THE MISSISSIPPIChapter 34December 17, 1814
New Orleans, Louisiana As he was led toward General Jackson's headquarters in New Orleans, Sam Houston found himself fighting the urge to laugh. Jackson had set himself up in the Cabildo, the former Spanish colonial administration center that fronted on the city's main square. The Cabildo was a huge building, and they were still, he guessed, a corridor or two away from Jackson's office. And... He could already hear the general hollering. "Be damned to your poltroon concerns, sir! Those men have volunteered to fight the enemy, and so they shall! D'you think I care about your tender sensibilities?" Mumble, mumble. That would be the voice—voices it sounded like—of whoever was coming under the lash of Jackson's fury. Sam could practically see the sneer on the general's face that so obviously came with the next holler. "And where are your volunteers, sir? You—damn all rich men!—who tell me you cannot serve in your country's colors because you have to remain on your plantations to keep your slaves in order. But—but!—insist that I cannot put arms into the hands of freemen of color who are willing to step forward bravely and serve their country. And why? Because they might inspire insurrectionary thoughts in the same slaves who keep you paralyzed! Was ever such a monstrous logic advanced in the supposed service of a republic?" Mumble, mumble—cut very short, this time. "Get out! GET... OUT. Now, sir. And take the rest of these wretched traitors with you! GET OUT!" Sam took the arm of the nervous officer who was leading him and Driscol, and drew the man to the side of the corridor. Major Driscol quickly followed suit. A moment later, a dozen men came pouring past. They weren't quite stampeding. "He's a brute!" Sam heard one of them hiss to another. "Just as we were warned!" After they were past, the young lieutenant shot Sam an apologetic look. "The general's been in a picklish mood these past few days. Ever since the ruckus started after he accepted Governor Claiborne's proposal to allow the free men of color—that's what they call some of the niggers down here, sir—to go ahead and form the two battalions they offered to set up." Dubiously, he added: "Can't say I think much of the idea myself. The plantation owners are up in arms about it all over Louisiana." "Why?" Sam asked. "If I've got this right, no one's proposing to arm any slaves." The lieutenant shook his head. "Still. The niggers will get ideas." Sam marveled at the stupidity of the lieutenant's statement. As if slaves needed to "get ideas." Hadn't the young idiot ever heard of the great rebellion in Santo Domingo? Or the dozens of much smaller slave insurrections that had taken place across North America, over the past century or so? "Has it ever occurred to you, Lieutenant, that the 'idea' of rebellion is instilled in a man the moment you put him in chains? It doesn't really take anything more than that, you know—although, to be sure, whipping him on a regular basis will speed the process marvelously." The youngster gaped up at him. Doesn't understand a word. Oh, well. Perhaps the practical aspect of it... "Leaving that aside, if I understand you correctly, you feel we should allow the British to defeat us today—they will take the slaves themselves, you know—lest victory take them from us on the morrow. That is the logic of the plantation owners, yes?" The youngster was still gaping. Not a word. I might as well be citing the Iliad to him, in the original Greek. Oh, well. Best to remind him of the most practical side of all. "As it happens, General Andrew Jackson is in command here. Not you, and certainly not a passel of plantation owners who refuse to fight. And as I recall, he instructed you to bring me to him. Yes?" Sam gave him a friendly smile and made a shooing motion with his hands. "Best we be about it then, eh? The general tends to get riled when his orders aren't followed. If you hadn't noticed." The lieutenant literally jumped. Two inches off the floor, by Sam's estimate. "This way, sir!" Whatever residual fury Jackson might have been harboring vanished the instant he saw Houston and Driscol. "Sam!" he exclaimed, rising from his desk and coming around to greet him, hand outstretched. "I was beginning to worry that you might not get here before the fighting started. You blasted dawdler!" But the words were said with a grin, and the vigor of Jackson's handshake matched the expression on his face. "We had a long ways to come, General," Sam pointed out mildly. "So you did. And how many did you bring with you?" Sam ran through a quick sketch of the forces that had marched into New Orleans with him that morning. "No Cherokees?" Jackson asked, frowning. "They'll be coming along presently, sir. Captain Ross and Major Ridge, at least—but John told me he thought Major Ridge would be able to convince some two hundred of his tribesmen to volunteer. I expect them within a day or two." "Two hundred . . ." Jackson mused, his eyes a little unfocused as his head turned toward the nearest window. "Well, I can use them. I've got some Choctaws, but not many. And— well, come here, Sam, I'll show you." Houston followed the general, with Driscol in tow. Once they got to the window, Jackson leaned over the sill and pointed to the southwest. The line of his finger passed over the Spanishstyle buildings that fronted the main square, aimed at the countryside beyond. Sam could see a stretch of the Mississippi to his right, but most of what Jackson was pointing to just looked like a mass of luxuriant vegetation. Cypress swamps, mainly, with the more regular patterns of sugar or indigo plantations close to the river. "Ever seen this country?" "No, sir." "Well, except for a narrow stretch of plantations along the bank, it's almost all swamps and marshes. Bayous, and the like. How familiar are your Cherokees with that sort of terrain? Fighting in the wretched stuff, I mean." Sam shrugged. "Not as familiar as Choctaws, of course. But they'll do well enough. Woods are woods and water's water, however you mix them up. There's plenty of both where they come from. And they're used to fighting as irregulars." Jackson smiled coldly. "Which the British are not. So let's see how well the bastards handle wild savages on their own ground." The smile widened, slightly. "Begging your pardon, Colonel. Congratulations on the promotion, by the way. And my compliments for your gallant stand at the Capitol." Jackson thrust himself away from the window and turned to face Driscol. His eyes flicked to the stump. "And you'll be Major Driscol, I assume. My compliments to you as well, sir." Driscol nodded. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance, General." Jackson studied him for a moment. Then, abruptly: "I've been told—in the form of a letter from General Scott forwarded to me by Mr. Monroe—that you're possibly the best trainer of troops in the United States Army. How well do you get along with darkies, Major?" If the sudden shift of topic confused Driscol, there was no sign of it. "Well enough, sir." Sam's smile must have been more apparent than he thought— or he'd simply forgotten how perceptive Jackson was, under that bellicose exterior. The general's eyes moved to him instantly. "You seem amused by the major's response, Colonel. Why?" Sam hesitated a moment. Most white men would be offended at the notion that they had any special affinity with Negroes. Driscol... Wouldn't. "Patr—uh, Major Driscol gets along famously with the fellows, sir. A considerable number of the artillerymen we brought are black sailors, as well as the entire logistics train." "So I'd heard." Jackson frowned. "You took a hellish risk there, Sam. I'm surprised half of those darkie teamsters didn't run off with the goods. They may be a servile race by nature, but they're always quick enough to steal." Sam started to reply, then decided there was no point getting into an argument with Jackson on the subject. If the general was often prepared to countenance measures that other white men would shy away from, he didn't really differ that much from accepted opinion on the various races which inhabited America. Black people were servile; shiftless; stupid; lazy; and generally unreliable. Indians were certainly not servile, but they were just as shiftless; in most regards, just as stupid; and even lazier and less reliable. Sam shared none of Jackson's opinions with regard to Indians, and as time went on he was becoming increasingly skeptical of the standard view of Negroes. Whether or not the race was servile by nature, it was simply impossible to determine. Most of them were born into slavery, after all, and even the freedmen were usually given little chance to demonstrate their abilities. So who could really know? As for the rest, the main conclusion he'd come to was that broad racial categories were too often swamped by the wide variations between individuals to mean very much. That was a safe enough place to differ with the general, he decided. "That's as may be, sir. But I have confidence in Henry Crow-ell—he's in the way of being my quartermaster—and I let him pick the rest." Jackson grunted. "Well, true enough. I've got several hands on my plantation I never worry about. And when it comes to it, one of the darkie blacksmiths in Nashville is more reliable than most of the white ones. Does better work, too. Don't even think he has any white blood, either." His thin smile returned, as he looked back at Driscol and jerked his head toward Houston. "May I assume, Major, that you share the heretical notions of young Sam here?" Driscol restricted himself to a curt nod. Houston chuckled. "I think you'll find, sir—assuming you can get Patrick to open his mouth—that Major Driscol's notions are generally a lot more heretical than mine." Jackson grunted again. "Well enough. The reason I ask, Major, is because I believe we have something of an opportunity here—if I can find the right man to shape it up. Have you gotten word of my little dispute with some of the local notables—as they see themselves—over the issue of the free men of color?" Sam cleared his throat. "It was difficult not to overhear, sir. Though we don't know any of the details." "Ha! Heard me, did you? Good. I hope I was hollering loud enough for them to hear me all the way across Lake Pontchartrain." He strode over and resumed his seat, clasping his hands on the desk. "Here's how it stands. New Orleans has a large number of free Negroes. I'm not talking about the usual run of freedmen, either, but people who've been free for generations. The Spanish and French are lax about such things, you know. For all practical purposes, many of the freedmen here are black Creoles to match the white ones. Some of them are wealthy—some are even slave owners themselves." Sam had never been to New Orleans before, but he already knew that much. The black Creole population of the city was rather notorious among southerners in the United States. Jackson's eyes were now on Driscol. "The point's this, Major. The two battalions I've got are made up of such soldiers. One of them is a battalion of native-born men—that's under Major Pierre Lacoste—and the other is made up of black Creoles who fled here recently from Hispaniola. Major Louis Daquin's in charge of that group. But that still leaves a large population of free Negroes in the city who are not enrolled at all. Some are Creoles, some came here from elsewhere in America—and most of them aren't more than a generation removed from slavery." Jackson's lips twisted. It was half a sneer, half a grimace at the folly of men. "The free men of color are quite full of themselves, you see. Those black Creoles, from what I can tell, will parse the various shades of color more tightly than a white man. They'd not be partial to allowing common darkies to join their battalions. D'you follow me?" Driscol nodded. "What sort of men are these others, sir? Field hands? Laborers?" Jackson shrugged. "A fair number. But a lot of them have a trade. Ironworking, usually, since New Orleans has a lot of that work." "And how much time would I have to train them?" Jackson took off his hat, laid it on the desk, and ran fingers through his stiff, sandy-gray hair. "Not long, I'm afraid. Just a few days ago, Admiral Cochrane crushed the little fleet of gunboats I had on Lake Bourgne. Luckily, from reports I've gotten, it seems the British don't have enough flat-bottom boats to move on New Orleans through Lake Pontchartrain. I've lost track of their movements since then, but they'll have to land somewhere in the bayous and march on New Orleans from Lake Bourgne. I expect we'll begin engaging the enemy within a week or two." Apologetically, insofar as Jackson could manage such a thing: "I realize it's not much time, Major. I don't expect miracles. Still, I can use anything I can get. Once General Coffee and General Carroll get here, I'll have several thousand good troops. Militiamen, but they're mostly veterans from Tennessee. Other than that, my forces are the most gol-derned collection of odds and ends you can imagine. Some navy regulars, Creole battalions—white as well as black—other volunteers. Ha! I've even accepted the offer of the Lafitte brothers and their Lake Baratarian Algerines to fight with us." He peered at Driscol intently. "So. Can you do it, Major?" "That largely depends on you, sir. I'll need a core to build on. Without that, it'll be hopeless in the time available. But with the right core—and we brought them with us—then... yes, I can do it. Mind you, it's not a force I'd want to rely upon on an open battlefield. No chance at all I could train good line troops in so short a period of time." "Core?" Jackson was puzzled for a moment. Then, as he understood, he started to frown. "You're speaking of the artillerymen you brought with you. Tarnation, Major, I was counting on those as an addition to the main force." "I don't need most of them, sir. Just Charles Ball and the other black sailors. And one of the twelve-pounders, and two six-pounders." Houston cleared his throat. "That'd still leave you most of the naval artillery unit, General. And the marines." Jackson nodded, but he was still frowning. "I can spare the men, but... the cannons? I hate giving up any guns for a long shot." "I have got to have them, sir." Driscol's face seemed blockier than ever. "Give raw recruits a core of veterans—and some impressive ordnance that the veterans can use—and I can form a unit around them that won't collapse at the first contact with the enemy. Without them, I can't. Not in two weeks, General." Jackson sighed. "Fair enough. All right, you can have them. What else do you need?" "I've been told—we've heard rumors, I should say—that you offered the free men of color a bonus in addition to their regular pay." "Yes, I did. One hundred twenty-four dollars and one hundred sixty acres of land." Jackson winced a little. "I'll manage the money. Whether I'll be able to come up with the land after the war... who knows? The local notables will object, of course." "Land won't be much of an incentive anyway, for the men I'll be looking to recruit," Driscol said. "Can you increase the dollar bonus? I'll be wanting tradesmen, mostly, and a big enough bonus to allow them to set themselves up in business will be a major incentive." Jackson winced again. "How many men do you expect to get?" "I can't be sure, until I get to know the city better. But I'd be aiming for three hundred. Maybe four. I think that's possible." Jackson's eyes widened. "That many? Major..." Something in the set of Driscol's features caused Jackson to trail off. "You actually have a plan, don't you?" Driscol shrugged. "Not as such, sir, no. But I've a lot of experience at this sort of thing—and I know Ball and his artillerymen very well, by now. I also know Henry Crowell and his teamsters. I expect most of them will sign up, also—if there's a big enough bonus. That gives me upward of two dozen men to serve as recruiters, and they can start immediately." "They're new in the city." "True. On the other hand—I've learned this much from the past months in their company—freedmen have their own societies, in every place they live. New to the city or not, they'll manage in hours what it would take me weeks to accomplish— if I could do it at all. But I need the core, and I need the money." Jackson ran fingers through his hair again, disheveling it still further. "Two hundred dollars? I can go that high, I think—but there will be no land grants to go with it." "That ought to be enough, Patrick," Sam said. "Most of them will be forming partnerships anyway, pooling their money. Just the way Henry put together the logistics train." Jackson looked back and forth between the two men, then he chuckled. "You've become quite the experts, haven't you?" Sam had to fight down a moment's irritation. "There's not really much expertise required, sir. Just common sense and eyes to see. A freedman doesn't have much to hope for in the United States, when you get right down to it. His best chance is to learn a trade—and then set himself up in his own business, which precious few of them can manage. Poor as they are, they almost always have to do it with partners." At least one of whom better be a white man, he almost added. But he didn't say it aloud. With his unthinking prejudices, Jackson would simply assume that it was because black men couldn't run their own business. The real reason was to avoid the grief that was usually visited on black businessmen by white society. Shakedowns from the authorities, threats from white competitors—often enough, just the surliness of a mob disgruntled at uppity Negroes who didn't know their place. A prominent white partner usually diverted all that. "All right, then," Jackson said, "see what you can manage, Major. "And now, I'm afraid I'll have to break this off." He jabbed an accusing finger at the papers stacked up on his desk. "I've got a pile of complaints and wheedles I've got to say no to. In writing, unfortunately. Most of them haven't got the nerve to brace me in person." The young officer who'd guided them to Jackson's office was waiting for them in the corridor. As soon as Sam and Driscol emerged, he started showing them the way out, moving much more quickly than a "guide" really should. The lad seemed eager to get out of Jackson range. Sam let him trot ahead. He knew the way out anyway. "Don't lie to me, Patrick. You do have a plan, don't you?" "I don't know as I'd call it that," Driscol rasped. "A 'plan' suggests logic and order—both of which are in short supply here. Let's just say that it occurs to me that if I wind up a civilian, I'd do well to have a ready-made business to walk into." He glanced down at his stump. "I can't do the work myself anymore, of course. But I do know how a blacksmithing business operates—and Henry, you'll remember, worked in the nation's largest foundry." The young officer, having noticed that his charges were falling behind, came trotting back anxiously. Sam and Driscol just moved right past, ignoring him completely. By the time the jittery youngster managed to match his pace to theirs, they were out of the Cabildo and stepping out into the sunshine that was spilling across the main square. Depending on whether the speaker was French or Spanish, the square was called the Place d'Armes or the Plaza de Armas. Sam took a moment to admire the St. Louis Cathedral. "I think we'll manage well enough from here, Lieutenant." "Uh, yes, sir." The lieutenant pointed to the west. "Being white men—real white men, I mean, not Creoles or Dagoes— you'll want to seek lodgings—" "Dismissed, Lieutenant." Houston had had enough of this dolt. After the youngster jittered off, Sam gave Driscol a long, considering look. "How did you ever become so cold-blooded? The ambition, I can understand. Isn't a Scots-Irishman born doesn't fancy himself emperor of the moon." Driscol chuckled. "How is it that I'm cold-blooded? First, I prey upon the fears of black folk, in order to parlay myself into what will soon enough be the largest foundry and armory this side of Cincinnati. Between me and Henry and Charles, we can manage it, you watch." "You've got Charles roped into this, too?" "Charles and every one of his black gunner mates. And why not? What great prospect do they have after the war is over? Most sailors get tired of life at sea after a few years, but what else is there for them? Doormen at hotels? Laborers? Stevedores?" "True enough," Sam grunted. "Then," Driscol continued, "if need be—the notables of New Orleans will probably object to our presence, after a time—I plan to prey upon the fears of the wild savages to get them to let me move the entire operation somewhere across the Mississippi. When the time is right, you understand, which will be a ways off. Probably in Arkansas, I'd think. But I don't know the land myself yet, so I'll worry about that later." He stopped and gave Sam a level stare. "Oh, aye, it's a plot a Sassenach would admire. In my defense, I will point out that it provides me with a livelihood, and it gives Henry and Charles and their folk a better prospect than anything else they're looking at." Driscol's eyes were paler than ever. It was an unseasonally sunny day. Perhaps that accounted for it. Then again, perhaps not. Sam Houston had long since come to the conclusion that Anthony McParland was right. Patrick Driscol was a troll. Fortunately, a troll on Sam's side. "All right," he said. "And what about Tiana?" "What about her?" Sam sighed, exasperated. "Stop being obtuse. Does she know about your plans?" For one of the few times since Sam had met the man from County Antrim, Driscol grinned. A genuine, good-humored grin. "Well, I'd think so. Given that she was sitting right there when her father and I came up with it. Did I mention that Captain John Rogers will be one of the partners, too?" Sam rolled his eyes at that. They'd stopped off for three days at John Jolly's island on the way to New Orleans. He'd noticed that Driscol had spent most of his time with Tiana's immediate relatives. Naïve romanticist that he was, Sam had assumed the Scots-Irishman had been pressing his suit. He said as much. Driscol laughed, but sidestepped the issue. "Don't forget the lady's heritage, Sam. She's as much Scots-Irish as she is Cherokee—and they're both, in their different ways, a practical folk." That was true enough, actually, even with regard to the Cherokee. Because he'd spent his teenage years living with them, Sam still tended to think of the Cherokees in a teenager's terms. It had been their free and easy life that he'd enjoyed and admired so much. But, in the end, they were the largest and most powerful Indian nation in the South because they were also hardheaded. He pondered, for a moment, what that nation might look like in the future, if it became something of a hybrid with Scots-Irishmen like Patrick Driscol and Captain John Rogers—whose nickname was Hell-Fire Jack. Then toss in for good measure a hefty leaven of freedmen like Henry Crowell—and Charles Ball, who commanded twelve-pounders with the same ease a Cherokee commanded a canoe. An asgá siti nation, whatever else. "Good Lord," he muttered. "That remains to be seen," Driscol rasped. "That's why I'm a deist, and make no bones about it. Judging from all available evidence, I think the Lord needs a bit of nudging, here and there."