For All Nails #171: Rocky Mountain Low

By Johnny Pez

Executive Mansion
Burgoyne, Pennsylvania, N.C., CNA
16 April 1850

"Yes, Smithers, what is it?"

General FitzJohn Smithers felt the familiar sinking sensation once more. He could tell from the man's tone of voice that Governor-General Henry Gilpin was in a foul mood. It was something that was happening more and more frequently as the war with Mexico dragged on for year after interminable year. Every advance into Mexico met with setback and disaster, and each setback made Gilpin angrier and more determined to wipe out the stigma of defeat by achieving final total victory over the Mexicans.

And now Smithers had to inform Gilpin of yet another setback -- the worst yet.

"I'm afraid it's more bad news, sir," said Smithers. "We've just received word from Mexico City that President Hermión has learned of our campaign to capture San Francisco. He's dispatched a force under General Doheny to intercept General Homer's army."

Smithers dreaded the explosion he knew was coming. If he were to sit down for a year and think of nothing else, he could not have come up with a piece of news more certain to drive the Governor-General into a mad fury. The San Francisco campaign had been Gilpin's own personal strategic masterstroke, designed to win the war with a single devastating blow against the Mexicans. Doheny, meanwhile, had come from nowhere to halt General Williamhouse's drive from Tampico to Mexico City in the summer of 1846. As though that weren't bad enough, Doheny had gone on to drive Williamhouse back to Tampico, and finally forced him to evacuate his forces from the city.

Doheny had gained for himself a place at the very top of Gilpin's hate list, outranking even Pedro Hermión in the Governor-General's personal demonology. Gilpin obsessed over Doheny, ascribing to him an ever more formidable array of Satanically-derived abilities. It would not be going too far to say that Gilpin considered Doheny to be the very anti-Christ. And now he had just been informed that the diabolical Mexican general had been assigned by Hermión to thwart Gilpin's pet scheme to defeat the USM.

The Governor-General did not take long to realize Smithers' worst fears.

"Doheny?" Gilpin snarled. "That monstrous mick is going to try to stop my army? Never! Never, I tell you! I swear by all that's holy that I'll give that homicidal jackrabbit the thrashing of a lifetime if I have to personally lead every man we've got across the Rockies!"

A vision came to Smithers of Gilpin leading the North American army into battle against General Doheny. Wincing at the very thought, he said, "Erm, I'm sure it's a good idea, sir, but if you're in the field, who will direct the war here in Burgoyne?" Inspiration struck him, and he added, "Though, of course, I'm sure that Mr. Lloyd can manage things well enough." Following Gilpin's ouster of Winfield Scott the year before, he had formed a coalition government that included a number of pro-war National Conservatives, including Minority Leader Willie Lloyd. Lloyd had driven a hard bargain for his support, gaining the post of Minister of Home Affairs, which made him the most important government official in Burgoyne apart from Gilpin himself.

"Lloyd? That boob? That ninny? That abolitionist nincompoop? Perish the thought, Smithers!" Slamming a hand on his desk, Gilpin cursed. "The perfect opportunity to crush that rabble of half-breeds and anarchists, and I have to forego it! Blast these incompetents I'm surrounded with!"

The Governor-General fell to brooding. "If I can't go myself, I'll have to find someone else to send to Homer's relief. But who?"

"How about General Lee, sir?" Smithers suggested.

"Lee? Too unreliable," Gilpin said with a dismissive wave of the hand. "Why, the fellow's father took part in the Rebellion! Bad blood, Smithers, bad blood!"

"Perhaps Colonel Robert Anderson, then?"

"Bah! The fellow's an incompetent bungler! Dash it all, Smithers, I'm surrounded by fools and traitors! I need someone I can trust!"

The Governor-General suddenly raised his head and directed his squint-eyed gaze at Smithers. "Yes," he muttered, "someone I can trust."

Smithers' eyes widened in terror. "Sir! No! Please!"

Gilpin smiled sympathetically, a sight Smithers found more frightening than any frown. "I can well understand your reluctance to leave my side," the Governor-General said. "But you see, Smithers, that's just the sort of unwavering loyalty that we need so much of, and have so little of, in the Confederation. There's nobody else I could possibly trust to send on such a vital mission. Not another word, Smithers! It will be you and you alone who leads the army that will save Homer and destroy those rebel dogs!"

Smithers knew from the look in Gilpin's beady eyes that there was no way he could refuse. It was the very look that had let Smithers' predecessor, Nathan Rusher, know that he had been assigned to command a suicidal invasion of East Jefferson.

"Now then, Smithers," Gilpin mused, "what units do we have available to send west?"

"Um, none, sir," said Smithers, as hope rose secretly once more within his breast. "All the regular units that could be spared from the border patrols were sent out with Homer."

Annoyed, Gilpin said, "Well, what about the colonial militia, then?" Gilpin was the only man Smithers knew who still referred to the CNA's provinces as colonies.

Carefully, Smithers said, "The Vandalian and Manitoban militias are on border patrol with the regular units." That was how they had managed to free up enough troops for Homer's expedition. "The Quebec and Northern Confederation militias are still assigned to population control." As soon as the war with the USM broke out, Gilpin had browbeaten Scott into declaring martial law in both confederations, convinced as he was that both were crawling with rebels and malcontents who would rise up at the first opportunity unless forcibly prevented from doing so. All told, Gilpin had over 100,000 armed men engaged in the task of occupying their own country. "That just leaves Indiana and the Southern Confederation," Smithers concluded.

"Hmmm," said Gilpin. "I don't think the Indianans are quite up to the task." Which was the Governor-General's way of saying that Indianans were Scott's people, and therefore automatically suspect. "The Southern Confederation militia, then. See to it, Smithers. Draw up the appropriate orders and have yourself appointed to the command."

"Yes, Mr. Gilpin," said Smithers as he gave the Governor-General a sharp salute and marched himself out of the office.

After all, he told himself as he returned to his own office, orders get lost all the time. Happens to the best of us. And if I'm down in Bland City FN1 assembling an army, nobody can blame me for any orders that go missing up here in Burgoyne.

Back in the safety of his own office, Smithers studied a wall map of the CNA, trying to decide which out-of-the-way military post in Quebec would be receiving his marching orders.

" ... the Minister sent word to General FitzJohn Smithers of the Southern Confederation militia to move westward. But the message was lost in transmission, and by the time Smithers was able to move to assist Homer all hope for the C.N.A. Rocky Mountain force was gone."
-- Robert Sobel, For Want of a Nail ..., p. 130

Forward to FAN #172: State of Emergency.

Forward to 2 November 1850 (Rocky Mountain War): The Rocky Mountain Horror Show.

Return to For All Nails.