Title: Fighting Spirit
Rating: T (Suitable for ages above thirteen)
Original pen-date: 20 November 2008
Summary: The Massachusetts Line marches to New York. Spring 1776.
Author's Note: There are probably some historical goofs in here and I apologise for them.
The retreat of the British from Boston had been a great victory. It was said that all of the fighting men of the Massachusetts Colony had turned out in response to the general call to arms, and it had certainly seemed true. After the fight at Breed's Hill and the subsequent build-up of fortifications around Boston, Benjamin Strout would have happily claimed that all the world had begun to gather on the colonists' side. The young former farrier's apprentice had been amongst the men at Breed's Hill, first helping dig the redoubt and later helping defend it. His enlistment was still new, not even four months old, and he was as full of pluck and spirit as any man. After all, how could the colonists' recent success possibly be halted?
General Washington was of similar mind, it was said, and now the army was on the move. To the New York Colony, the regiment's officers told them. Anything more than that was supplied by rumour, but it was enough to Strout that he and his regiment were soon to lay into the British. It still felt odd to him, calling the British the enemy when he himself was nominally British; but he was fast becoming used to it. It was far more comfortable regarding himself and his fellows to be Massachusetts men - for had it not been the Massachusetts Line that had turned out the red-coats from Boston? Of course it had, and rightly so.
His shoes stirred up a steady, ribboning trail of dust as he walked, not quite in step with the rest of the column but not caring. His martial knowledge began with knowing how to load, fire, and care for his musket and ended with only the most vague understanding of drill movements. It was the same for most of the regiment - and most of the other regiments, too. Their one true claim to military prowess was their willingness to fight - and fortunately most of them had muskets with which to fight. Those who did not, like poor Jack Leech, made due with cumbersome blunderbusses or long hunting pistols. By some stroke of luck, they also had some mismatched field pieces and those, more than their questionable musketry, were what would speak the loudest for them.
Old Dan Cross, a tinsmith from Cambridge, was whistling from his place up ahead. Perhaps out of everyone else in the regiment, Strout looked up to him the most. Dan had fought against the French some ten years earlier and many men respected him. And Dan said they were well on their way to winning the terms desired by the Congress. What more did they need to hear? Somebody else in the mostly-even files started whistling too. Strout grinned as more men joined in and patted his waistcoat for the tin whistle he kept tucked away in a pocket. Beside him, Jack Leech laughed and tucked slung his blunderbuss with some little difficulty and took Strout's musket for him. Over the men's whistle came the higher notes of the tin whistle, matching them in tune if not in pitch.
"Well," Captain Bennett observed, from his place at the head of the regiment's column, "you cannot deny that they are spirited."
Captain Knapp grunted. "Spirited they may be, but that is no replacement for discipline. Most of them cannot march properly, never mind handle a musket competently. Those of them that do have muskets!"
"As you say." Bennett shrugged and whistled a couple bars of the men's chosen tune. Whatever grumbles Knapp had about drill and discipline, it simply could not be argued that the regiments of the Massachusetts Line had spirit. The difficulty lay in properly employing it, but Bennett was confident they would acquit themselves well at Long Island, when they reached it. After all, had not many of these same men performed so nobly at Breed's Hill? Knapp glared irritably at him, but Bennett simply smiled to himself. Let the men whistle as they pleased, he thought, and let them keep their fighting spirit.