Will Burton and July 5, 1777

While researching and writing Honor and Valor I found journal and diary entries telling of the first commemorations of the July 4th in 1777. The evening of 5 July, 1777 turned out to be substantially more important. As the sun set that day on the American soldiers at Fort Ticonderoga, outnumbered by 3:1 by General Burgoyne’s army several miles to the north, they loaded what they could carry and left. On boats they carried cannon and baggage south toward Skenesborough (now Whitehall), though most marched east and then turned south toward Hubbardton.

The Americans at Fort Ticonderoga numbered about 3,000 with a majority being Continental Army soldiers and the rest Massachusetts and New Hampshire militia.

Will Burton, barely 15-years-old, a fifer with the 3rd New Hampshire Continental Regiment, and likely full of adrenaline marched with them toward Hubbardton. Will, like my ancestor, Isaac Frye, was from Wilton, New Hampshire. Each of the nine companies in the regiment had a fifer and a drummer. Isaac Frye was at that time a Captain and commanded one of the companies in the 3rd NH, the same one Will had enlisted in three months earlier.

When I wrote the outline of Honor and Valor, I was telling Isaac Frye’s story. I was loosely aware of Will Burton’s service and knew I wanted to include it, but had not worked out how until I began writing the book. After getting stuck trying to introduce Will, I realized he would need to be a major character and a significant part of the story would need to come from his perspective.

I had no idea how important Will’s perspective would prove to be. Isaac Frye was an officer, and any who know the U.S. Army know an officer’s life and experiences are different than those of the privates (the short form of “private soldiers”, the 18th Century term for enlisted men).

Having been a private when I was barely 18-years old in the modern U.S. Army, I had some idea of Will’s role in the Continental Army. Being at the dirty hands end of the chain of command and bound by a sense of duty and a sacred oath builds character. Like Will, I learned it takes more than an oath to become a soldier.


The image features the cannon at Fort Ticonderoga guarding against approaches on Lake Champlain.




Honor and Valor – Historical Insights

Does your book provide any new contributions to our understanding of history? Most historians and people with degrees in history ask this of me when they learn of the research behind my books. It’s also an excellent weed-out question for those who like to read, whether it’s narrative-history, biography, or historical novels.

In Honor and Valor, I divide the contributions to historical understanding into two categories:  New Inferences from existing documents, and first tellings of these inferences.

First Tellings:

  • 40 Man Scout: In Chapter 6, I assembled the following:
    • A name by name composition of the forty-man scouting party from the rolls of all five of the regiments under Enoch Poor.
    • A plausible route from Louden’s Ferry to where they were ambushed.
    • Plausible reasons for undertaking the scouting mission in the first place.

The route came from military terrain analysis, and the site of the ambush from the Mohawk perspective was far and away the best option given the terrain, giving the Mohawk warriors cover, concealment, high ground, and placing their adversary in likely swampy lowland terrain. Luck was on my side for identifying men in the scouting party.  They left on September 4, 1777, and returned the following day.  Most regiments took their rolls on the fourth and noted the members as “On a Scout” or “On Command.” The total of such references from all five regiments was forty men.  No additional rolls were taken until January 1, 1778, but those rolls confirmed the results. My narrative of the battle combines the terrain analysis with Thomas Anburey’s account from within Burgoyne’s camp and Gavin Watt’s description that provided casualties on the Mohawk side, which implied the possibility of an attack on the caravan itself – in particular, John Deserontyon’s wounding; he was already wounded and I thought it unlikely for him to lead the ambush.

  • Battles of Saratoga from the perspective of being embedded in Isaac Frye’s company: The descriptions of these battles I’ve read are all akin to a bird’s eye view on a military-style walkthrough description. Those are necessary to form a basic understanding. Read enough of them and one can become rather immersed. But, do so with the intention of putting yourself in the shoes of a specific participant, and now your point of view changes radically, narrowing and becoming grounded, literally. What this person saw, heard, and might have done, minute by minute for several hours.  In particular, I am indebted to the work in Don Troiani’s Campaign to Saratoga – 1777: The Turning Point of the Revolutionary War in Paintings, Artifacts, and Historical Narrative. As a compilation of the most recent historical insights on these battles, it proved invaluable context for the specific accounts offered by members of the New Hampshire regiments in their letters and journals. I walked Isaac’s likely path through those battles Saratoga National Historical Park for an entire day to get the perspective of a six-foot-tall captain attempting to make sense of a chaotic battle over uneven terrain and through clouds of smoke from musket- and cannon-fire. Try putting yourself in a regiment commander’s place – I found smoke to be the first enemy you might face when making decisions to commit your men or to avoid losing your men.
  • The Fever at Valley Forge:  In cursory histories of battles, there is an assumption that because a regiment was present, they fought, and that every man in the regiment participated. Very early in my research, I figured Isaac fought in the Battle of Monmouth based on such thinking.  Instead, I learned he was sick. In Chapter 13, after analyzing the monthly rolls, I was able to piece together a far larger and more significant pattern of sickness in May, June, and July at Valley Forge.  I analyzed all rolls from March through September from the five regiments under Enoch Poor (1st, 2nd, and 3rd NH; and 2nd and 4th NY). Isaac’s company was percentage-wise the hardest hit.  There was no way to give a name to the disorder, or even to assume that it was just one disorder. I suspect the men who came back with William Adrian Hawkins carried it into camp, though Hawkins either avoided it or like Henry Dearborn only had a mild case that wasn’t reported in the rolls; Dearborn noted his case in his journal. An additional theory is all the fordings of the Schuylkill River, which must have been chilly, even in May, may have progressively undermined the men’s immune systems.

New Inferences from Known Documents:

  • Recruiting a Company in 1777:  In Chapter 2, I had to set aside my initial assumption that Isaac traveled around to each town. New Hampshire had organized its militia by county and assigned muster masters who knew the composition of their county’s militia and who might be good candidates for the Continental Army.  Major Abiel Abbott is who Isaac would have relied upon to expedite the recruiting of his company.
  • 24 hours in Schaghticoke: In Chapter 5, I got lucky.  After doing my initial research, I had a good narrative. I  was also in contact with Christina Kelly, the Town Historian for Schaghticoke, NY, starting with a 2011 blog on Major Van Veghton, then sharing Joseph Gray’s narrative for what had occurred.  Christina dug in and found a much richer story, and shared Schaghticoke in the American Revolution: A New Perspective on the Death of Major VanVeghten in August of 2018.  I combine these to tell a full version from Isaac’s narrative perspective.
  • Final Siege at Saratoga and the Surrender:  It seems to me this part of the victory at Saratoga is never told in full, and I enjoyed piecing it together.
  • Captain Beal at Fishkill:  This is important for the build-up of circumstances, particularly the lack of pay for the New Hampshire Continentals. For years, an incorrect account of Captain Beal circulated on the Internet and I am happy to report I can no longer find it.
  • Battle of Barren Hill: Also written from the perspective of those on the ground. This is a plausible telling of these events, as they are not as extensively documented. However, it became clear after piecing together the timeline for regiments learning Von Steuben’s new manual of arms that Captain Daniel Livermore, as senior officer, would likely have had command of the 3rd Regiment as Dearborn and Scammell, who were both in camp confirmed their presence in camp in their writings. There are a long series of untold and remarkable instances where junior officers had to assume command of their regiments due to the senior officers being otherwise engaged. I was glad for the opportunity to tell how Livermore and Isaac likely stepped into larger roles in this instance.



An Even Better Milestone

First and foremost, I hope you all healthy and coping as best as can be done given the coronavirus pandemic.

Thank you to all of you who bought and read my first book, The War has Begun. I have sincerely appreciated your support and reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It has encouraged me to not just keep researching and writing, but also to improve.

I am quite pleased to announce that Honor and Valor, Book 2 of the Duty in the Cause of Liberty series, is now available. Book 2 covers 1777 and 1778, including the Saratoga Campaign and Valley Forge. There is newly assembled history in several chapters, and I am grateful to those of you who helped with that.

Thus, I hope you have a little time to read and enjoy Honor and Valor in the coming months. As for me, I’ll be getting to work on Book 3, Trials of War, which begins with the Sullivan-Clinton campaign against

Your most Humble and Obedient Servant,


A Worthy Milestone to Report

At long last, I’ve finished the draft of “Honor and Valor”.  Let the editing begin.  My goal is to have it published in early March.  Merry Christmas to me!



Memorial Day Tribute to Five of a 40-Man Scout

September 4, 1777, Major Henry Dearborn of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment wrote the following in his journal:

“a Scout of 40 men under Command of Capt. fry of Colo. Scammels Regt. was Surpris’d By a Body of Indians & others Consisting in the whole of about 300. we Lost out our scout 9 men kild & taken–“

Memorial Day has become the time when we reflect on the sacrifices of our country’s soldiers and their families. Researching and writing my books has afforded me opportunities to learn a few stories of such sacrifices that have seemingly gone untold. Last year I wrote on Josiah Parker. This past year I finally sorted out the story of the scouting party Henry Dearborn wrote about.

Early on the morning of September 4, 1777, Captain Isaac Frye of Colonel Alexander Scammell’s 3rd New Hampshire Regiment led a party of forty men selected from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd NH and the 2nd and 4th New York Continental Army regiments out of their camp by Lowden’s Ferry on the south side of the Mohawk River. After crossing the river, Frye, a New Hampshire Farmer, likely led them along the north side of the river before turning northwest by what is today Alplaus. By early afternoon they were likely near Galway when they were ambushed by the warriors from the Fort Hunter Mohawks, who having been driven from their homes were on their way first to Burgoyne’s camp and ultimately to Canada.

This past summer I was able to use the rolls from these regiments to determine the names of all the men in this scouting party.  It was mostly luck that the rolls were taken on September 5 and 6, listing the men as either on a scout or on command.

Lieutenant Nathaniel McCally and privates Daniel Cook and Daniel Day apparently got separated and did not return with Captain Frye and were listed as missing.  The next date rolls existed for was Jan 1/2, 1778, where I confirmed these men had returned a day or two later. Those January rolls also listed the men who were killed or were listed as missing since the scouting party:

  • Sergeant William Kemp, Morrill’s company, 1st NH
  • Corporal Steven Lovekin, Blodgett’s company, 2nd NH
  • Private Isaac Leeland, Blodgett’s company, 2nd NH
  • Private Andrew Newell, Stone’s company, 3rd NH
  • Private Samuel Page, Gilman’s company, 1st NH

It’s been more than a decade since I learned my 4x great grandfather commanded this scouting party.  It has bothered me that Dearborn’s journal and Anburey’s account were all most of us knew about the events of September 4, 1777.  The names of these men who lost their lives that day while serving in the Continental Army were unaccounted for in any of the histories I’ve read and had eluded me until this year.

This skirmish also claimed the lives of as many as three men in the Fort Hunter party who were led by Odeserundiye (John Deserontyon, aka Captain John), who was wounded during the fighting. Samuel Cooley and Isaac Hill’s brother (I’ve not been able to confirm his first name) are the two names from the Fort Hunter part I’ve found mentioned as being killed. The Fort Hunter party included about 150 men, women, and children.

The full story will be in my upcoming novel, “Honor and Valor”, and I am hopeful of finishing within the year.



Anburey, Thomas 1784. “Travels Through the Interior Parts of America in a Series of Letters by an Officer” William Lane, Leadenhall Street, London, England. p391-398

Brown, Lloyd A. and Peckham, Howard H. 1939. “Revolutionary War Journals of Henry Dearborn 1775-1783” The Caxton Club, Chicago, IL. p104.

National Archives, Rolls of Brigadier General Enoch Poor’s brigade (1st, 2nd, and 3rd NH and 2nd and 4th NY regiments) dated Sept 4-6, 1777 and 1-2 Jan 1778. Accessed from 2014-2018 on http://www.Fold3.com.


Eric Schnitzer, Historian and Park Ranger at Saratoga National Historical Park: A little encouragement goes a long way.  Eric put me on the path to looking at all the September 1777 rolls for Enoch Poor’s brigade.


Progress update 3/12/2019

Nearly two years ago, I published “The War has Begun”.  Six months later I began writing “Honor and Valor” and it feels like I am about two-thirds done with the draft.  The Burgoyne campaign needed “just as bit” more research as Bob Euker famously intoned.  I am writing about Isaac in Fish Kill, NY in November of 1777 now.  He, along with all of the New Hampshire Continentals have endured a hard year and done so with no pay.  On the horizon:  A winter at Valley Forge.

Back to writing,


Freeman’s Farm: The more I read …

For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing the scenes during the Battle of Freeman’s Farm. The perspective is from inside the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment; imagining what it was like to be in the ranks, commanding platoons and companies, and orchestrating the positioning of a regiment on that battlefield.

Most histories are written from a birdseye view with the occasional tidbit coming from the diary or memoir of one of the men on the field. No complaints as those are great reads for getting introduced to the events and people involved. That said, between such histories and paintings of these battles, both new and old, something has been troubling me. How is it, given that each side had roughly 3,000 men, each man roughly twenty cartridges, and fired most of them over the 4-6 hours they were on the battlefield, that there were only a little over 1,000 total casualties?

Do that math:  The Americans fired upwards of 60,000 bullets and maybe 1,000 found an enemy soldier. The British fired about the same number and only hit half as many Americans.

For having fired a musket and demonstrated, hundreds of times, how a firelock works, while explaining the range and just how far off target they could be at a distance of 75 yards, I was still surprised by these numbers.

As I considered the possible reasons for this, some notions of what must have been going on, strategy and tactics-wise began to develop.  First is the 18th-century battlefield was more like a chess match than a shooting gallery. Colonels and captains had to preserve their troops by maneuvering on the field with the dual intent of catching their enemy within range of their muskets.

Sidebar:  Is the right word musket or firelock?  If Google’s NGram Viewer is reliable, it looks like it was similar to “flip phones” versus “cell phones”. It seems that firelocks were a specific new form of the musket class of weapon. 

Smoke from firing volleys providing the fog of battle to hide movements was only the beginning. Advancing or retreating while firing volleys by platoon allowed for relatively high rates of sustained fire to push groups of enemy troops out of the way, or respectively slow their advance.  Getting close enough, perhaps by flanking (coming around to the side of an enemy’s formation), to warrant a bayonet charge while your enemy reloads was a tempting and dangerous goal. Execute poorly and the tables could be turned rather quickly.

Given that, my respect has risen considerably for the American Colonels (Cilley, Scammell, Cook, Adams, and Hull) who directed their men in the field around Freeman’s farm against Burgoyne and Hamilton on this day 241 years ago. These men did not just rush onto the field ala Mel Gibson (as Benjamin Martin or William Wallace) and clash with their enemy. One of the consistent recollections by the men who were there was of the tremendous amount of musketry.  That meant firing volley’s, advancing, wheeling, and retreating if no advantage was gained.

Another thing to take into account was the likelihood that Morgan’s riflemen, and the Jaegers who carried rifles, accounted for a double-digit percentage of the casualties. There were points during the battle where the fighting came to hand-to-hand combat. Both of these facts imply those muskets accounted for even fewer casualties than the 1 in 60 easy math I began with.

Consider that not all men on either side were killers. Aiming a firearm with the intent of taking a life is no small thing. Given all the smoke, there were certainly times when finding a target was impossible–just point into the smoke and pull the trigger when commanded to fire.

It seems only one man in five or even six fired a shot that struck an enemy that day. The credit for keeping the American casualties so low goes to the officers who guided their troops on the field and in the woods while they fought for something more than a six pence.*


* From a Henry Dearborn quote: “But we who had Something more at Stake than fighting for Six Pence Pr Day kept our ground til Night, Closed the scene, & then Both Parties Retire’d”

KVCR 91.9 – KVC Arts Interview

It is really nice when your hometown Library, the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, takes great care of you.  They invited me to give a presentation on the research behind The War has Begunand to promote the presentation they arranged for our local public radio station, KVCR 91.9 to do an interview for their KVC Arts program.

An excerpt from that interview is available now on the KVC Arts website. I enjoyed speaking with interviewer Emmanuel Rogers. We did the interview in the KVCR studio, which is located on the campus of San Bernardino Valley College. Emmanuel’s style was to read the book, then with no questions provided ahead of time, record the interview – it worked great.  No chance to overthink anything.


Here’s a great article, following up on the intersection of Joseph Gray’s narrative and the Van Veghton family’s accounts of the New Hampshire Continental troops assisting in the evacuation of Schaghticoke, NY in August of 1777.

I am re-writing that part of Book 2 in Duty in the Cause of Liberty for the third time now.  Hoping that is the proverbial charm.


How do we accurately know and report what happened in the past? We learned in school that we should consult primary sources- oral histories; diaries; newspaper reporting; birth, death and marriage certificates, etc. – things created by the people who participated in the events. Of course, we know that everyone experiences an event differently, […]

via Schaghticoke in the American Revolution: A New Perspective on the Death of Major VanVeghten — History of the Town of Schaghticoke

Schaghticoke in the American Revolution, Major VanVeghten scalped

Got to love the Internet for providing the basis to connect the threads of history! See my comment proposing the connecting the thread at the end.

History of the Town of Schaghticoke

          In the last post, I related a Knickerbocker family legend that the fort near the Mansion was occupied by Hessian soldiers at the time of the battle of Saratoga. Though I doubt very much that that was true, there is no doubt that there were bands of Tories, Indians, and perhaps Hessians and British roaming through the area during the summer of 1777 before the battle of Saratoga. Major Dirck VanVeghten of the  local militia unit, the 14th Albany County, was killed by one band when he came from Saratoga just before the battle to check on his home in Schaghticoke. One source states that VanVeghten came home on “an intelligence gathering mission.” In either event,  he was accompanied only by Solomon Acker, one of  the soldiers in his company of the 14th Albany County Militia.

            The story of Major VanVeghten really illustrates the great variety…

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