Authors: Eric Flint
“Yes,” Adams grunted. “My apologies, Winfield. I didn’t mean to suggest you were a party to Calhoun’s madness. Please continue.”
Scott nodded. “It would help a great deal, Mr. President, if I had a map to work from. Is there one at hand?”
“I can have one brought, certainly.” The president began to rise, but Adams waved him down. “Please! The proprieties must be maintained. The best maps are in my office, anyway. I’ll get one for us. Just the trans-Mississippi region, Winfield?”
“Yes, that should do.”
Adams was at the door to the president’s office. “This will take a moment. There’s no point sending a servant. He’ll just waste time not finding it and then waste still more time trying to think up an excuse.”
It was said rather sarcastically. Adams said many things rather sarcastically. It was a habit his wife chided him about. As did a veritable legion of other people, including Adams himself. He tried to restrain the habit, but…
Alas. John Quincy Adams had many virtues. Even he would allow that to be true, as relentlessly self-critical as he was. But “suffering fools gladly” was not and never would be one of them.
Still, he thought God would forgive him that sin when the time came. As sins went, it was rather a small one, after all. Even Jesus, if you studied the New Testament from the proper angle, suffered from it to a degree.
By the time Adams returned to the president’s office, Monroe had cleared his desk of all the materials on it. Adams, with Scott assisting, spread the large map across the surface.
“Good. This will make it all much clearer,” Scott said. “Let’s begin here, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi.”
A long, powerful-looking finger pinned the spot, then slid to the north. “Then, up the Mississippi to St. Louis. At St. Louis—upstream again, you’ll notice—you move along the Missouri, skirting the Ozarks to the south. Then…”
He looked up, giving the other two men a sardonic glance. “Then…
“There’s the Grand River,” Adams suggested, but with no great force. “Eventually.”
“Ah, yes, the Grand. Also called the Neosho, I believe. Hard to tell from this map, but it doesn’t really
all that grand, does it? And do please note that you have to traverse a considerable distance before you can reach any headwaters of the Arkansas. By now, you’ve gone hundreds of miles upstream, followed by a land march with no means of supplying your troops except with horses and wagons. That’s difficult even without enemy resistance being encountered—and we’re bound to encounter some. From the indigenes, first—those are the Osage, you know, a fierce tribe—even before we come into Cherokee territory.”
He straightened. “I won’t say it
be done. It could, certainly, with the expenditure of enough time, effort, and—most of all—money. There’s simply no way around it, Mr. President, Mr. Secretary. West of the Mississippi, the main rivers all run west to east, or northwest to southeast. There is no real help there for an army large enough to do the job that tries to approach the Confederacy from the north.”
Monroe pushed aside a portion of the map and sat down heavily in his chair. “I understand. The gist of it is that there is no practical alternative, unless one is prepared to wage a long and costly war, to launching a major expedition against the Indian Confederacy except up the Arkansas River valley.”
“Yes, sir. The Red River can’t serve, not with at least a hundred and fifty miles of it clogged up with fallen trees. The Great Raft, they call it.”
“And Driscol, being a very experienced soldier, knows that perfectly well.”
“So he designed his fortifications and lines of defense—his version of Wellington’s Lines of Torres Vedras in the Peninsular War—in such a way as to channel any attacker up the river.”
“Yes, sir. His lines are brilliantly designed, too. Far better than I would have thought, to be honest. I think he must be getting advice from somewhere. Driscol was a sergeant in Napoleon’s army, not an officer. And the only sight he would have ever gotten of Wellington’s defenses would have been from a distance. Even with his huge army, Massena never made any serious attempt on Torres Vedras.”
“How do you mean, ‘brilliantly designed’?” asked Adams.
The general turned to face him. “Consider the problem he faces. Even with the recent flood of immigrants coming from the freedmen communities, added to the constant influx of runaway slaves and the settlers sponsored by the American Colonization Society, there still can’t be more than some tens of thousands of negroes in that Arkansas Chiefdom, as the Confederates call their respective states. Certainly not more than eighty thousand, I shouldn’t think. Add to that perhaps ten thousand whites by now, all told.”
many?” The president’s eyebrows were lifted. “Whites, I mean. I wouldn’t have thought…”
He glanced at Adams. “Again, a smile. Why?”
Adams had also resumed his seat. Now he leaned his short, heavy frame back into it. “I can’t say I’m surprised, Mr. President. Not
white man in America shares Calhoun’s attitudes.”
Nor do most of them come from Virginia gentry, as you do.
But he left that unsaid, of course. “There are the missionaries, first of all. A very heavy presence of Quakers, naturally, and they tend to move in entire families. Then, a fair number—call it a heavy sprinkling—of young radicals. Abolitionists, they’re starting to call themselves.”
Monroe made a face. For all the president’s humane nature, which Adams would be the first to allow, the man was still the product of his upbringing. Though a slave-owner himself, Monroe—like his close friends and predecessors Thomas Jefferson and James Madison—considered the institution of slavery problematic at best, and probably an outright evil. Still, any drastic and rapid abolition of slavery was considered impossible, and the attempt to do it, economically and socially disastrous.
Adams, a New Englander, thought it was probably impossible also, for political reasons. But he would have accepted the economic and social disasters abolition might bring, for the sake of the greater political disaster they would avert. More and more, he was becoming convinced that if slavery festered for too long, it would produce, in the end, one of the most horrible episodes of bloodshed any nation had ever endured. And would steadily undermine the foundations of the republic before it got there.
But there was no point reopening that debate here and now, so Adams continued to the next point.
“I imagine that most of the whites there, however, are simply settlers. No different, really, from any western settlers. Scots-Irish in the main, of course.”
“I’d think they’d bridle at being ruled by blacks,” Monroe said.
The president was a very perceptive man, so the moment those words were spoken, his gaze moved to Scott. “And now
smiling, General. Why?”
Scott coughed into his fist as a way of suppressing his amusement. “You have to be there to understand the thing, Mr. President. Yes, it’s true that most of the chiefs—they’ve adopted Cherokee terminology—are negroes. Still, they’re elected—and whites can vote also. They can run for office, as well, and a disproportionate number of them get elected. Even the negroes in Arkansas are more likely to vote for a white man, all other things being equal.
“What’s most important, however, is that the
chief—that’s their equivalent of what we’d call the governor of the state—is Patrick Driscol. You can’t even say he gets elected in a landslide, since nobody ever runs against him.”
He coughed again, into a large fist. “They don’t call him that, though, except the Cherokees and Creeks who live in the province. Of whom, by the way, there are perhaps another five thousand. ‘Principal chief,’ I mean. I was quite entertained during the weeks I was there, I assure you, to discover that every white or black man I encountered refers to Patrick Driscol as the Laird of Arkansas.”
The fist couldn’t possibly suppress the grin that came then. “Not to his face, of course.”
Adams smiled. Monroe, who knew Driscol personally, laughed aloud. “I can imagine not!”
After the moment’s humor was gone, Scott said: “Perhaps you remember Driscol’s young soldier, who accompanied him everywhere he went during the war. McParland? The young deserter whose faked execution I had Driscol stage, shortly before the Battle of the Chippewa?”
Monroe frowned slightly, dredging his memory. “Oh, yes. I remember him now. A country boy.”
Scott nodded. “Yes. From a poor family in upstate New York. Except none of them live in New York, any longer. The entire family—uncles, aunts, cousins, and all—pulled up stakes and moved to Arkansas several years ago. And they’re no longer poor, either. They’re rather prosperous; in fact, since they own one of the furniture factories that Houston fostered in Fort of 98. Which, incidentally, has become surrounded by quite a large town. More in the way of a small city, by now. There are a number of advantages to moving to Arkansas, for a poor white settler, now that Driscol has established his rule there. For one thing, there’s far less danger from Indian attacks, for obvious reasons.”
At Monroe’s gesture, the general resumed his own seat. “A large town—soon, if not already, a small city—protected by a powerful fortress, which holds the only gate to the rest of the Confederacy and the Cherokee and Creek lands beyond. Driscol has nothing like the population of Lisbon that Wellington had. But he’s still got tens of thousands of men, and he designed those lines so troops could be moved rapidly from one point to another along the high ground. Any invading army will get battered back and forth as they march up the river valley, until they come to Fort of 98. He named it after the Irish rebellion, you understand? The one that brought death to his father and brother, and exile to him. I’ve seen it at close hand—spent two days studying it, rather, inside and out. Please trust me when I say it’s as formidable a fortress as any in the continent.”
Scott leaned over. His finger landed forcibly on the Arkansas. “That’s the only really suitable invasion route. And Driscol knows it. And he spent some time as a young sergeant in the French colors, staring up at Wellington’s Lines of Torres Vedras after having marched across all of Spain. And saw that his commander, Massena, never ordered a full assault. Massena had sixty-five thousand men in that army. How many soldiers will the United States send against the Confederacy of the Arkansas?”
Monroe’s reply came instantly. “Not one, so long as I am president.”
There was an awkward silence. Pleasantly, Monroe said to Scott: “Thank you for your advice, General. It was very helpful. And now would you give us a moment, please?”
Scott rose to his feet. “Certainly, Mr. President. I’ll be in my offices at the War Department, should you need me again today.” He turned and nodded to Adams. “A pleasure, as always, Mr. Secretary.”
He probably even meant it, Adams thought. Winfield Scott and he got along quite well, as a rule. If for no other reason, because Scott was even less prone to suffering fools gladly.
After the general was gone, the silence returned for a time. Finally, sighing, Adams spoke up. “There is some talk, I believe, that people might want me to succeed you, Mr. President.”
“Yes, so I’ve been led to believe.”
Monroe maintained a studied blandness in his expression and tone of voice. It was the firm protocol of the young republic that no gentleman suited to be chief executive in the first place would ever directly express any ambition for the post, as absurd as that apparent indifference might be. Even Henry Clay maintained the posture, though every suckling babe in the nation knew that the Speaker of the House lusted for the presidency as other men lusted for food or whiskey or money or women.
Adams scratched under his chin. “Should that unlikely eventuality come to pass, my answer would be the same as yours. Not one dollar spent to send one soldier against the Confederacy.”
Monroe nodded. “Jackson’s answer might be different. He’s as savage as anyone on the subject of the runaway slaves for whom Arkansas has become a magnet. But he’s also far shrewder than most people realize. Even something of a genuine statesman, I think, in his own way. Finally, Jackson takes his honor seriously, and there is his vow to Houston. Which he might—or might not—feel has been satisfied by now.”