TEARS OF THE FOOT GUARDS
ADAGIO - STAVE XXXI
S T A V E
It lasted ‘til Evening. A Draw at best.
A great Moan on the field. Men, once whole, cry for water. For Mother. For Mercy. For Jesus on His Throne. And around the countryside, a fetid Ether. A Shock to the Eyes. Then come the pigs to feast. How easily a ball knocks out a man’s teeth before it exits out his head. But in truth, Heat the greatest Killer. Thirteen officers and one hundred fifty killed. The Guards lost forty. Col. Monckton of 2nd Grenadiers, grapeshot to the chest. Trelawny left on the field wounded along with the Surgeons. Maj. Gardner will lose his leg. Clinton marched away before worse could happen – not too far from Sandy Hook where Lord Howe lay at anchor.
They camped near the beach with a rear guard thrown out should Washington attack; he should, he now has an Army. An erratic staccato of small arms in the distance – ‘Tis July Fourth Instant and no doubt, celebrating their Treason.
For two days they boarded ship, a hasty and irregular Embarkation. No time wasted Setting Sail. The French are all the news with a fleet heading to America, that, and Admiral Byron’s squadron, pulled off of Indian Service, hot on their tail; Lord Howe is to link and together locate and destroy them. When, on the Water, could they not handle the French?
The Long Island sail a matter of hours and the Guards found themselves, Bag and Baggage, on the very spot they landed in ‘76.
Two years – how many of them lost? A private here and there, a handful of well-liked officers, good Friends, good Comrades, remembered and mourned – given the time to mourn as few competed for the general grief, but now, from one action, what some might consider a defeat, sixty Dead with more wounded, many not expected to live. A new rebel army, not the same fellows they knocked about for the past two years. What had Washington put in their water? A new type of rum? All the times Billy’d tried to draw them out and here they come. If only Clinton could’ve brought to bear the entire force – that would’ve ended it; the rear guard by itself drove them back. Would’ve done more if not for the bloody heat. Bloody America – let them have it, some began to think.
The French arrived a week later: 5 frigates, 15 ships-of-the-line and transports with 4000 regulars under the command of the Comte d’Estaing, and no sign of Byron. ‘Foul-weather Jack’, if ever a fine fellow was plagued by Bad Luck.
Out-manned and out-gunned, Lord Howe lay in the shallows behind a sandbar as the French waited in open water like sharks. Washington arrived, cutting off any escape by land and linked up with General Gate’s army north of Tarrytown, determined to burn his way into New York; over a thousand houses had been reduced to ashes along the way while Clinton skirmished with him in many small actions. The British would be trapped if the French landed on Long Island. But Lord Howe waited with his guns cleared. Washington offered 50,000 crowns to any pilot who could deliver the French over the sandbar, but no amount of cash could deepen the channel. And the French, with rare alacrity, peeled off to the open sea for another opportunity. Then Byron’s ships, weather-beaten, trickled in. The Army had been Saved, an uneventful first encounter. Yet never before had it ever been in Danger. The Play had changed.