Fog of War
Copyright © 2015 by Ken Barber
May 13, 1776.
My Dearest Jasper,
I don't know if you will ever get to read these letters but I keep writing them, because I can never forget our last night together. I know now no matter what the church or our parents say I love you with all my heart and will never stop loving you. We face each other from across a great battlefield a battlefield created by men in powdered wigs and tailored coats. I can only hope that we don't actually meet on that battlefield…
Geofry paused and recalled that night in October almost two years ago. Jasper and he had found a small corner of the a rope room together. The ship was at anchor near Boston Harbor, the harbor filled with merchant ships and troop ships, the privateers anchored off shore. The crew was to a man, drunk. Geofry lit a candle stub and smiled at Jasper and reached out and touched his cheek.
Jasper's eyes twinkled in the candle light and warmed Geofry's soul. The younger boy's skin under his hand felt like it was on fire and wanted to consume Geofry. And Geofry wanted it to consume him. He slowly leaned and pressed his quivering lips to Jasper’s and felt the sigh escape from Jasper’s mouth.
Jasper was everything Geofry wanted to be. Free, no family requirements to uphold, no expectations of "being a gentleman". Jasper was a strong minded boy hell bent on doing what he wanted and when. He was only a cabin boy but he was skilled aboard a ship well beyond his years and had earned the admiration of the Crew and even the officers.
Jasper would command his own privateer someday, while the best Geofry could hope for was a commission in the royal Navy, if they still allowed Colonists to have Commissions after all the trouble that had been going on. Jasper was all for the rebels but Geofry knew it was only a matter of time before the Great British Empire put an end to the silliness
Jasper snuggled into Geofry's arms and laid his head on his shoulder…
"Mister Winters your needed on the Quarter Deck."
"Aye Mister Robins, thank you."
Geofry Winters carefully made his way toward the quarter deck from the bow gun deck. The ship HMS Marshal wasn't huge but she was big enough and the Captain and Crew were proud of her. The newest designed sloop from the Royal Navy she was sleek and fast. The crew's Morale was high after capturing a Colonial Merchant ship out of Virginia the week prior. The Ship gave up quickly after the Marshall had over taken her. She was laden with tobacco, cotton and rum, a hefty prize haul. The Marshall's first Lieutenant Hart had taken command of the captured ship and returned it to the Port in Bermuda.
That left the crew a little short handed, so the 3 midshipman had been pulling extra duty. Geofry had been helping out on the forward gun deck and Josiah Robins had been covering the stern gun deck. Geofry and Josiah got along fair enough, it was James Matheson that was the issue. James was the oldest of the midshipmen and probably would not be aboard if his father was not Captain of a Ship of the Line. He was sloppy and undisciplined and often tried to blame the other two for his mistakes. Geofry was sure the Captain and crew knew what was happening but was powerless to do anything about it.
Geofry followed Josiah, who was a very good looking guy the same age as Geofry. If it were not for his heart belonging to Jasper, Geofry might have been interested in Josiah. The two made their way topside, past the lashed guns and coils of rope. The acidic smell of burnt powder had seeped into the wood and almost completely masked the smell of the sea. The waters were fairly calm and the roll of the ship mild but neither would have noticed much if the ship pitched more, they had become accustomed to the constant motion. The crew was assembling on the main deck waiting for the Captain to address them.
Geofry and Josiah pushed past the crew and climbed the stairs to the raised deck at the back of the ship and took their place behind the officers. James gave them a smug look as he was standing to the left facing the bow. That was the position reserved for the senior Midshipman. James while the oldest, had not been given the position of Senior Midshipman, when Harold Buckman had taken sick and been left in Bermuda. The Captain had appointed Geofry Senior Midshipman and James tried at every turn to sabotage him.
The 2nd Lieutenant glared at James but James pretended to not notice until the Captain came out of his cabin and turned to address the crew.
"We have done well so far, the capture of the Merchant ship will mean a bigger payoff for all of us. However the American Colonies are in full rebellion and we sail for waters infested with Colonial Privateers. The First Lieutenant leaving has left a gap in the officer ranks. As is custom 2nd Lieutenant Franklin will be elevated to the position of 1st Lieutenant and 3rd Lieutenant Jameson will be elevated to 2nd Lieutenant. That leaves us short a Lieutenant and a few crew members. Sail Master Downey will make adjustments in the crew to fill gaps. Expect to work a little harder until we make New York Harbor in a two days. There we will take on new crew members. As for the position of 3rd Lieutenant it is within my authority to promote one of the midshipmen to acting Lieutenant." he paused, turned and looked at the three midshipmen behind him.
"One of you has excelled and shown their mettle. One of you I can count on in the heat of battle. Midshipman Winters front and center!"
Geofry paused for a moment astonished that he thought the Captain had called his name. Josiah nudged him and he ran forward and stood in front of the Captain who had turned to face the crew again.
"Midshipman Geofry Winters, Do you swear to put the needs of the crown, His majesty's Navy, the HMS Marshall and your crew above your own?"
"I do sir." his voice squeaked when he answered and he blushed slightly as some of the crew chuckled.
The Captain glared over his head at the crew and the chuckling stopped immediately.
"Midshipman Geofry Winters do you promise to follow all the orders of your senior officers without hesitation or question?"
"I do, sir." this time his voice was stronger and the Captain smiled slightly.
"By the authority Invested in me by His Royal Majesty King George, The Royal Navy Admiralty and God I elevate you to the Rank of Acting 3rd Lieutenant with all pay and privileges."
The Crew cheered and the officers clapped. "Lieutenant Winters take your place with the officers."
Geofry walked back and stood in line next to Lieutenant Jameson who smiled at him. Jameson had always been very nice to Geofry and Josiah, trying to teach more than discipline. Jameson had only been commissioned a year earlier so was close to their age.
The Captain cleared his throat again. "Now it's time for us to show these Colonial Rebels the power of His Majesty's Royal Navy. Long live the King."
"LONG LIVE THE KING" the crew and officers shouted in unison.
"Alright you mangy scoundrels back to work" The Sailing master yelled out breaking up the gathering.
The crew went back to work as the Captain turned to the officers "Lieutenant Winters move your gear to the Lieutenants cabin. As is custom the officers will dine together tonight to toast the King and your promotion then you will stand middle watch."
"Aye, sir." Geofry replied. The dreaded middle watch midnight to 4:00 am. Nothing ever happened on middle watch which is why it was always left to the junior officer.
The Captain headed to his cabin and the officers all patted Geofry on the back and congratulated him.
Jameson walked up to Geofry and winked before turning to face Matheson. "Matheson, move Lieutenant Winters gear to the officers quarters Immediately."
Matheson's face turned beat red and he looked like he wanted to say something but caught himself "Yes sir." He trudged off pushing past Josiah with his shoulder.
Jameson smiled. "That boy will never make it past midshipman." Come on Geofry let me show you your new quarters."
As Geofry passed Josiah he was beaming with pride.
"Lieutenant Winters, sir may I be so bold to offer you my congratulations."
Geofry smiled. "Of Course Josiah, thank you for all your help over the past year."
"Of Course Lieutenant Winters, I look forward to continuing to serve our King with you."
Geofry quickly got his gear stored in the Lieutenants cabin and with the help of borrowed uniform pieces from the other officers managed to cobble together a Lieutenants Uniform. As was tradition the New appointed First Lieutenant took the new 3rd Lieutenant on a tour of the ship.
Along the way the Sailing Master and Purser joined them. The Discussion between the officers and Senior Crew members revolved around what they expected of the new officer and how he should carry himself. They arrived at the Crew mess where the most of the crew was beginning to eat the evening meal. The Sailing Master and Purser entered without hesitation but Lieutenant Franklin held Geofry back.
"This is the only place on the ship that belongs to the crew. As midshipman you were allowed in here as a measure of expediency. Now we ask permission to enter." He stepped up to the door and waiting quietly until the Sail Master turned around and acknowledge them"
"Lieutenant Franklin how can we help you."
"Master Downy, Lieutenant Winters and I request permission to enter to finish the new officers tour, If it please the Sail Master and the Crew."
Master Downy looked around and got nods from key Crew members. "Lieutenants you are free to enter, just remember to mind your manners while in the company of these fine gentlemen." He swept his arm around the room and the crew erupted in laughter.
Lieutenant Franklin walked into the room and Geofry followed. They stopped and exchanged pleasantries with a couple sailors before continuing into the galley and then on the pantry and storage holds. The pair came back via the gun deck as Lieutenant Franklin explained to Geofry that his role will be the gun deck officer. They stopped and inspected a couple of the guns. 12 of the Marshall's 18 guns where on the main gun deck. In a unique placement, 8 of the guns were the standard 12 pounders used on ships of the Marshall's size but four in the very center of the ship were 18 pounders, two on starboard and two on the port side. The rest of the 6 guns where topside, 2 12 pounders to starboard two 12 pounders to port, 1 nine pound long gun at the bow and 1 at the stern.
The Marshall's unique gun layout and rigging made her the pride of the unrated ships of the British Navy. She was fast and the extra 18 pounders at the center added a little more power to her punch. She was designed to fill the gap between the smaller sloops and the larger frigates.
The Colonial Privateers had become a thorn in the side of the British Navy so the Navy was responding with the privateer hunters like the Marshall. She was designed to operate alone and tempt privateers due to her smaller hull signature. Should she encounter a larger ship, her rigging which was a cross between a sloop and brig rigging should out run the larger adversary. All the while firing the long range 9 pounder at the chaser. Most ships of this size did not have chase guns mounted on the bow or stern. One additional feature of the Marshall, the last 12 pound gun on each side of the gun deck was on a detachable track and could quickly be moved to the stern were secondary fire ports were installed but hidden. Any ship that gave chase would find themselves facing not a single 9 pound but 2 twelve pounders as well.
The Lieutenants finished their tour of the ship at the quarterdeck and check the ships log before returning to the Captain's Mess. The rest of the officers were already there and wine was already being poured. Franklin whispered into Geofry's ear.
"It considered ok to refuse anymore drink after two glasses if you have watch. Also don't forget your part in the toast."
Geofry nodded. "Thank you sir."
The Captain entered and asked everyone to sit. Once everyone was seated Captain Brozier, whose actual rank was Commander, but was referred to as Captain by virtue of his position, Raised his glass.
"Silence please. To the King."
The assembled officers replied in Unison. "To King George."
Everyone sipped their wine and the Captain again raised his glass."To Our ships at Sea."
Again the officer cheered in Unison "To the British Navy."
"To Absent Friends."
Everyone raised their glasses but no word was uttered.
"To our wives and sweethearts."
Everyone raised their glass and looked at Geofry
He smiled and raised his glass. "May they never meet."
Everyone laughed and cheered as the cabin boy began serving the dinner.
The Captain looked at Geofry and smiled. "Lieutenant Winters welcome and congratulations. Now tell me do you know where the tradition of the final toasts comes from."
Geofry blushed. "I am sorry Captain I but I don't."
Captain Brazier smiled. "This is a good one. The Legend says that When Lord High Admiral, Charles Howard 1st earl of Nottingham, was junior commander he was a bit of a Ladies man and a man's man for that matter. But his wife was a proper English woman and would only lay with her husband when it was time to make a child. So he was known to have many lovers both male and female all over England. During a Dinner with senior navel officers he was the most junior officer present and mumbled that response, causing a senior Post Captain seated next to him to laugh and spit his wine all over the white brocaded dinner coat of an admiral. Since then it has been a part of the Royal Navy's Traditions. The Morale of the story is a Royal Navy officer no matter how junior can alter the course of history with just one mumbled response, so guard your words or you may end up First Sea Lord."
Everyone laughed and cheered. Geofry was amazed at how relaxed and entertaining the evening was. He stayed quiet through most of the dinner only answering questions when asked.
"Lieutenant Winter's?" The Captain called out across the table causing everyone to quiet down.
"Yes sir?" Geofry replied nervously.
"You're a colonist, tell us what these rebels think to achieve"
Geofry thought for a second. "Well sir, as far as I understand it, they wish to establish an Independent Country. Governed by Colonist not the crown."
"But who will be their King?"
"The Rumor is most intend to not have a king."
The officers laughed.
"That's absurd." Captain Brozier laughed. "No King, then who will lead them? This General Washington or Congress."
"Trust me sir I think it absurd as well. While most of us would like some autonomy we feel we are the loyal subjects of the King. Many of the Tories would like to see our own separate parliament. I sir, am a Kings man, and will be loyal to the King until my death."
A round of "here here's" and fist thumping on the table ensued.
The Evening quieted down with discussion of tactics and the Captains plans. His intention was to stay clear of the Colonial shipping lanes until they arrived in New York Harbour then resupply before moving up the coast to start hunting the Colonial Privateers out of Massachusetts Colony and Rhode Island Colony. These two colonies were the birth place of most of the Privateers harassing the shipping in the north Atlantic. Sailors from these colonies where well known for their skill and brashness. A couple of privateers had actually assaulted British Navy ships and done considerable damage. The Marshall and the couple of other ships were ordered to the North East Coast to hunt and put an end to these North Eastern Pirates.
After Dinner Geofry returned to his shared quarters to clean up and to change into a watch uniform. After leaving the shared cabin he realized he had left his hat and returned to the cabin and walked in on Lieutenant Franklin and Lieutenant Jameson nude embracing and kissing passionately. The where so caught up in the moment they didn't notice Geofry sneak in crap his hat and sneak back out.
Geofry quietly closed the door and leaned against it and sighed smiling. He quickly made his way to the quarterdeck and relieved Sail Master Downey from his watch. He looked out over the ship and smiled for the next four hours he was in command.
About an hour after his watch started, a heavy fog began to roll in. They were out on the open sea and were nowhere near shallows or reefs, so a course correction was not needed. He made a note in the log book and relayed his decision to the Sail Masters mate on duty. The older man nodded his agreement and went back to work. Within twenty minutes the fog was so thick you could barely see the bow from the stern.
Geofry ordered them to furl all the sails, effectively letting the ship drift. There was no navigating in fog this thick, so he grabbed a couple crew members and had them climb out as far as they could on the bow spirit and to give a better chance of warning if something was in their way. As they were getting settled Geofry heard a distant noise in the fog.
"Quiet on the deck." everyone instantly got quiet. The silence continued for and uncomfortably long time until a moment before Geofry was about to dismiss it he heard it again.
"There is a ship out there off to the port." Geofry grabbed the powder monkey acting as a runner his watch. "Henri go and wake the Captain and officers tell them we have heard a ship. And Henri be bloody quiet." He looked at the Sailing Mate." Keep the boys quiet but get ready to make sail." Geofry returned to the Quarter deck and grabbed the telescope and scanned to the port but the fog obscured everything. Then he heard it again the creak of a mast under sail to the port and behind them. No ship kept their sails up during a fog like this unless they were chasing something. Geofry thought for a second what could they be chasing out here. The Marshall was the only ship around for miles. They were being chased. He grabbed the sailing mate and whispered "Get the main sails unfurled as quietly as you can and get me the gunners mate."
He turned to the Helmsman "Bring us to starboard two points."
The Gunner's mate arrived on the quarter deck moments later. Geofry looked at him. "Get the two 12 pounders in place on the stern quietly."
Just as he darted away the Captain and other Lieutenants arrived. "Lieutenant, Report"
"Captain we heard a ship in the fog to our port stern. By the sound of her she is under sail and gaining on us."
The Captain looked to the stern and hushed everyone. The ring of metal against wood pierced the fog. The Captain looked around and saw the stern 9 pounder being loaded, the sails being unfurled and all very quietly. The Two midshipmen were carrying the officers pistols when Matheson tripped dropped a loaded pistol that slide across the deck hit the stern gun with a load clang. Everything went silent for a moment.
From out of the fog they heard. "Beat to Quarters."
Captain Brozier turned to the cabin boy standing there with his drum. "Beat to quarters. Helm come to starboard 4 degrees. Run out the sails let gain some distance."
Goefry trotted to the gun deck where Josiah was already organizing the gun crews. The Two 12 pounders Geofry had ordered moved where in position and loaded just not run out. "Signal the captain Stern Guns ready."
The crews continued the load the remaining guns and Geofry watch carefully. The runner slide down the latter and looked for Geofry and gave him a signal
"Run out the stern guns." as the stern firing ports opened and the guns were pushed forward to the firing position Geofry and the Master Gunner both checked the sighting. As they stood the Captain was standing behind them.
"Dont fire Until you have a visual"
Geofry paused for a moment. "Captain if we fired on the sounds with the 12 pounders they would think we are have turned to starboard and our starboard guns are trying to pinpoint them."
The Captain thought for a moment then nodded aim for the sounds and fire on my command. "Quiet on the deck." He trotted back topside repeating the command as he went. The Ship became eerily quiet.
"Hail the ship in the fog." They heard the captain call out.
The was no response at first then they heard the sound of a cannon being fired. The Light from the barrel reflected of the fog giving the gunner a perfect target. The fired shot was wide and hit the water to the port side of the ship.
"FIRE" They didn't need the runner to hear the Captains command and both guns barked out and flew backward with the recoil the acid smoke filled the room and the crews raced to reload and run the guns back out. Geofry felt the ship turn under his feat.
"Move the guns back to the broadside line quickly"
"Aye sir. Come on boys get them unhitched and moved quickly."
The sound of the enemy ship firing again rang out and the round would have hit had the captain not turned the ship. The shot hit the water a few feet off the stern.
"Run out the guns" Geofry called out and watched the crew push all the guns into place. If the captain was right the enemy Captain would turn as well giving the Marshal chance to fire a full broadside. The wind picked up and blew the fog away and the bow of the enemy ship came into view. He hadn't turned he came straight on and now was on a collision course. The ship was huge compared to the Marshal, it was one of the Colonial Navy frigates. The Marshal was out gunned, out manned and now it appeared, out maneuvered.
No matter what they did the Frigate would collide with them. Geofry looked around. "Fire as you bear. aim for bow spirit. Aim your shots carefully. Starboard side crews arms yourselves and prepare to repel boarders.
The first gun barked out and Geofry watched the round tear into the bow spirits the second gun followed and the round went a little wide skipping off the hull. The two 18 pounders fired simultaneously, one round ripping through the remnants of the bow spirit and ripped into the rigging. The second round tore into the hull splitting open the bow but the Frigate never slowed. The ships commander turned his ship at the last moment so the impact was lessened slightly. Geofry was knocked off his feet as the entire ship shuddered.
He jumped up and looked at the last two guns. "FIRE"
The gun crews fired the last two guns in the line, at point blank range just as the American ship opened fire. The 18 pound gun at the center was hit dead on and was ripped out of its tracks and went flying across the deck, gun crews scrambling to get out of the way, as the giant battering ram smashed into one of the 12 pounders on the far side. The impact forced the 12 pounder sideways into the gun next to it, crushing a gunners mate between the two.
Geofry looked up at the gaping hole in the side of the ship and looked into the bowels of the colonial ship. The Two crews staring at each other from just a few feet away.
The Shout from the Frigate Gun deck startled them all into action. "Board her. With me boys."
"REPEL BOARDERS" The shout came from Geofry moments before the a volley of musket fire preceded a crew from the frigate storming through the hole. Geofry fired his pistol at the first shadow that appeared through the haze of the smoke and watched it drop. He grabbed his cutlass and screamed as he ran toward the enemy. In the back of his mind he heard the cries of his men as they followed him into the fray. The Smoke cleared just enough for Geofry to see an officer pointing a pistol at him. The flare of the shot and the smoke blinded Geofry. The ball hitting him felt like a giant punching him in the chest. He fell backwards and was struggling to catch his breath. He tried to get up so he could lead the crew, but his body wasn't listening.
The Smoke cleared and the Colonial officer was standing over him. The Face came into focus.