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.

CEF

 

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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