A Drummer in Red

by Gordon Saunders

Second Edition Available!

An Overview of the ‘Young America’ series

A cursory search in an eighteenth century cemetery in Barren County, Kentucky, yielded gravestones of a five-year-old girl, a newborn boy, a two-year-old girl. Children died. They died early and in number in the eighteenth century.

So did nations. Ours happened to survive. But it barely came to be born. Without unexpected help from individuals like Lafayette and nations like Spain and France, it would never have come to be. And it’s fragile life continued with many fearful days, nights, weeks, and even years, when it seemed it would succumb, that all would be lost.

The ‘Young America’ series is about the early years of our country’s life, years in which reasonable heads and the wisdom of nations bet against it. The story is told through the lives and adventures of three young men, one American, one French, and one British, the people who came and went in their lives, and the people who stayed. It encompasses critical events from the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 through the return of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1806––a period of twenty-five years. Long enough to no longer be called young. It includes vignette appearances of real people whose names you know and other real people whose names you don’t know.

And it happens in places you know and places you don’t know. In fact, much of early American history took place outside America. Places it was not easy to get to and sometimes not easy to leave––alive.

But we survived. And our continued life and health as a nation may depend upon remembering what those young Americans––and people from other places and races––did and refrained from doing that made it possible for us to get to this point.

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
A large colonial inn.

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
A storm on the night of October 17, 1781

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.

%d bloggers like this: