Blue Lightning – Excerpt
1 August 1813, Moore’s Tavern, Baltimore-Washington Turnpike, Maryland
Dolley and Sukey sat in the tavern’s great room, sipping wine, talking in soft voices, studying a large map of Maryland they’d unrolled on the table, held open with cups and saucers.
“The British will come again,” Dolley said. “Colonel Scott was certain they’d eventually attack Washington. What should we do?”
“Fight the way we trained,” Sukey said. “We were trained by Rangers. Rangers go deep, gather intelligence, kill people.”
“Makes sense. They wouldn’t have trained us that way unless they expected us to fight that way.”
“Of course not.”
“Hello ladies, good to see you again.” Sergeant Major Randall Moore had been a proud member of Daniel Morgan’s Corps of Rangers during the War for Independence. Now he ran the best tavern in Maryland, located fifteen miles southwest of Baltimore on the east side of the Baltimore-Washington road. He stood several inches taller than Dolley, possessed a wiry build, a bald head, and a sharp sense of humor that made his tavern a favorite stop for travelers. Dolley had met him on her first trip to Washington years before and made a point of stopping by whenever in the area.
He refilled their wine glasses, set the bottle on the table and pointed at the map. “Can I help you find something?”
“Not exactly, Sergeant Major. We were trying to apply what we learned at Hampton to this area.”
Moore smiled at them. “At Hampton?”
“About Hampton, I meant to say,” Dolley said, quickly.
“From the newspapers,” Sukey added.
“Yes, of course.” Dolley hoped she didn’t sound as nervous as she felt.
“Of course,” Moore said. “The newspapers.” He looked about, then leaned close. “Especially the long letter by Colonel McKeefe describing the action in detail—great detail, I might add. Have you seen it?”
Dolley shook her head, numb. If that letter came from a newspaper, any newspaper, Jemmy will eventually see it and . . . .
Moore chuckled and retrieved a sheaf of paper from behind the bar. It was a personal letter from McKeefe to Moore, describing the Battle of Hampton in crisp Army terminology and graphics, including the critical role played by Task Force Madison. Dolley skimmed each page, handing them to Sukey as she finished. “Who else knows about this?”
“Just a few of us old soldiers who know how to keep our mouths shut. Great work, ladies.” He nodded toward the map. “Trying to figure out the route they’ll take to attack Washington?”
“Were we that obvious?” asked Dolley.
“Well, those penciled-in rectangles identifying longboat landing zones are probably just good clam-bake sites. Those circles designating key terrain and defensible positions could correspond to strongholds of Democratic-Republican sympathizers. The three arrows you’ve labeled as enemy avenues of approach might be the travel routes of prominent Maryland Federalists. However, that doodled picture over there showing what appears to be a British admiral impaled upon the blunt end of an American flagstaff clearly marks this as a Ranger plan of battle. What’s that caption?” Moore craned his neck and squinted. “Tread – here – and – we’ll – shove – our – flag – up – your—”
“Sorry Mizz Dolley.” Blushing, Sukey used her pencil to obliterate the obscene drawing.
* * *