George Enos looked across the Mississippi toward Illinois. The river was wide, but not wide enough to let him forget it was only a river. Here in St. Louis, he was, beyond any possible doubt, in the middle of the continent.
That felt very strange to him. He'd lived his whole life, all twenty-nine years of it, in Boston, and gone out fishing on the Atlantic ever since he was old enough to run a razor over his cheeks. He'd kept right on going out to fish, even after the USA went to war with the Confederate States and Canada: all part of the worldwide war with Germany and Austria battling England, France, and Russia while pro-British Argentina fought U.S. allies Chile and Paraguay in South America and every ocean turned into a battle zone.
If a Confederate commerce raider hadn't intercepted the steam trawler Ripple and sunk it, George knew he'd still be a fisherman today. But he and the rest of the crew had been captured, and, being civilian detainees rather than prisoners of war, eventually exchanged for similar Confederates in U.S. hands. He had joined the Navy then, partly in hopes of revenge, partly to keep from being conscripted into the Army and sent off to fight in the trenches.
They'd even let him operate out of Boston for a while, on a trawler that had gone hunting for enemy vessels with a submarine pulled on a long tow. He'd helped sink a Confederate submersible, too, but the publicity that came from success made any future success unlikely. And so, instead of his being able to see his wife and children when he wasn't at sea and to work like a fisherman when he was, they'd put him on a train and sent him to St. Louis.
He called up to the deckofficer aboard the river monitor USS Punishment: "Permission to come aboard, sir?"
"Granted," Lieutenant Michael Kelly said, and Enos hurried up the gangplank and onto his ship. He saluted the thirty-four-star flag rippling in the breeze at the stern of the Punishment. Kelly waited till he had performed the ritual, then said, "Take your station, Enos. We're going to steam south as soon as we have the full crew aboard."
"Aye aye, sir," Enos said. Because he was still new to the Navy and its ways, he hadn't lost the habit of asking questions of his superiors: "What's going on, sir? Seems like everybody's getting pulled on board at once."
From some officers, a query like that might have drawn a sharp reprimand. Kelly, though, understood that the expanded Navy of 1915 was not the tight-knit, professional force it had been before the war began. The formal mask of duty on his face cracked to reveal an exuberant grin that suddenly made him look much younger: like Enos, he was tanned and lined and chapped from endless exposure to sun and wind. He said, "What's up? I'll tell you what's up, sailor. The niggers down in the CSA have risen up against the government there, that's what. If the Rebs don't put 'em down, they're sunk. But while they're busy doing that, how much attention can they pay to us? You see what I'm saying?"
"Yes, sir, I sure do," Enos answered.
"Mind you," Kelly said, "I haven't got any great use for niggers myself—what white man does? And if the scuttlebutt is the straight goods, a lot of these niggers are Reds, too. And you know what? I don't care. They foul up the Rebels so we can lick 'em, they can fly all the red flags they want."
"Yes, sir," George said again. After the commerce raider snagged him, he'd been interned in North Carolina for several months. He'd seen the kind of treatment Negroes got in the CSA. Technically, they were free. They'd been free for more than thirty years. But— "If I was one of those Negroes, sir, and I saw a chance to take a shot at a Confederate—a white Confederate, I mean—I'd grab it in a second."
"So would I," Kelly said. "So would anybody with any balls. Who would have thought niggers had balls, though?" He turned away from Enos as a couple of other sailors reported back aboard the Punishment.
The river monitor was, in the immortal words that had described the first of her kind, a cheesebox on a raft. She carried a pair of six-inch guns in an armored turret mounted on a low, wide ironclad hull. She also had several machine guns mounted on deck for land targets not worth the fury of guns that could have gone to sea aboard a light cruiser.
Enos had been a fisherman, which meant he was adept at dealing with lines and nets and steam engines, even if the one the Ripple had carried was a toy beside the Punishment's power plant. Having made use in his first assignment of the things he knew, the Navy plainly figured it had done its duty and could now return to its normal mode of operation: his station on the Punishment was at one of those deck machine guns.
He minded it less than he'd thought he would. Any New England fisherman worthy of the name was a born tinker and tinkerer. He'd learned to strip and clean and reassemble the machine gun till he could do it with his eyes closed. It was an elegantly simple means of killing large numbers of men in a hurry, assuming that was what you wanted to do.At Kelly's shouted orders, sailors unfastened the ropes binding the Punishment to the pier. Black coal smoke pouring from her twin stacks, the monitor edged out into the Mississippi. The first hundred miles or so of the journey down the river, as far as Cairo, Illinois, were a shakedown through country that had always belonged to the USA.
Nobody got to relax, though, shakedown or no. Kelly shouted, "Keep your eyes peeled, dammit! They say Rebs sneak up from Arkansas and dump mines in the river every so often. Usually they're full of malarkey when they say something, but we don't want to find out the hard way, now do we?"
Along with everyone else, George Enos peered out at the muddy water. He was used to the idea of mines; Boston harbor had been surrounded by ring upon ring of minefields, to make sure no Canucks or Rebs or limeys paid an unexpected and unwelcome visit. He didn't see any mines now, but he hadn't seen any then, either.
A little north of Cairo, they took a pilot on board. The Spray, the steam trawler that had acted as a decoy for Entente warships, had done the same thing coming back into Boston after a mission. Here as there, the pilot guided the vessel through a U.S. minefield. The Confederacy had gunboats of its own on the Mississippi (though it didn't call them monitors), which had to be kept from steaming upstream and bombarding U.S. positions and supply lines.
When sunset came, the Punishment anchored on the river, the Missouri Ozarks on one side, Kentucky on the other. Kentucky was a Confederate state, but most of it, including that part lying along the Mississippi, lay in U.S. hands.
Over fried catfish and beans belowdecks, Enos said, "When I got transferred here, I thought we'd be going down the river looking for Rebel ships heading up, and we'd have a hell of a fight. That's what you read about in the newspapers back in Boston, anyway."
"It happens," said Wayne Pitchess, the closest friend he'd made on the Punishment: a former fisherman from Connecticut, though he'd joined the Navy back in peacetime. Pitchess scratched at his mustache before going on. Like George, he wore it Kaiser Bill-style, with waxed points jutting upward, but his was blond rather than dark. "It does happen," he repeated. "It just doesn't happen very often."
"Good thing it doesn't happen very often, too," added Sherwood McKenna, who was the third man in the tier of bunks with George and Pitchess. "Monitors can sink each other in a godawful hurry."
George Enos took a swig of coffee. It was vile stuff, but that wasn't the cook's fault. The Empire of Brazil, which produced more coffee than the rest of the world put together, had remained neutral. That meant both the Entente and the Quadruple Alliance went after its shipping with great enthusiasm. Most of the other coffee-growing countries were in the Entente camp. Not even the finest cook in the world could have done much with the beans that had gone into this pot.
"Well, if we don't fight other monitors much," George said, setting down his mug, "what do we do?"
"Bombard enemy land positions, mostly," Pitchess answered. "Moving six-inch guns down a river is easy. Hauling them cross-country is anything but. And we're a harder target to hit back at than guns on land, too, because we can move around easier."
"And because we're armored," Enos added.
"That doesn't hurt," Sherwood McKenna agreed. "Another monitor can smash us up, but we just laugh at those little fast-firing three-inch field guns the Rebs use. Lots of difference between a three-inch shrapnel shell and a six- or eight-incher with an armor-piercing tip."
Lifting the coffee mug again, this time as if to make a toast with it, George said, "Here's hoping we never find out what the difference is." Both his bunkmates drank to that.
Sleeping belowdecks was stifling, especially in the top bunk, which Enos, as a newcomer aboard the Punishment, had inherited. Sometime in the middle of the night, though, a couple of the deck machine guns began to hammer, waking up everyone who was asleep. George didn't stay awake long. As soon as he figured out the shooting wasn't aimed directly at him, he rolled over—carefully, so as not to fall out of the narrow bunk—and started sawing wood again.
Next morning, he found out somebody on the Kentucky shore had fired a machine gun at the Punishment, hoping to pick off someone on deck or in the cabin. Wayne Pitchess took that in stride. "He didn't hurt us, and we probably didn't hurt him," he said around a mouthful of sausage. "That's the kind of war I like to fight."
Cautiously, the Punishment pushed farther down the river. Now Tennessee lay to port. They steamed past the ruins of a Confederate fort that had mounted guns able to sink a battleship, let alone a river monitor. More such forts, still untaken, lay farther south. On the stretches of the Mississippi it owned, the USA had its share of them, too. They were another reason combats between monitors were scarce.
Enos eyed the woods running down to the river. U.S. forces were supposed to have cleared away all the Rebs, but the exchange of fire the night
before showed that wasn't so. He wondered how he would get any sign of the enemy, or, for that matter, of the Negroes who had rebelled against the Confederacy. All he saw were trees. He saw a hell of a lot of trees. He was used to the cramped confines of Massachusetts, where everything was jammed up against everything else. It wasn't like that here. The land was wide, and people thin on the ground.
With a low rumble, the turret of the Punishment began to revolve. The guns rose slightly. George had never heard them fired before. He braced himself.
Bracing himself wasn't enough. The roar seemed like the end of the world. Sheets of golden flame spat from the guns' muzzles. One of them blew a perfect smoke ring, as he might have done with a cigar, only a hundred times bigger.
His ears still ringing, he watched the gun barrels rise again, an even smaller movement than they had made before. They salvoed once more. He couldn't tell where the shells were coming down. Someone evidently could, though, and was letting the Punishment know, perhaps by wireless. That repositioning must have been what was wanted, for the twin six-inchers fired again and again. Somewhere, miles inside Tennessee, the shells were creating a good approximation of hell. Here, they were just creating an ungodly racket.
After a while, the bombardment stopped. The gunners came out on deck. It had probably been hell inside the turret, too. They stripped off their sweat-soaked uniforms and jumped naked into the river, where they proceeded to try to drown one another. It was, George Enos thought, a strange way to fight a war.
Anne Colleton gunned the Vauxhall Prince Henry up the Robert E. Lee Highway from Charleston, South Carolina, toward her plantation, Marshlands, outside the little town of St. Matthews. The motorcar hit a pothole. Her teeth came together in a sharp click. The so-called highway, like all roads outside the cities, was nothing but dirt. Even with a lap robe and a broad-brimmed hat with a veil, Anne was caked with red-brown dust. She supposed she should count herself lucky she hadn't had a puncture. She'd already repaired two since leaving Charleston.
"Punctures?" She shook her head. "Punctures are nothing." She counted herself lucky to be alive. With a dashing submersible commander, she'd been at a rather seedy hotel near the edge of one of Charleston's Negro districts when the riot or uprising or whatever it was broke out. They'd piled into the Vauxhall and escaped just ahead of the baying mob. She'd delivered Roger Kimball back to the harbor and then, not bothering to get the bulk of her belongings out of the much finer hotel where she was registered, she'd headed for home.
Down the road toward her, filling up most of it, came a wagon pulled by a horse and a mule and filled to overflowing with white men, women, and children—several families packed together, unless she missed her guess. She stepped on the brake, hard as she could. The Vauxhall came to a shuddering stop. Its sixty-horsepower engine could hurl it forward at a mile a minute—though not on the Robert E. Lee Highway—but slowing down was another matter.
Some of the whites wore bandages, some of those rusty with old blood. Over the growl of the motorcar's engine, Anne called, "What's it like up ahead?"
"It's bad, ma'am," the graybeard at the reins answered, tipping his battered straw hat to her—he could see she was a person of consequence, even if he didn't know just who she was. "We're lucky we got out alive, and that's a fact."
The woman beside him nodded vehemently. "You ought to turn around your ownself," she added. "Niggers up further north, they gone crazy. They got guns some kind of crazy way and they got red flags flyin' and sure as Jesus they're gonna kill any whites they can catch."
"Red flags," Anne said, and heads bobbed up and down again in the wagon. Her lips moved in a silent curse. Her brother Tom, a Confederate major, had said earlier in the year there were Red revolutionaries among the Negro laborers in the Army. She'd scoffed at the idea that such radicals might also have gained a foothold at Marshlands. Now fear clawed her. Her other brother, Jacob, was back at the mansion, an invalid since the Yankees had gassed him within an inch of his life. She'd thought it surely safe to leave him for a few days.
The fellow in the straw hat tipped it again, then guided his mismatched team off the road so the wagon could get around the automobile. As soon as she had the room, she put the Vauxhall in gear and zoomed forward again. Along with other innovations, she'd had a rearview mirror installed on the motorcar. Looking into it, she saw faces staring after her from the wagon as she drove toward trouble rather than away from it.
Every so often, trees shaded the road. Something dangled from an overhanging branch of one of them. She slowed down again. It was the body of a lynched Negro. A placard tied round his neck said, THIS IS IF WE KETCH YOU. He wore only a pair of ragged drawers. What had been done to him before he was hanged wasn't pretty.
Anne bit her lip. She prided herself on being a modern woman, on being able to take on the world straight up and come out ahead, regardless of her sex. Outdealing men had made her rich—well, richer, since she was born far from poor. But business was one thing, this brutality something else again.
And what were the Negroes, the Reds, doing in whatever lands—not Marshlands, surely—they'd seized in their revolt? How many old scores, going back how many hundred years, were they repaying?
As much to escape questions like that as to get away from the tormented corpse (around which flies were already buzzing), Anne drove off fast enough to press herself back into the seat. Perhaps a mile farther up the road, she came to another tree with dreadful fruit. The first had shocked her because of its savagery. The second also shocked her, mostly by how little feeling it roused in her. This is how men get used to war, she thought, and shivered though the day was warm and muggy: more like August than late October.
She drove past a burnt-out farmhouse from which smoke was still rising. It hadn't been much of a place; she wondered whether blacks or poor whites had lived there. Nobody lived there now, or would any time soon.
More traffic coming south slowed her progress. The road wasn't wide; whenever her motorcar drew near someone coming in the opposite direction, somebody had to go off onto the shoulder to get around. Wagons, buggies, carts, occasional motorcars came past her, all of them loaded with women, children, and old men: most of the young men were at the front, fighting against the USA.
Anne needed a while to wonder how widespread in the Confederacy the uprising was, and what it would do to the fight against the United States. Confederate forces had been hard-pressed to hold their ground before. Could they go on holding, with rebellion in their rear?
"We licked the damnyankees in the War of Secession," she said, as if someone had denied it. "We licked 'em again in the Second Mexican War, twenty years later. We can do it one more time."
She came up behind a truck rumbling along toward the north, its canvas-canopied bed packed with uniformed militiamen. Some wore butternut, some the old-fashioned gray that had been banished from front-line use because it was too much like Yankee green-gray. A lot of the militiamen wore beards or mustaches. All of those were gray—except the ones that were white. But the men carried bayoneted rifles, and looked to know what to do with them. Against a rabble of Negroes, what more would they need?
They waved to her when she drove past. She waved back, glad to do anything to cheer them. Then she had to slow almost to a crawl behind a battery of half a dozen horse-drawn cannons. Those couldn't have come close to matching her Vauxhall's speed under the best of circumstances, and circumstances were anything but the best: the guns had to fight their way forward against the stream of refugees fleeing the revolt.
Some of the southbound wagons and motorcars had Negroes in them: a scattering of black faces, among the white. Anne guessed they were servants and field hands who'd stayed loyal to their employers (masters wasn't the right word, though some people persisted in using it more than a generation after manumission). She was glad to see those few black faces—they gave her hope for Marshlands—but she wished she'd spotted more.
Truck farms abounded all around the little town of Holly Hill, about halfway between Charleston and St. Matthews. The farms seemed to have come through pretty well. Not much was left of the town. A lot of it had burned. Bullet holes pocked the surviving walls. Here and there, bodies white and black lay unburied. A faint stench of meat going bad hung in the air; buzzards wheeled optimistically, high overhead.Anne wished she