As I have said before, one of the great challenges of writing historical fiction is GETTING IT RIGHT! While it was a treat to visit the Saratoga Battlefield, research is not all fun in the sun!
For the first three novels in the Gideon Hawke Series I was fortunate enough to find print books with rosters of the actual units to which I assigned Gideon Hawke. Those days are over! In Book 4, A Constant Thunder, Gideon and a few of his comrades decide to join Morgan’s Provisional Rifle Corps. In doing so they march into a unit for which records are scarce! We know a great deal about the exploits of Morgan’s Riflemen, but rosters are difficult to come by, and the sources available are often incomplete or contradictory. The most helpful source I have been able to find is a list of participants in the Battles at Saratoga prepared by Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County, NY. It is a lengthy list, not quite complete, but it provides basic information on known participants. For example:
WRIGHT, Barrick NY
Drummer, Capt. Wright’s co., Col. Van Cortlandt’s regt., from 14 Jan 1777 to Jan 1782.
So, I went the tedious exercise of pouring through tens of thousands of names looking for the phrase: “Captain James Parr’s co.; Col. Morgan’s Battalion.” I don’t think the list is quite complete: I only came up with 32 names, including Captain Parr, a sergeant, a corporal, and a few dozen privates; other sources claim Parr marched with a few lieutenants and 50 enlisted men. There are also a few discrepancies in the assignments of a few other members of Morgan’s Rifles: in one instance, Private Timothy Murphy is listed as belonging to Captain Hawkins Boone’s Company, but other sources indicate he was in Parr’s Company. While there may be a few inaccuracies, I am confident I have gotten a feel for the actual men who marched north in August, 1777 to reinforce the Northern Department against Burgoyne. This was a long and tedious exercise, but it had unintended benefits. You see, an exercise like this yields fertile ground for an author with an imagination. Here is one example:
CHURCH, John CT
Served under Gen. Arnold; helped Arnold from his horse when he was wounded at Saratoga.
Additional military information: Served under Arnold at Quebec, 1775. Other: He was born 1755 in Chester CT; died 1834 in Winchester CT. He married Deborah Spence, 1780; they had at least one son, Isaac who married Sylvia Maria Clark and one daughter, Lucy, who married Asa Gilbert Olds. He was placed on pension in 1832, for over nine month’s actual service as private in the Connecticut troops.
Now, I have walked on the very spot behind the Breymann Redoubt where Benedict Arnold was wounded, so Private Church and I have trod upon the same ground, albeit separated by 239 years of time. For me having this bit of information makes Private John Church a fascinating and familiar character. I am not quite sure how yet, but I am certain he will have a cameo in A Constant Thunder.
More importantly for me, reviewing this list of names has brought me closer to the subject matter by making Saratoga very much more personal. I did not originally want to engage in such a tedious task, but once I did I stumbled upon poignant entries such as this:
EASTMAN, Joseph NH
1st N. H. Regiment. Died 30 Oct 1777 of wounds received at Saratoga.
This entry provides very little information about Joseph Eastman, other than his name and unit, but I know enough about the clashes at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights to know that on both occasions the 1st New Hampshire Regiment went toe-to-toe with the best the British Army had to offer, and it covered itself with glory. I also know enough about those battles and about 18th Century medicine to deduce that Private Eastman fell on October 7th, 1777, and endured over three weeks of agony before succumbing to his wounds. I also found hard evidence confirming that the regiments heavily engaged at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights paid dearly for their role. The list is replete with members of units like the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd New Hampshire Regiments, Dearborn’s Light Infantry, or the Albany County Militia, who suffered many killed or mortally wounded on September 19th and October 7th, 1777.
It is my sincere hope that in some small way A Constant Thunder will help preserve the memory of soldiers like Drummer Wright, Private Church, and Private Eastman: Americans who fought in fields many miles from their homes, and who in many cases gave what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”
Many thanks to the men and women who did the inglorious work of preserving, compiling, and organizing these data, helping to preserve the legacy of the Americans who fought their fledgling Nation’s independence along the banks of the Hudson in 1777.
Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County, NY: American Participants at the Battles of Saratoga: http://saratoganygenweb.com/sarapk.htm#Top
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