On August 16th, two hundred forty-three years ago today,, The Battle of Bennington was fought just outside Bennington, Vermont, just inside New York Colony. The battle is an important milestone in my latest novel, #3 of The Maggie Chronicles, The Legacy of Payne. Here is an excerpt in honor of the day. (Oh, yes—available on Amazon, wink-wink.)
At Stark’s encampment, they stopped, but only long enough to drop their knapsacks in a pile and line up for a ration of rum and water. Then they were off. The gunfire, no longer scattered, shivered on Sam’s brow. Sweat ran down his neck and soaked his shirt. As he ran, double-time now, the rum worked on him, relaxing the fearful weight on his chest, and his mind.
Just as he imagined himself prepared for what would come, a cannon blast sent the rum rolling in his gut.
Ez laid his hand on Sam’s shoulder. “We take care of each other now. One step at a time.”
“Just pay attention to what’s in front of us,” Rob added. “And at our backs.”
Jed edged up between them. “And up there. See it? The first bridge? Never thought I’d be wantin’ water—surely not yesterday. Now I want to bathe in it.”
“You? Bathe?” they said, in unison. And they laughed. They had to laugh. The firing and the cannon shot rose to full battle roar. A pall of smoke drifted into the air, and after kneeling at the Walloomsac’s edge and running water over their necks and cupping it into their mouths, they followed the smoldering cacophony.
Not a half-mile down the road, at another bridge crossing, the battle unfurled before them. Blue-coated Hessians flew down the hill on Sam’s right, their scabbards catching in the brush. One tripped and rolled nearly in front of Sam. His foolish gold hat bounced away, and he threw his hands in the air shouting something Sam could not understand. Then someone—“One of ours,” Sam thought—jabbed a rifle to the blue-coat’s back, smiling as if he had gambled and won.
Men on a small rise worked together to raise two cannons nailed to skids and stumbled off, like prideful pallbearers at some outlandish funeral. Sam twirled in confusion. Nothing made sense. Drunk and bellowing men passed him by, laden with goods stripped from the dead and dying. “Stuck him with his own saber,” one said. “Still’s got his blood. See? It’s a fine blade.”
“Sam?” It was Ez, his hand on his back. “We’re moving.”
They marched on, beyond a swarm of blue and red-suited prisoners, and bodies already swarming with flies.
“A win, by God,” Jed called it.
“Lacking order,” Rob countered and led them on.
They stopped, on orders, at a thinly wooded hill where the road dipped down a ravine. A volley of gunfire and the blast of a cannon told them the win was a ruse. Then the wounded filtered past.
Word carried. “Enemy reinforcements encountered. On Warner’s orders, head down the road and form a line…” The words jumbled. Barely contained, the company, like a bull in heat, rushed downhill and spread out.
Jed and Sam bumped into each other, headed in opposite directions. “Right,” Sam yelled. “He said right!”
“Left!” Jed said and pumped his gun toward the river.
“I couldn’t hear,” Ez said, “but they’re mostly heading left.”
They filed toward the river and were met by a riparian swamp. Muck, knee deep, ensnared them. “Now what?” Sam asked, holding his gun high.
“Their coming!” Rob cried.
And they were. Sam fumbled with his rifle, sloshed through the reed and water-loving brush, looking for a bit of high ground. He steadied his arm, elbow high, listening. A musket ball flew past, a whistle at his ear. Reeds rushed and mud sucked, a warning announcing a hard-faced man with frightened eyes. He darted, then froze.
“Like the fox,” Sam thought. He dropped to his knees, gun held high.
“Wir sind ein, bruder!” the man yelled. “Wir sind ein!”
Sam shook his head. What was he saying? He yelled back, “Put your gun down! Gun down!”
The Hessian’s head bobbed. The gun dropped, as did his hand, reaching to his waist. A shot reverberated in Sam’s ears, and the Hessian’s belly opened in a splatter. Thick droplets crusted Sam’s arm and chest. Smoke enveloped him. Then a hand reached out, and gently lowered his gun.
Rob dragged him to the body and pointed, using his gun. “A pistol at his belt. You’d be dead,” he said. “Now, get yourself to high ground. And shoot! Our lives depend on it.”
So he shot—and he killed. One boy in neat civilian dress went down. By his lead shot? “Who cares,” he thought. “The Tory bastard.” Then he yelled it. “Tory bastards!” The words made the next shot easier. And the next.