View Full Version : Forged in Irish Flame
10-14-2010, 12:16 AM
Lieutenant Thomas Carson, commanding officer of the HMS Terpsichore’s Marine Detachment saw his first action aboard the HMS Hind some 3 years before joining the Terpsichore. This trial by combat helped forge Carson into an experienced officer, but it also shaped his views of the Irish Rebels that were common to that day in age. This is the story of that fateful day.
July 4, 1794
Off the Western Coast of Scotland
The morning mist swept across the glassy waters that ran into the rocky coastline. From the front of the 28-foot longboat, Lieutenant Thomas Carson squinted slightly as he tried to make out the rocks he knew were there.
Behind him sat rows of marines and sailors of the Royal Navy. The Marines looked splendid in their red coats and shako hats. Most were manning the oars and pulling the longboat along through the water. Farther back in the distance sat the silhouette of His Majesty’s Proud Ship, the Hind as it sat alongside the Indiaman vessel that had surrendered to it just an hour before.
A short distance to the longboat’s larboard side, a second and third boat made their way to the shore. The sun was ahead of them, the light chiseled by the features of the nearly invisible rocky shoreline.
Thomas looked down, holding his shako hat to his head with one hand while he pulled the pistol from his belt with the other. The wooden grip of the pistol felt cold against his hand. He could smell the fresh powder he had just loaded moments ago.
Thomas’s peripheral vision caught something and he looked up in time to see the mist opening up. The rocks of the shoreline appeared perhaps 30 paces from the longboat’s bow.
“Fast rowing,” Thomas ordered.
The oars came out of the water and were held straight up into the sky. A little farther down the rocky beach, the other two boats were also pulling their oars from the water. A gentle current continued to carry the boats towards the rocky shoreline.
“Secure the oars,” Thomas said, this time his voice more hoarse. The lack of strength in his voice betrayed a twinge of nervousness that had come upon him at that very moment.
Pushing thoughts of hesitation aside, Thomas slid the pistol back into his belt and climbed out of the longboat. The water was deeper than he expected and it came up above his knees. As he began to walk forward, he heard a Sergeant behind him give a quiet order and the other men began to disembark from the longboat. The sailors among them focused on pulling it towards the shore, while the red-dressed marines were securing their muskets and heading to the shore on Thomas’s heels.
End Part 1
10-14-2010, 12:17 AM
The young marine officer stepped clear of the water and into the surf. Soon his water-filled boots were touching sand and rock. The hardy thick rocks near the water’s edge transformed to a thinner line of softer gravel and pebbles farther in where some thick shrubs grew in fits and starts up and down this part of Scotland’s coast.
Farther up the beach, was a rocky cliff. Using their glasses, the officers aboard the Hind had spotted a cave farther down just out of eye’s reach. A cave on an otherwise empty part of the coast, last seen to by boats coming from the Indiaman vessel the Hind had stopped.
They were likely smugglers or perhaps even pirates. With the Indiaman surrendered to the Hind’s Captain, the duty of securing the cave that was believed to be a haven of the ruffians had fallen to the young marine officer.
Within minutes of each other, all three boats had landed ashore, pulled along by sailors and marines before they gathered their weapons. Most of the marines carried muskets, as did a few of the sailors. The rest carried pistols or musketoons. Thomas had 35 souls with him. The Captain believed that was more than sufficient to the task.
With his left hand on the hilt of his sword, Thomas pulled the pistol from his belt once again and gestured with it up the beach to the cave. They had landed out of sight of the rocky hideout, in the hopes of not being seen until the last possible moment.
The marines worked to assemble on the beach. They formed a column of 2 ranks numbering 20 men with their muskets resting against their right shoulders.
A Sergeant approached Thomas. He saluted then asked, “I’d like to station a pair of men up on those rocks sir, a good place to hide a lookout we can’t see down here.”
Thomas nodded and replied, “I can’t spare any marines, send two sailors up there and tell them to avoid being seen. Then pick three marines and send them ahead as advance guards.”
Thomas turned and said in a loud voice without shouting, “Detachment….load.”
The well trained marines immediately set about the task of pulling cartridges from the boxes that hung from their waists. They poured powder into the frizzen pan before depositing powder and shot down the muzzle of their weapons. They then rammed home the contents with their rods.
Thomas waited patiently until the order was complete before ordering, “Shoulder arms….left face….forward march.”
End Part 2
10-14-2010, 12:18 AM
The marines began to march, parallel to the shoreline up the rocky beach to where the cave was located. Around this organized group walked several other marines, flankers and advanced guards. The sailors moved as more of a gaggle, following the marines closely. The sailors had been trained for coastal raids such as this. However Thomas was worried at the quality of that training.
Perhaps his real worry was of his own. Thomas of the junior of two marine officers aboard the HIND and this was his first action. The Hind’s captain had assigned him the task of clearing out the cave to give the junior Lieutenant a chance to prove his worth. The odds were stacked in Thomas’s favor; no one expected some pirates or smugglers to stand any chance of victory against the party the HIND had launched ashore. At worse, they were expected to flee and evade capture. The idea of them standing and fighting was absurd. No smuggler was being paid enough to die.
Yet Thomas felt worry all the same.
Suddenly, from the rocks ahead and above came a report of a shot fired. As the echo began to fade, Thomas looked up and spotted a man in a brown coat up on the rocks. He had an arm pointed towards the sky and a whiff of smoke hung above his head. He quickly turned and disappeared as he ran away.
Their presence had been noticed and reported.
“Double time, march!” Thomas shouted.
The Marine Officer picked up the pace. Thomas jogged with his left hand on the hilt of his sword and the right holding his pistol turned upward at the elbow. The Marines were jogging as well, kicking up sand and rock with their feet.
There was a rocky outcropping extended towards the beach. As they passed it, the cave finally came into view. It was higher up the beach, a dark opening perhaps 20 feet wide. Thomas saw the evidence of recent activity. Several abandoned crates, newly torn open and emptied, were thrown out upon the beach. He could also see the hull of a longboat recently overturned and left to the mercy of the surf.
The cave’s entrance was dark, but just in front of it were several crates that had been erected to form a kind of loose barricade.
As the landing party ran over to the open beach confronting the cave, Thomas shouted, “Detachment…halt!”
Things were happening fast now and Thomas’s heart was racing. He ordered the men into two lines of battle.
The other marines, advance guards and flankers, found positions on the beach on either side of the cave entrance and began to aim their muskets at the cave. The gaggle of sailors hung back, some of them kneeling down behind nearby rocks as they waited for orders.
There was a puff of smoke at the crude barricade and the crack of a weapon. A musket ball tore through the air and struck one of the advance guards as he stepped closer to the cave entrance. The marine screamed and fell to his side on the rocks.
End Part 3
10-14-2010, 12:19 AM
In response, the other two advance guards fired at the cave and the unseen attacker. The barricade was clearly defended and they couldn’t enter the cave until it was dealt with.
“Front rank!” Thomas yelled. “Present….”
The marines leveled their muskets at the cave.
“Fire!” Thomas shouted.
The crack of ten muskets filled the air. As the smoke drifted up and away, they couldn’t see the results but no return fire came.
“Front rank, kneel! Reload!” Thomas yelled.
The front row of marines dropped to one knee and began to reload their muskets.
“Second rank, present!” Thomas shouted.
The standing row of marines leveled their muskets at the barricade with hammers locked.
“Fire!” Thomas shouted.
10 hammers slapped forward and 10 muskets fired. The effect was like small cannons filling the morning air with thunder. A few musket balls noticeably slammed into the barricade, splintering the wooden crates. Thomas thought he heard a distant scream. A few seconds later and the air was silent. There was no movement visible at the barricade and no firearms engaged his men.
“Reload! Sergeant take command of the Marines” Thomas yelled to the marines. Turning around he yelled, “Sailors, with me!”
The sailors, about 10 men with a mob-like mentality began to walk up the beach towards the cave. Among them was a familiar face, the most senior of them all.
“Mister Evans,” Thomas shouted at the man. “Order the sailors to charge the cave.”
Thomas began to run forward. The sailors, dressed in whatever clothing they had on them, looked like a motley lot as they ran up the beach towards the cave. Some hefted clubs or muskets and gave strange sounding battle cries as they ran. Some were more sincere in their proclamations of violence than others.
Thomas saw a head appear at the barricade. A man wearing a strange brown cap and a brown jacket appeared to be holding something that resembled rope. Whatever he was doing it occupied his mind and he was working frantically.
Thomas raised his pistol to fire, but knew his accuracy would be horrid if he discharged the weapon while running. He held his fire and continued up the beach towards the mouth of the cave.
As the charging group got closer to the barricade, they saw it was strangely empty. A single body lay behind it and nothing more.
End Part 4
10-14-2010, 12:21 AM
Thomas came to a stop on their side of the barricade and raised his pistol as he surveyed the scene. He spotted the man in the brown jacket, farther into the cave barely visible in the darkness beyond. He was kneeling and holding a torch that lit up a face full of concentration and intent.
Suddenly a small fire appeared and burned rapidly towards Thomas. The Marine Officer looked down and realized that he was seeing barrels lying on their side against the back of the barricade. Thomas’s left hand rested on a barrel and as he brought it up, he saw that his hand was dark with a kind of dust…
His eyes widened with anticipation and he shouted at the sailors, “Back! Turn back!”
Most of the sailors stopped in their tracks, but three tore on at a sprinter’s pace. Thomas began to run away from the barricade, forcing the other sailors to stop with his raised hands.
At that moment an explosion tore through the air and lifted Thomas off his feet. His shako hat flew far and away from his head. Most of the sailors ahead of him were knocked back or dropped down as the barrels of gunpowder exploded in rapid succession. Flames and broken pieces of wood were thrown in every direction.
Thomas wasn’t sure if he was dead or alive as he lay with his head upon the gravel and flaming pieces of wood lying all around his body. Then a distinct ringing sounded in his ears and the uncomfortable presence of his sword’s turned scabbard against his groin reminded him of his mortality. The Marine Officer rolled over and looked up at the cave. The barricade was all but destroyed and shards of wood lay everywhere. The three sailors that had prosecuted the charge were down and appeared dead. Their clothes were blackened or missing in some places. The side of one of their faces turned towards the heavens was blackened and charred with one eye startlingly still open and staring at Scotland’s clouds and the rising smoke.
The silence was abruptly ended as several terrifying beasts of men came into view.
With a frightening battle cry, at least eight men in a motley array of peasant clothing spilled from the cave. Some carried pistols and others carried clubs and swords. As Thomas scrambled to his feet, gravel and sand fell off the front of his jacket. He aimed his pistol at the closing mass and pulled the trigger.
The pistol ball slammed into one of the men but he didn’t fall. Thomas released his grip on the pistol and pulled his sword from its scabbard. In an instant, the man he had shot was upon him with a large hammer suited for ship carpentry work.
The first swing of the hammer struck Thomas’s left side at waist height and nearly knocked him flat. Thomas stabbed forward and felt the blade sink into the man’s chest. As the large man groaned and crumpled to the ground, Thomas struggled to pull his sword free. He tugged but it refused to budge as it lay wedged between two ribs as the man lay upon the blade.
End Part 5
10-14-2010, 12:21 AM
His teeth gritting in frantic frustration, Thomas surrendered the sword to the man’s belly and stepped back in a frantic search of another weapon. He saw a marine, the advance guard who had been shot, lying on his side with his musket lying against his knee with a hand still wrapped around the barrel.
Thomas ran to the fallen man and grabbed his musket. The frizzen pan appeared to be closed, which meant powder was likely inside and ball and powder rammed down the barrel. The young officer pulled the hammer back and felt it lock. He could only hope the musket was loaded as he brought it up to his shoulder and aimed at one of the attackers.
The barrel swung into line with the man wearing the brown hat. He carried a sword and was fighting a sailor with a club. Thomas pulled the trigger and felt the musket slam into his shoulder as the hammer slammed forward and discharged the musket. The ball went high and missed its mark over the head of the swinging ruffian.
Things weren’t going well. The men who came out of the cave fought with the furry of demons and several of Thomas’s sailors were screaming in agony as their bodies fell upon the beach. One had already turned and was beginning to step away as he gave thought of fleeing. The rest looked prepared to flee. Mister Evans, the most veteran of the sailors leading the men was among the wounded groaning on the ground with a hand to his bleeding head.
Further down the beach, the two ranks of marines were on the move. The Sergeant in charge had taken the initiative and was marching the men towards the fight. They were still too far away however and moving far too slowly to assist the sailors in time. The Sergeant seemed most intent on maintaining the formation of the men as they moved up the treacherous rocks on the rocky shore.
Thomas turned and ran back down the beach. It only took him a few seconds at a sprinting pace to reach the two ranks of Marines.
“Marines, halt!” he ordered raising his left hand. “Fix …bayonets!”
Thrusting the butt plate of their long weapons into the sandy ground, the Marines pulled their socket bayonets and slid them onto the muzzle of their weapons. With a twist they locked into place.
A few seconds later, Thomas shouted, “Charge….bayonets!”
With a battle cry as one, the marines brought their muskets to their hips. The bayonets of the first rank were pointed directly forward, like a row of spears. The muskets of the second rank were pointed slightly upward to avoid impaling the first rank.
Hefting the empty musket up into the air, Thomas shouted at the top of his lungs.
End Part 6
10-14-2010, 12:23 AM
Yelling like hell’s fury, the Marines charged up the beach. They crossed the quiet expanse and joined the sailors brawling there. The addition of 20 screaming marines and their bayonets quickly turned the tide. Four of the enemy fell almost immediately as bayonets pierced their bodies. The others turned and began to run back towards the wreckage of the barricade into the cave.
As the action there began to wind down, Thomas found and retrieved his sword from the gut of the man he had killed. He approached and peered into the cave and saw another barricade about 20 feet ahead in the form of a stack of wooden crates.
As Thomas surveyed the scene on the beach, he saw 4 of his sailors were dead and 3 more lying wounded and moaning. A marine was also down and dead. Worst yet, the gunpowder explosion and the shock of the enemy charge had stymied the morale of the sailors. Many of them now sported cuts and bruises and were more interested in seeing to their wounds than pressing on. Among the wounded was Mister Evans and his state seemed to have upset the morale of those men tremendously.
The marines were more willing and had gathered closer to the mouth of the cave. Some were reloading their muskets and others picked over the fallen confiscating weapons.
Thomas saw a marine kneeling behind the barricade facing into the cave. The young lad was reloading his musket. As Thomas’s gaze came up and adjusted to the darkness ahead, he spotted the man in the brown hat. He was standing there, holding a torch beside the barricade. In a direct repeat of the previous gunpowder trap, he appeared to be trying to light something.
Thomas shouted at his kneeling subordinate, “Marine, shoot that man!”
The marine looked up at Thomas and the officer immediately noticed something strange. A kind of nervousness was spread over the young marine’s face. A bizarre reluctance the likes of which he had never seen.
“Ay sir,” The marine replied. He began to take aim from his kneeling position.
“Fire lad!” Thomas shouted.
“I…” the marine replied.
“Fire lad, that’s an order! Fire!” Thomas shouted, his anger and confusion rising.
The marine suddenly swung his barrel up at the cave’s ceiling and pulled the trigger.
The musket ball struck the ceiling. The man in the brown hat continued his work.
Thomas angrily swung and turned the blade of his sword upon the private’s cheek.
“You did that with purpose,” Thomas hissed angrily.
End Part 7
10-14-2010, 12:25 AM
Another Marine appeared at Thomas’s side. Without a word, Thomas grabbed away the man’s musket and aimed it down the cave at the man in the strange hat. Thomas pulled the hammer back.
The young marine cradling his empty musket suddenly shouted, “NO!”
Then the musket discharged.
The man was struck and began to fall. His brown hat fell off his head and the torch fell from his hand. As it struck the ground, a shower of sparks lit up the black void.
Suddenly the cave was a tunnel of flame. Thomas stepped back and covered his face against the heat and light of the explosion. A tongue of flame came out of the cave and then long tendrils of smoke. The ground itself seemed to rumble as though a massive beast had been awakened from the depths of the Earth.
As the explosion subsided, three coughing and blackened men appeared. They tripped and ran out of the cave with their hands up and shaking.
The marines quickly began shouting at them and had them on their knees in the sunlight in a matter of seconds. The sailors, their morale newly invigorated by the sight of the enemy, reappeared and began to take custody of the three men in a rough manner while they screamed at them.
As the prisoners were secured, Thomas led the marines into the cave. His sword was up and ready and his eye wary of traps. He found the blackened corpse of the strange man. Little remained of his brown hat and his face was nearly unrecognizable. Thomas continued on past him and discovered large cavern. Its walls reinforced with wood to form a room that was now blackened. Gunpowder burns filled the cave and the putrid smell of it was in the air.
Among the burnt wreckage, lighted by small wooden fires of destroyed crates, Thomas spotted countless crates half broken and burnt. He forcibly kicked one open and saw the burnt remains of a pile of muskets. A burnt carcass of a man lay nearby clutching a club. There was nothing more to see, the fire had burnt out the infestation living in the cave. Thomas had seen at least a dozen bodies during his quick survey of the cave.
Thomas’s eyes were stinging from the smoke. He coughed twice then walked out of the cave back into the fresh air and sunlight. Most of his marines followed him out to clear their lungs.
The three prisoners were on their knees now with knives and clubs aimed at their heads and necks. Thomas walked up to them as he slid his sword back into its scabbard.
“Who are you,” Thomas asked in a fierce yet quiet tone.
“Go to hell,” one of them shouted in heavily accented English.
“You’re Irish,” Thomas asked inquisitively. “Smugglers? Who were the muskets and powder for?”
“I’ve got nothing to say to you Englishman,” the man defiantly shouted back.
It didn’t fit. That was the thought crossing Thomas’s mind. These men didn’t act or run like smugglers. They fought like something else.
Rebels then….Irish rebels….
Thomas had certainly heard of their ilk but had never encountered them. The Captain of the Hind had believed they had intercepted a group of smugglers or pirates. They were ruffians and outlaws at any rate, but this was a different breed. The Crown had a longstanding policy towards the Irish who opposed the King.
Their fate was sealed, but the matter wasn’t finished.
The young marine who had defied him stood nearby. The lack of a musket in his hands made him stand out among his brothers-in-arms who stood about ready to fight. There was a strange look on the young lad’s face, a kind of grief.
“What’s your name Private?” Thomas asked.
“Jones sir,” the marine replied, his accent revealing his Irish heritage. That in itself was nothing unique; there were plenty of Irish sailors and marines in the service and aboard the Hind.
“You disobeyed my order,” Thomas shouted. “Had that man been allowed to prepare another trap, we could have been killed.”
“Yes...sir,” Jones replied in an unconvincing voice.
“Then why did you hesitate!” Thomas shouted angrily.
“That man sir, he…”Jones began to say then trailed off.
“Yes? What is it?” Thomas shouted.
“He was my father sir,” Jones replied. “I don’t know why he was here, but that was him.”
That took Thomas by surprise. The Lieutenant took a step back and stared at the marine Private in amazement.
His secret revealed, Jones was now all but reduced to tears and his face was contorted with grief.
In a much deflated voice, Thomas shouted, “Sergeant!”
The man appeared at his side.
“Load whatever weapons and powder survived the fires into the boats, recover our dead, send our wounded back to the Hind in the first boat immediately,” Thomas ordered. “We’re finished with this place.”
End Part 8
10-14-2010, 12:27 AM
Lieutenant Thomas Carson stood at attention in the Great Cabin of the Hind. His uniform showed the wear and tear of the recent engagement. Standing was beginning to pain Thomas, who realized that the clubbing he took had perhaps bruised a rib. He worked to stay perfectly still and ignored the pain even as the slight rocking of the deck under his feet aggravated it.
Thomas finished presenting his report to the Captain and the older officer stood silent in his blue uniform for several long seconds as he was half-turned to face the windows at the back of the cabin.
“Well, I’m pleased Mister Carson,” Captain Alexander Cochrane proclaimed. “In all our time patrolling the western coast we saw nothing but a few smugglers and lost fishermen. Now as we return to port we find Irish Rebels...of all things. It’s by chance we spotted that Indiaman at all, even further chance that we witnessed her recovering boats from the shore here.”
“We learned of the Irish rebels aboard her,” Captain Cochrane proclaimed. “Only after your party was on shore, otherwise I would have sent warning. In any case we’ve captured a number of rebels, secured the arms and powder aboard the Indiaman and you destroyed the rest. I believe congratulations are in order. You gave us a good showing today in your first action. I’ll be sure to send my compliments to your father.”
“Thank you sir,” Thomas said. “I would also like to inquire as to Private Jones fate sir.”
“Private Jones will face a court martial, “Captain Cochrane declared in a serious tone. “I believe with your testimony his fate is all but certain.”
Thomas let that paddle through his mind for a few seconds. The lad had refused an order to kill his own father. How would Thomas have reacted to such an order? He wasn’t sure. Rebellions and civil wars were ugly affairs. Thomas had always known this, but it had never been as forceful a presence in his life as it had today. There was the right thing to do, and there was the Navy thing to do. In this case, Jones’ duty was clear and he had failed. Ultimately Thomas had only one response and one reaction. It was the one expected of him.
“Very good sir.”
“Then you are dismissed Lieutenant,” Captain Cochrane stated flatly.
Thomas spun on his heels and left the Great Cabin. On the way back to his own small officer’s quarters and at the Captain’s table that evening he would face the congratulations of many of his fellow officers. Even men he had tried so hard to appease and impress over these long months at sea. Yet Thomas felt little like the hero some were treating him as. Victory was all but assured but the enemy fought on all the same. Who was truly the braver in today’s Action? Thomas did not feel like he was the rightful victor as much as he inherited an assured thing. That fact belittled its value in his mind. That impression would longer for the rest of the Hind’s voyage.
Sorry I have not told you sooner.
on the right, there is a menu of Stories, it's there, but the direct link, since it is a Terpsichore story is:
It is a very good job, I really enjoyed it!
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