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For All Nails #171: Rocky Mountain Low

Burgoyne, Pennsylvania, NC, CNA
16 April 1850

"Yes, Smithers, what is it?"

General FitzJohn Smithers felt the familiar sinking sensation once more.  He
could tell from the man's tone of voice that Minister of War Henry Gilpin was
in a foul mood.  It was something that was happening more and more frequently
and the war with Mexico dragged on for year after interminable year.  Every
advance into Mexico met with setback and disaster, and each setback made Gilpin
angrier at Governor-General Scott and more determined to wipe out the stigma of
defeat by achieving final total victory over the Mexicans.

And now Smithers had to inform Gilpin of yet another setback - the worst yet.

"I'm afraid it's more bad news, sir," said Smithers.  "Governor-General Scott
has just received word from Mexico City that President Hermión has learned of
our campaign to capture San Francisco.  He's dispatched a force under General
Doheny to intercept General Homer's army."

Smithers dreaded the explosion he knew was coming.  If he were to sit down for
a year and think of nothing else, he could not have come up with a piece of
news more certain to drive the Minister of War into a mad fury.  The San
Francisco campaign had been Gilpin's own personal strategic masterstroke,
designed to win the war with a single devastating blow against the Mexicans. 
Doheny, meanwhile, had come from nowhere to halt General Williamhouse's drive
>from Tampico to Mexico City in the summer of 1846.  As though that weren't bad
enough, Doheny had gone on to drive Williamhouse back to Tampico, and finally
forced him to evacuate his forces from the city.

Doheny had gained for himself a place at the very top of Gilpin's hate list,
outranking even Pedro Hermión in the War Minister's personal demonology. 
Gilpin obsessed over Doheny, ascribing to him an ever more formidable array of
Satanically-derived abilities.  It would not be going too far to say that
Gilpin considered Doheny to be the very Antichrist.  And now he had just been
informed that the diabolical Mexican general had been assigned by Hermión to
thwart Gilpin's pet scheme to defeat the USM.

The War Minister did not take long to realize Smithers' worst fears.

"Doheny?" Gilpin snarled.  "That monstrous mick is going to try to stop /my/
army?  Never!  Never, I tell you!  I swear by all that's holy that I'll give
that homicidal jackrabbit the thrashing of a lifetime if I have to personally
lead every man we've got across the Rockies!"

A vision came to Smithers of Gilpin leading the North American army into battle
against General Doheny.  Wincing at the very thought, he said, "Erm, I'm sure
it's a good idea, sir, but if you're in the field, who will direct the war here
in Burgoyne?"  Inspiration struck him, and he added, "Though, of course, I'm
sure the Governor-General can manage on his own."

"Scott?  That boob?  That ninny?  That overstuffed nincompoop?  Perish the
thought, Smithers!"  Slamming a hand on his desk, Gilpin cursed.  "The perfect
opportunity to crush that rabble of half-breeds and anarchists, and I have to
forego it!  Blast these incompetents I'm surrounded with!"

The Minister of War fell to brooding.  "If I can't go myself, I'll have to find
someone else to send to Homer's relief.  But who?"

"How about Colonel Lee, sir?" Smithers suggested.

"Lee?  Too unreliable," Gilpin said with a dismissive wave of the hand.  "Why,
the fellow's father took part in the Rebellion, and he had a great-uncle who
joined the Traitors' Walk to Jefferson!  Bad blood, Smithers, bad blood!"

"Perhaps Colonel Robert Anderson, then?"

"Bah!  The fellow's an incompetent bungler!  Dash it all, Smithers, I'm
surrounded by fools and traitors!  I need someone I can /trust/!"

The War Minister suddenly raised his head and directed his squint-eyed gaze at
Smithers.  "Yes," he muttered, "someone I can trust."

Smithers' eyes widened in terror.  "Sir!  No!  Please!"

Gilpin smiled sympathetically, a sight Smithers found more frightening than any
frown.  "I can well understand your reluctance to leave my side," the Minister
of War said.  "But you see, Smithers, that's just the sort of unwavering
loyalty that we need so much of, and have so little of, in the Confederation. 
There's nobody else I could possibly trust to send on such a vital mission. 
Not another word, Smithers!  It will be you and you alone who leads the army
that will save Homer and destroy those rebel dogs!"

Smithers knew from the look in Gilpin's beady eyes that there was no way he
could refuse.  It was the very look that had let Smithers' predecessor, Nathan
Rusher, know that he had been assigned to command a suicidal invasion of East
Jefferson.

"Now then, Smithers," Gilpin mused, "what units do we have available to send
west?"

"Um, none, sir," said Smithers, as hope rose secretly once more within his
heart.  "All the regular units that could be spared from the border patrols
were sent out with Homer."

Annoyed, Gilpin said, "Well, what about the colonial militia, then?"  Gilpin
was the only man Smithers knew who still referred to the CNA's provinces as
colonies.

Carefully, Smithers said, "The Vandalian and Manitoban militias are on border
patrol with the regular units."  That was how they had managed to free up
enough troops for Homer's expedition.  "The Quebec and Northern Confederation
militias are still assigned to population control."  As soon as the war with
the USM broke out, Gilpin had browbeaten Scott into declaring martial law in
both confederations, convinced as he was that both were crawling with rebels
and malcontents who would rise up at the first opportunity unless forcibly
prevented from doing so.  All told, the War Minister had over 100,000 armed men
engaged in the task of occupying their own country.  "That just leaves Indiana
and the Southern Confederation," Smithers concluded.

"Hmmm," said Gilpin.  "I don't think the Indianans are quite up to the task." 
Which was the War Minister's way of saying that Indianans were Scott's people,
and therefore automatically suspect.  "The Southern Confederation militia,
then.  See to it, Smithers.  Draw up the appropriate orders and have yourself
appointed to the command."

"Yes, Mr. Gilpin," said Smithers as he gave the Minister of War a sharp salute
and marched himself out of the office.

After all, he told himself as he returned to his own office, orders get lost
all the time.  Happens to the best of us.  And if I'm down in Bland City [1]
assembling an army, nobody can blame me for any orders that go missing up here
in Burgoyne.

Back in the safety of his own office, Smithers studied a wall map of the CNA,
trying to decide which out-of-the-way military post in Quebec would be
receiving his marching orders.

Notes:

[1]  OTL Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Named, of course, after Virginia Governor
Theodorick Bland.