240 Years On…Saratoga

We are now 240 years on from the Battle of Saratoga. The clash called Freeman’s Farm took place on September 19th, 1777. The two sides dug in and probed each other until the decisive clashed misleadingly named after Bemis Heights occurred almost three weeks later. Shortly afterwards John Burgoyne would surrender his army, and his once proud name would forever be associated with defeat. (The Americans would even turn it into a verb: getting “Burgoyned” was something you DID NOT want to happen to you)

Hudson emplacementSo what? Well, Saratoga was decisive in the way few battles can claim. It more than outweighed the fall of Philadelphia to the British. While the Americans lost their capitol temporarily, the British lost an army of thousands of men for good. Saratoga was the trigger for France to entire the war on the American side, and the family squabble in America became a global war between empires. Ultimately, of course, the Americans and French would “Burgoyne” another British army at Yorktown, and the British would seek peace.

The guns at Saratoga are long since silent. The fields and forests that were once places of battle are now peaceful, even serene. They are excellent places for reflection, and for appreciating the efforts of those on both sides of the family squabble that gave birth to the United States of America.

To read about Saratoga from a participant’s perspective, check out A Constant Thunder.

 

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Saratoga Prelude: Stanwix and Oriskany

My new novel A Constant Thunder takes the reader to the Hudson Valley in the lead up to the Battles near Saratoga. By the nature of the plot it glosses over a set of dramatic events that were part of the Hudson Valley Campaign, but took place well west of Albany: the Siege of Fort Stanwix and the Battle of Oriskany.

General John Burgoyne’s Plan for the 1777 Campaign was to divide the United States by seizing the Hudson Valley. An important component of his plan was a diversionary attack from Lake Ontario. Lieutenant Colonel Barrimore Matthew “Barry” St. Leger would command force of up to 1,000, including a few hundred British and German regular troops, augmented by several hundred Loyalists and Native American warriors. St. Leger’s command would move by boat up the Saint Lawrence River into Lake Ontario, through Oswego, NY, up Lake Oneida, over the Oneida Carrying Place, and descend the Mohawk River Valley to threaten Albany. The purpose of this drive was to draw American forces away from opposing Burgoyne’s attack down Hudson River Valley, and to raise a force of Loyalist militia, hopefully over a thousand men, from the Oswego-Albany area. In St. Leger’s way stood Fort Stanwix.

1280px-Grand_Union_Flag_svg

Grand Union Flag

Fort Stanwix was constructed during the French and Indian War, and fell into disrepair afterwards. American troops reoccupied it in 1776 and began repairs, renaming it Fort Schuyler, but it continued to be referred to as “Stanwix.” In May, 1777 Colonel Peter Gansevoort assumed command of the fort and its 750-man garrison, consisting of the 3rd New York Regiment and some Massachusetts troops.

St. Leger’s force arrived at Stanwix on August 2nd, 1777. On August 3rd Gansevoort rejected a demand for surrender, and a siege commenced. One legend has it that the Stars and Stripes flew in battle for the first time over Fort Stanwix, but the Stanwix battle flag was more likely the Grand Union Flag, first flown at Washington’s Headquarters on January 1st, 1776.

Herkimer_at_oriskany

Herkimer at Oriskany

On August 6th, relief force of about 800 militia troops, plus a group of Oneida warriors, under the command of Nicholas Herkimer was ambushed by a 450-man Native American and Loyalist force near Oriskany. The savage battle that ensued cost the Americans over 50% casualties (including Herkimer, who was mortally wounded), with their ambushers suffering over 30% casualties; at the end of the day the relief force retreated. A sortie from the fort during the battle caused significant loss of equipment and personal property to the besiegers, somewhat offsetting the defeat of the relief force. Significantly, Oriskany was the first time members of the Iroquois Confederacy fought against each other: it marked the beginning of an Iroquois civil war, and the downfall of the great Confederacy.

 

After Oriskany the Siege of Fort Stanwix continued with an ongoing British bombardment and the digging of trenches progressively closer to the fort’s walls.

On August 22nd, word reached the Iroquois in St. Leger’s force that another relief force was approaching: this time it was commanded by American Major General Benedict Arnold. Arnold has sent ahead a captured loyalist, who in exchange for his life greatly exaggerated the size of Arnold’s force. Already demoralized by the casualties at Oriskany and lost goods due to the sortie, the Iroquois abandoned St. Leger. Now hopelessly outnumbered, St. Leger launched a precipitous retreat, leaving much of his equipment to fall into the hands of the Americans.

St. Leger’s defeat secured the American flank near Albany, and allowed American General Horatio Gates to focus all of his available forces, to include Arnold and his relief force, against Burgoyne’s troops. Arnold himself would play a key role in the upcoming battles near Saratoga.

To learn more about the Saratoga Campaign from a participant’s standpoint, pre-order A Constant Thunder HERE!

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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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Historical Figures Great and Small

A great challenge and joy of writing historical fiction is learning about historical figures, both great and small, and working them into my novels. Sometimes I only know them as names on a centuries-old roster, but those names represent real people who once participated in monumental events.

Gideon Hawke is a fictional character. His name, description, and character traits are all products of my imagination. Ruth Munroe is a fictional character, but her surname has roots in Lexington, Massachusetts. By contrast, Andrew Johnston was a real person. I know absolutely nothing about the real Andrew Johnston…aside from the fact that he was one of the original members of Thompson’s Rifle Battalion/the 1st Continental Regiment, he was promoted to sergeant , and [SPOILER ALERT…READERS MAY WANT TO AVERT THEIR EYES] eventually he became an officer, reaching the rank of First Lieutenant on May 12th, 1779. Everything else about him, from the image in my mind to the description on my “character chart,” is fiction, roughly based on my limited knowledge of Johnston’s life and times. Fictional Andrew Johnston is one of my favorite characters; real Andrew Johnston was one of the “winter soldiers” who stayed with Washington during the bad times; through his stubbornness and determination he helped keep the dream alive.

I have recently enjoyed getting to know a few other real characters, all of whom appear in Gideon Hawke #4: A Constant Thunder.

  • Lieutenant Colonel Richard Butler. Butler grew up in his father’s Pennsylvania gunsmith business, and prior to the war was very active in trading with Native American tribes. He was held in high esteem by, and spoke the languages of, several nations, so in the early years of the war he played a key role in keeping some tribes from going over to the British side. He was later commissioned in the Continental Army. A physically strong, hot-tempered man, and pre-war friend of Colonel Daniel Morgan, he served as Morgan’s second-in-command in the Rifle Corps during the Saratoga Campaign. He will play an increasingly large role in Gideon’s life.
  • Captain James Parr. Parr was another original member of Thompson’s Rifle Battalion. When Morgan formed his rifle corps, Parr joined it, commanding the company drawn from the 1st Continental/1st Pennsylvania Regiment. I know very little about Parr aside from his service record. One thing I do know is the tantalizing fact that in the summer of 1777, in small-scale skirmishing, he was personally credited with killing four enemy soldiers in close combat, running at least one through with his sword. Clearly he led from the front! Parr and Gideon will get to know each other very well.
  • Lieutenant Ebenezer Foster. Ebenezer Foster hailed from southeast Massachusetts. He joined the militia in 1777 and served in the Siege of Boston, being involved in the fortification of the Dorchester Heights in March 1776. Commissioned as an officer in the summer of 1777, his service ultimately took him to the Hudson Valley, where he joined Dearborn’s Light Infantry Battalion. Dearborn’s unit worked under Morgan’s command in support of the Rifle Corps. Together, these two units made an incredibly effective team, whose impact at Saratoga was far out of proportion to its numbers. But the price these units paid, especially the Light Infantry, was very dear indeed. In A Constant Thunder, Ebenezer Foster and Gideon Hawke are boyhood friends who meet again in the shadow of great events.

It gives me pause when I realize that I am appropriating the names of people who fought in the great struggle for Independence. I pray that I do them justice. I cannot pretend to be delivering true-to-life portrayals, but I can say I do my best with the information I can find. Perhaps by shedding new light on their names I am at least helping to keep alive their memory I am certainly expressing my gratitude for their toils and sacrifices.

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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.

The Forage War: Spanktown

On February 23rd, 1777 the British and Americans fought one of the largest battles of the Forage War at Spanktown, near modern-day Rahway, NJ.

Increasingly frustrated by American attacks on their foraging parties, the British command unleashed Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mahwood, the aggressive British commander who very nearly won the day at Princeton. With four British infantry regiments, plus a battalion each of light infantry and grenadiers, Mahwood was well-equipped to challenge any American Continental or Militia units that stood in his way.

Happening upon a small American foraging party covered by a brigade of New Jersey Continentals on a nearby hilltop, Mahwood deployed his troops for battle. He launched a grenadier company on a wide flanking movement, preparatory to a massed bayonet assault. The British moved confidently, prepared to overcome American resistance with cold steel. Then the Americans sprang the trap.

spanktown

Possible deployments at Spanktown, from A Nest of Hornets

The New Jersey units were bait. Hiding in ambush was a Pennsylvania Brigade including Colonel Edward Hand’s 1st Pennsylvania (formerly called both Thompson’s Rifle Battalion and the First Continental Regiment). The grenadier company unwittingly marched across the front of the hidden Pennsylvanians, who sprang from concealment and fired a volley which annihilated the flanking force. Both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania brigades now maneuvered aggressively against Mahwood’s remaining troops who, outnumbered and outflanked, fell back. The light infantry and grenadier battalions fought a brief rearguard action as the infantry regiments withdrew. Lieutenant Colonel Mahwood must be credited with escaping with most of his force intact, but the retreat soon turned into a route.

 

The British were not only driven from the field with significant losses, but the Americans pursued them all the way to the British stronghold in the Amboys. It must have been an agonizing defeat for the British hero of Princeton. More importantly, it foretold the successes of a Continental Army that, in eight months’ time, would bring General John Burgoyne to heel at Saratoga.

You can experience the Battle of Spanktown from a participant’s point of view in the novel A Nest of Hornets.

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Revolutionary Strategy: The Hudson River

The Saratoga Campaign was a disaster for the British. It was such a resounding success for their American adversaries that it overshadowed the British occupation of Philadelphia in persuading France to enter the war on the American side. With the benefit of hindsight, one might wonder what brought a British Army to a remote stretch of woods north of Albany, where it would be forced to march into captivity. Well, simply put, the Saratoga Campaign may have been the closest the British came to a winning military strategy.

albanyIn the 1700s there was no highway system in the United States, and all-season roads were a rarity. The fastest and most efficient way to move people and goods was often by water. Commerce flowed up and down rivers, and ferries traversed the larger rivers to connect what road networks existed on either side. The British rightly considered the New England states to be the birthplace of the Revolution, and the theory was that if they could isolate New England from the rest of the rebellious former colonies, they might be able to concentrate their forces and stamp out the rebellion piecemeal. At the very least, establishing a cordon around New England might have forced George Washington into attacking to break the cordon. Given superior British discipline, firepower, and potentially numbers, such a battle might well have led to the destruction of Washington’s main force; in that event American capitulation would likely have been merely a matter of time.

Given those considerations, when viewing a map from across the Atlantic, the Lake Champlain-Lake George-Hudson River Corridor looked like an inviting invasion route. It had in fact historically been the quickest route for travel between Canada and New York. It seemed reasonable that an army of several thousand people should be able to attack southward down the corridor and link up at Albany with a force coming northward from New York. This would put in British hands the key ferries across the Hudson and open up communications between New York and Canada. New England would be isolated from the rest of the states, and George Washington would be between the proverbial rock and hard place.

Fortunately for the Americans, what looked easy from London was much harder in practice. The British could move supplies and troops by water, but they could not simply sail all the way to Albany. They had to fight their way overland to clear American troops from the river’s banks. The American’s however, pursued a Fabian strategy of falling back in the face of superior numbers, destroying bridges, felling trees across roads, and even inundating roadways as they went. They also proved adept at slipping around the main British force and attacking British lines of communication. Plagued by poor roads, too few wagons and draft animals, and rebel interdiction, Burgoyne found that every time he advanced a few miles, he had to pause for weeks to amass supplies. All the while, more and more American forces were massing between him and his objective of Albany.

Hudson emplacement

The Great Redoubt at the Saratoga Battlefield, overlooking the Hudson River.

In spite of all that, the British Hudson Campaign might still have succeeded, but the nail in the coffin for the British strategy was poor strategic management. Lord Germain, the British Secretary of State for America, was a notorious micromanager, attempting to dictate military strategy from across the Atlantic via letters that took weeks if not months to reach their recipients. In the case of overall strategy for 1777 however, Germain committed the cardinal strategic sin of not setting a unified strategy for the North American theater. He directed Burgoyne to reach Albany and then operate under command of General Howe, the British land force commander for North America, but Germain failed to direct Howe to attack up the Hudson to link up with Burgoyne. Howe pursued his own strategy of capturing Philadelphia, leaving only a defensive force, with restrictive guidance, in New York. This force, under Clinton, did attack up the Hudson, but was not powerful enough to get through to Albany and then fight through the forces opposing Burgoyne. So, ultimately, Burgoyne’s hopes of breaking through were dashed at Bemis Heights.

The British would never again come so close to restoring Crown rule in their erstwhile colonies.

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For Want of a Nail: Did Bad British Logistics Lose America for the Crown?

It is a cliché in the military that amateurs talk about tactics and professionals talk about logistics, but behind many clichés lay hard truths. While there are several reasons the British lost the American War of Independence, poor logistics may have doomed them from the start.

In some respects the British war in the Americas was a masterpiece of strategic logistics. Within 15 months of “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” the British Empire had assembled the largest land and naval expeditionary force in history and projected it across the Atlantic Ocean. But at the local level, that force quickly ran into trouble.

First and foremost, British military logistics were not centralized. The British Treasury Department was responsible for supplying food and forage. The Navy Board was responsible for oceanic transportation, and the Ordnance Board has responsibility for supplying artillery and munitions. The position of Quartermaster General had responsibility for logistics oversight for the Army, but also served as a Chief of Staff, so his focus was not entirely on logistical problems. To make matters worse, the Army’s Commissary Department was notoriously corrupt. In this time period it was expected that Army Commissaries, who were civilians, would profit from their service; in fact it was not uncommon, perhaps even expected, that people would fleece the government whenever possible. Efforts by suppliers to cut corners, compounded by official corruption, combined with a harsh trans-Atlantic voyage, meant that much if not most of the food shipped to the Americas from Great Britain was lost or spoiled en route. This forced the British Army in North America to forage.

Once the British cleared American forces from Long Island and Manhattan and penetrated the rich farmlands of New Jersey, it was hoped that the bounty from New Jersey and occupied New York would solve British food supply problems. Washington’s daring raid on Trenton proved the folly of dispersing garrisons across New Jersey, and the newly-emboldened Jersey Militia and Continental Army made life nearly unbearable for the British and their Hessian allies. Foraging expeditions turned into running battles, and the British were forced to commit larger and larger forces to efforts to simply seize stock of flour. To make matters worse, depredations committed by British and Hessian troops while foraging provided excellent fodder for American propaganda, and convinced many Americans to get off the fence and support the patriot cause.

The scarcity of supplies of all kind, and the primitive conditions prevalent in North America, forced General John Burgoyne into one of the greatest British disasters of the war: his surrender at Saratoga. In his plan to attack out of Canada and down the Hudson Valley, Burgoyne had envisioned enlisting thousands of horses and wagons which simply never materialized. His campaign of 1777 was marked by fits and starts: he would surge forward and win a tactical victory, and then halt for weeks to lick his wounds and gather supplies while his American foes gathered forces, destroyed roads, and prepared defenses. Burgoyne lost 10% of his force in the Battle of Bennington, which was essentially a foraging expedition gone disastrously wrong. By the time he drew near to objective at Albany, his force was weakened and depleted, and he was faced with a very strong American position manned by patriots who knew their foe was on the ropes. After his surrender at Saratoga his men marched into captivity in tattered clothes, while the French court was convinced it was time to join the American cause.

Arguably the only way the British could have won the war was by cutting loose from their logistics base and pursuing Washington’s Army in a war of maneuver and forcing it into a decisive battle. In this case the superior British training, discipline, and firepower might have won the day, but the British Army was simply not equipped to sustain itself away from rivers and ports. Such a daring move risked the British main force itself being isolated and withering on the vine, just as Burgoyne’s force had done.

surrenderIn the final act of the War, General Cornwallis dashed across Virginia in an example of what a British force could accomplish if it cut loose from its logistical tail. Unfortunately for Cornwallis, the French Navy for once achieved local superiority over the Royal Navy, and Cornwallis found himself with his back to the York River. He was forced to slaughter his horses to preserve his very limited stocks of food, and his troops were weakened by the effects of malaria. With no relief in sight, a dwindling force, and a growing American-French force pounding his defenses, Cornwallis was forced to surrender, and the Crown was forced to the negotiating table.

The British Army in the Americas suffered from numerous challenges during the American Revolution. But throughout the war, from the generals unable to pursue a winning strategy to the privates with grumbling stomachs, logistical problems would be a constant reminder of the challenges of fighting an implacable foe far, far from home.

You can learn more about the fight for American Independence in the Gideon Hawke Series.

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The Plot Thickens: Rowing Upstream

As I waited to receive the proof copy of A Nest of Hornets I found myself inevitably drawn to working on Gideon Hawke #4, A Constant Thunder. I have already written several scenes, or at least the shells of those scenes, but I still have a lot of work to do on sketching out the flow of the novel. I had identified the chapters and was trying to flesh one of those chapters out when inspiration struck with a glance at a map.

It is no secret that Gideon Hawke will find himself in Daniel Morgan’s Provisional Rifle Corps, and thus will move north to confront Burgoyne’s “Canadian Army” in late summer of 1777. I had intended to focus one chapter on the movement north. I had a sketchy idea that there were boats involved at some point in that undertaking, but I had not yet tried to envision how that journey looked. So, last week I sat down to try to sort out how Morgan’s Rifle Corps got to the Albany area.

Hudson emplacementI knew the destination, so the next step was to identify the starting point. In poking around I discovered that Morgan’s headquarters was in the Hackensack, New Jersey area around the time Washington ordered Morgan to join the Northern Department. Having start and end points, I looked at the map and was hit with a blinding flash of the obvious: Hackensack and Albany both lay along the Hudson River. Given the primitive condition of the American road network in the 1770s, the fastest, cheapest, and easiest was to get five hundred men and assorted family members the roughly 130+ miles between these two points would have been to move straight up the Hudson.

The watercraft of choice in late Eighteenth Century America was the bateau: a flat-bottomed, shallow-draft vessel ranging in length from under twenty to over eighty feet in length. These craft carried both passengers and cargo, could maneuver in shallow water, and were relatively easy to transport overland. They could be propelled by sail, pole, or oar, and were critical to commerce and transportation in Colonial and Revolutionary America.

Before this I had never paid much attention to the lowly bateau, even though it features prominently in any discussion of the Saratoga Campaign. But now I find myself rearranging A Constant Thunder to include several chapters describing a bateau journey upstream. Not only will this be a great way to highlight a little understood aspect of life in Revolutionary America, but it will also serve as a metaphor on several levels. Without giving too much away, I am thinking about questions like: Who is in that boat with Gideon? What challenges does such a journey present? What other challenges might Gideon and his fellow characters face? What other life journeys might Gideon be on? What awaits at the end of the journey? What goes through a young man’s mind as he sails (or rows) day after day? Is this journey a trial, a quest, or both?

Writing historical fiction can be full of surprises. Occasionally a seemingly inconsequential bit of research can turn your story on its head. In this case, a glance at a map opened up an entirely new adventure.

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Tedious but Enlightening Research

As I have said before, one of the great challenges of writing historical fiction is GETTING IT RIGHT! While it was a treat to visit the Saratoga Battlefield, research is not all fun in the sun!

For the first three novels in the Gideon Hawke Series I was fortunate enough to find print books with rosters of the actual units to which I assigned Gideon Hawke. Those days are over! In Book 4, A Constant Thunder, Gideon and a few of his comrades decide to join Morgan’s Provisional Rifle Corps. In doing so they march into a unit for which records are scarce! We know a great deal about the exploits of Morgan’s Riflemen, but rosters are difficult to come by, and the sources available are often incomplete or contradictory. The most helpful source I have been able to find is a list of participants in the Battles at Saratoga prepared by Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County, NY. It is a lengthy list, not quite complete, but it provides basic information on known participants. For example:

WRIGHT, Barrick             NY

             Drummer, Capt. Wright’s co., Col. Van Cortlandt’s regt., from 14 Jan 1777 to Jan 1782. 

So, I went the tedious exercise of pouring through tens of thousands of names looking for the phrase: “Captain James Parr’s co.; Col. Morgan’s Battalion.” I don’t think the list is quite complete: I only came up with 32 names, including Captain Parr, a sergeant, a corporal, and a few dozen privates; other sources claim Parr marched with a few lieutenants and 50 enlisted men. There are also a few discrepancies in the assignments of a few other members of Morgan’s Rifles: in one instance, Private Timothy Murphy is listed as belonging to Captain Hawkins Boone’s Company, but other sources indicate he was in Parr’s Company. While there may be a few inaccuracies, I am confident I have gotten a feel for the actual men who marched north in August, 1777 to reinforce the Northern Department against Burgoyne. This was a long and tedious exercise, but it had unintended benefits. You see, an exercise like this yields fertile ground for an author with an imagination. Here is one example:

CHURCH, John                   CT          

              Served under Gen. Arnold; helped Arnold from his horse when he was wounded at Saratoga.

Additional military information: Served under Arnold at Quebec, 1775. Other: He was born 1755 in Chester CT; died 1834 in Winchester CT. He married Deborah Spence, 1780; they had at least one son, Isaac who married Sylvia Maria Clark and one daughter, Lucy, who married Asa Gilbert Olds.  He was placed on pension in 1832, for over nine month’s actual service as private in the Connecticut troops.

Now, I have walked on the very spot behind the Breymann Redoubt where Benedict Arnold was wounded, so Private Church and I have trod upon the same ground, albeit separated by 239 years of time. For me having this bit of information makes Private John Church a fascinating and familiar character. I am not quite sure how yet, but I am certain he will have a cameo in A Constant Thunder.

More importantly for me, reviewing this list of names has brought me closer to the subject matter by making Saratoga very much more personal. I did not originally want to engage in such a tedious task, but once I did I stumbled upon poignant entries such as this:

EASTMAN, Joseph             NH

              1st N. H. Regiment.  Died 30 Oct 1777 of wounds received at Saratoga.

This entry provides very little information about Joseph Eastman, other than his name and unit, but I know enough about the clashes at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights to know that on both occasions the 1st New Hampshire Regiment went toe-to-toe with the best the British Army had to offer, and it covered itself with glory. I also know enough about those battles and about 18th Century medicine to deduce that Private Eastman fell on October 7th, 1777, and endured over three weeks of agony before succumbing to his wounds. I also found hard evidence confirming that the regiments heavily engaged at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights paid dearly for their role. The list is replete with members of units like the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd New Hampshire Regiments, Dearborn’s Light Infantry, or the Albany County Militia, who suffered many killed or mortally wounded on September 19th and October 7th, 1777.

It is my sincere hope that in some small way A Constant Thunder will help preserve the memory of soldiers like Drummer Wright, Private Church, and Private Eastman: Americans who fought in fields many miles from their homes, and who in many cases gave what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”

Many thanks to the men and women who did the inglorious work of preserving, compiling, and organizing these data, helping to preserve the legacy of the Americans who fought their fledgling Nation’s independence along the banks of the Hudson in 1777.

Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County, NY: American Participants at the Battles of Saratoga: http://saratoganygenweb.com/sarapk.htm#Top

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