Sunday, February 27, 2011

80 The Battle for New York

The Battle for New York was a disaster, Walter Gromwell looked around at the 4 other men who'd made it out of  Staten Island with him and then he looked at what was left of their kit. Gromwell couldn't supress a groan as something inside his injured chest wobbled and pain shot electric sparks from his hips to his ribs. Gromwell had seen his General  brought down before his very eyes as if by magic. His head clipped from his body with less sound than the farmboy from Sussex had heard coming from a cat fart. He started to smile but the tightening of his chest made him stop mid-chuckle. The General had been on his horse, halfway through an order and then his head had exploded, Gromwell hadn't been thinking then, all he'd known had been flung out the window at that instant leaving only room for living through the next second and then the next, all the way to the present moment, the moment where he was right now, clutching his side and slowly freezing to death months later in this harsh New World January, despite the cold, despite the pain, it seemed less real than that summer day in July when they'd landed on Staten Island expecting little to no opposition from the traitor Washington's men.

Instead, something had taken his General's head off. No, it was  really more like it had exploded from the inside, as he'd first thought. General Sir William Howe had been a good General and Gromwell, like most of the General's men, had loved him, Gromwell had seen action with him in Austria and later in Canada and even the Caribbean. When Howe's head had just come off like that, the dirt, the grass, the creaking of the landing boats, the mad blue July sky, Gromwell was fairly sure that if he closed his eyes and took the time, he'd be able to count each leaf of each branch of each tree that had surrounded them when that mysterious force took the General's head.
It had only been the beginning of the nightmare, They'd landed with 25,000 soldiers but after the General's head got taken off, the senior officers had been next, hundreds at a time it seemed to Gromwell. Now it was January and the scattered panicked forces the General had led were wandering lost, hungry, diseased and dying in the snow all across New England.Hunted as well. Gromwell couldn't help grunting, could he call it New England anymore? These Americas would be his death and he knew it. Still, with the handful of men that had made it with him back to one of the remaining landing boats (some were strangely little more than splinters) he had gotten across to the mainland and managed to survive as long as January and as far as Jersey. They were heading North hoping to find the Continenal Army still in command up near Quebec whose streets, he could hardly believe he had walked once, with a full belly in clothes that did not stink.

He'd gone right past horror on the day of the landing at Staten Island and was only now beginning to come back round to it again from the other side and started properly thinking, what could have happened? They'd abandoned all their cannon where they had fallen. The precision, no, the decision of the strike against them was what had baffled and panicked the men, 25,000 soldiers only have about 300 senior officers and only one General. It hadn't been like an attack, it had been like a decapitation. Gromwell was just a regular infantryman, as were all who had escaped the carnage on Staten Island that day. In fact, he doubted any commissioned officer had lived out the hour, let alone the day. Gromwell couldn't put his certainty into words but either by Grace or Glory, he'd not just been lucky, he felt he'd been spared.

In the treeline, half a kilometer from Walter Gromwell's camp, a lance of figures lay motionless and observed the proceedings using starlight goggles.

                "Sergeant, they have muskets but have been using them only to hunt, avoiding built-up areas, their provisions must be depleted soon, they have continued on a northerly heading since we've been observing, recommend catch and release, these boys are done fighting, over."
                "One of them might be my granddad, right Private Tremayne? Have you identified them?"
                "Yes Sergeant. Historical profile reports their identities as Walter Gromwell, Jackson Struthers, Willard Jensen, Amos Philips, Gerard Buckley, visual confirmation, over"
                "Not much left of his regiment, okay, all names are green, except Walter Gromwell's, he didn't survive the war, over"
                "Yes Sergeant, over. " said Private Tremayne wondering about all those who were supposed to have survived but had got sniped all the way back in July. Some Brain had explained at the campaign briefing that big changes had smaller and more predictable consequences but little changes had huge unpredictable consequences. Something as well about big changes being on purpose shouldn't mean accidental changes being introduced willy-nilly. That was improvisation. He didn't understand the math but it appealled to his sense of neatness. He sighted in and took aim. Exhaled.

Gromwell huddled up in his blanket and tried to get some sleep, hoped things would look better t--