A Sinister Splendor: A Mexican War Novel

A Sinister Splendor: A Mexican War Novel

by Mike Blakely

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Overview

Pairing extensive research with a brilliance for reviving the past in gripping narrative, Spur Award-winning author Mike Blakely has penned an epic, historical novelization of the Mexican-American War in A Sinister Splendor

1845. Texas joins the union. Mexico threatens war over the disputed Texas border. But much more than the Rio Grande Valley lies at stake—expansionists dream of an America that sprawls all the way to the Pacific Coast. Can a conflict with an already war-torn Mexico satisfy this lust for territory?

President James K. Polk sends troops the Texas border to test Mexico’s appetite for war. General Zachary Taylor, known as “Old Rough and Ready,” leads the invasion south. A 24-year-old lieutenant named Ulysses S. Grant gets his first taste of battle. Texas Rangers John Coffee Hays and Sam Walker expand their reputations as fearless fighting men. An Irishman, John Riley, quits the U.S. Army—along with hundreds of other mistreated immigrant soldiers—and forms a Mexican battalion of U.S. deserters. Army laundress Sarah Bowman is celebrated as a heroine on her way to becoming a frontier legend. The infamous Mexican warlord, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, returns to power through intrigue and political persuasion.

The Mexican-American war becomes the heroic proving ground for future Civil War generals and presidents of the United States, Mexico and the Confederacy. But the glories of victory are tempered by the horrors of war—lives lost, bodies battered, souls shattered, dreams crushed, whole cities razed and innocence forever dashed. With a sinister splendor two very different cultures clash in an epic adventure of duty, patriotism and courage to the death.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765328380
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 02/19/2019
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 1,048,333
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

MIKE BLAKELY is the author of several novels of the West, including Comanche Dawn and Moon Medicine. His novel Summer of Pearls won the Spur Award for Best Novel in 2001. Blakely makes his home in Marble Falls, Texas.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Second Lieutenant

Sam Grant

Gravois Creek, Missouri May 20, 1844

The Gravois roared at Lieutenant Grant from a quarter mile away. He reined in his cavalry mount and listened to the din of the tributary over the patter of raindrops peppering his felt hat brim. He had not counted on this. Gravois Creek typically did not carry enough of a flow to run a coffee mill, as the old-timers would say. The rain must have fallen in a much heavier deluge upstream. No matter. There would be no turning back.

He touched his spurs to the mare's flanks and trotted onward toward the familiar creek crossing. The horse, excited by the approaching noise, pranced nervously yet gracefully under him. Grant reveled in the sensation of such power beneath him, barely gathered to the restraint of spurs and reins.

He rode near enough to find the flooded stream spilling over its bank. The mare, catching sight of a dead tree floating down the Gravois, shied and wheeled back toward Jefferson Barracks, then returned to the creek bank at her rider's insistence. Grant stared in awe at the raging stream. This little prairie rill, this brook, this trickle had gone as mad as a rabid pet turned man-killer.

"Damn, Sam," he said to himself, indulging in the mild profanity only because no one other than his mare would hear. Though it was not really his name, he had grown accustomed to calling himself Sam. Born Hiram Ulysses Grant, he had arrived at West Point only to find his name erroneously recorded as Ulysses Simpson Grant. It was an honest mistake made by the congressman who had arranged his appointment to the academy. The congressman, Thomas L. Hamer, knew that Grant's family called him Ulysses, so he assumed that to be the young man's first name. He further assumed that Grant's middle name was probably Simpson, as it was common for a son to take his mother's maiden name as his middle name.

Ulysses Simpson Grant's fellow West Point cadets would soon take note of his first two initials, U. S., and begin calling him both "United States" Grant and "Uncle Sam" Grant. Sam would stick. He didn't mind. He rather liked the simplicity of it. And it was a relief to have won such an innocuous moniker. He had long harbored a dread that someone during the course of his life would realize that the initials of his actual name — Hiram Ulysses Grant — spelled hug. He much preferred answering to Sam rather than to "Hug" Grant.

The Gravois crossing, well known to the young officer as a peaceful ford, had turned nightmarish — a slip-sliding descent into a crashing, growling, flotsam-choked torrent of muddy runoff. Often he had ridden from Jefferson Barracks — on the outskirts of Saint Louis — to White Haven, the plantation home of his former West Point roommate, Lieutenant Frederick Dent. It was a coincidental convenience that his former roommate should have been raised so near to the first duty station of both West Point graduates. Grant had often ridden with Dent the few miles from the barracks to the plantation to partake in the joys of family life, as his own kinfolk lived several days' travel to the northeast, in Ohio.

But this was not the Gravois which had so often beckoned his crossing on his visits. Usually ankle deep, it had now swollen beyond mathematical calculation. Yet Sam Grant felt his jaw tightening, for he knew he was going to swim it. He would not be denied this journey. He had realized, even as a boy, that he inexplicably possessed a peculiar superstition that now served to lure him into the raging death trap of Gravois Creek. The superstition was this: If ever he should start upon a road or a trail or a course of action, he could not and would not backtrack. Even should he accidentally take the wrong fork in a road, only to realize it a mile on, he would find some long way around to his destination rather than retreat even a single step.

In this case, it was not the superstition alone that drove him. Ahead, at White Haven Plantation, he had business to attend to — fearsome business of a most personal and urgent nature. To this purpose, he had dressed in his best uniform and had even had his boots polished. He would not turn back now, or ever, from his destiny.

Enough hesitation. He spurred a firm command to the mare to enter the swollen stream. She obeyed in spite of her fears, having absorbed the insistence of her rider. In fact, she plunged in, seeking the solace of the far bank. In a moment she was swimming, the muddy bottom having dropped beyond reach of her hooves.

As the horse sank deeper, Grant slipped from the saddle, but he held firm to reins and mane. Cool water soaked through his uniform and he smelled the odor of rotten debris. He had chosen his moment well, as he saw no rafts of driftwood near enough to tangle in a cinch or stirrup and rake him under. As the mare stroked powerfully, her nostrils spraying great blasts of breath and raindrops, the current carried them downstream and around a bend that provided a beneficial eddy and a lucky gravel bank, gently sloped. He scrambled atop the saddle as the mount found her footing.

The mare, winded, managed to climb the opposite bank to safety. Grant reined his mount to a stop to let her stand and breathe. He looked back at the thing he had traversed and shook his head. Now he turned his attention to himself. Silt and dead leaves covered his uniform. A number of twigs had tangled in the braids of his epaulets. Mud mocked the work of the bootblack back at the barracks.

No matter. He would borrow a suit of clothes. He waited, somewhat impatiently, for his horse to catch her breath. Suddenly, a fit of coughing doubled him over, causing him to wheeze uncontrollably. Damn cough. It had come over him at West Point, three years ago, and he had been unable to completely shake it since earning his commission as a second lieutenant.

Second Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant. It still stunned him to think about it at times. Grant had never intended to become a soldier. His father had surprised him with the appointment to West Point, which he had arranged through his acquaintanceship with Congressman Hamer. The very idea of reporting to the military academy had struck young Grant with an almost overwhelming dread. Having received schooling of only the most rudimentary stripe in a one-room schoolhouse, Grant had feared he would disgrace his family through utter academic failure on the banks of the Hudson. He had been stunned, in fact, when he passed the entry exam quite handily.

It was as if by providence that his father's decision had led him to this place where he now stood, sopping wet on the west bank of the Gravois, facing a challenge as daunting as any he had ever encountered in his twenty-two years. He forced one last cough from his chest, spat, and spurred his mare.

* * *

Outside of White Haven, he saw an elderly slave known as Old Bob trudging up the road toward him, carrying an ash bucket, his hat pulled low against the drizzle.

"Hello, Bob!" he shouted from a distance, so as not to startle the old black man by riding up on him in a storm.

Old Bob raised his eyes from the muddy ground. "Sir," he answered. "My fire done burned down. I'm goin' to the neighbor's for a coal." He seemed shocked to find Grant riding on such a day.

This did not surprise Lieutenant Grant. Besides the weather, the slaves would be well aware that the Fourth Infantry had been ordered south to Louisiana some three weeks ago, en route to Texas to prepare for war with Mexico. Grant was a second lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry, and as such should have already departed. He had been left behind only because he had been away in Ohio on leave when the orders came down from Washington.

"Very well," Grant said. "Tell me, Bob, is Master John home?" Bob nodded. "Yes, sir. I seen him on his porch no more than a hour ago."

"Good. I'll need to borrow a suit of his clothes."

Old Bob took in Grant's mount and the condition of his uniform. "Sir, if you don't mind me askin' ..."

"Not at all."

"Did you swim that crick?"

"My mount did the swimming. I held fast to the pommel."

Bob chuckled, his eyes twinkling honestly. "You a brave man."

"Foolhardy is more the case. Oh, Bob ... Is Miss Julia home, as well?"

Old Bob smiled and nodded. "Yes, sir, she is sure enough to home, all right."

Grant rode to John Dent's house, a small cabin located two miles from White Haven's main plantation home and headquarters. He looped his reins around a hitching rail, stepped up on the porch, and used an iron knocker fixed on John's door. He waited. Then Sam spotted a bootjack on the porch and decided to muscle the wet leather from his feet, not wanting to track in any mud. He knocked again. Finally the door opened to reveal young John Dent, who burst into laughter at Grant's appearance.

"Did you fall in?"

"Plunged," Grant said.

John was about the same age as Sam Grant. Next to his former West Point roommate, Lieutenant Frederick Dent, John Dent was Grant's closest confidant at White Haven Plantation. Frederick had already gone south with the Fourth, so Grant was relieved to find John present to help him with the ominous task at hand.

"I'd ask what brings you here, but I think I know."

Grant nodded. "I need to borrow a shirt and a pair of tongs," he said, using army slang for trousers.

"Come on in," John ordered. "You're a bit taller than me, but my clothes will have to do."

* * *

An hour later, Sam Grant, now escorted by John Dent, arrived at White Haven's main plantation house. They tied their mounts outside the front gate and walked up to the large frame home, John Dent carrying Grant's sodden uniform.

Before John could reach the door, it opened to reveal the housemaid.

"Hello, Kitty," Grant said, removing his hat and tugging at his ill-fitting garments.

"Mr. Grant? I declare!"

"Kitty, take Sam's uniform and clean it up. He went swimming in the Gravois."

The slave woman glared at Grant incredulously as she took the damp clothing.

"Wait downstairs, Sam, and I'll announce your arrival to Julia."

* * *

Several minutes later, Grant found himself sitting uncomfortably in the dining room, his borrowed pant legs drawn halfway up his boot tops. The shirtsleeves, too short to secure at the cuffs, were instead rolled up to his elbows. His wet hair was pressed to his scalp and combed back in waves that danced above his collar, dampening the fabric. At least he was wearing his own boots, which he had cleaned back at John's cabin. He held his hat in his lap.

He was more nervous now than when he had plunged his horse into Gravois Creek. He tried to rehearse something to say. Julia would be here any moment. How would he greet her? Where would he begin?

Back when Grant had first started coming to White Haven with Frederick, Julia had been away at a boarding school in Saint Louis. When she returned to her family home as an eighteen-year-old beauty, Sam's visits had taken on a new purpose. He secretly sought any chance to walk or ride alone with Julia and had found her company quite agreeable. She, too, seemed always to enjoy his company and conversation.

But, what if ..., he thought. What if he had misinterpreted her feelings? Was he about to make a colossal fool of himself, sitting here in clothes too small for his frame, having risked his life in the Gravois for nothing? He put the thought aside. He would forge ahead. He would always forge ahead. Anyway, the timing was good. He would soon leave to catch up to his regiment. Should he find himself a brokenhearted soldier in the near future, he would not have to endure the looks of pity from the folks around White Haven, Jefferson Barracks, or Saint Louis.

"Sam?" she said, stepping into the room. Then she burst into laughter at the sight of him sitting in John's clothes. Her ringlets of brunette hair danced behind her ears, and she placed her hand over her full lips as she chuckled at his expense.

Sam rose to his feet, his face flushing. He smiled and shrugged. "I got soaked in the creek crossing. I borrowed a suit of clothes from your brother."

"I can see that." Her bright eyes twinkled in the lantern light of the dining room. "Sam, what are you doing here? I thought you had gone south to join the regiment."

"I couldn't go without ... without saying ... good-bye. Among other things." His heart was pounding, his stomach twisted in a knot.

She seemed to float toward him on a taffeta cloud. "Is there going to be war with Mexico?" she said, real worry kneading her brow. "The newspapers are full of all sorts of incongruous rumors."

"I don't know," Sam admitted. He could talk about this confidently, for he had thought it over. "It's likely, I'd say, given the public attitude in favor of immediate annexation for Texas."

"Oh, but Sam, why does it all hinge on Texas? I've heard it's covered with Indians and rattlesnakes, anyway."

"Mexico still claims Texas, or at least the part between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande del Norte. Mexico has long promised war if the Republic of Texas becomes a state."

Julia sighed. "There are so many politicians ranting over it this way and that. What is your opinion of what should be done?"

Sam shrugged one shoulder, a bit surprised at what seemed like Julia's sudden interest in politics. "I rather agree with Senator Benton. Texas should become a state someday, but only after the dispute over the border with Mexico is settled diplomatically rather than on the battlefield."

She nodded, as if in agreement. "Then there's the other question," she said.

Sam realized that she had caught him dancing around the other obvious issue. He had grown up in the free state of Ohio. Julia had been raised by a slave nanny. Would this matter to her? Could she love a northern man?

"You mean the slave issue," he said.

"Exactly. Will there be slavery in Texas, or not?"

"That should be settled prior to annexation, as well. Not to prevent war with Mexico but to preserve our own union."

"Perhaps cooler heads will prevail," she said, "and compromise. Perhaps we will avoid war, to say nothing of the possibility of war with England over the Oregon boundary line."

Grant bowed his head. "That is my fondest hope. But I am a soldier, Julia, and I will follow the orders of hotheads if I must."

She nodded. "Duty."

Just then, Julia's younger sister, Nellie, burst into the dining room.

"Lieutenant Grant!" she said flirtatiously. Then, noticing his garb, she burst into a fit of giggling. "How funny!" she declared.

"Oh, hush, Nellie," Julia said. She turned to Grant. "Lieutenant, how long do you expect to remain?"

Grant shrugged. "I am going to try to stay a week."

Nellie gasped. "Oh, my, Julia! Your dream! Last night!"

Julia placed her hand over her mouth as it opened in surprise.

"A dream?" Grant said.

"Heavens! Yes, I dreamt that you came to visit, wearing civilian clothes." She gestured at his apparel. "When I asked — in my dream — you said you would try to stay a week!"

"So, you've been dreaming of me?" Grant smiled.

"Well," she said, blushing, "I suppose I did last night."

Nellie seemed barely able to contain herself. "You said the very words Sister dreamed!"

Julia now looked rather befuddled. "You must excuse me, Sam. I must write this in my diary this very moment." She turned and disappeared toward her room, with Nellie in tow.

Abandoned in the dining room, Grant felt crestfallen. This was not going as he had planned. When would he have a moment alone with Julia?

"Oh, Sam," she said, stepping back into the doorway. "I must go to Saint Louis tomorrow to stand as bridesmaid for a friend. Will you ride with me?"

Grant came to attention. "Of course."

She smiled and disappeared.

Well, that's better, Grant thought. He and Julia had spent many hours together riding, talking, laughing. He could stay with John tonight and practice his proposal. He could wear his own military plumage. They would ride.

* * *

By the afternoon of the next day the sun had dried the landscape around White Haven Plantation. Sam Grant and Julia Dent took the new wagon road into Saint Louis on two good saddle horses. Grant approved of the road, which was covered with small pieces of stone broken off of larger rocks by hand. His military schooling made him appreciate how easily an army might move down such a modern roadway. He and Julia chatted incessantly as they rode the first few miles toward Saint Louis.

"Sam, I have so missed our rides together," Julia said. "It really didn't occur to me until you went away on leave to Ohio."

Grant saw his opening. "I felt the same way, Julia. In fact ... I must tell you how I feel. Not just about riding together. But about being together."

"Oh?" Her perfectly plucked eyebrows rose inquisitively.

"Julia ... since we met, I have enjoyed every moment in your presence."

She smiled innocently. "As have I, Sam."

"In a way I never experienced before."

"Really?"

They rode stirrup to stirrup, their mounts plodding lazily along. Grant rode to her left, as it was more comfortable for her to face that way on her sidesaddle.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "A Sinister Splendor"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Mike Blakely.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Dedication,
To the Reader,
Map,
Epigraph,
Part I: Bugle, Fife, and,
Drums,
Second Lieutenant: Sam,
Grant,
Sarah Childress Polk,
John Riley,
Sarah Bowman,
Brigadier General:,
Zachary Taylor,
President: James: K.,
Polk,
Private: John Riley,
President: James K.,
Polk,
Second Lieutenant: Sam,
Grant,
Sarah Bowman,
Private: Andrew Singer,
Brigadier General:,
Zachary Taylor,
Private: John Riley,
Captain: William J.,
Hardee,
Lieutenant: Sam Grant,
Sarah Borginnes,
Lieutenant: Sam Grant,
Sarah Borginnes,
General: Mariano Arista,
Captain: Samuel Walker,
Part II: Horse, Foot, and,
Guns,
Brigadier General:,
Zachary Taylor,
General: Anastasio,
Torrejon,
Captain: Ephraim Kirby,
Smith,
Brigadier: General,
Zachary Taylor,
Captain: James Duncan,
General: Mariano Arista,
Brigadier General:,
Zachary Taylor,
Lieutenant: Sam Grant,
General: Mariano Arista,
Captain: George A.,
McCall,
Captain: Ephraim Kirby,
Smith,
Lieutenant: Sam Grant,
General: Mariano Arista,
Lieutenant: Sam Grant,
Sarah Borginnes,
Lieutenant: John Riley,
President: James K.,
Polk,
General: Antonio López,
de Santa Anna,
Captain: John Riley,
Major General: Zachary,
Taylor,
Lieutenant Colonel: Sam,
Walker,
Colonel: John Coffee,
Hays,
Captain: John Riley,
Captain: Electus Backus,
Second Lieutenant: Sam,
Grant,
Major General: Zachary,
Taylor,
Colonel: Jefferson Davis,
Major: Luther Giddings,
Major: General Zachary,
Taylor,
Major: Luther Giddings,
Lieutenant Colonel: Sam,
Walker,
Lieutenant: Sam Grant,
Colonel: John Coffee,
Hays,
Lieutenant Colonel: Sam,
Walker,
Colonel: John Coffee,
Hays,
Major General: Zachary,
Taylor,
Captain: John Riley,
President: James K.,
Polk,
Part III: Mountain,,
Plateau, and Barranca,
Major: William Bliss,
Captain: John Riley,
Private: Samuel,
Chamberlain,
General: Antonio López,
de Santa Anna,
Lieutenant: John Paul,
Jones O'brien,
Private: Samuel E.,
Chamberlain,
Sarah Borginnes,
Major: William Bliss,
Colonel: Jefferson Davis,
Private: Samuel,
Chamberlain,
General: Antonio López,
de Santa Anna,
Major General: Zachary,
Taylor,
Lieutenant: John Paul,
Jones O'brien,
Captain: Speed Smith,
Fry,
General: Zachary Taylor,
Colonel: Jefferson Davis,
Captain: John Riley,
General: Zachary Taylor,
Private: Samuel,
Chamberlain,
Lieutenant: Sam Grant,
By Mike Blakely from Tom Doherty Associates,
About the Author,
Copyright,

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