock, all they found were ledgers and journals."
"By this time, it was well past midnight, and I had had enough. I walked out into the street and looked around me. I have never seen a sight more stupendous. It looked like the whole world was on fire, and I was standing in the middle of it. Flames came from burning ships in the river, burning houses, stores, piles of dry timber. The sky was lit up like daylight. It was the first city I've ever burnt. I hope to God it will be the last."
"But William, the Jonathans started it; they burned York, up in Canada."
"They are not our teachers, Richard! If we wanted revenge for York, we should have found the American army and kicked its arse. If that wasn't enough, we should have kept on doing it until it was. But what we did was a crime against art and against humanity. It in no way helped our cause. If any one of those buildings had shot at a British soldier, I would have burned it down myself. Burning a city is what I would expect from Napoleon's lot, like he did in Moscow. Remember how careful the Duke was to respect civilian property when we entered southern France? I'd hoped we were above such things."
"The next day, the burnings continued, but I wanted no more part of them. The buildings burned the night before were still smoking. Among the targets for the day were the Departments of State and War. When we got there, clerks were frantically removing papers. We ignored them and used the furniture again to start the fires. Next target was the US Patent office. The Superintendent of Patents, a Doctor Thornton, approached us and begged us to reconsider. He said that many of the implements in the building were privately owned, and that burning them would be an act of barbarism. At the very least, he pled that we remove any objects we believed were owned by the government and burn them in the streets. The ranking officer, Major Waters, agreed to grant the Office a reprieve while he consulted his superiors. Admiral Cockburn agreed to spare the Patent Office, and the troops were withdrawn."
"Cockburn, meanwhile, was having his troops ransack the offices of the National Intelligencer. The publisher, Joseph Gales had written several articles criticizing the admiral, and he wanted to 'cure him of his bad habit of lying.' He was going to burn the building, but some local ladies pled with him that the flames would spread to their homes, and he relented. I watched as his men smashed he windows and wrecked the furniture, presses and type. They made a bonfire in the streets out of the office's paper, books, records, and files."
"We sent another detachment to burn whatever was left of the naval shipyards. When we got there, we found American looters ransacking the place. They were carrying off canvas, twine, lines, buntings, tools, nails, oil, paint, and whatever they didn't take, they burned. Columns of stinking smoke from burning, cordage, hemp, pitch, tar, and resin rose above the shipyards and a nearby rope works that we burned. We had pledged to respect private property, but these animals had made no such promise. As we marched down the streets, we saw them swarming through the homes of their countrymen, snatching anything that could be carried away. They even ripped fixtures out of the walls and tore locks off of the doors."
"At this point, a private of the 85th was brought before me by two Lieutenants of the 4th who claimed they had caught him in the act of robbing American civilians at musket point in their own homes. He denied doing anything, and then his shako fell off. A kerchief wrapped around several pieces of jewelry rolled out of it. I had to turn around to keep from striking him. I told him he was a common bandit and a disgrace to his country. If he'd just been looting, he probably would have been flogged only, but we couldn't tolerate armed robbery. I sent him back to headquarters for summary court-martial. Later that day, he was shot."
"About seventy-five soldiers were sent to lay waste the arsenal on Greenleaf Point. They used one cannon to blow out the breeches of the others, spiked the unmounted ones and threw them into the water, along with shot, shell, and grenades."
"I guess things had gone too well, and we were due for a disaster. They were tossing some one hundred and thirty barrels of gunpowder into a dry well when something sparked. I was half a mile away, and the explosion still nearly knocked me down. I grabbed every man I could find and ran to the scene. There was a crater forty feet wide and twenty deep where the well had been. Bodies and parts of bodies were scattered around its rim. Thirty men had been killed outright, some blown to pieces, some buried. Another forty-seven were horribly maimed. This was as bad as anything I've seen on the battlefield. The screams of the survivors made me want to stop my ears. Buildings all around were flattened or had their roofs blown off. We set to work digging the survivors out and getting the wounded to the surgeons. Two American physicians, Doctor Ewell and Doctor Baker put the war aside and helped us."
"It seemed that just wasn't our day. Late in the afternoon, the worst storm I've seen in my life hit the city. It started with a sudden downpour of rain, which we took in stride. Even thethunder and lightning we could have handled. But we weren't ready for a wind that ripped off roofs and carried away beds, that toppled chimneys and broke the chains of the bridge over the Potomac. It uprooted trees and knocked down fences. It scooped up several light cannon and scattered them across the city."
"I was doing my business in an outhouse when it got blown over. I guess I got off lucky. As I was crawling out of the wreckage, I saw the house next door to me lifted off its foundation and dashed to pieces. Several houses our men were occupying fell over, another thirty of them were killed. I saw a horse and the officer who had been riding him blow by. The rains drenched the city for two straight hours and put out whatever fires were still burning. Out on the river, two of the fleet's ships were torn loose from their moorings and dashed ashore."
"We had had enough of Washington. It was time to leave. After the storm, there were still a couple of hours of daylight left. Our columns began to form up for the march. Captain Smith urged that we spend the night in the city and set out at dawn. General Ross was adamant; he wanted to move out before the Americans could regroup. We left at eight o'clock that evening. Our campfires were still burning, and we left a few soldiers to pace up and down. If anyone had plans about interfering with our withdrawal, they would think we were still camped in the city overnight. Officers walked, leading their horses, and we had about sixty heads of cattle that we liberated from the Yankees driving ahead of us. Then came the 3rd Brigade, leading the horse-drawn artillery, then the 2nd Brigade, light infantry, followed by the 1st Brigade, more soldiers and the rocket artillery. All wounded who could not walk were carried in carts and wagons, or on horse's backs. Around ninety soldiers were too badly hurt to move at all, and we left them in a makeshift hospital. We could only hope that the Jonathans would treat them by the laws of war. We were under orders of strict silence. Every moment, we expected hidden Americans to launch a surprise attack. At around midnight, we came to the battlefield of Bladensburg, lit by a pale moon. It was a horribly depressing scene, with all the stripped dead lying bloated. Some black slaves were working a burying party, but they had a long way to go before they finished. The stench of rotting flesh mixed with the smells of gunpowder and burned grass. Some soldiers who had thrown down their backpacks earlier now picked up those of dead soldiers."
"We only stopped in Bladensburg for an hour. We got our flour rations and set out again. We made our way through the darkened woods, leaving a trail of flour so the columns could follow each other. The men were exhausted, and many were falling out or wandering away in the blackness."
"By seven in the morning, Ross called a halt. We fell to the ground, looking more like a field of the dead than a sleeping army. It was a lucky thing the Americans didn't mount an attack, they would have taken us completely by surprise. We rose at noon and slogged forward until evening, when we arrived outside Upper Marlborough. At dawn we went on to Nottingham. By this time, we were more confident that the Jonathans were not going to attack us on the march, so we rested there overnight and for most of the next day. By the following evening, we reached the heights outside of Benedict. The soldiers raised a cheer when they sighted the fleet at anchor."
"The boat crews rowed us out to the ships. Everyone was glorying and bragging of the past few days' work. I think I was the only one in the whole fleet who had nothing to say."
"We later learned that the detachment of the fleet under Captain James Gordon had sailed down the Potomac, captured Fort Warburton, which the Yankees had abandoned without a fight, and looted the port of Alexandria in Virginia."
"We waited at anchor for a week. It gave us a chance to recover from all the marching. We strolled along the riverbank or just relaxed onboard. Word came down; we were going to attack Baltimore.
"The day before we left, we attending chapel services on Tangier Island, led by the Reverend Joshua Thomas. We were expecting spiritual comfort, and I figured it wouldn't hurt anything to make sure that God was on our side. But the squat little toad stood up in his pulpit and told us that "it was given him of the Almighty that we would not overrun Baltimore. We could not take it, and we had better prepare for death. Everyone tried to show himself unaffected, I succeeded better than most."
"Then we weighed anchor and headed down into the Chesapeake Bay. We passed Annapolis, and saw that word had preceded us. The whole city was convulsed with fright at the news of Washington. People were fleeing in wagons stuffed with furniture. We met the frigate Menaleus. Her captain, Sir Peter Parker had taken her up the bay to attack some settlements and reconnoiter the city's defenses. He told us the shores below Baltimore were left defenseless. He had sailed nearly into the harbor with impunity and taken soundings. On Sunday, 11th September, we anchored at the mouth of the Patapsco, fourteen miles southeast of Baltimore. We were two miles off the tip of a peninsula called North Point that separated the Patapsco and the Back Rivers. It was nowhere broader than two miles, and in places as narrow as half a mile. We had sent some ships upriver and they had gotten grounded in the shallows for a full day. We couldn't risk this happening within range of the American gunners. So the word came down for the troops to be ready to land that night if ordered."
"We all slept in our clothes, with half an ear awake listening for the bugle's blast. We were all feeling the tension. The moon was shining full, and we could hear everything, the slap of water against the hull, the voices of sentries on the ship across the way."
"At about two o'clock that morning, our brigs moved inshore to cover our troop landings. We shouldered our knapsacks, picked up our muskets, and got into the boats. By seven, we had landed five thousand men and eight fieldpieces. A light boat, the Surprize, carried Admiral Cockburn upriver along our flank."
"In the first hour of our march, we came on an unfinished earthwork and trench that stretched all the way across the peninsula. It would have been hard to crack if the Americans had finished and fully manned it, but only a few soldiers were there. They scattered, but we took three prisoners. When Cockburn interrogated them, they claimed that twenty thousand men were dug in around Baltimore, but the Admiral scoffed. About five miles march up North Point, we stopped to rest and sent out scouts. Ross, Cockburn and their staffs went to breakfast at a nearby farmhouse. The scouts brought back word that the Americans were drawn up across the North Point road, about three thousand of them, supported by a battery of six four-pounders. There weren't enough of them to stretch all the way across the peninsula, so both of their flanks were hanging in empty space. Cockburn rode ahead to where the advance guard of the 4th was drawn up, and told us that the American line had no depth and could be turned on the left."
"As Ross was mounting to ride up to the front, his host, farmer Gorsuch asked the general if he would be back for dinner. Ross answered 'No, I shall sup in Baltimore tonight, or in Hell!' Ross and Cockburn went ahead with the advance guard of the 4th. The ground was flat, with heavy woods scattered across it. The Yanks had the advantage of firing from behind a high post and rail fence that cut across the road, while our lads were out in the open. We started coming under fire from the American advance guard, and we returned fire. Ross said he would head back and bring up the main force. He turned his horse, and just then, he was shot in the chest. He slumped from his horse, which plunged on towards the rear. Cockburn didn't notice, he had seen an American sharpshooter hiding behind a tree, and instead of taking cover, he shook his fist at him and yelled 'You damn Yankee, I'll give it to you!' Major Smith was first to Ross' side, Cockburn was second, and I was third. I yelled for the surgeon. When he got there, he confirmed that the general's wound was mortal. Ross handed Cockburn a locket from about his neck, and asked him to give it to his wife. 'Tell her I commend her to my King and my country' he said. He was fading fast, but he asked for Colonel Brooke. Then he turned to me, and said 'Find out -' but that was all he could get out. I don't know what he meant. We put him in a cart and sent him to the rear, but he died before they got him back to the fleet. A cloud of gloom seemed to fall over the army as the cart passed. We all felt like we'd lost the best man in the army."
"With Ross' death, command of the land forces passed to his second, Colonel Brooke. He was coming up with the remaining troops when he got the news. He increased the speed of his march. The Light Troops of the 85th were spread out over the width of the front in skirmish formation, about two hundred and fifty yards, supported by elements of the Royal marines and the 44th. The 4th was on our right, and the 21st and 23rd, also supported by marines, held on the left. The Jonathan artillery was opening up now, and our cannon traded them shot for shot. We opened up some big gaps in the Yankee lines, but they also took a terrible toll of our lads. This went on for about three-quarters of an hour."
"Cockburn was walking his white horse up and down our lines, making himself a target, but not a single musket ball touched him. We were joking to keep out of the Admiral's way because he drew so much enemy fire. Fighting was fiercest on the American right. These must have been regulars, not militia, because they held the 21st and 23rd at bay like real soldiers. The dead piled up there. We launched the Congreves, but all they did was streak overhead and land on the American left flank, setting a barn and stable on fire.
We advanced the 4th to turn the Jonathan left, and they reinforced there, bringing up their reserves and refusing the line. But all the new troops did was fire a volley and turn tail. Their mates on the right had to withdraw, and soon it was every man for himself. Even at that distance, I could see the disgust on the American commander's face."
"Colonel Brooke ordered a general advance against the American right, all along the line with bayonets fixed. The 85th was out in front, still picking off any officers they got in their sights. At a hundred yards, the Jonathans who had stayed let loose with a musket volley, and a lot of our lads dropped, but the rest kept on coming, and Brooke ordered quick time. The Yanks drew off and we could see them reforming just outside the city defenses on the east."
"We would need fresh ammunition and rations from the fleet. Our lads set up where the Americans had camped the night before. We collected our wounded and took them to the Methodist meeting house where our surgeons were working. We were in good spirits in spite of Ross' death. But we were tired. It was all that time on board ship without exercise. We just couldn't march like we did in Spain. We wrapped up in our greatcoats and tried to sleep. The night was damp, and we had to lie on our guns to keep them dry."
"At dawn, 12th September, we broke camp and slogged forward. It was slow going; the Yanks had felled trees across the road every few yards, and we had to stop and heave them out of the way. Any farmhouses we saw with people in them, we left alone, but we plundered any house we saw deserted. Soldiers have to eat, after all. I came away with six bottles of excellent sherry, long since consumed, of course."
"Colonel Brooke came back from reconnoitering the defenses on the heights east of the city, most directly opposed to our line of march. They were formidable, bristling with cannon, and it looked like upwards of fifteen thousand men were manning them. We'd pay a bitter price if we attacked them there. Brooke decided to attack at night, when the Jonathans would not be able to aim so reliably. Later that day, he met with Admiral Cochrane and the two worked out a plan. Cochrane would bring the fleet up to Fort McHenry, which guarded the mouth of Baltimore harbor, and bombard it into rubble, while Lieutenant Napier's squadron feinted behind the fort up the Ferry Branch. The Americans would siphon off troops from the eastern hills and rush them to check this attack, and Brooke could break through the weakened eastern defenses. The Jonathans were weakest on the left. He would try and break through there with two columns, while a third column made a diversionary push on the American right.
Early on the morning of the 13th, our light craft, frigates, sloops, schooners, bomb and rocket ships took up a line about two and a half miles from Fort McHenry and began a general bombardment. Admiral Cochrane himself was on board the Surprize directing the attack. I could see it from the heights of North Point. The fort responded with a battery of 24-pounders set atop its parapet, which were joined by even heavier guns. Our fleet had the longer range, and could fire with impunity. They kept up a terrific rate of gunnery, and I imagine the fort's defenders had a rather hot time of it. Three of our bomb vessels tried their luck at even closer range, but the fort's fire was too fierce. It made them reconsider, and they pulled back to safety. Over the course of the day, we fired thousands of rounds at them."
"From where I was standing, I could see a line of ships being towed to the mouth of the harbor east of the fort. Whoever had charge of them had real balls, for our shells were splashing all around, but he ignored our fire and scuttled the hulks in the channel. I could see the masts sticking up above the water. Any ships that tried to enter would have their bottoms ripped out."
"Night fell, and the bombardment continued. It was pouring rain, but I could still see the fort in the flash of rockets and shells bursting over it. It was an impressive sight. I don't think I've ever seen one site receive such a fire. There didn't seem to be any way the fort could hold. It was like a lightning storm. And with every flash, I could see the outline of the American flag flying above McHenry. I imagine every gunner in the fleet was targeting it, but our aim was off that night."
"It was midnight now, and we were gearing up for the night assault on the defenses east of Baltimore when Colonel Brooke received a letter from Admiral Cochrane. He opened it, and I could see his face fall even in the darkness. Cochrane was pulling out of the combined attack. He didn't think he could breach the line of scuttled ship, because he would come under prolonged fire from the fort, the gunboats in the harbor, and the battery across the harbor. Admiral Cockburn wanted to go it alone, but Brooke disagreed. The defenses were too strong to attack without the diversion, at least with our present force. It would just be throwing the men's lives away. Already, we were thinking of the upcoming New Orleans campaign, for which we would need them."
"So Brooke called the attack off. We would retreat tomorrow morning. The fleet's guns fell silent and the darkness was total. We wrapped up in our greatcoats in the rain and waited for the dawn. We later found out that Lieutenant Napier's squadron had not got word of the cancellations, and had gone ahead with the diversionary attack on the Ferry Branch. Without our attacks to divert their attention, the Yanks spotted his squadron and hit it hard. We took heavy losses there."
"Dawn came, and Cochrane pulled his squadron back to the main fleet. We withdrew down North Point over the course of two days and re-embarked. And would you believe it? That damned Yankee flag was still flying from Fort McHenry! What cheek!"
"Anyway, Major Smith headed back to England with General Ross' last dispatches, and I was left at loose ends. I could have headed up north to assault Fort Castine on the Penobscott with the 60th, but things were looking more interesting down here. So when I heard that the 3rd Battalion of the 95th would be joining the New Orleans assault, I requested a transfer to them. It seemed that my good friend Major Mitchell unexpectedly needed a second in command, so it was quickly approved, though just for the duration of the campaign. The climate agrees with me more down here anyway. I'd served with some stout lads in America, but I missed the Rifles. We stayed in Chesapeake Bay until the middle of October. We made a few raids inshore, but accomplished little. On the 18th, we received dispatches ordering us to sail for Jamaica. I linked up with the 95th there, and we rested and re-supplied until this New Orleans party was ready to begin."
Fredrickson finished by telling Sharpe about the dismal stay on Pea Island, the progress up Bayou Bienville, the capture of Villere plantation, and the night battle.
"And that, my friend, is what I have been doing for the past few months."
"It sounds like a tough campaign, but not a very glorious one."
"It was that."
Fredrickson fished his pocket watch out of his tunic pocket and glanced at it by the campfire's light. He stood up.
"It's midnight, and time for all good soldiers to be in bed. You'll bunk in the officer's mess with me. One of the Captains of 3rd Company owes me a favor, so I had him give up his bed while you're here."
Sharpe also stood.
They walked in silence to the mess, and entered. A single candle in a holder was burning on the table. Sharpe turned to Fredrickson.
"William, I -"
Fredrickson seemed to sense what Sharpe was trying to say. He turned away from his friend, shaking his head and holding up his hand.
"No Richard, we won't talk about that yet. Maybe later."
Sharpe looked at his friend's back for a moment, and then nodded.
"As you wish."
He turned to his room. He heard Fredrickson behind him.
Sharpe half turned.
Sharpe had completely forgotten what day it was. He turned back and they looked at each other for a moment. Sharpe smiled wryly.
"Merry Christmas, William."
Sharpe went to his room and his bed. The subject of Lucille would have to wait. He was tired and would sleep well.
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Last update 15/7/01