The Dead Skunk

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Lycaon pictus, May 7, 2011.

  1. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    “There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market, and from its fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half our inhabitants.”
    -Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to U.S. Minister to France Robert R. Livingston, April 18, 1802

    December 23, 1814
    About 3:45 a.m.
    Bayou Mazant
    The moon was just about full, and after what seemed like days of dismal weather the sky was at last clear. But the trees, heavy with vines and Spanish moss, blocked out most of the heavens. The bayou, and the path that led from it, were a winding thread of dim gray light that ran through absolute darkness.

    Major General John Keane watched as his men disembarked. They moved in single file, walking carefully from one barge to the next until they set foot on the shore, then going down the path far enough to make room for their comrades. It would have been so much easier if only they could have risked a light, but everything depended on secrecy and surprise.

    He shivered. Even in winter, southern Louisiana had no business being this cold.

    And then the queue stopped moving. General Keane made his way forward, trying to keep his feet on firm ground. As he neared the front, he became aware of a horrible smell, like burning rotten eggs. He wasn’t the only one — all the soldiers up here were making faces and muttering their revulsion.

    The man at the head of the queue couldn’t have been more than eighteen. He was doubled over, holding his nose.

    “Lt. Gleig, 85th Regiment of Foot,” he said, barely getting the words out. His eyes were watering. He pointed to something in front of him. “Watch out, sir. There’s a skunk just up ahead.”

    Keane had heard of the animals, but never seen one. The white stripes down its back shone in the darkness. It stood its ground in front of the whole army, obviously with no fear of man. (And though it couldn’t know why, it was right — shooting it right now would give everything away.)

    Nonetheless, if this was the worst it could do, his men could endure it. Keane was about to order the army to defy the beast and keep walking, when something happened that made the matter moot. Something he couldn’t hear and almost couldn’t see swooped out of the sky, landed on the skunk and struck it in the back of the neck. The skunk squealed and struggled. Its enemy fought to stay on top, the pale underside of its wings flashing in the moonlight. Those wings were easily four feet wide. After about ten seconds, the beast fell insensible to the ground and the bird began to eat. Keane ordered the march to resume.

    The killer proved less trouble than its prey. When the soldiers walked close by, it hooted angrily at them and flew off into the night.

    * * *
    About 11:00 a.m.
    Near Villeré’s plantation
    Over seven sleepless hours later, General Keane now found himself looking at another dead animal in the woods. This one was a dog which had once belonged to Major Villeré of the Louisiana militia. They had captured him — on his own front porch, no less — and when he made a run for it, his dog had run innocently after him, barking the whole way. Then, somewhere behind a big live oak, it had stopped barking. Villeré had silenced it permanently.

    “In a couple of hours, the Yankees will know we’re here,” said Colonel William Thornton. “I recommend we strike now, sir. We’re not far from New Orleans — we can march there today.”

    “To face what exactly?” said Keane. “This Andrew Jackson has a fearsome reputation, and we don’t know how many men he has with him.”

    “Surely you can’t believe what the deserters are saying.” The few Americans Keane had caught were claiming Jackson had anywhere from fifteen to twenty thousand mean.

    “Cousin Jonathan can’t possibly have organized that many men and brought them out here so quickly,” Thornton continued. “And think about it — if Jackson was that certain of victory, why would anyone desert him in the first place?”

    “At present, we only have 1,800 men here ourselves.”

    “And so? The dirty-shirts can shoot as well as anyone, but they have no staying power — we saw that at Bladensburg. If we attack them before they’re ready, they’ll scatter like field mice.”

    Keane was about to point out that events went otherwise at Baltimore, but then he remembered that Baltimore was a well-defended city near the heart of American power, such as it was. New Orleans, to the Yankees, was more along the lines of a distant but valuable outpost.

    He found himself thinking of what he’d seen last night. The skunk, fearless with what seemed to be a perfect natural defense against other animals (poor Gleig still hadn’t had a chance to get himself cleaned up properly) had been surprised and killed by a sudden and unexpected attack from some sort of large owl.

    Keane was a cautious man by nature, and he certainly didn’t think of himself as the sort of man to see omens in the flights of birds… but it occurred to him that under certain circumstance, moving quickly and decisively was the best possible precaution. This might be a case where valor was the better part of discretion. In any event, if Jackson did have as big an army as the deserters were claiming, he could squash Keane’s little strike force flat, and he could do it as easily here as in New Orleans.

    And if not… the British force might just capture the city in one fell swoop.

    “Very well, Thornton,” said the general. “You’ve convinced me.” He turned to go, brushing a curtain of moss out of his way. “We march.”
    Last edited: May 30, 2011
  2. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    At least part of General Jackson’s dismal reputation stems from the fact that the people who remember him most vividly — the Creeks of Florida and the Creoles of Louisiana — suffered most from his actions. To them, he was a vicious yeoman and a treacherous butcher who treated his allies worse than his enemies. Yet his friends and Army rivals invariably describe him in their memoirs as a man of determination, great bravery, and, above all, intense personal honor…
    Charles Cerniglia, The War of 1812

    About 2:30 p.m.
    New Orleans

    Keane crouched behind the wall of the house. It wasn’t one of the fine houses of New Orleans — it was in fact little more than the average frontier shack — but it kept him well hidden from enemy fire. Those Yankee riflemen were too bloody good, and there were a dozen red-coated dead bodies around him to prove it.

    It was hard for him to believe that as savage as this battle was, he was winning. But Jackson couldn’t have had more than an hour’s worth of warning. Only an hour in which to get his field guns and soldiers into position in a city where the streets were clogged with civilians trying to flee.

    And luckily, the city was a nice, neat grid. If one street was blocked by a field-piece and sharpshooters firing from windows, another would do just as well. A good-sized chunk of Cousin Jonathan’s force was holed up in Fort Charles, at the southeastern tip of the city, and now effectively under siege.

    From somewhere around the corner came Colonel Thornton’s voice. “You can come out now, General!”

    Keane did. Thornton was standing fearlessly in the middle of the street amid drifting clouds of gunsmoke. The soldiers around him were triumphantly cleaning the blood off their bayonets.

    “The thing about rifles,” said the colonel smugly, “is that in a fight, they take rather a long time to reload.”

    “Well done, Colonel,” said Keane. “How goes the rest of the battle?”

    “We hold the eastern half of the city. Didn’t I say this would happen, sir?”

    “You did indeed, Colonel,” said Keane. “You may have also said some things concerning field mice, but I choose to forget…” He paused. “Do you smell smoke?”

    As soon as he said it, he realized it was a foolish thing to say. Gunsmoke hung over the city like fog. But woodsmoke had a different scent, and Keane was very sure he had just smelled it. Either a lot of people had chosen to cook an early supper in the middle of a battle, or… Now that Keane looked again, the smoke drifting in from the west seemed a lot thicker.

    Then, from the middle of the smoke, came new noises. Gunfire. Angry shouts in French. Cries of “Treason!” in American accents. Keane had no idea what was happening over there, but it sounded promising. He ordered the men to get back into formation and be ready to advance.

    After about a minute, a man emerged from the smoke. Keane saw the white flag he was holding before he saw the man’s face.

    “Dussau de la Croix, of the New Orleans Committee of Public Safety,” said the man with the white flag. Keane repressed a shudder at the Jacobinesque title. The city was a notorious hive of Bonapartism and revolutionary sentiment.

    “Have you come to surrender?”

    “To hell with that — we’ve come to join you. I speak for the Louisiana militia and the local volunteers.” He spat. “That cochon Jackson is trying to burn down our city.”

    Of course. It would be like Jackson to torch this place rather than let it fall into British hands. What he’d forgotten, or more likely not cared about, was that New Orleans wasn’t Boston or Philadelphia. It was still relatively new to the United States, and the loyalty of its people was… conditional. They were not prepared to see their lives or fortunes sacrificed on the altar of other men’s freedom.
    * * *
    About 2:45 p.m.
    A half-dozen Louisiana militiamen huddled around the doorway of a burning house, pointing their muskets through it. They all fired at once.

    Then they backed away from the door. A pale, skinny figure in a smoke-stained uniform emerged, bleeding from a dozen places. He fell to his knees.

    One of the militiamen, cutlass in hand, approached cautiously — but not cautiously enough. He didn’t see the tension in the pale man’s arms, or the rage in his eyes, until the man’s bayonet stabbed upward and slashed through the femoral artery of the militiaman. The militiaman was already dying as he brought his cutlass down on the pale man’s neck.

    The rest of them kept out of slashing distance until they were quite sure that General Andrew Jackson was dead.
    * * *
    About 8:00 p.m.
    “This I had to see for myself,” said Sir Edward Michael Pakenham as he looked around him.

    “I said I’d spend Christmas in New Orleans,” said Admiral Cochrane, “and I damned well will. How goes the fight?”

    “The city is secure, and the fires are out,” said Keane. “The American General Coffee got here just in time to lead what was left of the defenders out of the city. All that remains is to secure Fort St. Philip and the rest.”

    “Do we have any prisoners?” said Pakenham.

    “We do. We’re keeping them with General Carroll in Fort St. Charles. It makes as good a prison as any, and it keeps them safe from the locals.”

    “One more thing remains to be done, then,” said Cochrane. “We must write forthwith to His Majesty’s government, tell them what we’ve done and urge them to formalize it with their blessing. The whole territory, including this city, belonged to Spain until Napoleon seized it and sold it to Cousin Jonathan to sustain his war on us. In my letter I shall propose to the Earl of Liverpool that he purchase New Orleans from the legitimate government of Spain. And to buy Florida while he’s about it, for I intend to take it next.” The Yankees had killed Alexander Cochrane’s brother at Yorktown. To him, this whole war was one long opportunity to take the maximum amount of revenge.
    * * *
    The next day, on the other side of the Atlantic, British and American representatives signed the Treaty of Ghent.
    Last edited: May 30, 2011
  3. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    This is my first TL. I debated whether it should go here or in the Writer's Forum, but I decided that since it wouldn't be permanently focused on any one storyline, it belonged here.

    I have a general idea of how things should go as far as 1860. After that, God only knows.

    I'll be following very strict rules when it comes to people born after the PoD. Anyone born after 12/31/1815 in North America, 6/30/1816 in Europe or 12/31/1816 anywhere else in the world IOTL won't exist ITTL. That gives the butterflies plenty of time to fly up into everybody's gonads (ow).

    I'll try to post updates once a week.
  4. twovultures Best leagues are NFL, FIFA, and Shmalkaldic

    Apr 24, 2010
    As your original quote pointed out, a British controlled New Orleans is going to be a significant issue for the US. And for that matter, a hostile Cuba can really mess things up for the British New Orleans. This is definitely interesting.
    SomeFollowTheStars likes this.
  5. Swan Station Under a hatch

  6. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    Glad you like it. I haven't quite sorted out all the butterflies in the Caribbean and Latin America, but… with bases in New Orleans, Florida, Belize, Jamaica, the Bahamas and the Caymans, the British have Cuba pretty well surrounded. Which puts them in a much better position to fight the slave trade. The Cuban sugar planters will be very unhappy.

    (Ironically, according to my research the Africans rescued from slave ships by the British in the Caribbean were turned over to a court in Havana, which was supposed to set them free but generally didn't.)
  7. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    The U.S. government’s reaction to the fall of New Orleans could best be described as “panicked.” Between the defeats suffered on the upper Mississippi and the loss of this vital port, the young nation was in imminent danger of losing the entire west, and its future with it.
    Madison urged Crawford to mobilize as many regiments as humanly possible, but there was only so much he could do with the whole continent in the grip of winter. Scott and Gaines were still recovering from their wounds, and Brown was busy in Sackett’s Harbor, far to the north. The hope of the republic rested with the man on the spot, General John Coffee.

    Charles Cerniglia, The War of 1812
  8. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    On January 2, the British Army, some eleven thousand strong, marched forth from New Orleans under the command of Major General Pakenham to secure the territory of Louisiana. Only the 44th Regiment remained to hold the city, along with the newly loyal city militia.
    The very next day Pakenham encountered what was left of General Coffee’s command at LaPlace. That day, 86 Americans and 51 British soldiers were killed, and Coffee was forced to retreat.
    After LaPlace, Pakenham divided his force. Major General Gibbs went northeast with the 4th, the 21st Fusiliers and the 1st and 5th West Indian regiments, and routed what was left of the pro-American Louisiana militia at Manchac Crossing. Pakenham, with the rest of the force, drove Coffee back from Istrouma Hill, then from St. Francisville, then from Wilkinburg, seizing Fort Adams. By this time, the American general was desperate enough to try just about anything.
    (It must be understood that by the standards of the Second Thirty Years’ War, all four of these “battles,” in which only two or three dozen men on either side were killed or wounded, barely qualified as skirmishes. Even the four-day stalemate at the Pearl River which halted Gibbs’s advance ended with fewer than five hundred casualties total. It is to these engagements that Natchez should properly be compared, rather than to later battles such as Merrymeeting Bay or Roxbury.)​

    Charles Cerniglia, The War of 1812
  9. Art Well-Known Member

    May 14, 2009
    Los Angeles, California

    British control of New Orleans cannot be tolerated! It WILL NOT be allowed to happen! You have created a scenario in which Britain has territory which America wants. It will have to have a permanent garrison at New Orleans, in territory which is more and more American settled. This will NOT end well . . . Britain has just thrown an American alliance out the window for the next 150 years.
  10. Grimm Reaper Desperate But Not Serious

    Alas the British have signed the Treaty of Ghent specifically returning the borders to their pre-war state and ending the war so New Orleans will be back in US hands in short order.

    My best wishes to the New Orleans Committee of Public Safety on their sudden emigration outside the United States.:D

    Of course, if the British decide not to honor the treaty of Ghent then the war continues and one hopes that not too many more British soldiers will not be in Louisiana or Florida or Canada or...lest there be some massive butterflies following Napoleon's victory at at Waterloo.:eek:
  11. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    January 16, 1815
    About 10:15 a.m.
    Natchez, Mississippi Territory

    The hill just southwest of Natchez was a little over a mile wide at its base. It was covered with pine trees and a dusting of snow, with a taste in the air of more snow to some. It was, Brigadier General John Coffee reflected, a good enough hill to die on… if it came to that.

    The ground was too frozen to dig a proper trench, and Fort Rosalie wasn’t much of a fort anymore, so he’d set up a barricade along the crest of the hill. It started at the river and zigzagged northwest to southeast for about six thousand feet.

    His men weren’t trained military engineers and they’d had barely a week to build it, and it showed. It was nowhere more than six feet high, and made of saplings and branches as much as big trees. It was more a barrier to the eye than to anything else.

    The British knew he was there, of course. What they didn’t know — or so Coffee hoped — was that the 39th Infantry had arrived two days ago under Colonel John Williams, along with a fresh regiment of Tennessee militiamen under Colonel Benton. Coffee had ordered both regiments to stay low and out of sight below the crest of the hill.

    By all accounts, Pakenham was moving quickly, with little time to scout ahead. There were not many people around (even the Choctaws were thin on the ground in these parts) to spy on Coffee’s army. There was a decent chance the Americans could take the enemy by surprise… especially if Pakenham was kind enough to be overconfident.

    God knows he’s got reason to be, thought Coffee. The war hadn’t gone well for the United States at all, even before New Orleans. And since then… Coffee wouldn’t blame the British for being overconfident, but he would be very happy to make them pay for it.
    He looked up to the gray wall of cloud that blocked the sky. Please, God, let him be overconfident. Let him do something foolish. We need a victory here. The American army had practically been driven from the upper Mississippi valley. They couldn’t lose this place. They were starting to wonder if they could give the redcoats a meaningful defeat anywhere. Privately, Coffee was getting worried himself.

    About this time, a scout galloped up from the south.

    “Sir,” he said, sketching off a quick salute. “They’re coming.”

    “How far behind you are they?”

    “On foot?… Not more than an hour. Maybe less.” Coffee tried not to think about the fact that this was about as much warning as Jackson had had.

    “How many?”

    “Maybe eight thousand. Maybe ten.” All told, Coffee had about four thousand men under his command. Well, no help for it.


    The scout shook his head. “Just those rockets, sir.”

    Of course. They were moving too fast to bring along anything heavier. They’d probably left the big guns behind at Fort Adams.
    Just as well — Coffee didn’t have so many field-guns himself. He’d put what he did have on his right flank, where he judged the British would be most likely to make their initial thrust. What was left of Coffee’s command was guarding them. As for the Congreves, they would be all but useless against the men at the barricade, under the trees.
    * * *
    About 11 a.m.
    The snow had begun to fall — tiny, dry, gentle flakes that meandered down through the air, making an interesting contrast to the four-pound iron round shot heading for the British front ranks at over six hundred yards per second, or the rockets fired at the Americans in reply.

    The round shot hit the ground before they hit the soldiers. Some of them buried themselves in the stumps of cut trees, but others vanished into the forest of British legs, knees and ankles, shattering every bone in their path. Every once in a while, a perfect shot would hit the ground right in front of the army, pelting the front ranks with shrapnel of granite-hard frozen dirt.

    The rockets were round-headed cylinders weighing 6 to 24 pounds, loaded with case shot. When they exploded in the right place, they could kill an entire gun crew. More often, however, they veered off in an entirely different direction — sometimes straight up in the air.

    Keane gritted his teeth and looked ahead. The 85th, at the front, was still some five hundred yards from the American line. Already, the Yankee gunners were starting to use grapeshot, which had less range but more killing power against infantrymen.

    We can win this battle doing what we’re doing, thought Keane, but it will be a bloody affair — bloodier, I think, than it need be. The worst casualties so far were among the Congreve handlers. (You had to launch the rockets from as far forward as possible — they had a regrettable tendency to go off too soon.)

    He was just about to suggest a better way to Pakenham, when a soldier came from the front, his red coat spattered with redder blood and bits that didn’t bear close examination. It was Lieutenant Gleig.

    “Colonel Thornton is dead, sir,” said Gleig, addressing Pakenham.

    “Are you sure?”

    “I saw it happen myself, sir. Grape through the chest — almost the full load. Lieutenant Colonel Gubbins is in charge of the regiment now. He’s awaiting your next order.” The unspoken message here was are you sure you want us to keep trying this? Any moment now they’re going to switch to canister.

    Keane decided the time had come to direct Pakenham’s attention elsewhere. “Sir,” he said, “the American line on the crest of the hill looks rather thin. And there…” He pointed to their immediate right, to a heavily wooded depression that cut through the side of the hill. “That way, sir, we could come quite close to the barricade without being seen.”

    Pakenham’s eyes lit up. He smiled like a wolf catching the smell of an injured deer.

    “I like the way you think, Keane,” he said. “Hold the reserves together. I’ll lead this next attack myself.”

    * * *

    See you next Saturday!
    Last edited: May 30, 2011
  12. Arachnid Arachnid once more.

    Jan 17, 2006
    London, UK
    Interesting, as the Treaty of Ghent did not include Louisiana if the British win they will be able to hold it in the short term. However they will have serious problems in the medium term.

    While the Canadian example showed that US born settlers aren't an automatic fifth column and some would be willing to back the Crown. This is going to be good enough in Louisiana proper and maybe Arkansas where thanks to British immigration, those the descendants of earlier French settlers already there US immigrants will be unlikely to form a majority any time soon and within a generation their children will be loyal Britons (or at least that's how it went in Canada). That means if Britain gets to keep the Louisiana purchase it should be able to secure the southern portion pretty easily, however it will have real difficultly over slavery in the medium term. An interesting side effect will be that in the absence of the internal US slave trade both Louisiana and Arkansas will be whiter.

    Further north in Missouri and Iowa its easier to come west from Illinois then up the river which means it will probably be majority settled by US citizens, there you might well get a real and dangerous fifth column. The US governments attitude will be that its one thing to let Britain keep the frozen north, its another thing entirely for them to have everything west of the Mississippi. So 10/20 years down the line with alt Missouri and Iowa mostly settled by US citizens and a US government desperate to get access to the West....
  13. Swan Station Under a hatch

    While this is true, I think it depends a great deal on what's going to happen in this Second Thirty Years War that's been hinted at. Maybe the British end up taking Illinois as well.

    And Lycaeon, while I like the CSA Banana Republic idea as well, I'm anxious to see what happens in this timeline, so please don't give it up.
  14. Grimm Reaper Desperate But Not Serious

    As you can all now see the Treaty of Ghent would certainly have applied to New Orleans or Louisiana. Just scroll down to article I:

    What part of "All territory, places, and possessions whatsoever, taken by either party from the other during the war, or which may be taken after the signing of this treaty..." is unclear?
  15. zeppelin247 Well-Known Member

    May 1, 2010
    Northern Ireland
    yea but I think that treaty was signed when only minor gains had been made by both sides and now Britain has huge massive gains which way be beneficial in years to come and strangle the growth of usa
  16. Grimm Reaper Desperate But Not Serious

    No, the British signed the treaty while fully aware of the operations planned around New Orleans, hence that bit about returning all territory, places, and so forth "taken after the signing of this treaty".
  17. Arachnid Arachnid once more.

    Jan 17, 2006
    London, UK
    Remember this is international diplomacy the British are going to be willing to use any loophole they can find and they have left themselves one.

    The British had not recognised the US takeover of Louisiana and as far as the official British position it was still part of Spain as France had no right to sell it. At this point Britain only accepted that the USA consisted of the former 13 colonies which had been renounced at the Treaty of Paris as the Monroe–Pinkney Treaty had never been ratified. It wouldn't be until the Treaty of 1818 that US control of Louisiana was accepted.
    Therefore from the British position Louisiana wouldn't have been "taken by either party from the other", you can argue that that's massively pedantic but that's diplomacy for you.
    Crying likes this.
  18. Lycaon pictus Author of "Locksmith's Closet" Donor

    Apr 19, 2011
    Assuming the world doesn't end, the thrilling conclusion to the Battle of Natchez will be posted tomorrow, as scheduled.

    As for the Treaty of Ghent… Darth Vader said it best: "I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further."
    Crying and Wildcard F. Kennedy like this.
  19. FDW Banned

    Jun 27, 2009
    San Francisco
  20. Arachnid Arachnid once more.

    Jan 17, 2006
    London, UK
    Good to hear about the update. As for the Treaty of Ghent the British do have an usable loophole, the US is going to be apoplectic but is in too weak a position to re-start the war. But any hope of reconciliation or an alt Treaty of 1818 (including the settlement of the Canadian border west of the Great Lakes is out of the window.