Pursuit Up the Chesapeake

Capt. Monroe stood near the bow of the Susquehanna, and looked anxiously northwards. The winds were contrary, and he was not making the headway that he needed. They were now near the mouth of the Chesapeake, but he wanted to make it as far up the bay as they could before he sent a messenger overland to Gen. Washington.


He was concentrating so intently on the problem of time that he did not at first hear the lookout above him. “Sail ahoy!” There was a scuffling on the deck behind him as the sailors clambered to their assigned stations. After a moment, his mate appeared at his right shoulder. “Sail ahoy, cap’n. Abaft the beam. Starboard side.” Capt. Monroe shook his head to clear it, somewhat annoyed with himself, and then strode quickly toward the stern. When he was amidships, he pulled his spyglass out and put it to his eye.


After a moment of hard looking, he pulled the glass down again. “Can’t make out her flag,” he muttered. “But she is closing fast, and she has guns.”


He thought for a moment and then shouted to the helmsman. “Left full rudder! Come about hard!” He then looked at his mate, and nodded. The mate knew what his men aloft had to do with the sails to keep the Susquehanna coming about in a complete circle, and he was instantly up in the rigging, barking orders. The ship turned nicely and came about in nearly a perfect circle.


On the other ship, William Morris looked on with admiration. “Nicely done,” he said to himself. His new ship was a privateer, the Constant, and he had decided that if the Continental Congress was not going to recognize his abilities and achievements, then he would have to take matters into his own hands, and make his own glory—the kind of glory that could not be shuffled off to the side for grubby partisan reasons. After his scrape with Stephen over the hanging of the Tories, he had made his way north to Philadelphia and contacted some old friends who had money to outfit a ship, and papers to make the privateering legal enough. With that, he was able to raise a crew of competent sailors, but who, when it came to their catechism, were generally worthless fellows. They were men who did not scruple about who they might fight, or what they might do, so long as the rum was good, and the wind was at their backs. They had already had good success with two British merchants, and Capt. Morris, as he now styled himself, was doing well with his plan to make himself indispensable to the colonial effort. That way, if Stephen Monroe ever decided to press the point of their conflict, or if his brother tried to make anything of his failure to come back to the Susquehanna, then he would be in a position to appeal to his contributions to the war. If it is politics they want, it is politics they will get.


But now, here, was the Susquehanna, alone. Capt. Morris knew his old ship well. The Constant was four guns to the advantage, and was lighter in the keel. She handled better, and Morris thought he had a clear hand. He knew that his crew would not balk at showing no quarter. A little pirate work, no mercy, send them all to Davy Jones, and that would be it. All he had to do was settle who was the rightful captain of the Susquehanna by sending the Susquehanna to the bottom. The new order of the ages would certainly allow him to settle a personal matter, and he knew the cut of his crew well enough to know that they would enjoy the fight, and enjoy the plunder still more. But there was no sense in pretending.


“Boys!” he called out, at the top of his voice. “Boys, this is my old ship, captained by the man who stole my rightful place. I have a score to settle with him, and I pray that you’ll indulge me. If you do, I will return it to you with compliments, and with a handsome profit. Aye?” With that, all the crew within earshot roared aye back at him, and he knew that those who were not within earshot would get the word. They would not be troubled by anything like a flag. What was a common flag between enemies?


The Susquehanna had at first swung away from them, but then had come back around. They were now sailing straight toward one another, and were due to pass one another’s port sides. Capt. Monroe still had his glass to his eye, trying to make out their flag. For his part, Capt. Morris knew that Capt. Monroe would be looking closely, and so he stepped behind a cabin. The gun ports of both ships were fully opened, and the crews of both ships were at their battle stations. But at that moment, the flag on the Constant unfurled clearly, and Capt. Monroe put down his eyeglass with relief. He turned to his mate, and said, “Americans.” Word traveled fast, and the crew of the Susquehanna all stood back in relief, relaxing. Turning back to the gunwale, Capt. Monroe leaned on the rail and prepared to shout out greetings as they passed. As their bows came even with each other, the ships were very close—only about fifty yards apart. Capt. Monroe waited for a moment, and then cupped his hands to shout out a greeting. Just then a figure, oddly familiar, stepped out onto the deck of the other ship, and Capt. Monroe stopped, and pulled his glass back up again. Morris!


Just at that moment a roar came from the other ship, and billows of smoke blew out from her port side. A second later, the port side of the Susquehanna erupted in an explosion of splinters and fragments of wood. The crew of the Susquehanna was entirely unprepared for the broadside, and for a number of seconds none of the survivors did anything. Then Capt. Monroe recovered from his shock and surprise, and roared out, “Right full rudder! Hard about, hard about!” He needed to get away for a space, assess the damages, and evaluate the wind. As the Susquehanna pulled away, the Constant was coming about to port in order to follow them hard.


The chief gunner bolted up from below. “We are badly hurt on the port side, cap’n. Half our guns are out. We need to fight on the starboard side, as much as can be. Sorry, cap’n.” Capt. Monroe nodded, and looked up at the sails. This would take everything he had, and he wasn’t sure he had it. Morris. What was he doing here?


The battle lasted for three hours, although it would be more accurate to say that it was three hours of sailing and maneuvering, with brief interludes of violent combat. Capt. Monroe managed to have almost all the Susquehanna’s broadsides delivered from starboard, and for his part, Capt. Morris began to get frustrated at his inability to get Monroe into a position he knew Monroe did not want to be in. The damage to the Susquehanna’s portside battery was obvious from the Constant, and so the reason for the Susquehanna’s complex maneuvers was also obvious. What was equally clear was that Capt. Morris couldn’t stop it from happening. By the third hour of their contest of seamanship, punctuated with violent blasts from the cannons, Morris was pacing the deck, swearing indiscriminately. Suddenly a sailor appeared from below decks. “We’re taking on water bad, cap’n. We need some more men for the pumps.”


Morris glared at him, and then swore again. “Take them from the gun crews.” Then he turned and ordered the crew manning the sails to throw up every piece of canvas they had. And with that for an ignominious end to their attempted treachery, the Constant simply veered north, and headed up the bay. The Susquehanna was the heavier ship of the two, and would not be able to catch up with the Constant under any conditions. But in addition, she had also taken on some water, and was listing to port. Capt. Monroe smiled grimly to himself. They didn’t really need to be fast—there was no way out of the bay at the north end—and so the Susquehanna could just follow at their leisure. But Morris must have some place in the Chesapeake where he thought he could go.


 


* * *


Lady Huntington sat quietly in the drawing room of Gen. Greene’s headquarters. In the next room, the murmuring of some quiet male voices were quietly discussing (as she supposed) what to do with her. She had arrived at the outskirts of the American camp unannounced, released the servant with the carriage to return to the Ingles, and then walked up to an astonished sentry guarding a crossroads outside the camp. He had sent his companion into the camp to get an escort for her, and spent the time he had with this very beautiful lady scratching his head, and trying to think of something to say. After an agonizing half hour, two soldiers appeared to take her to the general. They had done so with dispatch, she had a brief interview with the general—who appeared to be a very kindly man—and had been sitting out here in the drawing room ever since. There was an adjutant there to attend to her if she needed something, but for all that, she just sat quietly, hands folded on her lap.


It was late afternoon, and suddenly her head turned to hear a commotion on the front porch of the house. The door flew open, and Stephen Monroe stepped in. He looked at the adjutant who was standing behind his small desk in the entryway and said, “I have an urgent message for General Greene.” The adjutant nodded and stepped quickly toward the door where the general was.


“Stephen!” Lady Huntington said.


Startled, Stephen swiveled around. “Lady Huntington!” he said. He stopped with shock for a moment and then took two steps toward her. But by that time the general and his aides came hurriedly out of the back room. Normally, a general would never come out to meet a messenger, but General Greene knew that Morgan was being pursued by Tarleton, and was very anxious for any news. Stephen hesitated, and then turned back toward the general. The general was looking at him quizzically, eyebrows up.


“General Greene, I have wonderful news. Morgan has routed Tarleton at Cowpens. It was a total victory for our forces, with very few of Tarleton’s men left to tell about it.”


Several of the general’s aides shouted, but the general himself just puffed out his cheeks and said, “Well.” Then he rubbed his chin. “Well,” he said again.


In the general commotion that followed over the next few minutes, it became apparent to the others there that Lady Huntington and Stephen knew one another. “And how is that?” asked the general.


Stephen turned a little red, although he was not sure why, and said, “Lady Huntington was first taken captive by our ship at sea. When we came to port, we had her escorted to the camp of Lord Cornwallis, where her father and, um, former fiancé, were serving in the British army.”


It was Lady Huntington’s turn to blush, and she said, “I suppose he is still my fiancé. I never spoke to him about my intent to leave. But I could not speak to him.”


“I am sorry to have to be the one to inform you of this, my lady, but Major Smythe was killed at the battle of Cowpens,” Stephen said.


Lady Huntington flushed again. “Are you certain of this?” she cried. She was greatly relieved. Stephen was not sure how much to say about it, and decided he should give the details later, when there were not so many observers of their conversation. “I saw it with my own eyes, ma’am.”


The general was following everything with interest. “Major Smythe was your fiancé, then?”


“Yes, general, he was. The marriage was arranged for me while I was still in England, but when I determined for myself what kind of man he was, I decided that marriage to him was not possible for me. But I could not decline the match and remain where I was, so I came over to you. And again, I am sorry to place such an imposition upon you.”


“Not at all,” the general started to say, but Stephen saw that he really was discommoded about what to do.


“General, may I make a suggestion?”


“Certainly,” the general said.


“I am a midshipman on the Susquehanna, the ship commanded by my brother, Capt. Monroe. When you sent word to have our ship go north to get word to Gen. Washington about Cornwallis toward Virginia . . . oh, what a ninnyhammer!”


With that, Stephen flipped open the pouch hanging by his side and pulled out the letter that Capt. Monroe had written to the general, and handed it over to him. “That is how I came to be with Gen. Morgan at Cowpens. I was delivering a letter there, and this one is for you. I just happened to encounter Morgan’s men first, and I got caught up in the excitement when Tarleton’s men caught up with us.”


The general opened the letter and read it deliberately. When he was done, he nodded his head, and then looked back at Stephen. “You said you had a suggestion.”


“Oh, yes sir.” Stephen said. “My parents live in Annapolis, and they would be happy to show hospitality to Lady Huntington until they made some introductions and arrangements for her. I could escort her there, and afterwards try to meet my brother’s ship, which has sailed up the bay. In any case, I have nothing else to do until I find my ship or my ship finds me.”


The general looked across at two of his colonels. They both nodded, glad for a simple solution, at least as far as they were concerned. They did not want Lady Huntington in their camp when angry emissaries began arriving from Lord Cornwallis. The rules of war did not really give guidance for such things, and it would be far easier to just say that the lady was not there.


“Stephen, are you sure your parents would . . . not mind?”


“I am certain.”


The next morning a carriage pulled away from Gen. Greene’s camp, driven by an elderly servant. Stephen and Lady Huntington sat in the back, and had many hours to converse about all that had happened since they had parted some weeks before.


Lady Huntington told Stephen that she had heard about what he did for his cousin George. “How did you hear of that?” Stephen cried.


“From George’s mother. The Ingle home is just on the other side of Cornwallis’ camp. George may not have shown his gratitude, but his mother was as grateful as any woman I have ever seen. She said that she was going to write to your mother, and express her gratitude fully. When we get to your home, you will no doubt get to see her letter.”


Stephen looked out the side of the carriage. “I still think about what I did,” he said. “But my conscience doesn’t bother me. I know it would if I had acted the other way.”


“I was very proud of you, Stephen, when I first heard. And it was what you did that gave me courage to leave. I overheard Major Smythe boasted of doing something very much like what Morris was going to do.”


After a short silence, Stephen said, “There is something else I have to tell you. I don’t want you to hear it from anyone else, although I don’t really want you to hear it from anyone really.”
“What is that?” she said.


“The reason I saw Major Smythe killed at Cowpens is that I was the one who did it. He was about to kill my brother, Robert, but I got to him first. Please don’t think I am bragging . . . I am not . . . I didn’t want to tell you, but I am sure you will hear from someone.”


“I didn’t think you were bragging. How . . . how did it happen?”


“It was a terrible thing. I cut his head off. With my saber.”


They both sat quietly, content with the silence. Finally, Lady Huntington said, “Well, Stephen, all I can say is that you have become an upright man. You went off to war because you were an impudent boy playing tricks with ribbons. And you have done some hard things, but there are the sorts of things that men must do.”


“Who told you about the ribbons?”


“Your brother, the captain. He told me about your famous ribbons at the ball we went to.”


“The ball! You must tell me about what happened there. William would say nothing whatever about it.”

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