Damaged

A haunting (and graphic) video relating the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress. It is interesting: we have to include a warning that the video contains graphic images, but war does not come with such a warning label–the graphic experiences happen without warning.

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Research: Learning About My Characters

One of the intriguing things about writing historical fiction is that I tell the story of people who wrote their own stories.

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Brigadier General Daniel Morgan

For example, in Gideon Hawke #4, A Constant Thunder, we meet people like Daniel Morgan and Richard Butler, who were fascinating historical figures. Their deeds contributed in no small way to the birth of our Nation, and each plays a role in A Constant Thunder. Butler and Morgan had their portraits painted and had books written about them, so I have a fair idea how they looked and made them tick. (you have to be careful though…in Morgan’s portrait the painter left only a hint of the ugly scar on Morgan’s mouth and left cheek. Morgan got that scar when a Native American musket ball entered the back of his neck and came out his mouth. Now THAT’S a good story!)

Most of my characters, however, achieved no notoriety; I may know them only from names written a muster roll in the 1770s. Sometimes I can learn nothing more. Sometimes a little detective work can reveal some tantalizing hints. For example, when a soldier appears on a company muster roll as a corporal in November 1777, but as a private in February 1778, well…something clearly went awry for that man to be demoted. As a novelist (and former Army company commander) my imagination can generate all sorts of stories to fill in the blanks. When I pick the one I like, it gets woven into the tapestry of my novel, and becomes part of the picture that will be Gideon Hawke #5.

This methodology has other implications, too. Andrew Johnston is an excellent example. In Gideon Hawke #1, This Glorious Cause, I needed a friend and mentor for Gideon. I picked Andrew Johnston from the roll of Chamber’s Company because I saw a note that he was later promoted to Sergeant. That note told me he was a good soldier, and likely to be someone his fellow troops respected. Andrew Johnston the character has done excellent service in that role. But periodically I learn a bit more about the career of the real Andrew Johnston, and I am pleased to say that my assumptions about him appeared to be accurate: he continued to serve well and honorably, and received greater responsibility throughout the war. More will be revealed in book 5.

The more I learn about the men and women who won America’s independence, the more I am humbled. It is a privilege to be able to tell their stories.

 

 

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Historical Research for Writers

An interesting discussion of the importance of research in writing historical fiction.

A Writer's Path

by Sheree Crawford

Researching is, believe it or not, a skill that not everyone has. If you do have it you should definitely put it on your C.V.; good research is often the thing you do not see, but the want of it is blindingly obvious, especially when you write historic fiction, or you’re writing about cultures and people you don’t know anything about.

Research isn’t about consuming every piece of information you can find on your topic; it’s about knowing what is and isn’t important. You can learn this by taking a degree of some sort (History in particular will smack you in the face with research skill requirements before you’ve even finished the first year… whoo-boy that was a learning curve, I can tell you), or you can piggyback my History degree; go on, I don’t mind. I’ll share some of the pearls I’ve discovered while cracking…

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Summer Indie Book Award Nomination!

ANH Awards cover 2Great news! A Nest of Hornets was nominated for Metamorph Publishing’s Summer Indie Book Award!

The winner is decided by reader vote, and all are welcome! Voting begins on September 1st and ends on September 11th.

I will push the voting link out when it is available. Subscribe to my newsletter for the latest news!

 

Summer Indie Book Awards: Indie Books Award post

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Historical Research: Valley Forge and Monmouth

The other week I had the opportunity to do more on-site historical research: this time at Valley Forge and Monmouth!

As I finish Gideon Hawke #4, A Constant Thunder, I have begun research for the yet-to-be-named Gideon Hawke #5. In this installment, after the Saratoga campaign, Gideon and Ruth will find themselves enduring a cold, wet winter at Valley Forge. The Continental Line will undergo a thorough retraining, and Gideon and his new command will be put their training to the test at Monmouth Courthouse.

With this storyline in mind, I headed to two of the most significant sites in the history of the U.S. Army. Having grown up in the Northeast, I have been to both sites before, but this time I came with a better understanding of what happened there.

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Replica soldiers’ quarters at Valley Forge

At Valley Forge I looked in detail at a few particular pieces of ground: Washington’s headquarters, the areas where Gideon’s unit was quartered, and the Grand Parade, where the Army drilled endlessly to ready itself to confront the British once again. I was struck by the size of the Grand Parade; I could envision several Continental brigades maneuvering over hill and valley, deploying from column to line, practicing volley fire, and charging with fixed bayonets. I could envision an Army gaining confidence in itself. Valley Forge did not disappoint.

At Monmouth, on the other hand, I was at first a bit frustrated. I knew that significant portions of the actual battlefield had been covered by urban and suburban sprawl, but after having been spoiled with the beautifully preserved National Parks at Saratoga and Valley Forge, I found the Monmouth State park to be quite a mixed bag: useful brochures, well thought-out trails, and restored fences–all blighted by neglected buildings, missing markers, graffiti, and a confusing array of working fields and orchards. Not to be deterred, I walked the ground, with my very patient and understanding family along for the hike. I was encouraged by a few intact markers detailing the archaeological finds on the battlefield; some of these were directly relevant to the plot of Gideon Hawke #5.

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Overlooking the southern portion of the Monmouth Battlefield. On this spot Nathanael Greene posted his division’s guns, enfilading the British gun line near the plowed field in the distance.

Finally, our patience was rewarded by what was to me one of the highlights of the trip: tracing the route of the light infantry counterattack at the close of the battle, when Washington launched a few battalions of “picked men” along the Spotswood North Brook in a move against the British right flank. I was able to scramble up the bank and emerge from the woods, envisioning the Continental troops deploying on line, and a battalion of Royal Highlanders forming up and wheeling right to meet them. I could also see the ridge where the American guns were posted, and could envision American grapeshot skimming through the field and skipping across the ground into the British ranks. (Archaeologists have recovered a good deal of that fired grapeshot, confirming the British positions) Then we were able to walk along the line where the Americans marched in parade-ground formation, closed the distance to the Highlanders, and finally traded volleys with their foes in the open field. As we stood there, I could imagine the Continental troops’ elation when the British quit the field, grudgingly rewarding the Americans’ skill, discipline, and valor.

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Emerging from Spotswood North Brook: on June 28th, 1778, climbing up the ravine and stepping into the light would have put you within musket shot of the British right flank.

For an author of historical fiction, it was a remarkable experience; one which will heavily influence my fifth novel. For an American combat veteran, visiting the battlefield on Memorial Day, it was a humbling reminder of the grit, determination, and sacrifice of all those who stayed on in the ranks of the Continental Army and learned to beat the British at their own game. It also reminded me of the soldiers I have known who continued that tradition, and gave the last full measure of devotion.

After Valley Forge and Monmouth, the War for American Independence changed for good: no longer was it simply a contest of weak trying to survive against strong. The Continental Army had come of age, and with France and Spain going to war against Great Britain, it became a global war that threatened the very existence of the British Empire. The British soldiers would continue to despise their American foes, but on several occasions after Monmouth, British hubris would be severely punished at the point of American bayonets. The war would grind on for years, and the British Empire would survive, but ultimately it would do so without its thirteen erstwhile colonies.

So, ultimately, my visits to Valley Forge and Monmouth were successful. It cost us several pairs of soggy shoes, a couple of bug bites, and a few poison ivy rashes, but Gideon Hawke #5 will be the richer for it; and so will my children’s understanding of their heritage.

 

Valley Forge National Historical Park: https://www.nps.gov/vafo/index.htm

Monmouth Battlefield State Park: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/monbat.html  

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Gentleman Johnny: Major General John Burgoyne

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John Burgoyne, by Joshua Reynolds (1766)

 

It is a rare distinction indeed when a commander can claim to have lost one of the most decisive battles in history. “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne was one such commander.

In early 1777 John Burgoyne was a rising star in the constellation of the British military. He was an unlikely prospect: rumored to be the product of an illicit affair, he had a penchant for stylish (and expensive) uniforms, gambling, and the writing of plays. He twice sold his commission, once to clear gambling debts, and once to support the wife with whom he had eloped in 1751. Eventually reconciled with his father-in-law, who used his influence to advance Burgoyne’s career, Gentleman Johnny managed to buy another commission after the outbreak of the Seven Years War. He served with distinction in France and Portugal, and pioneered the concept of light cavalry in the British Army. He was also elected to Parliament, where he gained attention as a critic of the government.

Interestingly, Burgoyne was given the nickname “Gentleman Johnny” by his troops, who appreciated his fairness and concern for their welfare. He was unique in valuing individual thought and self-reliance among his enlisted troops. Whatever the officer corps thought of Burgoyne, he was a general for whom his troops would definitely fight.

When the American War for Independence erupted, Burgoyne was one of three major generals (the others being Howe and Clinton) sent to Boston to “reinforce” General Gage. Frustrated by inactivity, Burgoyne returned to England. In 1776 he commanded the expedition that relieved Quebec from American siege, but was again frustrated when his superior, Carelton, prevented him from pressing an offensive against Fort Ticonderoga in the fall of 1776. Again frustrated, and grieving the death of his wife, Burgoyne returned once again to England.

This time Burgoyne proposed a two-pronged attacked on the Hudson River Valley, with one force attacking north from New York while the other, commanded by him, attacked south out of Canada. It was a decent plan that failed to account for a few things: the vast distances involved, the climate, the rugged countryside, lack of Tory and Indian enthusiasm for his cause, American resilience, and appalling strategic mismanagement. Burgoyne’s plan might just have worked had Lord George Germain articulated an overall British strategy that included the details of Burgoyne’s plan, but he did not. Instead, General William Howe proceeded with his plan to capture Philadelphia. He set sail and spent several critical weeks at sea, this not only deprived Burgoyne of much-needed support, but also allowed Washington to transfer significant forces to the American Northern Department to oppose Burgoyne.

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Burgoyne’s Plan

Compounding these errors was Burgoyne’s flair for drama. His attempts to overawe the Americans, and inspire Tories and allied Native American tribes, were absolute disasters. By unleashing several hundred Native American warriors he not only forced potential Loyalist recruits to stay home to protect their families, but he also enraged American sentiment. As he advanced farther south his supply system began to fail and his battlefield fortunes waned. As a result he Native Americans abandoned him, even as American forces converged on the Hudson Valley.

 

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A tree at Freeman’s Farm. Near this spot Morgan’s Rifle Corps fired the first shot of the Battles at Saratoga.

Finally, just north of Stillwater, New York, Burgoyne switched from playwright back to gambler: he rolled the dice two more times, and in battles that would become known as Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights, he lost. Defeated, he attempted to retreat, but the Americans were having none of it. Near a place then called Saratoga he soon found himself surrounded, massively outnumbered, and out of provisions. Finally, on October 17th, 1777, Burgoyne surrendered his army of over five thousand men.

The shockwaves of Burgoyne’s surrender were immediately felt across the Atlantic. Saratoga directly precipitated France’s decision to join the American cause, turning the American War for Independence into a global war that threatened the entire British Empire. It also marked the end of Burgoyne’s military career.

John Burgoyne probably deserved a better fate. He was ambitious to a fault, but he also had a keen military mind and took the kind of calculated risks that fortune usually favors. His treatment of his troops was centuries ahead of its time. His superiors failed him, but he reaped the blame for the miscarriage of his campaign. He continued to write plays and be active in politics, but he will forever be best known as the pompous playwright who lost at Saratoga and thus made Britain’s war unwinnable.

Gentleman Johnny will appear in the forthcoming Gideon Hawke #4: A Constant Thunder.

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100 Years On: America Slides Toward the Great War

 “He kept us out of war.”

-Woodrow Wilson Re-election Campaign Slogan, 1916

“The world must be made safe for democracy.”

-Woodrow Wilson to a special session of Congress, requesting a Declaration of War, April 2nd, 1917

One hundred years ago public opinion in the United States was nearing the culmination of a seismic shift. When the First World War broke out in 1914, popular opinion was overwhelmingly against American involvement in “Europe’s war.” Two years later, President Woodrow Wilson successfully campaigned for re-election based on his record of achievements, especially his maintenance of American neutrality. But less than six months after the election, Wilson was the leader of a united nation, asking for Congress to declare war. What happened in those few months?

What happened was that Germany made a number of strategic decisions that made war with the United States a near certainty. The year 1916 had been a costly one for Germany: its effort to bleed France to death at Verdun had proven futile, the months-long battle on the Somme had sapped away even more blood and treasure, and there had even been setbacks on the Eastern Front with Russia going on the offensive. While Germany was still strong, some of its allies were growing shaky, and the long-term strategic outlook was bleak. As long as France and Great Britain were being sustained by American loans, food, and war materials, it seemed unlikely that the balance would swing Germany’s way. In Berlin, a return to unrestricted submarine warfare seemed worth the risk: if Germany could starve Great Britain into submission it could win the war.

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Sinking of the Lusitania

So, what was ‘unrestricted submarine warfare? Simply put, it was what you probably think of when you hear the term “U-Boat:” it means submarine crews attacking merchant ships without warning. By the rules of maritime warfare, warships were supposed to warn merchant ships, and allow the crews to abandon ship, before sinking them. For a vessel as small and fragile as a submarine this was a risky proposition. If the merchant ship had a hidden deck gun, or if it could alert a nearby friendly warship, the tables would quickly turn on the German U-Boat crew. In 1915 the outrage caused by the sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania had caused the Germans to suspend unrestricted warfare. In 1917, the benefit seemed to outweigh the cost. Fully aware that the United States might declare war once its ships started sinking again, the Germans tried to minimize the effect of US entry with a very clumsy diplomatic maneuver: the Zimmerman Telegram.

Knowing that Mexico still resented its loss of territory to the United States resulting from their 1848 war, German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman sent a telegram to the Mexican government offering it American territory (from California east into Colorado) if it joined the war on the side of the Central Powers. British intelligence intercepted the telegram and was only too happy to pass it along to the Wilson Administration. This telegram, coupled with the sinking of several American merchant ships in March, 1917, turned the tide of public opinion.

Many Americans had been uncomfortable with Germany’s perceived atrocities, such as its invasion of Belgium, execution of civilians, bombardment of cultural sites, espionage and sabotage in America and Canada, incitement of labor riots in the United States, introduction of weaponized poison gas, and Zeppelin raids on London. With the rapid-fire events of January to March 1917, discomfort changed to outrage. On Main Street, USA, it seemed that in spite of America’s strict policy of neutrality (a neutrality Germany would dispute) Germany was deliberately picking a fight. And, so the thinking went, if the Germans wanted a fight, then by God they were going to get it.

National World War I Museum–Learning materials on America’s Entry into the War: https://www.theworldwar.org/us-enters-war

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A Constant Thunder: Time

Time. That’s the killer!

If I could plug a USB cable into my head, I could probably download A Constant Thunder in its entirety. Unfortunately that is not how it works! (Actually, I’m pretty glad it doesn’t work that way. Who knows what weirdness might spill out of my head!)

In my mind’s eye I can see pretty much all of Gideon Hawke #4. The march north from New Jersey, the water journey up the Hudson, Gideon’s first encounter with his native American enemies (OK, I wrote that part already), the skirmishing in the primeval forests, the savage fighting at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights, etc. But it is so hard to scrape together the time to commit it all to digits! And all the while, my self-imposed deadline races closer and closer.

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking / Racing around to come up behind you again.*

I know that somehow it will get done. It always does.

I am incredibly excited about this novel, even more so than the first three. Maybe it is because of how the Saratoga Battlefield spoke to me—unlike Boston, the Raritan Crossing, Trenton, or Princeton it has not been developed. Certainly it has changed dramatically in nearly 240 years, but at Saratoga you can peer out from behind a tree and almost see the red coats and gleaming muskets emerging from the Great Ravine. I so want to get this novel written!

Besides that, I have another problem: A Constant Thunder is jostling for room in my head with Gideon Hawke #5 and #6! Yes, in large part I already have them roughly outlined in my head, and I have some brilliant ideas for individual scenes. I have more research to do for each, but before long they will be ready for USB download as well! So much writing to do! So little time! Will I get it all done?

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time / Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines*

No. I will not fail. I will bring these novels to life! If nothing else I owe to the characters who live in my head, and to my small but wonderful group of loyal readers!

So…enough blogging. Pink Floyd and I need to get back to writing historical fiction. Until next week!

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* Props to Roger Waters for the lyrics from Time: Poetry at its finest.

Where Armies Go, the Pox Follows: Smallpox in the American Revolution

The Number 1 killer of soldiers and civilians during the American Revolution was smallpox.

Now that this disease has been eradicated the name “Smallpox” no longer invokes the terror it once did. During the American Revolution however, 90% of deaths in the Continental Army were due to disease, and the two strains of Variola smallpox virus were the most brutal of these afflictions. Smallpox was also the target of the first military inoculation campaign in history.

Smallpox is a highly contagious disease characterized first by a rash and then by raised, fluid-filled blisters over the entire body. The mortality rate could be up to 35%. Over 60% of survivors suffered from scarring, and some might experience blindness, arthritis, or even limb deformation. This disease plagued humanity since at least the time of Ancient Egypt, and by the 1700s it was killing hundreds of thousands of Europeans annually. Having had no prior exposure to the disease, and thus no immunity, smallpox devastated Native American tribes when Europeans infected them (sometimes deliberately).

During the Siege of Boston in 1775-1776 a smallpox outbreak struck the British garrison in Boston, and threatened to cross the siege lines to infect the American forces. Because of its prevalence in Europe and relative scarcity in the Americas, the British troop population, was less susceptible to the disease than the Americans. A significant percentage of British troops had either survived the disease or been inoculated (exposed to a less deadly strain), and were thus immune. Far fewer colonists had any prior exposure to smallpox, thus they were highly susceptible to infection. The Continental Army was lucky outside Boston, but the pox made its full fury felt among the American troops sent to invade Quebec in 1775. During the Siege of Quebec the British intentionally released numerous sick Canadian civilians, who subsequently infected the besieging Americans. This outbreak seriously weakened the attackers, contributing to the expedition’s ultimate failure. It also served as a loud and clear warning to the Commander-in-Chief, General George Washington.

During a trip to Barbados as a young man, Washington had contracted and survived smallpox, so he was keenly aware of the disease’s effects. He was also aware of the risks of inoculation: not only would inoculated troops be sickened, but some would die. There was also the potential that inoculated troops could actually spread the disease, causing an outbreak. Fear of inoculation was so great that in 1776 the Continental Congress forbade military surgeons from so treating the troops, but in February of 1777 Washington made the momentous decision to inoculate the 75% of the Continental Army who had not previously been exposed to the disease. Currently serving troops would receive the jab, as would new recruits, who would not join their units until healthy and immune. All of this was done in the greatest secrecy; had the British discovered that large numbers of American troops were sick due to inoculation, they might have attacked, dealing Washington’s Army a fatal blow.

In spite of the risks, Washington’s inoculation program, the first in military history, was a complete success. Subsequent to 1777, at no point were the British able to benefit from the ravages of smallpox in American units. In fact, the few smallpox outbreaks that did occur were very localized, and had minimal impact on Continental Army operations. The British and their Hessian allies were not defeated until 1781, but by combining cutting edge medical technology with a daring command decision, Washington won a decisive victory over smallpox in 1777.

Gideon Hawke and Ruth Munroe will witness firsthand the ravages of smallpox in the forthcoming Gideon Hawke #4: A Constant Thunder.

Library of Congress article on George Washington and Smallpox inoculation: https://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/GW&smallpoxinoculation.html

Mount Vernon article on Smallpox, including an informative video: http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/smallpox/

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Clash of Cultures: The Wilderness War

Up to this point in the Gideon Hawke Series I have explored the fighting between Americans and British, Americans and Germans, and Patriots and Loyalists. I have even delved into the seedy underworld of espionage. Now, as I work on Gideon Hawke #4, A Constant Thunder, I have for the first time crossed the threshold into cross-cultural warfare: Americans versus Native Americans.

 

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Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea): Mohawk leader

When British General John Burgoyne launched his campaign from Canada down the Hudson, a wave of Native Americans moved in advance of his army. While Burgoyne made some efforts to put constraints on these warriors, his limitations ran contrary to the fundamental reasons why Native Americans went to war, because the Native American concept of warfare was very different from the European model. Operating in small bands under a “democratically” recognized leader, these men joined the campaign both for profit and to prove their worth as warriors. They valued individual valor, and unit discipline was an alien concept. Furthermore, many aspects of their culture, such as the taking of scalps, or the abduction or torture of captives, were abhorrent to Americans, as was their tendency to appear out of the wilds and descend upon isolated families or towns. That said, from our distant perspective it is easy to see that many tribes could in many ways be considered “progressive;” while they might be intolerant of outsiders, among their own people they were remarkably tolerant, and women had a prominent role in governance and strategy. Their brutality in warfare and the underlying values of Native American culture were so alien to the culture of transplanted Europeans that their motivations were rarely understood except in the context of their being considered “savages.”

 

This explains why the specter of Native American attack spread panic across the northern States, but also galvanized resistance to Burgoyne’s invasion. As a result, substantial militia and Continental forces moved to reinforce the American forces in the Hudson Valley. One of the units which marched north to challenge Burgoyne and his Indians, and had a tremendous impact on the outcome of the campaign, was Morgan’s Rifle Corps.

One of the Rifle Corp’s first tasks when it arrived in the Albany area was to take to the wilds of the Hudson Valley and defeat the bands of Native Americans and Loyalists who still dominated “No Man’s Land.” At that point, in the wake of the American successes at the Battle of Bennington and Oriskany (the latter arguably an American defeat, but one which caused heavy losses to the tribesmen), Native Americans were beginning to abandon Burgoyne, but were still very active. Thus the Rifle Corps soon found itself in numerous small but vicious encounters with Native Americans; this was a clash of cultures as much as a clash of arms. Many if not most of Morgan’s men had experience in Native American warfare, so they knew what they were getting into. They knew that their foe was at home in this strange, wild environment, and that the fighting would be bitter, close, and to the death.

As I write A Constant Thunder, this is the type of warfare in which Gideon Hawke has found himself. It will challenge his sense of right and wrong. It will test his endurance. It will force him to compromise on his ideals. He will have to quickly learn the ways of his enemies and beat them at their own game. If he succeeds it will be quite an accomplishment, but it will only be a preamble. Death, and an alien world, may lurk in the woods, but destiny awaits at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights.

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