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Saturday, August 1, 2015

15 - The Last Day of Magic

August 1776

It was days before the British and Hessian troops that were landed on Long Island took to the field of battle.  The movement of thousands of men, supplies, horses, and cannon was no small task.  More over, what the British had in store for the Americans required time and patience to setup and execute. With superior numbers, the British could afford to take as much time as they needed to get the job done right.  Meanwhile, the Continental Army, under the direction of Generals Israel Putnam and John Sullivan, dug in for the battle unaware of the fact that there existed a major flaw in their defenses.

It was well before sunrise, on August 27th, that Sullivan arrived at Kennedy Mansion to fetch his magician, Charlotte Rose.  Leaving Fisher to defend Manhattan with General Knox, Sullivan and Rose boarded a boat to cross the East River at the mile wide Brookland Ferry Crossing.  Upon arrival on Long Island the action was already brewing.  The British, under General Grant, were already marching towards Lord Stirling's men along the right flank of the American defenses, and six pound small shot from Hessian guns had just begun to rain in on Sullivan's main body of men in the densely forested center position of the defenses.  The British and Hessian forces outnumbered the Americans 3 to 1.

Sullivan rode off to tend to his lines leaving Charlotte to fend for herself.  Charlotte was assigned a horse and young solider, more of a boy than man, as an escort and she quickly got to work riding up to Stirling's men who were feverishly exchanging volleys with Grants forces.  Stirling's men were few but they were brave.  The bulk of the men were from the Maryland 400, they all wore bright blue field coats and were among the best troops that would take to the field that day.  Dug in behind their ditches, they held General Grant at bay until late that morning.

Charlotte spent most of her time attempting to boost morale and kick up favorable winds but she was limited in what she could do without Fisher.  Meanwhile, Fisher remained with Knox and Col. John Glover at the main battery on Manhattan Island to support the other other half of Washington's army.  From Manhattan Island the army could hear the incessant boom of the Hessian's cannon across the East River.  High tide was still hours away and the winds were calm for the time being.  The morning dragged on and Fisher found himself wishing he were on Long Island, attempting to make a difference instead of waiting for the tide with Knox and Glover to prevent a hypothetical attack from Admiral Howe's fleet.  Finally Fisher made it known to Knox that he wished to take the ferry to Long Island to support Charlotte and Sullivan.

Knox did not want to lose Fisher.  If Washington was correct, a full scale invasion of Manhattan was coming.  Knox argued that the battle happening on Long Island was only a distraction intended to split the Continental Army into two and if Fisher left, he would be playing right into the Howe Brother's hands.  Fisher eventually convinced Knox to let him go but only after he assured him that the winds would not be favorable for Admiral Howe to sail up the Hudson and land an invasion force on Manhattan.

Despite Fisher's efforts to assist with the fighting on Long Island, his presence would ultimately make little difference in the outcome of the battle.  In fact, the battle had already been lost the night before the battle even began.  In a daring move General Cornwallis, Howe's best military strategist, had marched all night with 10,000 redcoats up the coast of Long Island in a flanking maneuver intended surround the Americans and force a complete surrender of their forces.  The British successfully went undetected and by 9:00 am were in position to launch their surprise attack on Sullivan and his men.  With the addition of Cornwallis' 10,000 men the Americans became outnumbered 6 to 1.

Just as Fisher met up with Rose on the battlefield the drums of Cornwallis' army began to beat.  The drums were a signal to the Hessian's who had been shelling Sullivan's left flank all morning to begin their attack.  The American's up until that point were in high spirits, believing they were holding the British at bay.  However the opposite had been true, the British had been the ones keeping the Continentals at bay until their trap was ready to be sprung.  In a coordinated push Cornwallis, Grant, and the Hessian's converged on the American positions.  There was nowhere to run, Sullivan's men were flanked and their only route for retreat was blocked.

In the face of staggering odds Sullivan braced his men to stand and fight.  Stirling was commanded to hold his flank against Grant's men. Sullivan turned his main force around to face their rear to defend against Cornwallis' flanking army, and Fisher and Rose were sent to assist the left flank where the Hessian's were about to attack.

The left flank was commanded by Colonel Samuel Miles.  There were less than 1,000 men under Miles' command and they were facing the prospect of defending themselves against 4,000 Hessian troops.  The shelling they had received all morning was enough to cause a panic amongst their lines but the sight of German soldiers marching with fixed bayonets on their position terrified the men beyond measure.  It was fact that the Hessian's were the strongest fighting force in all of Europe but there were also rumors that the German's fought savagely in battle and would offer no quarter to the Americans if they surrendered.  As the Hessian's drew near Miles leapt to the front lines and shouted to his men for them to stand and fight until death.  Miles' words were not intended as encouragement, they were merely a reminder of the cold hard truth of their plight, fight or surrender, they were all dead men.

Fisher and Rose again found their skills to be of little consequence in such a large and tumultuous situation.  They had neither the time nor the materials to work any magic that would upset the scales in favor of the British.  The Hessian's made a straight approach on Miles' men, never firing their muskets.  The Americans managed two volleys before the Hessian's poured over their trenches and began the slaughter.  Most American's had no bayonets, and those who had a bayonet had never used it in battle.  Miles' men were cut down.  Some stood their ground and fought as best they could, some tried to surrender, but all were shown no mercy.

In a final stand, Miles regrouped behind the trenches and manned a six pound cannon with some men who rallied around him.  The cannon was loaded with canister shot, a tin can filled with iron balls the size of cherry tomatoes, and fired right into the ranks of the Hessians waiting for their chance to join the melee.  The shot was devastating,  when the smoke cleared there was a 30 foot wide mess of carnage where moments ago a company of Germans had stood.  Recognizing the threat, the rest of the waiting Hessians pushed through trenches and made to silence the cannon.

Fisher was distracted elsewhere but Charlotte was near the cannon when it went off.  As the crush of German soldiers converged on the cannon they forced Charlotte back too.  Charlotte was hemmed at Miles' position as the Colonel and his men were frantically reloading the cannon for a second shot.  Miles' eyes meet Charlotte's, his gaze was probing and ravenous.  Before she knew it he was on top of her, his hands clawing and tearing at her clothes.  He tore every last brass button from her jacket before his eyes locked on something hanging about Charlotte's throat.  It was Major Andre's locket.  Miles snatched the locket, chain and all, from Charlotte's neck and sprang to his feet.

Charlotte didn't understand what had gotten into Miles but she refused to let her locket go without a fight.  She chased Miles back to the cannon but arrived too late to stop him from throwing the handful of buttons and the locket down the barrel of the cannon.  Charlotte pounded Miles with her fist and shouted for him to return her locket but her shouts were drowned out by the roar of the cannon as it fired its second round.

Time slowed to a crawl as the blast went off.  Charlotte's attention was instantly pulled to the belch of fire and smoke that plumed from the mouth of the cannon.  Amongst the various scraps of metallic debris that flew from the cannon was Andre's locket.  Charlotte could clearly see it as it spun and collided with the other pieces of shot that were flying towards the oncoming Hessians.  Never once over the the split second flight did Charlotte lose track of the locket, even as it tore through fabric and flesh, she watched it as it made its way through the air and embedded itself in the soft earth of the trenches beyond.

Time returned to normal and the Hessian's crashed into the cannon and Miles' men.  Charlotte scrambled away from the fray just as Miles was run through by the bayonet of a German soldier.  Everywhere around her there was struggle and bloodshed, yet through it all, she launched herself towards the trenches with a singular purpose - to retrieve her locket.

The position was lost and Fisher gave up his attempts to work his magic and looked for Charlotte so they could retreat together.  As he scanned the battlefield he saw her charging into the fight like a mad-woman.  Fisher ran after her, throwing Americans and Germans alike from his path in order to reach her.  He pulled her to her feet just as her fingers found the locket.  Together they narrowly found their way out from the battle and headed back to Sullivan's position, suffering only minor injuries.  Those Americans who could did the same.  Miles was defeated; it seemed only a matter of time before Sterling and Sullivan suffered the same fate.

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