A Drummer in Red

by Gordon Saunders

DIR Yorktown canon with Adobe Caslon 1600

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An Overview of the ‘Young America’ series

When did America start? Long before the colonists revolted against the mother country, Great Britain, I think. But it didn’t take on those characteristics that we recognize as foundational until that revolution started and thirteen colonies had to find a way to work together to form – if not a perfect union, at least a more perfect one.

A milestone at the beginning of that process was their most significant victory in the ‘hot’ war with Great Britain: the Battle of Yorktown. The ‘Young America’ series begins with the events leading up to, including, and immediately following that battle, as seen through the eyes of three participants: a young American from Baltimore, a young Frenchman from Brest, and a young Englishman from Liverpool – the drummer in red – the icon that encompasses all that happened during that fateful year, 1781.

A Drummer in Red, the first of the ‘Young America’ series, tells this story.  The second book in the series, The Blood of Patriots and Tyrants, follows our three young men and the young country from 1782 until the inauguration of George Washington, the first president of the United States, on April 30, 1789, and the news of the French Revolution reaching our shores in November of that year.

The third book, on which I am currently working, tentatively entitled, The Fever Spreads, follows our young men in three directions as they participate in the growth and development of the power, prestige, and physical extent of our country. In it we see such disparate elements as the Barbary Wars, the passing of the Bill of Rights, the extension of the western frontier to the Mississippi River, and the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804.

As countries go, those twenty-three years do not represent great longevity. And considering how old the country is now, I suppose we could still reasonably call it young for quite a few more years after 1804. So I imagine there will have to be a few more books in the Young America series, at least getting us to, oh, say Thomas Jefferson, or Andrew Jackson, or maybe Abraham Lincoln – if I live that long.

I hope you’ll enjoy them and learn from them. I’ve certainly learned a lot as I’ve been researching them. And the most prominent lesson I’ve learned, I’d have to say, is that very little has changed since those delirious days of revolution, of nation-building, and of inventing ways to keep the republic.

 

Here are a couple of excerpts from A Drummer in Red to give you a feel for it. Enjoy!

 

From Chapter 9: A Turn for the Worse

Gloucester CH house - 800

 

Lewis and Tetty ran along the street toward the rapidly departing Nicholson.

One warehouse stood between them and the woods marking the end of the town. As they approached the warehouse, there was a sudden ragged volley of musket fire. Lewis caught Tetty’s arm, and stopped them dead; quickly pulling them up against the side of the warehouse they had now reached. They sidled along the north wall of the building until Lewis could look east to the bank of the inlet.

A dozen or more British soldiers were kneeling there, some firing and some loading muskets, trying in vain to damage the fleeing schooner. A small canon sat unused near them. On the other bank, quite a distance down, a couple dozen British soldiers and sailors were dragging themselves out of the water.

Lewis whispered to Tetty, “They must have gotten off downstream, hoping to encircle the Nicholson and cut off the retreat of its crew.”

“I wonder how they found out it was here,” said Tetty.

“Probably some Loyalist spy,” said Lewis. “You can’t tell your friends from your enemies anymore.”

And I’m supposed to love both, he thought, grimacing.

“We’d better get back,” said Tetty, looking at Lewis. He turned to look at her and went white.

“You’d better stay,” said the soldier behind Tetty. He leveled his musket at them. “Someone tipped ’em off,” he said, “and we are gonna find out who it was an’ ‘ang ‘im.”

As the soldier spoke Lewis tested his footing and began ever so slowly to crouch. The soldier placed his left hand beside his mouth and turned his head to call. But before he could get anything out, Lewis sprang at him, knocking him over. Then Lewis scrambled to his feet, grabbed Tetty’s hand and sprinted back toward town.

“Blast you, bloody rebel!” the soldier shouted. Lewis dragged Tetty as fast as they could go to the first house, which he ran alongside to the front of the next house, around the following one, and finally into a little alcove built into one wall of a fourth house. It wasn’t long, however, before the soldier appeared, cursing and muttering.

“He’s sure to find us,” whispered Tetty.

“Not if you’re quiet,” said Lewis.

“But he’ll get his friends,” Tetty continued, “and then there’ll be no escape.”

“Sh-h”, said Lewis. He pulled Tetty back as the soldier approached. The soldier was close enough so that they could have unbuttoned his gaiters if they had wanted to. His back was toward them, his musket dangling loosely from one hand.

“If you can do it, I can do it,” whispered Tetty. Suddenly she leaped out of her hiding place with a scream. The startled soldier snapped his head back to look, and dropped his musket. Lewis, in turn, leaped out of the alcove, picked up the musket, ran in the other direction, then turned on his heels and stopped.

Tetty stopped and turned back, watching from a few yards away.

The soldier turned quickly to face Lewis. “Give it ‘ere,” he growled, “and I let you go. Don’t, and I call the others.”

Lewis raised the musket at him. “Call out and you’re a dead man,” he said, backing from the approaching soldier.

“‘Ave you ever killed a man, little boy?” asked the soldier, menacingly, still coming on. “It’s a very messy business. Not for a weak stomach.”

“Don’t…don’t come any closer,” said Lewis.

Tetty was motioning frantically to him, and mouthing, “Soldiers coming.”

The soldier kept on. Love your enemy, Lewis thought. He was a good shot with a musket. He had killed ducks, rabbits, even a deer, once. Love your enemy. Lewis started to take aim. The soldier lunged, but from too far away. Lewis shot him in the foot.

“O-oh!” said the soldier, falling to the ground and grasping his foot; a look of incredulity on his face.

“Run!” shouted Lewis. He dropped the musket and the two of them ran toward the back of the house.

 

From Chapter 21: Midnight Search

DIR Oct 17 Storm - 800

They ran on and on, careless of the brambles and snapping, lashing branches, finally coming to the pickets.

“Who goes there?” someone shouted.

“I’m Lewis Elliot and I have to speak to the commander!”

“Lewis!” the voice shouted back. “This is Uncle James. What’s your message?”

“The British are landing at Gloucester,” Lewis screeched over the storm. “There are dozens of boats, hundreds of soldiers!”

“I’ll go,” said another voice. Through the crashing storm, Lewis could barely hear the sound of feet quickly running off.

Uncle James came out from behind his cover. It was raining so hard that had it not been for the frequent flashes of lightning, they wouldn’t have been able to see two feet in front of them.

“Who’s that with you?” said Uncle James.

“It’s Gilly, my French friend,” shouted Lewis. “No time to explain. We’ve got to help Lloyd!”

The wind and rain made hearing almost impossible.

“What about Lloyd?” Uncle James shouted back.

“He’s adrift in the boat,” yelled Lewis, “He may be shot. I don’t know. I couldn’t see well.”

“He was in the boat alone?” Uncle James didn’t wait for a response. “Smitty,” he shouted. “I’ve got to go! My son’s in trouble on the river!”

Without waiting for a response, he grabbed Lewis’s arm and the three of them began running.

“Where is he?”

“We’ll need a boat,” Lewis responded, running along beside him, gasping. It was raining so hard now, that the ground beneath their feet was a slippery mush. Lightning sizzled into nearby trees, giving them an uncomfortable feeling and leaving an acrid smell in their nostrils. The wind tore at their clothing, and whipped bushes around them into a slashing frenzy. Still, they ran on.

“I know where there is one,” shouted Uncle James, panting. He raced ahead, Lewis and Gilly doing their best to follow. In a moment, they came to the shore. Uncle James looked first one way and then the other, uncertain, momentarily, and then dashed upstream. Soon he was frantically batting away sand and eel grass, and the upturned bow of a boat emerged in the almost continuous lightning.

“Help me get it out,” Uncle James shouted. The three of them thrust their hands under it and wrested it from its remaining cover. Then Uncle James swiftly grabbed the two oars beneath the seat, and they waded into the river carrying the boat.

Lewis jumped into the bow, and Uncle James jumped in amidships, and Gilly at the stern. Even this close to shore, the waves were so great that it was difficult to keep from capsizing. Uncle James was forced to jump out and back in again, turning the boat around in the process. Then he got the oars in their locks, and put everything he had into rowing.

Once out on the river, things were worse than they had been near the shore. The tide was going out, the river’s current seemed to take them, and the west wind carried all away before it. Curtains of stinging spray and rain lashed across them, blinding them, and causing Uncle James to have to wipe his eyes, in the meanwhile, not rowing. And every time he stopped rowing, the boat wanted to go broadside to the waves. Lewis strained to see into the darkness, but couldn’t see anything except when the lightning flashed. If the cannons were still bombarding York Town, the storm was louder. The storm was all he could hear. Rampaging water was all he could see.

“Is this near where he was?” Uncle James bellowed after a while.

“I don’t know,” shrieked Lewis. “I can’t see where we are!”

They continued their dizzying journey. For a long time they went on, very quickly, up and down, over, sideways, almost upside down.

“Oh, no,” screamed Lewis. “The point! We just passed Gloucester Point!”

“There’s nothing I can do,” shouted Uncle James. “I can’t stop us!” They rode the crest of the river like foam upon the tide, moving out to the middle of the river toward the south bank. On and on they went.

“The British ships!” cried Lewis. “They’re dead ahead! Don’t crash into them!”

But the boat careened on, oblivious to any human effort to stop it. Lewis looked toward York Town and east. The river was strewn with punts and scows, like them, out of control. The larger British ships bobbed like tops directly in front of them.

In a flash of lightning Lewis saw another danger. “There’s masts ahead!” he shouted. “Uncle James! Masts of sunken ships. Don’t get caught in them!”

But it was too late. The tangled rigging of a fallen spar caught their bow, and spun the boat like a leaf in a whirlpool. Uncle James reeled and almost fell out. Both of the oars were gone. And then came the crash. Wham!

The British ship loomed like a mountain above them. No one could possibly help them from there, even if they wanted to. All three were in the water, swirling in little whirlpools against the side of the ship. But then there was a hand. Hands. A British scow had crashed against the ship, too. It was intact. Men on the scow were helping them out of the water! They fell to the deck exhausted, looking like the brown lumps that lined the shores of the York River.

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