He’s fifteen, or thereabouts. He thought he would be home by Christmas. That was what they were told, when they were given their red coats and shipped across the ocean to put down the rebs: that it wouldn’t take more than a couple of months. But it’s December already, and in New Jersey the snows are as dense as cake, and he thinks now that every soldier is told that: home soon. He wonders whether it’s ever been true.
If the boy were in a German regiment, he could speak his own tongue at least. None of the English have even heard of Anhalt-Zerbst, let alone his village. He’s never been to Hesse but his bunkmate says you Hessians anyway, or you Bosch bastards. Another points out that he’s a foot or two short of a full one, so they settle on
Not soon, then, but how much longer? The redcoats took hard losses at Fort Mercer, but cleaned out Fort Lee at the end of November. The rats are in retreat, and it’s this regiment’s job to squeeze them out of New Jersey. There’s a line of the men of Hopewell outside the garrison every morning, wanting to sign allegiance papers - not that it proves much. Washington’s reb army couldn’t have held together on its flight to Pennsylvania if this countryside weren’t riddled with traitors, making muskets and shot for the rebs, supplying them with cloth for their backs and salt for their meat.
Some of this regiment have wives near their time, others say their wives are too pretty to leave alone; they all gripe about the endlessness of this campaign. The boy has only his mother. In the night, under the blanket, he thinks of his bed at home in
his village in Anhalt-Zerbst, and the way the fir tips tap against his window, and he weeps till he shakes. His bunkmate mutters, ‘Give that little worm of yours a rest.’
Filthy talk is how they pass the time. In the freezing rains of December there’s
nothing to do but wait.
Then one day the skies clear. The land around Hopewell is as hard as a drum.
‘Good hunting weather,’ somebody says.
So the hunt is what they call it. The Major isn’t happy, but the Captain only shakes
his head and tells him, the men must have a bit of fun.