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The Charge of Lee's Brigade

S.M. Stirling

Brigadier General Sir Robert E. Lee, Bart., had decided that the Crimea was even more detestable than Mexico; even more than Texas, and that was going very far indeed. In all his twenty years of service as a professional soldier, he couldn't recall any place he'd been sent that even rivalled the Crimea—only Minnesota came close, and that only in winter. Even in Minnesota, he'd only had the Sioux to contend with, and not General Lord Raglan, the commander-in-chief of the Imperial expeditionary force.

He sighed, signed the last of the quartermaster's receipts, and ducked out of his tent, settling his sword belt as he did so, and tucking his gauntlets through it. It could have been worse; he might have persisted with his original plan to become a military engineer, and then he'd have been stuck trying to move supplies through the Crimean mud. There were scattered clouds above, casting shadows over the huge grassy landscape about him, with hardly a tree in sight. It reminded him of West Texas, come to that. Although Cossacks and Tatars were more of a nuisance than the Commanche had ever been. Not for want of trying, of course.

I wonder if Father spent as much time on paperwork as I do? he thought. Probably not; "Light Horse Harry" Lee had never commanded more than a regiment in the Peninsula, although he'd added considerable luster to the Lee name there, earned a baronet's title and along the way saved the family estate at Stratford Hall from ruin and bankruptcy. Perhaps the world had been a simpler place then, too, and an officer hadn't had to spend an hour before breakfast catching up on the damned forms and requisitions. Certainly the Iron Duke would never have let a campaign bog down the way Raglan had.

He sat down to breakfast with his aides, and the half hour he allowed himself for personal correspondence. The coffee was strong—Turkish, in fact—and there was a peculiar taste to the local bacon, but his Negro orderly Percy was a wonder as a forager, even when he didn't speak the local languages. The first letter was from Mary. Her joints were still annoying her; he frowned at the news. She was young for arthritis, and the news fanned his disquiet at being so much away; Mary rarely said a word about it, but he knew she'd been much happier when he was stationed near home as colonel of the 1st Virginia. And young Mary had the whooping cough . . . Enclosed was the latest from Sitwell, the overseer. There was a certain pleasure to the homely, workaday details of Stratford Hall's operations; so much for guano, an experiment with the new superphosphate, the steam thresher working well, and excellent prices for this year's wheat crop. His brows went up at the figures; a bushel was fetching five shillings sixpence FOB Richmond! Although the harvest wages the freedmen were demanding ate up a good deal of it; the competition from the factories of Richmond and Petersburg was driving wages to ridiculous levels. Unlike many he'd never complained about the Emancipation Act of 1833 (and the compensation had been very welcome in clearing the last of his father's debts) but it did complicate a planter's life. Perhaps he should look into buying the contracts of a few Mexican or Chinese indentured laborers, they were popular in Texas and California these days. With these prices, he could afford to experiment.

War always went with inflation, and the Californian gold wasn't hurting either.

He must have said that aloud. Captain Byrd, the youngest of his aides, replied, "Not only California, sir," and passed over a copy of the Times.

"Ah," he said. The story waxed enthusiastic about the new gold discoveries in . . . Transvaal? he thought. Then: Yes—in the South African viceroyalty, far in the interior.

"Truly we live in an age of progress," he said. What would his father have thought of great cities and mines springing up even in the heart of the Dark Continent, of railways transporting whole armies a hundred miles in a day? He skimmed another article, this one dealing with the siege of Vladivostock and the progress of the Far Eastern front in the war against Russia. That might have been more interesting, he thought. Certainly more mobile; but that part of the conflict was largely Indian troops, and the new Chinese Sepoy regiments. Reading between the lines he suspected that the Queen—God bless her—would be adding another to her list of titles at the conclusion of this war.

"Victoria, by the Grace of God Queen of Great Britain, Empress of North America, Empress of India and the Further East Indies, Sultana-Protectress of the Ottomans, Empress of Japan . . . and soon, Empress of China?" he murmured.

"Persia too, I shouldn't wonder," Byrd said with a grin. "Queen of France, for that matter, except in theory."

Lee gave the younger man a frown; the French were touchy about that, and this army did include a large contingent from the Empire's continental satellite kingdom. Not that their sentiments mattered much—they hadn't since Wellington crushed the Revolutionaries and took Paris in '08—but it was ungentlemanly to provoke them. Father, he recalled, had done very well out of the sack of Paris. The Crimea was unlikely to yield any such returns, and in any case, standards of behavior had changed since the raffish days of George III and the Prince Regent. War in the new era—the Victorian, they were calling it, after the Queen-Empress—was a more staid, methodical, and altogether more respectable affair, as befitted an age of prosperity and progress.

"To business, gentlemen," he said, rising and blotting his lips. He carefully tucked the letter from home into the breast of his uniform tunic.

The regimental commanders of the 1st North American Light Cavalry Brigade waited, as did his orderly with another cup of coffee. "Thank you, Percy," he said, taking it and stepping over to the map table. "Gentlemen," he went on, nodding to the men in the forest-green uniforms of the Royal North American Army.

They stood silent or conversed in low murmurs as he brooded over the positions shown. Balaclava to the south, in Imperial hands now. The Russians were still in force on the rising ground to the north, the Causeway Heights and the Fedoukine Heights beyond the shallow North Valley. More low ground lay to the west, and then the British headquarters on the Sapoune Heights.

The Americans were separately encamped to the south of Sapoune; they were comparatively recent arrivals, and besides that were anxious to avoid the camp fever that was ravaging the rest of the Imperial Army. He looked around at the orderly rows of canvas tents, the picket lines for the horses, the horse-artillery park. Everything as it should be, smoke from the campfires, the smell of coffee and bacon and johnnycake, the strong familiar scent of horses. The 1st Virginia—Black Horse Cavalry, his own old regiment, now in Stuart's capable hands—the Lexington Hussars from Kentucky, the 22nd Maryland Lights, and the Charleston Dragoons. All Southerners, and he was glad of it; Yankees made fine infantry or gunners, but even their farmers just didn't ride enough to make first-rate cavalry, in his opinion. If a man still had to be trained to keep the saddle when he enlisted, it was ten years too late to make him into a horse soldier. Most of his troopers were from small planter or well-to-do yeoman families, with enough money to keep a stable and enough leisure to hunt the fox.

Most of them had seen service in Mexico too, apart from some recruits they'd picked up in Norfolk while waiting to be shipped across the Atlantic.

"For the present, the situation is static," he said. His finger traced the upper, eastern end of North Valley. "Those people are in strength here, and on the Causeway and Fedoukine Heights to either side. The French and elements of the British light cavalry are further north, skirmishing."

"No more Cardigan, thank God," someone muttered.

Lee looked up sharply, then decided to let the matter pass. Since 1832 Viceroy's Commissions in the forces of British North America had been theoretically equal to Queen's Commissions in the British army proper, but Lord Cardigan apparently hadn't heard the news and had a vocal contempt for all colonials. So had a number of his officers, and there had been unpleasant incidents, a few duels . . .

Of course, the man's a snob of the first water. He looked down on all British officers who weren't blue-blooded amateurs as well. A living example of why the British have such superb sergeant-majors. With officers like Cardigan, you needed first-rate NCO's. There were times when he wondered how the Mother Country had managed to conquer half the world.

"Our latest orders are to move up here," he went on, putting his finger on a spot in the lowlands where the Causeway Heights most nearly approached Sapoune. "We're to be ready to move in support if the Imperial troops outside Balaclava need us. Any questions?" More silence.

"Please bear in mind, gentlemen, that the reputation of our regiments, our brigade, and the Royal North American Army rests in our hands. I expect brisk work today if those people bestir themselves. Let us all conduct ourselves in accordance with our duties, and our friends and kindred at home shall hear nothing to our discredit."

Stuart looked north, stroking his young beard and tilting the brim of his plumed hat forward for shade. "Can't be worse than Monterrey or Puebla, General," he said.

"Boots and saddles then, gentlemen."


The four regiments of American cavalry made a brave show as they trotted in column of fours past Lee's position; he saluted the flags at the head of each column, the Union Jack, the regimental banners, the starry blue of the Viceroyalty of British North America with its twenty-seven stars and Jack in the upper corner. The men looked fit for service, he thought; not as polished as the British cavalry units with their rainbow of uniforms and plumed headgear, but sound and ready to fight. Every man had an Adams revolver at his belt, a new Swegart breech-loading carbine in a scabbard at his right knee, and a curved slashing-sword tucked under the saddle flap on his left. Better gear than the British horse; the Americans had stuck with the '97 pattern saber and kept them razor-sharp in wood-lined scabbards. The '43 Universal Pattern sword the British used was neither fish nor fowl in his opinion, and their steel scabbards dulled the blade. Many of the English troopers were still carrying muzzle-loading Enfield carbines or even, God help them, lances.

Even the horses had gotten their condition back, and the commissariat had finally got a supply of decent remounts coming in, Arabs and barbs from Syria—wastage among the horses had been shocking at first.

Lee's head tossed. I have become a true professional, he thought. Logistics have become my preoccupation, and glory a tale for children.

He stood in the stirrups and trained his binoculars on the Sapoune Heights. The figures of the Russian infantry were still doll-tiny, as they labored to drag away the heavy guns the British had lost to yesterday's assault—the position had been foolishly exposed, in any event. Their gray uniforms were lost against the dry grass and earth of the redoubts; the men were calling the enemy soldiers graybacks, in reference to the color of their coats and also to the ubiquitous Crimean lice. He could see one of the steam traction engines as well, bogged down and three-quarters toppled over. They did well on firm ground, but anything softer stopped them cold. Horses will have to bear with the warlike habits of men awhile longer, he thought, slapping Journeyman on the neck. The gelding tossed his head and snorted, ready for the day's work, as he might be on a crisp Virginia morning in fox-hunting season.

"Cavalry," he murmured, as morning light broke off lanceheads. "Cossacks, and regulars as well—a regiment at least, in addition to the gunners and infantry. Captain Byrd, what was the Intelligence assessment?"

"Several stanitsa of Kuban and Black Sea Cossacks, sir, Vingetieff's Hussars, the Bug Lancers, and an overstrength regiment of the Czar's Guard cavalry," he said. "Do you think they will attack, sir?"

"The matter is in doubt. I would assume that those people have been given the task of covering the withdrawal of the captured guns, but I am informed that Russian behavior can be somewhat baffling—the Oriental influence, no doubt. Dismount and stand the men easy, Captain, but keep the girths tight."

He steadied a map across his saddle horn and pondered as the orders went out to the regimental commanders; behind there was a long rattle of saddles, boots and stirrup irons. That will keep the horses fresh, he thought.


He looked around. A lone figure was galloping towards the Brigade's position, riding neck-for-nothing over irregular ground. A little closer and he recognized the tight crimson trousers of the Cherrypickers, Cardigan's own lancer regiment. The stiffness of his back relaxed slightly as he realized that it wasn't one of the regiment's regular officers. He recognized the man: one of Raglan's staff gallopers, a colonel. The man had an excellent reputation as a soldier in India—during the conquest of Afghanistan, and in the Sikh War, both of them prolonged and bloody affairs. Queen's Medal and the thanks of Parliament, but Lee thought him a rather flashy and raffish figure, for all his bluff John Bull airs and dashing cavalry muttonchop whiskers. But he can ride, Lee acknowledged grudgingly. Even by Virginian standards.

"Sir Robert," the man drawled as he reined in and saluted—public-school accent. Rugby, Lee remembered, and some faint whiff of scandal. "Lord Raglan commends your prompt movement, and wishes you to demonstrate before the heights in order to delay the enemy's removal of the guns."

Lee's eyebrows rose, and he tossed his head again. "Demonstrate, colonel? Am I ordered to attack, or not?"

"You are requested to use your initiative, Sir Robert," the staff officer said. "I might add that Lord Raglan is disturbed by the loss of the guns—Wellington never lost a gun, you know."

Lee scanned the written orders. As ambiguous as usual; he was becoming unpleasantly familiar with Raglan's style, and it was no wonder this campaign had taken a year. We are very fortunate indeed that the Russians are not an efficient people, he thought.

"Very well," he murmured, looking up at the Russian position again. The terrain and forces ran through his mind, much as a chess game might—except that here both players could move at once, and a piece once taken was unlikely to return to this or any other board.

"You will accompany me, Colonel. We will endeavor to satisfy Lord Raglan."

He cut the man's protests off with a gesture. An eyewitness with Raglan's ear would be able to give a more accurate picture than a written message afterwards.

"Captain Byrd," he went on. "My compliments to Colonel Stuart, and he is to report immediately."


The Black Horse rode forward in jaunty style, taking their cue from their commander's plumed hat and fluttering crimson-lined cape. Stuart pulled out ahead and cantered down the ordered rows of men, waving his hat as they cheered.

"If you want some fun, jine the cavalry!" one of the troopers called out as Stuart rejoined the colors.

"Walk-march, trot," he said, and the buglers relayed it. Not the intoxicating crescendo of the charge, the most exciting sound a cavalryman could hope to hear, but good enough. The two years since the Mexican campaign ended had been boring, and chasing guerrillas through the deserts of Sonora was more like being a constable than real soldiering anyway.

The six hundred men and horses stretched out on either side of the regimental banner, pounding along at an in-hand trot. Clods of dark mud flew up where the horses' ironshod hooves broke the thick turf of the steppe, adding a yeasty smell of turned earth to the odors of human and equine sweat, leather and oil. Stuart stood slightly in the stirrups. They were stirring around up there, all right. The hive was active. Closer, closer—four hundred yards, and he could see the crossed chest-belts of uniforms, and the dangling string caps of the Kuban Cossacks.

"Now to sting 'em," he said, and gestured.

The bugle sang, and the whole regiment came to a smooth stop in line abreast; he felt a surge of pride—it took professionals with years of practice to do that under field conditions. Another call and in every second company the men drew the carbines from the saddle scabbards before their right knees and dismounted. One trooper in five took the reins of the others' horses; the other four went forward six paces and sank to one knee.

Stuart listened to the company officers and noncoms: "Load!" Each man worked the lever of his Swaggart and the breechblock dropped down. Hands went back to the pouches at their belts, dropped a brass cartridge into the groove atop the block, thumbed it home. A long click-clank as the levers were worked again to close the actions.

"Adjust your sights, pick your targets. Aim low. Five rounds, independent fire. Ready . . . fire!"

BAAAMM. Dirty-white smoke shot out from two hundred and fifty muzzles. Then a steady crackling ripple, experts taking their time and making each shot count. Up among the thick-packed Russians milling among the redoubts, men fell and lay silent or sprattled, screaming. The soft-nosed .45 slugs of the Swaggarts did terrible damage, he'd seen that in Mexico. A round blue hole in your forehead, and the back blown out of your head—exit wounds the size of saucers.

"Remount," Stuart said, as muzzle flashes and powder smoke showed all along the line of the Russian position. Might as well be shooting at the moon, he thought. Nine-tenths of the Russian forces were still equipped with percussion smoothbores, muzzle loaders that were lucky to get off two shots a minute and very lucky to hit what they were aiming at if it was a hundred yards off. On the other hand, they had artillery up there, and as soon as they got it working . . .

A long whirring moan overhead, then a crash not far ahead of the line. A poplar of black dirt and smoke grew and collapsed before him. A few horses reared, to be slugged down by their riders' ungentle pressure on the reins. The troopers were swinging back into the saddles, resheathing their carbines, many of then grinning.

"Regiment will retire," Stuart said, smiling himself. Bobby Lee had told him to sting the Russians, and from the noise and confusion up there he'd done that, in spades. "Walk-march, trot."

Every horse wheeled to the left, a hundred and eighty degrees. That'll give those Englishmen something to think about, he thought. Show them some modern soldiering. The British cavalry reminded him of things he'd read about the Hundred Years War—only they seemed to have taken the French cavalry as their model.


"Most impressive, Sir Robert," the English colonel said. "Ah . . . what do you expect Brother Ivan to do?"

"Nothing for a little while," Lee replied, keeping the binoculars to his eyes. "They rarely act in haste, I find. Nor do they coordinate the different arms of their forces well; however, they are formidable on the defense."

That was why he intended to provoke them into an attack, of course. In the next half hour or so the realization that he could sting the Russians any time he chose was going to seep through the thick Slavic skull of the Czarist commander up there. They couldn't leave his force in their front.

Time passed, and the Englishman fidgeted, rubbing at his stomach. Well, half the army had bowel complaints, with the foul water and worse food here—one of the common inglorious realities of soldiering. They'd called it "Montezuma's Revenge" or the "Puebla Quickstep" in Mexico. The ant swarm atop the heights shook itself down into some sort of order, and he could see teams sweating to turn the guns around; heavy guns, four-inch Armstrong rifles for the most part. That could be awkward, and would require him to retire. And . . . yes. The enemy cavalry were forming up in blocks by regiments—the blue and red of the regulars to the center, the formless gray of the Cossacks to either side. Six or seven thousand men, possibly more. Light broke off the lanceheads in a continuous rippling, and then the sabers of the hussars came out in a single bright flash, coming back to rest on their shoulders.

"Here they come, gentlemen," he said, and began giving orders in a quiet, unhurried voice, aware of the crackling excitement of his aides. But then, they're young men. He'd stopped feeling exhilarated at the sound of bullets about his ears well before the first gray appeared in his beard.

"Ah . . . will you retire, or dismount your men to receive them?" the English staff officer said.

Lee glanced at him. The man's fine English face was red with what looked like anger, but had that been a quaver in his voice? Lee dismissed the thought; the man had been in far worse situations in Afghanistan.

"Neither, colonel," he said, looking to left and right. "Momentum is all, in these affairs. Prepare to charge," he added in a louder tone.

"But Sir Robert—it's uphill!"

A roar came from upslope as the Russian cavalry rolled downward, a mile-long line of blades and glaring bearded faces and red-rimmed horses' nostrils. Hooves drummed like the Four Horsemen riding out on mankind.

Lee smiled. "A good cavalry mount is always part jackrabbit," he said. "And we take care to select the best." He drew his own saber, holding it loosely down by his side.


The buglers took up the call along the American line, a sweet insistent song. The twenty-five hundred men of the Brigade went forward up the gentle swelling of the hill, building swiftly to a hard pounding gallop. They cheered, not the deep-chested hurrah of the British but a wild wailing shriek that rose and fell like nails grating over slate.

You always expect a crash, but you never get it, Lee thought, as the formations met. Horses have more sense than men; they won't run into an obstacle.

Instead there was a blurring passage at the combined speed of both formations, enlivened by the tooth-grating steel-on-steel skirl of sabers meeting, the cracking of pistols, the shouting of men and the unbearable shrieking of wounded horses.

A Cossack burst, lumbering, through the screen of men ahead of Lee, roaring through a beard like a stomach-length mattress that had burst its cover. The little stiff-maned steppe pony beneath him looked almost comically small, but it was fast enough to propel the lance head with frightening speed. Lee had been subliminally aware of the Englishman beside him; then the man was gone. The Virginian spared a moment's glance that almost cost him his life, and saw the British colonel hanging off one side of his horse with a heel around the horn, firing from under its belly, for all the world like a Commanche except for his glaring red face. A soldier's reflexes turned him as much as the shout of the standard bearer beside him, and he beat the lance aside with a convulsive slash. The Cossack went by; then there was another Russian ahead of him, a dragoon drawing back for a cut. Lee thrust, and the point went home. The momentum carried him past and he let it tug the steel free. Then the way ahead was clear, only the rest of the heights and the Russian infantry to face.

A quick glance right and left. The Russians had been rocked back on their heels and split, hundreds dismounted or wounded or dead; the Americans were still in formation, despite a scattering of empty saddles. Time, ask me for anything but time, Napoleon had said.

"Rally, left wheel, and charge," Lee said.

The trumpets sang again, and the whole Brigade began to pivot as if it was a baulk of timber and Lee and his staff the pivot. The officers were shouting to their men: the Marylanders in particular were a little ragged.

"Rally by the Virginians!" he heard, and allowed himself a little glow of Provincial pride.


This time the path was downhill, and the Russian horse was caught in mid-wheel, caught in the flank and rear, nearly stationary. They broke, and he saw dozens going down under hooves and blades. Another halt-and-wheel brought the colonial regiments back to their starting place; he stood in the stirrups to make sure. If the enemy rallied quickly . . .

"They're skedaddlin'," his aide said exultantly.

"That they are, Captain," Lee agreed, nodding soberly and cleaning his saber before resheathing it. The fragments of the Russian force were withdrawing—not even directly north towards the heights, but in clots and clusters and dribbles of men clustering around an officer or a banner. Behind them trailed horses running wild with empty saddles, and a thick scattering of men on foot, running or hobbling or crawling after them.

"Oh, most satisfactory," he said softly, then spurred out in front of the Brigade's ranks. "Well done!" he called. "Splendidly done!"

More cheers came. "We'll whip 'em for you agin, Marse Bob!"

"There, you see, Colonel," he said, as he reined in once more. "No harm done—to us, at least."

"No bloody thanks to you!" the man cried.

Lee frowned. Ungentlemanly, he thought.


"Guns?" Lee said. "Which guns, if you please, sir?"

The new galloper from Lord Raglan seemed to be having a hard time holding his temper. Lee wasn't surprised; the staff around the supreme commander was riddled with faction and quarrels, and Raglan wasn't doing much to control it. The Virginian controlled his own irritation with an effort. He wished Raglan would compose the difficulties among his subordinates; he wished Raglan would take a firmer direction of the campaign. His wishes, however, had little or nothing to do with what Lord Raglan would actually do.

"Lord Raglan requests and desires that you seize the guns, Sir Robert," the galloper said. "Immediately."

Lee's brows rose. At least the order was decisive—ambiguous, but not vague. "I repeat, sir: which guns? The enemy has a good many batteries in this vicinity."

The messenger flung out a hand. "There, sir. There are your guns."

Lee's face settled into a mask of marbled politeness. "Very well, Captain. You may assure Lord Raglan that the Brigade will endeavour to fulfill his command."

Whatever it means, he added to himself. He looked north. Up the valley, with massive batteries on either side of it swarming with Russian troops, more guns and earthworks at the head of it, and huge formations of Russian cavalry and infantry in support. Then his eyes swung back to the Sapone Heights before him, running east and west from the mouth of the valley.

"Messenger," he snapped, scribbling on his order pad as he gave the verbal equivalent. "Here. To Sir Colin, with the Highland Brigade: I request that he be ready to move rapidly in support." The man saluted and spurred his mount into a gallop. "Captain Byrd, the Brigade will deploy in line, with the 22nd Maryland in reserve. Immediately, if you please. The horse artillery battery will accompany us this time."

The regiments shook out to either side of him; he reached out, trying to feel their temper. It reassured him. The men had beaten a superior force that morning; they had a tradition of victory. If men believe they will conquer, they are more than halfway to doing so.

This time they were going to need every scrap of confidence they could wring out of their souls. He looked left and right, drew his saber again, and sloped it back against his shoulder.

"Brigade will advance at the trot," he said quietly.

Bugles rang, shrill and brassy. The long line of the formation broke into movement, shaking itself out with the long ripple of adjustment that marked veteran troops. Ahead lay the long valley, and the first ranging shots from the Russian batteries on either side came through the air with a ripping-canvas sound—old-fashioned guns, but heavy, twenty-four and thirty-two pounders. Shot ploughed the turf, and shells burst in puffs of dirty-black smoke with a vicious red snap at their hearts. One landed not twenty yards to his right, and a section of the orderly front rank of the 1st Virginia was smashed into a bubble of chaos: writhing, thrashing horses screaming like women in labor but heartrendingly loud; men down, one staggering on foot with his face a mask of red and an arm dangling by a shred.

"Steady there, steady."

The voice of a troop commander, sounding so very young. The troopers opened their files to pass the obstacle and then closed again, adjusting their dressing to the regulation arm's length.

"Not up the valley, for Christ's sake!" That was the British colonel.

"Of course not," Lee snapped, letting his irritation out for a moment. Did the man think he was a complete idiot?

"Brigade will wheel to the right," Lee went on. Gallopers fanned out, and bugles sounded. That was a complex maneuver, with so many men in motion. "Right, wheel."

To his left, the 1st Virginia and the Lexington Hussars rocked into a canter. To his right, the Charleston Dragoons reined in, checking their pace. Smooth and swift, the whole formation pivoted until it was facing the junction of the valley with the Sapone Heights—where neither the Russian batteries nor the captured British guns could fully bear on the North Americans.

Not fully was a long way from not bearing at all, and as the Russian gunners perceived their target he could see muzzle flashes from the heights ahead, and from the batteries behind him came the wailing screech of shells fired at extreme range. Time to get us across the killing field, he thought, consciously relaxing his shoulders and keeping his spine straight and easy in the saddle.

"Charge!" he said.

The bugles cried it, high and shrill. This time there would be no retreat, and every man in the Brigade knew it. The troopers were raising their screeching cheer again, a savage saw-edged ululation through the rising thunder of thousands of hooves and the continuous rolling bellow of the Russian barrage. Men leaned forward with their sabers poised, or gripped the reins in their teeth and readied a revolver in either hand. The enemy were closer now; he could see the figures of men as they sweated at their guns. Closer, and they were loading with grapeshot. His face was impassive as he steadied Journeyman with knees and hands; the iron rain would not turn aside if he crouched or screamed. A riderless horse went by, eyes wild and blood on its neck from a graze that had cut the reins.

The grape blasted great swaths through the attackers, and the long war-scream took on an edge that was pain and fear and fury combined. Blades and glaring faces edge up around him, and then they were among the guns. Lee saw a man splash away from the very muzzle of a fieldpiece, and then he was urging his mount up and over in a fox hunter's leap, over the limber of a cannon. A gunner struck at him with a long ramrod, glaring, an Orthodox cross hanging on his naked hairy chest. He threw up his arms with a yell as Lee cut backhanded at him, and then the commander was through. He reined in sharply, wheeling the horse in its own length. Byrd and his other aides drew up around him . . . no, Carter was gone, and Rolfe was white-faced and clutching a shattered arm.

"See to him," Lee said. The wind was blowing the smoke of the barrage away. "To the regimental commanders—" or their successors, he thought, the losses apparent as the struggle around the guns died down tore at him "—dismount the 1st Virginia, the Hussars, the Dragoons and prepare to hold this position until relieved. I expect a counterattack soon. The Maryland Lights to remain mounted in reserve. At once, gentlemen!"

This was a good position. If the Highlanders arrived in time . . .

The Englishman beside him began to speak. There was a crack, and under it a distinct thudding sound. "By God, sir, I think I've been killed," he said with wonder in his voice, pressing his hand over a welling redness on his chest.

"By God, sir, I think you have," Lee blurted. The British colonel slumped to the ground.

Too many good men have died today, Lee thought grimly, and began to position his dismounted troopers. I hope there was a reason why.

"Get those guns set up," he snapped. "You"—he pointed at the captain in charge of the field guns—"split up your crews, use volunteers, and see if you can turn some of these pieces around. We can expect a counterattack far too soon."


"By God, Sir Robert," the white-bearded man in the kilt said, removing his bearskin in awe. "Ye've held harrrd, nae doot o' it."

Dead men gaped around smashed cannon; fallen horses were bloating already, adding to the sulfur stink of gunpowder.

"We are most heartily glad to see you, Sir Colin," Lee said hoarsely. He looked northward. The Russians were streaming back as the thin red line of the Highland Brigade advanced. What was left of the 1st North Americans stood about, too stunned to react as yet. Stretcher bearers were carrying men back towards the waiting horse-drawn ambulances.

"Aye, we'll no have trouble takin' the valley now. We enfilade their whole position, d'ye see. 'Twould hae been nae possible if ye'r men hadna taken an' held this position. A direct attack—" He nodded to the open V of the valley. " 'Twould hae been a Valley of Death."

The bagpipes squealed out; the sound of glory and of tears.

"It is well that war is so terrible," Lee whispered. "Or we would grow too fond of it."


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