BURNISHED ROWS OF STEEL: A History of the Great War (Foreward)


BURNISHED ROWS OF STEEL: A History of the Great War
By T.F. Smith
Copyright (c) 2013-2014 by the author. All rights reserved.



The following is a work of fiction, and created primarily for entertainment value, both for the audience and the author. Anyone taking it too seriously will be asked to have a cold frosty one and enjoy life.

Having said that, I have tried to be true to the times in which this story is set, and to the individuals who are featured, as best that I can. I have also tried to source everything; if the inspiration for a particular turn of events is not clear, I will try and make it so to anyone who asks. Not everything used as inspiration occurred exactly as written, but the events so referenced were generally all within a reasonable time period – say, a professional man’s career – of two decades (either side) of the story that follows. No chiroptera need apply, as far as I can tell; others may differ. So be it, and – please – enjoy. To start, read the italicized material to yourself in slow time, to help set the stage:

….I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

- written by Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, as published in the Atlantic Monthly, Vol. IX, February, 1862.


The Prologue(s) – Dangerous is a people's voice when charged with wrath. (Aeschylus)


excerpt from Chapter 5, “Industrialization and the Shifting Global Balances, 1815-1885” in “The Rising Powers: Europe and the Americas in the Nineteenth Century” by Paula Kennedy, Random House, New York, 1987

….Americans on their homesteads or in the swiftly growing cities generally – other than the enslaved - enjoyed a higher standard of living, and of national output, relative to other countries. As early as 1800, wages had been about one-third higher than in Western Europe, and that superiority was to be preserved, if not increased, throughout the century. The young republic’s isolation from European power struggles, and the failures of the European powers other than Britain to maintain any significant holdings in the Western Hemisphere meant the only threat to the United States’ future prosperity could come either from within, or from Britain itself. Yet despite memories of the conflicts from 1775-83 and again from 1812-15, and border disputes in Maine and both the Old Northwest and the “new” Pacific Northwest, a third Anglo-American war was unlikely; the flow of British capital and manufactures toward the United States and the return flow of America raw materials – especially cotton – tied the two economies ever closer together and further stimulated American economic growth.

The result of all this was that even before the outbreak of the Civil War in April, 1861, the United States had become an economic giant, although its own distance from Europe – transatlantic passage of freight or passengers still routinely took two to four weeks, even by steamer – its concentration on internal development (rather than foreign trade), and the rugged and wide open frontiers partly disguised the fact. While the share of world manufacturing output from American factories and forges in 1860 was a little more than a third that of Britain’s (7.2 percent to 19.9 percent), the U.S. share had already surged past the German states (4.9 percent) and Russia (7 percent), and was on the point of overtaking France (7.9 percent), historically Britain’s great power rival. The United States, with only 40 percent of the population in 1860 of Russia, Britain’s most recent peer opponent in war, had an urban population more than twice as large, produced 830,000 tons of iron to Russia’s 350,000 tons, had an energy consumption from modern fuel sources (coal, lignite, oil) more than 15 times as large, and a railway mileage 30 times greater – the last three times greater than Britain’s.

Within another year, of course, the Civil War began to transform the amount of national resources which Americans devoted to military purposes. The immediate point that thoughtful men on both sides had to acknowledge was that – assuming willpower for a fight to the finish remained equal on either side – was the disproportion in resources and population. There was a great numerical imbalance between the loyal and rebel states; while the former contained a population of approximately 20 million whites, the Confederacy had only six million, along with (approximately) another three million blacks, mostly slaves. To put this into a “British Imperial” perspective, the population of the United Kingdom in the 1861 census was 29 million; that of the whole of British North America was 3.3 million, with 2.5 million in the Province of Canada. As the war continued, of course, the manpower pool the U.S. forces could draw upon increased with every step south their armies took; this included the recruitment of southern whites who adhered to the Union and, once the decision was made in 1862 to enlist black troops, both northern freemen and escaped slaves.

In terms of agriculture, in 1860 the United States both fed itself and exported large amounts of produce to Europe; all that production was available for the war effort, if necessary. In terms of industry, in 1860 the North possessed 110,000 manufacturing establishments to the South’s 18,000, many of which had relied on Northern technical expertise and skilled labor. The same year, the whole of what became the Confederacy produced only 36,700 tons of pig iron; Pennsylvania alone produced 580,000 tons. The value of goods manufactured in New York State alone in 1860 amounted to almost $300 million; this was more than four times the value of manufactured goods produced in Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, combined. This staggering disparity in the economic base of each belligerent steadily transformed itself into real military effectiveness.

For example, whereas the South could make few of its own small arms, instead relying heavily upon what was initially captured from the various federal forts and arsenals (roughly 100,000 modern firearms, a mix of rifles and muskets) - in 1861 and then what could be imported from Europe, the U.S. massively expanded weapons manufacturing, producing no less than 111,000 modern rifles in the national armories alone in the first 15 months of the war to add to the 440,000 long-arms already stockpiled. Another 62,000 modern rifles and carbines were purchased from private manufacturers in the North in the same period, and hundreds of thousands more were purchased and shipped from Europe, beginning as soon as hostilities broke out in April of 1861.

As another example, the North’s railway system – some 22,000 miles in length, and fanning out from the East Coast to the Mississippi River, across into Missouri and Iowa, northeast to Maine, north to the international borders, and northwest to Wisconsin – could be maintained and was even expanded during the war, as was, in fact, the production of agricultural products, munitions, and ship-building. Financially, while the Confederacy could sell cotton and borrow abroad, there was a surplus of cotton in storage in Europe in 1861, and newer sources, in Africa and Asia, were under development. In addition, the Confederacy’s reliance on export agriculture in the antebellum era left it with little in the way of economic infrastructure; there were few banks, little liquid capital, and little ability to produce specie; by contrast, the North, with the near limitless resources of the continent to draw upon, and the ability to raise funds through taxation and loans, could pay for the conflict, while the printing of federally-backed greenbacks in some ways stimulated further industrial and economic growth. By the end of the first year of conflict, U.S. soldiers were probably better fed and supplied than any army in history.

If there was going to be a particularly American approach to military conflict – an “American way of war,” to use Col. Weigley’s phase – then it was first forged here, in the Union’s huge mobilization of personnel and the deployment, under a centralized government with control of the treasury and thence the economy, of the nation’s massive industrial and technical potential for use against its foes...


Excerpt from the Introduction to Historia Virtua: Counterfactuals and Alternatives, by Nels Fredericksen, Macmillan Publishers Ltd, London,1997

…Still more fiercely antagonistic to counterfactualism was the English idealist philosopher Joseph M. Oakes. In Oakes’ view, when the historian ‘considers by a kind of ideal experiment what might have happened, as well as what the evidence obliges him to believe what did happen” he “steps outside the current of historical thought:”

The question in history is never what must, or what might have taken place, but solely what the evidence obliges us to conclude what did take place. If a given monarch had not been in power when conflict began across the Atlantic, it is possible that the differences there might or might not have led to war; but to conclude from this that George III, or Victoria, or someone else was an odd chance which at this point ‘altered’ the natural course of events is to have abandoned history for something less profitable if more entertaining…”

….However, in a chaotic world, where scientific determinism has been set aside, is counterfactualism truly “outside the current of historical thought?” Surely, from the historians’ point of view, can it not be asked if historical thought allows for considering the roads not taken? Of course, it is most important to consider which counterfactual question should be asked in the first place – because, of course, one of the strongest criticisms of the whole notion of alternative histories is that there is no limit to the number which we can consider.

Obviously, no sensible person wishes to know if in 1861, the entire population of London had suddenly sprouted wings. The need for plausibility – say, what if the entire population of London had been aware of the circumstances of the Prince Consort’s death in October, and the impact his loss had on the Queen, and how that influenced the decision-making of Palmerston and his cabinet during the crisis – is what makes a thoughtful counterfactual just that, and worth considering. Of course, this re-opens the larger issue, of whether the historian posing a counterfactual is raising a possibility that seemed plausible in the past. This was a point that Marc Bloch well understood:

To evaluate the probability of an event is to weigh its chances of taking place.


Secret History of the St. Alban’s Raid
From “The Vermonter” January, 1902
By The Editors

The secret history of the St. Alban’s Raid, as contained in the archives of the Confederate States of America, has never been published in THE VERMONTER. It forms a very interesting chapter in the history of the eventful raid on St. Alban’s, Oct. 19, 1861. This material is published in THE VERMONTER so our readers may know the raid was executed and planned by the Confederate government and its emissaries in British North America.

The only official CSA document relating to the St. Alban’s Raid appears below:

Confederate States of America
War Department
August 16, 1861

To Capt. John Hunt Morgan – You have been appointed to the Confederate States Army for special service. You will proceed by the route already indicated to you, with Lt. T. H. Morgan and such number of Kentuckians as you know can be entrusted with this mission, not exceeding twenty in number, and execute the enterprises that have been discussed in previous communications. You will take care to organize within the territory of the enemy, to violate none of the neutrality laws, and to follow explicitly the instructions you have been given. You and your men will conduct themselves as soldiers, and will be recognized as such when the time comes. Remember the importance of this mission to our cause; the highest authority in our nation has ordered that this enterprise go forward.

LeRoy Pope Walker
Sec. of War


{From the editors}:

In the autumn of 1861, Leroy Pope Walker, Confederate secretary of war and an intimate of the Morgan brothers, ordered them north from then-“neutral” Kentucky to what was then British North America for the purpose of organizing raids into the Union states along the northern frontier. The purpose of the Confederate Government was to commit depredations on the northern border by a system of terrorism so as to as to call back U.S. troops to protect the loyal homes of this region, and by breaches of neutrality on the part of Great Britain so as to embroil that power and the United States in warfare and so to secure the independence of the Confederate States. The connection of this effort with the dispatch of envoys to Europe, including both the Court of St. James and Imperial France, is unclear, but the timing has been regarded as suspicious for more than four decades. Among the initial depredations planned was the raid upon St. Albans, the nearest place of any considerable size to the border in Vermont. The time selected for the raid upon St. Albans was Oct. 19, 1861.

Capt. J.H. Morgan was a Kentuckian by birth and because of the strange state of affairs in that state in the fall of 1861, he and a group of 10 of his kinsmen and neighbors, including his brother, Lt. Thomas H. Morgan, were able to travel north by train from Ohio to Detroit, where they crossed into Upper Canada, describing themselves variously as commercial travelers or hunters, and traveled by rail to Montreal. There, with the assistance of local allies, the 12 raiders purchased additional arms and ammunition, and Capt. Morgan and a scout left Montreal by train Oct. 10 for St. Albans. Upon their arrival in the village, they checked into the largest inn in the community; over the next few days, the remainder of the command, including Lt. Morgan, arrived in small groups, finding accommodations where they could and not congregating. These were all young men in their twenties; Capt. Morgan, at 36 and a veteran of the Mexican War, was the oldest. They were armed with revolvers and shotguns, and were well provided with ammunition.

The raiders robbed the Franklin County and St. Alban’s banks at gunpoint as soon as they opened; shots were exchanged between the raiders and the citizens, and Mr. Farrand Stewart Stranahan, a 19-year-old bank clerk, was shot and killed by Morgan. The banks were robbed of more than $180,000, and the raiders seized horses in the livery stables and on the streets and began their flight north toward the border. The fleeing raiders took the Sheldon Road after leaving Main Street, with a number of armed and mounted citizens in pursuit. An attempt to burn the highway bridge across Sheldon Creek was made, and the raiders crossed the Missisiqoi River at Enosburg Falls and succeeded in crossing the border at Frelighsburg, dispersing into the Canadian countryside. The American citizens in pursuit fell away when the raiders crossed the border, and none of the 12 were taken. Most escaped to Montreal, where they dispersed into the city. The subsequent history of the complaints, legal and diplomatic, lodged by the United States are well-known, and need not be repeated here.


Excerpt from Chapter 8, “The Lion Roars Back,” in “A World Aflame: The Anglo-American War” by Aaron Foreman, Random House, New York, 2010

“A cold, raw day,” William Howard Russell noted in his diary on November 16, 1861. “As I was writing,” he continued, “a friend of mine, who appears like a stormy petrel in moments of great storm, fluttered into my room and chirped out something about a `jolly row,’ – ‘seizure of Mason and Slidell,’ – ‘battle between a Yankee frigate and HMS Rinaldo’ – ‘British flag insulted,’ and the like.” Russell hastily grabbed his coat and ran into the streets of Washington City, where he bumped into the French (diplomatic) minister, Henri Mercier, coming from the direction of the British legation. “And then, indeed, I learned there was no doubt about the fact that [on November 8] there had been a naval action between the U.S. steamer San Jacinto (1,600 tons, 12 guns, and 240 men) and Rinaldo (1,400 tons, 17 guns, 180 men), that began when Captain Charles Wilkes, of the San Jacinto, had not only forcibly boarded the Trent, a British mail steamer, off the Bahamas, but had taken Messrs. Mason, Slidell [and their secretaries] Eustis, and Macfarland from on board by armed force, in defiance of the protests of the captain and naval officer in charge of the mails. It was unclear how the action between the two warships began, or who fired first, but Rinaldo’s captain, Commander William N. W. Hewett, was killed by a Yankee shot on the quarterdeck of his ship. The action left Hewett and 14 of her crew dead, with 39 wounded, and the battered warship at anchor at Havannah, with the Trent, which had towed her there, still alongside. The San Jacinto, for her part, was on her way to Boston with her prisoners. Quite the day; shades of Leopard and Chesapeake, or President and Little Belt! ‘What will “Pam” do?’ I thought…”


(to be continued)

Last edited:
This shows great promise. Will be watching. An Anglo American war caused by Confederate subterfuge...


Many thanks - there's a school of thought that is

This shows great promise. Will be watching. An Anglo American war caused by Confederate subterfuge...

Many thanks - there's a school of thought that the Mason-Slidell mission's choice of using a British-flagged ship actually was all about causing an incident, and the St. Albans Raid is basically historical, except being moved backward two years to the day...

I am trying to both provide enough PODs that a conflict could occur, and also not letting it degnerate into an a-historical walkover for any of the potential combatants.

Last edited:


Wait a Gol Durned minute here! Your geography sounds a bit scrambled. St. Albans is in Vermont, right? What's the Mississippi River doing there?:confused:
Shouldn't it be the Connecticut River, maybe? Or the Richileu River?
Please give us a map and explain things.


The Missisiqoi River, not the Mississippi

Wait a Gol Durned minute here! Your geography sounds a bit scrambled. St. Albans is in Vermont, right? What's the Mississippi River doing there?:confused: Shouldn't it be the Connecticut River, maybe? Or the Richileu River? Please give us a map and explain things.

The Mississiqoi runs east from Lake Champlain past St. Albans, and then (roughly) north and east into what is now the province of Quebec; the map is of the Mississiqoi watershed, but you can see the river, St. Albans, and the border:

Last edited:


BURNISHED ROWS OF STEEL: A History of the Great War (Chapter 1)

BURNISHED ROWS OF STEEL: A History of the Great War
By T.F. Smith
Copyright (c) 2013-2014 by the author. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1 – At Heaven’s Command

“Rule, Britannia!”

When Britain first, at Heaven's command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
"Britons never will be slaves."
- taken from The Works of James Thomson by James Thomson, Published 1763, Vol II, p. 191, which includes the entire original text of Alfred.

i. Fathers and Sons

“In Peace, Sons bury their Fathers. In War, Fathers bury their Sons.”

The Curragh, Ireland
October, 1861

There was a persistent drizzle across the Curragh, but the two men walking the muddy green heath 20 yards ahead of the two Guards officers were ignoring it. The older man of the leading pair, walking to the right, was wearing the service uniform of a colonel of the Grenadier Guards; the younger man to the left, the uniform of an ensign and lieutenant of the same regiment. Both were more than what their respective uniforms would suggest, and the conversation – argument, really – was not what two officers of their respective ranks should have ever engaged in publicly.

But they were not in public – not really.

There were roughly ten thousand men - British soldiers and Irish militia, infantry, cavalry, and artillery - camped on the 5,000-acre plain for the post-harvest autumn maneuvers, but as far as the quartet walking across the grass, they could have been on the far side of the world. Given the personages involved, there was an unseen bubble, created by decades of deference and centuries of tradition, that was impenetrable to lesser men.

The elder of the leading pair – who even though only 42, walked with the dignity of an older, wiser man - was furious. His voice, although intentionally pitched low, carried, penetrating to the two officers – both of them aides-de-camp, dispatched with their chief to protect him on what was supposed to have been a quiet and unofficial trip - walking at the requisite and respectful distance behind.

“– No pride!” the elder barked in impeccably enunciated English, with just the hint of a Continental accent, “You haff simply and horribly not one particle of pride.” The angrier he got, the more amused the younger officer became.

“But Father, – “he began, smiling and beginning to wave his hands in a vaguely proprietary manner. The "colonel" would have none of it.

“You are heading for perdition – that special perdition of the indolent, the uncaring, the foolish! To take up with such a creature – an Irishvoman – and an actress - at this point in your life, with someone like Alix in the offing,” said the father, slender but still seemingly looming over the son, all the while becoming even more exasperated.

“You mark what I say, you young devil – good God, your mother told me she never can, or shall, look at you without a shudder," the older man almost spat. 'I should take a whip to you, again, as if you were a little boy, for what you have done to your mother!”

The younger man, only 19, stood stock still. Generations of breeding, and years of discord between father and son, came boiling to the surface.

“I would suggest you try, sir,” he said hotly. “You may be my father, but I am the heir apparent, and I am an Englishman, and an officer of the Guards! You, German, you … I truly suggest you try!”

One of the two officers walking behind them, Capt. W.F.E. Seymour, Coldstream Guards, looked to his senior, Col. the Hon. H.H.M. Percy, CB, Grenadier Guards, and hissed:

“Good lord, colonel, the Prince just challenged his father to fight-“
“Shush, Seymour – we have no place in this...” the older man started.

The older man stood back and roared, in a voice that sounded as if it could have been heard at Curragh Camp.

“You impertinent whelp, I will beat you to - “ and then he stopped short, collapsing onto the heath. One hand was clapped to his forehead and the other digging into the turf, for just a moment, before becoming still. There was a low moan from the stricken man’s suddenly ashen lips, and then silence.

The young man in the lieutenant’s uniform stood stock still as the two Guards officers ran up to him.

“He has collapsed, gentlemen. Captain Seymour, I believe you should call for a doctor.”

Seymour turned to run toward the camp, as Percy dropped to his knees next to the man on the ground. As he turned, Seymour had a glimpse of the son’s face – it was absolutely blank.

And as Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and second in line to the throne, stared into the slate-grey Irish sky, raindrops were falling on the face and staring eyes of His Royal Highness, Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emanuel - the Prince Consort.

The Queen, Seymour thought as he ran. Oh my God, who will tell the Queen?


Bailey’s Crossroads, Maryland
November, 1861

The two boys looked out the open sides of the barouche, fairly jumping with excitement with the view that was ever expanding as the carriage's top was cranked down by a blue-clad attendant.

“Papa day, papa day, will de sojers be firing the big guns? The siege guns?” asked the younger, a slightly-built brunet who spoke with a lisp, even at age eight.

“’Pole, don’t be a woodenhead,” cut in the older boy, a sandy-haired 11-year-old who spoke with all the confident authority three years gave him over his younger brother. “They won’t fire the siege guns – it would break all the glass at Munson’s Hill. Besides, this is the field army – all they have are the light artillery, the 12 and 20 pounders. The really big guns are back in the camps…”

The tall man at the reins turned and smiled at his wife; even today, after almost two decades of marriage, she still had some of the china doll prettiness that had caught his eye when they first met.

“Well, Molly, it seems young Will is an artilleryman; perhaps I should talk with General Barry about an appointment to the military academy,” he started, grinning; the noontime sun, shining through a break in the clouds, cast his face into shadow under his hat brim, but his smile stood out bright and white.

“I shall have no boys of mine off to West Point for a career, my dear,” she said calmly, smiling back. “The law, or the diplomatic service - that is where our boys shall make their mark.”

The reviewing ground, two miles long, one mile broad, and nearly level, lay in the open fields between Munson’s Hill and Bailey’s Crossroads. Cavalry, artillery, and infantry covered the fields. No fences or buildings remained, and troops had filled the ditches with earth. For the review, some units had traveled 15 miles and had been on their feet for 13 hours with packs, ammunition, rations, and canteens, before arriving at their places in the reviewing column.

The troops included six divisions of infantry, with some 72 regiments between their 18 brigades; 24 batteries amounting to 120 guns; and six regiments of cavalry, a total of well more than 60,000 men. Upon arrival, the early brigades – from the divisions commanded by George A. McCall, Samuel P. Heintzelman, and William B. Franklin - had stood ankle-deep in mud waiting for the other units to take position.

The later arrivals – divisions commanded by Fitz John Porter, William F. Smith, and Irvin McDowell - swung from route march to march step, tramping into their places well dressed, well armed, and marching regularly, as the assembled bands played everything from “Hail, Columbia” to “Yankee Doodle.” Cavalry regiments with hundreds of troopers, artillery and caissons behind teams of their own, horsemen alongside and gunners both marching and mounted, came along, behind the infantry and interspersed among the marching divisions.

The vast majority wore variations of the Regulars’ blue uniform, although here and there was a regiment still in militia grey, along with a few in rifle green or the gaudy reds and blues of the zoauves; state and regimental flags, ranging from almost pure white to emerald green, flapped bravely in the breeze, and the national colors – red, white, and blue – snapped out boldly at the head of every regiment. This single assembly was the largest army as yet assembled on the North American continent, and yet even this force was less than half of the Army of the Potomac, and only about a tenth of the entire U.S. Army that had been raised since the spring.

“I have to admit, my dear, it is quite awe-inspiring,” the woman said quietly. “It saddens me that all this had to come about…”
“As do I, my darling; I see these boys in blue and I can only think of Bob…” the tall man began.

A tall, stern-looking man on horseback to the right of carriage, dressed in a black suit with a silver star on the lapel, rode forward, and broke in.

“My apologies, sir, but I believe the general is ready to begin; I think it is time for you to mount.”

“Very well, ‘Damon’ – seems like the boys out there demand my attention. Only fair; they’ve been waiting for us for a fair bit…Molly, I trust you will keep our boys under control; Nic can help, if need be,” the tall man said, nodding toward a younger one bringing a saddled horse forward from small group of mounted men, as the speaker climbed out of the carriage and handed the reins to a soldier. “Otherwise – you little wildcats will have to go back home.”

“Oh, no, papa,” the boys chimed in, practically in unison. “We’ll be good.”

“Of that I have no doubt, my dear,” their mother said. “This sort of thing is better than the theater to them.”

The president and commander in chief swung up into the saddle, doffed his hat to Mrs. Lincoln, and began riding the line, as the assembly – including Major General George B. McClellan, Secretary of War Simon Cameron, and Secretary of State William Seward – fell in behind him.

The first grand review - of the vanguard of the Army of the Potomac - was about to begin.


ii. These Mist Covered Mountains – Incident at Coaticook River Bridge

Coaticook River Valley,
Lower Canada (Canada East)
and Norton Mills, Vermont
December, 1861

The train shook as it rattled down the Grand Trunk (formerly the Atlantic and St. Lawrence) line from Coaticook toward Stanhope; at one point, the locomotive shuddered as it bulled through a snow drift, and the British officer sitting in one of the carriage’s padded seats almost tumbled across the gap into the Canadian militia officer’s lap.

“I say, Pope, quite extrawdinary railways you have here,” pronounced Lt. Col. George J. Peacocke, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 16th (The Bedfordshire) Regiment of Foot. “I mean, really…I know it is getting into winter, but we should have sent young Colley here ahead with a plow, what?”

The object of the colonel’s jest, Capt. George Pomeroy Colley, who wore the “Sphinx” insignia of the 2nd (Queen’s Royal) Regiment, offered a strained grin. “Quite right, colonel – we should have sent a plow forward before bringing the battalion down here from Montreal.”

“Especially with a fire-eater and student of war like yourself in charge, Colley, eh what?” interjected the colonel. “I mean, Pope, here he is at Staff College, half-way through what is supposed to be a two year course in five months, highest marks ever, so forth, and he comes to North America on his own as a volunteer aide.
Now of course, I came up the old fashioned way: purchased every rank from my lieutenancy to lieutenant colonel…but when Sir William assigned our student to me to come down and secure the railway, I said, Colley is quite the fire-eater, like those chappies the southerners, who started the whole thing down there with the cousins…all this nonsense about closing it at Standish, or whatever you call it…glad to have him along.”

Capt. John Henry Pope, farmer, lumberman, mine owner, and member of the Canadian provincial parliament, was one of the wealthier men in the Eastern Townships, and so was of interest to any British officer. To an undistinguished lieutenant colonel like George Peacocke, who - absent promotion - faced nothing but half-pay for years after his current command, Pope was someone to cultivate – especially in his role as captain of the Cookshire Troop of Volunteer Militia Cavalry. The Troop, or at least the 40 or so men that Pope could muster at short notice earlier this morning when Colley and a detachment of 220 men from Pope’s battalion had come into Sherbrooke on a special train from fresh from Montreal, were riding along with the British infantry. The train, made up of a pair each of passenger and freight cars rattling along behind the locomotive, had been given the right-of-way over the regular passenger and freights that normally ran the line from Portland to Montreal. Pope, who knew something about railways, looked at the younger British officer with some interest, but spoke to the senior.

“Stanhope, sir, the station is called Stanhope. And it was supposed to be closed at Norton, which is the station south of the border,” Pope said. “At any rate, the Portland gauge normally would give a steadier ride, especially on ‘frost heaves,’ when wet soil swells when it freezes – that produces an uneven running surface and a rocking motion as the train moves past. The wide wheelbase offers a steadier ride, with less wear and tear on machinery and the roadbed. The wide gauge locomotives, like the Boston 4-4-0 we have today, are more capable for plowing snow, even when burning wood – both of which we have in abundance in the Eastern Townships.”

Pope gestured outside, through the frost-rimmed windows at the mixed landscape of farmland and woods, all frosted with snow, and with the wooded hills – mostly obscured by fog and gray clouds - looming above the valley.

“Ah, yes, quite – quite the set of mist covered mountains you have here in Canada, don’t you? Reminds me of the lowlands of Scotland,” Peacocke said. “I say, that reminds me of a time I was at Fort William –“

Peacocke’s story, whatever it was, ended suddenly, first in darkness as the locomotive plunged into the shadow of a covered bridge and then out again into the daylight. The train slowed with a jolt, as the crew applied the brakes. The train slid to a stop, with steam puffing from the locomotive in great gouts. Pope looked out the window and saw the locomotive and the leading passenger car were actually out of the bridge, while the other passenger car and a freight car were half-in and half-out, and the last boxcar was still north of the bridge entirely

“Ah, blast – we’re blown right past Stanhope and we’re into Norton Mills,” the Canadian said. “Damn it all, this is not a good thing.”

Officers and men were stirring, looking out the windows of the car and trying to wipe away the frost from the inside.

“What’s wrong, captain?” Colley asked, more urgently than Pope had seen him before. “Why is this stop concerning you-“

“We’re in the United States, captain,” Pope said. “The Coaticook River Bridge is the border. We’re in Vermont, and after that business in St. Alban’s on October, the Vermonters are in an uproar.”

“Well, bloody hell, WE’RE in an uproar over what the Yankees did to Rinaldo,” Peacocke interjected. “They have nothing to be-“

They heard some shouting and yelling from the locomotive, and then the unmistakable sound of a pistol shot.

“Everyone out – officers, muster your men,” Peacocke was shouting, as soldiers started throwing open the doors to the carriages. British infantry and dismounted Canadian cavalry tumbled out into the muddy snow alongside the railway right-of-way, all the while trying to prevent tangling the Bedfordshires’ Enfields with the militiamens' short carbines.

Pope found himself next to Colley, each with a hand on their revolvers, trying to sort things out; as the men from the leading cars formed up into squads and sections, those from the rearward cars sidled through the bridge, squeezing past the carriages and the closed-in sidewalls of the covered bridge. In the open field, as Pope shoved of couple of gawking militiaman into line, the Canadian looked across the snow-covered field they found themselves standing in, next to the berm where the train stood and the locomotive steamed.

A single officer in a dark blue greatcoat and highly-polished boots stood hatless on the berm, a few feet to the left of the locomotive, looking toward the cab; he was holstering a revolver. A long block of trimmed logs, carefully pegged together into an abatis, closed the road. Pope could see the glint of rifles and muskets in a semi-circle along the tree line to the east of the field, even as the soldiers from the train were falling into ranks.

“Bloody hell, I told Galt I didn’t want our Cookshire boys be thrown into the hands of some half-witted retired officer of the Army, or some pampered Frenchman, or some old fogy like your Colonel, Captain Colley,” he said bitterly. “He’s run us right into the United States.”

“I’d say the damned locomotive driver has done that, Pope,” the Briton responded, frost hanging in the air as he spoke. “Let’s see what the colonel does with this Yankee.”

Peacocke was walking forward, face flushed brick red, almost matching his uniform tunic, only half-hidden beneath his hastily-buttoned gray greatcoat.

“What is the meaning of this-“ Peacocke started.

The American, thin, almost gaunt, clean-shaven but with a shock of white hair and startlingly dark black eyebrows, raised his hand.

“Sir, I am Brigadier General Alonzo Jackman of the Vermont State Militia; you have crossed the border into Vermont without permission. After what happened at St. Albans, Governor Fairbanks ordered me to close the roads, including the Atlantic and St. Lawrence, and so we have done thus,” the American officer said. “I have the Third Regiment of Vermont State Militia, Col. Blanchard commanding, in the trees on both sides of your train. I suggest your order your men to put down their arms and – “

Peacocke started to bluster:

“Brigadier General? Of Vermont? Who are you to fire a shot to stop this train? By Gawd, I’ll have you-“ but the British colonel's argument ended abruptly as slipped on the wet slope of the berm, going head over heels. After sliding down the scree-strewn slope, Peacocke slithered into the field where his troops were floundering into line in the snow.

There was a sudden silence, and then a shot was fired from the crowd of British infantry and Canadian militia where Peacocke had slipped; the American officer, overlooking them all from the railway berm, collapsed slowly to his knees.

There was silence for a moment, then a babble of voices from the woods all around the train, and then a shot was fired from the tree line. Then another, and another, and then a rippling volley of rifle fire and musketry that took the redcoats and militiamen from all sides; men threw up their hands or fell into the snow, officers and enlisted alike; Peacocke, who had struggled to his feet, was hit in the leg and collapsed again into the mire.

A few of those hit thrashed in the muddy snow, now crossed with bright red streaks of blood, while others lay still; a British sergeant shouted over the din to “fire” and a ragged volley came from the Bedfordshires, aimed blindly into the woods; that brought another burst of gunfire from the trees, more selective now in its targets, before dying away again.

Colley found himself standing hatless and with smoke curling from a suddnely empty revolver.

Pope lay before him, face upward, taking in his breath in convulsive, rattling snorts, and blowing it out in sputters of froth which crawled creamily down his cheeks, piling itself alongside his neck and ears, and slowly congealing in the cold. A bullet had clipped a groove in his skull, above the temple; from this the brain protruded in bosses, dropping off in flakes and strings. The Canadian looked up at him and groaned.

“Cease fire, cease fire,” came a strong voice from the berm above, that carried even over the moans of the wounded. One young English voice was crying out “mama, mama,” while a Canadian was cursing strongly and repeatedly in French.

Colley holstered his revolver and looked up toward the berm. The American officer, Jackman, was looking down at him, leaning on another American, wearing plain farmer’s garb and a wool cap, a long Hawken rifle in one hand.

“Do you surrender, sir?” the American shouted down at him.

“Surrender? Yes, I suppose so…I suppose we must," the Briton replied, not quite believing what he was saying.

And with that, the first of many actions that would follow between the armies of the United States and the British Empire came to an abrupt end.

Within fifteen minutes of the train stopping, most of the British and Canadian officers had been killed or wounded, and the nature of the ground, with the train halfway across the covered bridge, the icy creek to one side, and the open field to another, left the British and Canadians unable to move and lined up like deer in a meadow.

In a battle lasting just fifteen minutes, 156 British and Canadian soldiers were killed or wounded, with the rest taken prisoner. Reported American casualties were only two killed and five wounded. The unwounded Canadians - after being relieved of their weapons - had been released on the authority of Vermont Gov. Erastus Fairbanks, to return to their homes shortly after the incident; the wounded British and Canadians and all the British prisoners has been moved to Northfield, where they were held on the campus of Norwich College, the same institution where Jackman taught military science and civil engineering. Their guards included the Norwich cadet company, now mustered into the Vermont militia and armed with the same Enfields the Bedfordshires had carried into action.

The wounded were housed in the college's informary, with surgeons and orderlies from the militia and the University of Vermont's Medical College in attendance. Peacocke, who had broken an ankle and was himself shot twice during the fight, died on the 26th of December, following the amputation of one of his legs. Jackman, whose wounded arm had become septic, died the next day. Both men were buried in the Northfield graveyard, with an honor guard of Norwich cadets in attendance.

They would not be the last to die.

Last edited:
Yes, one american casualty for every 30 of other is pretty much the way i expect this timeline to go. How awesomely predictable this is going to be.
Yes, one american casualty for every 30 of other is pretty much the way i expect this timeline to go. How awesomely predictable this is going to be.

They got caught In the open near a river bank by entrenched Militia, if they battled on the open field I'm sure the Imperial Forces would have won, Given the likely disparity in training of the Vermont Militia. Please continue Sir. :)


Thanks for the response; this is actually drawn from history

Yes, one american casualty for every 30 of other is pretty much the way i expect this timeline to go. How awesomely predictable this is going to be.

Thanks for the response; I understand your point, but in its defense, this is actually inspired by Bronkhorstspruit, (historically) some 19 years to the day, practically.



I changed the circumstances to reflect the climate and available technology, of course; but given the "early" St. Albans Raid, the historical reaction to that in the US, and the general liklihood of incidents any time a border is militarized, it hardly seemed unlikely something like the "Incident at Coaticook Creek Bridge" could happen.

It is worth considering a couple of other points; one, the present day US-Canadian border is full of these sorts of geographic oddities - look up Derby Line, Vermont, for one of them. I thought about siting it there, but Norton Mills-Stanhope made more sense because I could introduce the railroads as something worth keeping in mind. The 1st/16th was one of the first battalions to reach BNA from the UK after the (historical) Trent affair; as it was, it was the only one to actually make it up river to Quebec before the ice closed the port, and one company actually was left aboard ship because the weather closed in so quickly.

But here the Bedfordshires moved from England to Quebec by sea and to Montreal and then the Vermont border by rail, all in less than a month; this is a major difference with the conflicts British troops historically found themselves in during the 1840-80 period, which is my limit for historical incidents being re-packaged - other than the examples of conflct in the Americas generally.

I figured Capt. Colley would be a giveaway, actually.

The other element I wanted to bring in here is that the US remains a federation in 1861, and each state - even the loyal states - had a significant amount of agency, aside from the national government. BG Jackman is a very real - and interesting figure (I have some of his papers), as is Gov. Fairbanks.

And, for that matter, are both British officers and Capt. Pope; his quote about the military leadership available to the militia in 1861 is historical; his death is fictional of course, but taken from an eyewitness account of something very similar in 1862 - and who the witness was is hinted at by the section's title. Also figured after reporting the death and bloodshed aboard Rinaldo second hand in the first section, I figured something a little more immediate was appropriate here, but also that I could not improve on the original author...

At any rate, thank you for reading. As I stated in the foreward, I am trying to be "fair" to all sides, and if an American disaster is your sine qua non for that, trust me, they will come. This isn't even officially a war, yet.

Last edited:


They got caught in the open near a river bank

They got caught In the open near a river bank by entrenched Militia, if they battled on the open field I'm sure the Imperial Forces would have won, Given the likely disparity in training of the Vermont Militia. Please continue Sir. :)

Thank you for the encouragement; I am doing this for the entertainment value, so I appreciate the response. Nice to know someone is reading.

As I outlined above, this is based on Bronkhorstspruit, with some elements changed to reflect the circumstances of North America in 1861, rather than South Africa in 1880, but given that the first SA war transpired as it did, I don't think I'm into unbelievable terrritory here.

Along with being caught in the open near a river bank by entrenched militia, as you point out, the Bedfordshires and Cookshires also:

a) were in lousy weather;
b) had bad intelligence and no knowledge of the terrain by the British commander;
c) were dependent on civilian transport (with unstated loyalties among the operators);
d) got caught detraining;
e) were caught between the bridge structure, the river bank, and the berm for the railway; basically they were in bowl, with topographic or structural obstacles on three sides.

As far as the Vermont militia goes, although they are not the equal of ANY regulars or active volunteers on the offensive, they are on their own home ground and quite capable on the defensive - and worth remembering that by December, 1861 the US has been at war for nine months, so not only is the militia taken seriously, there are veterans (from the first 75,000 90-day enlistments) available for cadre, as officers and ncos. Vermont is also a pretty rural state (especially northern Vermont, and especially in 1861) so handiness with firearms would be fairly widespread. I thought mentioning the Hawken was a way to acknowledge that.

And along with all that, the militia did have its share of experienced officers; Alonzo Jackman had served in the Vermont and/or New Hampshire militia from 1838 onward, as well as teaching military science at Norwich; for an amatuer and non-West Pointer, he was very experienced and well-trained.



Last edited:
I don't normally read things with multiple PoDs, as they seem a bit too convenient for me. For Edward to manage to distress Albert so greatly, and for this incident to take place as well… colour me sceptical of its probability. {edit} That is to say, the probability of both those PoDs happening. I do understand that you'd need something quite extreme to overcome the very good reasons why neither government wanted a war with the other, and I certainly don't mean to imply that this timeline contains any "chiroptera".

Still, judging by what you've written elsewhere on the site (such as in the thread on the Trent war, which makes me almost certain how this war is going to end) and how knowledgeable you evidently are on this subject, I've subscribed.

And by the way, this is very well-written. It's a small thing but it makes a good first impression.
Last edited:


How far are you planning on taking this?

How far are you planning on taking this? Good start.

Detailed to the end of the conflict, but I have not plotted everything out - I have an outline into the middle of 1862, so far.

After that, probably just a few "updates" for fun, but if you read the "prologues" closely, you can figure out a few things.

Thanks for the kind words and the encouragement.



Thanks for the response; my thoughts on the PODs is

I don't normally read things with multiple PoDs, as they seem a bit too convenient for me. For Edward to manage to distress Albert so greatly, and for this incident to take place as well… colour me sceptical of its probability. {edit} That is to say, the probability of both those PoDs happening. I do understand that you'd need something quite extreme to overcome the very good reasons why neither government wanted a war with the other, and I certainly don't mean to imply that this timeline contains any "chiroptera".

Still, judging by what you've written elsewhere on the site (such as in the thread on the Trent war, which makes me almost certain how this war is going to end) and how knowledgeable you evidently are on this subject, I've subscribed.

And by the way, this is very well-written. It's a small thing but it makes a good first impression.

Thanks for the response; my thoughts on the PODs is that as you say, it would have taken much more than "one" incident for either the UK and US to go to war in the 1860s, so I thought about what - reasonably - would have been required to happen before a sustained conflict. In that sense, I think it demonstates - somewhat - how much would have to go "wrong" for the war to expand. The single "Trent Affair" or "Laird Rams" type PODs are far too little, I think...

This is what I came up with:

1) Albert (and Victoria) appear to have played a real roll as a "governor" or "brake" on British foreign policy during this period; if the Prince Consort dies "early" (in October, for example) it means he can not perform that role. Having his death stemming from something that will further estrange Edward and Victoria, and - if the circumstances of Edward's involvement with Nellie Clifden come out - the incident would presumably lead to Victoria's withdrawal from public life and also cause some damage to the royal family's reputation and ability to offer advice and direction, in a general sense;

2) This, in turn, would have some impact on how Palmerston and the rest of the cabinet react to any foreign provocations, including whatever stems from the war in North America;

3) The St. Albans' Raid is essentially close to historical, except being moved up in time; given that the CSA "raiders" were specifically charged with trying to provoke hostilities on the northern border, and that there is a school of thought that some of the decisions regarding the Mason-Slidell mission were as well, it seemed within the realm of possibility these operations might make more sense as a single effort;

4) The Trent Affair, of course, is of course, recast; again, not out of the realm of possibility that Hewett, who seems to have been something of a southern sympathizer (he ended up captain of a blockade runner) would be likely to take action in the event Rinaldo came across San Jacinto and Trent; the problem is that Wilkes was equally a fire-eater, and from there, a President-Little Belt or Leopard-Chesapeake incident is well within the realm of the possible.

5) The Coaticook Bridge incident is just one more brand on the fire; without the St. Albans Raid in 1861, AND the Rinaldo-San Jacinto Affair, it never would have come about.

As far as how it moves forward, I understand your point - but some developments may surprise you.

Thanks for the interest, and the compliment on the writing.

Last edited:


Many thanks - hope to have the end of chapter 1 up

You Sir have caught my attention.

I will be very interested to see more.


Many thanks - anything in particular of interest?

I hope to have the end of chapter 1 up by the end of the day tomorrow. That will move through December, 1861, and into January, 1862.

Thanks for the response; my thoughts on the PODs is that as you say, it would have taken much more than "one" incident for either the UK and US to go to war in the 1860s, so I thought about what - reasonably - would have been required to happen before a sustained conflict. In that sense, I think it demonstates - somewhat - how much would have to go "wrong" for the war to expand. The single "Trent Affair" or "Laird Rams" type PODs are far too little, I think...
The Liard Rams though have the benefit of being late enough that the Union has fully mobilized and crippled the Confederacy by capturing Vicksburg and defeating Lee at Gettysburg. Furthermore with the Polish uprising, the international climate is simply more favorable for the war to spread in '63. In contrast, an early '62 intervention by the U.K and France just leads to the U.S. getting it's ass kicked.