The engrossing follow-up to The Bastard finds Philip Kent standing as a Continental solider at the Battle of Bunker Hill. In a bold move, Kent has taken up arms for the future of his new family. Spirited and unwavering in his dedication to his adopted homeland, Kent fights in the most violent battles in America’s early history. As the Revolution rages, Kent’s story interweaves with the trials of a vivid cast of characters, both famous and unknown. The result is a tautly plotted epic novel that transports the reader into the thrilling adventure of a man’s fight for a new life. This ebook features an illustrated biography of John Jakes including rare images from the author’s personal collection.
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The Kent Family Chronicles (Book Two)
By John Jakes
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 John Jakes and Lyle Kenyon Engel
All rights reserved.
A Taste of Steel
A british drum started a slow march cadence. Others joined in. The thudding spread across a broad front at the southeast end of the Charlestown peninsula.
For a moment the drums sounded abnormally loud in the hot summer air. There was a temporary lull in the crashing of the cannon from the Copp's Hill battery in Boston across the Charles, and from the ships that had ringed the peninsula in order to rake it from all sides.
On Philip Kent's left, a skinny black man with a squirrel gun grinned uneasily.
"Guess Tommy finished his dinner, all right."
"Guess he did," Philip said. Speaking was difficult. His throat was so parched he could barely whisper.
He twisted the ramrod twice more to seat the paper wad on top of the powder and the ball in the muzzle of his precious British-issue Brown Bess musket. He wished to God he could find a drink of water.
His stomach growled. Actually hurt from lack of food. All the rations he'd packed when they mustered in Cambridge at sunset last night were gone.
Besides that, he ached. My God, how he ached. All night long he'd labored with the other colonial soldiers on top of Breed's Hill, digging a redoubt after the officers settled their argument about the exact wording of the orders. Were the men to fortify Breed's Hill, of Bunker's, which lay northwest toward the isthmus connecting the Charlestown peninsula with land more easily defensible?
Finally, an engineering officer named Gridley settled it. Breed's. Concealed by darkness, the Americans dug their square fortification, almost a hundred and forty feet on a side, with an arrow-shaped redan jutting from its south side to overlook the sloping meadow that ran down to the Charles River.
The black man next to Philip in the redoubt had said his name was Salem Prince. Philip had no idea where he'd come from. But then, he didn't know a fraction of the several hundred soldiers jammed down inside the dusty pit in the earth, where the temperature this blazing June afternoon had to be well above a hundred.
It was doubtful that the black man belonged to the Massachusetts regiments. Or the Connecticut forces under the old Indian fighter, Putnam, who were digging in behind them on a knoll on farmer Bunker's property. The black man had simply appeared one moment when Philip was crouched down, head covered, as a cannon ball screamed over. The ball had blasted a crater into the hillside leading down to the Mystic River on the left of the redoubt. When Philip looked up, the black man stood at his left, running his hand up and down the muzzle of his antique squirrel gun and smiling shyly. Though the American army was a ragged one, the black was even more ragged. Probably he was a free man of color who had slipped out to the peninsula on his own accord. The army, such as it was, didn't mind volunteers one bit.
Now Philip and Prince exchanged anxious glances. Both heard the drums. Both tried to shrug and grin cynically as if the sound didn't matter. Both knew otherwise.
Philip was nearly as dark as Salem Prince by now. Dirt stained his skin, his knee breeches and patched hose and loose, sweat-sodden shirt. In the confusion of men running in and out of the redoubt, there was no way of telling to which unit a man belonged. Few wore uniforms.
But the ebb and flow was constant. New volunteers arrived. Other men sneaked away, using the moment when a cannon ball exploded and heads were covered to escape the hot, filthy fortification that somehow reminded Philip of a large, freshly dug grave.
The man on Philip's right craned up on tiptoes, peered over the earthwork. Another cannon ball struck, and another. Closer. Clods of dirt showered down on Philip, who had shut his eyes.
But he couldn't shut his ears. He heard the drum cadence growing louder.
A terrifying image swam in his thoughts. Bodies lying unidentified in this dirty, foul-odored pit. Christ, what if one of them should be his—?
Philip Kent, born near the village of Chavaniac, France, 1753. Died on a beautiful Saturday, the seventeenth of June, in the year 1775—
Anne—! he thought, anguished. Somehow, he would come through.
The drums thudded. Another cannon-crash shook the ground. At least they were getting accustomed to the roar of those iron monsters.
The American fortification had been dug by stealth, during the dark hours early on the seventeenth. The activity had been discovered by some sharp-eyed fellow aboard His Majesty's Ship Lively. The first round thundered from the ship at about four in the morning.
Some of the green troops screamed in outright terror. Not long after, another ball blew off the head of a man named Pollard working outside the redoubt. The corpse tumbled into the damp grass in the first faint light of morning.
Pollard's blood-gouting stump of a neck was a vivid warning—if one were really needed— prophesying what the day might bring to every man on Breed's Hill.
As the hot morning wore on, the realization dawned that the British guns in the river and over in Boston weren't angled properly to do much damage. Yet their incessant thunder had a power to rip the nerves and clutch the bowels with a universal message that could be seen on most every sweaty face:
Today I may die for daring to take up arms against His Majesty, King George III.
Now the cannonading increased again. Philip wanted to peek over the earthwork, see what he and his fellow soldiers would be confronting. For a moment he lacked the nerve. A shout brought him pivoting around:
"Oh, goddamn them shitting British—they've fired Charlestown."
Even before Philip raised up to risk a look, he saw the smoke and flames. Under an intensified bombardment of red-hot ball mixed with carcasses that shattered on impact, releasing their oiled combustibles, fires were already burning on rooftops in the little waterside town of two or three hundred houses. The town's frightened residents had already fled.
"The reinforcements have beached," someone said.
"Royal Marines," someone else added.
Another voice, shaky, put in, "The regulars have started up. Look—"
"Keep quiet so you can hear the command to fire!"
That hard, cracking voice belonged to the field commander, tall and graying Colonel Prescott of Pepperell. Through the tangle of men in the redoubt, Philip saw Prescott collapse a spyglass and head for the fortification's single rear entrance. Just one means of escape for all these hundreds. What if the redoubt were overcome? He felt more and more like a man already interred.
Suddenly, he caught an excited murmur:
"Warren—it's Dr. Warren—"
An exceedingly handsome and fair-haired man with musket and sword had just stalked into the redoubt. Dr. Joseph Warren, a Boston physician, was one of the prime movers of the patriot cause in Massachusetts. Philip had come to know Warren while working at the Edes and Gill printing house.
"Your servant, sir," the unsmiling Warren said to Prescott.
Prescott seemed taken aback for a moment. Recovering, he spoke over the drumming and the cannon-fire:
"General Warren." He saluted. "You're entitled to take command."
"No, Colonel, I'm here as a volunteer. My commission still exists only on paper, waiting to be signed. I'll take my place with the others."
Men nearby raised a brief cheer as the physician, a figure of supreme if sweaty elegance in his gold-fringed coat, walked through the dust to a position at the dugout earth wall. Prescott vanished at the redoubt's narrow opening, to take charge at the breastwork which ran down the side of the hill on the left.
The drumming grew louder. I should look at the enemy, Philip thought.
Just then, Warren spotted him. The physician hurried over, managing a smile:
"Kent?" He extended his hand.
"Yes, Dr. Warren, good afternoon."
"I hardly recognized you."
"The work in here has been a mite dirty."
"But well done, that's plain. So you're serving—"
"We all must, I guess."
"I hear you've a new wife. Lawyer Ware's daughter."
"Yes, sir, we were married a month ago. Anne's living in rented rooms in Watertown. Her father, too."
"Well," said Warren, "if we give Tommy a sharp fight, you'll get back to see her soon."
With a wave, the doctor returned to his place at the wall. His presence still produced gapes and admiring stares. Warren was one of the most important leaders of the rebel cause. In concert with John Hancock, the Adams cousins, Samuel and John, the silversmith Paul Revere and others, he had been instrumental in pushing the Americans of Massachusetts to armed confrontation with the British. That a man of such prestige and position would come to this potential death trap to fight like an ordinary soldier seemed to have a heartening effect on those in the redoubt. It certainly did on Philip Kent.
What time was it? About three o'clock, he guessed from the angle of the sun. Despite the almost incessant pounding of the cannon, he stood up on tiptoe to look out toward Morton's Hill and see the challenge facing them this afternoon.
He gasped when he saw the red lines advancing across virtually the entire peninsula. His hand closed around the muzzle of his Brown Bess. His palm sweated, cold.
Scarlet. Everywhere, scarlet. A thousand or two thousand British soldiers at least. And the American forces must have shrunk to half that number by now.
The British advanced in orderly fashion, climbing stone walls, slipping past trees, maintaining perfect marching order. Their flags snapped in the sultry summer wind.
It was a parade march. Slow; steady. A march to the drumbeats that thudded between cannon bursts. The soldiers formed long scarlet lines stretching to the Mystic River. Company flanking company, they were marching against the redoubt; against the breastwork; and, further down, against the hastily erected rail fence where straw had been piled to stop musket balls. Still further down, more companies were advancing against the stone wall erected hastily between the fence and the river's edge. Behind the various fortifications, shabbily dressed colonials waited.
Philip turned in another direction, surveying the entire scene. Across the Charles River in Boston town, thousands of people watched from windows and roof-tops as white blooms puffed from the muzzles of the Copp's Hill battery.
Almost hypnotically, Philip's eye was drawn back to the lines advancing up the hillside. Someone had said the troops were personally commanded by Major General Sir William Howe, one of the three officers of like rank who'd arrived in mid-May to bolster the command of General Thomas Gage.
"No firing," an officer shouted from the redoubt's far side. "Hold fire until you hear the signal. Let the bastards get close enough so your muskets can reach 'em."
It would take forever, Philip thought.
He counted ten companies across the broad British front. And ten more immediately behind. Hundreds and hundreds of red-coated men laboring in slow step. A scarlet wall. Coming on—
Sweat rivered down his chest under his soggy shirt, so he knew what the British must be feeling, stifled in their red wool and burdened with packs containing full rations, blankets—a staggering weight. Yet they continued to march steadily, breaking cadence only to climb over or go around obstacles. Philip began to discern features. A large scar on a man's chin. Bushy, copper-colored brows. Sweat-bright cheeks.
"Hold fire," came the order again. "Prescott will give the word."
Swallowing, Philip rested his Brown Bess on the lip of the earthwork. The black man, Salem Prince, and the others took up similar positions. Down on the left, Philip glimpsed Prescott in the blowing cannon smoke. The colonel was striding back and forth behind the breastwork, ducking only when a ball whizzed over and crashed.
The drums throbbed. Philip recognized the uniforms of the crack troops marching up to crush the Americans who had been unwise enough to fortify one of the two chief areas overlooking Boston. In addition to regular infantry, the British barges had brought over the pride of their fighting forces—the light infantry and grenadier companies of various regiments. From behind the marching assault troops, small fieldpieces banged occasionally.
What terrified Philip Kent most was the determined, ceaseless forward flow of the soldiers. And, on the ends of their muskets, glittering steel—
The steel of bayonets.
Hardly an American on Breed's or Bunker's Hill had that kind of deadly instrument affixed to the end of his weapon. The colonials held the bayonet in contempt. Philip wondered now whether that attitude wasn't foolish—
After the first outbreak of fighting at Lexington and Concord in April, Philip had been among the hundreds of militiamen who had harried the shattered, astonished British expeditionary force all the way back to Boston, pinking at the lobsterbacks from behind stone walls, watching them drop one by one, the ranks decimated by a disorganized but deadly attack to which the British were not accustomed. Afterward, the Americans had been jubilant; supremely confident. Who needed precise formations and steel when a colonial's sharp eye aimed a musket?
Today it might be different. Up the hill came the world's finest military organization. Orderly. Fully armed and moving steadily, steadily higher toward the redoubt, and across swampy lower ground toward the rail fence, the stone wall—
If we have to go against those bayonets, Philip thought, we're done.
"Godamighty, when they gonna let us shoot?" raged Salem Prince. Philip wondered the same thing. But again the order was passed by the officers:
"Colonel Prescott says no firing until you can look them in the eye and see the white."
Slowly, inexorably, the grenadiers and light infantry climbed through the long grass. Philip wiped his forehead. For a moment he felt faint.
He hadn't slept all the long night. He was exhausted; starved. This whole confrontation seemed futile. That the colonies he'd adopted as his homeland would dare to challenge the armed might of the greatest empire the world had known since Rome was—madness. No other word would fit.
He looked out again. Faces took on even greater detail. Fat and thin; sallow or ruddy; young men and old. Clearly now, he could see the whites of nervous eyes—
Down behind the breastwork on the left, muskets erupted in a sheet of oily smoke and fire. All along the British front, men began to fall.
"Fire!" someone yelled in the redoubt. Philip pointed his Brown Bess—the musket was too inaccurate for precise aiming—and pulled the trigger. A moment later, he watched a light infantryman in his twenties—no older than Philip himself—drop in the grass, writhing.
Like some great leaden scythe, the American fire cut down the lines of the attacking British. But they kept marching. Kept climbing—
Now entire ranks were down, men thrashing and screaming while their comrades from behind marched past them, stepping over them—on them when necessary. The men still on their feet fired their muskets and re-loaded as they marched.
Philip heard the British musket balls go hissing through the air over his head and smack the rear earth wall. In the redoubt too, men cried out—but very few compared to the numbers of red-clad grenadiers and light infantrymen dropping all across the peninsula.
The Americans re-loaded as fast as possible, with speed, great speed, and continued firing. Philip had no time to think of anything save the repetitive routine of powder and ball and paper. Load faster, the officers kept urging. Fire, goddamn it! Quickly, quickly—!
"Look at that, mister! Looky!" Salem Prince shouted. Philip glanced up.
The British companies had halted their climb. Front lines turned on command, broke, retreated. Went streaming back toward Morton's Hill where they had eaten a leisurely lunch and smoked their pipes before beginning the assault.
Excerpted from The Rebels by John Jakes. Copyright © 1975 John Jakes and Lyle Kenyon Engel. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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
ContentsBook One Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor,
Chapter I. A Taste of Steel,
Chapter II. Sermon Hill,
Chapter III. Birth,
Chapter IV. The Uprising,
Chapter V. The Guns of Winter,
Chapter VI "The Seedtime of Continental Union",
Chapter VII. The Thirteen Clocks,
Book Two The Times That Try Men's Souls,
Chapter I. The Privateers,
Chapter II. Deed of Darkness,
Chapter III. Reunion in Pennsylvania,
Chapter IV. Retreat at Brandywine,
Chapter V "I Mean to March to Hostile Ground",
Chapter VI. The Drillmaster,
Chapter VII. Rackham,
Book Three Death and Resurrection,
Chapter I. The Wolves,
Chapter II. The Guns of Summer,
Chapter III. The Shawnee Spy,
Chapter IV. The Price of Heaven,
Chapter V. The Woman From Virginia,
Epilogue The World Turned Upside Down,
Preview: The Seekers,
A Biography of John Jakes,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Read this series about 35 years ago. Loved them then, enjoying them again!
I enjoy Jakes' books immensely. I especially like this series because it's an era I haven't read a whole lot about. The only problem was, in between the first book in the series and this one, I read North and South. I had to re-establish the characters in my head all over again.
I first read this series as a High School student over 30 yrs ago, and loved it. In fact my Dad started reading and loved it also. 30 yrs later I took a chance and found it for my Nook just read the Bastard and can't wait to read the whole series over again.
Loved the book. Have read it at least 10 times...
This had so many great reviews and so I thought I would like it. He can write well, the history is interesting, but the relationships are shallow and selfish. Sex is written about from a very dry, unromantic place with little emotion if any. It seemed like something I was watching instead of experiencing and the decisions made by the characters are at times, ridiculous. I did finish it, but i will not read any of the others.
Is full of advance and protective armor.