War and History Fiction posted August 30, 2012

This work has reached the exceptional level
A fictionalized account from a real dispute.

The Pork and Beans War

by humpwhistle


1848, The Aroostook Valley, along the disputed border between Maine and New Brunswick.


Billy Trowbridge trudged behind the war prisoners pointlessly hoping it was only good Maine mud he was stepping in.  There would be no dawn that morning, but the low, weeping clouds were beginning to turn a slightly lighter shade of forlorn gray.  The best he could hope for. 

At Billy’s side, Corporal Stewart Balfour matched him stride for stride, whistling some oddly jolly version of Greensleeves and seeming not to care a whit about where, or in what, he stepped.

Billy spoke to his oldest friend.  “Are you not as wet and chilled as I am, Stewie, lad?”

The corporal left off his whistling and grinned.  “The rain in Maine plays no favorites, Private.  But I’m light on my feet, and the glow of a decisive military victory keeps me warm.  Damp britches never stayed Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, I’ll tell you that right enough.”

Billy sidestepped another steaming pile.  “Damp, did you say?  And I suppose the Atlantic Ocean be nothin’ more than a spot of dew between our potato farms and the King’s, eh?”  He dipped his head in frustration.  “And again with Ethan Allen, Stewie?    We won that war some eighty years ago.  It’s a little late to be enlistin’ now.”

“Aye, this ain’t Ethan’s war, nor even Andy Jackson’s, neither.  This be a new cause, boyo, and just the opportunity for a likely lad such as meself to make a fearsome name.”  He called out ahead.  “Privates Coombs and Landers, keep them prisoners movin’ smartly now.  We could have the whole Canada Army pressing our backtrail with blood in their eyes, and revenge-lust on their tongues.”

If Nate Coombs and Zeb Landers heard the corporal, or feared retaliation from the dreaded Canadian hoards, they exhibited no sign.
Billy half-heartedly swatted at the swarm of black flies circling his head.  “You’re a potato farmer just like me, Stewie.  Don’t you think you’re lettin’ this war nonsense …”

The corporal stopped short.  “Are you callin’ this war nonsense, then?”

Billy pointed to the fresh pile in which Stewie was currently postured.  “I’m callin’ it the War of Pork and Beans, Stewie, just like you do when you ain’t otherwise actin’ the American Napoleon.  Why, if they gave medals for sittin’ around on our duffs and eatin’ pork and beans morning, noon and night, we’d both be generals by now.  Heck, the only casualties of this war are the boys laid out by the farts ‘round the campfire every night.”

Stewie extracted his boot from the mess and used a stick to scrape off most of the offense.  “Exactly, Billy boy.  You have a keen military mind when you apply yourself, and when the time be right, you’ll have a place on me own staff.”

Billy shrugged and started walking again.  He didn’t want the six prisoners to suddenly mount a rebellion and overwhelm poor Coombs and Landers.  He threw his voice over his shoulder.  “Every Spring a few of them Canuck loggers cut down some trees we say belong to us, or our boys fell a few of theirs, and lickety-split there’s armed posses on both sides of the Aroostook eating pork and beans and rattlin’ sabers to beat the band.  But in fifteen years of this nonsense, ain’t one drop of blood been spilled.  As wars go, Stewie, you got to admit this one’s just a bunch of farts in the wind.”

The corporal caught up with Billy, still shaking stink off his boot with every other step.  “Which is why I took it upon myself to launch our little midnight raid and take these here prisoners of war,” he said. “Things are goin’ to fester up now for sure.  Why, I hear General Winfield Scott himself is due up here any day now—and bringin’ a proper army with him, too.  I aim to show him there’s at least one man of leadership in all the State of Maine.”

“And that would be you, General Balfour?”

“Don’t twist your giblets, I ain’t plannin’ to cut you and the boys out of the glory, Billy Boy.  But I am the man what led the raid that brought back six prisoners of war true enough.  General Scott’ll see right off I am a man what’s full of initiative.”

Billy smiled.  “Initiative, eh?  Is that what you’re now calling the stuff you’ve been steppin’ in all morning?  Because if that is the proper term, I’ll have to be agreein’ that Stewie Balfour is as full of it as any man I’ve ever known.”

The corporal threw away his shite stick.  “Laugh all you want, Private.  But we’ve taken prisoners now.  Aye, this here skillet’ll be sizzlin’ for real pretty soon, an’ I’m the boyo what did it.”

Billy pointed ahead.  “Prisoners, you say?  Why, Corporal, you’re just the man what stole six Canada oxen.  And I ain’t never heard of no Maine man ever won a medal for conspirin’ to befoul one of Maine's few roads with sickly Canada ox shite.”

Stewart Balfour prepared to kick at a pile of steaming dirt, but thought better of it.  “These beasts are valuable trophies of war, Billy.  Them log men can’t haul away none of our trees without oxen, don’t you see?  It’s what we military thinkers call a tactic.  But you wouldn’t understand bein’ as you’re just another back-bay spud grubber like all the rest.”

“Includin’ you, Your Majesty.”

“Maybe so, Billy Boy, but if General Winfield Scott himself comes marchin’ into our main camp this day, he’ll see the whole Maine Regimental Posse ain’t been polishin’ logs with our arses and swillin’ good government pork and beans from can’t see to can’t see.  He’ll know at least some of us have initiative.”

Billy clapped his friend on the back.  “Okay, Stewie, I grant you are a man of initiative.  But what if the good General Scott fails to appear out of the bloody wilderness and anoint you King of Kings?  Have you ever thought of that?”

The corporal smiled and winked.  “As a matter of fact, boyo, I have.”


“Well, if the general is detained elsewhere, I'll simply slip from being a true man of initiative, to a mere man of opportunity.”

Billy squinted.  “I ain’t followin’.”

“Have you not heard of oxtail stew, Billy Boy?  I swear, one more tin plate of pork and beans … like as not, I’ll blow meself inside out.”


Following the War of 1812, the border between New Brunswick and Maine was in dispute. Occasionally, official civilian 'posses' occupied the disputed land--usually as the result of perceived illegal logging. Officially known as the Aroostook War, it was commonly called the Pork and Beans War because eating dinner was about as dangerous as it got. No blood was ever shed in hostilities. In 1848, things did become tense, however, and the U.S. Congress allocated ten million dollars, Winfield Scott, and 50,000 troop for the war effort. Diplomatic heads (notably Daniel Webster) prevailed, and a compromise was reached. Phew!

This story is the spawn of my imagination, using history as a backdrop.
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