Bayonets

“…with zeal and with bayonets only, it was resolved to follow Greene’s army to the end of the world.” –Brigadier General Charles O’Hara, Commander of the Brigade of Guards, 1781.

In the combat zones of the 21st Century one can find a dizzying array of weaponry, from ballistic missiles to barrel bombs, assault rifles to rocket launchers, hand grenades to IEDs, drones to chemical agents. If you were to inspect the kit of a soldier in any one of the many conflicts scattered around the world, chances are that in the midst of the GPS units, radios, and high-capacity magazines you will find a relic from an earlier time: the bayonet.

The bayonet had its origin in the early days of firearms. Early muzzle-loading weapons were slow to fire and unreliable. Infantry formations in those days often consisted of musketeers and pikemen: the pikemen, wielding their long spears, would keep enemy infantry or cavalry from overrunning the musketeers after the first volley. While firearms technology improved, the musket’s rate of fire remained too low to prevent a determined enemy from closing to within arm’s reach. “If only there was a way to turn those long, sturdy muskets into spears!” Enter the bayonet.

Early bayonets had a plug the owner shoved in the muzzle of his firearm, making the weapon incapable of firing until the soldier could spend some quality time getting it out. The technology evolved to include rings and sockets. By the time of the American Revolution the state of the art bayonet had a socket to secure it securely to the muzzle of the firearm, and business end consisting of a spike-like blade, around a foot-and-a-half long. The weapon could be loaded and fired with bayonet fixed, although it tended to get in the way of loading, slowing the process down slightly.

Throughout history soldiers have found many household uses for the bayonet: tent peg, candlestick holder, cooking spit, probe (I have personally used a bayonet to search the occasional haystack-it can be used to search for landmines, but that is not recommended), etc. While it can be helpful around camp, the bayonet is, at its heart, a weapon. It arguably reached its zenith as a weapon of war during the American War for Independence.

The British forces in American were quick to take stock of their enemy once the war broke out. American troops, especially militia, were handy with firearms. Given a prepared defensive position, such as the breastwork on Breed’s Hill in the battle that became known as Bunker Hill, the Americans would stand their ground and pour devastating volleys into the best troops the British could muster. They were not so tenacious, however, when faced with the bayonet’s “cold steel.” Many of the American troops, particularly the militia, finished their own firearms, which they used for hunting and other household chores; hunting weapons did not come with bayonets. Thus, few of the militiamen on Breed’s Hill were so equipped; when American ammunition ran low, the British surged forward, leading with the tips of their bayonets, and the Americans ran for it. That lesson was certainly not lost on the British.

Battle_of_bunker_hill_by_percy_moran

 

After the evacuation of Boston the British retrained and adjusted their tactics in response to the lessons of 1775. Starting in the summer of 1776 the British would attack in open order, with space between men. They would not stop to trade volleys with the Americans. Instead, the British infantry would minimize its exposure to American fire by jogging or running toward the American positions. They might stop once to fire a single volley, but then would charge in with bayonets. This played out in the Battle of Long Island with several American positions being quickly overwhelmed by British and Hessian bayonet charges.

Needless to say, this presented quite a problem for the Americans. The solution involved organization, logistics, training, and leadership.

George Washington quickly realized that the militia was a “broken reed,” and that he would have to rely on a long-service, regular army along European lines. This regular, “Continental” Army, would be as uniformly equipped as possible; ideally each regiment would be equipped with a single model of military-grade musket, each with a bayonet. Once equipped, troops were trained in bayonet combat, giving them the confidence to face down their adversaries. The final ingredient was tactical leaders who knew how and when to employ the cold steel.

Assault_on_Redoubt_10_at_YorktownThese reforms paid dividends. In the skirmish at Drake’s Farm, in February, 1777, (retold in my book A Nest of Hornets)Colonel Charles Scott and his 5th Regiment of Virginia Continentals were ambushed by a British Brigade.  Rather than stand fast and allow his men to be pounded by artillery and encircled by enemy infantry, Colonel Scott led his men in a bayonet charge that broke a British grenadier battalion. This threw his enemy into confusion and bought Scott time to conduct a fighting withdrawal.  At Saratoga, in September and October, 1777, Continental brigades not only held their ground against British regulars, but also launched several successful bayonet charges (A Constant Thunder). At Cowpens, in January, 1781, Brigadier General Daniel Morgan took advantage of British aggressiveness: he had his men feign retreat, and then turn, fire, and launch a bayonet charge against the exhausted British, winning the day and effectively destroying the entire British force. In the climactic act of the war, at Yorktown, In October, 1781, Redoubts 9 and 10 were carried by Franco-American nighttime bayonet charges.

When the British landed on Long Island in the summer of 1776, they were convinced that they prod the Americans back into obedience to the Crown with the tips of their bayonets. Five long years later, the drama would culminate with French and American bayonets hemming in a British army at Yorktown. In future American wars the bayonet would be put to use: it would be wielded to great effect at places like Chapultepec, Little Round Top, the Argonne forest, and Iwo Jima. But perhaps never before or since the American Revolution were a war and a weapon so inextricably linked.

 

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

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An Army of Young People

The events that unfolded after the tragedy at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been truly fascinating: the survivors of this shooting responded to tragedy by making their voices heard. It was amazing to watch these teenage students use their unwanted fame to jump start a political movement. They have had an impact across the country, if not the world. They have challenged norms and brought a new focus to the debate about gun control.

Sadly, we have also seen these young people harassed, threatened, and demeaned. A few such incidents stand out. Internet trolls accused some of them of being “crisis actors.” Some have dismissed them as the “Tide Pod” generation: somehow the weird internet fad of biting into laundry pods diminishes the legitimacy of the survivors’ voices. Just recently, Senator Marco Rubio lamented the “arrogance” we handed down to this next generation (apparently daring to question the senator’s allegiance to the NRA makes one arrogant).

It is not my intent to wade into the gun control debate, but rather to reflect on the importance of these young people who are making us all sit up and take notice.

I write historical fiction. My protagonist, his significant other, and much of the supporting cast of the Gideon Hawke Series, are teenagers. When, in A Glorious Cause, I introduced sixteen year old Gideon Hawke, and followed his adventures as he took up arms in rebellion, none of my readers protested that he was two young to fight for his freedom. I think that was partly because the story was believable, but more importantly because IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

When one reads accounts of the American Revolution, one is struck by the youth of many of the actors. Many of the foot soldiers were in their teens. While the Continental Army preferred the “men” toting muskets to be at least fifteen or sixteen, it accepted drummers as young as twelve or thirteen; some probably lied about their age to get in early. Many of the junior leaders were in their teens or early twenties. For example, Alexander Hamilton was only twenty in 1775 when he led New York volunteers in the capture of British guns at the Battery on Manhattan. Henry Knox was only twenty-six when he assumed command of Washington’s artillery.  The bottom line: the American Revolution was a young person’s war. It was young people who were the enforcers of the Declaration of Independence: they are the ones who fought for “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

It has been the same in all of our wars since. Fortunately by the Twentieth Century we got away from enlisting below the age of eighteen; in World War II the average age was twenty-six. In Vietnam it dropped again (there is debate as to whether the average age was nineteen or twenty-two). Nevertheless, fighting for freedom remained a young person’s activity.

Now, in the Twenty-First Century, we shield our children from the horrors of war. For nearly seventeen years we have been sending nineteen and twenty-year-olds to Afghanistan and Iraq—I had the incredible privilege of leading a few of them—but we keep our children out of the combat zone.

Until the combat zone comes to their school. When that happened in Florida, our children took action.

It was young people who gave legitimacy to the Declaration of Independence: when the British tried to crush the fledgling United States of America, the young people made their voices heard through the barrels of their muskets. Today the fight is different. These young people are, like their forebears, fighting for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The tools are different, but the spirit is the same. Do not discount them.

In the Eighteenth Century they ground down the most powerful military in the world for eight years until they secured Independence. In the Twenty-First Century they have their sights set on a safer, more peaceful future. And they have only just begun to fight. Gideon Hawke would be proud of them.

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

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Shifting Genres: My Protagonist is All Grown Up!

Gideon Hawke turned eighteen!

I mentioned this fact in my fourth novel, A Constant Thunder, but only as a waypoint in his developing relationship with Ruth Munroe (who also turned eighteen). For Gideon, turning eighteen had little tangible effect on his life: he was still an officer in the Continental Army, locked in a protracted war against the most powerful empire on the planet. Turning eighteen was just a barely noticed mile marker on the rugged road of life.

BirthdayFor Gideon’s author, however, his turning eighteen creates an emotional dilemma: changing genres! While I willfully ignored this milestone in the publishing process for A Constant Thunder (he was seventeen at the start of the novel), Gideon Hawke #5 is forcing me to look fact squarely in the eye: I am no longer a young adult author. You see, I always considered myself a YOUNG ADULT historical fiction author. Gideon was fifteen when we met him, after all. This worked out nicely because my kids were in the same age band: they were in the target audience. They, however, have grown older, as has Gideon. As my son fights his way through college scholarship applications, eighteen year-old Gideon shivers with his men at Valley Forge, and I struggle with the idea of being a “New Adult” historical fiction author.

I could take the easy way out: some people define young adult as involving protagonists twelve to TWENTY years of age. I could kick this can down the road, but unlike Gideon I know when the war will end, and how old he will be. I would only be delaying the inevitable. So, when I publish Gideon Hawke #5, I will select “NEW ADULT” (18-25) as the target audience.

Of course, it’s all rubbish! I’ve seen estimates that about 55% of the readers of young adult novels are adults (I would argue there a far more middle-aged Harry Potter fans than teenaged harry Potter fans); I’m sure the same can be said of new adult novels. Let’s be honest, very few of us have put a book down because “Whoops! This protagonist is not in my age group!” This brings us to the heart of the matter: people read books because they can relate, and because they are good reads. In a sense, I don’t think it really matters what I select from some drop-down menu. I think people enjoy reading about Gideon and Ruth because they are relatable: they are like your two good friends whom you are hoping will get together; and when they do get together you really hope it will work out. Gideon is a bit naïve, and he is constantly learning and growing. Ruth is growing too; it’s a good thing Gideon has her to keep him on the straight and narrow. No matter how old they get, as long as I do my job, there will be something compelling about their story. They will be two ordinary American kids growing up in the most extraordinary of times. Parts of their story will be intimately familiar to most of us, while some of their experiences will be both authentic and almost incomprehensible.

So, yes, maybe now Gideon and Ruth are “new adults.” But they are still very, very human: we can all relate to that.

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

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

Research and Revision

Every now and then I get thrown a curveball.

As I have been working on Gideon Hawke #5, I have known something was missing. Having outlined the story, I knew I had failed to grasp some compelling aspect of the Revolutionary War in first half of 1778.

Baron_Steuben_drilling_troops_at_Valley_Forge_by_E_A_AbbeyNot that the material is not there! There is the almost mythical winter at Valley Forge, the “rebirth” of the Continental Army, the shockwaves caused by the French entry into the war (and the subsequent British strategic realignment), the British evacuation of Philadelphia, and the ensuing clash at Monmouth Courthouse (also steeped in myth and legend).

A consultation with a historian at the Valley Forge National Historical Park pointed me toward some sources I had not considered, and that tip proved crucial.

As I read Wayne Bodle’s The Valley Forge Winter: Civilians and Soldiers in War I realized that I had gone somewhat astray…I had bought into too much of the myth, and was trying to reconstruct the mythical Valley Forge, rather than the actual Valley Forge. The research I had done thus far had seemed less than useful not because it was not accurate, but because it did not fit my preconceptions.

In the Gideon Hawke novels I have always portrayed the Continental Army as a resilient IMG_7587organization. It lacked the polish and uniformity of its foes, but it made the most of what it had. So it was at Valley Forge: the Continental Army endured an unpleasant winter, and it suffered at various times from shortages of food and supplies, but it was still a veteran force that made the most of what was at hand. Yes, Baron von Steuben lent a hand in training it, but would have trained without him. Had von Steuben, in his red coat, been clapped in irons upon arrival in America (as he almost was), I don’t think it would have changed the outcome at Monmouth…the Continental Army would have stood and fought stubbornly. Perhaps von Steuben gave the Continentals a bit more confidence, but I think his real contribution came later in the form of the standardized policies and procedures that made amateurs into professionals.

With all of that said…the story of Gideon Hawke #5 is not about the suffering and rebirth of the Continental Army. The story of Gideon Hawke #5 is about a young officer’s efforts to learn his trade, earn the respect of his people, and lead them through morally ambiguous situations. That is the formula that worked in Gideon Hawke Numbers 1-4, and I think it will work in Number 5.

Now…I have an outline to fix!

The Valley Forge Winter: Civilians and Soldiers in War on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/606475.The_Valley_Forge_Winter

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

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Moving Along!

Two weeks ago I wrote about the helping hand I received from the staff at the Valley Forge National Historical Park. One of the things about writing historical fiction that never ceases to amaze me is this: there are so many good people out there willing to help! For every naysayer I have met there are at least ten people willing to offer an insight or twenty. Some will even read passages to make sure I got the details right!

So it was with Valley Forge. I was hung up on what conditions were like a particular place and time. With a little guidance, I got back on track. I am pleased to report that since that last post a few more draft chapters are complete. Gideon Hawke has welcomed a new officer to his company, been berated by General Friedrich von Steuben, learned his lesson, and is beginning a new narrative arc. I am more excited about Gideon Hawke #5 than I have been for a while. In fact, the other night I was sitting in bed late at night typing a scene on my phone: I had to get that discussion between Gideon and Colonel Richard Butler out of my head and into electrons!

Perhaps that writing drought was my personal “Winter of 1778.” In my writing, as in my story, winter is almost over; it’s time to get busy!

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

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

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

A Helping Hand

I got stuck recently.

As I worked on Gideon Hawke #5, I have tried to convey conditions at Valley Forge during the winter of 1778. My problem: the more I dig, the less I seem to know.

March into Valley ForgeThat bears some explanation. The popular mythology of Valley Forge is well-established: a ragged, beaten Continental Army staggers into Valley Forge after losing another campaign, and huddles together, waiting for deliverance. A few months later it rises from the ashes of its campfires, retrained and revitalized, ready to take on the British. But is that correct? Probably not.

The truth, as usual, is more complicated. Was the Continental Army poorly equipped and fed at Valley Forge? Certainly! But it was also a very capable, resilient force, which took matters into its own hands to make the best of things. The challenge for someone like me: where is the balance? How do I portray this force that is struggling, but making the most of it?

I decided to reach out to the experts: the good folks at the Valley Forge National Historical Park. I submitted a couple of queries via the Park website, and was almost immediately connected to two very knowledgeable park employees. One was even good enough to spend nearly an hour on the phone with me, sharing his insights. I came away with a better understanding, and a list of recommended references. As I tear into this new information, I find I still have additional questions…some of which will probably never be answered.

The next challenge I will face: finding the balance between “myth” and “reality.” I could easily write a version of Valley Forge that would be unrecognizable to most readers. How much story do I sacrifice for historical accuracy? Can I even be sure about historical accuracy when the sources are often contradictory?

These questions are mine to sort out, and mine alone. As I do so, it is good to know there is a helping hand or two waiting to help me sort things out.

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

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

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

Appropriate Appropriation?

Recently my wife and I had the opportunity, on a cold and windy day, to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City to view the exhibit: Through the Eyes of Picasso. This collection featured originals and reproductions of Picasso’s work, as well as cultural artifacts from around the globe, many from Picasso’s own collection, which influenced his work.

I was struck by the ways in which Picasso often misunderstood these items. Taken out of context, for example, he interpreted fertility symbols as erotica. It would seem that Picasso understood these works through his own lens, adapting them to his needs. They inspired work that would be totally foreign to the original cultures; yet Picasso’s works have come to be regarded as masterpieces of Western art.

Shemagh2That was all very interesting, but the moment that stayed with me occurred just as we were stepping out of the exhibit. A young lady, an employee of the museum, probably in her twenties, stopped me as I was leaving to comment on my scarf. You see, as it was cold and windy outside, I was carrying not only my coat, but also a shemagh (also known as a keffiyeh): a red and white Arab headscarf. The young lady commented on the beauty of my scarf; at a glance she observed that it looked as though it had been handmade in Iraq. I was a bit taken aback: my interpreter had bought it at the local market for me during my deployment to Kirkuk. For me it was a token of our friendship and a reminder of one of the noblest things I have done in my life, as well as a toasty warm scarf! The young lady continued to explain not only how she was able to identify its origins, but also how it differed from the ones produced in her homeland of Palestine.

It was fascinating to learn more about my shemagh, but even more rewarding to see how deeply this object affected the young lady: for her it was more than a warm scarf–it reminded her of home.

This got me thinking—was I, like Picasso, appropriating a cultural artifact about which I had little or no understanding? After much thought, I would have to say, “No.” It is true that I was wearing an object with significance to another culture. The difference, I believe, is that this was NOT an artifact I scooped up from a dealer who had exploited a foreign culture for profit. This was a personal item I acquired at the source: I spent over two years of my life in Iraq, and developed an appreciation for Iraqi culture. I worked closely with my Iraqi counterparts, and trusted many of them with my life. At the end of that period I understood what T.E. Lawrence meant when he wrote about standing somewhere between two cultures: fully belonging to neither.

My shemagh has deep meaning to me; it may not remind of home, but it reminds of people and places that impacted my life and made me who I am. So, I will continue to proudly wear my shemagh. Yes, it belongs to another culture, but it is also a part of me.

Nelson-Atkins; Through the Eyes of Picasso: https://www.nelson-atkins.org/events/through-eyes-picasso/

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

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

Endurance: How Did They Do It?

Novelists do weird stuff.

It is hard to accurately write about things with which you are unfamiliar, so authors do all kinds of weird things. It is a running joke among authors that our internet search histories would at least raise some eyebrows, if not cause concern among law enforcement. (flogging…scalping…gunshot wounds…anatomy…poison…decomposition…you get the idea) But sometimes we just HAVE TO experience it! So…authors will occasionally do or try things that “normal” people would not.

The other evening after returning from work, I took my dog out into our frozen, snowy backyard to do his favorite thing: throw Frisbees for him to fetch. As I was standing there in the snow, it occurred to me that the weather conditions were not unlike those at Valley Forge in the chapter on which I had been working. As I reflected on the suffering of the soldiers, especially those without shoes, I wondered, “What is it really like to stand in the snow barefoot?” (You see where this is going, right?) In no time at all, my shoes and socks had come off, and there I was, with the thermometer at a balmy 22 degrees Fahrenheit, standing barefoot in the snow.

It wasn’t so bad at first…but then it was. Within a few minutes I was hopping back and forth, and I had the feeling of dozens of needles jabbing into my feet. I found myself walking around the yard just to get one foot at a time off the ground; and it turns out that having snow between one’s toes is rather unpleasant! I did not stay out there very long (being laid up with frostbitten feet would have awkward), but I did it long enough to know I never wanted to try it again.

Having come inside and warmed up, I had to wonder: “How did they do it?” Multiple sources corroborate the fact that many of Washington’s troops at Valley Forge (and other times and places) endured bitter winter conditions without shoes. So…how did they do it?

That question took me back to my own experiences of hearing “How did you do it?” You see, during a 24-year Army career I had to do some pretty unpleasant things. I always had shoes on my feet, but the Army has a way of testing you. It might be manning a tank in blistering desert heat (no, they don’t have air conditioning), walking the streets of an Iraqi city wearing 80-100 pounds of kit, being away from my family for 15 months, working 18 hour days for months on end, knocking on a door to tell a mom and dad their son was never coming home, or countless other unpleasant tasks. Often times when people hear things like that, their first reaction is to ask, “How did you do it?” This struck me hardest once when talking to a World War II combat veteran: I told him he accomplished amazing things, and he replied by talking about my multiple tours in Iraq. “How did you do it?”

It’s a good question to which there is no good answer. I usually just say something like, “It was my job.” That’s not a very informative answer, but maybe it says it all. You see, there are times when we must simply endure. Soldiering is great for offering up such opportunities. If I were a Continental soldier at Valley Forge, I would probably have endured that bitter winter simply because there was no other reasonable alternative. They believed in their cause, and they had a job to do, so they simply did their job.

 

washington prayer at VF

I do not mean to take away anything from what those men and women accomplished; far from it! In simply doing their jobs—in simply surviving—they kept the dream alive. They did their jobs when things were at their worst. They did their jobs when things improved. They did their jobs when the weather warmed up and training started in earnest. They did their jobs when the British abandoned Philadelphia and Washington gave chase under the blistering summer sun (another thing to endure). And they did their jobs at Monmouth Courthouse, when they went toe-to-toe with the flower of the British Army and proved that the Continental Army was a force to be reckoned with.

The soldiers of Valley Forge endured because they had to. In so doing, they kept the dream of Independence alive.

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

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

Progress!

A common question readers ask is, “How’s the next book coming?”

It’s an excellent question! Sometimes in the haste of everyday life I forget that I have under way this wonderful project called writing a book! Sometimes I am shocked to find that I actually make progress! So…I have added a progress tracker to the Gideon Hawke #5 page.

GH5 Progress 20171226

It is very simple, but I think it is effective. It may not look like I have gotten much done yet, but this takes into account writing the first draft; the first, second, and editor’s revisions; the beta read; proof review; final edits; and publication prep. Yes there is a lot to do, but I have already gotten quite a bit done!

I will update this tracker fairly regularly, so please come back to see how I am doing, and feel free to cheer me on! You can find the progress tracker here: Gideon Hawke #5.

Helping the Fight Against PTS

IWThank you everyone who purchased Gideon Hawke books this month! This was a strong month for sales, and as a result today I am donating $25.00 to Invisible Wound in honor of Veteran’s Day and the Centennial of the first Americans entering combat in World War I.

It has been said that Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) is not so much a disease as an open wound in the soul. That is an apt description, and far too many of my friends and colleagues bear such wounds. As we enter this holiday season, please remember that some of the best among us, who went to war on our behalf, are now in the toughest fights of their lives.

Thanks to you, this money will assist Invisible Wound with the mission of helping warriors of all sorts overcome Post-Traumatic Stress.

 

Invisible Wound Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/InvisibleWound/

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

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