The Pig War - an alternate history pt 1

by JeffT 3 Replies latest social entertainment

  • JeffT

    I wrote this about 10 years ago. It came up on the thread about the Pacific Northwest and I decided to put it up here for fun. When I get a minute I'll explain how I came to write this. Parts 2 and 3 will follow below.



    JUNE 15, 1859

    Lyman Cutlar awoke to the sound of laughter. Outside the cabin some one was finding something very funny, the deep guffaws continued as he climbed out of bed. His Indian wife stirred slightly as he got up and went to the open window. He looked out to see Jacob, a colored servant from the Hudson Bay Company’s farm, astride a horse, pointing and laughing at something in his garden. Then he saw the pig. The big tusker was in his potato patch, rooting out tubers to its heart’s content.

    “Damnit, “ he yelled at the black man, “I’ve told you people to keep that thing out of my garden!”

    Jacob turned to look at him, then turned back to laugh at the pig.

    This was more than Cutlar could stand. The pig had been destroying his crops for days. He’d written the company, then gone to Belle Vue farm, the company’s outpost on the Island to confront Griffin, the manager.

    They’d almost come to blows.

    The two men were a distinct contrast in dress and styles. Cutlar was a tall thin, unkempt Yankee with a wild beard. He’d been on the Island only a few months, he’d tried his hand at mining, and was hoping to hear about another strike. This looked like a good place to wait until something else turned up. Griffin was a short dapper Englishman, wearing a business suit, in contrast to the American’s overalls. He had been here for years, working the Hudson Bay Company farm, and turning it into a respectable enterprise.

    “That boar is eating me out of house and home, it’s your obligation to keep your pig out of my potatoes.”

    Griffin had responded with “It’s your obligation to keep your potatoes out of my pig! And if you can’t do that stop squatting on company land.”

    “That is not company land, it’s mine under the Homestead Act.”

    “Your Homestead Act doesn’t apply because you’re on British soil, you ignorant Yank!”

    At that point a couple of workers come up.

    “Need some help Mr. Griffin?”

    “Show this lout back to his shack.”

    “Don’t bother,” Cutlar growled, “I know the way.”

    And now here it was, eating his ‘taters again.

    He picked up his long Kentucky rifle, and stepped out the door. Lining the pig up in the sights, he pulled the trigger.

    With a sharp BANG and cloud of powder smoke the gun spat lead. The pig fell over with a thud. Startled and frightened Jacob took off at a gallop toward the company farm.

    The next day, Cutlar was lounging in front of his cabin, although in later reports the British would refer to it as a shack. He saw Griffin, accompanied by several of his men coming up the sloping path toward him.

    “You killed my pig!”

    “Yes I did and I’m glad of it.”

    “That was a prize Berkshire boar. It was company property and you need to pay for it!”

    Cutlar thought for a moment. Perhaps, to avoid a fight he should offer to compensate Griffin for his loss.

    “I can give you a dollar.”

    Griffin looked as if his head would explode, he turned red, and huffed in anger. “I said that was my prize boar, how dare you shoot it and insult me on top of damage me?”

    “I’d just as soon shoot you as that pig!” Cutlar was now also turning red.

    “I demand one hundred dollars now!” Griffin shot back.

    Cutlar laughed and spat at Griffin’s feet.

    “There’s your hundred dollars.”

    Griffin pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “Lyman Cutlar, this is a warrant for your arrest, for trespassing on company land, and killing a pig, which was company property. Come with us.”

    “You can’t arrest me! I’m an American.”

    “And you’re on British soil. Come along, no need to make this difficult.”

    Cutlar looked at the men with guns that now had him surrounded, and gave in to the inevitable.



    JUNE 19

    Major George Pickett, 9 th Infantry put the letter down. It was a petition signed by all twenty-five Americans on San Juan Island. They reported that one of their number at been arrested on trumped up charges and taken to Victoria to stand trial. A British warship had landed troops on the island. The Americans were demanding protection. He glanced at the young naval officer sitting in his office with him, then at his aide.

    The problem was that the British refused to concede that the island was American territory. The Treaty of Oregon specified that the boundary was “The middle of the channel that separates the continent from Vancouver’s Island.” The larger and obvious channel was Haro straight, to the west of the Island. But the British insisted that it was the smaller Rosario straight to the east of the Island. Now perhaps the issue would be settled.

    “Who else has seen this?”

    “No one, Sir.” Said Lt. James Forsyth, his aid. “However there are a lot of rumors floating around. And the mail packet has already gone south. “

    “Well we may have to be ready to take some kind of action.” He looked again at the naval officer, “If we have to land troops, what do the British have in area of this dispute to oppose us? Give me a complete run down.”

    “Yes sir. They have two steam frigates the Tribune and Plyadies, each with thirty-one guns. The corvette Satellite, twenty-one guns, and the gunboat Plumper, twelve guns. Lastly there is an old third rate ship of the line, HMS Ganges. She mounts either seventy-two, seventy-four or eighty-four guns. Total of about two thousand men, although only about four hundred are marines capable of fighting on land. “

    “What can we match them with?”

    “USS Massachusetts is the only warship in Puget Sound at this time.”

    “Um twelve guns?”

    “Thirteen, we’ve added a pivot gun forward.”

    “James, what can we oppose the marines with?”

    “Companies D and H of the ninth. About two hundred men.”

    “Long odds, but as they say no glory in fighting when you have the enemy outnumbered. Prepare to send a relief expedition out to San Juan. Can’t have them arresting citizens on our own land can we.”

    The two men jumped up, saluted and left with a chorus of “Yes sirs”

    The dapper Virginian began composing a letter to General Harney in Fort Steliacoom, forwarding the letter from San Juan Island and outlining his intention to move his troops. He also requested reinforcements, both land and navy. Perhaps now he would have something more important to do than sit in a Godforsaken fort at the end of the world.



    General William Selby Harney looked up from Pickett’s letter. It was several days old, and numerous rumors had proceeded it. People were saying that several Americans had been arrested and taken to Victoria, and their homes burned. It seemed that there was a bit of truth to the rumors.

    “Pleasonton!” he bellowed. “Get your ass in here!”

    Captain Alfred Pleasonton, Harney’s aid rushed in a saluted. Stood stiffly at attention, wondering what abuse he was about to be subjected to now.


    Harney was a big man, over six feet tall, with blue eyes, red complexion, red hair (although starting to gray) and a temper to match. He had a full, unruly beard. Pleasonton, in contrast was small, and fair. Like many who knew him he hated and feared the General.

    “I’m going to be calling for reinforcements to deal with this situation up on San Juan. I need to know what I’m up against. “


    Pleasonton stood at attention, trying to figure out what was expected of him.

    “It says here that this ship Ganges has seventy-two or maybe seventy-four or maybe eight-four guns.”

    “Yes sir.”

    “Well, which is it?”

    “I’m not sure, I’m not a navy man, sir.”

    “I’m asking the navy to send up ships from Astoria and I have to tell them what I need. Go find out about this ship now!”


    Pleasonton turned and marched out, “I’ll write the British admiral and have him clarify that for you,” he thought as he left the room.

    Harney got back to work. This mess had gone on long enough, and he for one wasn’t going to let those damned British push him around for one more second. He wrote out an order confirming the transfer of Pickett to San Juan, then set about marshalling reinforcements.


    The little mail ship chugged through the narrow passages of the San Juan Islands at four knots, its stern wheel thrashing the water into white foam. Astern the Massachusetts plodded along in their wake. Ahead, the little revenue cutter Jefferson Davis led the way, maneuvering around the rocky hazards. It was late afternoon and they were nearing San Juan Island itself and the planned landing area. The shores were mostly deserted, covered with thick stands of timber.

    Sergeants moved among the men, making the preparations. Pickett nodded in satisfaction. His men were ready. He had nearly two hundred embarked on the three ships, plus four cannon to be taken ashore, as well as ammunition, food, tents, and the hundreds of other items needed to establish a post. The ships rounded a bend and he could see the shores of San Juan Island ahead.

    Ashore Griffin watched from a safe distance as the ships stopped offshore. Long boats were dropped to the water and supplies loaded. He could see cannon being brought ashore. Clearly the Americans were here to stay. He turned and scurried home, where he dashed off a note to Governor Douglas.




    Victoria Threatened!

    Governor James Douglas set the newspaper down. And picked up his cup of tea. On the other side of his desk sat a dour man in the uniform of a Rear Admiral.

    “Admiral Baynes, we must act immediately to protect British interests in the San Juan Islands.”

    “Yes sir.”

    “You are hereby ordered to proceed to San Juan Island and land your marine force. It is my belief that these Yanks can be pushed off the island with a sufficient threat. They won’t have the stomach for a fight.

    “Yes sir. I shall proceed immediately. May I have a free hand to operate to prevent the Americans from reinforcing the island?”

    “Certainly, I would not presume to tell you how to do your job.”

    “Thank you sir.”

    “I would like to see your plans before you set out.”

    “Yes sir.”

    Baynes sighed as he left the Governors office. He knew that he was going to have a landlubber telling him what to do, no matter the promise.”

    Douglas leaned back in his chair. It was time to do something about these Americans. A few years back a bunch of them had sailed over to San Juan Island in the middle of the night and rounded up a flock of sheep. They’d claimed that they were seizing them to settle a tax debt owed to Whatcom county.

    Before they’d set off on this expedition they’d fortified themselves with a good dose of whiskey. As a result they had trouble getting the sheep into the boat and ended up chasing them all over the island and waking everybody up. It almost came to blows then, before the diplomats smoothed things over.

    But the diplomats had still reached a long term decision. Well, he’d do it for them.


    Harney’s plans were now complete. The twenty-four gun steam frigates Susquehanna and Mississippi were on their way up from Astoria. The Massachusetts, having dropped off Pickett’s troops was on its way down to help with the transport of more troops. All reports indicated that the British were preparing a counter move, to put troops of their own on the island. He was going to have to be ready.

    Pleasonton knocked and entered the room.

    “Have you arranged more transport, and what are we sending up there?”

    “Yes sir, I have transport, the Constitution…”

    “Good God! What is she doing here?” Harney interrupted.

    “Not THAT Constitution, sir. It’s a steamer. We have another steamer, the Northerner available. The Julia, Jefferson Davis and Massachusetts are on their way down here. We are sending up companies A, C and I of the 4 th Infantry and the 3 rd Artillery. About five hundred men when it all gets there.”

    “Very good, you shall accompany the men when they go up. I will need to stay here to co-ordinate command.”


    There was a pause in the conversation. Then Pleasonton spoke again.

    “Sir, if I may be so bold to speak, shouldn’t we wait for orders before rushing in all these troops?”

    “Bah! It will take four weeks at least for my report to get to General Scott. That long for his reply to get back. We can’t wait two months.”

    “Yes sir.”

    “See to the preparations. I want Pickett reinforced as soon as possible.”

    Pleasonton saluted and left.


    Douglas looked over Baynes’ plans. The marines would be landed on the Northwest side of the Island to establish a camp. The Americans were no established on the Southwest side of the Island. There was sufficient distance to insure that the troops would not be taken under fire as they landed. With luck they might not even be spotted until they had time to dig in.

    Baynes planned to guard the Admiralty Inlet with the Plumper, to stop any ships coming up out of Puget Sound. The Tribune, Plyadies and Satellite would patrol the eastern end of the Straight of Juan de Fuca, to block the American ships that were undoubtedly coming up from Oregon or California.

    “I don’t see the Ganges on this plan.”

    Baynes sighed, here it comes.

    “Governor Douglas she’s unsuitable for work in confined waters. She’s better off left here.”

    “Nonsense man, she’s the biggest ship in your fleet. Put her off that American camp. They get a good look at all those cannon and perhaps they might think twice.”

    “Sir I…”

    “That’s an order.”

    “Yes sir.”

    Baynes turned to his aid, “See to it.”

    “Aye Aye, Sir.”

    The aid saluted and left.

  • JeffT



    The little steam sloop chugged through the glassy water, making its way toward Puget Sound. Although Washington Territory had a reputation for foul weather, in the summer it could be beautiful. This was one of those days. The sky was a clear blue, reflected on the water. Off the Port beam, the snowcapped peak of Mt. Baker rose into the air. Off the Starboard bow a pod of killer whales undulated gracefully through the sea.

    A look out called down from the mast. “Ship approaching, Starboard.”

    Captain Jacobson looked over. It was not a large ship, a side wheel steamer. But he could see guns sticking out a row of ports, and the Union Jack stood out sharply.

    Signal flags fluttered up a line on her mast.

    “Sir they are requesting that we heave to.”

    “I see that. Maintain course and speed.”

    “Aye Aye.”

    A few minutes later he heard a call across the water.

    “Ahoy, Heave to.”

    Nearby crewmen looked at Jacobson, who did nothing.

    “Ahoy, heave to. You are in British waters.”

    Jacobson called back, “I am in American waters, your order is illegal.”

    Jacobson watched as flame and smoke erupted from one of the guns. A scream tore the air and was followed by a large splash off the port bow. With a flash of their flukes the killer whales dove out of sight.

    Forward, the crew of the pivot gun mounted in the bow had already manhandled it around to bear on the British ship. Jacobson walked forward, to stand near the gun captain.

    “Shall I return fire sir?”

    “Yes, put one across his bow.”

    A moment later the gun captain pulled the lanyard. A loud boom echoed across the water and a cloud of smoke enveloped the ship for a moment, before blowing away.

    The crew watched as the shell splashed into the water immediately ahead of the Britisher. The British ship promptly fired again, this time nearly hitting the Massachusetts. The order to heave to was repeated.

    “Are all the guns loaded?” Jacobson asked.

    “Yes sir.”

    “Let’s see what they do.”

    He made no reply to the British command, but again ordered steady course and speed. The Brits could be seen loading their guns.

    A moment later they fired again, a single shot. This time the hull of the Massachusetts resounded with the heavy THUD of a solid hit. Breaking wood crackled.

    “FIRE!” Jacobson yelled.

    The ship shook as the full six gun broadside let go, joined by the big pivot gun. Jacobson watched as at least two hits crashed through the side of the British man of war.

    “Well, “ he said to no one in particular, “we seem to be at war.”


    Lt. Edmonds watched in horror as the American let go a full broadside. HMS Plumper was no bigger than the American and we was in no mood for an all out fight, no matter what Governor Douglas wanted.

    A few days earlier he had stood in the Governor’s office along with Admiral Baynes, Captain Hornby and several other officers while the Governor had given them their orders. Basically Douglas had wanted the Americans driven from the sea. He had been told to patrol near San Juan Island and run off any American that showed his face while the other ships were being gotten ready. Ganges, in particular, had needed her fouled hull cleaned.

    But as they left, Baynes had put his hand on Edmonds’ shoulder and whispered. “Stay out of trouble. I’d like to settle this in a better way, if we can.”

    Now, here he was trying to act under conflicting orders as best he could.

    “Helm,” he shouted, “bring us about. Make for Victoria. We’ll make a report and see what’s next”

    “Aye Aye, sir.” The helmsman responded.

    “Sir, our orders didn’t mention making reports.” Said his second in command.

    “My orders, number two, are to make sure the Americans leave British waters. That one seems to be on his what out, now.”

    He nodded toward the American who was pulling away to the South.

    “See, there he goes now.”

    Aboard the Massachusetts Jacobson heaved a sigh of relief. He was vastly outnumbered by the British in the area was glad to be getting on his way.



    “You did what?”

    Governor Douglas had spent the last quarter hour yelling the same question at the hapless Lt. Edmonds. Baynes was doing what he could to mitigate the situation, to little effect.

    “Sir, the American was living British territorial waters, I didn’t think it was necessary to risk the lives of my crew or damage to my ship, to do anything other than see him move on. It was my best judgement of the situation at the time.”

    “Bah, you ran away. You let an American ship get away. Dismissed, I’ve no further use for you.”

    After they left the Governor’s house, Baynes put a fatherly hand on the young Lieutenant’s shoulder.

    “You do know you did the right thing.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Good, these politicians are getting us into hot water fast.”

    “Yes sir.”



    “You did what?” General Harney bellowed at Lt. Jacobson. “You let a British warship get away?”

    “I wouldn’t describe it as that, sir. I didn’t feel that I should risk my ship and crew to fight a ship that wasn’t pressing for a battle.”

    Harney waved, a gesture that took in both Jacobson and his immediate superior, Captain Allen, chief of staff for the North Pacific Squadron.

    “Gentlemen, your job is to rid us of these British. I will not for one more minute tolerate their presence on American territory. Get out of here both of you.”

    The two saluted and left.

    As they walked away Allen looked over at Jacobson.

    “You did the right thing. That man is trouble.”

    “Yes sir.”



    Dawn, a glorious time on San Juan Island. The air was clean, with a good salt smell, the sky clear. The early morning sun reflected off the water. In almost all directions mountains sprung from the horizon, to varying heights.

    The camp lay on the west side of the island, on a gentle slope that ran down to the water. It was wooded, but open. The woods provided fuel and shade for the men in the growing camp. It was good ground.

    George Pickett was a happy man. His men had established a good camp. Roberts, the engineer was constructing earthworks, and a great redoubt to protect it. The cannon had been placed in position, along with a few mortars. It was not yet a fort, but it would be soon. His aide, Forsyth walked up to him and saluted, casually.

    “Morning major.”

    “Good morning Lieutenant.”

    “Would the Major fancy an egg or two for breakfast?”

    Forsyth had some how procured some hens and a couple of roosters. He had them penned up at the edge of the camp, over the hill and away from the water. He seemed to enjoy gathering their eggs every morning. Mostly he gave them to the men, as a sort of reward for had work. Pickett approved of the practice, it was good for morale.

    “And to what would I owe this favor? An attempt to get on the good side of your boss? If so I daresay it may work.”

    Forsyth laughed.

    “Well I now know what I need to do to get on your good side, Sir.”

    “A man’s stomach is always a good start.”

    “On a more serious note, Major, when may we expect reinforcement? The British marines are expanding their camp. They nearly equal us in number now. If they add to their numbers we shall have a problem on our hands.”


    The British were camped about ten miles away, on the North side of the Island. So far, they mostly stayed at their end of the Island, as the Americans had at theirs.

    “We should have help soon. Keep me posted.”

    “Yes sir.”

    “And James”


    “Over easy would be fine.”




    Commodore Garibaldi paced the deck of his flagship, USS Susquehanna restlessly. He was very tall, with a dark complexion. A mustache added to his dashing looks. He had found it necessary to pull into this nearly deserted bay for a few days to do more repairs on his two ships. He was also due to rendezvous with his chief of staff here, before proceeding North. Then he hoped he would have some solid information about the situation.

    He had arrived in Astoria only a week earlier, to find that a shooting war had started, and that the North Pacific Squadron was entirely unprepared for it. His predecessor had been uninterested in maintenance, discipline, morale, training or any other military necessity. The ships’ bottoms were fouled, the bilge’s had not been cleaned in years. The men were sick. He’d set about getting everything ready to fight but it was not an easy task, nor one that would get done quickly.

    He had not liked his previous assignment, professor of tactics at the Naval Academy, and had asked repeatedly to be sent back to sea. At the same time he’d also made a pest of himself around Washington, lobbying more money for the Navy from a reluctant Congress. His reputation as a ladies man sometimes added to his problems. Eventually they decided to get him out of the way. So here he was, as far from Congress as one could get, and still be in the United States.

    Captain John Winslow, the ship’s captain approached him cautiously. The Commodore didn’t like the reputation he’d developed, he was not normally a taskmaster, but he’d had to drive everyone hard in his efforts to get ready.

    “Come on over John, you look like you have something on your mind.”

    “An idea, that might give us just a bit on an edge, should we be called on to fight.”

    “Go ahead, I’m open to anything that will help.”

    “The harbor master here has a great bit of unused chain. They use it to link logs together to tow them to the mill.”

    “Yes,” Commodore Garibaldi was puzzled, where was this going.

    “We could hang lengths of chain over the sides of the ships, particularly over the engine spaces. It might help keep out the British shot.”

    “Won’t that make the ships a bit tender? Seems like added weight topside would make us unstable.”

    “We can compensate with ballast, and this time of year the seas here are generally calm. I think we can handle it.”

    Garibaldi nodded.

    “I like it. Proceed.”

    Winslow saluted and left to organize a work party.


    Admiral Baynes stood on the dock and watched the ships being loaded. All manner of stores were being carted aboard by all available hands. The Governor stood next to him, hands clasped behind his back.

    “Should be a jolly good show, eh, Admiral?”

    As he had expected Baynes found himself being given detailed orders by Governor Douglas. Even though it was expected it still galled him to be handed a silly plan by some one with no knowledge of naval tactics.

    The Governor wanted to put Ganges off the American camp to supply artillery support for an attack by the Marines. The two smallest ships, Plumper and Satellite would patrol Admiralty Inlet, to prevent an American move out of Puget Sound. Tribune and Plyadies would patrol the straight of Juan de Fuca, to prevent American reinforcements from moving into the area. They would also protect Victoria from counterattack.

    Baynes didn’t like it a bit. Ganges was next to useless. She could be anchored off Victoria harbor, to guard the town and the rest of the ships should be kept together. Splitting them up invited defeat in detail. But the Governor was sure he was a military genius and over rode any attempt at a sensible plan. He had also ordered Baynes to accompany him on Ganges. He was sure they would route the Americans in an afternoon and wanted to be on hand to watch.

    “Governor, there is great potential here for many men to be killed or hurt. I would not call that ‘a jolly good show.’”

    Stung, the governor walked away silently.


    Captain Allen’s courier boat arrived at Gray’s Harbor in the afternoon. As always, the bar at the mouth of the harbor made for a rough ride, but Allen had been here before and was used to it. He was furious with the British. HMS Satellite had stopped them as they left Puget Sound, even though they were clearly in American territorial water. He had suspected that something like that might happen, and so had not worn his uniform. After inspecting his ship they let him proceed, but it was an affront to his national pride.

    As his boat bumped up against the side of Susquehanna he gave a curious glance to the men hanging chain over the sides of the ship. He could see Winslow on the deck above him peering down at him.

    “Permission to come aboard Captain?”

    Winslow grinned, “NO!”

    “Fine, then, stand by to be boarded!” Allen yelled as he began climbing the ladder.

    A moment ladder he was on deck. Shaking Winslow’s hand.

    “Good to see you TJ, this is Commodore Garibaldi, our new commander.”

    “A pleasure, sir.”

    “Pleased to meet you sir.”

    The two men sized each other up. Commodore Garibaldi found himself looking at man of medium height and build, a beard shot with gray and a face weathered from years at sea.

    “Well let’s get down to business,” said the Commodore, “what can you tell me about British dispositions and intentions? Let’s go to my cabin and discuss the situation.”

    As they walked aft, trailed by Captain Winslow and a couple of junior officers Garibaldi asked, “Is this Harney character a complete idiot? My orders are to destroy the British fleet. He seems to think doing that will be about as complicated as squashing a bug.”

    “I’ll bet a week’s pay it is!” Piped up one of the younger officers.

    Allen looked back over his shoulder, “I’ll take that, if you promise to pay me in pounds sterling.”


    “Well that will be the currency we’ll be using if we really stir up the British Navy.”

    “I agree,” said Garibaldi, “if we lined up both fleets and had a go at it we’d be fish food by the third broadside.”

    They arrived at the Commodores cabin and a map was spread out on a thick, heavily polished table.

    Allen pulled out a thin knife, and used it for a pointer.

    “I was stopped and searched here at Admiralty Inlet, just as we came out of Puget Sound. I had no identification as Navy, so they let us go on. Irritated me. It is obviously American Territory, but they clearly want to stop anything heading up to San Juan to help Pickett.”

    He pointed toward Victoria with his knife.

    “The town is a beehive of activity, I’m certain they will make a move soon.”

    “What do you expect they’ll do.”

    “If I were the British Commander I’d anchor Ganges off Victoria harbor as protection there. She’s near to useless for anything else. By the way Harney chewed out one of his aids for not knowing how many guns she has.”

    “Which is?” Garibaldi asked.

    “Seventy-two. She’s an old third-rate. No engines, hard to maneuver in tight water, that’s why I’d put her there.”

    “I see.”

    “I’d keep the other ships together. Their force of four ships would have our three badly outgunned. But they have Satellite guarding Admiralty Inlet so that leaves the other three to support operations of San Juan.”

    “What do you think our response should be?”

    Allen rubbed his beard thoughtfully, he was starting to like this Commodore.

    “Well as long as you’re asking…”

    For several minutes he spoke, gesturing at the map as he did so, discussing they lay of the land, currents, other factors.

    When he was done there was a moment of silence.

    Garibaldi looked down at the map.

    “You can do that?”

    “I’m sure of it sir.”

    “You’ve done it before?”

    “Oh, no sir. I don’t think anybody has.”

    “Well, it’s your life. Get back up there immediately and get it going. I will bring this fleet up in, say four days.”

    “Very good sir.”

    Allen saluted and left.

  • JeffT


    Baynes stood on the stern of the Ganges, hands clasped behind his back, watching Victoria harbor recede into the distance. Again it was another beautiful summer day, but he had no mood to enjoy it.

    “What a silly way to go to war,” he thought. Ahead of the Ganges’ bow the side-paddle steamer Jarvis pulled the great ship from the end of a two rope. He refused to look forward, the sight pained him too much. But it was the only way to get the ponderous ship into position of San Juan Island.

    A bit to the left, he could see Tribune and Plyadies moving west, to take station in the straight of Juan de Fuca. Even further to the left, the Plumper, repaired from her recent brush with the American was moving South to join Satellite. They were moving out a day or two sooner than they planned. The move had been prompted by the news that two American frigates had anchored near the western end of the Straight the evening before.

    He hoped his American counterpart had a cool head. The whole affair had spun wildly out of control. Governor Douglas was all worked up to throw the Americans off of a silly little island. And as the Queen’s direct representative he had the authority to do as he saw fit. It was the only way to run a place so far from home, but Baynes didn’t like it. And it seemed the American General, Harney, was also all set to have a set to.

    And so this is how it starts.”


    Commodore Garibaldi watched the two British ships approaching through his telescope. He had anticipated meeting three ships, further east, but this might be even better if the other one had joined Satellite. If he could keep them here for a few hours this fight might be over.



    “Open fire at extreme range. I want to keep these two busy. They outgun us, but we should have an advantage in speed by a knot or two. “

    “Aye aye, sir!”

    Aboard Tribune Captain Hornby, commanding the squadron was startled when the Americans opened fire at a considerable distance.

    “A dare say, they seem a bit anxious don’t they?” his aide commented.

    “Well the United States isn’t a real naval power. I expect will run them off fairly quickly,” (a remark he would soon regret) “then we can get on over to San Juan where we belong. That’s what Admiral Baynes wanted. He doesn’t like the Governor’s disposition of the ships.”

    “Shall we commence firing sir?”

    “Yes, but not full broadsides. Just keep them on their toes.”

    Four guns thundered out at the enemy, and Hornby watched incredulously through his telescope as a cannon ball bounced harmlessly off the side of the nearer ship. Then even more surprised he saw the ships turn away.

    “Well that was easy.” Some one said.

    Two hours later he stood dripping sweat in the hot noontime sun, his face blackened with soot and powder smoke. A sulphurous smell hung in the air. Neither side had much damaged the other, but he was growing tired of a crazy game of cat and mouse.

    If he got close enough to the Americans to really start to fight, they broke off and slipped away. As soon as he turned east they came back at him. Now they were running again. The Americans had just enough advantage in speed to define the battle. The whole affair had been fought in slow motion.

    One of the men climbed up into the rigging.

    “You stupid bloody yank,” he yelled, stand up and fight like a man!”

    Suddenly Hornby’s blood ran cold.

    “Turn the ships, now!” he ordered, “make for San Juan Island immediately!”

    “What, why are running sir?” One of the younger officers asked.

    “We are not running.”

    Hornby pointed at the American ships.

    “That man could have me no more immobilized if he’d nailed my feet to the deck. I don’t know why he wants me here, but he’s got a reason and I’m going to find out what’s happening.”

    Commodore Garibaldi watched the enemy turn away. After a few minutes of moving toward them he realized they weren’t turning back.

    “Seems they’ve figured out the game,” Winslow said.

    Garibaldi pulled out his pocket watch and looked at it.

    “Indeed, but I expect that Allen has matters well in hand by now.”

    Had he contemplated the idea that, instead of waltzing in unopposed, Allen was about to take on a seventy-two gun ship of the line with a thirteen gun sloop; he might have been less confident.


    T J Allen sat on a box at the stern of the Massachusetts, calmly smoking a pipe. The placid waters of Saratoga Passage slipped by the ship as she chugged northward. The shores were largely uninhabited, a peaceful setting. Overhead he watched an eagle circling. The feathers at the tips of its wings fluttered from time to time in the light breeze. One of the junior officers that had come west with Garibaldi stood nearby, in case he should be needed. Which he wasn’t. Allen enjoyed these moments and wanted to be left alone.

    Three other ships trailed Massachusetts. The steamers Constitution and Julia had been pressed into service. The revenue cutter Jefferson Davis brought up the rear. Massachusetts was the only real warship, but the others had been fitted with some spare cannon from Fort Steliacoom, although the little Davis could only carry one. The main job for these ships was carrying troops, and they were packed to the gunwales with men and equipment.

    With a cry the eagle dove toward the water, dipped its talons with a small splash, and emerged with a salmon in its grip.

    Allen took the pipe from his mouth.

    “He’ll have a good meal.”


    “Fresh Salmon. A Washington Territory treat. When this is over I will invite you people to dinner. We must meet properly. I’ll plank a salmon for you. Commodore Garibaldi will like I’m sure.”

    “Plank a salmon sir?”

    “You’ll see.”

    Captain Jacobson approached.

    Captain Jacobson approached.

    “It looks like we’re right on schedule. We should be there shortly after the tide turns.”

    “Good. It’s the only time we can be sure of getting through. The channel will be full the current with us. Promises to be quite a ride.”

    “I don’t doubt it.”

    Allen resumed puffing on his pipe as the ship turned slightly to starboard to enter Skagit Bay.


    Admiral Baynes looked on in disgust as the Captains of Ganges and Jarvis tried to get the ponderous ship of the line into a position from which she could fire on the American fortifications. There was a strong current running from North to South, and a light breeze blowing from the North. Everybody but Governor Douglas seemed to have known these two facts in advance, but of course he had paid no attention when making his plans.

    The fact funnel smoke from Julia was engulfing the ship didn’t help Baynes’ mood.

    The only way to maneuver Ganges was to hook a towline to her stern and have Julia pull against the current. As a result Ganges swung back and forth like a hooded fish. They had fired one broadside a half-hour earlier, with no noticeable effect. Now Douglas was yelling to bring the ship in closer.

    Baynes looked over at the American encampment. There was a long open, grassy field that sloped upwards to a lightly wooded hill. He could see tents in the woods, and had been told that some enclosures for animals lay on the far side of the hill. Earthworks and a great redoubt protected the camp.

    “Closer, I said closer, this will never do.”

    “Governor, that might not be a good idea,” this from Ganges’ captain, “we may hit some unknown reef.”

    “Nonsense man, this is a deep channel. There is no obstruction.”

    The Captain looked at Baynes helplessly.

    “Governor,” Baynes started to say something.

    “I won’t hear some silly objection,” the governor interrupted, “just get on with it.”

    Baynes nodded at the captain. It was out of his hands.

    He could hear Douglas yelling over the noise of the other activities on the ship. The thump of Julia’s engine increased as she tried to pull harder against the current. They’d have to pull the ship northward and let her slide down on the current again to get her close enough to suit Douglas,



    It was turning into a long stern chase. Susquehanna and Mississippi were able to gain only very slowly on the British ships. Commodore Garibaldi calculated that they would be in real fighting range about the time they all arrived at San Juan Island. In the meantime he fired an occasional shell at them just to make them pay attention. The British returned the favor from time to time. It seemed unlikely that either would do much hurt to the other.

    Far to the south, HMS Plumper and HMS Satellite continued their lonely vigil guarding Admiralty Inlet. They’d seen a few fishing boats, but nothing else.


    “That’s the idea, get her in good and close, “ Said Douglas.

    Ganges was drifting down on the current, rapidly approaching a firing position off the American’s camp. Badness watched from the railing. They were close inshore, he could see men taking shelter. They knew they were going to be in a fight at any moment. Astern of Ganges, the Jarvis barely kept power to her engines; letting the tide do the work. The two ships were connected stern to stern by a tow rope. Marines with muskets crowded Ganges rigging.

    Suddenly a loud grinding sound roared up from the keel of the ship. She began to take on a list to starboard. The grinding continued and Baynes could feel the bow rising as the great ship continued to push up onto whatever underwater obstruction she had hit. The list increased. With a sudden jerk the ship stopped dead in the water.

    “Bloody ‘ell!” shouted a seaman as he fell heavily to the deck.

    One of the marines fell out of the lowest spar of the mainmast on the starboard side, yelling as he fell into the cold water. Fortunately he had not fallen far. Some one threw him a rope. Higher in the rigging a number of men scrambled to get a hold of something.

    “What’s happened?” yelled Douglas.

    “We’re aground.” Answered the captain.

    He and Baynes looked over the rail. The outgoing tide swept passed the ship. It seemed to drop lower even as they watched.

    “We must throw some of the guns overboard immediately “ said Baynes.

    “I agree. Bosun, get a crew ready.”

    “Aye aye, sir.”

    “What!” yelled Douglas “throw her majesty’s cannon into the sea! You shall not!”

    “Governor, its our only chance to free the ship.” Explained Baynes.

    “No, you may not do it.”

    By know the Governor was shouting and red faced.

    “Have Jarvis pull us off!”

    “She’s pulling with all she’s got already. It’s no use.”

    While the two men were arguing the tide continued to pull water from under the ship’s keel.


    Pickett, Roberts, and Forsyth stood together in a small earthwork at the crest of the hill, form which they could see in all directions. Below them the encampment spread down to the water’s edge, beyond which they could see Ganges and Jarvis.

    “I don’t know much about ships,” said Pickett, “but our English friends seem to be having some trouble.”

    For fifteen minutes the Jarvis had been churning up the water in an effort to pull Ganges off the bottom. And with each passing minute more of the ship’s copper-sheathed bottom showed above the water line. Pickett had ordered sharpshooters to take position near the water’s edge, and begin firing at the ships. Now they could see the artillerymen moving a mortar into position to fire on the ships.

    Abruptly a number of Ganges guns spouted red flame, followed immediately by dense clouds of smoke. Instinctively they ducked as the shells screamed over their heads. Moments later the field below them on the far side erupted in explosions. Several horses that had been grazing bolted in panic.

    Pickett looked through his field glasses. Other than some overturned dirt the shells had not had any effect. Then he noticed a broken fence and some white blobs on the ground.

    “James, I’m sad to say that they seem to have killed a couple of your chickens.”

    “There we go,” piped up Roberts, “when they’ve killed enough chickens to equal a pig, the wars over.”

    “Sir!” snarled Pickett in mock anger, “don’t say such a thing. I will not go down in history as the man who won The War of the Pigs and Chickens!”

    “Oh that won’t happen,” Roberts added helpfully, “there was only one pig.”

    The three men laughed.

    More of Ganges’ guns fired. This time they seem to have been loaded with grapeshot as a forest of splashes erupted just off the beach.

    The pop of muskets could be heard, punctuated by the boom of a mortar being fired. The three men watched the shell in flight. It went way over, a big column of water spouted several hundred yards beyond Ganges. The mortar men were having trouble finding the range looking out over the flat water. But they would have it soon.


    The little fleet was nearing the head of Skagit Bay. One by one, Massachusetts leading the way, they turned to Port. Ahead of them, the water narrowed rapidly, forming what George Vancouver had named Deception Pass in 1792.

    Captain Allen walked to the rail, he could feel the pull of the outgoing tide starting to tug the ship forward. Other crewman looked ahead nervously. The current was picking up speed. Suddenly the ship was racing along, fully caught in the gripe of the current.

    Looking over the side Allen thought, this looks like a rapids in a river, not an ocean channel. Great waves, crested with foam rose up all around the ship. The channel narrowed; high, rocky cliffs towered above the masts. Here and there a tree had found a foothold on the cliffs, but in many places even moss could not cling to the rocks.

    The rock walls flew by with alarming speed. Never in his life had Allen seen the landscape pass by so quickly. He felt like he could put his hand out and touch the rock wall off either beam.

    Then suddenly, they were through! The cliffs gave way to rocky, tree lined beaches. The current slowed rapidly as they moved out into the broader reaches of the Straight of Juan de Fuca.

    Allen looked back at the rest of the fleet. They had all made it through safely.

    He turned to Lt. Jacobson, “Well, it seems we’ve outflanked that British ship at Admiralty Inlet.”

    “Indeed we have. We should be safely at San Juan Island in no time.”


    Baynes had once again gone off by himself. Douglas was running around the ship giving incomprehensible orders. He looked over the side from time to time. He noticed now that the tide had almost stopped running.

    A wide swath of hull that was supposed to be underwater showed all the way around the ship. She was listing almost thirty degrees to starboard. They might have gotten her off if they’d thrown the guns overboard immediately but now it was too late. It would be hours before the high tide returned and they had a chance to refloat the ship.

    The Americans on the beach fired their muskets once in a while, just for harassment.

    The crew ducked when they heard the shots, but there was little to worry about, it wasn’t very accurate. The mortar crews also tossed a bomb in the air occasionally, but they were even less accurate. He hoped some one would show up and rescue them from this silly predicament.

    A looked shouted down from the mast and pointed.

    Baynes looked on in consternation as first one American ship rounded the point at the southern end of the island, then another, and another. Where had they come from? Had some disaster befallen Plumper and Satellite; or worse yet Hornby? The two trailing ships turned toward shore, he could see that they were crowded with troops. The American reinforcements had arrived.

    As he watched the leading ship maneuvered very carefully into position directly ahead of Ganges, beam on to the English ship.

    That Captain is good,” he thought to himself, “he’s done an admirable job of getting into a raking position without exposing himself to any fire from us.”

    Douglas rushed up to him.

    “Where did they come from?” he demanded. “What are you going to do?”

    “I don’t know.”

    The American was small, it looked like she could only bring seven guns to bear, but a couple of broadsides of grapeshot and Ganges’ deck would be a slaughterhouse.

    And a few more broadside would finish the work begun by tide and rocks. If they used hot shot they would no doubt set fire to the ship.

    Douglas was still yelling at him to do something.

    “Oh shut up you bloody fool!” he snapped, “small as she is that ship can kill us all in short order.”

    Douglas turned pale and stepped away.

    With a wave of his hand Baynes summoned Ganges’ captain. The two moved off by themselves for a conference. There was another shout from the mast. Ships could be seen on the horizon, Hornby being chased by the Americans. But he was at least an hour away. And when he got here it would be three American ships versus two British.

    “Sir look!” Some one shouted, pointed at the American’s signal flags, “he wants to parley!”

    “Well,” he said, “let’s go see what they want.”

    The two small boats rowed toward each other in the open water between the two ships. The shooting from shore had stopped, and the Jarvis had ceased her efforts to pull Ganges free. There was little sound but the splash or oars in the water.

    When he had first glimpsed the huge ship standing of San Juan Island Allen’s heart had almost stopped. Then he realized that she was aground and helpless. Almost instantly an idea had sprung to mind. He hoped with all his heart that the man he was about to meet was more reasonable than General Harney. He had agreed wholeheartedly with Commodore Garibaldi’s assessment of the U S Navy’s chances against the British. War had to be avoided and he thought possibly he might have a chance to do just that.

    They met almost exactly half way, bow to bow. Allen climbed into the bow of his boat, the men moving to the stern so the officers could talk. The British tars did the same. Allen tied to the to boats together with a short piece of rope so that the crews would not have to row to keep them together.

    “Sir,” he saluted, “T J Allen, Captain, United States Navy.”

    The Englishman returned the salute.

    “Robert Baynes, Rear Admiral, Royal Navy.”

    The two men gazed at each other for a moment, then Baynes broke the silence.

    “Captain how did you get here? We have ships in place to block you, but you don’t seem to have been in a fight.”

    “Well we came through the back door, so to speak.”

    “I see,” said Baynes, puzzled, “perhaps sometime you can tell me about it.”

    Allen looked over at the helpless Ganges.

    “Admiral I do not wish to fire on your ship. “

    “I don’t wish to be fired upon. But I can not surrender my ship. The idiot who thinks he’s in charge here will have my head.”

    “I don’t expect you to. I also find myself taking orders from, shall we say – not the sharpest tool in the shed.”

    Inspite of himself, Baynes smiled.

    “Politicians everywhere seem to be the same. What do you have in mind?”

    “Admiral, allow me to put some crew on your ship. They will insure that you do not fire when pulled free. I will guarantee safe passage to Victoria in exchange. “

    “What about that lot.” Admiral Baynes gestured toward San Juan Island.

    “We will keep our camp here. You keep your camp at the north end of the island. We will make a line of demarcation in the middle. Let everything stand as it is until the diplomats settle the whole matter. We’ll have to get word to the other ships out there.”

    He waved toward the ships, still far down the straights.

    “That seems an excellent solution, but I have no authority to accept it.”

    Allen grinned.

    “That shouldn’t be a problem Admiral. I have no authority to offer it.”

    Baynes laughed and extended his hand.

    “As you Americans say, we have a deal. “


    When the news of the events of in the Pacific Northwest reached Washington and London, both governments reacted with horror. In the United States, thinking people were already realizing that the election of 1860, no matter its outcome, might well result in civil war. England was busy with the demands of empire and a naval arms race with France.

    General Winfield Scott promptly relieved Harney of his command and ordered him back to Washington. James Douglas was similarly summoned to London. Both men spent the rest of their lives unsuccessfully attempting to blame each other for nearly bringing two friendly countries to war.

    Lt. Edmonds, having played a minor role served in the Royal Navy until his death at the Battle of Gibralter.

    George Pickett found the glory he sought in the climatic moments of the Confederate victory at Gettysburg.

    Commodore Garibaldi and Captain Allen founded what might be termed dynasties within the U S Navy. Captain Allen’s grandson commanded the Pacific fleet in the War of 1910.

    In the summer of 1860 the countries signed an agreement ratifying the decision of Allen and Baynes until the matter could be arbitrated. A couple of years later, Baynes, still chaffing at having been outfoxed by the American Navy refused to yield to the American blockade of the Confederacy. His actions, combined with Pickett’s victory, led to European recognition of the CSA and a divided America.

    The whole affair was best summed up by a British diplomat at the signing ceremony:

    “That certainly was a remarkable pig.”

    For the real story of The Pig War I recommend:

  • compound complex
    compound complex

    Greetings, Jeff:

    Thanks so much for putting up your story. What I've read so far has reaffirmed my love for and fascination with Puget Sound.

    This pig's tale/tail is proving, IMHO, to be cleverly told and technically excellent - I must read more!



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