THE GETTYSBURG GAMBIT
A WHAT IF SCENARIO
A STUCK IN BOYS TALE
Cast of Characters
- Major Matt Ricard – brevet major-general in the offing?
- Trooper Ocho Bennaco – the narrator
- Trooper Joe Martin – gourmet talker
- Trooper Bob Speed – the marksman
- Trooper Jimmy Two Birds – not really Native American
- Colonel S.J.A. Turney – a snooty Southern gentleman
- Staff Sgt. Carter Parmenio – troop cook
- General R.E. Lee – dude, where’s your cavalry?
- General James Longstreet – ole Pete to the rescue
- General J.E.B. Stuart – a horseman in the doghouse
- General George Meade – a very rude welcome to new command
- Colonel Joshua Chamberlain – a different view of Little Round Top
- Lt. Charles LeFurge – fresh from West Point
- General George A. Custer – a horseman unhorsed
- Sgt. Liam O’Toole – a time traveler well met
My name is Ocho Bennacos and I belong to an elite group of warriors known as The Stuck In Boys. A fiercer set of soldiers you’d be hard pressed to find. Though we are based with the II Legio Augusta in Britain, we have the unnatural ability to leap through time and thereby find ourselves in the thick of the action in places like Spain with Pompey or against Spartacus with Crassus or perhaps even Gettysburg with Lee or Long Island with Washington. There are five of us, The Chief – Rick, Jimmy Two Birds-Jim, Postal – Joey, Nascar – Bob and Ocho-Paul. In whatever soldier’s guise we put on, we are the best; we are The Myrmidons. Our memories of our deeds are intact and that helps drive us to continue to be the best. Pride in our achievements and loyalty to each other, ahh, yes those are the keys to our success.
Somewhere near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border
Late June 1863
The countryside north of The Potomac was redolent with the smell of fertile fields and ripening crops and the bucolic sounds of the well fed cattle and pigs. Foraging for supplies will not be a problem on this mission I thought to myself as I glanced at my companion on this scout, Trooper Joe Martin. Trooper Joe does not like to miss meals. We’re out on patrol as part of General James Longstreet’s Corp. Sneaking an army the size of The Army of Northern Virginia into Union territory is not only risky but slightly difficult. We can’t afford any more surprises like Brandy Station. Pleasonton’s dawn attack on Stuart was brilliant and almost blew the lid off of Lee’s secretive approach. If Pleasonton had been a bit more aggressive who knows what may have transpired. General Lee was none too pleased with General Stuart that day, after all the cavalry was there to ferret out the enemy not get caught in a surprise attack. Now it seems that Stuart has gone off on a glory ride getting his name in the papers instead of looking for The Army of the Potomac. General Lee is still backing Stuart and figures he will turn up shortly with a full report but Ole Pete Longstreet does not share his commander’s view so The Stuck In Boys have a threefold mission; 1. find Stuart, 2. find The Army of The Potomac and 3. keep screening Lee’s move into Pennsylvania.
Ocho: ‘Well Joey, nothing happening here. We may as well head back to camp. I need a cup of coffee.’
Joey: ‘Yeah our buddy Jeb has got hisself somewhere he shouldn’t be. Gen’l Pete ain’t gonna be happy. Hope they got a pig or two on the spit. Got me a powerful hunger.’
Lee, who was riding along with Longstreet’s 1st Corps, had decided to rest the troops for a couple days in the vicinity of Hagerstown. General Ewell with 2nd Corps was due to arrive later that day. From here they would head to Chambersburg where they would split up again with Ewell going north to Harrisburg while Longstreet would head east toward Gettysburg. I headed over to Longstreet’s tent to give him our scouting report only to find General Lee in conference with Longstreet and with my commander, Major Ricard.
Lee: ‘I cannot understand why General Stuart has not reported. He knows how blind we are without him.’
Longstreet: ‘I don’t think we can afford to be left blind any longer. We know Pleasonton is out there somewhere. What we don’t know is where Hooker and the main body of the Union Army are located.’
Ocho: ‘Sir! There’s been a change in Union command. We came across a newspaper in Greencastle announcing the change. George Meade is the new man in charge.’
Lee: ‘Now that is interesting. Perhaps we can exploit the almost certain confusion inherent in a command shake up.’
Longstreet: ‘I agree, but we need to know where he is. Major, can you and your band of misfits do what General Stuart has so far failed to do?’
Ricard: Looking over the map spread out on Longstreet’s campaign desk, ‘Sir, with your permission my misfits as you call them can leave at first light. I believe we will find General Stuart somewhere between Gettysburg and Hanover.’
Longstreet: ‘Yes that does seem to be a good place to look. Major, you have got to find him and quickly.’
Lee: ‘Given the failures of the last few days by General Stuart I believe it prudent to make our own command change. Major, you are hereby promoted to brevet Major General. I will have a letter made out immediately giving you the authority to relieve General Stuart and take command of his division.’
Ricard: ‘Thank you sir. I better go have a talk with my misfits before they decide to hit the moonshine they liberated from some Union farmer. By your leave, Generals.’ Ricard saluted and we strode out of the tent.
‘Well Major, I mean General, looks like we’re gonna be stuck in again.’ I said. General Ricard looked at me and smiled, ‘Yes it does appear that way but would you have it any differently? No need to answer, the smile on your face is confirmation enough. I’ll tell you what, this is gonna really shake up Colonel Turney’s aristocratic feelings. He’s not fond of the common man and especially common misfits like us.’ ‘Yes well, it won’t be the first time we’ve upset the nobility.’ I said laughing at the memories of past encounters with social climbing military leaders. We reached the tent site of my companions in arms just as Jimmy Two Birds was pulling the stopper out of the jug of confiscated moonshine. ‘Best go easy on that. We’re in the saddle again at the crack of dawn. General Lee has given us a job to do and under the direction of our newly minted General here,’ I said pointing to Ricard, ‘we will be riding a long way tomorrow.’ ‘Kiss my own arse if that ain’t something.’ chimed in Two birds, ‘Bout time we got some real action.’ I was just about to respond when Colonel Turney, in a near state of apoplexy, walked up to General Ricard fuming about Lee’s abandonment of the social strata. ‘His daddy, Light Horse Harry must be rolling in his grave. Passing over the son of a prominent member of the government and owner of the largest plantation in Alabama for this, this vagabond Texan?’ said Colonel Turney to no one in particular but now he turned his eyes on Ricard, ‘Sir, I graduated first in my class at the finest military school in Alabama and received my commission from the governor of Alabama. Just where did you get your training and commission, sir?’ ‘Well’ replied General Ricard, ‘To be specific, all of us received our initial training while with Vespasian in Britain at the hands of a real tough s.o.b. of a centurion name of Macro. Chap was real handy with a vine staff and second to none with a blade. My first commission I received from Gaius Julius Caesar himself while with the 10th Legion in Gaul. Our latest experience was a posting with The Texas Rangers with Captains Call and McRae fighting off the Comanche under Buffalo Hump. Anything else you want to know Colonel?’ The colonel with a look of disgust just walked away muttering to himself, ‘Lunatics, Lee has lost his mind and promoted lunatics.’ ‘Well ladies, best start packing. General Longstreet said he’d see our extra gear gets on a baggage wagon. Joe, go see our erstwhile cook Sgt. Parmenio and make sure he has breakfast ready for us before dawn. I will see you misfits bright and early.’ said Ricard as he walked away. Trooper Joe headed for the cook’s tent and the others began assembling only what they needed for the mission.
Arriving at Sgt. Carter Parmenio’s camp kitchen Joe found him basting a suckling pig he had turning on a spit licking his fingers clean of the tasty juices. ‘Hey Carter’ said Joe, ‘We have an early ride tomorrow so we’re gonna need breakfast and some eat while on horseback food for the journey.’ Carter looked up from the turning pig, smiled and said, ‘You got it. Biscuits, bacon and coffee good enough for you picky eaters?’ ‘Perfect.’ replied Joe, ‘Is that pig ready for sampling? I’m feeling a little peckish. Oh yeah one more thing, can you see that Colonel Turney’s breakfast is somewhat short of tasty?’ Sgt. Parmenio, a huge gap toothed grin on his face nodded knowingly and said, ‘That bastard gets nothing but the burnt pieces of bacon, the two day old biscuits and coffee that has been on the fire a bit too long.’ ‘Perfect’ replied Joe as he handed Sgt. Parmenio a couple cigars, ‘Compliments of ole Pete Longstreet. Course he don’t know he’s missing them yet. See you before the birds get up.’
The early morning breakfast was just about completed when General Longstreet came over and had a seat by the fire. ‘I see Sgt. Parmenio has outdone himself.’ he mused watching Trooper Bob Speed chomp down on yet another piece of bacon and while Troopers Joe and Two Birds were using their last bit of biscuit to wipe their plates clean of anything edible. ‘Anything I can do for you boys? I’ve arranged for a baggage wagon to store your gear.’ ‘Well as a matter of fact there is Gen’l’ said Two Birds, ‘I’d take it kindly if you would hold onto this jug. I don’t trust those thieving wagon masters.’ ‘I will do what I can though I can’t guarantee it’ll be any safer with my gear.’ answered Longstreet. ‘Seems someone has been helping themselves to my Cuban cigars. Come to think of it I believe I saw Sgt. Parmenio smoking one as I grabbed some coffee a few minutes ago. He tried to hide it when he saw me. Well no matter, I’m guessing that whoever gave him the cigar will be far away from my tent for the next few days.’ Longstreet got up and saluted. ’Good luck. Send back word as soon as you can.’
We set out in what has become our norm through our many adventures. Two Birds was on point, Speed brought up the rear leaving the General, Trooper Joe and me in the middle. We spaced ourselves out in fifteen minute intervals and would ride for three hours at which point Joe and I would swap places with Two Birds and Speed. This way kept us sharp and on the alert. Our route was a north easterly one through farmland and woods. Our first destination was the Monterey Pass of South Mountain. Once there we will do a more thorough recon before continuing towards the town of Gettysburg. As the three of us approached the beginning of the pass we noticed Two Birds dismounted and giving us the keep quiet signal. Leaving the horses with Joe, the General and I crept up to Two Birds position. There below us in a clearing in the woods was a Union officer quite literally with his pants around his ankles taking care of a bodily function. Careful to not alert him we surrounded and then surprised the crap out of him. ‘Just finish your business Lieutenant, we can wait.’ said General Ricard. Lieutenant Charles LeFurge fresh out of West Point finished with a spray of oak leaves, pulled up his pants and seeing no hope of escape surrendered his pistol and a very nice Spencer Repeating Rifle. I searched him and found his orders which I then handed to General Ricard. ‘Well it seems the good Lieutenant is part of a scouting patrol attached to General Pleasonton. Two Birds go get Joe and take a look see at their camp. If there are pickets, take them out quietly. We don’t want to arouse the others too soon.’ As we waited for Two Birds and Joe to return, Trooper Speed came galloping up. ‘Sir, I located what appears to be John Buford’s command. Looks like they are headed to Gettysburg.’ The general thought for a moment and said, ‘Where Buford is, General Reynolds and the 1st Corps of Meade’s cannot be far behind. Bob, head back to Longstreet. Tell him we found Meade and probably Pleasonton. If Ole Pete hurries he can grab the high ridges outside of Gettysburg and make things rather difficult for Meade. Meanwhile, the rest of us are going to continue to Stuart. He could be in a fix if Pleasonton finds him before we do. Here take this Spencer, could come in handy.’ Two Birds and Joe came back reporting that not only were there no pickets set, the scouting party had stacked their rifles out of reach. ‘Seems odd considering that there is one of us in the group.’ said Joe, ‘The sergeant is sporting a Bull emblem on his saddlebag.’ ‘Okay, Lieutenant let’s go down to your camp. One false move and blood will be shed, yours first.’ warned General Ricard.
Sergeant Liam O’Toole had a feeling up and down his neck that something was wrong and gave thought to calling his men to arms but after some careful consideration decided to wait it out peacefully. These troopers were eager but were young and inexperienced, starting with the Lieutenant so he was not too surprised when the camp was invaded by a troop of Confederates. What did surprise the Sgt. was the Pegasus emblem each of the rebels had stitched on his uniform.
Ricard: ‘Sergeant, please have you and your men seated with your hands on your knees. There is something familiar about you Sgt?’
O’Toole: ‘Liam O’Toole at your service sir. Aye but sure it has been a long time since we served together with himself General Caesar at Alesia. I was or am Lucius Laevinus, Centurion, 1st Century, 2nd Cohort in the 10th. I remember you sir and the rest of your crew. I don’t see Nascar, played dice with him a few times. I think the dozy bastard cheats. Well we did a piece of work in that fight.’
Ricard: ‘I am surprised at your defenseless position given your experience, Centurion.’
O’Toole: ‘Aye. I argued with the young laddie but he was sure we were safe. Youngster had to learn the hard way.’
Ricard: ‘Right. Well this is what’s going to happen. We are going to leave you here, with your saddles. We will be taking the Spencer’s and ammo. We will also be taking your horses but will leave them tethered a few miles up the road. By the time you get remounted we will have found Stuart and hopefully engaged Pleasonton. Hail and well met Centurion.’
O’Toole: ‘Hail and well met Centurion.’
Joe, Two Birds and me gathered up the rifles, ammo and led the horses back up the hill to the road. The General unloaded the Lieutenants pistol, handed it back to him and followed us up the slope. ‘I say Sergeant, what was all that talk about Centurions and Alesia?’ asked LeFurge. ‘Just old soldier talk laddie, nothing to be concerned about. Right now your only thought should be on getting these boys back to the troop.’ answered Sergeant O’Toole. We arrived at Stuart’s camp a couple hours later and after sending Joe and Two Birds out to scout for Pleasonton, Major General Ricard and I headed for General Stuart’s command tent.
Stuart: ‘Well this is a surprise. Ricard isn’t it? A Major General now, congratulations are in order.’
Ricard: ‘Thank you but you better read this first.’ He handed Lee’s letter to Stuart.
Stuart: ‘It seems I have run afoul of General Lee and I suspect General Longstreet as well. I am your servant sir. General Lee does not state any orders for me. May I assume he left that up to you General Ricard?
Ricard: ‘Yes as a matter of fact and I have an idea that may change Lee’s current frame of mind. General Pleasonton is on his way here to finish what he started at Brandy Station. I believe we have until dawn before he launches his surprise attack on this camp. Plenty of time for us to be ready with a few of our own surprises. Call your staff together, we have some planning to do, say in half an hour.
Meanwhile Joe and Two Birds had returned with their report that Pleasonton was indeed in position to attack at dawn. They were also escorting a group of browbeaten pickets back to camp. “General, we sort of figured you had a plan to surprise Pleasonton so we took it upon ourselves to call in General Stuart’s scouts,’ said Two Birds. ‘They were a little reluctant at first but we put the fear of a centurion in them. Jupiter’s hairy sack that was fun.’ ‘Good thinking Two Birds, now you and Joe go get with the troop engineer. I want concealed pits lined with sharpened stakes dug along the main pathways through the camp.’ responded General Ricard. ‘Ocho, take 750 troopers and hide yourself in the woods up that hill’, said Ricard pointing to an overlook from which I would charge into the rear of the Federal troops once they reached the pits. ‘I will take 750 troopers as well and fall on the Feds from the front and side once you have engaged the rear. General Stuart and the rest of this troop will make a show of being caught unawares in the camp but will form a skirmish line once Pleasonton’s lead group reaches the pits. Okay gentlemen, let’s get ready.’
The things I remember most in all of the battles I have taken part in are the sounds and smells that permeate a battlefield. This is not to say that I don’t recollect the faces of the foes I have put down, on the contrary, I see them all of the time as they regularly discomfit my dreams but it is the sounds of men and animals screaming their war cries or crying their death songs and the smells of body parts cruelly ripped asunder and strewn haphazard along the ground and the pools of blood, urine and feces turning the ground into a miasma of mire that nature never intended to exist, those are the more pervading memories. From my vantage point at the top of the ridge I could see Pleasonton making his way slowly up the valley leading to the camp. When they reached the point where they would expect to meet the outlying pickets Pleasonton halted and held a brief discussion with his brigade commanders. I can imagine the exciting prospect of catching Stuart unaware was utmost on his mind for he immediately ordered the charge. At once the ground shook with the thundering of 2500 horses rushing full speed into the vast encampment. The first line of horsemen reached the concealed pits and plunged down onto the sharpened stakes, horses screaming as they impaled themselves in chests and legs throwing their riders who were helpless as they too fell on stakes or under thrashing hooves. By the time those behind were able to rein in their steeds Stuart fell upon them on the left flank and Ricard on the right. My troops hit them square in the center of their rear. The result was a rout. The Federal troops had nowhere to go to flee the carnage being heaped upon them from every side. Those who did try to continue straight through the camp found themselves trampling over the unfortunate ones floundering in the stake lined pits. Those who made it past those obstacles then had to contend with Stuart’s field artillery set up at the other end of the camp. Canister shot at short range cut huge swaths through the panic stricken Federal horsemen.
There was one regiment that managed to avoid the deadly pits and the ensuing chaos by swinging to the extreme right side of the camp and riding through a thinned out area of forest. The 5th Michigan led by Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer was not willing to leave the field of battle without striking a blow and reentered the camp and hit the troop led by General Ricard. This was the fiercest fight of the morning and the one that took its heaviest toll on the rebels. Custer was like a man possessed as he stabbed and sliced his way through the enemy looking to inflict a killing blow on the leader of this collection of rebel troopers. Ricard could see Custer coming in his direction and guessed his intent. Spurring his mount, Ricard turned to meet the challenge. They met, sabers drawn, with Custer taking the offensive raining blow after blow at Ricard who neatly deflected them all until one deflection forced Custer’s blade into a scything downward motion catching Ricard’s horse in the shoulder tearing a huge gash nearly to the bone. The now terrified animal stumbled to the ground dislodging Ricard who went flying over his mounts head. As he hit the ground his saber was jostled from his hand and thrown out of reach. Wheeling his steed around, Custer saw his chance and swooped in for the kill.
Trooper Bob Speed was sitting on top of a hill across the camp. He had delivered his message to Longstreet and feeling a little left out of the fight grabbed a fresh mount and headed back to his companions. When he arrived the battle was already a foregone conclusion so he sat and watched the mop up. When he heard the clash of the Michigan 5th and Ricard’s troops he pulled out the Spencer just in case.
General Ricard dazed and a little groggy from the fall looked up through blurry eyes to see a man on horseback poised to strike a lethal blow. Ricard threw his arms up reflexively to ward off the blow that never fell. Two shots rang out from Trooper Bob’s Spencer, the first striking Custer in the shoulder throwing him back in the saddle right when the second shot hit his horse in the chest. Both horse and rider tumbled backwards, the horse landing on top of Custer crushing his spine and taking his life. When I was finally able to reach General Ricard he was gazing down at the lifeless body of his foe. ‘Who took the shots that saved my life?’ asked Ricard. ‘Well General that would be me,’ replied Trooper Bob Speed as he rode up and dismounted, ‘good thing you gave me that Spencer.’
Sgt. Liam O’Toole and Lt. Charles LeFurge rode over to their fallen commander. Lt. LeFurge made a move to pull his pistol from his holster but Sgt. O’Toole put his hand on the Lieutenant’s, ‘Ahh laddie this fight is over. Your job now is to help make our retreat orderly. Go and gather what troops you can and head back to camp. I’m guessing General Pleasonton will be wanting to get away from here rather quickly. I’ll be along shortly with General Custer’s body.’
Sgt. O’Toole: ‘He was a rash one our General Custer. Had a bright future. How many like him have we met in our travels Ricardus?’
Ricard: ‘More than I care to count, Lucius. Best keep an eye on that Lt. LeFurge. He seems to share General Custer’s flair for the dramatic. Hail and well met, Lucius. Until our next posting.
Sgt. O’Toole: ‘Hail and well met Ricardus.’
3rd of July 1863
The next two days were taken up with the burial of the dead and the mundane duties of administrative paperwork. The sounds of a major engagement raging to the west in Gettysburg was a constant reminder to be vigilant and alert. Pickets were set and dispatch riders were sent in search of news of the battle. It was also a time for recuperation for Ricard as he sustained a large contusion on his arse when thrown from his horse during the battle. This provided us with a few good laughs especially from Two Birds who remarked upon seeing the multi-colored bruise, ‘I swear General, that has got to be the prettiest buttock I have ever seen. Well not as pretty as Aphrodite’s perhaps, but yours certainly has a fine artistic quality to it. Bet you can’t wait to get back in the saddle again.’
As it turned out we were back in the saddle later that day as a courier from General Longstreet arrived with a request that we join him in his new camp just off the Taneytown Road below Little Round Top. So leaving the rest of the cleanup to General Stuart we gathered our gear and headed off to see Ole Pete. The scars of battle were everywhere we looked. Newly dug graves, broken caissons, Union prisoners, dead horses and the occasional cries of pain from the makeshift field hospital greeted us as we made our way to the command tent of Longstreet.
Longstreet: ‘Glad to see you boys made it through okay. As you can see and smell, we’ve had a busy time of it here. Thanks to the message you sent with Trooper Speed, we were able to gain the high ground before Buford arrived. By the time Meade got here we were well entrenched. A.P. Hill held the center with Ewell’s Corp holding the right. My boys Pickett and Hood were just up there behind us on those two hills, Big Round Top and Little Round Top. The Federals put up a tremendous fight especially right here at Little Round Top. Sam Hood was hard pressed to keep them at bay as the Yanks poured everything they had at him. One regiment, the Maine 20th, almost broke through which would have caused us all sorts of problems but Sam’s boys with a little last minute help from Lou Armistead’s brigade turned the tide and we held. We captured the colonel of the 20th Maine. A remarkable young man. He’s a rhetoric professor at some college in Maine, not even a military man and he almost broke us.’
Ricard: ‘Well how is General Lee going to follow up this victory? Seems to me that Meade’s forces are pretty well spent, will take them a while to recover enough to be a threat.’
Longstreet: ‘We’re moving out tomorrow. General Lee is going to leave Ewell’s Corp. here to keep an eye on Meade while the rest of us head on down to Washington and a meeting with President Lincoln, though I expect he will have vacated the area before we arrive. Where are you boys headed next now that you are detached from this army? General Lee sends his sincerest thanks for the outstanding work you and the misfits did.’
Ricard: ‘Until our next assignment we’re gonna head back to Texas and help out Call and McRae. That Comanche chief Buffalo Hump is one of the finest adversary’s we’ve come up against.’
Longstreet: ‘Oh I almost forgot. Trooper Two Birds may want this.’
General Longstreet reached down behind him and grabbed a large jug and handed it to Two Birds. ‘Glory be! Look at that Joe, our jug made it. I swear Pete, by the hairy gonads of Jupiter himself, that’s the best thing I’ve seen all day, excepting of course the multi-colored work of art on Ricardus’ arse.’