In celebration of the release on October 31st of the fourth book in the Culpepper Saga, “Culpepper’s Rebellion,” we’re spending the next few Saturdays re-living moments from the first three books. In the second book, “John Culpepper the Merchant,” John finds himself mostly in Virginia, while at home in England, a deadly civil war has begun. His brother Thomas has been promoted to colonel in the king’s army. In this snippet, Thomas is fighting in his own backyard against General Fairfax of the parliamentarian army. Thomas’s wife and children could probably here the cannons from their house. The photo is the leather doublet General Fairfax wore in the battle. It has been preserved and is on display at Leeds Castle.
When the afternoon grew late, the heavens opened up and heavy rains fell on Maidstone, but that did not stop Fairfax’s advance. His troops attacked Thomas’s army from behind. Their powder had become wet in the storm so they couldn’t use their muskets, but they fought with their longbows and swords. Fairfax’s men pushed Thomas’s soldiers back street by street, inch by inch. Lightning flashed as the royalists fought near Gabriel’s Hill. Thunder pounded their ears as they were moved back further to Week Street.
By the time evening turned to night, Thomas and his men had been pushed back to St. Faith’s Churchyard. They fought among massive oaks and tombstones, often not knowing which sounds were thunder and which were cannon fire. Thomas’s men held their ground.
As midnight fell, the fighting died down and Thomas’s men found shelter inside the church. The thunderstorm had flooded the cemetery and the torrents had seeped under the door of the church, covering the floor in inches of rainwater. The soldiers lay on the pews, wondering what they would do come morning. They were tired. They were cold and wet. They didn’t know how they would escape from the church that had now become a prison since Fairfax’s army had the building surrounded. What was left of their ammunition was wet and useless.
In the wee hours of the morning, the storms subsided, and the two armies sat in silence until the night gave way to the soft light of early morning. Thomas looked out the window and saw Fairfax, dressed in black, gallop onto the scene on his white horse. Fairfax spoke to a soldier, and though Thomas couldn’t make out their words, he could tell by Fairfax’s gestures that he was instructing the man to allow the royalist soldiers to emerge from the church and then send them home.
Thomas understood the move. Fairfax only wanted to capture the town; he didn’t want to be responsible for a thousand prisoners. Thomas instructed his men to wave a white flag and surrender. He needed them to stay alive to fight another day. Staying holed up in this church with no ammunition would not win the war. They had to keep their eyes on the larger prize.
One of the men cracked open the church door and stuck a white cloth through the opening, waving it at Fairfax’s man. Slowly, the soldiers exited, arms behind their heads.
Fairfax had won Maidstone.
Since St. Faith’s Church was flooded, the prisoners, under the shadow of muskets and swords, were commanded to walk single file up the hill to All Saints Church, where Fairfax’s men would catalog their names and release them, making them promise to lay down their arms and return home.
Thomas stayed with his men but remained silent at the back of the line, his head bowed, his eyes meeting no one’s. At All Saints Church, Thomas stood in the kaleidoscope of sunny colors blazing through the stained-glass windows and gazed down at his uncle Alexander’s tomb. He was certain his men had fought a brave battle, but as he stared at the tomb, he wondered if he could have done more. His men were before him, lined up like cattle ready to go to slaughter. He felt their fate was even worse than death, for they were giving up their pride and their king.
Perhaps he was being hard on himself. Perhaps he was just tired. After all, he had not felt the comfort of a soft bed for the last forty-eight hours.
After staring at his uncle’s tomb for more than an hour and listening to his soldier’s names being taken at the front of the line, Thomas decided to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. They could take his name on this day. They could take his arms and his horse. They could disband his men, but they would never take his spirit nor his ambition to see the king back on the throne. He would live to see these men with their ink pots and quills beheaded for treason. He would fight for his king until his final breath. Today was not the end. In fact, today was a new beginning.
When he was the only soldier left in the church, he raised his head and stepped away from his uncle’s tomb. He marched to the table set up near the door and looked down at the soldier sitting behind it. He found himself gazing into the eyes of General Thomas Fairfax.
“Well, Colonel Thomas Culpepper, do you claim command of these men?”
“No, these are George Goring’s men. I am only here to serve.”
“Goring? That traitor? It seems you have chosen to serve the wrong side.”
“When all is said and done, we’ll see if that is true, but I suspect you’re mistaken.”
Fairfax sighed and scribbled Thomas’s name on the paper in front of him. He spoke without looking up at Thomas. “Colonel Culpepper, in exchange for your freedom on this day, you are to lay down your arms and return to your home. Do you understand?”
“I understand,” Thomas lied without a flinch.
“Then you are free to go,” Fairfax said.
Thomas didn’t move.
Fairfax looked up.
Thomas said, “I hope you know what you’re doing, Thomas Fairfax. It will be a great shame when we change places and you’re forced to give up your talents as a competent military leader, only to find your head on a spike next to Cromwell’s.”
Fairfax narrowed his eyes. “Is that a threat, Culpepper?”
“No, just an observation.”
A bead of sweat appeared on the general’s forehead. He looked around at his own men loitering in the church. “We are finished here.”
The first three books in the Culpepper Saga are available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon.