The Dead Skunk

I know this is going back a bit, but what exactly happened in Savannah? And how did a British sailor end up involved in a case of the Second Bank vs a canal company?
The British sailor and the bank/canal case were two separate cases. But both the canal company slaves and the black sailor, John Glasgow, happened to be in the same courtroom at the same time, and escaped together, stealing weapons in the process. Some slaves went south along the coast and escaped to Florida, while Glasgow tried to lead the rest back to his ship. The group heading for the ship was cornered in the harbor district by the Georgia militia. It was night, so in addition to all the gunfire, the militia were carrying torches and lanterns. Also, the harbor district was basically one big fire hazard, with lots of flammable material carelessly stockpiled. At some point, one or more of these desperate escapees and affronted militiamen made a mistake and started a fire that suffocated everyone involved and destroyed their corpses.
 
The British sailor and the bank/canal case were two separate cases. But both the canal company slaves and the black sailor, John Glasgow, happened to be in the same courtroom at the same time, and escaped together, stealing weapons in the process. Some slaves went south along the coast and escaped to Florida, while Glasgow tried to lead the rest back to his ship. The group heading for the ship was cornered in the harbor district by the Georgia militia. It was night, so in addition to all the gunfire, the militia were carrying torches and lanterns. Also, the harbor district was basically one big fire hazard, with lots of flammable material carelessly stockpiled. At some point, one or more of these desperate escapees and affronted militiamen made a mistake and started a fire that suffocated everyone involved and destroyed their corpses.
Thanks, just marathoned through 20years over the last two days, might have missed a few details.
 
Quids Pro Quo? (2)
Let me know if I made any mistakes in this one. I'm literally not a rocket scientist.


May 11, 1836
Bolivar Heights, Virginia

Harpers Ferry lay on the blunt peninsula between the Shenandoah and the Potomac. The town of Bolivar was immediately adjacent, on the Shenandoah. The long, wooded ridge west of the two towns was Bolivar Heights.

Joseph Henry and John H. Hall stood on the summit of Bolivar Heights, looking west across the valley to the next ridge. Henry was trying to aim at something on the near slope of that ridge.

The target was, literally, the broad side of a barn—an unused barn on abandoned farmland—but it was a full kilometer away, give or take a few meters. He was sure the rocket could hit the thing, provided he aimed it right.

Henry had been interested in science since he was sixteen. After Bloody May he’d decided to go into rocketry, hoping to create a weapon that could let the United States hold off its former ruler. Ten years after that, he’d met Walter Hunt, who was a regular fountain of ideas. Between the two of them, they’d developed the weapon he was showing off today—a round-headed cylinder of black iron, 58 centimeters long, with three curved nozzles at the end, resting on an iron tripod.[1] Demonstrating the Henry-Hunt rocket to John Hancock Hall, superintendent of the Harpers Ferry Armory, was the culmination of his life’s work, and he really didn’t want to make a botch of it.

Just to make a proper controlled experiment of this, he’d already fired two of the latest model of Congreve rockets at the barn. They’d flown maybe a little further, maybe a little straighter, than the rockets the British had used in the last war, but neither of them had come anywhere near the target.

But then, Henry wasn’t here to prove that Congreves were unreliable at any range. Everyone already knew that. He was here to prove that his and Walter’s weapon was reliable. And even if it flew perfectly straight, at this range one degree of error in aiming would put it more than 17 meters off target—an equation he’d grown all too familiar with back in Albany. The barn was not that big. And just to keep things interesting, there was a light wind coming from the southwest.

Well, you’re as certain as you’re going to be. Might as well fire it off. Henry took out his tinderbox and the lighting rod.

Hall raised his hand. “Allow me,” he said, and took a small, sealed metal box out of this pocket. The word ALLUMETTES was stamped on the lid. He took out a small wooden stick, coated with something at one end, then carefully sealed the box. Then he took out a small file and quickly scraped the coated end of the stick against the rough part. It lit with a tiny, brilliant flame and a sudden smell of sulfur. Henry had heard of these new French matches, but never seen one used yet.

Hall lit the fuse. They both stepped back.

The rocket took off, its exhaust forming a brief screwlike pattern in the air as it spun in flight. It exploded within a few meters of the right distance, a little higher than he’d intended. The fireball just barely scorched the upper corner of the south side of the barn.

Henry shut his eyes. Failure. “I aimed too high,” he said. “And I think I overcompensated for the wind.”

“Don’t trouble yourself over it,” said Hall. “You’ve shown that if nothing else, this weapon is superior to the Congreve. And it’s your own patent—yours and Mr. Hunt’s, I should say?”

“Yes.”

“I imagine a larger rocket would do more damage.”

“We are working on larger models,” said Henry, “but the 10-kilo model can be easily carried by a man on foot and fired from anywhere—even places where field artillery would be impractical. And while a larger rocket would expand the area of effect, it would only do so only by the cube root of the weight of explosive.

“The bad news is that as of now, there is one factory in Albany producing these rockets. The worse news is that the very first time we deploy these rockets against the British, some pieces of them will survive and end up in their hands. Those pieces will be enough to allow the enemy to duplicate this weapon. I doubt it will be more than a year before rockets like this are being used against our men. And Britain has more factories capable of this sort of fine work than we do.”

“So in the event of war, the Henry-Hunt rocket will give us a temporary advantage—and the more of them we have, the greater the advantage.”

Henry nodded.

“Unless of course there are so many of these rockets around that the British get hold of one before the war even begins.”

Henry bit his lip. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

Hall took another look through his spyglass. “Looks… not too bad.”

Henry looked through his own. Half the side of the barn was peppered with holes from canister and smoldering spots where bits of powder had landed on it.

“Any man standing there would be dead or dying,” said Hall. “But of course, if all we wanted was to slay men, we have firearms for that. The War Department and the Navy want a weapon that destroys ships.”

“No need to tell me about that,” said Henry. “I’m from New York State. Auckland has the St. Lawrence doing patrols again on Lake Ontario. That can’t be a good sign.”

Hall nodded. HMS St. Lawrence was a ship that had been cheated by history. It was a first-rate with 112 guns, it had been built in ten months, and in 1815 it had arrived at Sackett’s Harbor one day too late to participate in the battle. Then in 1817, the Navy had launched the 87-gun USS Great Chazy River, which—combined with the Natchez’ 87 guns—meant that the St. Lawrence itself was outgunned. Since then, all these ships had been laid up, too expensive to operate in peacetime… until this year.

“That’s one reason we’re trying to build a larger rocket,” Henry continued.

Hall nodded. “Mr. Henry, let me honest. You’ve walked into a rather… fraught situation here. Last year, a young fellow named Samuel Colt showed his plans for a new revolver to Goov—you know Goov Brown?”[2]

“Only by correspondence. A man of some enthusiasm.”

“You could say that. And he’s Secretary Benton’s right-hand man. Since then, Sam Colt’s taken over half the factory. It’s become something of a sore point—he thinks we should be making more revolvers, I think we should be making more rifles, and right now nobody thinks we’re making enough of either. We can’t possibly divide our facilities a third way.”

“Is there any possibility of expansion?”

“I wish there were. So does Sam. And so does Goov—if he had his way, Harpers Ferry and Bolivar together would be bigger than Pittsburgh. The Staircase[3] has power to spare, but Congress doesn’t have money to spare. We’re able to operate because there’s a market for rifles and revolvers even in peacetime, but…”

“But these rockets are weapons of war. Not much use to a deerhunter.”

Hall nodded. “If you can find a civilian application for them, God grant you success.” He sighed. “It’s not hopeless. Goov says the Dutch are arming clients in Africa and rebels in the Philippines, and the Army’s making some money selling them muskets. Perhaps next year we’ll be able to afford a workshop for you.” He looked at the target again through his spyglass. “Scorched, but that’s all. I hoped it might catch fire, but…”

“I’m not sure I aimed properly.”

“Even if you had, a ship-of-the-line’s hull is much stronger than any barn.” Hall looked thoughtful for a moment. “Tell me something—is there a reason the head must be filled with gunpowder?”


[1] This weapon is almost identical to a Hale rocket. If you’re wondering what William Hale is up to ITTL, at the moment he, Michael Faraday, and Charles Wheatstone are in Hannover, taking part in the cutting-edge research in electromagnetics and electrical applications.
[2] Gouverneur How Brown, oldest son of Gen. Jacob Jennings Brown, who IOTL drowned in an ice-skating accident in December of 1816 at age 12.
[3] The Shenandoah rapids near Harpers Ferry and Bolivar. Hall uses the water power to drive some of his machines.
 
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