Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Escape To Cherry Valley

EMMETT'S MOST IMMEDIATE concern was to put miles between his tender skin and Valley Forge. An American patrol would return him to the encampment for punishment. If he encountered British soldiers, the best he could hope for was to be captured by regular infantrymen. Neither the mounted infantrymen called dragoons nor the German mercenaries everyone called Hessians took much interest in prisoners.

His plans were limited by geography. The roads around Valley Forge led mostly east toward occupied Philadelphia or west toward the frontiers. Shannon did not dare strike due north across rough terrain. A frontiersman he may have been, but one of the fabled long hunters he wasn't. Certainly not in the dead of winter. Plus he had neither map nor compass. So he determined to take the road that somewhat paralleled the Schuylkill River, past Reading. Then the road curved north and west toward Bethlehem. He would follow that route through the pass in the Kittatiny Mountains, and cross the East Branch of the Delaware into New York. From there he intended to strike again northeast to the Hudson and follow that river, even though it led through the wasteland of the Neutral Ground to Albany, and then the final road west to his home. It would have been simpler if British forces weren't lurking across the roads to his northeast. That would be a far more direct route; a direct route, most likely, to one of the British prison hulks in New York Harbor. If he had wanted to starve or die of the fevers, Shannon thought, he could have remained at Valley Forge and saved himself this walk.

He moved on—slowly and cautiously. His progress wasn't helped by the weather. Two days after he deserted, the storm broke. Snow and sleet slashed down, and his slow movement became a plod. He took a large chance and followed the road, to pick up speed. Emmett cursed the weather—until it saved his life.

He heard the jingle of harness in time to roll off the rutted road into a shallow frozen runnel. He kept his head low, broadcasting thoughts that he was nothing more than an uninteresting rock as the riders passed. Emmett waited until he was sure there was no rear guard before he dared a look. There were about fifteen of them. It might have been possible to think they were nothing more than a group of civilian drovers, headed for shelter. But since when did drovers wear identical cloaks? Or have saddlery the same? Let alone the dimly glimpsed flash of a saber's scabbard on the rearmost rider.

British dragoons. Their supposed purpose was for reconnaissance. Essentially they were mounted infantrymen. Ride to battle, dismount, skirmish, and then get out. In fact, they were used as scroungers, thieves, raiders, and ambush experts. On both sides dragoons tended to be somewhat casual about obeying the laws of man, the military, or God Himself. They were armed with three-foot-long sabers, the shortened muskets called musketoons, a pistol or two if the trooper had managed to liberate one, plus whatever other weapons they fancied. They tended to be skilled in the use of all of them. The infantry equivalent of the dragoons were the rangers, who had an equally questionable reputation among the line units. These, Emmett thought, were probably an ambush element, clumsily disguised, trying to waylay any of the Continental Army's foraging expeditions. Or maybe foraging on their own. Dragoons tended to keep their own counsel.

Emmett was not that terrified. Especially after seeing the backs of the dragoons disappear into the storm.

There had been dragoons, after all, at Saratoga that summer. They'd been on foot, wading through the swamps called the Drowned Lands in twelve-pound horse boots, and lugging carbines and yard-long, basket-hilted sabers. Each one of them also carried a halter, intended for the horse to be won somewhere in America. They were part of the eight-thousand-man British army invading from Canada. The army was led by Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, he of the florid face, the vast concern for his soldiers' welfare, the mistress, and the thirty carts of personal belongings. Among his forces were some of the proudest regiments of the British army, German mercenaries, Loyalists, Canadian frontiersmen, and nearly four hundred Indians.

Burgoyne fought south, taking casualties in a hundred little nameless skirmishes, dragging his army through the swamps. The damned rebels had destroyed the few roads that existed. His men stumbled through the wilderness, bewildered, mosquito- and snake-bitten, and starving. Moving his army twenty miles through virgin wilderness took him twenty-six days. His Indian allies contributed to the war effort by murdering the fiancee of one of his Tory officers, then deserting in a snit.

Burgoyne's march went on. Eventually he stumbled to the Hudson, where the main rebel army waited, under an ambitious schemer named Gates, near a minuscule village called Saratoga. The Americans were camped on top of Bemis Heights, a steep plateau surrounded by woods that was completely fortified.

 Burgoyne split his army into three columns and sent them forward into the attack on a brisk, frosty fall day.

Turkey gobbles rattled from the thick brush. Daniel Morgan's Virginia riflemen used bird sounds to signal. The gold-braided officers and pike-carrying noncommissioned officers were the first to go down under the spatter of rifle fire. The British sent in backup troops, and the nightmare began, hours of screaming, blood, sallies, countersallies, and death.

Emmett had been part of that nightmare. By now he had a story assembled as to what happened to him that day—how his company had gone against the light infantry, been shelled flat by the British, then had gone on and taken the guns. It all happened. But Shannon's real memories had, at least to his mind, little of the reach of an epic. In fact, he'd realized later, they bore closer resemblance to what his grandfather had told him in fits and starts about his own career as a soldier.

There was a sergeant shouting at them, and they were up, muskets charged, running forward. A scream of "fire" and Emmett was staring down the barrel of his Bess and the trigger was pulled. Jolt against his shoulder and a cloud of white. Unsure of what he'd shot at, he was running forward again. A bawl from someone to halt and reload, and Emmett was ramming a fresh charge and ball down the barrel of the musket, trying to remember if he hadn't done this moments ago, and if so and he hadn't fired, the musket was going to explode. Then seeing the man next to him— Garrity, he remembered—grunt gently, look at the gout of blood where his arm had been, and then fall forward.

Another man—Emmett could not, for his life, remember his  name—was  staggering,  spraying blood from  his throat, for all the world like a slaughtered chicken, and ahead of them were billowed white clouds that might have been storm signals at sea but were not, and then came the blast, the blast that sent his hat spinning and Emmett stumbling. A man was coming at him, shouting something, and all Emmett could see was the stabbing needle of the bayonet. Somehow Emmett had his musket sideways and the needle shoved away and he and the man were chest to chest. Emmett's knee came up, and the man screamed, doubled. Emmett struck with the musket butt, and the man was on his back. Emmett had his musket up, butt lifted to crash downward to finish the kill, and there was another scream. Turning, he saw a Britisher pulling his bayonet out of the body of Fraser, who—he remembered—he stilt owed a flask of rum to, and the redcoat was pulling back for the finishing stroke. Emmett's musket went off, and the ball blew out the Englishman's guts.

Someone was shouting at him now to retreat. Pull back. Emmett was running back the way he had come as a line of British infantrymen lockstepped forward. The line suddenly vanished in a crash of cannon fire—theirs, ours?—and someone else was crying the charge yet again, and Emmett was headed back the way he had come. He remembered the rattle of harness, the screams of a horse and thunder of wheels. But maybe that had come before, because he was told later that they charged once more against four British cannon.

But if that were so, who had slaughtered the British soldiers? And why would anyone charge into cannon fire? It made no sense, but he found himself at a run, his bayonet aimed at a matross's chest, and that cannoneer trying to block his thrust with a ramrod, and the bayonet thumping home, and the sound of the matross's last breath whistling, most clear, as he died. Which Emmett should not have been able to hear.

The day went on. Hours—so Shannon guessed—hours of stumbling up and down that hill, over the softness of bodies, and hearing the shatter of cannon fire. He could put none of it in order. The first he could remember, when time began once more, was his lunged thrust pulled aside as the red haze lifted and he saw the face of a corporal-Atkins, it was, Second Company—shouting at him that they were pulling back. "Back, you Irish bastard!" Shannon had turned and stumbled away. Uphill away. He was heading in the right direction, he guessed. All he was really aware of was a great thirst. Pouring mountain rivers of water, and him lying underneath them.

He got his drink, back atop Bemis Heights. And was told what had happened. The British hadn't been beaten. But six hundred of them lay out there on the slopes below the plateau. He could hear their screams and groans, fading down as the freezing wind whispered over the battlefield and night closed in. At daybreak a heavy mist, and each side went out to bury the dead and bring in the wounded. British and Colonial troops would stumble into each other, wordlessly stare, and then backstep into the fog. There'd been enough death.

Burgoyne decided not to count the number of his dead, but held in place, entrenched his position and called the battle a victory. Some days after that, surrounded, Burgoyne sent some soldiers out to see what would happen. The American forces, led by one of the most brilliant officers of the revolt, Benedict Arnold, counterattacked. At the end of the day Gentleman Johnny's troops—bearskins, sabers, and traditions—were driven back against the Hudson. Ten days later, after negotiations—and the only person in America who could pose more nobly than Burgoyne was Granny Gates—Burgoyne surrendered 5,700 of Britain's formerly-finest soldiers. He had been trapped by a force more than three times his number.

Shannon thought, as he trudged on through the storm, at least he had been part of that. His unit, the Fourth New York, had been detached from Gates's army and ordered to march south in fall, just in time to go into winter quarters at Valley Forge.

South, away from Cherry Valley. Shannon was unsure if he would have enlisted at all if he'd known he would be serving far from his home. He'd joined for the bounty—but also to protect his people and farm against the Loyalists and the Indian butchers they controlled from across the border.

Never mind, Emmett thought, bringing himself back to this icy Schuylkill road. The matter is done.

Emmett Shannon was traveling light. His rifle he carried ready and primed in one hand. The hunting bag he'd gotten from Morgan's rifleman was particularly fine. The bag was built so the powder horn was slung below it. The horn was three-quarters full of powder. The leather bullet pouch inside the bag held twenty-six balls. It was more than enough ammunition. The bullets were for hunting or, at worst, delaying an enemy until Emmett could disappear into the woods.

In the rifle's patch box were the necessary cleaning and maintenance tools for his rifle. Stuck in his worn leather belt were his tomahawk and the horn-handled nine-inch-bladed knife Emmett had forged from a file years earlier.

Around his neck he carried his drinking cup. Also slung was his small camp kettle—tinned iron—in a dirty linen pouch, as was a one-quart tin British canteen, half full of rum. He would need that for medication. The rest of his gear was carried in the hairy knapsack: a wooden plate, a spoon, a jackknife, flint and steel; a rolled skin pouch, in case he needed to carry water. His provisions: one and one-third pounds of Indian meal, one pint of dried peas, about a pint of rice, a hunk of dirty salt. Not much, but the best he had been able to acquire.

At least his medical supplies were adequate. Emmett was proud of what he carried. He had clean linen, to serve either for bandages or spare rifle patches. A bit of soft soap-made of ashes and dirty tallow. He had a half pint of vinegar, alder, oak bark for fever tea, sumac, horseradish roots, and mustard seed. Plus some Glauber's purging salts in a twist of paper. He wished he had been able to steal some opium or tobacco.

 But he also wished he could have obtained a surrey, a change of horses, and a cavalry escort home. Emmett Shannon, hunched under his blanket coat, looking less like a shaman than a starveling, traveled on through the storm.

On the sixth day after he deserted, the weather broke. Frozen slush became muddy slush. But there were tiny spots of green on the trees. Maybe spring would come early this year, Emmett hoped, as he rolled his blanket coat onto his pack and moved on again. By now he should be beyond most of any army's tentacles. He felt well enough to mutter a song to himself:

"How brave you went out with your muskets all bright And thought to befrighten the folks with the sight But when you got there how they powdered your pums And all the way home how they peppered your bums. And is it not, honeys, a comical—"

He broke off, rifle coming up as he crouched and doubled off to the side of the track. Voices ahead. Emmett moved farther away from the road, into cover. Then he slid forward, toward the voices. The road below him dropped away, into a small hollow. There were three men, sweat-stained and spattered with mud. One man was doing most of the swearing. Four unhitched draft horses stared disinterestedly at what was going on. The four-wheeled wagon sat canted, one end of its box supported by a braced wagon jack. The shattered remains of a wheel lay to one side. Two of the men were muscling a new wheel onto the axletree.

Shannon's hands on the rifle stock were white. He had no use for teamsters. At least not those that made the run from Reading to Valley Forge. Thieves and profiteers they were, at best. "Lean into it, sods," shouted the vocal one, and Emmett knew their roles. The one doing the least and shouting the most was the wagon master, prosperity having spilled his gut over the front of his breeches; the other two were bound-out servants.

 The wheel slid into place. The wagon master took a large wooden mallet from the wagon. "We've been miring ourselves since Reading," the man said. "Mought as well lighten the load now." The mallet swung—and the bung came out of the first barrel. Brine poured out, and Emmett had a gut-searing, memory taste of putrid beef from other barrels deliberately smashed on their way to Valley Forge by other thieving teamsters. The wagon master stepped to another barrel and the mallet came up and fury overtook Emmett. His rifle locked into his shoulder, his finger pressing, then the flash of powder and the smack of recoil as the ball took the wagon master just above the eyebrows and ripped away most of the skull. The echoes of the shot rang around the tiny hollow.

NEXT: The Old Man And The Boy


Between February and May of 1942, German U-boats operated with impunity off the Florida coast, sinking scores of freighters from Cape Canaveral to Key West and killing nearly five thousand people. Residents were horrified witnesses of the attacks—the night skies were aflame and in the morning the beaches were covered with oil and tar, ship parts and charred corpses. The Germans even landed teams of saboteurs charged with disrupting war efforts in the factories of the North. This novel is based on those events. For my own purposes, I set the tale in the fictitious town of Juno Beach on the banks of the equally fictitious Seminole River—all in the very real Palm Beach County, a veritable wilderness in those long ago days. Among the witnesses were my grandfather and grandmother, who operated an orchard and ranch in the area. 

Click here for the paperback and Kindle Versions
Click here for the audio version - Read By Ben McLean


The year is 1778 and the Revolutionary War has young America trapped in the crossfire of hatred and fear. Diana, an indentured servant, escapes her abusive master with the help of Emmett Shannon, a deserter from the desperate army at Valley Forge. They fall in love and marry, but their happiness is shattered and Diana Shannon must learn to survive on her own. From that moment on she will become a true woman of her times, blazing a path from lawless lands in the grips of the Revolution, to plague-stricken Philadelphia, to the burning of Washington in the War Of 1812.
Click here to buy the novel. Paperback, Kindle or, audiobook.

Tales Sometimes Tall, but always true, of Allan Cole's years in Hollywood with his late partner, Chris Bunch. How a naked lady almost became our first agent. How we survived La-La Land with only the loss of half our brain cells. How Bunch & Cole became the ultimate Fix-It 
Boys. How an alleged Mafia Don was very, very good to us. The guy who cornered the market on movie rocks. Andy Warhol's Fire Extinguisher. The Real Stars Of Hollywood. Why they don't make million dollar movies. See The Seven Pi$$ing Dwarfs. Learn: how to kill a "difficult" actor… And much, much more.


THE TIMURA TRILOGY: When The Gods Slept, Wolves Of The Gods and The Gods Awaken. This best selling fantasy series now available as trade paperbacks, e-books (in all varieties) and as audiobooks. Visit The Timura Trilogy page for links to all the editions. 

NEWLY REVISED KINDLE EDITIONS OF THE TIMURA TRILOGY NOW AVAILABLE. (1) When The Gods Slept;(2) Wolves Of The Gods; (3) The Gods Awaken.


A NATION AT WAR WITH ITSELF: In Book Three Of The Shannon Trilogy, young Patrick Shannon is the heir-apparent to the Shannon fortune, but murder and betrayal at a family gathering send him fleeing into the American frontier, with only the last words of a wise old woman to arm him against what would come. And when the outbreak of the Civil War comes he finds himself fighting on the opposite side of those he loves the most. In The Wars Of The Shannons we see the conflict, both on the battlefield and the homefront, through the eyes of Patrick and the members of his extended Irish-American family as they struggle to survive the conflict that ripped the new nation apart, and yet, offered a dim beacon of hope.



What if the Cold War never ended -- but continued for a thousand years? Best-selling authors Allan Cole (an American) and Nick Perumov (a Russian) spin a mesmerizing "what if?" tale set a thousand years in the future, as an American and a Russian super-soldier -- together with a beautiful American detective working for the United Worlds Police -- must combine forces to defeat a secret cabal ... and prevent a galactic disaster! This is the first - and only - collaboration between American and Russian novelists. Narrated by John Hough. Click the title links below for the trade paperback and kindle editions. (Also available at iTunes.)


A novel by Allan and his daughter, Susan

After laboring as a Doctors Without Borders physician in the teaming refugee camps and minefields of South Asia, Dr. Ann Donovan thought she'd seen Hell as close up as you can get. And as a fifth generation CIA brat, she thought she knew all there was to know about corruption and betrayal. But then her father - a legendary spymaster - shows up, with a ten-year-old boy in tow. A brother she never knew existed. Then in a few violent hours, her whole world is shattered, her father killed and she and her kid brother are one the run with hell hounds on their heels. They finally corner her in a clinic in Hawaii and then all the lies and treachery are revealed on one terrible, bloody storm- ravaged night.

BASED ON THE CLASSIC STEN SERIES by Allan Cole & Chris Bunch: Fresh from their mission to pacify the Wolf Worlds, Sten and his Mantis Team encounter a mysterious ship that has been lost among the stars for thousands of years. At first, everyone aboard appears to be long dead. Then a strange Being beckons, pleading for help. More disturbing: the presence of AM2, a strategically vital fuel tightly controlled by their boss - The Eternal Emperor. They are ordered to retrieve the remaining AM2 "at all costs." But once Sten and his heavy worlder sidekick, Alex Kilgour, board the ship they must dare an out of control defense system that attacks without warning as they move through dark warrens filled with unimaginable horrors. When they reach their goal they find that in the midst of all that death are the "seeds" of a lost civilization. 



Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969
In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with  a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is  "The Blue Meanie,"  a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself.

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