Saturday, January 21, 2012

Petite Guerre


I recently finished working on a section in Crucible of War set during the terrible winter of 1777, when the Continental Army was camped at Morristown, NJ, and Washington settled on a strategy of petite guerre, or little war. Quickly seeing the potential of the New Jersey militias’ hit and run raids on British patrols and foraging parties after Trenton and Princeton, Washington seized on what turned out to be a brilliant strategy for demoralizing and wearing down the enemy.

The American Revolution was a war of attrition, and in the winter of 1777 it success depended most heavily on the highly effective efforts of these New Jersey militia units. During the late fall of 1776 the inhabitants of the state had endured incredible suffering under the heel of the British boot, and especially because of the depredations of the Hessians, who boldly plundered, raped, murdered, and otherwise abused the citizenry whether they had avowed allegiance to the king or not. The result was to win rabidly loyal adherents to the Glorious Cause as the offended populace rose up to exact vengeance on their tormentors.

The petite guerre accomplished a number of goals for the Americans: It ruined the Howe brothers’ strategy to end the Revolution by pacifying the people and gathering them back into the British fold. It denied the enemy much-needed supplies to continue the war, while providing captured goods and materiel for American use. British casualties rose, while the Americans suffered few wounded and dead. British morale plummeted, while American morale soared. The petite guerre sapped the will of the British people at home by driving up the cost of the war and the subsequent burden of taxation. At the same time it convinced many British officers and regular soldiers that England could not ultimately win the war.

Equally important, these limited and tightly focused military actions provided invaluable on-the-ground training for the American forces, increasing confidence in their ability to plan successful strategies and carry out tactics to win against a larger professional force, their boldness in action, their resolve to cast out the invaders, and their belief that they would win this war. The success of the petite guerre also strengthened the confidence of the American people in the army, and thus their adherence to the Glorious Cause.

I’m currently working on the section of Crucible of War that covers what was going on in Congress and the Philadelpia area in the summer of 1777 and the Battle of Saratoga in upstate New York, with their aftermath. After enjoying a close proximity for some months, Elizabeth and Carleton will temporarily be separated again. Carlton’s Raiders are reassigned to join General Gates at Saratoga as the Northern Department of the army clashes with General Burgoyne’s force moving south from Canada in the effort to divide New England from the rest of the states. Meanwhile Elizabeth is drawn into the series of unsuccessful battles to stop General Howe from taking the United States capital, Philadelphia, starting with Brandywine and ending with Germantown.

There’s so much going on during the period from July through October, not only militarily, but also in Congress, that I’m going to have to do a lot of switching back and forth between the Philadelphia area and the Saratoga area. Trying to plot all the action out is really confusing. So to keep the narrative firmly linear and give readers a clear and vivid portrayal, to make sure my fictional storyline dovetails with what was really going on, and to keep myself at least reasonably sane, I’m relying heavily on the monthly calendars I create for each one of the series’ volumes. I’ll talk more about how I create and use those in my next post.

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