Arrogance and Empire - An Alternate 7 Years' War Novel - Part 11 - 1890-1900

Chapter 63
October, 1896

Shanghai, Old Walled City

From the ramparts of the Old Walled City of Shanghai, Major General John Meigs grimaced as he gazed through the lenses of his binoculars. The rail station west of the city remained in barely managed chaos as thousands of Columbian soldiers waited to board the inadequate rail system outside the Walled City. Though reinforcements continued to arrive at reasonable intervals, the inefficient rail system into Shanghai hampered the allied plans to travel west to Nanjing, one of the two primary invasion points of the suddenly active Imperial Army.

Far to the west, Meigs knew, the Mandarin launched a second expedition south into rebel territory via some remote town called “Chongqing”, though the Columbian lacked any capacity to assist his allies there until his own army could be properly organized.

Much to the General’s surprise, George Custer had actually proven quite apt at gathering the chaotic assortment of regular and volunteer brigades and divisions arriving hodgepodge in Shanghai harbor, often without any coordination with the supply vessels bearing weapons, ammunition and other various material of war. Somehow the man managed to coordinate the transfer of the 1st Illawara Volunteer Brigade, the 8th and 10th Division and two regiments of Hawaiian Volunteers over to Nanking in perhaps the most impressive logistical feat Meigs had witnessed since disembarking upon these shores.

“Pity MacArthur still hasn’t returned from Manila,” Meigs grumbled.

“I quite agree, General,” a voice returned promptly, embarrassing the commander as Meigs hadn’t realized he’d even spoken aloud. “I’ve had occasion to work with General MacArthur and he is truly among the most competent staff officers I’ve ever encountered.”

Pretending he’d intended to address his companions, Meigs turned to the two men in his party and demanded to the fifty-two-year-old in army fatigues, “When did you serve alongside MacArthur, Lawton?”

Henry Lawton, commanding the 2nd Tasman Volunteers, currently attempting to board the overloaded trains to the west, nodded, his matching white hair and bushy mustache flowing slightly in the autumn breeze, “In Kyushu, sir, some years ago.”

With an absent, almost fond, grin, he added, “My friend Arthur MacArthur is among the most gifted soldiers in service to our country…and I’ve often said he is the most arrogant, too…until I had occasion to meet his son!” At this, the Brigadier guffawed, his eyes bright.

“You mean that young sailor…the Lieutenant in the Navy serving on that contraption newly arrived from Yerba Buena?” By happenstance, Meigs had been working assiduously on the docks of Shanghai trying to organizing the offloading of two artillery regiments from North America when the oddest vessel he’d ever laid eyes upon was towed into Shanghai harbor. Curious, he requested a short tour of the submersible USS Whitehead, first of its class, and wondered how the damn thing made it across an ocean without sinking to the bottom. Though the US Navy had utilized submersibles before, this was plainly an improvement to the old clunkers he’d reviewed in Philadelphia.

“No, sir,” Lawton shook his head. “Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur III seems a fine young fellow, though I have no doubt he fell out with his father over his choice of service! I was actually referring to Douglass, who must be entering his second year at West Point, whom I’ve had the dubious pleasure of teaching freshman mathematics last fall. A brilliant student, he was accepted into West Point via Presidential appointment at fifteen, who probably knew more than I did on the subject of mathematics than I and was seldom hesitant to let his teacher know it…though never quite to the point of earning demerits for disrespecting a superior officer!”

“God, there is someone more arrogant than the General?” Echoed a third voice, this one much more familiar to the commanding officers. Unlike the two soldiers, the third man donned civilian attire and bearing features strikingly similar to Meigs. “Johnny, after dealing with that pompous ass in Kyushu on that railroad project, I don’t think I can take much more of his condescension!”

By happenstance, Meigs’ brother, Montgomery had been contracted to extend a series of railroads in Kyushu and Shikoku (“Free” Nihon) and offered his services on the mainland, a proposal the General swiftly accepted and frequently congratulated himself on his foresight as the rail system in rebel territory, having lost too many of its experienced personnel, was drastically in need of competent leadership. Upon commencement of hostilities, the younger Meigs ordered his wife and six daughters, having accompanies him to Kyushu, back to Hawaii for their safety.

“None of this disrespect for my Chief-of-Staff, Monty!” the elder grumbled. A pain in the ass MacArthur may be, Meigs was too much a professional to belittle such a competent officer. “Now, where the hell is that additional rolling stock we were promised?”

“My Chinese adjutants assure me they will arrive from the south on the morrow, Johnny.” Despite the General’s admonishments, his younger brother refused to abide by military etiquette and frequently used the diminuative when addressing his brother rather than his rightful rank. “I suggest we worry more about those rumbles emerging across the waters to the east…”

The entire city of Shanghai had heard the reverberations of naval artillery off the eastern horizon since the previous day. Plainly Dewey had encountered the Imperial Chinese Fleet though no word of the status of that engagement had yet to reach Shanghai.

“I suggest, Monty,” Meigs replied heatedly with a glare, “that we concentrate on what WE CAN Affect!”

For once, the younger brother withheld a caustic comment. He knew full well the significance of a comprehensive naval defeat. The campaign on land would be over before it even had properly begun.

The engineer nodded, “Very well, Johnny, I’ll take my leave and ensure the next batch of men and material will have transports available on the morning.”

“Much gratitude, Mr. Meigs,” Lawton replied, “Once my own command is fully embarked, then the Nihonjin Brigade will follow.” To the shock of the entire military establishment, the Nihon government enthusiastically agreed to weaken their own defenses on Kyushu and Shikoku by offering their services on the mainland. The 1st Shikoku Volunteer Brigade under General Michitsura, some three thousand soldiers strong, arrived in Shanghai the previous morning and already milled about the railyard awaiting their transport to Nanjing.

Apparently, the Nihonjin consider this southern rebellion their own real chance at preserving their independence from the Mandarin, Meigs considered. They have little confidence in Uncle Sam keeping the Chinese hordes from overrunning their remaining Free Islands. I should probably be insulted…if I didn’t agree with them. Columbia’s political classes are not exactly known for their patience or loyalty.

His brother taking his leave to see to the mess at the rail station, Meigs and Lawton returned to their conversation regarding the reports of an army massing north of the Yangtze near Nanjing…and the probes already threatening the flimsy barrier between north and south. In defiance of his doubts, Meigs was determined to stand by his allies come what may…

Unfortunately, he knew the true battle was being fought at sea even now.

Stand firm, Dewey! He prayed. Stand firm or the cause is lost!
Chapter 64
October, 1896

East China Sea

With an ear-splitting roar and a blinding burst of smoke, the Lower California absorbed her greatest wound thus far in the furious battle erupting throughout the East China Sea. Scorching flames erupted aft, forcing at least one of the secondary, eight-inch batteries out of action. The stench of spent powder and, to Admiral Dewey’s horror, burning human flesh, filled his nostrils even through the slits of the conning tower.

To the Admiral’s relief, the Sino-Columbian-Nihon fleet appeared to be holding its own. Given the abject unfamiliarity between the allied officers, even beyond the basic language barrier, Dewey had gone to great lengths to inform the Chinese and Nihon vessels to “follow the Columbians, no matter what” in an effort to simplify the maneuvers.

The sailor skillfully offset this mutual foreignness among the allies by conducting his maneuvers with an eye to utilized the speed and maneuverability advantage of the allies over the heaviest Imperial ships. As each fleet passed in the “line” formation which would be entirely recognizable to 17th Century sailing vessels (though at a vastly greater distance of about 10,000 yards), the allies were able to repeatedly turn and “cross the T” and rake the lead Chinese vessels with full broadsides.

Estimating the Imperial fleet at six heavy battleships and seven cruisers (compared to five battleships and eight cruisers for the allies), Dewey determined to close to the unconventionally close quarters of 10,000 yards, bypassing the precept common among modern naval strategists of remaining just out of range of the enemy fleet’s secondary guns. As the Columbian vessels (and Nihonjin, which were produced in Columbia) possessed an additional battery of eight-inch guns, he reasoned that proximity would favor the allies in firepower and maneuverability…and not the Imperial superiority in heavy guns and armor.

So far, he reasoned, listening with half an ear as he stared through his binoculars towards the smoke-obscured enemy fleet, so good.

In addition to the battleships and cruisers, each fleet possessed an escort of torpedo destroyers tasked with protecting their capital ships from the torpedoes of their counterparts…and attacking themselves if given the opportunity.

The Imperial commander, who appeared to have the benefit of seven to nine of these lighter, faster craft (the spotters kept giving a different number, opted to place them in line between his heavy ships. Dewey, on the other hand, ordered his eight torpedo destroyers into position adjacent the allied heavy vessels, some three thousand yards towards the enemy. This naturally placed them in greater hazard…but also meant they would have additional leeway in maneuver to defend an enemy torpedo destroyer attack…or launch an attack on their own.

For the moment, these lighter vessels remained in their respective formations, the command to turn and attack withheld. To Dewey’s relief, the Imperial fleet appeared to be ignoring them with their heavy 13-inch, 12-inch and 8-inch guns, preferring to pummel the allied capital ships. The lighter enemy weapons lacked the range even to breach the 7000-yard range. Like the Chinese, Dewey signaled his fleet to concentrate fire upon the heavy vessels. However, one allied shell struck an Imperial torpedo destroyer amidships, effectively breaking the ship in half.

Over the past six hours, the two fleets had “passed” four times, each side inflicting and incurring damage. Thus far, two Imperial ships, one battleship and one cruiser, fell out of line, their retreat marked by spiraling columns of black smoke. To Dewey’s satisfaction, not a single allied ship…

At that moment, the USS Portland received a devastating blow, a twelve-inch shell landing just below her fore main gun. The cruiser visibly shuddered under the blow, the bow nearly obscured in a cloud of murky smoke.

Carefully inspecting the Portland, which fortuitously seemed to remain under power and in line as her sailors desperately sought to combat the blaze, Dewey’s optimism began to wane. Now oriented eastwards, the enemy was again placed between the allies and the “safety” of Shanghai’s harbor, in a manner granting the Imperials the advantage by proximity to land. With both fleets absorbing blow after blow, hardly a single capital ship remained undamaged, even this slight and transitory inconvenience might prove devastating.

As the rear guards of each fleet exchange blows, Dewey again turned to the impossibly young Captain Smith and commanded, “Turn us about, Captain, for another joust!”

“Yes, sir!” the younger man’s voice practically cracked, whether in excitement, anxiety or merely the result of breathing poisonous fumes, the Admiral would not hazard a guess.

Over the following minutes, Dewey received an assortments of reports from his spotters, including a few provided by signalmen of vessels in close formation. So intent upon his task that the Admiral was surprised when Smith interrupted his thoughts with a slight exclamation, “Admiral! The Chinese…the Imperials…they are NOT turning!”

“What?” He sputtered, reaching for his binoculars again.

“Yes, sir! The enemy appears to be…sailing for Shanghai!”

For a long moment, Dewey considered the ramifications. Were they really planning to assault the harbor of Shanghai…with an enemy fleet at their very backs?! The idea seemed ludicrous but the Imperials seemed intent on just that.

“Captain, continue turning about…and pursue at best speed!”.
Chapter 65
October, 1896

Two miles outside Shanghai

“Damn thing!” Cursed the acting commander of the USS Whitehead, his condemnation directed towards the recently installed periscope. A persistent leak inhibited a clear view of the oncoming Imperial fleet chugging towards the expansive Yangtze estuary. The heat of the submersible’s petrol engines left the conning tower almost stifling even when surfaced. Sweat drained down the officer’s back. A scraggly mustache graced his face, an affectation intended to disguise his youthful features…and stubborn acne which continued to humiliate him before the seasoned sailors under his command.

Perched upon a promontory (or a blunt peninsula depending upon who one asked), the city of Shanghai bore a number of harbors, bays and ports, her strategic position at the mouth of the Yangtze turning the once-sleep region into the fulcrum of central China’s economic boom. To the north of the River, Imperial forces gazed intently southwards towards the rebels.

Several lighter (or older) Columbian vessels, including three old torpedo destroyers, a pair of light cruisers and one antique Chinese cruiser awaited the onrushing Imperial fleet. All deemed to slow or unreliable to join Dewey’s squadron contesting control of the seas to the east, the joint Chinese rebel and Columbian squadron nonetheless were not idle. All armed with torpedoes, Dewey had left standing orders in the event of catastrophic defeat of the allied fleet for the light warships to strike a single, sharp blow towards the Imperial squadron…and then to retreat towards the southern stronghold of Guangzhou.

Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur, while still a midshipman at Annapolis in 1894, caught the eye of a part time instructor and naval engineer working on improving the latest models of submersibles. Intrigued by the new service, MacArthur happily assisted the instructor, Commander John Blake, in his redesign of the USS Whitehead. Upon graduation, MacArthur’s mentor even arranged for the young officer to be assigned to his own project.

Upon conflict with China, Blake successfully agitated for command of the Whitehead and appointed MacArthur his second-in-command. The Whitehead, stationed in Maryland, was to be towed from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Unfortunately for the brilliant engineer, Blake, who’d never served on a commissioned vessel in his long career, proved susceptible to seasickness and was forced to disembark the transport at San Diego, effectively leaving MacArthur in command of the vessel despite the twenty-year-old’s inexperience.

To general surprise (there had been a betting pool going), the Whitehead reached Asia without sinking below the waves and taking the tug with her. MacArthur placed his money on the latter. But once in the Yangtze estuary, the young officer threw himself in repairing the minor damage expected after such a long voyage. Bearing a capable enlisted crew of eight mechanics and other specialists enthusiastic about the service, MacArthur proudly ordered the Whitehead out beyond the line of allied vessels.

Having extensively reviewed the topography of Shanghai as well as the “line of battle” to be used by the lighter ships for their sole torpedo run (basically, the allied ships arrayed north of the estuary with the intent on making a single pass towards the approaching Imperial ships and, presumably, not stopping until they reached Guangzhou), MacArthur reasoned that the intent of the light vessels charge would soon be evident to a competent Imperial commander and he would turn north towards the onrushing threat, thus presenting a shallow profile for their torpedoes. He also reasoned that the Chinese torpedo destroyer escorts would place themselves west of the main body to challenge the interlopers.

Mmmm, MacArthur considered from the cramped conning tower as the vessel bobbed up and down on the surface of the East China Sea. Perhaps…a mile further east of the allied line…no, make that two…and we may receive a perfect silhouette of the enemy fleet as they pass!

“Mr. Bernard,” he shouted commandingly when satisfied with his position, “prepare to dive!”

The bulbous shape of the tiny vessel, probably little more than a blot on the horizon of the Chinese fleet rapidly approaching the mainland, slowly sank a few feet below the waters and the officer manually raised the malfunctioning periscope to await the Imperial fleet. Within moments, the Columbian sailor was obliged to two exceptional pieces of information:

  • He’d positioned the Whitehead perfectly. As expected, the Chinese Imperial Fleet, a massive battleship at the fore, were preparing to turn slightly north to engage the flotilla of lighter allied vessels.
  • Dewey’s squadron, though initially feared lost by MacArthur’s crew upon spying the Imperials charging towards Shanghai, was plainly in view through the periscope in hot pursuit of the Chinese.
Though elated that his fellows hadn’t suffered a grievous defeat, MacArthur was baffled as to the enemy tactics. Why turn their backs on the allied fleet? He wondered. At best, the Imperials would only be able to rake the city and ports with a few rounds before reengaging Dewey. Indeed, the maneuver would put them at a positional disadvantage with little promise of inflicting significant damage on the rebel-held city.

The question haunted the Columbian Admiral no less than the fresh-faced Lieutenant. Only upon the conclusion of the war would the truth be revealed. The Columbian Pacific Fleet in particular had been designed for range, something deemed irrelevant to the current conflict with the heavy coastal navy of Imperial China. However, this was to prove only partially correct as the limited reach of the heavily armed and armored Chinese ships lacked the fuel storage for an extended campaign.

The Imperial fleet predominantly sailed from the northern port of Weihei, while a few others steamed directly from Honshu. The distance was not negligible and exhausted much of the Chinese coal stores. A full day’s heavy maneuvers with the Columbian-led allied fleet further drained their coal reserves. The bitterly contested, withering battle siphoned more and more of the limited Chinese stores of coal to the point that the Admiral feared the fleet, still engaged in a largely indecisive confrontation, might lack the capacity to reach a friendly Imperial port if the battle lingered much further.

Fearing his master’s wrath (like the Generals, the Mandarin’s Admirals were given explicit warnings of the perils of failure), the Admiral knew he must, at a minimum, claim a direct attack upon the rebel port city to mitigate his punishment.

“Mr. Bernard,” MacArthur continued as he peered through the murky periscope, now certain the massive battleship in the column lead was, indeed, Imperial, “Load long torpedo number one!”

Almost too easily, the heavy ship lined up in his sights. Mentally calculating the distance versus the speed of the new “Whitehead” torpedoes (the vessel named, of course, after the father of the torpedo), the youthful officer leaned forward and bellowed “Fire!”

Just as he’d practiced over the past year, the Whitehead Mark VIII emerged from the forward tube with a cheer from the crew. Equipped with the latest gyro and a three-cylinder engine powered by cold, compressed air, the Mark VIII’s range exceeded a thousand yards…the enemy vessel well within this range.

Lacking any capacity to affect the torpedo further, MacArthur shouted again down the dank and cramped submersible to his crew, “Load second torpedo! We’ll go after the next ship in line!”

After a series of grunts, the hundred- and fourteen-pound torpedo was wedged into the tube and the master chief yelled back, “Torpedo number two loaded, sir!” just in the nick of time as the second Imperial vessel entered his sights.

Another loud clap and the Mark VIII was on its way. The crew didn’t bother to await further instructions and were already in the process of loading the third and final torpedo within the submersible’s payload. Given the restricted space in the vessel’s hold, more torpedoes were simply impractical.

By this point, the first Mark VIII reached its target and massive explosion ripped through the waters of the East China Sea.

“Hit!” MacArthur called out merrily to the rapturous cheers of his crew. “Load torpedo number thr…”

“Loaded, sir!” His master chief interrupted.

“Good,” the officer grinned, already anticipating the third vessel in line, and added unnecessarily, “Fire on my mark…NOW!”

“Torpedo away, sir!”

Satisfied, MacArthur attempted in vain to follow the trail of his torpedoes via the periscope, but that was impossible even with a functioning mechanism. Belatedly, the officer realized torpedo II SHOULD have struck home by now. Second passed and MacArthur cursed. A miss…or perhaps a malfunction.

A hushed silence emerged within the hull of the submersible as the sailors listened for impact. Given the ease that sound travelled through water, a strike of torpedo upon a vulnerable hull could hardly be missed…

Moments later, a second explosion erupted, followed by shouts of elation. “A second hit,” MacArthur called out unnecessarily. A man would have to be deaf…

Squinting through the blurry periscope, MacArthur frowned. Yes, there was a massive upward blast of flame…but torpedo number three hadn’t struck a capital ship but a meager torpedo destroyer. Her back broken, the vessel visible settled in the water.

Eight miles east

Repeatedly demanding “More coal, more speed” did Admiral Thomas Dewey little good. His fleet commencing the chase twenty miles aft of the Chinese squadron, even the modest speed advantage did little to close the gap given the proximity to the coast.

Helpless, the Admiral witnessed the light squadron guarding the mouth of the Yangtze and the Shanghai ports engage to little apparent effect until he noted the heavy Chinese warship in the vanguard turn towards shore…and continue steaming directly upon the rocks of China’s coast. Initially fearing an enemy intension to bombard the city, Dewey was astonished to find the remnant of the Chinese fleet continuing north along the coast, offering no indication of seeking another pass at their enemies.

Exhausted both physically and psychologically, Dewey could not summon the will to pursue. Virtually every vessel in his fleet had suffered at least moderate damage…and several far worse.

The USS Portland suffered heavy damage and only barely managed to make it into port.

The Bangor, upon the last pass, was struck by an enemy shell. Initially enduring the blow, slowly a fire expanded until reaching the Columbian vessel’s armory. The cruiser exploded just a few miles short of Shanghai. Only twenty crew were ever recovered.

The ironically designated battleship “Eternal Peace” suffered heavy damage to both primary batteries and would plainly require months in drydock for repairs…which Shanghai lacked. The Chinese ship would have to be towed to Nagasaki, Honolulu, Port Jackson or even Yerba Buena before she could sail again into battle.

Tragically, the rickety old cruiser USS St. Louis, which had been left behind in Shanghai as part of the “flying squadron” of torpedo vessels, suffered a direct strike from an Imperial shell and virtually disintegrated.

To the credit of the other old torpedo destroyers and cruisers of the flying squadron, the commanders declined to retreat to Guangzhou upon witnessing Dewey’s fleet hot on the heels of the Imperials and instead circled about to reengage as part of the line of battle (though the gesture proved unnecessary with the Imperial retreat northwards).

God damn, Dewey wondered as his fleet reformed in the waters east of Shanghai in anticipation of a counterattack obviously NOT in the making. We…won!

Though the allied fleet had suffered the loss of two cruisers, another two vessels crippled and virtually every other ship incurring moderate to significant damage, the strategic victory could not be denied. Dewey hadn’t sailed to annihilate the Imperial Navy…but merely to survive and allow the continued shipment of men and material to southern China.

Again, only after the war, would the true story be known:

The Imperial Fleet’s flagship, bearing her admiral, suffered a torpedo strike from the USS Whitehead at her weakest point, her aft beam. One of her two props was disabled in the blast. Worse, the rudder was shattered and all control lost. The vessel impaled itself upon the shoreline before the engines could be halted. The Admiral, unwilling to live with the disgrace, ordered the ship scuttled and refused to abandon his bridge even as the structure was engulfed in flames.

A second battleship, struck repeatedly in the early hours of the battle, endured a significant fire which ultimately claimed much of the ship. By happenstance, it was halted via the desperate efforts of her crew before reaching the engines. Still, much of the vessel’s innards was charred beyond recognition and only skillful sailing and a jury-rigged system of controlling the rudder allowed the battleship to reach home.

A cruiser, also among the first to sustain heavy damage early in the engagement, proved incapable of suppressing their own fire and the ship was abandoned that evening, much of the crew lost due to lack of lifeboats. A hundred and four survivors eventually reached the mainland just north of the Yangtze estuary.

A second Imperial cruiser, struck repeatedly, lost both heavy batteries and only barely managed to limp home behind the main squadron, utterly helpless and fortunate the allies failed to give chase. Like the heavily wounded Imperial battleship, this vessel would require many months, if not years, of repair before returning to battle.

Further, two torpedo destroyers were lost.

In a single battle, near a tenth of the remaining Chinese fleet (already wizened by defections of the southern squadrons) sank to the bottom of the East China Sea. Another tenth suffered such damage as to require an extensive period of repair.

That the allied fleet incurred similar attrition mattered little. The Imperial Navy had been tasked to destroy the interlopers and traitors so the flow of man and material into southern China may be staunched.

They had failed.

The war may continue.
Chapter 66
October, 1896


President Adlai Stevenson stood to grip Governor-General Charles Lippitt’s hand as he guided the leader of the Republic of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations from the comfortable divan adjacent the crackling Presidential Office fireplace towards the door. Secretary of State Richard Olney, the room’s other occupant, similarly rose and followed the heads of state. “I am so pleased to come to an agreement on this…minor matter of territoriality, Governor,” Stevenson purred, his disingenuous grim threatening to split his face. “As you know, we Columbians value our good relations with our neighbors. Given the history of amity between our nations, I’m sure that the proposed compromise on the territoriality of the waters outside of Block Island will prove amenable both to Congress and the Rhode Island legislature…”

For another minute or so, the President of the United States prattled on about fishing rights and inspection permits with the executive of the tiny nation before Lippitt retrieved his hat and coat and departed the Presidential Office under escort of Stevenson’s new Chief-of-Staff. The Rhode Islander reportedly intended to petition various members of Congress, including new Senator William Jennings Bryan, to support his nation’s position on the petty boundary dispute.

Suppressing an exasperated sigh as he shut the door to the Presidential office, Stevenson stumbled back to his desk and fell into the comforts of his opulent chair. “Tell me, Richard, do you think I did enough to hold off a third front?”

The Secretary of State grinned and settled into a seat opposite Stevenson’s desk. “Yes, sir, I think the “Battle of Block Island” shall be avoided.”

“My God, are the Rhode Islanders so uptight about the exclusion zone of fishing rights around Block Island that Lippitt feels obliged to argue the matter for years on end?” He added incredulously. “This has been ongoing for SIX YEARS! Who the hell cares about how closely anyone can fish near an island of…what? Six hundred people?”

“Nearer three hundred, sir,” Olney replied without irony. “However, when one commands a tiny nation surrounded by a great one, even the tiniest of diplomatic matters brings out one’s insecurity.”

“Our forefathers should have just forced Rhode Island into the Union and been done with it,” The President griped. “For a hundred years, this nation has been dealing with smugglers operating out of that sliver of land. I could live with THAT. But placating the pretensions of their diplomats and governors…”

His rant exhausted, Stevenson conceded his frustration over greater events adversely affected his mood. Just yesterday, he and Olney had received the Kingdom of Spain’s Minister Plenipotentiary (the longtime Ambassador had been recalled upon commencement of hostilities in New Spain) in hopes of escaping the quagmire in that misbegotten land. Unfortunately, the man seemed disinclined to offer any hope of settlement. Despite the abject defeat of the Spanish Navy at sea…not to mention the fact that the bulk of the Prince-Regencies of the Americas seemed inclined to take advantage of the Mother Country’s incapacity to seek greater autonomy (and, reportedly, some Prince-Regents even considered following Prince Carlos’ lead in declaring independence)…the diplomat only recited a few politely worded critiques of Columbia’s “nefarious” actions in New Spain and stated he had no authority to negotiate peace.

“My god, man,” the incensed Secretary of State stormed in an atypical outburst of frustration, “the matter is decided! Spain can’t reconquer New Spain! What has Queen Isabella to gain from further extending hostilities?!”

“I’m sure I don’t know, Mr. Olney,” the Spaniard replied with an air of wounded dignity, the very picture of the famed Spanish pride. “Her Majesty is unlikely to simply write off four centuries of patrimony for your convenience. Your nation saw fit to invade New Spain…accept the consequences.” With but an elegant bow, the Spaniard departed.

Utterly galled, Olney commenced rattling off Spanish territorial possessions, encouraging the President to widen the war. “Surely, the round little Queen will get tired of losing colonies left and right…”

For his own part, Stevenson only shook his head, “No, Richard…we entered New Spain as peace-enforcers, bearing a noble burden. To resort to craven conquering would only put us in the wrong…”

The ill-conceived peace-enforcing mission degenerated daily as the newspapers reported three Columbian brigades struggling to drag war material hundreds of miles through ravaged countryside bereft of roads, rail or navigable rivers. Exactly how New Spain reached millions of souls without such basic transportation frustrated both the soldiers attempting to navigate the region and the beleaguered politicians in Philadelphia confused as to why the army struggled so.

After all, it all seemed so easy when glancing at a map.

That his administration bungled the campaign could hardly be debated…and members of BOTH parties in Congress took great joy pointing this out daily. Initially assuming a couple of thrusts across the border and the occupation of the vital port of Veracruz would force the assorted warring parties to the bargaining table proved erroneous. Indeed, the factions – Isabellines, Carlists, Republicans, Indian clans, petty warlords – seemed almost…amused…by the Columbian struggles.

General Lee, commanding that brigade in western New Spain, reported a conversation he’d had with leader of a few dozen bandits ravaging…well, the outskirts of some city or other.

When Lee demanded the man surrender his arms to Columbian authority “or else”, the fellow laughed and replied, “What are you going to do, Columbian? Give chase?”

He pointed to the surrounding mountains, “I can lead my men to the hills and live off the land. Your army would starve within a week in this terrain. I suggest you move south, where you might actually find sustenance for your men!”

To Lee’s humiliation, after a few futile day so of marauding through the arid reaches of New Spain, the Columbian Brigadier was forced to oblige by marching south. There truly WASN’T adequate food to supply an entire brigade in the area. The Columbian supply lines barely managed to keep Lee and Wood’s Brigades supplied with munitions.

The army had utterly given up on attempts to carry food overland through desert and mountain as the teamsters consumed more provisions on the journey than their wagons could bear. Against expectations, the Columbians were forced to “live off the land” far more than expected. Even purchasing grain and meat with scant hard currency proved utterly devastating to some towns, the Columbians seizing upon the already inadequate supplies of food like locusts, often leaving famine in their wake.

Frustrated, Custis Lee wrote, “I had no option to tarry…as anything to pause momentum may leave the army in a trap of its own making. We can only hope the land may provide more the further south we march.”

The President grimly pondered the fiasco the New Spain Intervention for so long that Olney, desperate to pull Stevenson from his sulk, offered hopefully, “On the positive, sir, Ambassador Von Strove has requested a parlay at your earliest convenience! We believe the man finally received some instructions from Moscow.”

The Czar’s delegate to Columbia was the long-serving (fourteen years in Philadelphia) Karl Von Strove. A popular and pleasant man, Von Strove was the dean of the foreign diplomatic circles, often hosting balls and assorted celebrations. Upon discovering that the Empire of Russia had launched a campaign against China’s inner provinces concurrent with Columbia’s engagement with the southern rebels, hope flared at the possibility of an alliance.

Unfortunately, Von Strove had claimed utter ignorance that such a campaign against the Chinese was even taking place, the man’s face reddening in embarrassment. Weeks passed as his pleas to Moscow for…clarification…yield no results.

“It will be possible, sir,” Olney mused aloud, “that fighting on two fronts may simply be more than the Mandarin can bear. Even without coordination, we might…”

Stevenson sighed, “Or we might not, Richard. Russia has seldom declared any interest in foreign alliances, even those of limited scope. You know this to be true. And, besides, I’ve never been entirely certain the Czar ever forgave us for seizing Sakhalin, Kamchatka and the other territories in eastern Siberia. Even Von Strove barely managed to conceal the Russian resentment towards us horning in on their land…”

“Perhaps we shall find out tomorrow that this is not the case,” the Secretary of State offered hopefully, despite his voice expressing similar doubts. “We can only wait and see.”
Chapter 67
October, 1896


With a startled welp, Shi Ping flung herself into the wide trench being excavated along the southern shore of the Yangtze. The screech of the colossal shells plummeting to earth shattered the Chinese woman’s nerves even without the monumental explosion to follow.

Almost calmly, General Xu dropped into the trench and lowered his head in prayer. A moment later, the very earth itself vibrated in protest to the intrusion. The cloud of dirt and dust thrust into the air would float about for a few seconds before sifting down to earth in a fifty-yard radius from the impact.

With the same sense of tranquility, Xu assisted the shaken woman to her feet. Shi noted that the shell landed near a hundred and twenty-five yards distant. How can our soldiers stand such assault?

Her ears ringing, Shi nevertheless managed to answer Xu’s inquiries as to her health. Taking his hand, the government official took in the battlefield before her. The trenches snaking two or three deep along the southern bank of the Yangtze resembled nothing less than a gaping wound in the earth…which she supposed it was. To the north, along the bend in the Yangtze, lay Wuchang’s sister city, Hankou, currently filled to the brim with angry Imperial soldiers eager to cross the winding river.

Dispatched by Dr. Sun himself to report upon the situation on the front, Shi Ping’s initial pride that the leader of the newly declared Republic of China entrusted her with such an important function proved quickly eclipsed by firsthand experience to the horrors of war. Believing the conflict likely to only affect the soldiers, Shi discovered the brutal consequences of war upon the civilian population of Wuchang. Barely a few weeks into the war and the ancient riparian city suffered near constant bombardment from the northern shore of the Yangtze.

“Those eleven-inch mortars make their presence known, don’t they, Miss Shi?” The General murmured, barely audible above the ringing in Shi’s ears.

“My god, how can you stand it?” She protested. Up and down the trench, Chinese soldiers and civilians labored intently to continue the excavation in in light of the bombing…or perhaps because of it. She supposed the deeper one dug, the safe one was.

“We get rather used to it,” he replied matter-of-factly. Nodding westward, the forty-ish soldier gestured for the woman to follow. “What I really desire is to be able to shoot BACK. Unfortunately, though the arsenals of the south stored a number of these heavy mortars, shells were hard to come by. Naturally, the three munitions factories in China producing the shells are all located in the north…”

This Shi Ping had heard again and again. At least eighty to ninety percent of war-related factories remained in Imperial hands north of the border along with most of the shipyards, rail track, foundries, elite educational institution and the like. The list was endless.

The south possessed…agriculture. Naturally, food was important in war but trains, ships, artillery and the like mattered a bit more.

“Have any efforts been made to cross the Yangtze?” the politician inquired wearily, her eyes peering across the vast river.

“Not in force,” he assured her. “I’m not sure it is even possible given the lack of adequate river transport. Too many vessels were seized early in the rebellion and carried to the southern shore. Instead, the Mandarin’s servants are trying to force us from our positions via bombardment. Such a strategy will fail and likely only waste ammunition and, more importantly, time.”

The pair passed a work gang of two hundred men trudging towards the trenches, spades thrown over their shoulders. A few cast angry glances at the officer…but most merely stared lifelessly forward as their feet shuffled through the muck. Several cool nights in the past week reportedly left the trace of frost and ice on the ground. The trenches could only get colder as winter approached.

Upon her arrival in Wuchang, Shi wondered if the letter of introduction from Dr. Sun would be recognized. To her surprise, General Xu proved entirely respectful and helpful without any trace of the disingenuous sycophantism other government officials and soldiers often heaped upon the woman wherever she travels. Despite the glorious shift from Empire to Republic, the worst aspects of politics - cronyism and ambition – remained entirely in place.

In his youth, Xu had actually studied in Columbia for three years. While he explained the experience of a Chinese in Columbia to be…mixed…the soldier returned with a rare understanding of the foreign mindset, something seldom to be found within the Middle Kingdom.

“You believe the mighty river can hold the Throne?” She inquired in disbelief. “Surely, eventually…”

“Yes, Ms. Shi,” he elaborated. “I believe it will for the foreseeable future. The Green Standard Army…and what is left of the Bannermen…is by nature a rigid bureaucracy. It will take time to shift strategies. This waste of ammunition,” he gestured to the shell arcing to earth some three or four hundred yards east, “is symbolic of that. Sooner or later, necessity will drive the Mandarin’s minions to try something creative or clever. For now, our nascent Republic gets a reprieve.”

Aghast that the destruction surrounding her represented but a failure in tactics, Shi Ping inspected the soldier in greater detail. Somewhat short with a wide beardless face, Xu struck her as both intelligent and experienced. More importantly, she found him trustworthy enough to pose deeper questions.

“You know that the Columbian forces…and some Nihonjin…have landed in Shanghai and Nanjing?”

“Of course, Miss Shi,” he nodded while making a few rough gestures with his hands to passing soldiers. As they saluted and sprinted off, she assumed they understood what the General demanded even if she did not. “While their numbers may be low compared to the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, soon likely to be millions, in arms along the Yangtze, any assistance will prove welcome. Moreover, the deeper the foreigners delve into these lands, the closer they are bound to assist us.”

The statement caught Shi’s attention as the pair exited the trenches and trod a well-worn path back to his headquarters. God knew well enough that she’d witnessed enough of the “front”.

“You question Columbia’s fidelity to our alliance?”

Xu’s head reared back and an unexpected bark of laughter erupted from his throat. “Columbia,” he noted, “pursues only its own interests. Beyond studying the vast nation’s shipyards, foundries and various manufacturing facilities, I sought to understand the soul of the people.” Arriving in his temporary headquarters, which appeared to be a former tavern (he explained that, given the Imperial firepower in evidence, he preferred his headquarters to be anonymous from any spotters) surrounded by heaped mounds of sand, the General acknowledged the salutes of several guards as he led the civilian through the door.

“The Columbians,” he continued as the pair turned towards the expansive kitchen now serving as his office, “have never, in their entire existence, fought a war on their own, much less emerged victorious in one.”

He ticked off his fingers, “Their glorious “Revolutionary War” saw their former colonial master also fighting arguably the three strongest powers in West Europe at the same time. Separated by thousands of miles, and their attention divided, Great Britain was not in a position to crush the rebels.”

“Next, the Columbians challenged the British again…when that nation suffered an invasion by Napoleon I. Their West Indian conquests effectively amounted to sailing into petty slave islands, liberating those in bondage and promptly hiring THEM to do the fighting.”

“The same thing occurred again and again. During the second, and more successful, French invasion of Britain, Columbia took the opportunity to seize ever more land in the southern American Continent, usually by bullying Spain into ceding territory while THAT nation struggled with rebellion. This is how the Columbians managed to seize California, Tejas, Patagonia, Amazonia, Guyana, a few islands in the Pacific…”

The names of these places meant nothing to Shi Ping, largely ignorant of Columbian history. But she took the meaning of Xu’s words. “You believe them not to be the courageous predatory eagles they claim to be…but lowly vultures picking at the carcasses of dying Empires.”

Xu gestured for Shi Ping towards a seat next to a roaring fire and fell into the chair opposite. Evening was falling inside and the few windows of the tavern provided little illumination. A few candles burned here and there…but Shi looked forward to her return to the Guangzhou Governor’s mansion, among the first to bear electricity in China.

After a moment’s pause, he simply shrugged, “I state that is what Columbia HAS done in the past. In truth, the nation, by grace of its geography, has been able to avoid the great wars of Europe without injury. In some ways, the nation’s history resembles that of China in miniature…of time, of course, not territory. Able to pursue its own interests without significant regional rivals, Columbia’s power only increased with age…”

Shi Ping’s eyes widened, “You believe China has been exempt from foreign influence?” She could hardly disguise the incredulousness in her words.

“Ha!” The soldier grinned, his dark, stained teeth at least straight. Though not handsome, Shi found the man attractive. “For the most part, Miss Shi, yes. Of course, there are the exceptions…certainly, the Mongols come to mind, though even that dark period was but an eyeblink in Chinese history. But when was the last time the Mongols, the Mughals, the Siamese, the Viets, the Joseons or the Nihonjin did anything more than annoy the Middle Kingdom?”

“One might say the Manchu Dynasty ruling most of China springs to mind…”

“The Manchu…the Qing…” he insisted, “did NOT conquer China. They had always been part of China and only remained in power due to the people’s hatred of the Ming. In truth, the Han accepted the Qing on the throne for lack of ideal alternatives. At any point in the past centuries, this nation could have thrown them off in favor of another Royal Family. We just didn’t bother until now…”

Shi considered the General’s words, abruptly grateful for the assignment to review the status of the war in Wuchang. Xu’s views may be unorthodox, but she appreciated both the candor and the slightly odd take on history. The man withheld nothing and the President’s aide grew certain Xu could be trusted to remain in his vital position.

After an orderly arrived with tea, the pair discussed a number of matters from impressment policy to the presence of a Columbian “Balloon” Service contingent greatly assisting the General in tracking enemy movements across the river.

“More than anything, Miss Shi,” he insisted, “Our nation must construct local munitions and weapons factories! We cannot assume on the Columbian capacity or willingness to supply all war material we need!”

“It is already being done, General,” Shi assured him. “Several factories are being rapidly converted to produce bullets and shells as we speak…though I understand powder, steel and whatever else is required for manufacture remains problematic…”

Xu nodded, grimacing into his tea for a long moment before placing the cup upon an adjacent table. He leaned forward intently and stated, “This war will be unlike any other, Miss Shi. The time of raising an army from the peasantry with but a few weeks training with spears or muskets before marching it off to war has passed. Material, more so than men, shall determine the future…”

He turned his gaze towards the flickering fire before continuing, “…and I fear for my new country…that she shall be overrun by an unstoppable horde of steel.”
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Chapter 68
October, 1896


Attempting to withstand the gag reflex as he inhaled air god-only-knew how many years removed from the open skies, Major Frederick Burnham ignored the ghostly shadows flickering about confined pathways as he led five hundred men into the bowels of the earth. However, this was no cave through which the Columbian soldiers trudged. That much was obvious given the masonry and symmetry of the tunnel.

Exactly who built these structures or why remained in question. The pair of Columbian soldiers, both locally born until migrating to Columbia with their families in hopes of safety from the endless Civil Wars of New Spain, who’d led the Major to the entrance plainly stated no one had explored the catacombs under Puebla for years. Indeed, most residents of the once-vibrant city, those who didn’t disregard the tunnels as a myth, believed the artifacts to predate the conquistadors.

To Burnham’s surprise, the tunnels proved passable, only a few partial cave-ins slowed the Columbian column’s march some twenty or thirty feet below the surface. To the scout’s surprise, the party nevertheless felt (more than heard) the reverberations of artillery fire pummeling the pair of fortifications protecting the city of Puebla’s eastern approaches.

General Ignacio is keeping his word in “distracting” the enemy.

Upon the conclusion of the grueling trek of some three hundred miles through winding trails, forest, mountain and the like, traversed over devastated infrastructure, the Columbian Army managed to trudge to the outskirts of Puebla, only to find their way blocked by a pair of fortifications. By all accounts, received from locals as well as the soldiers born in these lands, these structures had long served as missions or some such before what appeared to be a hasty conversion to martial use, whether by Prince Carlos to resist the Isabelline invasion or the Isabellines to stall Columbia’s.

In the end, Burnham suspected it didn’t matter.

The defenses were stout enough. With but a single glance at the heavily reinforced, hillside fortifications bisected by elongated trenches, General Zaragoza snorted, “If General Weyler believes I’m going to launch a frontal assault on those heights, he’s insane.”

Fortuitously, the pair of soldiers who’d grown up in these hills brought the tunnels to the attention of their superiors. As Zaragosa’s artillery bombarded the Spanish fortifications, Burnham led a Regiment of infantry into the catacombs below Puebla.

“And you are certain these reach well behind the Spanish lines?” The Major muttered, his voice echoing slightly along the tunnel walls.

Though Burnham could not see the soldier shrug, he could sense the man’s frustration. In heavily accented English, the man replied, “I know not, Major. I only know the rumors, the legends…” Like most of the troopers, Corporal Munez carried a heavy pack filled to the brim with ammunition, his rifle shouldered.

Though the common soldiers had been admonished to silence, Burnham could hear the grumblings and fearful whispers. Few enjoyed the prospect of marching into the bowels of the earth.

Tired of asking stupid questions, Burnham lapsed into silence, his boots squirting through the muck and the mire upon the tunnel floor.

Unconsciously counting the footsteps, the scout realized his men must, by now, have passed the fortifications representing the only true barrier to Puebla.

Suddenly eager to see the sky once more, Burnham increased his pace forward, his eyes searching the gloom for any sign of exit.
Chapter 69
October, 1896


General Ignacio Seguin raced up the unnamed hill as best his creaky knees could carry him. Damn, I’m getting too old for this kind of exercise! Fortunately, the bright fall sky opened into a cheery, though a bit chill, October morning. Seguin forgot it could get cold in the mountains even this far south. He’d spent too many years in Philadelphia.

Entering his mid-sixties, Seguin’s superiors had already hinted towards retirement, though the soldier had no idea what to do with his life. Return to Bexar? He considered in amusement as he finally managed to crest the hill where his adjutant paused in obvious anxiety. Hardly an appealing notion since Maria’s departure from this world. Far better to die in service of my country…or at least drop dead at my desk!

Out of breath, the old soldier finally spied what had so discombobulated his adjutants. To his dismay, their alarms proved correct as he witnessed the slow, uncontrolled descent of the observation balloon…directly upon the fortified hill of “Lareto”.

“Damn…” he muttered, reaching for his spectacles. Age had robbed the soldier of much – his wife, his vigor – but few things plagued the soldier more than his eyesight. Once only requiring lenses for reading, the soldier could barely function without them these days. “How the hell did this happen?!”

Unfortunately, the burst of nearby shells drowned out the junior officers’ chorus of responses. Or maybe Seguin was going deaf as well as blind. After a moment, the panting General’s hearing cleared, allowing him to receive a report.

A young Tejan staff officer, whose name escaped the General, paled and stammered, “The ropes we acquired in that town a few miles east must have snapped!”

Seguin sighed. The heavy-duty ropes shipped from Columbia for the task of fixing the balloon to earth had somehow never arrived in Veracruz. The Balloon Corps had been relegated to patching together a hodgepodge collection of shorter ropes acquired locally for the task…the effort apparently in vain as one of the knots apparently came undone. Worse, the spotters in the balloon had already commenced the process of descent, thereby releasing some of the helium. Once freed from its tether…and having lost much of its buoyancy…the device was enslaved even by the mild wind barely brisk enough to flutter Seguin’s graying hair…the helpless soldiers inexorably sinking to earth directly upon the Spanish fortifications.

As the Columbian artillery continued to pound Fort Lareto and Fort Guadeloupe, the only natural features impeding the invaders’ advance into the nominal capital of these war-torn lands, dozens of tiny figures skittered from their trenches to seize upon the Columbian spotters as their makeshift transport crashed to earth. The General nearly called for binoculars…but determined he didn’t wish to witness their fate.

Beyond the likely immediate execution of these brave soldiers, Seguin abruptly realized he’d lost a key component of his admittedly improbable plan to shift the Isabelline forces from their lines…without requiring a massive frontal attack on forces dug into the local high ground. Suddenly eager to turn away from the likely gruesome deaths of his subordinates, Seguin instead gazed southwards towards the summits of Mts. Amalucan and Tepozteco, the regional high ground through which the road to Veracruz ran. Naturally, the Spanish commander heavily fortified the narrow valley between these peaks, forcing the Columbians to bypass Amalucan to the east and marching along the northeastern approaches to Puebla…and the less imposing but still daunting Lareto and Guadeloupe.

From the peak of Teposteco, the Spanish could probably spy Seguin’s daily visit to the latrine with ease.

I’ve lost my eyes! Seguin cursed. Without that balloon, the enemy can spy our movements far easier than we can his!

Beyond the tactical disadvantage, the Balloon Corps had been tasked with receiving Major Burnham’s signal, a series of flare-ignited colored smoke, that he’d discovered an exit to the tunnels behind the enemy lines. Without the benefit of the surveillance…

Damn! Damn! Damn! Seguin cursed internally. Burnham must be warned…and an alternative plan must be put in place else the attack on the Spanish position will not coincide with the Major’s emergence behind the lines!

“Lieutenant….” The General called to the junior officer.

“Mendez, sir.”

“Yes, yes, Mendez,” Seguin replied. He really should remember the lad. Mendez was among the few officers in the predominantly Anglo army which knew enough of Spanish naming conventions to properly address him as General “Zaragoza”, not “Seguin” as he’d been inaccurately known since West Point. “Mendez, take a couple of runners with you into the tunnel and catch up with Major Burnham. Tell him of the loss of our spotters and…well, tell him to dispatch one of the runners thirty…no…sixty minutes prior to breaking out of the tunnel. THAT should allow us to coordinate the attack…”

The youthful Tejan saluted and sprinted off to his task, apparently not bothering to find a horse. The entrance to the Puebla tunnel was but six or seven hundred yards distant (fortuitously hidden by a grove of trees disguising the early morning ingress of the five hundred troops under the Major’s command) and the General could hear the Lieutenant shouting for “Sergeant Kline” as he raced into the Columbian camp.

4000 Yards northwest of Seguin’s position:

Receiving the dispatch from Seguin with a sense of resignation, Brigadier General Jefferson Davis nodded to himself before addressing his assembled staff officers. By happenstance, most of his Regimental Commanders were also present within his command tent to receive final disposition prior to commencing the charge up Fort Lareto.

“Well, gentlemen, it is as we feared,” he commenced bluntly. “Our spotting balloon has been lost…God rest the souls of those brave soldiers…and it is questionable if we will be able to properly coordinate on Burnham’s signal. Instead, Burnham will send a runner through the…flanking movement...with an hour’s grace and we shall attack at that point unless receiving written orders from General Seguin…” There seemed little else to say. Commanding the right flank of Seguin’s army, Davis would attack Fort Lareto while Seguin launched a simultaneous attack on the hill capped by Fort Guadeloupe. Though Davis considered neither position unassailable, attacking uphill into ANY entrenched enemy position was undesirable. Unfortunately, fate and geography forced the Columbians’ hands.

One of his regimental commanders, Colonel Davis (no relation to the General) requested in a tight New England accent, “Sir…if only we understood the nature of Burnham’s “flanking movement”. I understand the intent of the Major’s foray into the enemy rear…but I’ve studied the terrain and don’t see any realistic method HOW he shall bypass their defenses with such a modest force…”

The Brigadier sighed. In hopes of ensuring secrecy, only a few officers in the Columbian army had been granted the details to the Puebla tunnel system.

“I understand, Colonel,” Davis replied to his namesake, “however I cannot divulge that information at this time.” Hopefully the gamble pays off, he prayed silently, and the Spanish atop Lareto and Guadeloupe prove too distracted to properly defend their position.

To his credit, the Colonel did not press. More than once, Seguin and Davis confided their gratitude that the bulk of their forces were regular army, not newly raised volunteer formations likely plaguing Wood and Lee’s Brigades as they painfully crawled the path south through the deserts and mountains of New Spain. Correspondence with Seguin’s nominal subordinates (Seguin was commander in theater but the geographic isolation of the three Columbian columns made each Brigadier defacto independent until the still theoretical rendezvous with Seguin’s command in Puebla). Wood’s command had been expected to reach the city weeks ago…but still no sign emerged from the northern deserts of 2nd Brigade.

Seguin and Davis’ 7th Brigade would face the Spanish alone.
Chapter 70
October, 1896


“Marvelous!” gushed King Chulalongkorn of Siam, repeatedly turning off and on the electric lights in the Presidential Mansion’s official Reception Room. Adorned in full royal regalia, the monarch could scarcely wrap his mind around the miracle of the modern age. “I shall indeed contact Mr. Westinghouse to have a…a…” he turned to his English friend in attendance, “What is the word, Louis?”

“Power station, Your Majesty”, offered Louis Leonowens helpfully. Like Chulalongkorn, Leonowens was perhaps fortyish and sported a dapper mustache somewhat out of style with modern fads. The Englishman, whose mother had served a tutor in Siam’s court for years, remained in Siam to operate an import/export company, no doubt growing rich with contracts granted at the behest of his friend.

“Yes,” Chulalongkorn nodded triumphantly, “One large enough to power not only the palace…but ALL of Bangkok!”

President Stevenson, who’d invited his nation’s prestigious ally for an official visit years ago, had been put off by the Siamese King until the commencement of the International Electrical Exposition of 1896 was hosted by Philadelphia. A committed modernist, much like his late father, Chulalongkorn embraced modern technology, expanded democracy within his Kingdom and traveled widely. Upon entering Yerba Buena, the monarch had taken a day to visit the Emperor of Nippon, known to be committed only to the opium pipe. Disgusted with what he found, Chulalongkorn departed the Nihonjin court-in-exile without delay and proceeded to along a winding tour of the country by rail.

Over the course of a month, the King’s party visited Yellowstone National Park, gaping at the oddly hunched buffalo endemic to the land, and frolicked like a child along a snowcapped peak.

“It is so…soft!” he exclaimed the time. “I expected a different texture for some reason!”

The extended tour continued through the vast plains of Columbia before reaching Chicago where the King was guided through a locomotive factory, a shipyard and, to his intense revulsion and distress, an abattoir (His Majesty could not flee that wretched facility fast enough and confided to his friend that he may consider vegetarianism). Days via rail through the Midwest seemed to renew his vigor, often demanding that the train halt for him to inspect some new wonder, often a dam or the latest in telephone lines.

Finally reaching the east coast, weeks late, Chulalongkorn only barely caught the last few days of the exposition. Fortunately, most of the exhibits remained open to visitors.

Naturally, President Stevenson could not withhold an invitation to dine at the Presidential Mansion. He welcomed Chulalongkorn warmly and patiently endured the Siamese King jabbering on about every marvel on display throughout the Exposition. Finally luring the King to the table, a sumptuous feast of Siamese cuisine arrived, much to Chulalongkorn’s shock.

“Your chef’s are well trained in Siamese cuisine,” the King noted, sampling the noodles with a discerning eye.

Stevenson grinned widely before confessing, “I fear not, Your Majesty. However, I am a frequent visitor to the best Siamese restaurant in Philadelphia and enticed the owner to provide a traditional Siamese meal fit for a King.” Reportedly, the kitchen staff had been at wit’s end with the chef, who repeatedly rejected even the freshest and highest quality ingredients as “unworthy of His Majesty”. One lamb was ordered returned due to bearing an “odd expression” upon its face, whatever that meant.

Only upon sampling the “traditional” gastronomy did Stevenson realize just how much the typical Siamese restauranteur had adjusted the cuisine to fit Columbian taste. Though very different, the fare was quite delicious. I’ll have to ask Mr. Ratanarak to add these to his regular menu.

Naturally, such an occasion required some talk of business. Both Stevenson and Secretary of State Olney, repeatedly sought to bend the King’s ear towards offering material support to the ASEAN forces (currently just Columbian and Nihonjin) aiding the southern Chinese rebellion. The King of Burma, himself a victim of Chinese incursions, had signaled his willingness to part with a division or two, as did each of the three Viet states. Gaining the support of Burma would ensure ASEAN’s continued relevancy as a political entity.

Naturally, though, each of these allies presented a list of demands in exchange for their cooperation. Politics and self-interest easily crossed racial lines.

“…and, if Your Majesty were to condescend to assist our Republican friends in southern China,” Olney continued, his own plate virtually untouched, “then the threat to the peace of Asia by the Mandarin can be permanently stymied…”

Though uncertain if Chulalongkorn’s English was up to terms like “condescend” or “stymie”, Stevenson nevertheless allowed his rather longwinded Secretary of State take the lead in the discussion. Instead, the President contented himself to detect the ingredients in this odd fish curry which differed from the “Columbian Siamese” cooking.

Obviously tiring of Olney’s pressure, Chulalongkorn interrupted, “Of course, we shall do so, Mr. Olney. Siam values its great Columbian friends…”

Unspoken, the King continued, almost as much as we fear a united China. We shall never such an opportunity to remove the hegemonic power of the east from our borders. No wonder the Nihonjin so eagerly threw their support to the rebellion.

Grateful for the victory, the President guided the conversation back to the next stages of the King’s journey through Columbia. Chulalongkorn eagerly replied he intended to travel north by rail to the Royal Islands of New York, then on to Boston, before sailing south to East Florida (the King had an interest in visiting the Everglades National Park which dominated the southern reaches of the Peninsula). From there, the party would sail on to New Orleans before traveling along the Southern Pacific Railroad through Tejas and Lower California.

“Those massive redwood trees along the coast of Upper California are remarkable,” the King gushed. “I am eager to see the even larger ones inland at Yosemite…”

Content that his diplomacy would be hailed as a success, Stevenson returned to his meal. Tomorrow, the President would subject himself to the criticism of Congress as he attempted to explain the ongoing disaster in New Spain. Despite a decisive defeat at sea, rumblings among the various Prince-Regents of the Spanish Empire for independence and possessing no capacity to affect the conflict in New Spain one way or another, Her Majesty bluntly refused to recognize Columbia’s mastery of the New World. Beyond launching unprovoked assaults on Prince-Regencies both professing and enforcing their neutrality, there was nothing for the Columbian Army or Navy to do but await the outcome of the multi-dimensional civil war (and now Columbian invasion) which had torn the once-vibrant colony asunder.
Chapter 71
October, 1896


Though the shells bombarding the city of Nanjing fell mercifully short of 2nd Regiment’s position, Private Hans Czinka nevertheless huddled closer to the earthen walls of the hastily excavated trench, praying the assault concluded quickly enough. Only three days into their assignment along the “front”, the rigors of war already grated upon the young men as recent rains…and a sudden drop in temperature…turned the hastily constructed defenses of Nanjing to a mire reminiscent of the bogs of his adopted home of New Orleans.

The only redeeming virtue of the sudden freeze the previous night was the likely mass expiration of the region’s mosquito population. Even the commonest man in the bayou knew the dangers of Yellow Fever and Malaria. Utterly ignorant of the local climate upon disembarkation, the soldier swiftly suspected the onsetting winter would be the coldest of his life…exceeding even frigid Yerba Buena and Oakland (once he'd seen snow!).

Bearing a fresh Corporal’s stripe just granted upon landing in Shanghai, the tall, blond Oscar Wagner muttered absently, “A quarter mile away, Hans,” as he attempted to clean his Springfield ‘93 in the muddy confines of the trench, not the easiest of tasks. “I still can’t figure why the Impies insist on wasting their ammunition. There is no way those rickety old ships on the river will put a dent in our defenses.”

Grateful that his friend’s promotion did not necessitate a reassignment from 4th Company, Czinka forced himself upward if only to preserve his dignity among his mates. Initially elated to be “at war” after months in transport, the common soldiers made a game of standing atop the earthen walls constructed adjacent the shoreline, arms akimbo, shouting to the “Impies” across the river to strike them down. As the Mandarin’s army lay across a river nearly a mile across, the bravado received little condemnation from the officers, generally willing to let the soldiers blow off a little steam.

Unfortunately, a private from 6th Company paid the price for overconfidence the previous day. Egged on by his mates to display his disregard for the enemy, the fellow was in the midst of an alcohol-induced mocking chant when a bullet lodged itself into his liver. To the Columbian soldiers’ collective disbelief, a Chinese sniper perched along the opposite bank of the Yangtze struck home from over a mile distant with a Mauser rifle adjusted for range. The dying man’s agonized thrashing proved mercifully short as the fellow expired before his officer could even be summoned.

The following morning, a staff officer presented a copy of the standard Chinese infantry rifle to each company of 2nd Regiment. “This,” he lifted a weapon remarkably similar to the Springfield ‘93’s, “is the Mauser 1892. You may notice it is virtually identical to our Springfield ’93. That is because our standard weapon is but a copy of it…even the clips are interchangeable. Unfortunately, our own version is just not quite as good. The Green Standard Army’s version of this weapon possesses a bit more range, a bit better accuracy and the like.”

The presentation provided little comfort to the suddenly solemn Columbian soldiers. The specter of death proved entirely common with all soldiers, even in peacetime, as close conditions in the barracks went hand in hand with disease. Czinka knew several soldiers in his own units over the years to die of one pox or another. His friend Abner in the Jefferson Camel Corps succumbed to African Death after an injudicious visit to an unlicensed Sonoran brothel (all licensed establishments were required to foreswear full intercourse, restricting themselves to hand and mouth manipulation only). Another mate in the Camel Corps died of a burst appendix, a third to pneumonia in the Sonoran Mountains, a fourth to suicide and a fifth, this one in the 4th Company, merely…disappeared…from the transport vessel bearing the Regiment from Nagasaki to Shanghai. He was assumed washed overboard during a storm, possibly while drunk.

The romance and exhilaration of war already bludgeoned out of the Columbian soldiers; 4th Company settled into their squalid trench already reconsidering their decision to enlist in the US Army. Fortunately, the soldiers were not required to sleep in the ditch as a vacant warehouse a few hundred yards inland was set aside for those not on active picket duty. Rules for granting leave to explore the city had yet to be established and Czinka’s mates were required to remain “in the barracks” or their environs at all times.

I haven’t even been able to visit the Brigade Infirmary, Czinka grumped silently, already thoroughly tired of China.
“You will see her soon, enough, Hans,” Oscar assured him, obviously reading his friend’s mood. Whenever Hans’ mood declined, it tended to be due to absence from Kanoelani.

Not bothering with the pretense of denial, Czinka complained, “It has been three days! The infirmary is just down the street! Why the hell…”

“Because the Lieutenant says so,” the Corporal interrupted. He gestured towards the Chinese river monitors ineffectively lobbing bombs upon the rebel city, “This is war now, Hans. No one cares about your love life…”

The Roma sighed, knowing his friend was right. He also noted that Oscar successfully distracted his attention from the ongoing barrage.

“Korporal?” Interjected a quiet, yet heavily accented voice.

Private Nam-Bo, a volunteer who’d been assigned by the Republic of China’s Army to 4th Company as a translator, preferred to socialize with Wagner and Czinka’s squad (4th Company had been divided into 4 squads while in transit from Nagasaki) as several of the group spoke Spanish, French or German, the only languages he’d studied at some local University. Evidently, deeming a man who could speak languages spoken by SOME of the foreigners was deemed adequate for now as relatively few Chinese were conversant in English.

Fortunately, most of the officers of 4th Company had studied German and French at West Point, and the translator was at least coherent despite his accent. A native of some Chinese territory called the “Joseon” Kingdom in the north (and Nam Bo was apparently NOT Chinese despite most of 4th Company regarding him as so), the Joseon offered his services to the rebel government. Within days, the youth’s dexterity in language proved entirely beneficial in assisting the Company finding their lodgings, acquire victuals and the like. Precisely why a college-educated man of obvious intellect was not made an officer by the Republic was simply beyond the Roma…but the Private was accustomed to the army not asking his opinion and suspected the Chinese version held true to form.

“What is it, Nam?” Wagner answered in German as he glanced at his weapon one more time, evidently satisfied, before turning to the Joseon.

Born to a German-Mennonite family in Ohio, Wagner’s purer pronunciation contrasted greatly with the tongue uttered by Czinka’s German ancestors, the latter of which the Roma only partially spoke having learned as a child from his grandparents. Neither dialect particularly lent itself to Asiatic pronunciation but the Joseon managed to make himself understood.

“This…this…” the youth gestured vaguely before finding the word, “ship gun. Do Columbia not have big gun too?” Obviously, the Joseon’s German curriculum had not been completed.

Oscar shook his head, nodding towards the River, and replied slowly, “Nein, Nam. I don’t think the Columbian Navy will send ships up the Yangtze any time soon.”

Though Czinka doubted the Joseon understood the entire sentence, Nam apparently grasped the intent. “Then,” stated in halting German, “the Emperor attack when he like?”

“Ja.” It was a harsh assessment, but probably accurate. “We defend the river…no more.”

Appearing disillusioned, Nam nodded and returned to his thoughts. The Columbians exchanged a glance and suspected the Joseon hoped the allied army might invade north and add his homeland to the Republic.

“Hans!” A familiar voice shouted from atop the trench. A flash of a white dress briefly inflated his hopes of speaking to Kanoelani but the elongated form soon proved to be Martha Vouza, the tall woman immediately standing out among the filthy infantrymen in soiled khakis.

The soldier jumped from the trench to approach his girl’s closest friend. Though disappointed it was not Kanoelani, Hans was polite enough to ask, “Martha! How are you? Is Nasir well?”

“Fine, fine,” she returned, briefly glancing at a series of orderlies carried medical supplies somewhere west of the 2nd Regiment’s position. “I just wanted to tell you that Kanoelani is well and speaks of you often. Since we were passing your Regiment, I thought I’d stop by.”

“Thank you!” he exclaimed, touched by the courtesy. Abruptly remembering the content of his jacket pocket, he reached in to grasp several letters written over the past few days with the aid of Oscar Wagner (who he could trust to assist putting his thoughts to paper without mockery). “Can you give these to…”

“Of course, Hans,” the nurse grinned, her white teeth in great contrast with her near-ebony skin and shock of curly, orange hair. She glanced again westward to note her party was almost out of sight. Grasping the letters, she added, “I must go. Doctor Doyle is setting up a new infirmary for an incoming team of doctors for one of the other brigades.” With only a wave, Martha raced after her superiors, apparently eager to return to work.

For a long moment, Czinka watched the woman go before returning to the relative comfort and safety of the trench. Nam gazed towards the retreating woman in shock before turning to the soldier and inquiring, “She…you girl?” He gestured towards his forehead and continued, “She…big head…tall.”

Czinka laughed, shaking his head before replying in his own broken German, “No…she friend…my girl. My girl…no big head…no tall.”

“Ah!” Apparently, the answer amused the Joseon so he added, “I have girl too. No big head.”

Within moments, both soldiers convulsed in chortling laughter, eventually even Oscar Wagner joined in. For a brief time, the intermittent bombardment of the city of Nanjing was forgotten.
October, 1896


“The Columbians,” he continued as the pair turned towards the expansive kitchen now serving as his office, “have never, in their entire existence, fought a war on their own, much less emerged victorious in one.”

He ticked off his fingers, “Their glorious “Revolutionary War” saw their former colonial master also fighting arguably the three strongest powers in West Europe at the same time. Separated by thousands of miles, and their attention divided, Great Britain was not in a position to crush the rebels.”

“Next, the Columbians challenged the British again…when that nation suffered an invasion by Napoleon I. Their West Indian conquests effectively amounted to sailing into petty slave islands, liberating those in bondage and promptly hiring THEM to do the fighting.”

“The same thing occurred again and again. During the second, and more successful, French invasion of Britain, Columbia took the opportunity to seize ever more land in the southern American Continent, usually by bullying Spain into ceding territory while THAT nation struggled with rebellion. This is how the Columbians managed to seize California, Tejas, Patagonia, Amazonia, Guyana, a few islands in the Pacific…”

The names of these places meant nothing to Shi Ping, largely ignorant of Columbian history. But she took the meaning of Xu’s words. “You believe them not to be the courageous predatory eagles they claim to be…but lowly vultures picking at the carcasses of dying Empires.”
This does seem to be a very apt and insightful comment on how other people might see Eagletopia?
Chapter 72
November, 1896


As a government figure, the Minister of Justice could not in good conscience partake in the Convention but Mohandas Gandhi nevertheless made an effort with witness the proceedings. Perched in the balcony, the slight figure occasionally applauded, sometimes frowned…but usually remained silent, his impassive edifice completely masking his feelings.

As the Constitutional Convention of the United Nations of Africa inexorably protracted as the assigned subcommittees delved into an enormous scope of issues, the underlying intent of the Convention remained the same: recommend a Constitution which would, by nature, reduce the power of the Executive Council (the body once referred to as the Board of Directors) comprising entirely of appointed representatives of the Empire of China, the Khedivate of Egypt, the Russian Empire, the Maratha Confederacy, the Spanish Empire, the Empire of France, the United States of Columbia and the Ethiopian Empire.

Though a century had passed since the conglomeration of various European, Asian and American colonial claims were effectively “merged” into a single entity intended to govern the vast continent for the benefit of all (mostly the stockholders), the nearly defunct East India Company having divested or suffered foreclosure of most of its Asiatic properties, the inexorable process of both territorial acquisition by this entity was matched only by the perseverance of both native Africans finding themselves under the control of this bizarre entity and the masses of immigrants descending upon the Dark Continent from all quarters. Effectively the only “neutral” territory, at least nominally, in the world, the allure of Africa attracted the adventurous, the ambitious, the craven and the desperate.

“My word,” grumbled George Edalji, who’d swiftly become Gandhi’s strong right hand in the Ministry, “I had assumed the six-hour debate yesterday on the subject of fishing rights was dull but this…” He gestured through the plainly decorated great room hosting over a hundred bickering delegates hailing from the breadth of Africa.

Gandhi snickered, but nodded in agreement, “I shall not argue, George, but the proposed amendment in phrasing to the section addressing aboriginal rights, even on tribal lands, to underground wealth has great ramifications to the…” The Indian-born lawyer’s comments were interrupted by a ruckus on the floor. Several colorfully bedecked natives, probably hailing from some internal tribe, rose to lend their objections in whatever tongue now echoed through the walls of the Convention. Gandhi doubted anyone understood a word the chief was saying but the man’s tone left no question as to his intent.

“Je crains que cette convention ne se poursuive indefiniment,” muttered a somber voice, bearing little of the Indians’ boredom.

The French-born Albert Clemenceau had migrated in his youth to Franco-Spanish North Africa, a region of nominal co-dominion formed by those two countries. After slaughtering or expelling the population to the West Indies from the late 18th Century, the then-allies encouraged European Catholic immigration to North Africa in huge numbers. Given the political upheaval in both nations…and that of the Spanish colonial Empire…there proved no shortage of takers to the offer of free homesteads, transportation and five-year tax abatements. Beyond French and Spanish migrants, the region also received huge quantities of Germans, Hungarians, Italians…really, anyone who could be counted upon for labor, defense and tax revenue. Initially intended as a Catholic-only colony, many Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Jews and peoples even more exotic migrated to the fertile farmlands and bountiful mines of North Africa.

As the two Empires drifted apart throughout the 19th Century, a policy of laissez-faire descended upon the United Nations of Africa’s northern neighbor largely due to the respective Metropolis’ unwillingness to agree on anything. As such, a level of true democracy emerged in the colony unknown to the mother lands. However, as revolutions convulsed the Continent before being crushed, the burgeoning population of North Africa grew increasingly obsessed not only with defending their hard-won freedoms but codifying and expanding them. Grumblings emerged throughout North Africa from Carthage to Casablanca, quiet whispers in favor of independence.

Albert Clemenceau was reputed to be among their number.

“Mr. Clemenceau fears that, at this rate, the convention will last a long time,” the prim and dappy translator seated adjacent the French North African. Introduced as “Mr. Berceau”, the cleanshaven youth had the look of a University student on an adventure.

Gandhi smiled benignly. Though Clemenceau carried the credentials of a diplomat, plainly the man traveled to Natal with the intent of witnessing the Convention. As both of North Africa’s overlords are seated among the Executive Council of the United Nations of Africa, he must believe the outcome of this Convention – either brilliant success, dismal collapse or dispersed by Council intervention – must surely encourage or dissuade their own.

“Please tell Mr. Clemenceau I fear I must agree with him,” Gandhi replied, gesturing to the floor some twenty feet below. In the fracas, no one would overhear the government Minister. “These men represent a vast diversity of peoples, nations, religion…and I fear the natives of these lands will always find themselves outmatched by the Asians and Europeans flocking to these shores. I agree something must be done to preserve their rights but…we must also consider how this affects the future of the nation.”

Berceau rapidly translated this to his employer, the Frenchman offering no outward expression to Gandhi’s startling words. Though Edalji was loath to chine his own superior for anything, he’d been forced to recommend Mr. Gandhi mince his words when discussing the natives of this land. Unfortunately, the Indian remained somewhat stubborn in his condescension towards the black man.

The commotion apparently under control upon the repeated pummels of a gavel, the observers settled into with a sense of resignation.

This was going to be a long day.
Chapter 73
November 1896


Xu frowned slightly as he peered through his binoculars, his eyes attempting to discern the huddled figures crowding the decks of the encroaching “ships”. A few arcing vapor trails followed the path of invisible shells descending upon the southern shore of the Yangtze but this was not what caught the Chinese General’s eye.

Instead, it was the dozens of hastily constructed landing craft, each little more than a series of flat planks tied together with a fishing boat motor providing its ungainly propulsion. Assorted other craft, mostly likely riverboats of one stripe or another, followed in close succession, the intent clear:

The idiots are actually crossing the damned river! Xu wondered in astonishment. Here?!

The nervous lieutenant, who’d bourn the unwelcome task of raising the exhausted General from his bed with news of the concentration of Imperial forces, swallowed and inquired, “Should we call for reinforcements, sir?”

Bearing an incredulous smirk, Xu turned upon the unfortunate youth and demanded, “Lieutenant, do you actually believe that the minions of the Throne can not only cross the river in those rickety boats but proceed to overrun our trenches?”

At that moment, the first echoes of Republican artillery fire reverberated across the landscape. Fortunately, my artillery commander possesses the initiative to open fire without waiting for the arrival of official orders!

Restricted in the caliber of their artillery, the rebels were unable to respond to the heavy guns pounding Wuchang from across the river…but certainly the weapons were more than capable of reaching the approaching transports. A handful of rifle shots commenced as well, surely to be followed en masse over the next few moments.

Xu turned to his staff officer and stated, “No, Lieutenant, we do not CALL FOR REINFORCEMENTS! We command our inland divisions and brigades to spread out along the shores of the Yangtze for miles in either direction. Unless my opposite commander is truly an idiot…or just indifferent to the lives of his men…this attack is but a feint and a very costly one at that!” The General turned back towards the enemy vessels closing on the southern bank, already drawing heavy fire and no doubt suffering significant casualties. Within a few minutes, the first landing craft shall reach the open shoreline where deeply entrenched Republican soldiers awaited with modern repeating rifles and machine guns.

These poor fools will be slaughtered! Xu shook his head sadly, more than certain that no one with a hand in planning this attack opted to partake in the suicide mission. No wonder we seek to overthrow the Mandarin if this is the regard he bears for the lives of Han loyalists!

“Inform General Chang’s cavalry division to ride west at once, leaving additional spotters along the Yangtze,” he ordered. While the Republicans had, by necessity, been forced to billet large numbers of soldiers, often still training, along the one to two mile wide Yangtze, the support of experienced troops under a capable cavalry officer would no doubt stiffen the Republican spine. “And direct General Zhou east with the same orders.”

Sternly, the General met the trembling youth’s eyes and added, “Inform both Generals they are to be entirely in the saddle within thirty minutes, no later. And it should go without saying they are to report regularly but express that as well.”

Accepting the salute, Xu turned his back on the rapidly retreating officer and determined to witness the battle from his current position atop an old government building. Though the Imperial bombardment had continued off and on for weeks, Wuchang remained largely intact as pinpoint accuracy remained elusive for the enemy artillerymen and the Emperor’s forces likely possessed both cannon and shell in limited supply.

In truth, the General would not have been terribly disturbed if the quantity of landing craft bumping up against the banks of the Yangtze were double or treble: the invaders would be rapidly slaughtered. Even the partially finished trenches would provide more than enough protection for the defenders against attackers attempting to disembark, ascend muddy river banks and charge uphill towards entrenched soldiers.

Shaking his head again, Xu muttered, “Poor damned souls.”
Chapter 74
November, 1896

Nanjing, China

“Dammit, nurse!” Bellowed the Scottish Dr. Arthur Doyle, exasperated with the young nurse’s apparent inability to act in crisis. Elizabeth Houghton, like most of the medical staff attached to 5th Brigade. Though he sympathized with the shock etched across the woman’s pleasant face at the gruesome sight before her, Doyle knew he must have competent staff. He called that young Hawaiian girl, Nurse Kanoelani, to his side, “Wiggins! Take Houghton’s place!”

Given the fact that Doyle remained in the process of pulling several internal organs from his patient’s body cavity so he might attempt to seek out damage among the youth’s open abdomen. Kanoelani, whom Doyle had instructed in Oakland, approached without hesitation, though her pallor, perhaps reasonably, appeared unusually pale. Still, pale was better than frozen in horror.

“Nurse,” he commanded, still feeling his way through the massive open wound, “Get the stitches ready…”

“Doctor,” the young woman replied mournfully. “I believe he has stopped breathing.”

Hands still grasping the young Chinaman’s innards, Doyle glanced towards the boy’s face and noted his slave features. Moreover, he belatedly realized the spurts of blood periodically erupting from damaged flesh and organs had ceased moments before. With a sigh of disgust, the Scot released the organs to fall back into the still body cavity and, with a quiet curse, turned towards the clean bucket of water brought to the makeshift hospital operation room but a few minutes prior. Shoving his hands into the liquid, he turned over his shoulder and demanded, “Soap, nurse. We aren’t done by a longshot, and I don’t want to spread filth to the next patient…”

Kanoelani nodded silently and raced to her task.

As the young woman retraced her steps to the supply room, she overheard a disturbingly drum of artillery and rifle fire in the distance. Occasionally a shell would strike close enough to the hospital to shake the foundation badly enough for dust and mortar fell from the ceilings into open wounds.

The Battle of Nanjing had begun…and 5th Brigade found itself right in the middle of the Imperial offensive.

Three days prior, the Mandarin forces commenced what had been described to the medical staff as a twenty-mile-wide offensive upon a series of ships, boats, rafts and barges across the massive Yangtze River. A riparian city situated along a southern bend of that mighty body of water, Nanjing suffered periodic bombardment over the past month…to little effect. As the allied forces – Republican, Columbian and Nihonjin – joined the locals in preparing a series of trenches along the river, a sense of complacency sunk in as few common soldiers could imagine how an invasion may take place across the mile and a half breadth of the mighty waterway.

Even a poorly coordinated defense should easily repel such an attack.

At least that was the gossip exchanged among officers, soldiers and civilians racing in and out of the hospital at all hours. Armchair strategists argued back and forth, the general consensus emerging that the only hope of fording the Yangtze by the enemy in force would be to cross at some undefended point well away from major cities.

“Should the Tongzhi Emperor even summon the spine to attack,” bragged one visiting local Republican politician via translator, “it shall not be in a heavily populated city like Nanjing!”

This assurance must have been tested with the initial bombardment of the city, Kanoelani considered ill-humoredly as she searched for additional soap. Her spotless white nurse’s uniform, after but a few days of active service, already grew stained with human blood. Soldiers and civilians since passed through the 5th Brigade’s infirmary, none refused despite the perilously low quantity of medicines and limited human resources.

“Nurse!” Shouted a now-familiar Scottish voice, “NOW!”

Pushing her way through the panicked crowds congregating for some reason in the hospital corridors, Kanoelani managed to return to the operating room just as a pair of Han orderlies carried out the body of the young soldier. Now slumped across the table was a middle-aged white man, half of his once-handsome face torn open. Still, the remaining half confirmed the unfortunate soldier to be General John Meigs. Doyle was already rearranging the man’s limp form, mercifully the General had fallen unconscious, so he might more easily inspect the wound.

A young adjutant, his own khaki uniform despoiled by copious quantities of someone else’s blood, stood in the corner, tears falling from his eyes. “I kept warning him!” The youth wailed pitifully. “We all said “don’t expose yourself to the enemy”…but the General refused to hide in the trenches…kept insisting he be seen by the men…”

“Bloody stupid!” Doyle cursed, reaching for the needle and thread. “Those new rifles can shoot the balls off a flea from a thousand yards!” Normally not one to speak so before a woman, Doyle’s ungentlemanly outburst was immediately forgotten by the shaken nurse who instinctively raced forward to angle the General’s slack skull so Doyle may work unencumbered.

“Well done, Kanoelani,” the older man murmured as he rapidly commenced stitching the detached sections of Meigs’ face together. Cries emerged from the distance heralding the arrival of further wounded.

Doyle could only renew his efforts in order to move on to the next victim of this already God-forsaken war.
Chapter 75
November 1896

Ten miles southeast of Nanjing

Despite a near two hour march at the double-step, the bulk of 2nd Regiment, 5th Brigade remained in motion along the muddy roads eastwards…or at least Private Hans Czinka THOUGHT was eastwards. In the evening gloom, it was difficult to track despite the omnipresence of the Yangtze River to the Regiment’s left. Unfortunately, given the many twists and turns to the enormous water body, the Columbian soldier had long since lost count over direction.

After weeks of bombardment…and an enormous amount of digging trenches side by side with anxious local civilians…the 2nd Regiment finally faced combat the previous day as “Impy” soldiers attempted to force the river via a motley assortment of rivercraft ranging from modern frigates to common rowboats. As the enemy approached, allied artillery caught the range and promptly commenced snuffing out the vessels one by one. Those few boats to reach the southern shore of the Yangtze only delivering the Imperials to their doom. Safely snuggled into their trenches, the Columbian, Nihonjin and Republican infantry utterly slaughtered the poor souls unlucky enough to make land. There simply could not be any other word other than massacre.

Helplessly struggling up the exposed sandbanks towards entrenched soldiers under cover of enfilading positions putting the Impies under murderous crossfire, only a handful of attackers survived long enough to discharge a single round upon the dug-in defenders.

Czinka, whose heart raced as he first placed an Imperial troop in his crosshairs felt a flush of elation seeing the figure immediately crumble…followed by a sense of shame. Still, recalling the weeks of bombardment upon the helpless civilian neighborhoods by Imperial artillery, the soldier promptly sought out another target…then another. The battle proved mercifully short.

The 2nd Regiment suffered only two casualties to enemy fire: one private took a bullet neatly between the eyes and another suffered a grazing shot to his temple and shoulder. The latter was promptly carried off to the infirmary, the former taken…somewhere else, Czinka knew not where.

He assumed some hastily built mass graveyard.

Through the elated cheers erupting from 1st Company’s position, the Roma nevertheless overheard his friend moan mournfully, “God forgive us…what a waste of human life…”

Turning towards Corporal Oscar Wagner, Czinka witnessed tears streaming down the face of the son of Ohio Mennonites. Wagner caught Czinka’s stare and simply shrugged, “Thousands of good men…just murdered. For what? Any idiot could see the attack was doomed. Why go thru with it…?”

Czinka simply shook his head, baffled as to the wanton waste of human life himself. Surely even the dimmest officers should have foreseen the result. Ten times the number of attackers would have no better success.

“I don’t know, Oscar,” Czinka replied, the endorphin rush of battle swiftly wearing off as his body commenced shaking. “It does not make sense…”

Only hours later as the Lieutenant of 1st Company leapt into the trenches shouting, “Pack up! You have three minutes and we move out! Pack up all your ammunition and personal effects without delay! Three minutes…!” as he moved towards 2nd thru 5th Company alerting their officers, sergeants and corporals of the orders.

“What do you make of that?” Czinka inquired, abjectly confused. Was the 2nd Regiment to abandon the trenches so quickly after victory?” He spotted Nam Bo, the translator assigned to 2nd Regiment jabbering back and forth with what appeared to be Han rebel officers.

As the “Joseon” joined the withdrawing Columbian soldiers, Wagner, who’d noticed the rapid communication as well, demanded, “Nam…what is happening?” The locals always seemed to have the upper hand in information on their “allies”.

The soldier peered through the gathering darkness towards his friends in 1st Company and replied, “Rumors from headquarters say…attack a…a…fake?”

“Diversion?” Wagner supplied in shock, turning briefly back towards the Imperial troops being piled up like firewood for mass burial. “They sacrificed thousands of good men on a diversion?!”

Nam seemed nonplussed by the Ohioan’s heat but answered simply, “Yes. You think this…odd?”

Gritting his teeth so loudly as to be heard several paces back, the Corporal remained silent, his outrage barely spent. The 1st Company, comprised of over a hundred and fifty soldiers of various ethnicity and origin, gossiped, laughed and bragged over their great victory over the Imperials. Unlike 2nd thru 5th Company, all of which tended to revolve around a single ethnicity (Irish, German, etc) intended to ease communication, 1st Company tended to have a more exotic look to it. It included more than a few Roma, the odd Asiatic, a number of Negroes (often called Camelbacks or Jeffersonians given the service of early black soldiers in the Jefferson Camel Corps throughout western North America) and whatever else didn’t fit in with the Irish or German speakers.

He supposed both he and Wagner might have been drafted into the majority German 3rd Company (some spoke English, others not) but, for whatever reason, they’d found a home in the 1st.

“I think…the Tongzhi Emperor…make trick,” Nam continued. “He attack city…keep all Republic and Columbia soldiers in…and then cross with more men to east…” Despite the heavy accent and labored grammar, the Joseon made his point.

“A trick…” Czinka muttered darkly, two hours later, his feet already sore from the long trek. Probably exceeding ten miles by this point, most of the rapid march occurred in darkness, the commanders apparently uncaring of the exhaustion of the men after the emotional drain of battle followed by hours of lugging heavy packs through the early winter muck of…whatever province this was again.

Turning towards his friends, themselves silent as the same thoughts echoed in their minds, Czinka considered inquiring if they believed the Imperial soldiers knew they’d been sent on a suicide mission when the clacking hooves of horses approached the increasingly stolid soldiers. The lights of Nanjing long since passed beyond a series of low hills south (or east, whatever) of the city, the 2nd Regiment was very much in the country. Lapping waves along the shoreline of the unseen but nearby Yangtze River contrasted heavily with the intermittent shelling of Nanjing via heavy guns. Occasionally the soldiers perceived the clatter small arms fire…though it seemed to emerge periodically from all directions.

The sun long since over the horizon, the only illumination to the soldiers lay in a low background glow of Nanjing buildings still ablaze from the random bombardment. Czinka noted few houses in the outskirts lit candles and, reportedly, electricity remained a rarity in China…at least in the undeveloped south. The squalid farmsteads outside the city were unlikely to be among the lucky few.

The slopping hooves abruptly slowed to a halt adjacent the near-silent column of Columbian soldiers when, with the momentary strike of a match to light his cigar, the grey features of an old soldier emerged in the darkness…as did the bars upon his shoulder.

“Attenten-SHUN!” bellowed Wagner, suddenly alerted to the presence of a General. Like his fellows, Czinka immediately halted and snapped off a salute unlikely to be discerned in the dark though…he supposed it was still expected.

A throaty laugh broke the silence as several officers of the 2nd Regiment converged upon the General’s party. Lieutenant Becker, the senior Lieutenant assigned to 1st Company raced forward, offered his own salute and inquired, “How may we help you, General Custer?”

“Son…” Emerged the voice from the darkness, illuminated only by the smoldering embers of the cigar bobbing up and down, “the enemy is ahead of us. Damned chinks…er, sorry…I mean Imperials…caught us with our pants down! They crossed the Yangtze a half mile up the road in force while we shivered in our trenches in Nanjing…but we’ll teach them the error of their ways! Thousands of enemy soldiers are massing on the beaches ahead…and we’ll drive them back into the water!” Czinka could hear the elation in the old soldier’s voice.

“But we’ll drive them back, by God, else Libbie will have my hide!”

Though uncertain of who “Libbie” was, Czinka grasped the northerner’s gist. The Impies outthought the rebels and their allies and now the 2nd Regiment spearheaded the counterattack to prevent the enemy to build a beachhead on friendly shores.

“Fix bayonets, men!” The General shouted merrily. “Insert your clips and I hope to hell you didn’t waste all of your ammunition back in Nanjing…NOT THAT IT MATTERS! We attack anyway!”

The sporadic bursts of rifle fire over the past minutes began increasing exponentially. The General turned east…or south…whatever…with a curse of “Damn, they started without me!” and, with that, Custer turned his horse about and raced towards danger, his staff officers and adjutants struggling to keep up.

After a moment attempting to track the figures disappearing into the night, Becker turned towards the dozens of Columbian soldiers standing in shock along the muddy lane and cried out, “Well, you heard the General…git your bayonets fixed and a fresh clip in the chamber! We earn our pay today, boys!”

Within moments, the soldiers, still fumbling through their packs, were prodded forward into the ever-escalating cacophony of rifle and machine gun fire emerging ahead, the bright flashes of so many discharging weapons turned night to day.

Almost without noticing the change, the 2nd Regiment emerged from the soaked road into an open field, probably a grazing ground for some local farmer, adjacent the Yangtze. Along the shoreline, barely illuminated by dozens of torches, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Imperial soldiers alighted from an assortment of transports clogging the beaches. Czinka noted little to no light materializing from the vessels themselves.

I suppose the Impies wanted stealth! The soldier considered as he followed the bellowed commands of Lieutenant Becker and Corporal Wagner to spread out. Simultaneously, other units advanced into the open field, perhaps a hundred to a hundred and twenty paces to the beach. Alerted to the incipient threat, the Imperials dropped to the ground and immediately commenced pouring firing towards the roadway. Moments later, several light cannon and machine guns erupted from the darkened decks of the transports.

Like his comrades, Czinka required no orders to match the Chinese actions. The bullets tracing through the air lent impetus to drop themselves and return fire. With both armies effectively equipped with the same rifle, a variant of the Mauser, the fight soon turned into a slog as soldier struggled to depress further and further into the mud and muck (and probably worse, this being a pasture) in hopes to staving off death.

The exchange of fire reached a crescendo as thousands of weapons commenced discharging in a shockingly small area. The invaders, however, dared not halt their momentum. Those Imperial troops having made landfall blocked the disembarkation of their fellows still trapped upon the decks and within the hulls of the transports. Many returned fire from the rails…but most presented little more than a target.

Czinka swiftly recognized the inevitable decision thrust upon the enemy forces: attack.

Via a series of shouts, whistles and even a drum or two, the enemy rose from the dubious safety of their prone positions, fixed bayonets gleaming wickedly through the periodic flashes of rifle fire, and charged forward.

Czinka supposed the Lieutenant must have been shouting orders, but he could hardly swear to it given the quantity of massed fire assaulting his eardrums. Of course, what else could the man say other than “fire!”? Leveling his weapon, the private determined not to waste ammunition and sought to pluck a single target out of the massed onrushing crowd. As Czinka fired the first bullet of a five round clip, he considered his supply situation and deemed it “not good”. Only three clips remaining…including the one in his chamber.

Fourteen bullets, he thought, before squeezing the trigger once more. He was certain his target went down. Thirteen.

“Wagner!” Shouted one of his mates, Clapton by the sound of the voice. “I’m down to one clip!”

“Me too, Corporal” Echoed another, sounding like Manning, one of the negro cowboys from Tejas. “Just three mo’ bullets!”

“Keep firing then!” Wagner returned unnecessarily before turning about and calling, “Anyone got eyes on Lieutenant Becker?!”

“He dead, suh…I mean Corporal! Just got shot in the head!”

“Damn!” Wagner cursed, the first time Czinka had ever heard the former Mennonite utilized such an oath. Only a few paces away from Czinka, the suddenly panicked Corporal looked towards his friend and mouthed, “We can’t hold without ammunition…so…”

Czinka nodded, “Yes…we attack!”

The Columbian soldiers returned their attention to the charging Imperials, the brave fools cut down in waves…but more and more came.

Summoning the entirety of his courage, Wagner rose to his feet, bellowing, “1st Company! Rise and attack!”

Though casting aside his limited cover felt foolhardy to the point of suicidal, Czinka did not hesitate, unwilling to abandon his friend. One by one, the 1st Company, 2nd Regiment, 5th Brigade followed suit, some still firing as they provided the enemy with a superior silhouette for target practice. The first wave of Imperials nearly annihilated, the second and third were already racing across the sodden field, bayonets thrusting forward, a few discharging rounds as they ran, no doubt hoping to keep the allied heads down long enough to reach the defensive position adjacent the roadway.

“CHARGE!” Wagner screamed in what Czinka conceded was a very commanding voice.

To the credit of the unbloodied Columbian soldiers, the entire Company…those still breathing…charged forward to meet the onrushing Chinese Imperials bayonet to bayonet. In the scant seconds before the combatants met face to face, Hans Czinka recognized two facts:

  • Alongside the 1st Company were hundreds of other Columbian soldiers, most likely hailing from 2nd Regiment’s other units, as well as large numbers of asiatics donning Columbian-like uniforms but bearing the unique caps and sashes of the Nihonjin units. The latter shouted…something…in their native language no doubt intended as a battle cry.
  • Czinka belatedly realized he’d neglected to switch out his partially expended clip for a full one. He had only three bullets left, not five…and he rather doubted the enemy would be so considerate as to allow him to reload.
Moments later, the Columbian private ceased worrying about such mundane matters. Rational thought melted away, leaving only the base instincts – fear, rage, hate, shame – to guide his hand as Hans Czinka came face to face with his enemy, the desperate need to survive consuming all else.
Chapter 76
November, 1896


“My God,” murmured Colonel Theodore Roosevelt of the 1st Volunteer Cavalry, aghast at the sight before him. His primary subordinates, the negro officers Captains Johnson Whittaker and Henry Flipper, served as company commanders as well as doing yeoman’s work upon the neophyte soldier’s staff, Captain Jose Doroteo, the Chief Scout and his adjutant, the youthful English-born Winston Churchill, granted an “unofficial” (the paperwork approving the appointment had yet to be received) brevet commission of Lieutenant.

“Indeed, Teddy,” echoed his superior, Leanard Wood, commander of the 2nd Brigade, as he witnessed the devastation of the once-beautiful city of Guanajuato. Another town nestled into the mountains of the Central Plateau, the city suffered the same fate of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi and effectively every other population center in northern New Spain over the past decades.

Despoiled repeatedly by assorted factions, some extant, some long buried under the weight of endless civil war, Guanajuato suffered yet another sacking in the past weeks. Smoke continued to spiral skyward as burnt-out husks of homes, shops and other structures smoldered on, the skeletal remains of buildings akin to a grotesque grin of a gap-toothed man. As the 1st Volunteers reached the city, Roosevelt promptly summoned his superior from the main body of the Brigade steadily marching southward some miles to the north.

“Yes, sir….and sir,” Nodded Major Frederick Funston, the adjutant general of Custis Lee’s 6th Brigade, stationed only forty miles west in Leon. “It was the same in Zacatecas, Leon and a half dozen smaller towns destroyed in recent months…not by Carlists or Isabellines…but that bastard in Guadalajara, Porfirio Diaz!” The short, slight officer of some thirty years practically spat out the man’s name, so visceral was his hatred.

“The man hunted down and killed every true democrat within his reach,” Funston continued in barely concealed outrage. “He let his troops “have their sport” with the women of the cities, stole every bushel of grain and impressed children into his army all with the intent upon making himself the sole option as President of New Spain…or whatever this land is to be called at the end of the war…”

Wood, visibly unsettled at the sight of another ruined city, turned towards Funston and demanded, “And this…General Diaz…has been in communication with Lee?”

“Oh, yes,” Funston nodded. “His representatives were the most craven vultures I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. They didn’t even feign innocence in destroying these Republican-supporting cities. The bastards grinned and assured Lee that Diaz was a man “we could work with”, even promising to sell off some of the northern lands of New Spain and that Columbian investment in mining and the like will be welcomed and protected…as if that was all the United States cared about.” Disgusted, the soldier turned back towards the shattered city below, yet another heinous casualty of the war.

Roosevelt took Funston’s measure. He’d heard rumors the man was something of an Imperialist, calling for conquest and annexation of the entire Spanish Empire (and probably China, too, the New Yorker imagined), not assisting in the creation of free nations. However, the open disdain for this Diaz fellow proved Funston possessed more than a shred of decency and fairness. While Roosevelt suspected, as did many of his countrymen, that these lands would be better off as Columbian territories where his own nation’s proven record of…well, at least competence…in government exceeded anything this beleaguered land had ever received by the Spanish Empire or the assorted rebelling factions, the truth of the matter was that many Columbians would not welcome the idea of granting citizenship to millions of non-English-speaking Catholics even if the map of Columbia expanded significantly once again.

“What does Lee ask, Major?” Wood inquired solemnly, inclined to get to the point.

With a slight pause for breath, Funston stated directly, “The General knows that your orders…like our own in 6th Brigade…have been somewhat…vague. However, the implication is that 5th Brigade would continue marching south to link with General Seguin in Puebla. However, as your command is as behind schedule as Lee’s, it is unlikely that you would reach Puebla in time to participate in any battle.”

The General sighed slightly before nodding, “Yes, Major, that is true. Seguin, if he is on schedule and…God knows…he might be the only officer to make that claim, should have already commenced…if not concluded…his march on the Imperial capital by now. And, Captain Doroteo,” He nodded towards his talented chief scout, “is convinced marching through the mountains to Puebla with such a large force may take another month…” Wood seemed humiliated by the admission. The entirety of the Columbian Army’s mission south through New Spain proved a complete farce in planning and execution, their capacity to supply a large force grossly overestimated. An abject lack of communication, consistency, and support from Philadelphia over the past year, no doubt exacerbated by the apparent war with China, undoubtedly contributed to the chaos and institutional incompetence unveiled by the entire peace-enforcing operation.

“If you cannot help Seguin, sir,” Funston begged, “then help Lee break this Diaz despot and his junta of alcaldes masquerading as defenders of Spanish freedom. Merge with General Lee at Leon, only forty miles west via unusually good road, and we can put an end to…to…this…” The soldier gestured helplessly at the wasteland below. “March on Guadalajara with 6th Brigade and put a stop to this madness…”

For a long moment, Wood wrestled with his decision. Though each of the three Brigades dispatched to New Spain were granted a great deal of local autonomy of action by necessity of the distances involved and poor communication, the soldier attempted to place himself in Seguin’s shoes as his nominal superior awaited reinforcements never to come. It was possible, should he accede to his comrade in 6th Brigade’s request, he and Lee may face charges upon the conclusion of the war…or peace-enforcing mission…or whatever the hell this fiasco had degenerated into. Given the failure by the General Staff, the Secretary of War, Congress, the President, and everyone else in providing a coherent strategy, ANY decision on his part may accrue criticism while under review by some committee of Congressional hacks.

But is that the right thing to do? He wondered silently, painfully aware of Funston and his own subordinates waiting with bated breath upon his decision.

Finally, the General sighed and nodded to Lee’s staff officer, “Yes, Major, please inform General Lee that the bulk of 5th Brigade shall join him in Leon in three to five days…”
Chapter 77
November, 1896


Though enjoying the sight of so many Columbians cheering his transport as he passed through the streets of Philadelphia, President Adlai Stevenson rather suspected the real attraction Mr. Duryea’s victorious motorized vehicle, which only just last month won a race in Chicago (it was also the only vehicle to finish). Effectively a carriage bearing an engine, the self-propelled vehicle chugged along at a pace slightly ahead of a brisk walk but nevertheless seemed to capture the imagination of the capital’s civilian population.

Mr. Duryea, a native of Massachusetts, chattered on non-stop regarding the reported advances in engines by some German named Daimler and the troubles afflicting the young industry over some patents filed by some Mr. Seldon. In truth, Stephenson suspected the fellow just nervous to have the President as a passenger.

Naturally, there were more than a few taunts lobbed in the politician’s direction, public criticism apparently in endless supply. Hawks of both major parties demanded a stronger, more capable hand in executing the wars while doves (also of both parties) decried his “colonialism”.

God, he thought, four more years of this!

November, 1896


“…Ericsonn?” Called out the fresh-faced young Lieutenant, apparently straight from West Point. He repeated, “Ericson? Private Adolf Erics…”

“He’s dead,” replied Private Hans Czinka wearily, drawing a dark look from Oscar Wagner which the weary Roma ignored. Upon taking up command of 1st Company in the aftermath of the “Battle of Nanjing” and the death of Becker, Lieutenant Andrew Stevens determined to gather together his Company to “acquaint himself with the men”. Less than forty-eight hours after the bloody battle costing half the Company’s number in dead and wounded, the exhausted soldiers were in little mood for officious nonsense of a young buck without a month of command experience.

Indeed, when the Lieutenant arrived the previous day to assume command, he just managed to catch the burial detail of thirty of their number. The twenty or twenty-one-year-old openly vomited upon witnessing the mutilated bodies piled into a mass grave…though he later claimed it was due to something he ate.

Now, he demanded the survivors of 1st Regiment stand at attention as he called the roll. Dusk was falling and the soldiers simply wished to be allowed to wash up for the first time in a week and sleep upon the regulation cots provided by the army (there were fewer problems with lice). Their stomachs growling, the soldiers remained in formation as the idiot continued along this vein.

“Thank you, Private,” Stevens replied without ire and continued, “Blake….BLAKE?”

“Dead,” muttered half a dozen soldiers at once, several bearing bandages concealing wounds incurred during the battle.

“Very well, then.” The Lieutenant checked his list again before continuing, “Collins?”

“Here, suh,” grunted a mulatto donning a dressing bound over his right eye.

“Good, good. Clark?”

Finally relieved from “the battlefield” after their charge successfully repelled the Imperial attempt to span the mighty Yangtze, 1st Company was allowed to stumble back to their quarters in Nanjing, the Sergeants and Corporals allowed to check on the wounded rushed to local hospitals. Oscar Wagner returned grim-faced, bearing the ill tidings that eight of the fourteen men carried to the Brigade infirmary expired over the past thirty-six hours.

Begging to be allowed to accompany the non-commissioned officers, Hans Czinka was denied the chance to check up on “his girl”, serving as a nurse caring for the wounded.

“She is fine, Hans,” Wagner assured his friend, “Exhausted…but fine. She’s being run ragged but nearly broke down upon hearing you survived. I believe you can wait a day or two until the woman has a free moment…and when Command determines the Impies aren’t going to try to cross again.

The past days proved grueling to the extreme, both physically and emotionally. For all his years in the army, Czinka had never faced combat beyond chasing a few smugglers and bandits through the borderlands of New Spain in the Davis Camel Corps. On only a few occasions had the private even witnessed a shot fired in anger. The terrifying, draining ordeal of hand to hand combat along the banks of the Yangtze…

While the Lieutenant worked his way through the roster name by name, Czinka leaned towards Wagner and inquired, “Is it true? Custer didn’t survive his wounds?”

Feigning to listen to the officer’s prattling, Wagner managed to nod, “Yes…died where he fell.”

The last Czinka had seen of the Brigadier was the fellow racing forward on horseback, sword waving high, gesticulating for his command to follow…which they did. Most of 2nd Regiment, some Nihonjin unit and assorted Republican Chinamen formations drove forward bayonet-first with such spirited determination that the enemy was forced to flee…those handful which survived to reach the transports. Even then, the Impies found little protection as the allies expended the remnant of their ammunition upon the helpless transports attempting to flee to the northern shore of the Yangtze.

Brigadier George Armstrong Custer, apparently possessing a flair for the dramatic, successfully organized a counterattack against the enemy crossing just in time to blunt their bridgehead. Apparently, the allied command in Nanjing fell for the diversion of a direct attack and failed to cover the city’s flank. Perhaps had General Meigs not gotten himself killed standing stupidly exposed to Imperial fire, he might have realized the danger. Fortunately, his subordinate reacted with due speed.

Rumors abounded (as they tended to do in the army) that the Mandarin attempted the same trick in some city to the west called “Wuchang” or “Wuching” or “Wuchong” or something to that effect. However, the Republican commander was canny enough not to fall for such an obvious trick and easily repelled the Imperials with even heavier losses than in Nanjing.

“You know Martha Vouza?” Wagner inquired quietly.

“Of course! She is Kanoelani’s friend. What about her?”

“Her fellow, that Nassir Hassouni over in 4th Company…he’s dead.”

“Damn…” Czinka pictured the brown-skinned amazon with the bulbous forehead and wild shock of orangish hair. Never entirely sure where “the Solomon Islands” were, he nevertheless appreciated Martha looking after Kanoelani over the past months. Nasir seemed a good chap, like Czinka a fellow survivor of “imprisonment” in Santo Domingo. A Maghreb to Czinka’s Roma heritage, both peoples suffered a similar fate for generations on the plantations of the West Indies. “God rest his soul. Poor Martha, they were to be married…”

“A lot of boys were, Hans,” Wagner replied sourly. “Too many…”

To the general relief of 1st Company, Stevens concluded his roll call and dismissed the men to clean up, get some food and turn in. The Roma was excited to finally sleep in something other than a foul trench…only to find the dozens of empty cots disconcerting.

Still, after a quick wash and guzzling down a couple of stale potatoes, sleep came quickly to the Columbian soldier…and most of his fellows.
Chapter 78
November, 1896


“What do you mean “they aren’t here”?” Demanded General Chou to his quaking subordinate. Winter had come to Mongolia and a heavy snow already covered the region east of Lake Baikal. Bereft of significant settlements, the region’s Mongoloid peoples still largely migratory, the battered Green Standard Army units under Chou’s command settled into the winter in hastily constructed shelters.

The Major merely shook his head and stated, “General…I…I cannot explain. Our Commissaries arrived at the Mongolian camp…or at least what had been the Mongolian camp…and both the civilians and the Bannermen had moved on.”

Outraged, appalled and perhaps a little impressed that the tribesmen managed to depart their camp en masse without the Qing officers noticing, the General leaned back into his creaking, foldable camp chair. His command tent, a pale shadow of the Mongol yurts in clinging to the slightest shred of warmth, already suffered several tears via windshear over the past days while the interior offered little more comfort than the plunging temperatures endured by the guards shivering at their post.

“And how,” the General inquired through clenched teeth, “does the commissariat expect this army to survive the winter without the lamb, milk and other provisions expected to be provided by these damned tribesmen?”

The officer sighed, knowing there was no easy way out of this conversation. Despite the setbacks against the Russians west of Baikal, where the enemy regained control over the abandoned town the barbarians called “Irkutsk”, the Mandarin’s servants nevertheless were in a strong position to press the enemy in the spring…or at least stymie any further advances. However, the Green Standard Army units dispatched from their southerly barracks to the empty expanses of the north were hardly equipped or trained for such harsh conditions. It had been assumed that the modern Chinese Army would have the support and affection of the natives of these lands…an assumption now facing debate.

“I…see no idea who we can, General,” the staff officer meekly replied. “But we lack the capacity to feed forty thousand men without the provisions provided by the Emperor’s northern subjects.”

“I rather know that, Major,” Chou snapped. “You are dismissed.”

The General rose to his feet, turning his back on the officer in disgust, and allowing the man to retreat from Chou’s makeshift office/quarters with rank…and life…intact. Only upon the soldier’s exit did the senior man allow his rage to subsume into despair.

I have to order a retreat…now, he realized, else there will be nothing left of this army come spring.

Belatedly, the General realized none of his other staff officers had entered in some time. They must have known the import of the Commissariat’s report. Cowards…all cowards!

Without hesitation, Chou returned to his desk to pen orders for the bulk of his command to retreat southwards before the roads become impassable. He also prepared a letter to his superiors in Beijing. The Mongols, once such a threat to the Middle Kingdom, had long since diminished in relevance to the Qing as modern weapons made obsolete much of the tribals’ advantage in mobility and cavalry. However, the fealty of the nomads, as long suspected, had been proven transitory at best.

Better to know now that the Mongol scum reveal their true character rather than during a moment of crisis, Chou decided as he encapsulated the perfidious behavior of the tribals. Though the General knew well enough that the Mongoloids would likely return in the spring, having left only to seek better grazing for their flocks (without so much as informing their superiors) for the winter, this did not diminish their crimes. The Qing Imperial Army had been dependent upon those horse-humpers and been betrayed.

This may be for the best, Chou conceded. The old Bannerman system had been rotting for centuries…an obsolete relic of a former age. I suspect the Emperor will be advised to abolish the entire system. Most of the Bannermen aren’t worth their rations.

As the soldier elaborated in the most scathing terms his contempt for the various northern tribes, Chou could not have imagined the terrible consequences of his communication.

November, 1896

Buryatia, west of Lake Baikal

Duke Alexander read the latest dispatch with increasing outrage.

Yet another condemnation of Fok’s conduct in Dzungaria!

Over the past weeks, General Smirnov organized a series of testimonies to Fok’s cowardice and incompetence after assuming command of the Russian Army of Central Asia. Stessel’s honorable death in battle at least lessened his own culpability to the humiliating disaster at the hands of the slant-eyed bastards…but over a dozen condemnations of Fok’s conduct painted too accurate a portrait even for the man who’d sponsored Fok’s advancement in the Russian Army.

Over a dozen division and brigade commander statements detailed the same thing: Fok panicked, abandoned the majority of his army, the precious supply train, the artillery and everything else of value, taking with him only the cavalry as personal protection during his flight (the General literally didn’t halt for sixty miles, forced to momentary dismount to switch mounts as his primary beast lamed after a sustained retreat). Rather than returning to his command, Fok instead opted to board a train for Moscow, no doubt hoping to appeal directly to the Czar himself.

Only by a series of canny decisions on the part of junior officers was the majority of the army able to be withdrawn…though perilously low on supplies and now in the steadier hands of Smirnov and Kondratenko.

Exhausted with the universally reproachful letters condemning General Fok, the Duke merely penned a letter recommending his brother court-martial the coward and have the man put up against the wall and shot. To this, the Duke added the assorted correspondence received from Smirnov’s officers and put the matter out of his head.

I made a mistake remaining here in Irkutsk, Alexander conceded, gazing about at the hastily constructed sod rooftop erected upon the skeletal remains of some Russian shop. I was too intent on regaining Russian patrimony…when I should have concentrated upon Dzungaria, a far more valuable and strategic location. If the Mandarin continues to hold Dzungaria, then Siberia would always be vulnerable to the inbred Chink in Beijing.

Condemning his own fixation on regaining Irkutsk as little more than nationalistic pride, the Duke knew he’d played no small part in Stessel’s defeat in Dzungaria. And, given his current remote location (and disinclination to travel the better part of a thousand miles across Siberia’s countryside in winter), there was little for the Czar’s brother to do over the coming months than stew about the matter…and hope his own army survived the bitter cold sure to come.
Chapter 79


“God damn it!” growled Brigadier General Jefferson Davis Jr. as chips of brick exploded outward from the wall precisely where his head had rested but a moment before. He felt sharp slices of flesh opening along the back of his neck and tiny shards of stone working their way into the meat. Fortunately, beyond a few scratches and a severe ringing in the ear, the soldier remained largely unharmed.

“Head down, sir,” Murmured his Chief of Scouts with a dispassion the superior officer envied. “We can’t afford to lose another General.”

Major Frederick Burnham then poked his own head around the corner of the squalid ally covering the Brigadier and his party. Wisely withdrawing before some Spanish colonial sharpshooter could draw a target, the scout pulled back to shake his head, “Best not go down that way, General. At least three marksmen on the rooftops, probably more. I’ll order a Company…or two…to flush out the enemy. Let us return to…what was it called…ah, yes…Ferdinand IV avenue and rejoin the main body of the army.”

Almost spitting out a sharp reprimand condemning Burnham’s cowardice, Davis managed to stifle the unjust words in the throat. In truth, the scout was among the bravest men…and most competent…the soldier had ever encountered. If Burnham said the Puebla side street was a deathtrap, it was best to heed his advice. The General’s party intended to grant Davis a better understanding of the terrain, organized against the scout’s advice in the first place, retreated over the rancid refuse likely piled in the alleyway over months or years (rubbish removal had not been a thing in Puebla for decades) to the relative safety of the Columbian lines steadily pushing their way southwest through the capital of New Spain and headquarters of the Isabelline faction.

From every direction, what should have been a pleasant wafting breeze only brought the stench of rotting human meat and tendrils of putrid smoke. The near-continuous background clatter of rifle fire occasionally interrupted by heavier reverberations of artillery, some emerging from nearby heights as Columbian and Isabelline forces attempted to strike the enemy from afar, others emerged from the very bowels of the city itself, mostly lighter cannon dragged forth to clear Spanish partisans entrenched buildings.

Though initially elated at the success of Burnham’s gambit in utilizing the “Puebla Tunnels” to emerge from behind the key fortifications defending the city, the confusing mess over the ensuing hours as General Seguin’s mass charge broke through the enemy lines brought the attack to a standstill within the very city of Puebla itself. Having crossed the final barrier to the Capital, the Tejan General expected his adversary to either sue for peace or…more likely…retreat southwest of the city into the mountains.

Instead, the Spanish commander ordered both his regular forces and those citizens willing to take up arms to contest every foot of territory. Composed primarily of brick and stone, the city proved marvelously adapted to defense as every doorway, windowsill and rooftop provided a perfect position to pick off an unwary Columbian soldier. Though the initial mass charges proved ultimately successfully, they proved so ruinously expensive that Seguin was forced to call off such attacks in the future and resorted to the bitter street-to-street, house-to-house fighting characterizing the battle now.

Three days of vicious encounters gave the invaders control over about half the city, though at a terribly price. Seguin wept upon hearing the casualty list after the initial breaking of the Spanish lines outside the city. Less than seventy-two-hours of this miserable urban warfare easily doubled that. While fires routinely erupted throughout Puebla, the anticipated city-leveling conflagration never emerged and the Columbians forced forward one ponderous step at a time.

Ashamed to “lead from the rear”, Major General Ignacio Seguin insisted upon visiting his men in the terrifying streets and alleys of Puebla…and paid the price with a bullet through the chest. Badly wounded, the General was carried off to safety by his staff, Seguin’s last halting words to his old friend being, “Jeff…keep pressing! Keep pressing no matter what!”

Now firmly in command of the eight thousand men of the reinforced 7th Brigade, Davis struggled with doubt. Though on paper a strong force, nearly two thousand Columbian soldiers had been reduced to garrison duty in Veracruz or along the rundown road to Puebla. Worse, the 7th suffered six hundred casualties in but a few hours in shifting the enemy from the heights outside the city. The Brigadier rather suspected that number would soon be dwarfed if the Columbians were forced to slog street by street through Puebla until reaching the mountain passes westward.

Returning to some sort of open plaza immediately utilized as a staging area for further attacks into the labyrinthian streets of Puebla, Davis’ party visibly relaxed at the sight of mortars being erected by their gunners while a host of locals were “induced” to erect makeshift defenses of stone and earth for the vulnerable soldiers. Riflemen perched prone upon every rooftop, always keeping low to avoid making themselves an inviting target. Spotters, seeking out enemy snipers and troop movements, promptly relayed estimated coordinates to the artillerymen to periodically belch fire upon Spanish positions.

God, what a fuckup! Davis shook his head as if to clear it. The improvement proved transitory as the resonating concussion of a nearby mortar shook the Brigadier to his bones.

Already down a thousand men due to illness (a brief outbreak of Bleeding Death forced Seguin to isolate six full Companies), the casualties of the past few days probably exceeded another thousand. Worse, the supply situation grew graver by the moment. Lacking proper baggage train animals to support such a large force, the bulky caissons bearing heavy artillery shells were few and far between. The soldier had already commenced reprimanding his subordinates for wasting ammunition, particularly shells, though this naturally threatened to slacken the already lethargic Columbian advance even further.

Even more grievous news arrived in waves:

  • The expected arrival from Columbia of the fresh 3rd Brigade…had been canceled as those troops were to be redirected to Upper California for transport to the Orient. Few reinforcements could be expected in the near future beyond a few batteries of artillery and another unit of the balloon corps.
  • Worse, the morning after the “Victory” over the enemy at Forts Loreto and Guadeloupe, a missive from General Wood informed the overall theater commander that he would not be joining Seguin in the near future as his 2nd Brigade was instead marching westwards towards Leon and Guadalajara.
Facing the very model of a Pyrrhic Victory, Jefferson Davis, lacking any alternatives, could only press further as he lacked an avenue to flank the Spanish defenders nor an honorable justification for retreat.

Marching his command headfirst into the military equivalent of a Chicago meatgrinder, Davis’ already battered confidence was shaken further upon returning to 7th Brigade’s temporary headquarters in a still-smoldering villa in eastern Puebla where bloodstains remained visible along the expansive floors giving testimony to the determination of both warring factions in this sundered land.

Ignacio Seguin y Zaragoza, his friend of some thirty years, expired that very morning of his wounds. Engulfed by a sudden helplessness and waves of grief, Davis managed to maintain his composure long enough to seek out his private quarters.

Here he wept for his friend, for his brave soldiers and, most of all, for the denizens of this dismal land.
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Chapter 80
November, 1896

West of the city of Leon

Peering through a spyglass, Major Frederick Funston grinned wolfishly before turning to his commander and intoned, “That damned ponce did it! He actually got Diaz’ party to enter our camp!”

Perched upon a local hilltop, the two soldiers witnessed the procession of a dozen figures emerging through the dry canyon leading to the Columbian encampment.

“Good,” nodded General Custis Lee as maintained his grim mien. His orders might well have been…well, dishonorable…but Lee deemed the Spanish Colonial unworthy of receiving honorable conduct given how little he dispensed to others.

“The Scouts should be closing in now, sir,” Funston commented as the Spanish “Republicans” (a grievous insult in Lee’s mind) entered the thickly forested canyon hundreds of yards to the west. Dozens of Columbian soldiers waited in ambush, ready to spring out from cover and take the colonials into custody.

Having interviewed dozens of survivors from Diaz’ steak attacks upon his rivals, a consensus emerged that the man was more than simply a puppet of the alcaldes and church but a dangerously pragmatic individual possessing a strong and flexible intellect. Apparently unashamed at murdering thousands of fellow “freedom fighters” to eliminate competition, it seemed Diaz would simply not allow a threat to his power now that the Columbian Army was engaging the Isabelline faction of New Spain and, presumably, the Carlists as well. Lacking any further incentive to risk his own position in Guadalajara, Diaz was willing to wait for the Columbians to evict the monarchists before anointing him the next dictator of these miserable lands.

Fully conversant in Columbian politics and the backroom politics of the capital, Lee rather depressingly conceded Diaz’ plan held merit, especially if he was willing to offer concessions for mining, perhaps the odd “sale” of land and the like. This Custis Lee could not stomach. The unhappy denizens of New Spain deserved better than this opportunist.

“And the men have been fully versed in their orders?”

“Of course, General,” Funston protested, a streak of annoyance etched across his features before controlling his irritation. “In moments, the men will leap from cover and…well, I doubt any shots will be fired…”

Naturally, at that moment, the first of many shots were fired.

An hour later:

“…General…this is…this is…OUTRAGEOUS!” Stammered the diplomat…if such a designation was appropriate.

In truth, George S. Patton’s credentials were somewhat vague to say the least. Some sort of solicitor by training, in truth Patton struck Custis Lee as the scion of an august family who’d married into money. Reportedly having run…and lost…several local elections in his adopted home of San Diego supported entirely by his wife’s money.

Apparently recruited by the State Department largely due to his command of Spanish (or perhaps the Secretary of State merely hoped to recruit him to the President’s Party in some future election), Patton plainly possessed little actual skill in anything yet somehow managed to spin his title as “liaison” (whatever that meant) into a position of power despite no semblance of written orders granting him any actual authority.

Lee considered the man something of a grasping jackass deserving of little respect and pointedly ignored Patton for months until realizing the pompous Lower Californian may be good for something after all.

Summoned to Lee’s command tent a week prior, the General confided, “Mr. Patton…I fear I am in need of a diplomat to smooth the way for an alliance…”

Naturally, the flattery fell on willing ears and Patton agreed to act as emissary to Diaz, carrying an “invitation to parlay”. The soldier pointedly had NOT informed the civilian of his plan to arrest Diaz upon arrival…or kill the bastard outright. Unfortunately, the plot fell apart as the colonial escorts apparently spotted the Columbian party preparing to charge onto the trail and seize the murderous bastards. Shots were fired and…well, fortunately no Columbians were killed outright but two young soldiers suffered mild injuries.

The botched ensnarement also allowed unnamed riders to escape west.

“An ambush?!” Patton blustered. “For God’s sake man, what were you…?”

“MR. PATTON,” Funston interrupted, gesturing towards the dozen bodies littering the canyon grounds, “Would you be SO KIND as to demonstrate WHICH of these men is Porfirio Diaz?”

Only by good fortune had the diplomat avoided injury and Patton spent precious moments attempting to halt the carnage. At least the man possesses a backbone, Lee conceded coldly.

More importantly, Patton possessed a keen intellect and, with Funston’s penetrating question, the “diplomat” grasped the truth. “You…you never intended to parlay with Diaz at all?!” He spat in renewed outrage. “You planned to kill him the entire time! You…used me to lure a man under flag of truce…”

“MR. Patton!” Funston interrupted, his temper matching the civilians. “WHICH OF THESE MEN IS PORFIRIO DIAZ?!”

His expression a mixture of disgust and open loathing, Patton shrugged, “None of them.”

Lee’s head jerked up. “Then he was one of the men who escaped?”

Sneering, the diplomat shook his head, “No, General. Diaz instead sent trusted subordinates, alcaldes and the like. For some reason, against my repeated entreaties, Diaz declined to place himself at risk until more certain of our nation’s intentions…”

Gesturing towards the dead Spanish rebels, he concluded, “I suppose he knows your intentions NOW, sir! And, be assured, the President, the Secretary of State…the entire world…will be informed of what happened here today!” At that George Patton stomped eastwards along the trail where a Columbian soldier held his mount’s reins. Snatching the bridle from the youth’s hands, Patton mounted, kicked the beast in the ribs and trotted east without another word.

“I fear we may have lost Mr. Patton’s services,” Lee commented, his voice dead. “And no doubt Diaz will be wary of “foreign alliances”. Our gambit has failed rather spectacularly.”

Though Lee considered the man a murdering bastard unworthy of civilized warfare, the General knew damned well Diaz’ arrest would have been received badly in some areas. Lee hoped to dispatch the man in chains to Philadelphia, escorted by dozens of eyewitnesses to his crimes. Even if some limp-spined Congressional Committee eventually felt obliged to release the man from captivity, Lee was certain the political situation would have changed enough in New Spain as to eliminate him as a threat. At best, the Columbian Army might seize control over Guadalajara and inspire an actual democratic government. At worst, it would be old warlord out of the way…new warlord in…and no real change.

Now, the self-styled diplomat was likely to shriek denunciations of Custis Lee throughout the corridors of power…and the apparently wily Diaz lived to fight another day, like a rat deserting a ship.

It was all rather depressing.

Worse, Lee would soon have to explain this dismal failure to Leonard Wood, who’d risked his own career by marching to support Lee rather than Seguin.

God, I hate this shithole of a country.
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