I guess technically this could have been one of my Ask Balladeer segments. Some readers and fellow Harry Flashman fans reacted to my speculative look at what George MacDonald Fraser might have had in mind for Flashman’s U.S. Civil War adventures by asking me how I’d have handled it. Some were just curious, others were ticked off that I dared to criticize what I saw as Fraser forcing Harry into WAY too many Civil War incidents. So here we go with how I’d have handled it:
Last time around I said my prospective title would be The Battle Cry of Flashman as a play on The Battle Cry of Freedom. I’d have stuck to Fraser’s original references in the first few Flashman Papers, references that limited Harry’s involvement to part of 1862 and part of 1863. I would also have avoided having Harry – a British Cavalry Officer – outrightly joining American armies.
THE SET-UP: In February or March of 1862 Flashman has been back in England with his wife Elspeth since the spring of 1861, following his involvement in the Taranaki War in New Zealand.
Queen Victoria’s government is pondering whether or not to recognize the Confederate States of America, which broke away from the Union nearly a year earlier. The fate of nations hangs on this. Official recognition of the Confederacy may well enable them to win, just like the original 13 Colonies were helped against England by recognition from France.
We all know politics: Great Britain does not want to ruin their still barely friendly relationship with the U.S. if the Confederate States don’t really have a chance in hell of victory. If you’re not familiar with military history I’ll point out that during any war nations often allowed select officers from friendly neutral nations to travel with units in their army to observe the most up to date weaponry and general tactics.
For instance the U.S. was not involved in the Crimean War but some of our officers like a young George McClellan (a General by the time of the Civil War) were observers in the field. In fact Crimea is where Flashman – a British Cavalry Colonel in that war – first met McClellan.
Needless to say there was always an unspoken element of spying to such observer operations. Queen Victoria and Lord Palmerston could tell Flashman they’ve selected him to be one of Great Britain’s observers with the Confederate Army. His REAL mission would be to gauge whether or not the South had an actual chance for victory. If they do, then England will recognize the Confederate government.
THE STORY: Arriving in American waters by ship, Harry could have been secretly intercepted by Alan Pinkerton and his nascent intelligence operation. Pinkerton and President Lincoln would make it clear to Flashman that they know his real mission and would use Harry’s illicit actions in America back in 1848 and 1849 to blackmail him.
(In Flash For Freedom Flashman referred to Lincoln as “that genial blackmailer” who forced him into a certain intrigue to preserve “his precious Union.”)
Back in the late 1840s neither Harry nor Lincoln were as big as they would become and Flashman had much less to lose back then. NOW, in 1862, he is SIR Harry Flashman, with fame, fortune and a certain international reputation. Rather than risk exposure our antihero would yield to Lincoln’s demand.
That demand? To make sure Great Britain does NOT recognize the Confederacy no matter what. From a storytelling angle this would stay true to the spirit of The Flashman Papers by having history hinging upon the hidden actions of our favorite British blackguard.
Flashman could be on hand as an observer with the Confederates at Shiloh. After that loss Harry would wind up moved to Virginia for the Seven Days Campaign and would naturally grow more and more panicked as McClellan pissed away every opportunity to destroy Robert E Lee’s forces. If the Confederates keep doing well it may become impossible to convince HMG to not recognize the CSA, meaning Pinkerton and Lincoln will ruin Harry for life.
As always, with his own interests at stake Flashman will rise to the challenge. He’ll come up with some inspired, devious ways to subtly sabotage the Confederate forces – with a little occasional help from Pinkerton’s network of spies.
As the months go by the lustful Flashman would naturally find time to oink and boink with Confederate First Lady Varina Davis, spy Belle Boyd and maybe even with Mrs Mandeville from earlier stories. (In other novels Flashman referred to covering up a tryst with Varina Davis by telling her husband he was a laborer sent “to repair the lightning rod.”)
In the Antietam Campaign we could learn that Harry was the one who “accidentally” left behind the Confederate battle plans wrapped around cigars to help the Union forces win despite themselves. (In real life even the discovery of those cigar-wrapped plans STILL barely helped the Union due to failure to use them in a timely manner.)
Flashman could also be on hand with the Confederates for 2nd Bull Run, Fredericksburg, the Mud March, Chancellorsville and it would all reach its climax at Gettysburg. In fact at Chancellorsville maybe Stonewall Jackson and his men could figure out what the treacherous Harry was up to and would be escorting him in the growing darkness to turn him over to Lee.
Quick thinking on Flashman’s part would make him be the man who calls out in the darkness and confusion “It’s a lie! Have at ’em boys!” to engineer Stonewall’s death by friendly fire.
This layout would also still have Harry on hand for Aldie in the leadup to Gettysburg, Aldie being where he first encountered the Union’s George Armstrong Custer. (This early meeting with Custer being crucial to Harry’s later involvement in the Sioux Uprising.)
To me this is preferable to the way Fraser eventually referred to Flashman’s presence at every major Civil War event from 1862 all the way up to Lee’s surrender and then Lincoln’s assassination. +++
FOR MY BONUS SIXTH PLACE FLASHMAN NOVEL CLICK HERE .
FOR HARRY FLASHMAN’S ENCOUNTERS WITH ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN THE NOVEL FLASH FOR FREEDOM CLICK HERE
FOR MY LOOK AT THE TOP SEVEN ROBERT LUDLUM NOVELS CLICK HERE
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