Eric Cline was a Writers of the Future finalist in 2012. Adept in both mysteries and science fiction, he has sold to Ellery Queen’s, Alfred Hichcock’s, Stupifying Stories, Cosmos Online, and others printzines and e-zines.  

Eric Cline

At what a dear rate an army must sometimes purchase knowledge!–Ambrose Bierce, "A Son of the Gods"


Elizabethtown is in Kentucky and, in June of 1872, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer is in Elizabethtown. He is there to intimidate; the newly-organized "Ku Klux Klan" refuses to recognize that the war was lost seven years ago. President Grant has sent cavalry units to various trouble spots in the former rebellious states. Kentucky stayed with the Union throughout the war, which makes the Klan’s rise here worrisome.

Custer is famous: the brash, bull-headed hero who distracted Jeb Stuart’s cavalry at Gettysburg and who, when white men were no longer the primary belligerents, killed Indians along the Washita River.

He is bored by the duty, but he knows horses, and Kentucky is paradise for horseflesh, so there is that. He buys horses for the Army. His eye for good stock is so respected that some of his junior officers and friends give him money to buy their personal mounts. The 'pinhookers' who buy horses for quick resale are happy to see him.

Except this pinhooker. A former Confederate volunteer, he is fat and of medium height – in other words, another century would consider him short and thin. He wants to sell his horses, oh yes. But for his beloved Lost Cause, he tries to chisel the Yankee officer. So he makes the amateur’s mistake of starting the haggle too high.

"This horse is from the bloodlines of Messenger himself!" the dealer says.

Custer, who has studied up on Kentucky thoroughbreds and attended his share of races, cocks an eyebrow and a single corner of his mouth. "Wasn't Messenger from back in colonial days? I suspect every old nag pulling a rag man's cart has some of Messenger in them by now."

"I got the papers for this, though!" the pinhooker says, perhaps too aggressively. "And if that is not enough, I got a grandson of Denmark! I saw Denmark gamboling in a field when I was a boy, and anything that came from him—"

"Not at these prices," Custer says. "Quit running your game, fellow. I'm buying cavalry horses, not something to be shipped to England to run in the Derby."

"I am not playing no games. I resent that. I don't care who you are."

"Well, surely not a successful game," Custer says. He turns his back. "Not the only mounts in old Kentuck." Loud enough for the dealer to hear him, he adds (in a mocking, nasal falsetto): "I got papers on this horse."

The pinhooker scowls at the departing figure. He could swallow his pride. He could let the war continue to be over. Instead he says: "I figure you Ma didn't have her marriage papers when she had you."

Custer turns around, strides up quickly to the scowling pinhooker.

It is not a fair fight; the dealer has gotten soft.

Custer struts away, a grim smile on his face. The horse trader lies on the ground outside his stable, trying to breathe.

The man is a Grand Dragon in the local Ku Klux Klan.


Elizabeth Bacon Custer – "Libby" to her husband – fusses over him when he gets back to their rented rooms in the Hill House inn. She tsk-tsks over his black eye, which is his only visible wound. Even his thin beak of a nose, a tempting target, had been out of reach of the pinhooker's incompetent fists. He laughs it off.

The Custers have enjoyed Elizabethtown, despite its lack of opportunities to burnish the husband’s glory. They have made many acquaintances among the burghers – some of whom acknowledge having fought for the rebel cause. Tonight they will dine at the home of such people. The Campbells are part of the Scotch-Irish who settled Kentucky and almost led it to rebellion. Libbie asks her husband, her beloved "Autie," to not mention the fight at dinner.

"Only if they ask about my black eye," George Armstrong Custer says with a twinkle. Because he knows, of course, they will.


Daniel Campbell, the husband, is apologetic on behalf of all “right-thinking” Kentuckians.

Custer is magnanimous. “Probably a spy from Tennessee,” he says, and both couples roar with laughter.


Next day, Custer writes part of an article for a men's sporting publication. Truly peacetime duty! he thinks to himself. The subject is his triumph over a band of Cheyenne encamped along the Washita River in 1868:

I decided to cross the creek and bivouac on the right bank, opposite the lower end of the village and within easy pistol range of the nearest lodge. This location may strike the reader with some surprise, and may suggest the inquiry why we did not locate ourselves at some point further removed from the village. It must be remembered that in undertaking to penetrate the Indian country with so small a force, I acted throughout upon the belief that if proper precautions were adopted, the Indians would not molest us. Indians contemplating a battle, either offensive or defensive, are always anxious to have their women and children removed from all danger.

Then, feeling restless, he puts down his pen and lays aside the manuscript for Galaxy Magazine. He leaves his rented home and walks over to the Eagle House on North Main Street, where part of Company A lays its head.


Custer has two companies of cavalry and a battalion of infantry at his disposal. Most of the young men in the service never faced an armed Confederate – those veterans left years ago, except for a few officers and sergeants. And then there is one other who has been with the army since that time, a man named Bobby Lee.

Bobby Lee is not a soldier. He is not young. And, of course, he is not white. What little is known of him in the twenty-first century is enough to make him an icon.

He was born Charles, no last name, on a Virginia tobacco plantation around 1820. He may have had a wife and children who died of natural causes. He was alone when he took his freedom in 1863, making his way to the Yankee lines. As a plantation slave, he was handy with a machete; it is said he chopped up two old Confederate patrollers to get his freedom. The rumor pleases modern ears, but it is not sourced.

Charles became "Bobby Lee" when he took to being a handyman for Union troops; some rowdy young soldier started calling him that, and soon everyone was – and he shrugged, and answered to it. He ground the coffee beans (which the quartermaster could not purchase already ground, because the suppliers would adulterate it with sawdust); he washed and mended clothes for young men who wanted to sleep off a forced march, and so gave him some pennies to care for their blue wool. He performed magic on beans and salt pork in a frying pan. As Bobby Lee he was a fairly prosperous freeman.

When the war ended, he stayed on to do chores for young soldiers trapped in a garrison with no way to spend their money except to alleviate a bit of tedium. Bobby Lee shined boots and mended uniforms. He took trips to bigger cities that the soldiers couldn't get leave to go to with shopping lists of books, magazines, and other items. The little coins he got added up to a better living than he had ever seen. He followed two companies of the 7th Cavalry to Elizabethtown in April of 1871, five months before Custer himself got there.


Bobby Lee is no soldier, but he lives in a time where the rules governing soldier-civilian interactions are murky and inconstantly enforced. Civilian mechanics, teamsters, friends, cooks, journalists, wives, girlfriends, "girlfriends," and all-purpose sutlers selling food and tobacco move in the orbit of the small regular Army, and except on certain parade occasions they are not automatically shooed out of the barracks.

Custer strides in through the kitchen at Eagle House. He sees Bobby Lee making small, delicate slices into a sorry hunk of roast.

Nodding to the familiar presence, Custer says, “Shoe leather?”

“It could have been, if treated wrong, General Custer sir.” Bobby Lee is as careful as any enlisted man to give Custer the brevet general title he only carried during the war.

“What you doing there, then?” Custer asks.

“Little bitty cuts, boil it in a good broth, and it will taste better than it ever has a damn right to.”

Custer laughs, slaps him on the back, and strides into the main quarters, and promptly and happily bawls out a trooper lying on an unmade bed.

Bobby Lee listens and smiles slightly.


Custer strides out of Eagle House after having put the fear of Himself into the few off-duty men who are there playing cards or reading. Most of his men are on duty now, which consists of little more than riding around and making their presence known. Before the cavalry arrived, the KKK men had gone on midnight rides in hoods, carrying torches. They had lynched blacks, whipped whites who seemed to be reconciled to the Union victory, and generally bullied anyone they felt like bullying. A few white women (who had at first thought them heroes) had run into some of those riled-up men who were protected behind white masks, and had been subjected to things none of them would ever talk about.

From the day the 7th Cavalry rode into Elizabethtown until now, there has been not one confrontation. Nor has anyone been seen in a white sheet and mask, nor has a cross been burned. Without a legitimate government backing them, they have no appetite for a stand-up battle.

Hope my ass grows back, Private Joshua Whitaker thinks to himself (because General Custer had chewed it out). He has remade his bunk tightly enough to bounce a coin off of it. He and a few others who are off-duty for half a day have paid Bobby Lee to cook his famous tender roast rather than have what tastes like roadside possum carcass at the regular mess. He steps into the kitchen to wheedle a piece of it in advance of the lunch bell.

The flintlock pistol that is put to his head is an obsolete one-shot affair. Lips visible from a hole cut in a black sack-cloth mask are touched with a finger; Joshua obeys.

Bobby Lee has already been gagged, and two other masked men are binding his hands together with a thick rope while a fourth man holds a more modern revolver on him.

The one with the flintlock, whose clothes smell of a stable, and who Joshua Whitaker will later describe as 'fat,' says to him: "Keep quiet, yank. We're gonna use this nigger to teach you some respect for us. Tell your proud peacock, old Custer, that we won't come after a Federal. We know what will happen if we string up or shoot one of you precious cavalrymen. But let's see you try to hire another coon to cook your meals for you when they see what we do to this one!"

They hustle both Bobby Lee and Joshua Whitaker out the door to a wagon and make them lie facedown in back and cover them with burlap. The Klansmen then tug off their masks. The pinhooker looks back at Eagle House, smiling at the still-visible scars on the brick from Confederate general John Hunt Morgan's 1862 raid. First action in this town since then, he thinks.

When the team of horses has pulled them out of the town proper, they make Joshua get out with his eyes closed.

"Remember what I told you!" one of them shouts at his back. "We won't touch a cavalryman. We know what would come down on us. But each time you insult us, a North-loving nigger dies!"

Joshua Whitaker stumbles down the dirt road without pause. Through the trees, he sees the red brick tops of the two-story tobacco warehouses that dot Elizabethtown. He runs toward them like a thirsty man running to a drink; he is afraid they will change their minds about letting him go.

In the wagon, under the burlap, Bobby Lee sighs. He knows they won't change their minds about not letting him go.


Evening descends on an Elizabethtown in chaos. Immediately after Private Whitaker returned, Custer dispatched the sole battalion of unmounted infantrymen under his command to search the town proper, in case the kidnappers doubled back to a local hideout. He took some men to the pinhooker's barn, but a stableboy caring for the horses claimed ignorance, even after Custer threatened to burn down the stables with him inside it.

The Hill House is his command headquarters. The hitching posts in front of the two-story building run out of room, and a couple of privates simply stand on South Main street holding reins of horses for the officers and messengers coming in and out. Libby is lighting an oil lamp as the mayor of Elizabethtown blusters in, with desperate words about how the kidnappers do not represent Elizabethtown or, indeed, the great state of Kentucky. Custer nods, formally accepts the words, and sends him on his way.

None of Custer's search parties have a particular place to look. They run over the map like a spilled pot of ink. Custer hates that, and he really hates staying in one place.

A few reporters (normally Custer's oxygen) are turned away; there is no good news to report.

Another knock comes at the door. It is Mr. Daniel Campbell, their neighbor and recent dinner companion. Libby shows him into the study, where Custer and two adjutants are looking over a map.

"Er, not a good time," Custer says gently, mindful of his wife's desire to move in good society. "I appreciate your well-wishes—"

Eyes fixed to the floorboards, Campbell says, "I figure I know where they're going to hang the nigger."

Daniel Campbell now has an audience so rapt a professional actor would envy it.

"I was with them, the first year they sprung up in these parts," Campbell says. "Just a social club for a few old boys who had worn the gray. Then they lynched some poor nigger they said had done something. They mutilated him first. I was sick and some of the ruffians laughed at me. So I dropped out of the—"

"Social club," Custer finishes. His face is blank; he is thinking. His voice is calm; he is planning. "Where's their hideout?"

"Hideout? None. There's no headquarters. You already know the leaders' names, I expect. You know they're not home either. The only thing there is, is an excellent place in the woods. A bunch of oaks, but with a large clearing, and at the edge of it, perhaps the tallest, oldest oak tree in the county. You hang someone from a branch on that tree, you can gather hundreds of men with all their horses and traps so they can see it. That's where they did it the one time I went. Must be where—"

"Take us!"

Campbell nods. He doesn't want to make himself or his family a target by helping the Federal cavalry. But he is a decent man for his time. He had killed twenty men in the war. But in the Klan, he watched a local blacksmith use a knife to separate genitals from a living human body, and he was too scared to intervene.

He will take them to the clearing with the giant old oak tree. It is his penance.

For Custer, there is relief at having a lead on the Ku Kluxers, but also a deeper pleasure than he will admit to himself. He wasn't built for dinner parties.


Night has truly fallen. Custer, Campbell, and seventy men on horseback travel double breast along an unnamed country road – its width will support no more than two mounts. Daniel Campbell earns his penance, because the unnamed road is crossed with another, which they branch left onto. This and the next road they take are mere trails, which only the locals would know. Custer knows that none of his patrols will have ventured out here.

Soon the signs of heavy travel are unmistakable. Multiple threads of trails come together. Fresh horse manure, recently trampled vegetation. Custer orders them to widen from two-by-two into battle formation.

Campbell starts to say something in a normal tone, but at Custer's stern "tzzt!" he drops to a whisper just loud enough to be heard from mount to mount: "if they arrange things as they did last time, we should see light soon. Several lanterns hung in surrounding trees. They don't roast the negroes on a bonfire as I've heard some places do, least they didn't last time."

"There wouldn't be a bonfire anyway," Custer said. "Hasn't rained recently enough."

"Main thing they want is plenty of light so's they can all socialize with each other and get a good view of the lynching."

Custer nods, and his disciplined men continue their advance in "arrow" formation, with only the light of the moon to guide them.

There! There is the promised light; a false dawn flickers among trees. The wind brings a chorus of men raggedly singing the Kentucky Confederate anthem ("And we'll march! March! March! To the music of the drum! We were driven forth in exile from our old Kentucky home!"), as well as laughter and conversation.

Custer will be glad to pay back the insult that was directed at him. For what was grabbing Bobby Lee, but an insult to the commanding officer who had been in his presence perhaps twenty minutes before?

He does desire to save the black man for the sake of saving him; he dislikes such brutality. Just after the Civil War, he had encountered a former slave woman in Alexandria, Louisiana who had been lashed five hundred times in a single instance; in a letter to his father-in-law, he had written: If the War has attained nothing else it has placed America under a debt of gratitude for all time, for removal of this evil.

So yes, he will be happy to save the man . . .

. . . but Custer loves the fight. Loves it. And this torturous quiet time in Elizabethtown has ended, finally.

He frowns; the Klansmen posted no sentries on their perimeter. It will make his job easier, but still…weren't most of these white-robed fellows in the Rebellion?


And who says he wants things to go easy? It has been seven years since the end of the war, and four years since the Battle of the Washita.

At the Washita encampment in 1868, there had been plenty of squaws and little ones among the Cheyenne braves. He had not allowed that to stop him; the ones that hadn't been killed had made good hostages to keep old Black Kettle's warriors from pressing a counterattack. Custer had done whatever was needed to win the battle. If a lot of women and children had been killed that day, well, such were the fortunes of war.

Ease is not his desire.

Glory is.


Bobby Lee, once called Charles, stands in the back of a four-wheeled buckboard, his arms and legs bound with rope. The noose, which had to be tossed by strong arms to loop over the heavy branch some two stories overhead, sags down from his neck.

He is not even close to being hanged yet. This is a party, and he is an ornament for the revelers' amusement. He will stand here until they are through socializing and speechifying and passing flasks of whiskey and singing songs. Only then will they pull the rope taut, and either hitch up a horse and drive the cart away, or else a couple of stout men will simply pick up his legs and chuck him over the side. With his bound legs, he will look like a giant inch worm as he thrashes.

When men are hanged by the courts, the executioners are skilled professionals; the rope is given enough play to cause a sharp jerk that breaks one's neck, quickly ending the guest of honor's suffering. Everyone knows that. This, though, will not be the work of professionals. Bobby Lee will suffocate slowly.

He ponders that. He has seen many troubles over the course of a life that began in 1820 or 1821 (whenever he was born – he is not sure, because by the time he was old enough to ask, no other slave remembered with certainty); he cried, privately, when his wife and two children died of yellow fever on the plantation, all three in the space of five days. The overseer had made him get up in the morning and chop his quota of tobacco on that Tuesday, that Friday, and that Saturday.

He went on, then. He has always gone on. Now, he will end. His main thought is that he doesn't know how to be dead.

He doesn't believe in the "sweet by 'n' by" or angels or the pearly gates, because he first heard of these things from a white man's mouth.

When he is dead, who will make his bed in his rented room? Who will— but his thoughts are interrupted by a ruckus at the periphery.


Custer leads his men into the clearing, from the front, as always. He holds the reins in one hand and his pistol in the other.

The Klansmen, most of them dismounted, look up at his approach. About half of them are visibly armed, but none appear to draw a bead; they don't dare, not with Federal cavalrymen in formation holding rifles.

So many, Custer thinks, and his eyes brush across the assembled men in white robes; their costumes are a riot of different styles, no doubt designed at the whims of their wives.

"Who is the leader, here?" he yells. "Show yourself!" Anxious men look at each other, some in the white sheets and masks, some with ridiculous headgear and exposed faces, some wearing just their regular civilian work clothes.

Seconds go by. No one volunteers information. Custer leans back his head and laughs.

"I fought some brave Rebs in the war. I guess none of that fine material is here!"

Some in the crowd growl at that; still, no one comes forward.

Custer looks at Daniel Campbell, who is rigid in his nervousness. "It might be best if you cut Bobby Lee loose," he says. With just a tiny bit more foresight than he is usually given credit for, he figures that a civilian taking the prize away from the Klansmen will be less provocative than a Federal trooper in blue.

Campbell. Yankee lover. Nigger lover. Men mutter these words as Daniel Campbell dismounts. With a stone face, he climbs up into the bed of the buckboard Bobby Lee stands on, and pulls out his pocket knife.

Bobby Lee stands calmly as the white man who he knows by sight from town pulls off the noose and cuts the ropes binding his hands and feet.

He wonders if he will actually get a chance to make his own bed tomorrow morning.

"Bobby fucking Lee!" The voice is from the edge of the crowd; its owner strides forward, ripping off his own hood.

It is the stable owner. His robes are more richly appointed in sashes and fancy collars, suggesting a leader's uniform. "You yanks gave that nigger that name! It's a damnable insult."

His bruised face, courtesy of Custer's fists, is mottled with rage.

"So you're the leader," Custer says. "As if that was a surprise."

The horse dealer ignores him. His eyes are fixed on the about-to-be-liberated captive.

"Robert E. Lee has been in his grave less than two years, and this nigger prances around with his name, making a mockery of a great man! Well, this ends now!"

From a robe pocket, he pulls the flintlock pistol. He points it up at Bobby Lee.

He then performs a series of actions: he rears back his head, buckles his knees, drops the unused pistol, disgorges blood and brain matter all over his ornate robes, lets loose his bowels and bladder, and collapses in a heap.

George Armstrong Custer has just blown the man's brains out.

The entire world freezes, for a moment, into a tableau:

. . . Custer with his pistol extended, black powder smoke coming from the barrel . . .

. . . the cavalrymen, heavily armed but bunched too closely together in a clearing . . .

. . . Bobby Lee and Daniel Campbell standing up in the wagon with the giant oak tree at their backs . . .

. . . uncounted hundreds of Kentucky Klansmen, lightly armed with a variety of shotguns, pistols and some modern rifles chambered for brass cartridges – they are on all sides, most on foot, in a depth that surrounds the Federal cavalry in multiple rings – their tethered horses, carriages, dog traps, and buckboards forming even more of a barrier to the quick withdrawal of Custer's forces. Ironically, if the Klansmen had been competent enough to keep a guarded perimeter to protect their festivities, the Federal troops would not have been able to trot into the center of the action; but now that they are here, getting out will not be so easy . . .

. . . the crumpled form of the stable owner, the Grand Dragon.

The rest of the players, after that blessed moment of absolute silence and motionlessness, move, and move quickly!

Mounted Federal troops fire at will into the crowd, without order. Rifle bullets go through more than one row of white-sheeted figures; perhaps fifty of them fall dead or dying.

At the same moment, Klan shotguns and pistols throw lead into the vulnerable mounted cavalry. Federal men topple from horses; some animals are shot out from under troopers who scramble off their dying, falling beasts.

One sergeant jumps off his grievously wounded mount. The sergeant is a Civil War veteran; in an instant, he judges his beloved horse is through, and puts a rifle bullet through her head so she will fall at his side. He crouches as she thumps to the ground, and uses the bulk of her body as both a shield and a rifle prop; the maneuver was fairly common in the war.

Firing is infectious. Every veteran knows it. Shooting causes men to shoot. Disciplined troops can be ordered to cease fire, but their officers are only men themselves, and can't be counted on to give the order in the first place – and here, they don't.

This battle will not end with negotiations. It started on impulse; besides, the Federals and the resentful die-hards hate each other.

Custer empties his pistol into the choicest targets at hand. Those white sheets are wonderful to him, and he grins ferociously as his bullets connect with Reb after Reb. His own horse absorbs a couple of wild, blind shots and falls. He jumps away an instant before his left leg would have been trapped beneath. He has had mounts shot out from under him before; just another day at the shop.

He looks around him and sees (dimly, in the rising cloud of black smoke) that perhaps ten or a dozen of his men have died. Gunfire is constant now, and screaming men and horses, and he has to bellow his orders to be heard above it.

"Hold the line! Extend perimeter to tree line, north!"


For a while, the advantage is to the Federal troops. They are current soldiers, with clear lines of authority that have been reinforced through sadistic discipline. Squads fight as squads, not as disorganized individuals.

The Klansmen, by contrast, are free-firing amateurs who do as they please. Most fought in the Rebellion, but they have had seven years to go to seed, and besides, they cannot create agreed-upon lines of authority in mere moments.

Every bizarre tragedy that can happen in battle, happens:

. . . A Klansman with an excellent Winchester rifle, jockeying for a good shot at the Federal lines, creeps behind his own side's tethered horses; the continuing fire spooks them, and before he can even draw a bead, one rears up and tramples him to death . . .

. . . A cavalryman peeks his head up to see beyond the ring of dead horses – right into the path of a bullet fired from behind him by his best friend. . .

. . . A 23-year-old Klansman whose cardiac system was weakened by rheumatic fever as a child, simply dies of a heart attack . . .

Horses and men scream as they die. Black powder smoke (at night!) turns the world into gray shadows at best. It is the Hell which William Tecumseh Sherman accurately, sincerely described.

Fire begins to slack off. The Federals, in their dark blue wool, are almost impossible to see. The Klansmen have finally become sensible of what targets their white robes make, and the living have mostly discarded them; too late for more than one hundred and fifty motionless figures in crumpled red-and-white heaps surrounding the Federal lines.


Custer's forces have lost half their own number. Most of the horses are gone, too.

He knows they can't break out. He knows that he penetrated too far into the enemy's territory. But he judges his force's superior firepower can hold off the riff-raff until reinforcements arrive.

But reinforcements have to be summoned.

Custer silently curses himself for not leaving back a squad in the woods.

He inquires if there are still horses, still riders. The men who bring messages from one part of a battlefield to another are usually called "runners," but on this night they are crawlers. The answer comes back: Yes, two.

Two horses, held close to the bridle. The beasts are wild with fear; the men’s feet leave the ground as the animals pull and thrash.

The crawling messenger bring Custer's order to the lieutenant crouched closest to the frightened mounts. The lieutenant listens to the relayed order, nods, and looks around. Of the surviving men he can see, he picks the two he figures are the best riders.

Some other lieutenant, given the same order, might have chosen two other men.

Two lucky young men have been given, not just permission, but orders to break out from this graveyard. The lieutenant pointed to them, and they will live.

To be put into this arbitrary gamble of who gets butchered – to have one's fate decided by a harried junior officer possessing imperfect information and no time to think – this is what young boys wish to happen to them when they dream of going to war, whether they know it or not.

The Federals have little remaining ammunition. They use some of it on covering fire to let the riders escape.

Only this goes well: the riders gallop off when the Klansmen are still sorting themselves out. There are only a few wild shots that might as well have been aimed at the moon.

The Klansmen are finally cohering into a fighting force that can take advantage of their far superior numbers. The veterans have agreed on leader-follower roles within small bands. All available ammunition has been retrieved from satchels and pockets. Rheumatic old men have relinquished fine hunting rifles to younger men who can better use them.

They all know who they are fighting.


"Goddamn Custer."

"Custer, that son of a bitch."

"We gonna be fighting Custer again."

"This time we're gonna win!"

"Ole Kentuck shall be for the South this time, boys! We'll rewrite history. We'll teach that 'boy general' Custer!"

"Death to Custer! And to the Yankees!"

"The South will rise again!"

"Fuck Custer!"

"Kill Custer!"


"Is he dead?" a private whispers to his friend.

Custer took a round to the chest during the last exchange of fire. He lies on the ground, motionless.

Then, a wet cough, a shudder. Custer sits up, or tries to. At least he can speak.

"Our defensive works?" he says, then coughs a sloshy cough, as if a can of paint is jostling about within him.

A sergeant bends close and says, "A line of dead men, theirs and ours, to the south. Horses and bodies to the west, mostly our horses and their bodies, about ten yards short of that hanging tree up there. North and east we have snipers at the tree line and in the bushes, trying to keep – keeping them back."

More coughing, a suppressed retch. "Effective strength?"

"No more than twenty."

"Op— opposing?"

"We made a good dent in 'em, sir. But now they're hanging back. Hard to estimate. I'd say, and this is a pretty wild guess, I'd say in the hundreds. Under three hundred."

"Under three hundred!" Despite the rip in his lung, Custer seems amused. "Not like we've got to capture them all. Just… just hold the circle until re, reinforce, forced." He draws a ragged breath. "Couple of hours."

On the heels of his words, a banshee wail breaks out in the dark forest.

Custer looks at the pistol in his hand. Is it empty? If not, it soon will be.

"The Confederate battle cry!" Custer says. "Have you ever heard that?"

"Yes sir. Just now."

They share a laugh.

Suppressive fire reigns down from the highest Klan-held positions, and the first wave of attackers rush their lines.

The Federals manage only this: they do not give their souls away for free.


Sunrise, and the Klansmen are gone, back to their various homes. They have left some two hundred of their own behind on the battlefield. A few bodies were taken home by friends or relatives, but most had to be left behind; there weren't enough wagons or, especially, time; they knew they must escape quickly.

Federal cavalrymen, supplemented by trusted state militia, arrive just after the sun. The two escaped messengers, now on fresh horses, lead the way.

They approach with caution, do flanking maneuvers, and send dismounted pickets to creep in between the trees – everything Custer should have done the night before.

They come upon a few outlying bodies first: Klansmen who fell to sniper fire. Dead horses and men become more plentiful. Then the first scout reaches the main battlefield, and shouts, "No!"

Almost seventy men in blue, butchered beyond recognition. Custer is identified by his long blond hair. His face was mutilated by vengeful Klansmen before they left.

A few bodies in dark civilian wool clothes are among the Federals; these are the Klansmen who shed their robes and participated in the final surge of battle.

A new wave of mutilation occurs; white-robed bodies are kicked, slashed with knives, urinated on. The cavalrymen vow vengeance. Their Northern-accented voices, though filled with curses and bewailing, are music to the ears of two men hiding behind the giant oak tree. Bobby Lee and Daniel Campbell stand up and reveal themselves.

Just outside the fields of fire from both sides, forgotten, they had lain quietly, then scrambled into the woods as the Klansmen had gone on their final charge.

The first thing they do is ask for water. The next thing they do is to become legends.


When the news broke of the massacre of the Civil War hero Custer and his gallant cavalrymen, the nation was shocked. Seven years after the end of the war, something that could be called a battle had taken place between Federal troops and die-hards!

In advance of the 1872 elections, every politician promised to avenge the martyr, Custer.

Every Klavern throughout the South disbanded as fast as it could, which sometimes wasn't fast enough; with renewed Federal troop strength in the former Confederate states, it was death to be seen wearing a white robe. The Southerners crazy enough to celebrate the Klan's victory over Custer paid a high price; a lot of necks were stretched with rope in the following months.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, only four years old, was given teeth with enabling legislation. The already-existing Civil Rights Act of 1866, long disputed, was enforced to the letter.

The wealthier class of white Southerners had secret plans to disenfranchise people who looked like Bobby Lee, with grandfather clauses and "literacy tests" and exorbitant poll taxes; they were just waiting until Reconstruction ended and they had political control again. Custer's death made those plans impossible to carry out.

Custer's Last Stand Against the Klan became not just an iconic American story, but an iconic image as well. Paintings, illustrations in magazines, cartoons.

Children played Cavalry and Klansmen.

A prominent brewery distributed a frosted glass painting of the Last Stand (and the beer's brand) to hang behind the bar in thousands of saloons across America.

Some modern naysayers scoff at the importance of the battle; it lasted possibly less than an hour, with a few hundred dead. It had no real significance. (Others concede half a point, calling it, "The smallest battle in history…that ever shaped history.") The nation, they say, would have protected the voting rights and equality of its black citizens even without the impetus of punishing die-hard racists to avenge Custer.

But others claim that A. Philip Randolph could not have become the nation's first black president in 1940 if it had not been for seven decades of uninterrupted progress on race relations from 1872 onward. And (despite the fact that she is more often thought of as a feminist icon than a civil rights icon), some wonder if Shirley Chisolm would have become the first black female president in 1976 without Custer's great sacrifice.


"Let me pay all," says this gallant man--this military Christ! —Ambrose Bierce, "A Son of the Gods"

Copyright © 2015 Eric Cline


Larry Niven

An extraordinary mix of fantasy and science fiction from one of the masters of science fiction, Larry Niven.



The Editor's Word

From the Moment I
Laid Eggs in You
by Josh Vogt

Kill Me!

by Sabina Theo
Out of Africa
by David Drake
by Eric Cline
Wait 'Til Next Year
by Jody Lynn Nye

My First Duty
by Eric T. Reynolds

The Mood Room
by Paul Di Filippo
The Rose is Obsolete

by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Winter of the Scavengers

by David G. Blake

The Power and the Passion

by Pat Cadigan
Fugue in a Minor Key

by Stewart C. Baker

Terry Brooks

by Joy Ward

Reboots (Part 3)
by Mercedes Lackey
& Cody Martin

From the Heart's Basement
by Barry Malzberg
Science Column
by Gregory Benford

Book Reviews
by Bill Fawcett & Jody Lynn Nye


Loosely based on Larry Niven's 1973 novella "Flash Crowd," Red Tide continues to examine the social consequences of the impact of having instantaneous teleportation, where humans can instantly travel long distances in milliseconds.

This is a theme that has fascinated the author throughout his career and even appears in his seminal work Ringworld, where the central character celebrates his birthday by instantly teleporting himself to different time zones, extending his birthday. The author also discussed the impact of such instantaneous transportation in his essay, "Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation."

Larry Niven is joined by two younger writers, Brad R. Torgersen and Matthew J. Harrington, as they take on this challenging idea and further develop the theories and concepts that Niven originally presented in "Flash Crowd."





A guided tour of the world of the 1632 universe by its creator with insider tips on how to write for stories set in the universe and get published in the Grantville Gazette.

all-inclusive on a
luxury cruise ship



Eric Flint is a New York Times bestselling author who has, literally, created one of the most popular modern 'universes' in science fiction.

His novel 1632 has launched an enterprise which has seen more than a 100 writers participating in some form or another and may be the most collaborative universe ever created.

To accommodate the huge demand (from readers as well as writers who wanted to write stories set in the universe), Eric created an online periodical called the Grantville Gazette which publishes stories set in the 1632 universe.








Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2015. All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (January, March, May, July, September, November) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.