Cost and Remembrance

I have never been to Oradour sur Glane. I have heard of it, read accounts of the atrocities there, seen photos of the aftermath…but I have never visited. I have been many other places in Europe where the grim cost of war was evident: the Ossuary at Verdun, Malmedy, The Anne Frank House, just to name a few. I have also been place where the scars were fresher: Bosnia and Kosovo, for example. Then I experienced it firsthand in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Memorial Day I spent a great deal of time reflecting on those I knew who gave their all far from home: the men and women who had a job to do and did it…giving their lives in the process. I also thought about the innocents: the men, women, and children who want no part of war, but get more than their share all the same.

Perhaps one day we as a species will discover a better way of resolving our differences. We learn over and over again that war is unpredictable and costly, and that that cost is rarely worth the perceived benefit. But every now and then we find a “Good War” and we cling to the hope that this time the cause is truly worthy…even though it is usually not. Perhaps one day we will learn. I certainly hope so.

https://pieceworkmagazine.com/the-sewing-machines-of-oradour-sur-glane/

Newtown

One advantage of a stay-at-home order: the first draft of A Bitter Harvest is almost complete!

At the moment I am working on one of the climactic chapters: the Battle of Newtown. On

Newtown 4 British line

Location of breastworks.

August 29th, 1779, Thayendanegea, a.k.a Joseph Brant, led a force of about 1,000 Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) warriors and 200-250 British/Loyalist troops. Having built a well-camouflaged defensive breastwork behind a creek bed, with its flanks tied into difficult terrain, Thayendanegea intended to lure Major General John Sullivan’s Western Army of just over 3,000 troops (almost entirely Continental soldiers) into a trap. By ambushing Sullivan’s vanguard, the Haudenosaunee hoped to cause Sullivan to rush into a disastrous headlong charge. By inflicting heavy casualties, Thayendanegea might be able to turn back Sullivan’s invasion of the Haudenosaunee homeland.

Newtown 2 Hand's line

Rifle Corps position.

It did not work. Morgan’s Rifle Corps, the vanguard of Sullivan’s force, spotted the enemy positions. Brigadier General Edward Hand engaged with long range rifle fire, and Sullivan sent up his artillery regiment to help fix the enemy in place. Meanwhile, he sent two brigades in a wide movement around Thayendanegea’s eastern flank. Only by a desperate counterattack at the last moment was Thayendanegea able to prevent his defeat from becoming a massacre. The Haudenosaunee and their allies escaped, but their spirit was broken. There would be further bloody incidents in the campaign, but never again would so many Haudenosaunee take to the field to defend their land. The sun was setting on the League of Six Nations and the Haudenosaunee way of life.

Newtown 6 view from British line

The creek bed, from the breastwork.

In November I had the opportunity to retrace Sullivan’s route, from Wilke-Barre, Pennsylvania up to Seneca Lake. It was humbling to see the terrain Sullivan’s Army overcame, and the beautiful land for which the Haudenosaunee were fighting.

I hope I do justice to dramatic events which unfolded in this rugged, stunning corner of our country many years ago!

Happy reading!

Robert Krenzel Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor/

Gideon Hawke Novels Facebook Page: https://m.facebook.com/GideonHawkeNovels/

We’ve been here before

Pandemics are not new.

COVID-19 is unique, or NOVEL, because it is an animal disease that mutated to affect humans. But diseases with widespread impact are not new.

Plagues and pandemics have been a bane of mankind. Notably, the Black Death repeatedly wiped out a third of Europe’s population. Spanish Influenza, coming on the heels of World War I, killed tens of millions of people worldwide.

Smallpox afflicted the human race from ancient Egypt until it was declared eradicated in 1980. In the Eighteenth Century it was prevalent in Europe, but unknown in the Americas…until European settlers showed up. Because there was no group or individual immunity, once introduced, smallpox devastated American Indian communities. By the time of the American War for Independence the Iroquois had sustained significant losses due to disease, making them even less able to absorb losses in battle.

We endure because we mustCompared to these other pandemics and epidemics, in 2020 we have many advantages. Science and medicine have come a long way: we are taking the measures necessary to slow the spread and expand capacity to treat those most severely affected. Critically, we see people coming together and finding ways to support one another. We are rising to the occasion, and we will endure.

In the meantime, I encourage people to use this time to reflect, to learn, and find creative ways to connect. And, of course, do some reading!

Stay healthy!

Robert Krenzel Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor/

Gideon Hawke Novels Facebook Page: https://m.facebook.com/GideonHawkeNovels/

Thanksgiving Revisited

It did not happen the way you learned in school.

The only reason the Pilgrims found land on which to settle was because the Patuxet people were wiped out by a plague. The only reason the Pilgrim colony survived to bring in that first harvest was due to the patronage and protection of the Wampanoag people. Truly those first Pilgrims had much for which to be thankful; the indigenous people, not so much. Reportedly the reason the Wampanoag showed up at the Pilgrims’ harvest celebration was because they heard gunfire. The Pilgrims were having a celebratory shooting contest, and a war party a hundred-strong showed up to honor their mutual defense agreement.

the-first-thanksgiving-1621-jlg-ferris-1-640

Fast forward a hundred and sixty-eight years and that colony of four dozen people or so had growth into an independent nation of millions, with George Washington as its president. The European, later American, expansion and accompanying wars and plagues had proven catastrophic for the indigenous peoples and their ways of life. Even worse was to follow.

I am not suggesting we should not celebrate Thanksgiving. Far from it! Today I will join my loved ones, recount our many gifts and blessings, and enthusiastically dive into a feast unique to this one day. What I will NOT do talk about pilgrims and Indians. I will be quite aware that for some Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning for lost lives, lost land, and a lost way of life.

Happy Reading!

Robert Krenzel Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor/

Gideon Hawke Novels Facebook Page: https://m.facebook.com/GideonHawkeNovels/

Once More unto the Breach

It has been quite a while since I shared anything here. That lack of posting mirrors my lack of progress with my literary work in progress: A Bitter Harvest (Gideon Hawke #6). Fortunately, the drought has come to an end.

Part of the reason for my difficulty in writing A Bitter Harvest could be found in the Yojoyaneysubject matter: conveying the nuances of a noble but long-gone culture seemed an insurmountable obstacle. The change recently seems to lie in my own understanding of this novel: it is less about the Haudenosaunee than it is about the inward journey of my protagonist, Gideon Hawke. In the course of this story Gideon learns a great deal about himself, and realizes he longs to be part of something greater than himself. He also struggles with the competing priorities in his life. The cultural backdrop is important, and I want to do it justice, but it is not worth hand-wringing.

It took me a while to put this novel in focus. In recent days progress has been significant. I look forward to seeing where this road goes!

Happy Reading!

Robert Krenzel Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor/

Gideon Hawke Novels Facebook Page: https://m.facebook.com/GideonHawkeNovels/

Making Good on the Promise

After a busy Fourth of July, I have finally had an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of this day.

The Declaration of Independence was a bold and unprecedented statement: it not only severed ties with England, but also outlined America’s grievances for the benefit of the nations of the world among whom the young upstart wished to take a place. That Declaration, however, was not worth the paper upon which it was printed without someone to enforce it. That someone was the Continental Army.

A few days after the Declaration arrived in New York, General Washington had it read to his troops, because he knew that they were the ones who would have to make it stick. At that moment the British were assembling in New York Harbor the largest invasion force to that point in history. Its mission was to subdue the rebellious colonies and restore British rule. The soldiers of the Continental Army did not know it yet, but it would take them five long years to guarantee the United States would remain independent.

Very few of the soldiers who assembled in New York In July 1776 would be with the Colors through the war. Some gave up and went home. Some were crippled by wounds. Many were killed in combat. Many more succumbed to illness. Thousands were captured and died miserably of disease, exposure, and neglect in British custody. But some endured. These patriots formed the core around which Washington rebuilt the Continental Army again and again. They lost often, but they won enough to convince the French to join the fight, and they took their place alongside their allies in the siege lines at Yorktown.

Independence was not given: it had to be won at terrific cost. Those “winter soldiers” paid for it with their blood, sweat, tears, and lives. We are in their debt.

Happy Reading!

Robert Krenzel Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor/

Gideon Hawke Novels Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/GideonHawkeNovels/

The Great Law of Peace

As I have discussed before, there are significant challenges to studying the history of a people who committed their stories to the spoken, not the written, word. The biggest challenge for someone from my background is to let go of my preconceptions listen to that spoken word. I believe that when we do so, we can learn more than the story: we can learn about the culture and values that drove the story.

I recently happened upon a re-telling of the founding of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Great Law of Peace. Not only does it explain how the Haudenosaunee formed their Confederacy, but it also goes a long way to explain the role of gender in the culture. I did not expect a simply animated YouTube video to be so informative! I’m glad I put my preconceptions aside!

I how you enjoy!

Hiawatha – The Great Law of Peace – Extra History – #1

Hiawatha – Government for the People – Extra History – #2

Happy Reading!

Robert Krenzel Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor/

Gideon Hawke Novels Facebook Page: https://m.facebook.com/GideonHawkeNovels/

Research Challenges

decl and hawkResearch is a critical part of writing historical fiction. I consider it critical to “get it right” when it comes to things big and small: weather, terrain, the sequence of events, language, uniform and clothing, and so on. For the first five books in the Gideon Hawke Series, research was mostly a matter of finding information.

Occasionally sources would conflict, and I would have to use my judgment to decide what really happened. Sometimes this meant going to the scene of the action. My favorite example was my one-man reenactment of the assault on the Breymann Redoubt at the Saratoga Battlefield, which answered for me how Morgan’s Rifle Corps approached and assaulted this defensive position. Other times, however, I would just have to compare notes and go with what made sense.

Research for Gideon Hawke #6, A Bitter Harvest, has proven far more complicated. While there is a tremendous amount of information on the Sullivan Campaign of 1779, including a wealth of first-hand accounts, for this novel I am endeavoring to dive deep into the society and culture of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) People. That is easier said than done.

It turns out the Haudenosaunee did not leave a written record. What written accounts they left were by isolated individuals, through intermediaries, several decades after the fact. What remains are second-hand accounts and tradition.

The second-hand accounts are plagued by racial and cultural bias. Few European observers (to include pro- and anti-Crown Americans) understood native culture or approached their observations without an agenda.

Modern Haudenosaunee society and culture has evolved considerably since the 1770s. While there is a cadre of people striving to keep the ancient ways and languages alive, I would be in error if I relied too heavily on modern interpretations of culture.

This leaves me with a great deal of interpretation to do. I must take what sources I have and make an outline of Haudenosaunee life and color in the details as best I can. Mercifully, I am writing this story through the eyes of Gideon Hawke, and outsider. I have the humility to know I could never do justice to a Haudenosaunee point of view. Perhaps, just perhaps, I can use Gideon’s tongue to tell the tale of a great people for whom American victory in the War of Independence meant the end of a way of life.

Happy Reading!

Robert Krenzel Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor/

Gideon Hawke Novels Facebook Page: https://m.facebook.com/GideonHawkeNovels/

The British Are Coming!

the-british-are-comingSome writers might find it counterintuitive to plug other writers’ work, but for me it is only fitting. Rick Atkinson is a best-selling author and has won the Pulitzer Prize for both Journalism and History. I have had the pleasure of interacting with Mr. Atkinson on two occasions, and both were rewarding.

The first was around 2005. He was speaking to my class at the Army Staff College, and I had the honor of introducing him. We chatted only briefly, but I found him to be knowledgeable, articulate, and personable.

More significantly, perhaps, about ten years later when I was struggling through publication of my first novel, This Glorious Cause, it occurred to me to reach out to Rick Atkinson for advice. I thought it a long shot, but to my surprise and delight, he responded to my email very quickly, and was immensely supportive. His support had such an impact on me that I vowed to pay it forward. I have, in fact, been able to offer at least a little bit of advice to several aspiring authors, ranging in age from teenager to sixty-something.
When I contacted Mr. Atkinson, he had begun work on a trilogy about the American Revolution. That trilogy has finally come to fruition! The British are Coming is available for pre-order!

The Revolution Trilogy

With his Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson shone a new light on the Second World War. I cannot wait to see what he has done with the American War of Independence. If you enjoy the Gideon Hawke Series and want to learn more about the Revolution, I can think of no better place to start.

Happy Reading!

War’s End

Libert Mem Armistice CentennialAt 11:00 AM on Sunday, November 11th, 2018, I stood with my family before the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. Bells tolled to mark the Centennial of the Armistice, recalling the moment when the guns of the War to End All Wats fell silent. While the seeds of future wars were planted in the wake of that conflict, at least for a short while there was the hope of peace.

It was humbling to honor this momentous event, but I left slightly troubled. As I reflected on the relief and awe felt by the veterans of the trenches as their war ended, it occurred to me that my wars are not over.

One can argue that that Iraq War fizzled out; in my mind as long as ISIS, the spawn of the Iraq War, exists, that war continues. Whatever you think about Iraq, there can be no argument that the war in Afghanistan continues, SEVENTEEN years later. These wars just go on and on. They continue on the battlefields, and in the minds and souls of those who fought there. To make matters worse, the military will soon be sending soldiers to fight in Afghanistan who were not alive on 9/11. That will be a bitter milestone.

I have to admit it: I am a little jealous of the veterans of WWI and WWII. They won, their wars ended, and they came home. I sincerely wish I could say that we won my wars, and that they ended. Sadly, I may never know that sense of finality. I suppose I will have to settle for the knowledge that I did my duty, and that I had the absolute privilege of serving with some incredible human beings.