Patton’s First Chapter


“That a boy, Windflyer!” George Patton urged his mount onward with a fury. The chestnut bay galloped with a vehemence nearly equal to that of his master. The gray uniformed young cavalryman was in as much earnest as if he were charging a Union held position in a blaze of glory, and not riding safely down a road on his own country’s side of the international border. Patton would much more have preferred the former. In any event, the line between Confederate Tennessee and the US state of Kentucky was less than a mile away.

Windflyer’s hooves pounded the ground with a sound like thunder. Patton sensed the vibrations of their repeated impacts on the earth beneath, allowing him to feel as though he were an inseparable part of the powerful animal. A few yards behind him, another young Confederate cavalryman struggled to keep up.

“Slow down, George!”

Patton let out a hearty laugh.

“Come on Sky, destiny waits for no man!”

Walter Schuyler let out a curse that was quickly carried away by the passage of the wind. The eccentricity of his friend and commanding officer sometimes got on his nerves. Nonetheless he set spurs to his own mount and moved up closer to his comrade. He wasn’t one to be easily outdone—not even by George Patton.

I just don’t understand what the blasted hurry is. It’s not as if war has finally erupted with the Yankees and we’re gonna miss the show! It was true, that tensions between the Confederate States and the United States of America were the highest they’d been in forty-four years but the shooting hadn’t started yet. And hopefully it won’t. Few men longed for war—at least among the rank and file soldiers who had to fight them, though Schuyler knew that politicians were different. For the stuffed shirts in Richmond, Franklin, London, and Paris war was a game. For the men who had to do the fighting, however, it was hell on earth. Though he was only twenty-eight years old, Schuyler had already seen his fair share of combat, fighting guerrillas down in the CSA’s Central and South American holdings. He and Patton had been there side by side for three bloody years. They’d only been back in the Confederacy for three months and now a far larger conflict was on the verge of eruption.

And George can’t wait for it to start. The two men had been friends since they’d attended VMI together as little more than boys, and the bond between them had only grown in the years since. They’d saved each other’s life on multiple occasions. And yet, in many ways George Patton remained an enigma even to those few who were closest to him.

“Whoa!” yelled Patton and abruptly reined in his horse, suddenly. Schuyler brought his own mount to a halt beside him. The exhausted animal let out a whinny. A canvas covered truck was off the side of the road and looked to have a busted wheel. Schuyler wasn’t surprised. The road on which they travelled—like the vast majority in the Confederacy—was unpaved.  Such roads were proving hazardous for the growing number of trucks and automobiles in the CSA. Patton leapt from the saddle and made his way over to the pair. Schuyler was right behind him. The two strong young cavalry officers took tight hold of the axel and lifted while the owner of the truck fitted on the wheel.

“We’re much obliged to you boys!” said the man after tightening the bolts. He then made his way to the front of the truck, reached under the seat and pulled out an unlabeled bottle of amber liquid. Schuyler’s eyes went to the back of the truck. For a moment he wondered just what the man was hauling. Tennessee had been a dry state since 1909. Prohibition made the preachers happy, and got the politicians lots of public praise from those same clergy. Legal or not, the booze was anything but extinct—especially in Tennessee where whiskey making had a long and productive history. Patton certainly didn’t raise any objection as he accepted the proffered bottle. “Ya’ll make sure and give the Yankees hell and stay safe.” He went back to the front of the truck, stooped down and turned the crank to start the engine. He and the boy then climbed back onto the front seat. He released the break leaver and the truck chugged forward and down the road.

Patton turned to Schuyler, held up the bottle and gave him a wry grin.

“See Sky, no good deed goes unrewarded.”

“Congratulations George. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.” Schuyler was mostly a teetotaler. As a devout Anglican he had no religious objection to alcohol. He regularly took communion wine, but that was the extent of his consumption.

“I certainly will,” said Patton and safely tucked the whiskey into his saddle bag before remounting his horse.

They rode on at a more leisurely pace. A few yards up the road Schuyler spotted the small border post. It wasn’t much. A small border gate blocked the road. Immediately beside it stood a tiny guard cabin that housed a field telephone. It was just large enough for the gray uniformed sentry to take shelter in in the event of a rain storm. To look at the border guard, you would have had no idea that the two most powerful nations of the North American continent were threatening to blow one another to Kingdom come. The corporal stood with his Richmond rifle slung on his shoulder, and smoking a cigarette as though he didn’t have a care in the world. Above him, the Blood Dipped Banner fluttered from a flagpole in the light breeze. About a dozen yards further north, was an almost identical installation except that its flag pole flew the Stars and Stripes and its sentry wore US Drab and Khaki instead of Confederate Field Gray.

Patton eyed the foreign border guard with snake like eyes and his hand went down to one of the ivory handled pistols he wore on his belt.

“I’ll bet you twenty dollars gold that I can blow that Yankees head off with one shot.”

Schuyler had no intention of arguing with him. He knew that given the right circumstances, Patton might just be crazy enough to prove it. In any event, he had nothing to prove to Schuyler. Patton had represented the CSA at the Pentathlon of the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. To hear Patton tell it, he’d put twenty shots into a target twenty five meters away. The judges had only counted seventeen hits and had therefore given him third place. Patton had cursed a storm, and insisted that the other three shots had simply “passed through” the holes of the previous impacts due to his “near perfect” skill. The judges hadn’t bought it. Schuyler wasn’t so sure. Patton was prouder than a peacock, but he’d seen firsthand how deadly accurate the cavalryman’s aim could be. Thankfully he changed the subject.

“I’d love to go across the border and get a look at the lay of the land.”

“I don’t think the Yankees would care much for that.”

Patton nodded.

“It wouldn’t be a problem if we went over in civies. We have passports. We could make out like we’re a couple of good ole boys going over to see our kin.”

Ordinarily Schuyler would have agreed. With tensions as high as they were, however, he didn’t care to take any chances.

“They’re too likely to be suspicious the way things are now. If they figured out what we were doing they’d hang us as spies.”

Patton nodded.

“An ignominious end for a soldier. We’ll just have to make do with observing what we can from our side.”

Schuyler took a deep breath, removed his gold trimmed kepi and ran a hand through his short red hair. It was an unusually hot day.

“It don’t matter anyway, George. You and I know that if the fighting really gets started it’s all gonna be on this side of the line.” Like all young officers in the Confederate Army, Schuyler had been reared up on the “Longstreet Doctrine.” The War Department in Richmond had reasoned for years that since the United States so heavily outweighed the CSA in men and materiel, and since modern warfare so favored the defense, the Confederacy’s best chance for victory lay in blunting Union attacks and not squandering its limited supply of soldiers and ammunition by launching costly attacks. Patton, however, was more prone to think like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, than the Confederacy’s “Master of Defense.”

“The best defense is a good offense, Sky. You’d best believe that Marse Rob and Ole Blue Light understood that. You don’t win wars by “holding your position,” you win them by going right at the enemy and kicking the hell out of him. You’d best believe that’s how we seized the high ground at Gettysburg and won our independence.” Schuyler reflected that Patton spoke almost as if he’d been there half a century earlier to see it happen.

“War has changed a lot since then, George.”

Patton swore derisively.

“Men are still men. You mark my words. We’ll be going on the offensive. Here especially. He pointed north and swore blasphemously enough to give a preacher’s wife a heart attack. “Hell, half the folks in Kentucky would rather be on our side anyway. We’d be fools not to attack here.”

Schuyler let out a sigh of resignation.

“Well, we’re not going to be able to see much from here.”

Patton nodded.

“We’ll just have to get to higher ground.” He flicked the reins and got his horse moving again.

To the east and west of the border post was barbed wire fencing. To the east it went for a few hundred yards until it disappeared into a wood. To the west it seemed to go as far as the eye could see. The fence wasn’t tall at all. A boy could easily climb over it and if he was careful enough not even snag his trousers. It existed, more or less, to make sure people and most especially soldiers of the respective sides didn’t “wander” into one another’s territory. From 1869 to 1895 the USA and CSA had more or less enjoyed a “de-facto” open border. Union and Confederate citizens had officially been obliged to cross only at official points and only with a passport but on the majority of the border the rules had been flagrantly ignored and both governments had quietly turned a blind eye. When things had heated up in ninety-five at the end of the Spanish-Confederate War, however, everything changed. USA and CSA each found themselves on opposite ends of the world’s two great alliance systems. In the past nineteen years the border had become more militarized then it had been since the War of 1869.

There was a hill three miles to east, just on the other side of the woods. It wasn’t particularly tall, but it was high enough to allow the two Confederate officers to gaze across the border into the United States. The land in Kentucky looked… a lot like the land in Tennessee. Grassy fields, woods, farmland and here and there the occasional hill.

Patton pulled out his binoculars and surveyed the landscape. Schuyler did the same. Off to the west they spotted a road that was almost certainly the same one that the border posts sat on. Immediately north were a few farms. Off to the east was what looked to be the outskirts of a small town.

“I’ll tell you what, George. You talked about getting to higher ground, but I’d sure like to get one of those new aeroplanes, and fly it over the border. Just think of the recon and intelligence we could get.”

Patton blasphemed himself excitedly.

“I didn’t even think of that Sky!” said Patton and let yet another blasphemy roll of his tongue. “They had one when we were fighting down in Panama and Columbia but the jungle was too blasted thick to let it do any good. Wouldn’t have much of that problem here though. There’s a lot more open spaces. Let’s hope the brass have the same brains you do.”

Schuyler’s eyes went to the air. As much as he hoped the Confederacy was slipping aeroplanes over the border, he hoped the Yankees hadn’t had the same thought. If war broke out and Patton got his way it might not matter. If not…

Schuyler let out a sigh and looked northward with a great sense of apprehension and foreboding.