by George Adams
The opening chapter to Going Dark, introducing John Jouett, a Virginia militia soldier.
|Race to Monticello
June 4th, 1781
Shadwell, Virginia — East of Charlottesville
John Jouett rode hard and fast through the dense Virginia forest, pushing his horse Celer to the limit. A branch reached out and raked John’s face, another tore into his arm and another on neck, each time cutting and burning his skin. John focused on his mission, oblivious to the pain.
He ducked, and with both hands grabbed his horse's neck as a large oak branch attempted to decapitate him.
John’s athletic colt shifted its body weight to its hind legs and lifted its front legs off the ground, as though anticipating the huge log that fell out of the shadows. With his hind legs extended, front legs curled tightly to its body, Celer cleared the log with ease and landed squarely on his forelegs. Celer’s muscular hind legs slammed down, which propelled the huge animal and his rider forward.
The trees cleared, the path disappeared, and Celer leapt from the edge of the steep bank, landing hard in the shallow stream. John didn’t anticipate the drop and was thrown into the cold stream’s cold water.
John rushed to his feet and reached into the water to retrieve his hat. He reached down for his belt to ensure his prized antler-handled knife was still in its sheath. Looking for Celer, John spotted him gulping water in-between gasps for breath.
Soaked from head-to-toe, John ran through the stream. He grabbed Celer’s long, dark brown mane and threw himself into the saddle. His wet leather boots slid into the stirrups as he kicked Celer’s hind quarters. The big, bright bay colt bolted from the stream, up the bank and into the forest.
For the past year, John served with distinction as an advanced scout in General George Marshall’s Virginia volunteer militia. He was a tough and accomplished rider. His commander had chosen him for this critical mission because of his knowledge of the backwoods leading from Richmond to Charlottesville. More importantly, John was the general’s first choice because of his unyielding loyalty and his passion for protecting his fellow patriots, even if it meant dying for the cause.
He’d ridden through the night in dense, tangled brush, avoiding the open roads for risk of being captured by the Lobsterbacks. He knew capture would mean certain death by hanging; however, more importantly, failure to complete his mission.
That afternoon a militia scout burst into Cuckcoo Tavern and warning everyone present that the British Legion, led by General Lord Cornwallis, commander of the Southern Army, was seen to had ferried his troops to the shores of Newport News. Cornwallis had marched unopposed into Richmond and upon hi arrival promptly carried out their campaign designed to demoralize the King’s revolting subjects. The soldiers burned the government buildings and pillaged the militia’s munition store as they set their sights on Charlottesville and capturing the Virginia rebel leaders--Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry.
A British infantry force of one hundred well-trained men marched westward on the main road in a long, snaking line of five soldiers per row. Ahead of the infantry, an expeditionary force of seventy Green Horse Dragoon cavalrymen led the infantry, commanded by the notorious, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton.
Tarleton was well known by local Virginians as "The Butcher." His brutal tactics included church burnings, killing of women and children and the destruction of anyone or anything that stood between him and his quest for ridding the colonies of the traitors to the Crown. Lord Cornwallis ordered Tarleton to lead the expedition to capture the influential and wealthy Virginian colonial traitors. Cornwallis knew their capture, and subsequent hanging, would crush the colonists’ morale and bring General Washington to the negotiating table.
Twelve miles ahead, with the new day’s sun rising, John raced through the forest toward Monticello to warn Governor Jefferson of the impending danger marching toward him.