Council Of Fire – Snippet 26
“I don’t take your meaning.”
Wolfe explained, in the simplest terms he could manage, what they had seen and heard since the crossing of the Atlantic several weeks earlier, including their experience aboard Neptune and the accounts given by the men of Magnanime. It was given in a tone that stopped just short of insolence; but Amherst listened intently. Wolfe was headstrong, impetuous and dismissive of those with whom he had disputes, but he was also intelligent, brave and had no reason whatsoever to dissemble.
“This is . . . very disturbing news,” Amherst said at last. “An extended breach of contact with home will certainly affect our ability to defeat the enemy.”
“By which you mean the French.”
“Of course. Who else do you consider the enemy, General? Aren’t we here in America to fight the French?”
“Yes, of course. But I don’t know how we should be expected to proceed. We assumed that this year we would have several thousand troops to prosecute the war–here in New York, in the Maritimes, and wherever else. Those men are gone. They are either beyond the new boundary or have drowned in the Atlantic. Whatever we do, whatever we wish to do, will have to be done without them.”
“And what, if anything, do you advise?”
“I think we have two choices, sir. We either use all of our forces to prosecute the campaign right away. After all, the French will be as isolated as we are, and we have the advantage of numbers.”
“And the second alternative?”
“Though it pains me to say it, General Amherst, the other choice is to seek an armistice.”
“Our king has not authorized us to negotiate anything of the sort.”
“Our king . . .” Wolfe looked away toward Prince Edward, who was carefully examining a field piece in the company of a young lieutenant. “General Amherst, from the time the event occurred, I believe that the mantle of kingship descended upon that young man. We may never see our sovereign again–but in the meanwhile, we have someone who may have to take his place.”
* * *
If Amherst were of a different character, it might have rankled him to think that Wolfe was right about the stark choice presented by the events the younger man had described. But personal animus, he knew, must always bow before pragmatic necessity.
With staff assembled and at least some of the stiff parade-ground uniform dispensed with, he outlined the situation in detail for Prince Edward.
“We have half a thousand Blues from New Jersey, and about a quarter of the promised five thousand provincials from Pennsylvania. I would have none of them, of course, if I had not threatened to withdraw garrisons from their Ohio forts–the Quakers would rather stand by and watch their colony be overrun than take a musket in their hands and defend their hearth.
“In addition, there are nearly two thousand New Yorkers, with another thousand currently encamped near Albany, and a thousand men from Connecticut. The promised troops from Massachusetts have not arrived. I expect that the events in Salem you describe–” Amherst gave the slightest of nods to Wolfe–“have delayed, or possibly even prevented, their departure.”
“What about regulars, General?” the prince asked.
“The 17th, 27th, 53rd and 55th are at Albany, along with some artillery and rangers.”
“Irregular forces, Your Highness,” Amherst replied. “Under the command of Major Rogers, an . . . unusually skilled woodsman. They are used for scouting and special missions. Invaluable man, though his methods are somewhat unorthodox.”
Wolfe looked uncomfortable at the idea–whether it was due to the described method of warfare, or the fact that the man was a provincial, Amherst wasn’t sure. Wolfe had made some extremely uncharitable observations about Americans during the previous summer’s campaign.
He’d best get used to them, Amherst thought. They are our countrymen and neighbors now.
“In any case,” Amherst continued, “I do not know when these forces will be ready to embark. My supplies are not yet prepared, and I do not have most of my American troops in camp.”
“If I may ask,” Wolfe said archly, “what is your best estimate of an embarkation date?”
“That is nearly two months from now,” Prince Edward said quietly. “With respect, General, many things may have changed by then.”
“With respect, Highness,” Amherst answered, “if General Wolfe’s conjectures and observations as well as your own portray the situation correctly, then this is the only army I am likely to have. As he has pointed out to me, the circumstances of our isolation apply equally to the enemy. There is no reason to deploy our forces prematurely or to act peremptorily.
“Carillon, and its garrison, will still be there whenever we arrive to besiege it. I have every intention of meeting it with adequate force and proper supplies and accomplish my task with deliberation, instead of failing it with unnecessary haste as my predecessor clearly did. That was the command of my king, and I will fulfill it . . . unless ordered otherwise.”
There was a long pause, and Amherst focused his attention on the royal prince seated before him. When he finished speaking, Edward was looking intently at the map of the Hudson Valley; but as the room remained quiet, he looked up at Amherst, meeting him gaze for gaze.
“I think it would be improper to change those orders at this time, General,” the prince said at last.
Yet he does not abdicate the authority to do so in the future, Amherst thought. Interesting.
“What is the situation of the troops at Albany, General?” Wolfe asked.
“I only know what my dispatches tell me,” Amherst answered. “Perhaps you might wish to inspect their disposition yourself.”
“Are you proposing to send me to Albany, sir?”
“It is within my authority, sir,” Amherst snapped back. “But as you may in some way be obliged to His Highness, I would be more inclined to make it a request. I am sure we would both benefit from the direct observation of a trained military man.”
Wolfe appeared to be ready with a response, but Prince Edward held up his hand.
“I beg your pardon,” he said slowly and deliberately, not taking his eyes from Amherst. “As your expected deployment date is several weeks hence, General, I would assume that it would be possible to travel to Albany and back in the interim and obtain first-person intelligence. Am I correct? I do not have more than a very . . . superficial knowledge of this country’s geography. Every stretch of land seems unutterably vast.”
“It is a week’s journey by boat up the river, now that spring has come,” Amherst said. “Perhaps five days’ ride, though that might be strenuous. A hundred and fifty miles.”
“I assume one man on horseback could make better time than that,” Wolfe said.
“Two men,” the prince said, placing his hand on his breast.
“More than two men,” Amherst said, before Wolfe had a chance to reply. “If His Highness is determined to go by horse or riverboat to Albany, he will be accompanied by a troop of soldiers.”
“That will slow the trip down considerably,” Wolfe said. “General–”
“I brook no disagreement. A prince of the House of Hanover traveling with only one companion through the wilds of the Colony of New York? Preposterous.”
“The . . . ‘wilds of the Colony of New York,’ General? This land was settled more than a century ago. Surely–”
“It does not matter, Wolfe. We are at war; the wild part of the colony commences as soon as you pass beyond the Haarlem village. Your Highness says he does not understand the vastness of America? Well, here it is–on display, not a half-hour’s ride from where we sit.
“So, surely not, Wolfe. No royal person will be traveling anywhere, including within the boundaries of this city, unless he is escorted in a manner that befits his station. Am I understood?”
In the end, it was only two dozen men from the 40th, which had in part accompanied the prince to New York, who were detailed to ride with him and General Wolfe to Albany. It was less than Amherst wanted to send; he knew that Wolfe was impetuous, and eager to be in action–but he recognized the need for the group to move quickly and conceded.
Still, as they rode away from New York the following morning, a fifer playing “God Save the King,” Amherst felt a palpable dread.