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!

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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

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Learning as I Go: Pulling the Thread

It is simply amazing how a simple inquiry can open doors to new learning: how pulling a single thread can reveal a wonderful tapestry.

In working on Gideon Hawke #4: A Constant Thunder I found myself wanting to learn just a little more about a very specific place and time. While trying to discern British General Howe’s intentions in early August, 1777, General George Washington ordered Daniel Morgan’s Provisional Rifle Corps to Maidenhead, New Jersey. There the Corps had a few days’ respite from marching, before the pivotal order that sent it north to Saratoga and into history.

In weaving the narrative of the Gideon Hawke story it seemed this interlude would be a great opportunity for Gideon and the lads to take care of a few pressing matters, and perhaps to get in touch with their Creator. “Where’” I wondered, “would they go to church?” A little Google magic took me to the website of the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville (formerly Maidenhead). The website itself was incredibly informative, but then I had the courage to contact the pastor! A few emails later and I was introduced to a small brick church building that in 1777 stood on the highest point around, along the Princeton-Trenton Road. Even better, I was introduced to Reverend Elihu Spencer: writer, missionary to Native Americans (fluent at least in the Oneida language), veteran of the French and Indian War (Chaplain to the New York Troops), rebuilder of congregations in the Carolinas, and pastor of the flocks in Trenton and Maidenhead during the Revolution. I also learned quite a bit about the toll the 1776, Princeton, and winter forage campaigns had taken on Maidenhead. Wow! Suddenly a fleeting thought had become a haunting reality, thanks to the efforts of a few good-hearted history buffs.

In researching and writing A Constant Thunder I have met some wonderful people: Douglas Bicket, Park Ranger at the Saratoga Battlefield; David Manthey, expert on Mohawk and Hudson River bateaux; and Reverend Jeff Vamos and Bill Schroeder of The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Not only are these folks truly passionate about their historical interests, but they have been incredibly generous in sharing their knowledge and expertise. Gideon Hawke #4 will be a much better reflection of history thanks to them.

Tomb

Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier: Philadelphia, PA

Now, I must admit a bit of trepidation: a truly great writer could weave a beautiful tapestry of words with the kind of input I have received; I’m not sure I can do justice to the material at hand. I am, however, determined to try. My work may fall short of greatness, but if one person reads A Constant Thunder and takes away a better appreciation of the cost of war, and the magnitude of the American victory at Saratoga, it will at least have been a worthwhile effort.

 

Now…back to writing!

History of The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville: https://pclawrenceville.org/our-history/

Check for the latest updates on Gideon Hawke #4: A Constant Thunder.

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The Shot Heard Round the World

Here once the embattled farmers stood,

 And fired the shot heard round the world.

     –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Concord Hymn

Stand Your Ground

Stand Your Ground, by Don Troiani

 

On April 19th, 1775 the world changed forever. Tensions between the British Government and its American Colonies had reached the boiling point. For some time British forces had been making forays into the countryside to confiscate weapons and ammunition, and American militia units had been turning out to observe, taunt, and intimidate the Crown’s troops. On this particular morning in Lexington, Massachusetts, the tensions metastasized into violence. As British troops maneuvered to outflank and disperse the Lexington Training Band, which had formed up on Lexington Common, shots rang out. In short order eight Americans were dead and one British soldier was wounded. Word of the shooting spread like wildfire, and soon militia units were converging on Concord, the British objective, and the road from Concord to Boston.

As the British troops were searching the Concord area, a British light infantry force guarding the North Bridge found itself confronted by a strong militia force, which advanced on the bridge. The shooting at Lexington might have been an accident, but what happened next at Concord was deliberate. A few shots were fired, and then a British captain ordered his men to fire on His Majesty’s subjects. Then, in the first formal act of rebellion, a Massachusetts militia officer ordered his men to fire on the King’s troops. That volley was the shot heard round the world. British troops fell, the light infantry retreated, and Great Britain and its colonies were at war.

Minute_Man_National_Historical_Park_MIMA0070

The North Bridge at Concord

 

In short order the countryside was aflame. Militia forces ambushed the British time and again; they pursued the British column and harried its flanks. At times British soldiers stood back-to-back, loading and firing at fleeting figures and puffs of smoke on either side of the road. At times the British troops simply ran for their lives. By the time the British made it back to Lexington they were in near panic: their ammunition was nearly exhausted and they had miles yet to go. Mercifully for them, a British brigade had marched to their relief and occupied the hills near Lexington. The combined force then battled its way back to Boston, fighting the entire way. As the sun set, campfires sprung up on the hills overlooking Boston and Cambridge: the British garrison was under siege.

When the sun rose over the Atlantic Ocean on April 19th, 1775, it had shed its light on a peaceful countryside. It would be eight years before peace was fully restored in the newborn United States of America.

You can learn about Lexington and Concord from the participants’ perspective in This Glorious Cause.

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