[This satire on the Iran-Contra Affair and other assorted insanities of the mid-1980s in the United States was written by Dwight Murphey under the pen name “Tacitus O’Riley” in the spring of 1987.  It is published here for the first time.] 

 

 

THE VON STEUBEN AFFAIR

 

Crisis in the Farm House 

 

By 

 

Tacitus O’Riley 

 

 

The hilarious (albeit tragic) story of what would have happened to the American Revolution if Washington, Franklin and Hamilton had been subject to Select Committees and Special Prosecutors. 

 

 

DEDICATED TO 

 

Our two illustrious Lt. Colonels:

 

Alexander Hamilton and Oliver North 

 

True Americans

 

 

Note to Web Site reader: The blank boxes held illustrations in the printed version, and they are not included here; just skip down to the text after each box.

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

Chapter One:                Enoch Learned….

 

Chapter Two:               The Farm House, Valley Forge….

 

Chapter Three:             A Recruitment in Paris….

 

Chapter Four:               In a Soldiers’ Cabin….

 

Chapter Five:                The Press Conference….

 

Chapter Six:                 The Select Committee….

 

Chapter Seven:             At the Boston Post….

 

Chapter Eight:              After the Battle….

 

Chapter Nine:               Footsteps….

 

Tacitus O’Riley’s historical notes to assist the modern reader…. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

ENOCH LEARNED 

 

A note from Tacitus O’Riley: You’ll pardon me, dear Reader, if I ask you to bear with me for just a bit.  We can’t help it if our hero, sitting in a dungeon and about to face a firing squad after a long life of struggle, indulges in some quiet reminiscing.

            Enoch’s full to overflowing with memories of the events way back, years before, at Valley Forge and of the years that followed the tragic failure of the American Revolution.

            It’s worth keeping in mind that we here in the middle of the 21st century are looking back almost three centuries.  After that long a time, we’ll benefit considerably from Enoch’s reminiscing. It will help set the stage for the action that he tells us about so vividly in the later chapters.  Not many alive today know much about the encampment of the American Contrary Army there at Valley Forge.

            The memories will serve, too, to remind us of the terrible effects, not just for America but for the World as a whole, that flowed from the disgrace and eventual defeat of Washington and his followers. 

            The action itself gets started in the next chapter.  That’s where Enoch begins to tell us about what had happened a few years earlier at ’Forge.  As we’ll see, he’d been a mere boy there at the headquarters in the farm house.

 

                                                                                          Tacitus O’Riley

                                                                                           A. D. 2053

 

 

            Enoch grumbled.  “Lordee, it’s morning already.  I haven’t slept.”  He was uncharacteristically irritable about the coming of the new day.  “How can it be so damned dark down here when that light’s so bright?”

            He was bathed in darkness except for the glare pouring in from the grate near the top of the cell.  There, in the depths where it was darkest, he sat, thinking aloud.  No, he wasn’t crazy, even though at times he wondered.  Talking to himself was just what any man would do who had been in solitary confinement for 39 days.

            “Crimes against the state.  What do they mean, ‘against the state’?  Against His Majesty the King, against the Despot of Europe and America—that’s what they mean.”

            He rose, gripping the railing on the iron bed there in the dark.  “Sometimes back in ’78 they called us ‘A’ginners,’ but       most of the time it was that silly word ‘Contraries.’  We should have called them ‘the Sneerers.’  That would have fit ’em.  Yeah, we were against the King.  But, more than that, we fought his whole despicable system.

            “They never understood what we were for.  Contraries—that’s a hell of a name for men who stood with Paine and Jefferson.  Those were heroes, those men were.  A ‘new beginning,’ Paine said.  Freedom Fighters, that’s what Washington called us.  God, how it hurts to know it’s all gone.”

            The years had passed.  Enoch Learned was 55 now.  He had stayed trim, in fact could now be called gaunt, but the years of struggle showed in his whitened hair and in the deep lines of anguish on his face.  It was late summer, 1815, not long after the victory of the Armies of the Holy Alliance over Napoleon at Waterloo that June.

             He looked back on the events of ’77, then of ’78—thirty-eight years before.  Glorious, and then bitter, events.  Enoch’s father had been Ebeneezer Learned, Brigade Commander for Washington at Valley Forge.  Enoch, only seventeen but a patriot to the marrow, had been specially honored: he served as orderly to General of the Army George Washington in the headquarters there at the winter encampment.  He had joined the army before Brandywine, then been made a drummer in time for the skirmish at Germantown.  His courage there had caught the eye of Hamilton, who made him part of the headquarters staff.

            To a seventeen-year-old boy the chance to serve Washington—and to be around such luminaries as Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s chief of staff, and Generals Henry Knox and Anthony Wayne, who were often at the farmhouse for councils of war—was a reason for delirium.  Indeed, this showed most when Enoch’s father came by, as he did on occasion to confer with men at headquarters, leaving his brigade with his second-in-command.  Mind you, Enoch was always sharp; but what son wouldn’t be when his father, himself an officer in a great cause, could see him in such company?

            The headquarters was in an old stone farmhouse down near the confluence of Valley Creek and the deeper, wider Schuylkill River.  It was rented from Mrs. Deborah Hewes, a widow, who herself rented it from Isaac Potts, the owner.  In a way, it was a strange place for a headquarters, way off to the back of the main camp, which was up on Mount Joy and extended clear on down past Gulph Road to Fort John Moore.  All the better, perhaps, to be a little farther from the British, who were spending the winter amid the comforts of Philadelphia, but who on occasion sent out patrols to test for a weakness.

            After the furor began, the media people who gathered round the camp, mostly assigned by the great papers of Boston, Baltimore and New York, called the headquarters ‘The Farm House,’ dignifying what was really quite humble with an irony that more than a little hinted of sarcasm.

            The actual forge after which the place was named had been burned by the British in late September.  That was three months before Washington’s Army straggled in on December 19, 1777, to set up its winter encampment.  The Army wasn’t a pretty sight, so it’s good there were no bands playing or people lined up to see it march in.  Its men weren’t trained, almost three out of every ten had no shoes or clothes for the winter.  There wasn’t much discipline.  Farm boys, really, serving short enlistments and sent by the thirteen separate Commonwealths in fits and spurts as struck the mood—they’re who made up the Army.  Maybe it shouldn’t even have been called an Army, in light of its condition, but that’s what the Continental Congress had declared it.  Nevertheless, it made up with stubborn bravery for what it lacked in equipment and skill.  It stayed together that winter even though three thousand of the boys were sent off to hospitals in nearby towns to die, some from exposure, most from disease.  Out of the 11,000 who first got there, that’s a goodly number.  It’s amazing anybody stayed, when he could have skulked off a lot more easily, as some did.  The three thousand were joined in the grave by a lot more later.

            After it was all over, Enoch had become one of the band who fought desperately for an ideal, even after all hope for it was lost.  His father was dead, killed there at ’Forge.  The Enlightenment was crushed, not only here but in Europe.  In Great Britain, Edmund Burke was put to death after one of the great Showcase Trials.  True, he had made a stirring defense of the Old Regime when in 1789 the French Revolution had renewed the fire that had started in America—but such a regime has no place for its well-meaning thinkers, and, besides, he was remembered for having been too much a sympathizer with the Contraries here in this country.  That’s all it really took to mark a man.  The Great Purge had even gotten the very young.  It reached down to pluck out the Young Turks—such men as Richard Cobden and John Bright and Robert Peel, who might have made quite a difference in English history if they had lived, but who obviously hadn’t learned just where the flow of history was headed.

            Enoch Learned’s voice ground its way into the darkness like a drill challenging cold stones.  “I remember those last wonderful days.  At least, that’s the dream I had, that they were wonderful.

            “What a man Hamilton was!  I’ll never forget the figure he cut.  Full of plans and hope.  We on the inside knew we were on the move.  For him, every problem had a solution, if only we were bold enough.  Bejeesus, I remember that one day in particular, that day just three days before Christmas.  It was December 22, 1777.

            Hamilton was only a Lieutenant Colonel, but he was more than that.  He was well armed, or so we thought.  He had Washington’s confidence and a view of the whole world.  My mind’s going now, but I can’t forget him and the others.  They made some masterful plans.  At least, that’s the way it seemed there before Christmas.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

THE FARM HOUSE, VALLEY FORGE

 

            I was hot and steamy, even after the cold wind, when I came into Headquarters on the back of Old Betsy.  I had just been sent from the staff meeting of the brigade commanders on the front ridge.  My dad had been there, along with Glover, Patterson, Weedon and Muhlenberg.

            They had taken stock of where they and the Army were after the Mutiny.  At least that’s what it almost was.  The day before, soldiers had raised a ruckus, screaming “No meat!  No meat!”  There was quite a chant around the camp.  Some even threatened to eat the horses, which were dyin’ anyway.

            The commanders wanted me to report to Hamilton that things were better now that morning.  The men were back to work hewing timber for their cabins.  It was desperation for a little shelter what overcame their hunger.  They’d spent another night on the ground.  That had shown them how little time they had for mutiny.

            As I rode past, there were thousands busy.  All over camp, there were fires, and boys hustling about.  Here and there you could see the beginnin’ of a cabin.  Those little boxes weren’t going to be like sleeping in Philadelphia, but they’d prove eventually to be good and warm, if you could stand the smoke and stench in ’em.

            When I got to the farmhouse, Dolly greeted me, let me in to see the Colonel.  I gave my report as fast as I could, not forgetting, though, to keep my military bearing.  Then I just stood in the corner for the staff meeting.  There was never much I was called on to do at those meetings, but I was accepted as one of the staff.

            There was Hamilton, and of course Dolly Hale, his secretary.  She was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen—and smart and nice, too.  It made something stir inside me.  That’s the way it is when you’re seventeen.  General Henry Knox was there.  And so was a second general, another very good one, Anthony Wayne.  The sentry stayed outside, on the front step.  George Washington, I don’t think he was there at first.  Yeah, he didn’t come in until later.

            They started with Hamilton telling the others about the message I’d carried.  They were encouraged by that.  But then I remember General Knox’s sounding kinda tired and desperate as he gave his report on the condition of the Army.  It was the first full report they’d had since setting up camp.

            “The strength returns for the 21st,” Knox said, “show two thousand, eight hundred and ninety-eight men unfit for duty.  That’s out of eleven thousand here.  No army can stand that.  We’ve got to get some shoes.  I hear there are men standing on their hats on guard duty.  Even then, some are freezing their feet.  I don’t have to tell you gentlemen that a lot of the men who’re unfit just don’t have a winter coat.  Some have worn out their shirts.  We have to do something to speed up the supply logistics, before the Army’s gone.”

            The others let him talk.  They knew the problems.  They figured they might as well hear him out before taking up solutions.

            “Then there’s food.  You just heard they were screaming ‘no meat.’  Hell, it’s been since October they had a little beef or pork.  They’re sick of the gruel. 

            “Another thing, too.  I hope we can get Congress to stop declaring those days of Thanksgiving, and let us do it ourselves.  You know the men are religious.  They don’t mind listening to their chaplains.  But in a cold rain!?  We’ve got to be able to use some judgment on the spot about when we do that sort of thing.  Those birds up in the Congress don’t have any way’a knowin’ whether it’s going to rain on a given day.  How can they say that on such-and-such a day we’ve got to line the Army up on review?”

            “That’s all to the good, General,” Hamilton interjected.  “But war’s only a third military.  Another third’s supply and logistics.  The last third’s the most important.  It’s politics.  It’s hard on the men.  It’s hard on the officers.  But these Congressional directives come down as givens, and unless we’re willing to buck ’em we have to comply.”

            “It’s war by committee,” Wayne interjected, “and the committees up there can’t know much about the realities.”

            “Hell, it goes deeper than that,” General Knox shouted, bounding up.  “Part of the Congress is Tory.  They’ll tell you themselves they don’t really give a damn for American independence.  On the other side are the Patriots.  But in between there’s the great bulk of the Congress—practical types, the kind you find everywhere.  They don’t really believe in much of anything.  They look to their own advancement.  The soldiers have a good name for it… they say that kind ‘cover their asses.’”

            “Oh, General,” Dolly laughed, looking up from her notes.  “I wish you wouldn’t do that.  I can take it, but you know I’m busy enough deleting all the expletives.”

            General Knox didn’t even notice her comment about his indiscretion.  He was too absorbed in addressing Hamilton’s concerns.  “I know we have to comply, Colonel.  That’s not really the question.  Can’t the Patriots in the Congress get the others to understand the situation?  God knows, we run off often enough to testify there.

            “You know we have the same problems with the states.  Can you imagine the Supreme Executive Council here in Pennsylvania having the gall to tell us it would pull its support if we didn’t camp within twenty-five miles of Philadelphia!?”  So here we are spending the winter in the shadow of the British!  What would we have done if even one other state had demanded the same?  We’ll lose this war unless we can get some sense into the politics.”

            He was agitated about that, all right.  But he went on with his report.  “Talking closer to home, though, gentlemen, our main job—and it’s going to be tough!—is to get some training into the Army.  The boys are a good bunch.  They’re the salt of the earth.  But they’re raw recruits!  They can’t stay together in a bayonet rush.  And you know what that means.  The first one to get scared panics the others.  We’re up against experienced British troops, and those Hessians have their German training.  We’d better be ready by next summer, or there’ll be hell to pay.”

            Hamilton broke in right there.  The generals hadn’t heard yet about the covert operation in Europe.  The swarthy intermediary from Portugal who had been conferring with Hamilton had just left the day before.  Some real plans were being made for the training.  Ben Franklin was in Paris heading up an intricate network of recruiters on the continent.  His job was to bring over the best foreign advisors he could get for the Patriot Army.  He had sent word in a supersecret memorandum—which Hamilton and the Portuguese had burned together right after Hamilton read it—that sometimes this would mean recruiting Frenchmen!  Prussians, too!  God, we were walking on thin ice.  Congress had laid down a two-year ban on recruiting men from either country.  We’d been enemies of the French in the French-Indian War.  And the Prussians were Germans.  All the commentators said the American people wouldn’t stand for recruiting Germans while Hessian troops occupied New Jersey!  Franklin wanted to recruit a Prussian drill-master, though, a man of iron who could hammer the Army into shape this spring before the big battles this coming summer.

            After the Portuguese left, Hamilton went down to Valley Creek to skip a few rocks on the water, to have a chance to think.  Hamilton wanted to obey the Congress.  One of the ideals we were fighting for was the rule of law.  But wasn’t it the responsibility of the lawmakers to give the laws some wisdom, to relate them to the realities and not to a world of dreams?  Hamilton knew the restrictions made no military sense.  He knew, too, what judgment history makes of failure.  I heard him observe once that historians never congratulate the defeated on their punctilio!  Instead, they talk about how ineffectual the losers were!  Even the Congress would give us no thanks if we lost.  Hamilton had read his Thucydides.

            The conversation was reduced to a hush when Hamilton gave the generals the detail of Franklin’s secret initiative.  Knox and Wayne were ashen, but as the details and prospects unfolded, I could see their spirits rise.  Finally, Hamilton asked Wayne to give his report on the provisioning of the Army.

            Wayne’s report overlapped Knox’s about the lack of shoes and clothing.  The descriptions were lurid.  Everybody in the room became fired up when he told us about one soldier’s left foot, and three toes on the right one, having to be amputated for frostbite.

            Hamilton couldn’t stand any more.  “Dammit!”  This made Dolly react again, but Hamilton, like Knox, was lost in his passion.  “We’ll have to take extreme measures.  General Knox!  In Washington’s name I order you to dispatch several patrols immediately.  Have them seize clothing if these Pennsylvania farmsteaders won’t volunteer it!  I’m tired of being surrounded by Tories who are living well while our boys freeze and lose their feet.”

            This time, there wasn’t much argument.  In their bones the whole group knew the need for action.  There’s nothing like an Army in the field and a boy with stumps for feet to make somebody aware of realities.

            General Knox nodded his assent when he heard the order.  I thought he looked resolute and noble.  Nobody had told me yet that’s the stuff criminals are made of.

            Lt. Col. Hamilton took brisk charge of the rest of the meeting.  Dolly noted the order about the patrols.  He reported on the strategy to have Jefferson, who was also in Paris, make contact with moderate elements in the government of Louis XVI to try to get the French to come into the war on the side of the Patriots.

            With this, the meeting again reduced its conversation to a whisper.  We knew that even the walls have ears.  Hamilton expressed his usual frustration over the leaks.  It had been a major problem throughout the war.  More than once, he declaimed about how it had had its start back in ’73, when the Continental Court had ruled that a Tory informer and the Boston Post couldn’t be prosecuted for publishing the “Tea Party Papers”—even though the story had caused the hanging of nine of the “revelers.”  Somehow, John Milton’s “freedom of speech,” another of the ideals we were fighting for, had been reduced to that.

            I don’t believe anyone there thought one of the others was among the leakers, but just the same everybody stood up all at once to swear on his life, his fortune and his sacred honor (we did that in those days) that nothing would be revealed publicly about the plight of the American Army.

            There was some discussion, but it was too advanced for what I could understand at that age, about the intricacies of the Swiss bank accounts that were being used to pay for the European initiatives.  It seemed we had sold some lumber on the sly to the French Canadians, and the money had gone into the accounts.  Franklin and Jefferson both practiced effective, but elegant, diplomacy.  They had to have money if they were to stay in Paris, both for their own expenses and to pay for all they were doing.

            The meeting’s final subject was a roundtable discussion of the threat Dr. Benjamin Rush amounted to in the Congress.  Rush had been agitating for Washington’s removal.  To us, that was startling.  We knew what a towering figure Washington was, really the only person who held the Cause together.

            About that time, there were footsteps on the stairs.  Everyone stood up as General Washington entered the room.

            Then we all kneeled, as was our custom whenever Washington first joined us.  No doubt each of us said a short prayer.  Glancing over, I could see Washington’ lips moving.  It reminded me of the time I saw him kneeling in the snow, praying.

            Nothing was said out loud, of course.  Prayer in groups had been forbidden since the Continental Court’s prayer ruling in ’74.  Since Indians aren’t Christians, it held, it would be inconsistent with American sensibilities, they said, to bruise their feelings with Christian prayers.  The Congress had accepted the decision with its usual zeal over such things, and had extended it to apply even when Indians weren’t present.  Of course, the Unitarians could get by with theirs.

            General Washington was one of the most genial men I’ve ever known.  Nobody should be fooled by the fact that he doesn’t come across that way in that half-finished portrait that pictures him with pursed lips.  That’s just an unfortunate impression created by the General’s having preferred the comfort, usually, of not wearing the horrid false teeth Paul Revere had fashioned for him.  There were many times I saw the teeth in a glass in his room upstairs there at ’Forge.          

            Hamilton quickly filled him in, in general terms, on what had transpired.  “We’re taking some steps to find a drillmaster,” he said, “and to try to get us a major ally to come into the war.  Do you want the details?”

            “No,” Washington answered, “I’m perfectly prepared to let all of you handle the details.  I’m busy with my own side of things.”        

            He began to tick off an impressive list on his fingers.  “There’s next summer’s campaign to plan.  I’ll be addressing the Congress on the 28th, and you know that takes thought.  The Commission on Postwar Organization and Reconstruction will be coming in this afternoon, in just a few minutes, in fact.  And David Whizstock, the Director of the Bureau of the Budget, has to see me tonight about how in the world we can pay for this war.  Congress, as you know, won’t go along with cutting back of welfare.  There are too many unfortunates living below the poverty line out on the frontier.”

            General Wayne had something to add.  “Did you hear about the testimony they heard in Congress the other day from the fellow named Lincoln?  He told them about how hard it was to live in the wilderness out in Kentucky with a wife and children.  He’d only had time to build a three-sided hut to carry them through the winter.  A freezing wind came in on the open side.  Now there’s a worthy case for government aid, if I ever heard of one.  Hell, the kids even have to walk to school!  But in your speech can you get the message across to the Congress that here at ’Forge the soldiers don’t have any huts at all yet?  They’d be happy with three sides.”       

            “You know what they always tells me,” Washington answered back.  “The real smart ones up there quote to me incessantly from Galbreaker’s book.  It’s a matter of national priorities, they say, and people like the Lincolns can’t make it without help.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that from the senior representative from Boston.”

            He went on.  “There aren’t enough hours in the day.  It delights me that I have you to depend on.  I appreciate you men—and you, too, Dolly!  I count you in it, too, Enoch!  My reputation wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans if it depended on just the things I can do for myself.  A good staff, that’s the answer.  You’re my good right arms!”

            Washington had taken great pride in the article that had come out in the Harvard Business Review’s fall ’77 issue.  He always had a copy to hand anybody who hadn’t seen it.  The article praised his management style, even gave it a name all its own: “Theory W: The Leader and Team Concept.”  A strong leader, a strong team, all pulling for objectives defined clearly in advance.

            The article appeared, of course, before the dam broke.  We soon became quite familiar with the process we called “the Klutzification of George Washington.”

            Right then, to me, General Washington seemed the finest leader we could ever hope to have.  Sure, I knew he took naps once in a while, but it had not yet been suggested to me that that was a sign of a man’s being feeble.  Hell, I even snuck upstairs at the farmhouse once in a while myself for a good nap.  And I was only seventeen!

            Well, the meeting was about done.  General Knox took a moment to pull Washington aside about the clothing patrols.  Washington frowned, but then nodded his agreement.  “The alternative’s to dissolve the Army,” he said.  He buckled on his sword, a part of the showmanship that went with greeting important visitors.  The Commission would arrive before giving Washington a chance at lunch.        

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

A RECRUITMENT IN PARIS

 

            I wasn’t there.  This was all taking place over in Paris, while I was still there at ’Forge.  But the story’s been told many times since then, so I know it almost as well as if I’d been there myself.

            The man was powerfully built.  A thick, muscular neck.  He was talking to Franklin in a normal voice, but even in that there was a hint of the power that would come out later when he shook the troops out of their early-morning lethargies.

            It was Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin Steube.  A Prussian.  He was there to sign on as the drillmaster the men at the farmhouse so desperately needed.  He’d been an officer in the Prussian army for sixteen years, ’til ’63, making the rank, eventually, of captain.  But then he’d gotten canned ’cuz of an argument with one of the Emperor’s favorites—not too smart.  Later on, he’d worked out some connection with a prince—the Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechigen—and picked up some claim to being called a Baron.  This went down the tubes, though, when the Prince lost all his money and had to make some layoffs.  Well, now the “baron” was in search of employment, and a little adventure.  So he’d come to see Franklin.

            “We’ll have to make up a cover story for you,” old Ben said over those crazy little glasses.  “First thing is, you can’t be from Prussia.  Austria’s OK, but not Prussia.  Ordinarily, nobody in America’d know the difference.  We Americans have a hard time knowing Austria from Australia, or Prussia from Russia.  People are just a little sensitive right now.  The average American’s pretty decent, though.  Whataya say?, we’ll tell ‘em your mother’s from Vienna—that’ll lend a touch of culture, and that your dad was a Pole.  That’ll be a good mix.  Make it harder to trace, too.”  He laughed.  “We call this ‘laundering our personnel.’”  Baron Steuben gave a grunt of approval.

            “I appreciate the fact that you’ve given me your real name, Steube,” Franklin said.  “That kind of honesty’s important on an employment application.  But I like the name you and your dad cooked up better.  Let’s just go with that, don’t ya think?  ‘Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus Henry Ferdinand von Steuben.’  Sounds great, nicht wahr?  And let’s say your folks took you to Prussia when you were two.  That’ll explain how you wound up with the Prussian army.

            “We’ll make you a General, give you a letter of introduction saying you were a Lt. General back in the Prussian army, even give you an aide and, wha’-say, a military secretary.  That sound agreeable enough?”

            General von Steuben stood up.  Straight as a ram-rod.  He peered relentlessly over the top of Mr. Franklin’s glasses and into his eyes.

            “Danke, mein Herr,” he said, a tear in his eye, the first and last time he ever showed a weakness.  “You’ll never regret this.  I’ll serve you well.”

  

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

IN A SOLDIERS’ CABIN

 

            It was April 5, 1778.  Spring had set in.  Nowadays the great lawns there at Valley Forge would be sproutin’ green.   But that particular day hadn’t been filled especially with the joys of new life.  The Baron had drilled them all unmercifully from before dawn to long after dusk.  The men were lying in the straw of their cabin, exhausted.

            One of the men, the corporal, had a little education, and it showed.  The other men, including the Sergeant-Major, a forty-three-year old former lobsterman from Maine, were pretty rough.  In fact, they were so rough that anybody really sensitive who’d be listenin’ to this story would want to skip on to the next part to avoid being offended.

            Well, of course, first they tore off their boots, those of them whose feet had happened to fit the stuff the patrols were bringing in.  Blisters, b’damned!  It woulda helped to wear a double pair of socks, but that was a luxury none of them had either the savvy or the chance to indulge.  Three of the men fell right off away to sleep.  The others lay bitchin’, as soldiers will.  It was a mixture of hate, hurt, admiration and pride.

            “If we have to bunch up again tomorro’ for a hundred damn bayonet charges the way we did today, I’m half inclined to just sit down on the nearest stump and write out my resignation,” one of the privates ventured.

            “Whadaya mean, Jeremiah?,” the Sergeant-Major chimed in good-naturedly.  “In the first place, you don’t know how to write, so how you goin’ to write anything?  Then in the second place, there ain’t no resigning this man’s army.  You can go skulking off, if you wanta risk it.  But then I’ll have to hunt you down myself and blow your damn head off.  You don’t want me to do that, now, do you, Jeremiah?,” he inquired with mock seriousness.

            The younger man stayed silent, morose.  He’d said it only half-seriously, but now the fun had gone out of it.

            It was Ekeziel Denton who turned the chatter in the direction they mostly all felt.  “You know, I’m glad I’m here.  I’d hate to be in Jedediah’s place.  I’m beginning to feel a little bit like a soldier, and that sonofabitchin’ Baron don’t seem to me so bad as he lets on.”

            “You heard anything about Jedediah?,” the corporal whispered.

            “No, not really.  Last any of us heard was when he was packed off to Phoenixville.  But do we ever see any of our sick ones back again?  They die out there, and are buried there.  They don’t even get a military burial with fife and drum, the way they do here at ’Forge.”

            [Warning: The satire that follows is awfully gross, even though not more gross than the behavior and other stuff it’s intended to satirize.  Read on at your own risk.  The story’ll get back to tamer satire once this chapter’s over.]

            The door swung open, hitting one of the sleeping soldiers a painful blow.  In walked a man in rumpled white, a white box under his arm.

            It was the Navy corpsman.  “I’m here to give you your indoctrination lecture on the disease HELPS, as commanded by the Surgeon General,” he called out.  Men pulled themselves slowly, reluctantly, into postures of half-attention.  The Sergeant-Major, assuming instinctively his responsibilities, eyed them all sternly, to make sure they were listening.

            “HELPS…,” the corpsman cried.  “It stands for ‘Health Extinguished by Less than Prophylactic Strategies.’  It’s sweeping the country, especially in Greenwich Village and Beacon Hill.  Not much of it here in the Army yet, but the Surgeon General can’t be too careful.

            “Now I want all you men to listen up!”  It was then that Private Denton knew he’d seen and heard that particular corpsman before.

            “Ain’t you the corpsman,” he interrupted, “who was there when I mustered in at the Wilmington recruitin’ depot?  Ain’t you the one who scared us all to death with that big needle?”

            The corpsman was flustered, didn’t know what to tell ‘em.  Denton went on.  “Hell, man, you scared that one kid so bad, the one what was only fourteen and what was lying so as to get in, he went running home to momma.  All that stuff about shooting us—ha, ha!—in the left testicle!”

            “That’s enough!,” the Sergeant-Major roared, after he’d let the laughter go on just a little longer than maybe he should’ve.  “Let the corpsman get on with his lecture.  It’s important.  And what’s more, the sooner he gets it over, the sooner we get some shut-eye.”

            The corpsman was shaken, but carried on.  He’d given the lecture a hundred and eleven times before, and didn’t have to be fully there to do it.

            “You all know what causes HELPS,” he said.  “It’s nasal in-taking.”

            “‘Nasal-intaking’?,” a private from west Georgia whispered to the corporal off over in a dark corner of the cabin.  “What the hell’s that?”

            “Oh, it’s their fancy name for booger-suckin’,” the corporal whispered back.  “You may not know what I mean, but it’s all a part of their therapeutic-scientific-empathetic-bureaucratic way of talkin’.  It’s a whole ‘nother language.”

            The private spoke up loud, stopping the corpsman again in his tracks.  “If it’s booger-suckin’ you’re talking about, you might as well save your breath.  Any idiot knows you suck the boogers out of another man’s nose, you’re gonna die of somethin’.  Doesn’t make any difference what.  Christ, we ain’t got any women here at ’Forge, but there ain’t but damn few of us who are gonna stoop to booger-suckin’ for our kicks.  We’re too tired nohow!”

             The corpsman was fit to be tied.  He was red all over, the parts we could see extended from his white rumples.

            “All right!  That’s all I’m gonna say.  Die if you want to!  Here, just take these—and be sure to use ’em.”  He threw great gobs of sheep-skin prophylactics wildly about the cabin, botches of them landing in the straw.  “Put ’em over the nose of your partner.  Be responsible.  Have responsible sex!”  He stomped out.

            Everybody was silent for a while, half-stunned, half not knowing what to say.  Then Denton slipped one of the skinners out of its little folder, started to blow air into it.  There was a roar from the others when the bang came.  They started to gather ’em all up, finding a new source of fun.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

THE PRESS CONFERENCE

 

            It was just three days later, April 8, 1778, but nothing was the same.  All hell had broken loose.  Now Washington was to meet the press out in front of the farmhouse, in what was to be one of the opening rounds in a fiercely contrite struggle to save his Generalship.

            The reporters were huddled in a large group out on the grass.  The four-man fife and drum corps assigned to Washington’s Life Guard stood off to the right of the door.  On signal, they lit up with “How Sweet It Is,” a forerunner to Ruffles and Flourishes.  Out stepped Washington.

            Under the circumstances, it was my task to introduce him.  I had been practicing out behind the barn all morning.  “Ladies and gentlemen,” I intoned, “the Honorable General of the Army George Washington.”

            “I have a brief statement to read before I take your questions,” Washington said, waving the reporters off.  He stood at the podium there on the small landing, put on his reading glasses and took out two pages of handwritten material from within his coat.

            The soft April breeze sifted through the trees and Valley Creek murmured its eternal gurgle a few feet away as he read these historic words:

 

            I appear before the Country today a chastened but resolute man.  In the days to come, it will be my total dedication to regain the confidence that my Countrymen have so long and so lavishly reposed in me.  The revelations in the Copenhagen Gazette and their aftermath have stung this Headquarters to the quick.  It is my intention to meet these revelations resolutely to get to the bottom of the matter.  I am today announcing the dismissal of Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton, who will in due time be reassigned to duties elsewhere.  He has already left the Headquarters to appear and to testify before the Continental Congress.  It is with deep regret that I have perceived the necessity of his dismissal.  I have always considered him, and do so consider him, a Patriot hero.  It is with the most profound regret, too, that I have received the news of General Knox’s attempted suicide.  You will be glad to know that the most recent medical bulletin, received by me within minutes before my appearance here, is that he will survive, but that he will need several days to recuperate.

            I do not presently know, myself, all of the facts about the reported discrepancies in the credentials of General Friedrich von Steuben.  He is being placed on leave-of-absence pending an investigation.  Nor do I have all the detail I will need about the covert initiatives reportedly undertaken through my Headquarters and involving Mr. Franklin and Mr. Jefferson in Paris.  I can today assure the American people that the purposes for which we acted were fundamentally sound: to make contact with the more moderate elements within the government of King Louis XVI, if such could be found, in an effort to engage France on our side in the war; and to recruit, on a very modest scale, a few good men to advise and assist the Army here at Valley Forge in its training and preparation.

            In closing, I pledge to the Congress and to the people, in whom I have always reposed my trust and who have so repeatedly honored me with their confidence, that every effort will be made to bring all the facts to light consistently with the public’s right to know.  I am not a crook!  And there will be no cover-up!  I am today appointing a special commission, to be headed by the respected John Adams, to determine those facts and to report them at the earliest possible time both to me and to the American people.

            I will now take your questions.

           

            General Washington removed his reading glasses, smiled a not altogether pleasurable smile, stiffened his body, and prepared for the ordeal that was to follow.  The reporters had reacted to his last words as though to a starting gun.  The closest thing I’d ever come upon to the scene that followed was in a picture in one of those books about an English fox hunt.  It was like when the hounds, you know, had the fox up a tree, and he was looking down with wild desperation while the dogs gnarled and clawed underneath.  Well, General Washington tried hard to avoid the wild look, but you could see he was hurt.  The reporters, for their part, did nothing to avoid looking like the hounds.

            They all shouted at once.  General Washington picked the first questioner by pointing to a particularly frumpy-looking woman who was Headquarters correspondent for the Long Island Inquisitor.

             “General Washington, did you yourself know that Franklin was in Paris to recruit a Prussian drillmaster?”

            “Well,” the General paused.  “I knew he was in Paris.  I knew he was looking for a drillmaster.”

            “Were you informed, Sir, before Mr. von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge that it was going to be a Prussian?”

            “Well, I can’t rightly remember exactly just when it was that I first came to know that.  After he was here, of course, I knew it, but it was too late to send him back, the spring training season being already on us.  But whether I knew it sometime before that, I’d have to look back in my personal diary.”

            “You’ve kept a personal diary, Mr. General?,” another reporter exulted.  He was a tall, out-doorsy type, probably from Atlantic City.  “Are you going to make that available to the Adams Commission and to the Congress?”

            “Mac…”  The General knew his name.  “I’ve never given that a moment’s thought.  I guess I will if they ask for it.”

            “Mr. General!  Mr. General!”  The chorus went up from all around.  Washington pointed ambiguously to a little fellow in the middle of the pack.

            “Was Lt. Col. Hamilton doing all this on his own, or did he have your prior knowledge and consent?  I’m talking about the Jefferson initiative with France now.”

            “He cleared it with me in general terms, of course, Jim, at one of our staff meetings some time ago, quite a while ago, as a matter of fact, I think either right before or shortly after the Battle of Long Island.”

            “Are you telling us, General, that you didn’t have your finger on it at all times?  Would it be a fair inference for the American people to make, Sir, that you either knew the details of the French initiative or that you didn’t know them, and left something so scandalous, so vitally deleterious to the national good, to your staff—and to a mere Lt. Colonel, at that?”

            Washington didn’t have a chance to answer.  I could see he wanted to get out his copy of the article from the Harvard Business Review, so that he could invoke a little authoritative backing for his management style.  But the press conference was in turmoil, the reporters all shouting at once.  Finally, after everybody, including the General, had forgotten the question, things calmed down enough for the General to hear another question through the hubbub.

            “Is it true, Sir, that you autographed a small replica of the Liberty Bell that Mr. Jefferson gave to the French Queen, Marie Antoinette?”

            “Yes, I did that,” Washington answered, cowed.  “Was that a terrible thing to do?  I know she got a little bad publicity last year ’cause of all her shoes, but I’ve always considered her something of a gracious lady.”

            “And can you confirm, General Washington, Sir, whether the reports are true that Colonel Hamilton went crazy twelve years ago, back in ’66?”

            “Well, word has come in to me this morning,” Washington replied, “that he did have a nervous breakdown for a brief time somewhat more than a decade ago.  That is probably what you’re talking about.  I can say, Sir, though, that there’s never been any indication of instability that I have seen on his part during the years I’ve know him and that he’s served as my chief-of-staff.”

            “How can you say that, Sir,” the frumpy lady shouted, “when he’s let your Generalship down so egregiously!?  Would it be a fair characterization to say that he’s been a wild card, a rough rider, a cowboy, if you will, all of which has been suggested by the nation’s leading editorial commentators within the past two days?”

            Washington couldn’t answer.  He stood as in a trance for a long minute, an ominous silence all around.  Then he nodded to me, I moved forward, and Mr. Westerlick of the Philadelphia Morning-Times took the cue to close the conference with the traditional…

            “Thank you, Mr. General.”

            Once we were inside, General Washington broke down.  Martha was there, and put her arm around his shoulder.  “How do they judge all of this?,” he sobbed.  “They’re treating us like criminals, like conspirators.”

            “There, there, dear,” Martha comforted him.  “They’re just doing their jobs.  They’re just after a story.  And besides, you know what the press thinks of us.  We’re the Contraries.”

            I tried to help, too.  “To us it’s a Cause.  I’m sure it is to most of the American people, too.  But you don’t read that in the papers.  These people are a bunch of cynics.  They aren’t the American people!”

            I took this chance to ask General Washington the question that had been bothering me most.  “Why did you do it, General?”

            “Do what?,” he looked up at me, surprised.

             “Go out before the press.  Why didn’t you just put out a statement that all the things the papers have been clamoring about aren’t for public disclosure, that they have to do with covert initiatives and that it’s treason, in fact, to spread them all out?”

            “That’s what General Knox wanted to do,” Martha interjected.

            “It just wouldn’t have worked, Enoch.  Once the papers start on one of these hue-and-cry things, like after the Boston Tea Party,” Washington said, “nobody thinks for himself any more.  Everybody just assumes something’s a scandal if the papers call it a scandal, and that the papers have a right to dig into it all, no matter who it hurts or how much it does to the country.  Lord knows, even the Continental Court agreed with that.”

            “But,” he added, “I agree this isn’t working, either.”

            Well, Washington was no weakling.  He had long since choked back his sobs, and now he asked us both to forget them, if we could.  Sure enough, I’ve never told anybody about them.  He went upstairs to absorb himself as best he could in his plans for what he saw as the final and victorious campaign of the war, the trap he was laying for the British at Yorktown, which he planned for the next July.  As things turned out, it was a quixotic absorption.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

 

THE SELECT COMMITTEE

 

 

            The members of the Select Committee sat in a high semi-circle, Representative Daniel Kantdew, presiding.  It was April 11, still in ’78, just three days after the press conference.

            The hearing room was packed, its high marble walls echoing the excited murmur of the crowd.  Members of the press crouched all around the open area between the witness tables and the bench.  Even the standing room in the audience section had been gone for hours.  A crier had been brought in to call out the most salient points of the testimony to the crowd outside.

            Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton sat with his attorney at his elbow, the two whispering in each other’s ears with cupped hands, at the first witness table.  Across a small aisle, at the other table, sat Dolly Hale.  She held her chin high and chose almost to ignore her attorney, who toyed nervously with his yellow notepad, anxious for the hearing to get underway.

            “Mr. Jaynes has now arrived,” the Chair announced.  “We are ready to begin.  Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton will be the first witness.  Will you rise and be sworn, please, Sir.”

            Hamilton was in uniform, bedecked with the medals he’d earned these past three years.  He cut a striking figure, standing there, his right arm cocked for the swearing in, towering above the crouching reporters.

             After he said “I do,” his attorney rose.  “I believe I can expedite this proceeding, Mr. Chairman.  My client is prepared, of course, to answer all preliminary questions relating to his identity, and the like.  But I have advised him, and he has agreed, that he will invoke his Fifth Section rights to any substantive questions regarding the events that are now so greatly agitating the country.”

            “You mean,” drawled Mr. Kantdew in his low, controlled, ominous voice, “you mean to tell this Committee that your client is going to claim his right against self-incrimination under Section Five of the Articles of Provisional Government?”

            “That is correct, Mr. Chairperson.”

            There was a commotion down at the left end of the semi-circle as Mr. Babino of Rhode Island slammed shut his notebook and put his chin in his hands in disgust.  “In that event, Mr. Counsel,” the chairman said, “I see no value in proceeding with Colonel Hamilton’s testimony at this time.  In the event the Committee votes to grant him immunity from prosecution, we will contact you and you are to have him back before the Committee, do you understand?”

            “Yes, Sir, Mr. Chairperson.  He will make himself available in that eventuality.

            “We will move on to the next witness.  Will Miss Dolly Hale please rise to be sworn.”

            The first questioner was the senior representative from Connecticut.  He bore a magnificent presence, gigantic bushy eyebrows accentuating the impression created by his huge barrel chest.  He had a voice to match.  Dolly gave a shudder when its resonance first hit her.

            “Miss Hale!,” he bellowed, after he’d gone through all the necessary preliminary questions about who she was and what job she held.  “Is it the case that you have taken almost verbatim notes at all the staff meetings at Washington’s headquarters during the past twenty-two months?”

            “Yes, it is, Your Honor. I try to write down everything except the expletives.  I delete those.”

            “Expletives?  What can you possibly mean, Miss Hale?  Officers and gentlemen use expletives in their discussion of public business?”

            “Well, Sir, they’re only human.  And they’re under a lot of pressure.”

            “We’ll appreciate it if you will restrain yourself simply to relating the facts, Miss Hale, but we’ll let that pass for now.  I have something much more important to explore with you.  Did you bring your notes with you, as the Committee’s subpoena directed?”

            “I did, Your Majesty.”

            “Would you pass them to the Clerk, please, to be marked as an Exhibit.”

            After they were marked, the notes were handed to the Chairman, who in turn handed them to Mr. Bushybrows (it’s amazing, I’ve lost track of his name; but that’s what I’ve always called him, anyway).  There was a long, fidgety silence, a cough sounding here and there from among the audience, as the Congressman thumbed slowly and melodramatically through the pages.  Then he stood up sharply.  He glared at Dolly.  “Harruuumph!”

            “What is this, Miss Hale!?   There’s half a page missing from the meeting of December 22.  What accounts for that?

            “I don’t know, Sir.”  Her attorney pulled her to him, implored her with something urgently.  “Well, Sir, I guess I really do know.  I cut that out myself.”

            “You cut it out yourself?,” Mr. Kantdew, the Chairman, intervened coldly.  “You cut material out of notes subpoenaed by the Committee?  I can hardly believe my ears, Miss Hale.  Did you know you were destroying material evidence?”

            Dolly fought back.  “What do you mean ‘material evidence,’ Sir?  Are you telling me my notes of the staff meetings have something to do with a crime!?”

             “I mean, Miss Hale, that there may indeed be criminals taking part in a conspiracy here, not the least of which is an Obstruction of Justice!  There appear, if I’m counting them correctly, to be eighteen lines missing from a vitally important set of minutes.”

            Then the second of the bombshells struck.  It came through the intermediation of the squeaky, thin voice of the representative from Delaware.  “Did anyone assist you in exorcising the material from the notes, Miss Hale?”

            Dolly stood up, wanting desperately to run.  Her attorney pulled her back down, and there followed five minutes of utter bedlam in the room while they whispered angrily back and forth to one another.  Finally, she started to speak.

            “Yes, Sir.  Somebody did the cutting with me.  I might as well say it.  It was Lt. Col. Hamilton, Your Honor.”  Then she collapsed into her chair.

            Well, collapse she might, but that wasn’t the end of it.  There followed interminable questions about what she knew about the Swiss bank accounts used to pay for Franklin and Jefferson’s covert operations.  Then there was something personal.  She was asked about her romance, the prior summer, with a Hessian’s son in Philadelphia.  In all, by the time it was over, it was made to look like she was a pretty mixed character for serving in the Headquarters of the Commander in Chief.

            The questions to Dolly were eventually exhausted, each Congressman having had his chance at a day in the sun.  It was then that the Chair inquired whether any member of the Committee had anything else to raise before the session was adjourned.  If there had been bombshells before that, they were nothing compared to what struck now.

            Mr. Jaynes, the curly-headed young smartaleck just elected to the Congress the prior year, stood up, brandishing a copy of that day’s Boston Post.  There, on the first page in large black print, was the headline “Washington Said to Have Authorized Seizures from Civilian Farmsteaders.”  He read from the article:

            “Unidentified reliable sources at Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge have told the Post exclusively that at a staff meeting on December 22 General George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Contrary army, authorized his officers to send armed patrols into the countryside to seize clothing and other domestic articles for use in the camp.

            “Interviews conducted by The Post reveal the most pathetic cases of farm families, especially those not sympathetic to the Contrary cause, undergoing brutal interrogation and stripping….”

            “Need I go on, gentlemen!?,” the speaker demanded.  “I request, Mr. Chairman, that we adjourn into executive session, there to consider what extraordinary measures we should take to address this outrageous brutality sponsored without sanction of law, Sir, by General Washington!”

            “If there is no objection,” Mr. Kantdew monotoned, “we are so declared.  The Sergeant at Arms will clear the room.”

            Well, the rest of it can only be recounted by those who were allowed to remain, and from the accounts in the papers.  It’s enough to say that the following actions were taken:

·        To request the Continental Court to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate, and if justified to prosecute, the nefarious activities of General George Washington, Mr. Benjamin Franklin, Mr. Thomas Jefferson, Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton, General Henry Knox, General Anthony Wayne, the General Friedrich von Steuben, and Miss Dolly Hale, both as to substantive violations of the law as laid down by Congress and for conspiracy to obstruct justice.

·        To subpoena, for examination by the Select Committee, the Day-Book maintained by Hamilton, General Washington’s diary, and the personal diary of Mrs. Martha Washington, in which she is said to have recorded her pillow talk with the Commander in Chief.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

At The Boston Post

 

            “We’ll run it as a daily feature, ‘Crisis in the Farm House,’” Ben Bradford, the respected senior editor who’d handled many a scandal, told his two star investigative reporters, Karl Burnsides and Bobbie Woodmoor.  “The reader’s eye’ll be caught by a blocked-in sketch of Washington’s headquarters.  Each day’s story will start on page one, carry over to pages six or eight.  We need a story, maybe even two or three, every day, you understand?”

            “Right, Boss.”  The reporters didn’t need to be told.  They knew their job.  They lusted after the story every bit as much as Bradford did.  A chance to unfold, layer by sordid layer, the multifarious conspiracies of the Contraries.  “I haven’t had this much fun since the Boston Tea Party story,” Burnside told his boss with glee.

            “First, we can still follow up more on the leaks from the closed session of the Select Committee.  They’ll be making the announcement Thursday about wanting a Special Prosecutor.  We’ll want a story in on Wednesday.  Cook up some speculations about who it’ll be.  That’ll be good.”

            “Before you give us our assignments for the week, Boss,” Woodmoor broke in, “I’m at a loss for a name for us to give the scandal.  What’s a good one to call it?  ‘The Conspiracy at the Farm House’ is too long, not catchy enough.”

            “I’m at a loss, too, Boss,” Burnside chimed in.

            “I know what we’ll do, men.  We’ll make hay outta not having a name.  We’ll run a ‘Name the Scandal’ contest.  Give people thirty days to think of one.  Get teachers to involve their grade schoolers, come up with somethin’ just right.”

            “What’ll the prize be for the winner?,” Woodmoor wanted to know.

            “How about an overnight stay at the Royal Governor’s Palace?,” Bradford surmised.  “Hell, he’ll like the contest, want to do everything he can.  There can be breakfast in bed, followed by a swim in the Governor’s pool.  We can make the winners national heroes.”

            “Sounds great!  But I’ve got to get going.  How about our assignments?”

            Bradford looked serious.  Pulling his green eyeshade down over his brow, he scanned a list he’d made earlier that morning.

            “First, you, Bobbie.  Get the story about the Special Prosecutor.  While you’re at it, see whether the Select Committee’s gotten Martha’s diary yet.  Try to corroborate whether the copy we’ve got is a right one.

            “Then follow up on the lead you started on last week about Ben Rush’s letter goin’ after Washington’s competence.  Ben’s a Congressman and’s been Physician General there in the Middle Medical Department.  When a doctor starts to comment on the Commander in Chief’s capacity, that’s a great story.  We’ll put it on page three, though, right next to the story about the General’s naps.  No more prominence than that.  Don’t want to give the public the impression we’re going after the jugular.

            “Oh, too, I heard yesterday, Karl, that Rush is thinkin’a bringin’ charges against that Dr. William Shippen.  Shippen’s a damned Washington supporter.  Accusin’ him of fraud in procurin’ medical supplies.  Make it a big story.  ‘Whistle-blower goes after his boss in the Medical Department.’  Boy, I can see the headline now.”

            “Ben, will be stick that one under the ‘Crisis in the Farm House’ feature, too?,” Burnsides wanted to know.

            “Leave that decision to the page editor,” Bradford answered, looking irritated.  “But, in case you have to know, we’re goin’ to take the broad view.  Anything’ll go in under the ‘Crisis’ heading, now we have this scandal as big as it is.”

            He went on with the assignments.  “But remember, boys, we need a little balance.  There’s a Tory Congressman’s been chargin’ shipbuilders and sunflower seed sorters fifty ounces of gold bullion just to have brunch with him once a month.  We can use that one for the ‘People Will Be People’ section on page 57.

            “Bobbie, don’t forget what I told you about getting Nickie Rockwell, our staff artist, out to do some sketches of Dolly Hale.  She’s a sensation right now.  Have Nickie see if she’ll pull her skirt up a little bit, maybe above the ankle.  That’ll have a side benefit—invigorate our letters-to-the-editor column.  We haven’t had a good fight goin’ there for months.”

            “Lordee, Boss,” Woodmoor looked exhausted.  “We can’t do the whole damn paper.  I know you’ve got the Fondle story next on your list.  Glanced at it while you were gettin’ coffee.  Can’t you get somebody else to do that one?”

            Bradford held up his hands, palms outward, as though to ward him off.  “Already switched it, Bobbie.  Don’t sweat it.  Our correspondent in London’ll get it.  You’re missing the story-of-a-lifetime, though, I guarantee it.  Not everyday a talented actress leaves Boston to go to London to see the King, complain about Contrary atrocities.  And against our own farmers, too!  Elayne’ll be a sensation.  Whatta scene!  There’s that dashing Lt. Wellington.  He’ll probably take her on a tour of the Royal Barracks, let her talk with some of the boys about to come over.

            “Oh, you’ll never imagine.  I almost forgot.  They’d fire me if I let this one get by!  Karl, get the story on Washington’s hemorrhoids.  Hear they’re killin’ ’em.  Then have some medical diagrams cooked up.  We’ll run ’em page five.  Should show the readers everything they ever wanted to know about piles.

            “That’s all, boys.  If you have time, stay for lunch.  I’ll be free as soon’s I meet with the editorial people.  It’s OK for us to give the people the facts,” he said, assuming his more benign look, “but it all needs to be put in perspective, raised to a higher level.  Gotta have one editorial calling on Washington to apologize, that’s for sure.”

            “Boss?,” Karl looked puzzled.  “I’m dense, or somethin’.  I don’t understand our callin’ for him to apologize. If he did, would we call this whole thing off?”

            “Hell, no!,” Bradford could hardly believe his ears.  “I don’t know how you can be such a fine reporter, Karl, but so lacking in subtlety.  Don’t you see?  We get Washington to apologize, there ain’t a Patriot in Congress who’ll be able to stand up for him.  For that side, the case’ll be closed.  Even that all-American-looking Lt. Col. Hamilton, when he testifies, won’t have any defense he can make.  It’ll already be open-and-shut.”

            “Geez, Boss, you guys think of everything.  I don’t suppose I’ll ever move up, be an editor.”

            “You’ll like the follow-up editorial, lads,” Bradford picked up again.  “We’re callin’ for an extension of the Open Meetings Law to cover Army staff meetings.  If it weren’t for the leaks, those damn conspiracies would go unreported.  Those guys with power just can’t get by with makin’ their plans while we humble folk take the crumbs.

            “Then we’ll have our editorial about those irresponsible bastards who call us a ‘Tory Fifth Column.’  We can’t let that kinda talk get started again.  We thought we had it licked when Continental Congressman Nathan McHale was censured, back after he made such a fuss about the Tea Party hangin’s.  Anti-intellectualism, that’s what it is.  Remember this, guys: McHale was a demagogue of the worst order.  We can never let McHaleism threaten this great country again!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

AFTER THE BATTLE

 

            The two men walked slowly, pensively, up the gentle slope just below the Grand Parade Ground.  A body slumped over a defender’s cannon; another, an arm torn from its socket, lay face down.  Everywhere, there was smoke, desolation.  The cabins were reduced to embers, except for a charred half-wall standing here and there.  The men stopped when they came to a red-coated body, knelt down, and placed a tiny cross, fashioned of twigs, into the rigid fingers of the hand that lay across his chest.  There weren’t many of those bodies, though.  Most were dressed in rags, uniforms, if they could be so called, of various descriptions.  Some wore boots, others none.  An Army, so called, lay there, spreading out in all directions.  Where there had been life, now there was death.  Occasionally, a shot sounded in the distance as the mopping up and executions continued.  It was May 23, 1778.

            As the men picked their way closer to the flat, they approached a cheering line of British soldiers, their clothing soiled and askew from the conflict.  They formed two lines, extending perhaps a quarter mile.  When the older man raised his right arm, held it there a moment, and let it fall, there began a running volley of muskets, continuing up the line, in a Feu de joie.  Along the side, farther up, men stood on the parapets of what had been the American emplacements, waving the Union Jack.  Little did these men know that their victory that day spelled the end of their own liberty, the end of England’s glory as one of the freer states of Europe.

            General William Howe and his aide-de-camp, Winston Gilsworthy, continued to the spot that had been indicated to them.  There, they came upon the body of General Horatio Gates, the American Commander in Chief.  He had stood his ground valiantly, but the contest had hardly been equal.  The Army had just been too poorly trained, too low in morale, too meagerly provisioned.  It is true that perhaps General Gates had capabilities as a military technician that exceeded those of his predecessor, General George Washington, but after Washington had been removed and the Baron von Steuben court-martialed, there was nothing to be done, really, with the rabble that the Army became.  The spirit had gone out of them, the desertions increased, the surliness with which they had begun had returned.  How could it have been otherwise?  At home, the Commonwealths they represented had wavered in their support, sometimes sending replacements, mostly not.  The press had exulted in every reversal.  France had not come into the war on the side of the Contraries, as had been anticipated by those who, early the preceding fall, had heard the rumors of Jefferson’s efforts abroad.

            The main British attack had been from the east, directly into the main defenses.  The Headquarters was threatened, though, by the rearguard action of a raiding party sent across the Schuylkill.  The Life Guard fought to the man, which is what saved me.  I got away, wading along the edge of Valley Creek until I could cross over to Mount Misery, where, scrambling up the steep bank, I lost myself in the dense trees of the forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

FOOTSTEPS

 

            It’s been a long night.  I’ll not be needin’ the sleep.  They took my timepiece from me, but I’d guess it’s getting’ close to five.  It’s amazing how early the sun comes up in the summer.

            Wonder if I’ll be hearin’ Francis hummin’ it again.  He’s usually bestirrin’ himself by now.  Damn, how I wish he’d hum it for me now!  It’s not perfect.  Too high for me to sing to in some places.  But it stirs my blood.  And he’ll get it right some day.  He has time.  He’s been here longer’n he’d like to remember already, and he’ll be here long after this day is over.  Fort McHenry.  Not a bad spot, really, assuming you’re not down in this stinkin’ dungeon.  I wonder if they’ll ever let him out.  Let him stumble home to see his kids one last time before he dies.

            There they are, the footsteps.  Klunkin’ down the iron stairs.  How I hate that sound!  They’re comin’.  Hang on there, old Enoch.  I’ve done my best.  Washington, Hamilton, Dolly… I’m comin’.

            Oh, dear God, I pray somebody remembers me, and the Cause we’ll all have died for…. 

 

 

TACITUS O’RILEY’S HISTORICAL NOTES

TO ASSIST THE MODERN READER

 

            Readers here in the mid-21st century may have some difficulty recognizing the historical references in the foregoing account of what came to be known as The Von Steuben Affair. The following chapter-by-chapter explanations will be of assistance.

            I have thus far written the account in a more serious tone whenever I have been speaking through my own voice.  But, if you’ll forgive me, I’ve kinda enjoyed speakin’ in the vernacular Enoch himself spoke.  I want to let my hair down, relax candidly with you.  So here goes:

 

Chapter One: Enoch Learned:

 

            1.  Thomas Paine really did call for a “new beginnin’,” sayin’ “these are times we can make the world over again,” or words to that effect.  Our older readers will recall Ronald Reagan callin’ for much the same thing before his own Affair brought him crashin’ down.

            2.  There really was, of course, a Brigade Commander named Ebeneezer Learned there at ’Forge.  My wife says I shouldn’t’ve used real people for some of my tellin’, but she admits a satirist has to give himself a little poetic license here and there.  Nothin’s meant by way of castigation of those long gone.

            3.  It is true, as we all know, that Washington did have an honest-to-goodness Lt. Colonel—Alexander Hamilton—on his staff.  He’s the same Hamilton who, had everything turned out differently, would have become Secretary of the Treasury in the new Republic. 

            4.  Virtually all facts in the story about the condition of the boys at ’Forge are straight out of the history books.  For example, there were three thousand of those kids sent off to area hospitals to die.  They ain’t buried there at ’Forge, most of them, but they might as well have been.

            5.  Well, of course, a real-time dimension Edmund Burke wasn’t actually put to death; the British didn’t really do a little foreplaying of Stalin’s great Showcase Trials; Richard Cobden and John Bright and Robert Peel were able to go on to be the leaders they were in the great Liberal Cause of the early 19th century.

 

Chapter Two: The Farm House, Valley Forge:

 

            1.  Yes, there was almost a Mutiny at ’Forge on December 21, 1777, the soldiers raisin’ hell and yellin’ “No meat!  No meat!”  But, as I say in the story, they did get back to work on their cabins.

            2.  It’s stretching things a little bit to have brought in Generals Knox and Wayne the way I did.  Apologies to their long-lost heirs.

            3.  The strength returns did indeed show 2,898, out of about 11,000, unfit for duty for no boots, no shirts, no coats, no pants sometimes.  It got worse later.

            4.  Ha!  Some readers probably thought I made up that bit about Congress declaring the day of Thanksgiving, making the men stand in a cold rain listening to their chaplains.  I didn’t.

            5.  I don’t know, really, about the expletives.  These guys weren’t parlor types, though.  There was real blood in ’em.  Is it stretchin’ things too much to think there was a little strong language once in a while, when they got perturbed?  I appeal to those who’ve been in the Army (or, if that doesn’t do the trick, the Marines).

            6.  It’s the unfortunate truth—I swear it!—that the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council did threaten the way I said it did.  Crummy way to run a war!  If you don’t want to take my word for it, just look in John B. B. Trussell, Jr.’s, dandy little book, Birthplace of an Army: A Study of the Valley Forge Encampment.

            7.  The situation about the desperate need for trainin’ the boys in the Army really was every bit as critical as I’ve painted it.  There’s no fiction there.

            8.  You probably imagine I made it all up about Franklin being over in Paris recruitin’ Prussians.  Well, I didn’t!, although the part about the Congress having laid on a two-year ban on it is make-believe.  If we didn’t have some later precedent for it, we’d not think, of course, that any Congress would be dimwitted enough to do somethin’ like that.

            9.  Now you think again you’ve got me.  No doubt you have the notion I went too far with the part about sending out the patrols to grab clothing off the backs and feet of the surrounding farm folk—especially about Washington himself approving it!, excusing it on that unprincipled rationalization that “the alternative’s to dissolve the Army.”  Well, bejeebers, all I can do is to ask you again to look in Trussell’s good book.  If this were one of my “scholarly” writings, I’d tell you the page; but since we’re just havin’ fun, I’ll let the reviewers look it up for themselves.  Another thing to tell you, I did make up that bit about the Congress’s wantin’ a Special Prosecutor.  They really missed a chance to stand on principle, those mealy-mouthed conflict-of-interest-ridden, negligent-on-the-job so-called representatives-of-the-people in the Continental Congress did!

            10.  I kinda like those characters back there in the Eighteenth Century.   Even been called something of an Eighteenth Century man myself, altho usually not in a complimentary way, the same way Goldwater was.  So I hate to admit they were, indeed, working to bring France into the War on the side of the Contraries, oops, Americans.  We all know how despicable Louis XVI’s reign was.  Leastwise, all the protestors out in front of the French Embassy told us so, and protestors, when backed up by all those good media folks and entertainment personalities, can’t be wrong, can they?  We all know that.  In a way, though, it was good France did come in.  Real-dimension history was helped along by it.  The Frogmen played not an insubstantial role in helpin’ us get our American independence.  We really owed them what we repaid ’em at Normandy.

            11.  Well, fortunately, all that stuff about the “Tea Party Papers” case was made up.  If it hadda been, we probably never woulda had our Revolution.

            12.  It’s true not everybody loved George Washington.  Dr. Rush did push to have him replaced by General Gates.  If we’d had good old Ben Bradford and The Boston Post in those days, the way I’ve got it in the story, what I say happened woulda happened, no doubt about it.  That’s why I say I’m writin’ real history… just on a different dimension.

            13.  The boys were in the habit of kneeling in prayer.  I love that giant statue of Washington kneeling in the snow that you can see down below the Freedoms Foundation, a mile or so up the canyon from the farmhouse, nowadays.  If some head-in-the-sky court had tried to tell ’em, though, that they couldn’t say their prayers out loud, I hate to think what woulda happened.  Probably’ve turned their guns, what few of them they could have spared the British, the other way.

            14.  It’s true Washington was a busy man.  All real leaders are.  Lordee, if you think they do everything themselves, or can, you’re crazy!  No, the Harvard Business Review wasn’t perspicacious enough to have an article praising Washington’s management style, altho I admit I haven’t checked their Fall ’77 issue.  I was just borrowing a bit from somethin’ Fortune magazine did a couple of centuries later.  But of course we know Ronald Reagan, whose management abilities they were praising, was no George Washington!  Imagine a guy named “the Gipper” as “the Father of our Country.”

            15.  It’s all made up, too, about Abe’s dad testifying before the Congress, wantin’ welfare.  It’s true the Lincolns did live one winter there in Kentucky while Old Abe was growing up with just three sides to their cabin.  We all know how bad off Abe was, too, in havin’ to hoof it to school.  But nobody really thought anything about it in those days.  Frankly, I don’t know myself how they made it, there below the poverty line so far as they was, without government help.  They’d have given anything, I’ll bet, for a champion or two in Congress like Teddy Kennedy “the Swimmer” Kennedy or Claude “A’choo” Pepper (if you can remember those stellar statesmen back in the late 20th century.  Few do.)  Compassionate, those guys were! 

 

Chapter Three: A Recruitment in Paris:

 

            1.  I’ve pretty much said all I need to say about this one.  On second thought, though, that’s not really true.  You need to know that the Baron Friedrich von Steuben (pronounced “fon Shtoiben”) really was brought over by Franklin and that he really did do a superb job whippin’ the Army into shape there in the spring of ’78, and that it made one hell of a difference when hostilities picked up again.

            2.  All of that about his checkered past—his change of name, his mere captaincy in the Prussian army, his meager claim to a barony—all those things are true.  Just check Trussell. And Franklin did give old Steube a letter of introduction saying he’d been a Lt. General.  Old Ben was a liar!  A criminal!  Geez, I wish I’d lived in those days and been in the Congress.  I’d have had his head for that.  On a pike.

            3.  Hell, I don’t know.  Maybe he didn’t say, “danke, mein Herr.”  I’ll concede

that for all the nit-pickers who’re goin’ tell you what a sordid fabrication all this is.

 

Chapter Four: In a Soldiers’ Cabin:

 

            1.  Pure fiction, but great fun was had by the writer, namely me.  I try to warn the reader early-on to skip this part if he/she’s easily offended.  Nobody’d write this kinda trash back in more cultured times, but it’s tame today, for most of us, that is.  Nobody ever accused us of being cultured any more.

            2.  Of course, there was no disease called HELPS, no vice called “nasal-intaking.”  Good Lord!  Nobody’d do that any more than he’d stick his fist, or any other part of his precious anatomy, up the behind of some other guy.  All that’s preposterous.  My apologies.  Things run away from a satirist sometimes.

 

Chapter Five: The Press Conference:

 

            1.  I no doubt stretch things here, too.  Reporters are genteel, educated, sensitive, truth-lovin’ people, trained in the best Journalism Schools, where they drink the mother’s milk of profound First Amendmentism.  Maybe it wasn’t that way back in those more primitive times.

            2.  I admit, no press conference ever has really looked anything like hounds havin’ a fox up a tree.  Surely, I exaggerated!

            3.  Martha wasn’t actually quite there yet.  Didn’t arrive, in fact, until some time in February, ’78.

            4.  Washington may have been plannin’ the trap at Yorktown that winter, I don’t know.  But it didn’t come until much later.  Just see the history books.

 

Chapter Six: The Select Committee:

 

            1.  I’ve changed some of the names to protect the innocent.  Can you imagine a Congressman named Daniel Kantdew?  Tried to stay as far away from actual people, living or dead, as I could.  Don’t mean to give any offense.

            2.  I’m sorry, in retrospect, to have reflected so badly on Miss Hale.  Alexander Hamilton—the dog!—was most assuredly capable of this dastardly act.  But Dolly?  Could any self-respecting American Womanperson be so influenced by her love for the men for whom she worked, the Cause to which she was attached, that she would join in cutting up material evidence?  In deleting eighteen lines from an important document intended ultimately to go to the Congress and from there to the National Archives, and then scissoring them up, the 18th century equivalent of sticking them in one of our modern laser-evaporators?  Of course not!  You’ll recognize, dear reader, that I’m countin’ on your help here, that I’m pleading with you, in effect, to further “suspend your disbelief” for the sake of your Humble Servant, yours truly.

 

Chapter Seven: At The Boston Post:

 

            1.  Dr. William Shippen, a Washington supporter and Dr. Rush’s boss in the medical department, was in fact so charged, and at Rush’s behest.  Trussell informs us, however, that he was acquitted in 1780—for insufficient evidence, of all things!  (I know it’s a heresy, so I’ll just whisper it: my thought is that maybe this shows the “reliable sources” aren’t always that reliable, or that definitive as to ultimate guilt or innocence, after all.  There, I’ve said it.  I beg you, if you have any forgiveness in your soul, any tolerance for the foibles and waywardness of the human mind when it gets to thinking about things that’re over its head, to forget what I just said!  We live in a free country, but some things, although nothing’s admitted to be subversive, are just too off-the-wall to be permitted the light of day.)  In the Von Steuben story as it goes here, of course, we don’t come to the chance for any acquittals.  Cut old Shippen off short with a stroke of my word processor, I did.  That’s power.

            2.  I admit the Elayne Fondle bit was a figment of my imagination.  Before the Artists’ Guild comes down on me, I swear all American actresses have been, at all times, True Blue.  I don’t know what got into me.  The idea of a beautiful, talented American actress fraternizin’ with the enemy!  You see how much of this is fiction.

 

Chapter Eight: After the Battle:

 

            1.  Sorry, boys.  I really am.  Nobody ever deserved better.

            2.  I’m gonna add a note here that I’ve written much later than the rest of this story.  According to the story here, you boys and your illustrious leaders were crushed in the American Revolution cuz of the combined foolishness, venality and divided loyalties of the fools I’ve portrayed in the press and the Continental Congress.  All that’s satire on that treachery and its effects.  I wrote it cuz the same kind of foolishness came up when good old Ronnie Reagan was president.  Congress passed, in real-dimension time, a law called “the Boland Amendment” forbidding our leaders from stoppin’ the Communists in Nicaraqua.   Well, strong men of good will couldn’t abide that—and it got ’em in a heap of trouble.  The press, and Congress, and Special Prosecutors were all over ’em, just as in my story they were all over Washington, Hamilton, Dolly Hale, and their intrepid band.  A few years later, dadgumit!, the shoes were on the other feet.  Then it was the Commander in Chief who played the fool, and who by lies and other contrivances led us into the endless quagmire in Iraq, tryin’ to teach other peoples how to live and lookin’ after the interests of someone other than ourselves.  Just shows you it all depends on where the wisdom and the insanity lie.  One time one can be with the Congress and the press, the next time with the Commander in Chief.  Bejeebers, we’d all like to live by the Rule of Law.  That’s one of the ideals you boys fought for there at ’Forge.  But it would sure help line things up in proper order if they’d all just put their thinkin’ caps on and nobody’d play the fool.  Then they’d be pullin’ together!  

 

Chapter Nine: Footsteps:

 

            1.  Sorry, Enoch.  You, too.

            2.  P. S., maybe now I’ve told your story, people won’t forget about you.  Or your Cause. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Tacitus O’Riley

 

 

 

 

[The following article is not part of the satire.  It was written by Dwight Murphey immediately after the indictment of Lt. Col. Oliver North in the Iran-Contra context in circa 1988.  A reader should keep in mind that the world context before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 was one of extensive Communist expansion.  The article has gone unpublished until its appearance here.]

 

A Day for Outrage

 

Dwight D. Murphey

 

            Outrage!

            That is the only emotion I can feel over the indictment of Oliver North and the others who sought to protect the interests of the free world in Central America.

            Until March 16, the darkest day in American history was that April day in 1975 upon which, in a shameful and indelible scene, an American helicopter loaded its last frantic passengers atop the embassy in Saigon.

            Now, incredibly, that has been equaled.  Excellent men--the best America has to offer--are being made to face the most outlandish criminal charges.  The Jacobinical spirit of ideological intemperance that serves as the coin of the realm in contemporary America's public consciousness has cloaked itself in the "rule of law."  In the name of the "prerogatives of Congress" and "the sanctity of law," this spirit ignores all deeper responsibility for the future of freedom in the Americas and all obligation to deal in moderation with the officers of an administration that it has so successfully obstructed.

            It is time the American people made themselves aware of the extent to which our society has become lost, solipsistically, in a mental, philosophical morass.  It is time we woke up to the fact that the only articulate view of the world put forward in the United States is the one advanced by the main media culture, by the liberal faction in Congress, and by the interest groups and ideological sects that feed into, and upon, the resulting insanity.

            We lack the clarity and the will to act appropriately in the absence of a "public philosophy" that is in keeping with the fundamental values of our heritage.  Here are just a few of the points about which, in the present context, we need a profound national consensus:

            1.  That the continued existence of Communist power in Central America (as, indeed, in Cuba) is a threat to the United States and to the entire free world.

            2.  That Mexico is in no sense immune to Communist revolution if the Soviets, the Cubans, the East Germans, the Libyans, and their surrogates succeed in Central America.

            3.  That a revolutionary attack on Mexico, once it comes, will constitute an imminent threat to the United States.

            4.  That we will then be besieged with refugees and turmoil; and, perhaps most importantly, will be divided and torn in a way that will make the wretchedness of the 1960s look mild in comparison.

            5.  That the self-absorption caused by the challenge on our border will inevitably deflect the United States from its role in the world, which will become an incalculably more dangerous place as the vacuum invites our enemies to act throughout the Third World and perhaps even in Europe.

            6.  That if we are to prevent these things, it is necessary that the United States act with will and constancy.

            7.  That, contrary to what popular liberalism would have us believe, this suggests the need precisely for an on-going covert effort by the United States throughout the so-called Third World, most especially in Latin America.

            Why?  Because even if our own internal divisions allowed us the will, we are barred from an open effort on behalf of the non-Communist governments of Latin America by the virulent anti-Americanism that such an effort engenders and by the necessity that each regime feels to pander to the Left within its own country.  And because the other alternative -- of "leaving each country to its own devices"--would be a blueprint for disaster.

            Not only is covert action strongly indicated, but it is also the course that is most calculated to avoid direct military confrontation.

            8.  That it has been too shallow to portray the crisis over the Iran/Contra Affair as a struggle between the Congress and the Presidency.  As important as that is, the crisis has been much deeper than that.  It relates to a philosophical division over world realities -- especially over the significance of Communist expansion.

            Most specifically in the strategic context, it involves an unrelenting attack by current "liberalism" on covert operations of all kinds.  Over the past year and a half we have seen this attack manifested in the media's drive to expose every American effort, everywhere.  Recall, as a case in point, the exposure recently even of secret American aid to the Aquino government in the Philippines.

            9.  That in this context it is not enough simply to repeat simplistically the truisms that Congress must have a role in foreign affairs and that "the rule of law" requires the prosecution of officers who mislead the Congress or violate statutory constraints.

            Of course, Congress has a role, however ill-defined the Constitutional lines may be.  And of course laws are to be obeyed.  But we must seek a deeper wisdom.  There is more to it: we must demand that Congress come to its senses; and we must repudiate the intemperances and insanities that pass for public discourse in the United States today.

            In the Iran/Contra controversy, how much better it would have been if, instead of pursuing "scandal" and a blood-thirsty hue-and-cry, the leaders of the Congress had met with the President and his officers behind closed doors to seek a calm explanation and to work out a mutual course to serve the long-term interests of the United States.

            I fear it may be too late for that kind of sanity.