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the train to pull down a half-dozen poles,then took up the wire.Got a passel
of it in the freight car."
"Good. To the best of your knowledge, then, no warning was sent ahead?"
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"Absolutely none, sir.We moved too fast. None of the operators were at their
keys when we busted in."
"Well done." Grant looked across the bridge for a long moment; he could see
no activity at the other end. The railway authorities would know by now that
the telegraph was out of service the length ofCornwall . Had they thought it
necessary to inform the military of this? There was only one way to find out.
"You will proceed across the bridge. Go slowly until you reach the other
side. Then open the throttle and don't slow down until you go throughPlymouth
station. Stop there but leave room for the troop trains behind you. Keep your
weapons loaded but return fire only if you are fired on first. Good luck."
"To us all, General!"
The officer sprinted back to the engine, which started to move even as he was
climbing aboard. It pulled slowly out onto the long span of the incredible
bridge. The troop train followed a hundred yards behind. Once safely off the
bridge, they sped up, faster and faster through the local stations: St.Budeaux
,Manadon , andCrownhill . The three following trains would stop at these
stations, dispensing troops to seize and envelop the cities from the hills
above. Shocked passengers on the platforms fell back as the train plunged
through the stations, braking to a stop only after enteringPlymouth station
itself. The troops jumped down from the cars and fanned out, ignoring the
civilians. There was a brief struggle as a policeman was overwhelmed, bound,
and locked into the telegraph room with the operator, who had been trying to
send a message down the line toLondon when they seized him. He did not succeed
because the advance party had done their job and torn down the wires beyond
the station.
The troops from the train formed up and marched out of the station. General
Grant was with them. There was a row of waiting cabs just outside the station.
"Seize those horses," General Grant ordered an aide. "They can pull some of
theGatlings ."
"What is happening here? I demand to know!" A well-dressed and irate
gentleman stood before Grant, shaking his gold-headed walking stick in his
direction.
"War, sir.You are at war." The man was seized by two troopers and bustled
away even as Grant spoke.
The advance down through the streets ofPlymouth was almost unopposed. There
appeared to be no military units in the city itself; the few sailors they
encountered were unarmed and fled before the menacing soldiers. But the alarm
had been raised and the Americans came under fire when they approached the
naval station.
"Bring up theGatlings ," Grant ordered. "The lead squads will bypass any
strong points and let theGatling guns come after and subdue them."
The Royal Marines put up a spirited defense of their barracks, but the
machine guns chewed them up, tearing through the thin wooden walls. Roaring
with victory, the American troops charged into the buildings; the few
survivors quickly surrendered. The small number of sailors who took up
armswere cut down by theGatlings  and the marksmanship of the veteran American
soldiers.
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No cannon from any of the shore batteries were fired at the attackers because
they were all trained out to sea. An attack from the land side of the port had
never been expected.
The Americans were unstoppable. In Devonport they overran and occupied the
navy vessels tied up there. ThePlymouth docks were larger and more confusing
and it took time to work through them. The American attack slowed but still
pushed forward.
As chance would have it, HMSDefender, which had arrived that morning, was
tied up at a buoy in the stream. Her captain was on deck, summoned by the
watch officer when they had heard the sound of firing from the city.
"What is it, Number One?" he asked when he had climbed to the bridge.
"Gunfire,sir, that is all that I know."
"What have you done about it?"
"Sent the gig ashore with Lieutenant Osborne.I thought that a gunnery officer
might make sense of what is happening."
"Well done. Sounds like a bloody revolution..."
"Here they come, sir, rowing flat out."
"I don't like this at all. Signal the engine room. Get up steam."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Lieutenant Osborne was panting with exertion as he climbed to the bridge. Yet
his face was pale under his tropical tan.
"Gone all to hell, sir," he said, saluting vaguely. "Troops everywhere,
shooting, I saw bodies..."
"Pull yourself together, man.Report."
"Aye, aye, sir."Osborne straightened his shoulders and came to attention. "I
had the gig wait at the dockside in case we had to get out in a hurry. I went
on alone. Almost ran into a group of soldiers. They were pushing threematelots
along that they had taken prisoner. They were shouting and laughing, didn't
see me."
"What kind of troops?" the captain snapped. "Be specific."
"Blue uniforms with the sergeants' stripes wrong side up. They sounded
like Americans."
"Americans?Here? But how...?"
The hapless gunnery officer could only shrug. "I saw other parties of them,
sir.In the buildings, even boarding the ships.All kinds of gunfire. It was
coming closer to me, even flanking me. That's when I decided that I had better
get back and report what I had seen."
The captain quickly marshaled his thoughts. He had a grave decision to make.
Should he take his ship closer to the dock to fire upon the invaders? But how
could he find them? If they had seized any of the British warships, would he
fire on his own sailors? If the attack had been as successful as the gunnery
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officer had said, why, the entire port could well be in enemy hands. If the
telegraph lines were down, then no one would even know what had happened here.
It was his duty now to informWhitehall of this debacle.
It took long seconds to reach this conclusion, and he realized that the
bridge was silent while they awaited his orders.
"Signalslow ahead. Have that line to the buoy cut. There is nothing that we
can do here. But we can contactLondon and tell them what has happened. As soon
as we are clear of the harbor, set a course forDartmouth .Full revolutions.
There will be a telegraph station there. I must report what we have seen."
Smoke pouring from her stack, the ironclad headed out to sea. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]