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.



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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This Lady Has Lost Her Way

A short story, or “Drabble” I wrote last week. I hope you enjoy it!


By Robert Krenzel

This Lady has lost her way.

She is an immigrant: a French girl, originally.

She welcomed others, lighting the way to a better life.

She watched, twice, with pride as the boys sailed off to rescue her homeland. She counted them back; too many never returned.

She wept as she watched the towers burn and fall. They were immigrants, like her. How could they?

She grew angry and suspicious.

Lately she has lost her way. The light has gone dark. She no longer welcomes the wretched refuse.

Only for a time. Maybe just for a few years. Maybe just four.

Bob Krenzel writes historical fiction in his spare time. A 24-year Army veteran, he served in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

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Short Story: A BARREN COUNTRYSIDE (Springfield, NJ; January 6th, 1777)

Is that a ghost? The thing seemed to be both dead and alive at the same time. Under normal circumstances neither word would apply to a small stone farmhouse, but here and now, they seemed most appropriate. The building looked dead because its charred interior, greyish walls, and the gaping windows and doors made it look alarmingly like a human skull. It looked alive because the two windows, the eye sockets, seemed to stare menacingly at passersby; especially passersby with guilty consciences.

Should we feel guilty? The captain wondered as he stared back at the house. Certainly his men had not set this particular house aflame, but how many others had they burned as they pursued the retreating rebel army? There had been many houses like this, each one home to a family, and each family had protested their innocence. None of them, they claimed, were sympathetic to the rebellion. Not that it had mattered. His men, along with so many others, had driven the families out, taken what valuables they could carry, rounded up the livestock, and laughed as the flames destroyed the families’ hopes and dreams.

There had been so much screaming and crying! Many of these Americans had gone too far in their protests, and earned themselves a smash from a musket butt or a thrust from a bayonet. It was harsh. It was terrible. But it was war. Now these Americans had learned the awful price of rising up against their God-given King: slaughter and desolation are the fruits of rebellion.

The captain shuddered against the wind. The dark gray sky and bare trees mirrored his bleak mood. It’s not the bone-chilling cold that’s so bad, he thought, nor is it the mind-numbing weariness. It’s not the fierce hunger pangs. Nor is it the fear of sudden death, or the pervading sense of doom. It’s all of those things combined! That’s what I hate about this miserable country!

The journey from their home in the principality of Waldeck last summer had been a nightmare; the captain had never sailed on the ocean before, and he had really thought the constant sea sickness would kill him. It had taken him and his men weeks to recover their strength in the stifling heat and humidity of Staten Island.

But once they actually started fighting the American scoundrels it had seem this war would turn into something of a lark; every time they grappled with the rebels, the discipline of the sturdy German troops had won the day, and the foe had fled the field. They had chased the Americans off of Long Island, off of Manhattan Island, and into the Jerseys. Here in New Jersey they were finally able to treat the population the way they deserved: brutally. In their wake the armies left almost nothing to sustain the rebellious population through this harsh winter.

Unfortunately, that same devastation was now the biggest problem facing the British command. The plan had been to disperse the armies across the province and leave responsibility for foraging to the local garrison commanders. That would have been so simple! The captain wondered, Who could have foreseen this? Washington’s Army had seemed on the verge of collapse! How had that old fox managed to scrape together enough troops to go on the offensive? In less than two weeks he had crossed the Delaware, captured the Hessian garrison at Trenton, given the British the slip, returned to Trenton, humbugged his British pursuers, and shattered the British garrison at Princeton. Now it seemed that the Allied generals had panicked, pulling all of the British and German garrisons back into a small area in New York and Northern New Jersey.

Unfortunately, the men were now packed so tightly they couldn’t sustain themselves, and because the armies had done such a fine job devastating the New Jersey countryside that they were now having a devil of a time finding enough supplies to survive the winter.

As if the lack of provender were not enough, the Jersey militia had been delighted to see the British and Germans on the run; they been active in November and December, but the news of Trenton and Princeton had made them astonishingly bold! The lack of lodging meant his men had to sleep on the bare ground, and that was uncomfortable, but because of the constant alarms they had to do so fully clothed every night, with their weapons close at hand, ready to turn out at a moment’s notice in the event of militia attack. The men were subsisting on little but salted pork. That was depressing but manageable. The horses, unfortunately, needed fodder, and that had to be acquired from the nearly barren local countryside. That was why they were on the march today.

The captain and his fifty men, plus a dozen British light dragoons, were marching to chase away any militia and seize anything that might serve as horse fodder. With any luck they might catch a local farmer unawares and snatch a bit of fresh meat on the hoof; that would be a wonderful bonus!

The captain’s thoughts returned to the melancholy farmhouse. We are certainly not going to get anything from this farm. Where once animals had grazed and a family had eked out its living, now nothing stirred except a bit of snow drifting in the winter wind. All the while the farmhouse maintained its vengeful gaze.


The captain tore his eyes away from the building and looked ahead, toward the troop of dragoons about a quarter mile in front of his infantry. The road here crossed open fields, the stubble of a crop poking through the frost and snow marking what was once cultivated land. The fields were hemmed in on each side by gray, desolate woods. A low stone wall no more than waist-high bounded the field to the front of the horsemen. Beyond the fence was more barren forest.

POP! The captain sat upright on his horse. POP! POP! Musketry! The dragoons wheeled about in the field as puffs of smoke appeared along the wall in front of them. A few of the horse troopers fired from the saddle. What’s happening up there?

The captain spurred his horse forward and before long was up among the dragoons. Their lieutenant asked for permission to retire. Very well. Your task here is done for now. Soon the horsemen were dropping back, and the enemy fire faded away. The captain was now alone in the middle of the field. To his front, near the road, he could see about a dozen American militiamen in civilian clothes skulking behind the stone wall. From about a hundred yards away the rabble seemed immensely pleased with themselves for having driven off the horsemen. The enemy seemed to have no intention of retiring; they must not have seen the infantry yet. Excellent! The men will relish the chance to give this rebel scum the bayonet!

As the dragoons trotted rearward the infantry company deployed into a double line, in open order. The men moved smartly. The captain waited patiently, immobile, while the lieutenants and sergeants kept the men moving forward. They marched steadily, in cadenced step, closing the distance to the rebels. As the company neared the captain urged his horse forward, leading the men on toward the fight.

Once again shots rang out from the fence, and a few balls whistled by harmlessly. The rebels still showed no sign of running. Good! This will be over quickly!

The rebels worked feverishly to reload their muskets and fire at the advancing Waldeckers. The captain was not sure whether to admire or pity such foolish courage. At about seventy-five yards the captain halted his men, dressed their line, and ordered them to fix bayonets. That done, the relentless advance continued. This is too easy! The men might not even have to dirty their muskets by firing! A glance over his shoulder confirmed the dragoons were following behind the infantry, ready to take up the pursuit when the rebels broke and ran. Everything is in place!

The captain was gauging the distance. They were getting very close, almost within fifty yards. The militia had stopped firing; a few finished reloading their muskets. They were so close he could make out the smug, confident look on the enemy’s faces. They were clearly not afraid. What is that about? Why aren’t they frightened? Are they drunk? Don’t they realize we outnumber them almost five-to-one? Or do they know something I don’t?

Just then one of the twelve Americans let out a shout. Almost as one, about a hundred American militiamen rose from behind the stone wall. The captain froze, his mouth agape. It seemed to him that time slowed to a crawl. In perfect unison the rebels made ready and leveled their muskets. Then a wave of flame and smoke erupted from their line, and dozens of lead balls smashed their way through the company.

The first volley snapped the Waldeckers into action. The officers and sergeants started barking orders. Miraculously none of the leaders were down, but several of the men were sprawled on the ground or staggering rearward. As they had trained to do so often, and had done in earnest on several occasions, sergeants yelled and shoved to get the men to quickly close the gaps in the line. In no time the company was trading volleys with the militia. His men were much faster at loading and firing, but were hindered by the bayonets fixed to their muzzles. They were also fully exposed. In contrast the militia had the advantages of numbers and the stone wall. The wall would make the difference; over time more rebels than Waldeckers would survive the exchange. It was simply a matter of mathematics. A quick glance at his line told the captain that his company was in mortal danger. He has led them right into a trap, but perhaps a bayonet charge would save the day. Perhaps, just perhaps, one quick rush would break the Americans or at least buy him time to…ZIP—THUD!

The captain felt as though he had been punched in the gut. I’ve been shot! He felt the wound and then stared at the blood on his gloved hand. One of the lieutenants rode up and asked if he was badly hurt. Should I hand over command? Another ZIP was followed by a CRACK, and the lieutenant fell from his horse with a gaping hole in the side of his head. Something caught the captain’s eye, and he looked up at the forest off to the right flank of his company. There, about a hundred yards away, a puff of smoke! ZIP—THUD! Another bullet slammed into the captain’s thigh. Rifles! He hadn’t considered that. The captain took a last glimpse at what was left of his company. Half of the sergeants had fallen, and the hidden riflemen were singling out the rest. Nearly leaderless, the men who could still do so started running for their lives. Good, maybe some of them will escape. As his command disintegrated, the captain slid off his horse and fell in a heap on the iron hard ground. That should have hurt, but I hardly felt it! I must be in a bad way.

The captain was distracted by figures rushing by. He struggled to make sense of what he was hearing and seeing. He snatched a moment of clarity: the figures were American militiamen chasing his infantrymen. Run lads, run! Get away from these people!

The captain tried to rise, but collapsed back onto the ground. I am so tired. He laid on his back, rested his head on the ground, and gazed at the steely gray clouds, low in the sky overhead; the clouds reminded him of Waldeck. It’s strange how we can be so far away from home, but have the same clouds overhead. Suddenly his view of the sky was blocked by a wide-brimmed hat. Confused, the captain focused on the form looming over him. It took a moment to make out the face staring down at him. It was an American provincial, squatting over him, leaning on a musket. “Well, you’re clearly not British, are you?” the man asked, “German?”

The captain nodded weekly. His English was not so good, but he managed to follow as the man went on.

“Well, Mister German,” the American said with a grin, “Wilkommen in New Jersey!”


This short story started as a prologue for Gideon Hawke #3, A Nest of Hornets.


The Forage War

The British plan for the winter of 1777 had been to disperse their brigades across New Jersey, where the units could live off the land to augment the tenuous cross-Atlantic supply line. George Washington’s recently proven proficiency at destroying isolated brigades made this plan untenable, so the British and their German allies retreated to a few massed positions in New York and New Jersey. This gave them security, but left the countryside in the hands of the Jersey Militia, who had been freshly galvanized by the American victories in the Ten Glorious Days. Now the British and Germans would have to send out fighting patrols in ever increasing numbers to forage for food and fodder. These foraging parties made attractive targets for increasingly large swarms of militia, soon reinforced by Continental troops.


Here are just a few of the 50-60 “skirmishes,” with the forces involved:

  • January 6th: Springfield, NJ. A force of 50 Waldeck (a German principality) infantry and a few British light dragoons ambushed and captured. This action precipitated the British abandonment of Elizabethtown (modern Elizabeth, NJ).
  • January 20th: Van Nest’s Mills (Millstone), NJ. 500 British, reinforced with with artillery, were attacked by Brigadier General Philemon Dickenson and about 400 militia, reinforced by a company of Continental riflemen. The British were driven off with heavy loss, to include a wagon train and several dozen head of cattle.
  • February 1st: Drake’s Farm. A force of about a thousand British and Hessian troops, to include elite battalions of light infantry, grenadiers, and highlanders, attempt to set a trap for an American force. When the 5th Virginia Regiment tries to capture a small party of British foragers, they are surprised by the entire British force.  The Americans launch a bayonet charge which breaks the grenadier battalion and buys them time to make good their escape.
  • February 23rd: Spanktown (Rahway) NJ. Nearly 2000 British regulars under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mahwood, the British commander who nearly won the day at Princeton, attack a small American foraging party. As they launch what they expect to be a final assault they are ambushed by nearly 2000 previously hidden Continental troops. The British are driven from the field and pursued back to their fortifications in Amboy.

The Continental troops gained experience and confidence from these encounters. They would later put their new-found expertise to good use at Brandywine, Germantown, and Saratoga.

The British and Germans realized that this was going to be a long, hard war. Perhaps a few of them began to develop a new-found respect for their ragtag opponents. If nothing else, it seemed in the words of one British officer that an outing into the New Jersey countryside was like walking into “a Nest of Hornets.”

You can experience the Forage War from a participant’s perspective in Gideon Hawke #3: A Nest of Hornets!

A Nest of Hornets on Amazon:

Rowing Upstream: revised

A few weeks ago I discussed my realization that Gideon Hawke and cohorts would travel by water, up the Hudson River, to join the effort to check the British north of Albany. It is amazing what a little research will do to clarify things!

More detailed research revealed that Morgan’s Rifle Corps was not at Hackensack, as I had thought they were, when Dan Morgan received the order to move north. They had if fact been marching up and down New Jersey as Washington tried to guess what the main British army, under Howe, was up to. Until it became clear Howe was sailing away from the Hudson, Morgan and his men were sent hither and yon based on perceived threats. Based on correspondence between Washington and Morgan it appears the Rifle Corps was in the Trenton-Princeton area when Washington ordered them to join the Northern Department.

In the summer of 1777 the Royal Navy controlled New York Harbor and the nearby waters; it could also make incursions up the Hudson, so Morgan’s men would have had to embark some distance upriver. In fact, Washington specified they march to Peekskill, where transportation would await.

In the 1700s the Hudson was easily navigable as far north as Albany, so Morgan’s troops likely sailed on Hudson River sloops for much of the journey. Beyond Albany river traffic would have relied on bateaux. David Manthey, captain of the replica bateau DeSager, made me aware of the details of the military supply chain on the upper Hudson, consisting of relays of bateaux.

Now I can much better visualize the mechanics of the Provisional Rifle Corps’ journey to its meeting with destiny. What’s more, with a little additional research, I can bring that journey to life for my readers.

David Manthey’s Bateux Journey page:

A Nest of Hornets Update

It is exciting to see A Nest of Hornets on the market—it is even more exciting to see that people are buying it!

I think readers will find much of Gideon Hawke #3 very familiar: Gideon and Ruth are back, as are many other characters. Gideon and the lads are at it again, this time they are working in conjunction with Continental and militia troops to harass and disrupt British foraging efforts in New Jersey in the winter of 1777. Gideon finds himself in charge of his company, planning and coordinating with senior American officers to create maximum havoc among the British ranks.

This is where A Nest of Hornets is a departure from the first two Gideon Hawke Novels: much of the action takes place in meetings and dinner parties, and Gideon must quickly learn to navigate “battlefields” very different from those he has come to know. Fortunately Ruth is much more comfortable in social settings, and she is able to guide Gideon around many hazards and pitfalls. These events allowed me to explore the Gideon-Ruth relationship in depth, and I think readers will enjoy seeing that relationship put to the test.

The greatest challenges Gideon and Ruth face come in the form of a married couple: Lieutenant Colonel “Black Dan” Scott and his wife, Kate. Dan is an efficient and ruthless New Jersey Militia officer who appreciates Gideon’s tactical acumen, but differs greatly from the young rifleman when it comes to the morality of killing prisoners. Kate Scott’s battlefield is the dining room and parlor: she chafes at the rustic lifestyle into which the war has forced her, and she takes an unhealthy interest in Gideon.

The plot literally thickens when it becomes apparent the British are being forewarned of American plans. As they find their way through the ins and outs of headquarters and societal politics, Gideon and Ruth must constantly be aware of a traitor in their midst. Will they uncover the plot, or will the spy’s treachery cost them their lives? A Nest of Hornets challenges Ruth and Gideon as they have never been challenged before.

To find out more, get a copy now! The current low prices of $2.99 (Kindle) or $8.99 (Paperback) will only last until the New Year!

Which brings me to my last point: I wonder who will post the first review?

A Nest of Hornets on Amazon:

A Nest of Hornets is now available!

The day has come at last! A Nest of Hornets is available for purchase on Amazon!

anh-cover-_frontSet in New Jersey in the winter of 1777, the third novel in the Gideon Hawke Series finds Gideon and his comrades immersed in the “Forage War.” Struggling to feed their men and horses, the British command launches forays into the Jersey countryside to seize supplies and livestock. The Continental Army and New Jersey Militia, eager to fight after their victories at Trenton and Princeton, resist the British at every opportunity.

Gideon and Ruth find that not all battles occur in the field. They find themselves enmeshed in conspiracies: someone is alerting the British to American plans, and Gideon’s successes bring him and Ruth into the company of some questionable characters. Will Gideon escape death in battle, only to be murdered by a treacherous colleague?

Get a copy now! The low prices of $2.99 (Kindle) or $8.99 (Paperback) will only last until the New Year!

A Nest of Hornets on Amazon:

Sharing the Love!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to deliver an author talk to the 8th Grade Class at Mill Creek Middle School in Lenexa, KS. The students are about to begin learning about the American Revolution in their Social Studies class, so a discussion about historical fiction set during the Revolution worked in nicely with their coursework.

It was a real treat to be able to discuss my background, my passion for history, my writing process, and what I have learned about life in the 1770s. I mostly focused on my methodology for writing, sharing the amount of research I do, and then how that research translates into a timeline, an outline, chapters, scenes, and ultimately a manuscript. I also discussed when and how I write and the importance I attach to both outlining and capturing ideas when they hit me. I also emphasized the importance of editing and re-writing. In addition I was also able to give some insights into what life was like for a young man or woman growing up in the 1770s.

Overall it was a great occasion to share a bit about the ups and downs of writing. One young lady even asked if I had any advice for aspiring writers, and I was able to share a few hard-won lessons. As an added bonus, a good number of the students bought copies of This Glorious Cause and/or Times That Try Men’s Souls and had me sign them. It was wonderful to be able to interact with a few of the students one-on-one. It was especially rewarding to chat with one young man who wanted to read the Gideon Hawke Series because he loves learning about the American Revolution. I hope I am able at least in some small way to stoke the fires of his passion!

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Elections and the Cost of Freedom

During my time in the military I had the great privilege of planning and/or providing security for elections in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq. Each of these places had a history of totalitarian dictatorship, and it was truly moving to see men and women celebrating the fact that they cast their first votes in a free and fair election. This was especially true in Iraq, where the insurgents had threatened to attack anyone who voted; the Iraqis returning home from the polls waved their fingers, stained with ink to show they had cast a ballot, in defiance of the threats.

IMG_7118The United States of America was born with a similar spirit of defiance. The democratic spirit that called a nation to arms in the spring and summer of 1775 has endured many trials and tribulations, but it is still there. Arguably today more than ever it is critical that each of us do our part to exercise our rights of citizenship. Our right to vote was paid for with the blood of patriots in battlefields like Trenton, Gettysburg, the Argonne, Normandy, Okinawa, Khe San, Baghdad, and Kandahar…and lorraine-moteleven in places like Memphis and Kent State.

So I hope everyone who reads this has exercised their right to vote. It is a precious gift…it would be a shame not to use it.



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Cover Ideas: A Nest of Hornets

It doesn’t really have anything to do with winged, stinging insects!

In the winter of 1777 British forces, reeling from defeats at Trenton and Princeton, abandoned most of New Jersey. From their last remaining posts along the Raritan River in New Brunswick and the Amboys they had to launch foraging expeditions in the Jersey countryside; the Continental Army and New Jersey Militia resisted these expeditions so vigorously that one British officer described the experience as “walking into a nest of hornets.”

Gideon Hawke #3, A Nest of Hornets, is set during the “Forage War” in New Jersey. We find Gideon and his mates stalking the British through frozen woods, icy brooks, and snow-covered fields. We also discover that someone on the American side is forewarning the British about American plans. Will Gideon be able to find the spy, or will he walk into a trap?

I would love some feedback on potential book covers: recurring images in A Nest of Hornets include snow-covered fields and forests, snow-covered roads, and written messages. I have used to develop 4 potential cover designs; Which do YOU like best?

Cover idea #1: anh-cover1

Cover idea #2: anh-cover2Cover idea #3: anh-cover3


Cover idea #4: anh-cover4

Please share your thoughts!