For All Nails #134: Rocky Mountain Way

By Johnny Pez

Ministry of War, Burgoyne, CNA
22 March 1848

General FitzJohn Smithers was not a happy man. Normally, being chief aide to Minister of War Henry Gilpin was a rewarding job, both emotionally and financially. The only downside was that whenever bad news came over the telegraph from the front lines, he was the one who had to tell Gilpin, and that was never enjoyable. Smithers lived in fear of the day when Gilpin would decide that he needed a new aide with less bad news to report. On that day, Smithers knew with sick certainty, his soft duty in Burgoyne would be at an end, and he'd be assigned to one of the units that were actually fighting the Mexicans. Would this be the day? As Smithers knocked on the door to Gilpin's inner office, he felt a tremor run down his spine.

"Enter," said the harshly sibilant voice that was the center of Smithers' universe. Smithers did so, and saluted.

Gilpin's attention was focused upon a report spread across his desk, and all that Smithers could see of him was a bare scalp surrounded by a fringe of gray hair. "Yes, Smithers," said Gilpin without looking up, "what is it?"

"Sir, we've just received a wire from New Orleans. General Williamhouse reports that he's been forced to withdraw his forces from Tampico. The pressure from the Mexican army was just too intense."

At last Gilpin looked up from his desk. A look of annoyance crossed his pinched features, and he narrowed his already beady eyes. "That's not good, Smithers, not good at all. Without a force in place to threaten Mexico City, the rebel dogs will be free to launch an attack upon the Confederation." Smithers wasn't quite certain just how old Gilpin was; evidently old enough to remember the War of the Rebellion and the Wilderness Walk, because he never referred to the Mexicans as anything other than "rebel dogs".

"We need to secure another base within striking distance of their capital," Gilpin continued. "Just a few weeks' hard marching, and they'd have those rebel dogs staring down their gun barrels. Aha! I've got it! We'll send an army to take San Francisco!"

"But, sir, San Francisco isn't --"

"Don't argue, Smithers!" Gilpin snarled. "Do as I say!"

"Yes, Mr. Gilpin," said Smithers meekly.

Rising from his seat, Gilpin began to pace back and forth in front of his office window. "But who to command this army? Lodge and Chapin have shown themselves to be utterly lacking in fortitude, and you say Williamhouse couldn't even hold Tampico against that gumbooted jackanapes Doheny."

Pausing before the window, Gilpin looked out. "Smithers, who's that bald fellow leading those troops?"

Smithers joined Gilpin at the window. Gilpin's office looked out upon a square of parkland attached to the War Ministry, which served as a drill field for units stationed in Burgoyne. A company of men was standing at attention while their commanding officer attempted without success to remove his index finger from the barrel of a pistol. He was angrily pounding the butt of the pistol against a rock. "That's Captain David Homer, sir, the officer in command of Company 7-G of the Royal Springfield Grenadiers."

"Homer, eh?" Gilpin purred. "Excellent, Smithers. Just the sort of no-nonsense officer I've been looking for. I think we've just found the man to command this campaign!"

Smithers looked out the window again, just in time to see Homer accidentally club himself unconscious with the pistol. It could be worse, Smithers decided. At least it's Homer that's being sent out west to fight the Mexicans, and not me.

Proceed to FAN #135: Undercover of the Night.

Proceed to 30 October 1849 (Rocky Mountain War): Trouble Brewing.

Return to For All Nails.