Van Ness: The Raid
The following is a excerpt from a short story I am writing about Captain Peter Van Ness, a fictional American Revolutionary War hero. The story is still being drafted so this copy is rough.
I will post part 2 later this week.
April 4th, 1777
HMS Archer made its way up the North River followed by two smaller sloops, under full sail, silently gliding like ghosts above the moonlit waters. It was just before midnight and colder than it should be for an early April evening. A slight mist hung over both riverbanks, but in the middle channel all was clear.
Aboard Archer, red coated soldiers crowded her quarterdeck, silently standing at attention,while above them her sails flapped in the evening breeze. Behind Archer the sloops Phoebe and Covington followed closely, also laden with hand-picked troops from the British army in New York. Favorable winds out of the southwest propelled them silently past the isolated and in many cases, nameless small settlements that crowned the banks of the river.
Further north, just four miles from the rendezvous point, a leadsman climbed onto the chains amidst the shrouds and took soundings of the channel, crying out the fathoms to the officer of the watch as Archer inched closer to the western shore, careful not to run aground. An hour later and under the steep, tree-covered Hudson Highlands, as these hills along the river were called, Archer dropped anchor with a splash with Phoebe and Covington following suit.
The decks of the three warships were bustling with activity now, as all of the ships put boats into the water, the boats’ crews holding themselves steady against their ship's hull with long hooks, while the red coated soldiers, British Grenadiers in brass mitred caps aboard Archer and a light infantry company aboard each of the sloops, clumsily descended down the netting and into the waiting boats. Within minutes, the boats were full, the soldiers crouching silently, packed together shoulder to shoulder, their knaversacks, ammunition pouches and muskets crammed in beside them.
As each boat received its full complement of soldiers, its small crew of sailors shoved off using their long flat-bladed oars expertly as they headed towards the western riverbank. Straining silently against the weight of a boat packed with men and the gear of war, the sailors labored with back-breaking effort to move against the current towards the shore, their oars rhythmically stroking back and forth.
In the boat closest to the western shore, a tall infantry captain scrambled to his feet waiting for the predetermined signal from the riverbank. After some long moments, two lanterns were uncovered by a pair of loyalists who had come to meet them. Minutes later the British bateaus were grounding onto a rocky beach, offloading with some splashing and muffled curses almost a full battalion of British Regulars, some loyalists and a number of fiercely painted Indian scouts.
The soldiers knew their business, organizing quickly into their platoons. Quickly now the loyalists led the scarlet-coated soldiers up the steep, tree-lined path away from the river. While the Regulars struggled up the hillsides, the sailors under the command of a Midshipman from the Archer, waited in their boats in case something went wrong.
It was still hours before dawn and the river was covered in a thickening mist.
Near the top of the hill, the British regulars stopped and waited catching their breath, while the Indians and loyalists crept forward, tomahawks and axes drawn. Moments later they returned with the only Continental sentry posted near the landing, the unfortunate soul struggling against the gag tied around his mouth, the whites of his eyes bulging as they dragged him back toward the waiting boats to be questioned aboard Archer. Life as a prisoner of war aboard one of the rotting prison hulks in New York harbor awaited him.
In the predawn darkness a dozen of the Grenadiers, the most experienced men in the company, dropped their bulging packs onto the ground, adjusted the leather straps of their caps, fixed their bayonets and then passed upwards and out of sight led by the company Captain.
The men on the trail remained frozen, listening for some sound from above. Moments later with the crack of a pistol shot and the rush of booted feed, the Continentals camp was rushed...
I will post part 2 later this week.