Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, has partnered with William R. Forstchen to write "Valley Forge: George Washington and the Crucible of Victory."
The book is a novelized account of a key moment in American history, and is the sequel to "To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom."
Read an excerpt of the book below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
NEAR PAOLI, PA 10PM, SEPTEMBER 20, 1777
(BATTLE OF PAOLI)
The order was whispered hoarsely. Lieutenant Allen van Dorn, a loyalist from Trenton, of the rebellious colony of New Jersey, was in a column of more than a thousand British light infantry, arrayed in a formation of company front by column. He could hear the order echoing softly behind him, followed by the cold chilling sound of long bayonets pulled from scabbards, then locked on to the muzzles of Brown Bess muskets.
He caught a glimpse of General Charles Grey as the blanket of clouds, concealing the moon, parted for a moment. Tall, slender, and supremely fit, Grey's presence was sensed - even in the cover of darkness. His whispered words carried self confidence and command. The battle plan was his. This fight would be his, and Allen sensed that this man reveled in the moment.
Allen, serving as one of the scouts for the attack, observed Grey from a respectful distance. With soldierly ardor, the general addressed the knot of officers surrounding him.
"I want every man checked yet again," Grey hissed sharply. "Flints are to be removed from all weapons except officer's side arms. If any enlisted man disobeys and fires his weapon I will personally flog him. If any of you discharge your pistols before the attack is well joined, by God I will not only flog you, I will see you broken from the ranks and sent back to England in disgrace.
"Do we understand each other?"
There was a muffled chorus of assents.
"Rejoin your commands and await the order to advance. Once this column begins to move, guide on the unit in front of you. Keep the formation tight. Do not lose contact with the line in front of you. Once the attack is launched, fan your men out as we discussed earlier and then in with the bayonet and finish the bastards. No one is to escape. No one!"
"Rejoin your men."
The officers scattered and dispersed into the blackness. One of them tripped; the clattering of his sword sheath broke the unnerving stillness.
"Who is that?" Grey snarled.
There was a momentary pause.
"Captain Neilson, sir."
"You are relieved of command, sir. Stay to the rear. I will deal with you tomorrow."
There was no reply.
"Officers, drop your sword sheathes," Grey added.
The order had been given earlier, but some were reluctant to comply, the scabbards of some were inlaid with gold and worth a pretty penny. Neilson would pay far more in terms of shame.
Grey turned to face the men gathered around Allen
"You men know your orders."
Each man quickly whispered his orders, to deploy to the left of the flank, to the right, to move ahead and secure the several farmsteads in their path of advance. Finally, it was Allen.
"I am to stay with the prisoner, sir, to insure he does not try to escape."
"And if he gives false directions?"
"I will kill him myself," came a whispered reply. It was muttered by a captain who had recently joined their ranks. John Andre, already gaining fame as a soldier, a poet, a duelist and above all else a gentleman with courage, who had just been released in exchange as a prisoner, was assigned to act as a liaison for Grey during the attack. "I will see to it, sir," Allen interjected.
He looked over at the prisoner, a civilian blacksmith who had come to their camp earlier in the day to report that a division of rebel troops, under the command of Anthony Wayne, was encamped near Paoli Tavern. That was already known, but the blacksmith carried the additional information that the men were demoralized after the drubbing they had received at the Battle of Brandywine, fought nine days ago. He reported that many were grumbling about deserting, cursing Washington and Wayne. Drunkenness was rampant and his own personal grievance was that they had looted his barn, insulted his wife, and threatened to loot and burn his forge. He added that they were keeping poor watch; the men were drinking gin and corn liquor even while on picket duty.
That was enough to spur Grey to action.
The blacksmith, however, never expected the next turn of events. He was "volunteered" to lead this midnight attack column, and openly wept when ordered to do so, crying that he was only a civilian, had done his duty to the Crown and should be let go.
The burly man was trembling, stifling back sobs as the soldiers around him prepared to go forward.
Allen went up to his side.
"You heard the general," he whispered.
"Why? I did my duty."
"Listen to me," Allen whispered. "There is no escaping it now. You are in this to the end. Once the fighting starts I will let you go, but if you try to bolt my orders are to run you through."
He hesitated, looking over his shoulder at Captain Andre.
"And if I don't, he will."
"You're not one of them," the blacksmith whispered.
"What do you mean?"
"You sound like you're from Jersey."
Allen did not reply for a moment. The man had a good ear for accents and guessed right.
"Why are you with them?"
"I could ask why are you with us," Allen snapped.
"I was only doing my duty. I am not a soldier, though."
"Well, I am."
"If my neighbors see me with you tonight, they'll burn me out."
"Not if we win," Allen replied coldly, knowing it to be true.
With the great battle at Brandywine the week before, and the utter rout of the rebel army, political feelings in the countryside around Philadelphia were in upheaval. More than a few were already Loyalists, and in the days before the fight as some of the undisciplined rabble serving with Washington took to foraging for food, feelings had shifted even more. After the victory, many were now hanging the Union Jack in front of their homes. For Allen, it was a source of intense inner confusion. He had joined the Loyalist cause a year ago, after his brothers Jonathan and James had run off to join the rebels, when the war was being fought up around New York.
James had deserted and was now back home running the family tannery and store. Jonathan though, poor Jonathan had stayed with the rebels and died the evening after the battle for Trenton.
Taken prisoner along with the Hessians, he had been allowed by the rebels to help carry his brother back to their encampment. . .and held him as he died from exhaustion and pneumonia. By his side was their childhood friend, Peter Wellsley.
The following day, Peter took him to General Washington and appealed for his release in exchange for the sacrifice of his brother.
Allen was now one of the very few serving the crown who had accompanied Washington, talked with him, and taken a measure of the man. Though he could never embrace Washington's cause, he nevertheless could respect the man for his personal integrity. Washington readily granted Wellsley's appeal, saying that it was a fair exchange to a family who had lost a son that had served with valor.
Washington tried to press him for some details of British positions, which Allen respectfully refused to answer. The General immediately desisted, though he offered the opportunity to join their cause, which Allen refused as well. The General had then made him swear that he would reveal nothing of what he had seen or heard while within their ranks and then let him go.
A week later, when the rebels returned to Trenton, Allen left his family behind, rejoined the ranks, and reported to General Grey. Grey asked the same questions Washington had, and again he refused to answer, saying he had given his oath. Rather than enrage the supposedly hot blooded Grey, the General clapped him on the shoulder, saying he carried the proper honor of an Englishman and assigned him to his staff as a liaison to Loyalists.
So now he stood as a liaison, keeping careful watch on a terrified blacksmith who was in way over his head with this war. He had, without doubt, slipped through the lines to try and curry favor, assuming that in another day his village would be occupied. . . he had never bargained for this.
"For your own sake," Allen whispered, "you better guide us correctly. Are you sure you can do that?" "I grew up here, I know every field and woodlot like the back of my hand," the man whispered in reply, voice trembling.
"For God's sake, don't try to play false or run."
He nodded back to the regular British officer who was huddled with Grey.
"That man hates colonials and will run you through like a dog if you try to take off."
The terrified blacksmith did not reply. Andre stepped away from Grey to join the two.
"Forward, and you better lead us straight in," Andre announced.
"He will," Allen offered.
The three set off and seconds later he could hear the whispered command for the column to follow.
No matter how hard they tried, over a thousand men stepping off into an attack could not be totally silent. There was a clatter as someone apparently tripped or dropped his musket, muted curses, and the sound of boots scuffing across the stubble of the recently mown hay field.
Light infantry formed most of the column supported by a second column behind them, the famed and rightly feared Scottish Black Watch.
Crossing the open field, the farmer led them down into a hollow, fording a shallow stream a dozen feet wide and only several inches deep, the column slowed for a moment as the advance churned the ground into a morass, slowing the rear of the attacking force. They moved by the oblique to the right, angling across the next field and then several moments of confusion as the attacking force made its way through a farmer's woodlot which the blacksmith stated would conceal their advance.
Allen looked back over his shoulder several times. Light from the rising moon occasionally broke through the thick veil of scudding clouds, revealing the men as they advanced. He could only hope that the pickets were indeed drunk or foolish enough to have campfires. Gazing into a fire for even a few seconds would blind a man's night vision for several minutes afterwards.
The blacksmith muttered to himself, repeating the Lord's Prayer over and over again.
"Be quiet there," Andre finally groaned, "or you won't need to pray, you will be able to explain it to God personally."
Emerging out of the woodlot Allen could see a glow on the horizon, easily recognized by any soldier. . .campfires of an opposing line.
"Where are their pickets?" it was General Grey, coming up to join them.
"The what?" the blacksmith gasped.
"Their scouts, the guards!" Allen hissed.
"Over there I think, I saw them posted on the road."
He waved vaguely to their right.
"Just keep moving, but by God, if this is a trap, you will be the first to die," Grey snapped and turned back. "Skirmishers and dragoons forward, deploy fifty yards ahead," Grey whispered, pointing towards the glowing fires and second later a swarm of light infantry sprinted forward in advance of the main column.
They were now halfway across the open field. The clouds parted again, illuminating a low rise ahead. It was the perfect location for forward pickets to be in position.
No response. He caught glimpses of the dozen or so mounted dragoons, crouched low in their saddles, cresting the rise.
And then the darkness was cut by the flash of a musket, a snap of light followed a second later by two more the crack of rifle fire echoing across the field.
"In on them, my lads!" Grey roared. "In and after them!"
"If this is a trap. . ." Andre cried, looking over at the blacksmith who stood stock still, terrified.
The column behind them broke into a run. Looking back, Allen could see the flash of leveled bayonets and a wall of men coming toward them. It was no time to be standing in front of them in the dark!
"Come on," Allen cried. He dared to lay a hand on a superior officer, and pushed him forward.
Andre hesitated for only an instant, his sword was poised as if to stab the blacksmith, but then turned to join the charge.
"You, for God's sake, lie down!" Allen cried, shoving the blacksmith forward. "Just lie down and claim later. . ." He didn't have time to explain further or to offer advice for this poor soul, who if found out, would likely find himself at the end of a rope if the rebels won, and at the end of a rope as well if he had played false to the Crown.
The man collapsed, almost as if shot, and lay on the ground quivering. Allen felt a measure of pity as he left the man behind, racing to keep ahead of the wall of bayonets. Reaching the low crest, he saw the bodies of the unfortunate advance pickets; their campfire, dug into the ground in an attempt at concealment was glowing hot, several of the light infantry skirmishers were bayoneting the bodies, one was still alive and shrieking for mercy. The column reached the top of the hill and began to spread out as ordered. From this position, the men had an unobstructed view of the enemy encampment directly ahead, along the edge of the woods. The men sprang to their feet in confusion, clearly silhouetted by the flames of their campfires. As if with one voice, the advancing column, as ordered, let loose with wild shouts of battle lust. The sharp battle cries of the Black Watch were terrifying, even to Allen.
The charge swept straight in to the rebel camp and the slaughter began.
"My God, what is that?"
General Anthony Wayne turned in his saddle. The shots had come from his right. Throughout the night and the day before rumors had inundated him that an enemy column was nearby. Repeatedly he had tried to push scouts and mounted videttes forward, only to have them driven back in by the damned British light infantry.
It had been a bitter week since the disaster at Brandywine, as various parts of the army attempted to hold the approaches to Philadelphia. His own position was to hold the advanced position on the road through Paoli and await "developments." Caution had caused him to pull back two miles during the day.
He had not slept in two days, constantly riding out to check the picket lines, to try and look for an opening that he could push in to, take some prisoners and gain intelligence. His men were exhausted as well from the battle and the frustrating days of retreat, maneuver and then falling back yet again.
Most of his command were encamped forward of the Paoli Tavern, his headquarters, while even now he moved with a small column along the flank, responding to rumors of an impending attack from that direction.
The shots, three of them. . .from the sharp snap sounding more like rifle fire rather than the heavier duller boom of musketry.
He looked at his staff repeating the question.
"What is that?"
No one spoke.
And then more shots, distant, echoing. . . .and then only seconds later a nerve-rending cheer, more like a shrieking, the distinctive cry of the Black Watch resounded.
"Merciful God!" was all he could gasp, as he savagely reined his horse about and raced back towards his main encampment.
"Oh God! God!" Allen gasped, trying to back up, jerking his sword back and out of the guts of the man he had just impaled.
He was a veteran of half a dozen skirmishes and two major battles, but until this moment he never really known if he had killed a man. This time the evidence was before him, so close that the convulsive screams of his victim, the blood vomiting up, splashed into Allen's face.
He had stormed into the rebel camp at the front of the charge, trying to keep pace with Andre. And then this man, this man he was killing, came bolting out of a wigwam and all but thrust himself straight onto Allen's sword in his blind panic.
The man's eyes shone in the moonlight, wide, terrified, open mouth a black hole contorted by his screams.
With one hand he was clutching Allen's jacket, with the other a knife he was feebly waving about, one slash opening up a wound on Allen's left arm. While still clutching the hilt of his sword with his right hand Allen used his left to grasp the arm, was holding the blade. It was like trying to restrain a child, there was no strength in his enemy now, just a terrifying gasping as he started to sag, but the blade was still lodged in the man's stomach and try as he could, he could not extract it.
He was screaming as well, cursing, crying, oblivious to all that was around him until he saw Andre striding towards him, pistol raised and cocked.
The dying rebel saw him as well, and now tried to push back from Allen, whimpering, his cries like that of a girl which filled Allen with even more horror, wondering for a moment if indeed his victim was a woman caught up in this madness.
Andre pressed the pistol to the man's brow and pulled the trigger. The explosion was deafening, the ball tearing off the top of the skull. The body collapsed and Andre put his foot on the man's chest, and grabbing hold of Allen's right wrist pulled back hard.
The blade slipped out with a grating noise of steel against bone.
"Never thrust upwards into the chest!" Andre shouted, "The blade usually gets stuck."
Allen stood there dumbstruck, looking down at the body.
"Come on!" Andre shouted, grabbing Allen by the shoulder, "keep moving or it will be you that gets it."
He had seen many a man die in this last year but this was the first time that he had looked into the eyes of someone he was killing, the first time blood had been coughed into his face and he felt weak-kneed, fearful he would faint or vomit.
"Come on!" Andre screamed, pushing him along.
A wigwam shelter set into the woods was ablaze. Men were inside, screaming in anguish, while at the entry half a dozen light infantrymen stood with bayonets poised, shouting for them to come out. One man burst out and the light infantry fell upon him stabbing and stabbing again. Another came out to the same terror.
Two more tried to fight their way out and were slaughtered in turn.
"For God's sake" Allen screamed "Prisoners."
His cry was ignored as the light infantry stood ready, taunting the men burning inside to come out.
"Stop them!" Allen cried and he started to run over but was grabbed by Andre.
"You can't stop it!" Andre shouted. "Their blood is up! You can't stop it."
Allen, dumbfounded, looked about as dozens of wigwams burned, and at nearly every one, men were fighting with terrible desperation to escape.
All was mad confusion, light infantry, dragoons, a solid line of the Black Watch swarming into the encampment, while hundreds of rebels ran in every direction. Here and there fragments of companies and regiments tried to rally, one even managing to fire off a ragged volley and then was swarmed under.
With Grey's order of no musket flints, the attackers could not form into volley lines but instead absolutely had to press forward. It had been stated it was to insure that no weapon was accidentally discharged and thus spoil the surprise, but Allen could see that now it was unleashing a murderous frenzy. They had to close with their enemies in order to drive them and in so doing it turned it into a murderous melee of men on one side driven into a killing frenzy and on the other side men caught by surprise and so terrified that some did not even offer resistance and in their attempts to surrender were clubbed down and bayoneted like sheep being slaughtered.
The attack was sweeping past him and into the woods. Scores of men were on the ground, most dead, some twisting and writhing, others curled up, yet others somehow trying to crawl away.
Two light infantry men came up to a man on the ground who held his hands up, begging for mercy. Laughing they raised their muskets high and pinned him to the ground. Allen stood as if frozen, unable to respond. Still laughing, as if drunk with some mad hysteria they approached their next victim who looked to be not much more than a boy.
Allen sprang forward.
The light infantrymen, joined now by several of their comrades paused and then one turned on him.
"You sound provincial! You're one of them!"
He raised his musket as if to run Allen through.
"Stand in place or you're a dead man!"
It was Andre coming up to Allen's side. Though his pistol was empty he cocked it, aiming it at the light infantryman.
"This officer is one of us. Now by God, lower that musket or I'll blow your damn head off."
The infantryman did as ordered.
"Name and regiment."
He snapped out the question with such authority that the man replied so drilled was he to respond without hesitation.
"Fredericks, sir, 2nd Light Infantry."
"I will see you come morning, Fredericks, now move along."
The man actually came to attention and saluted.
"Begging your pardon sir. It's dark, he sounded like a rebel. Thought he had snatched an officer's jacket I did sir."
He looked at Allen.
"Begging your pardon sir."
"Damn you, start taking prisoners," Allen replied, trying to control the trembling in his voice.
The man saluted and then ran off, followed by his comrades and he could see that as they disappeared into the dark, they looked back. . .and the order would not be obeyed.
"Stay close to me and keep your mouth shut," Andre snapped, "otherwise our own men will run you through."
"We must stop it," Allen cried. "They're surrendering."
"It can't be stopped now. It can't be. In the dark, like this, all men are savages."
He spat the words out as if filled with an infinite weariness.
The battle, if it could be called that, had swept into the woods. From within several of the burning wigwams Allen could hear screams, the death cries of men who preferred the agony of dying by fire rather than face the terror of the bayonets. One of the wigwams exploded with a flash, bowling over several men of the Black Watch who had been standing outside, boxes of ammunition within having lit off.
Some semblance of battle briefly flared on the left as if fresh enemy troops were coming in or had rallied.
He caught a glimpse of General Grey, now mounted riding, in that direction and woodenly followed Andre. Even before they arrived at the flank resistance had collapsed.
Bugle calls began to sound, some of them signals for regiments to rally and reform, others the ubiquitous fox hunting calls which everyone knew so galled the rebels.
Grey dismounted to confer with the commander of the Black Watch. The battle was already winding down.
"Start pulling your command together, sir. They still outnumber us, even though we have them on the run!"
The Scotsman laughed.
"They're a runnin' clear to the Ohio."
"Keep control of your men!" Grey replied.
The colonel saluted and ran off, followed by his staff.
The General looked over his shoulder at Andre and grinned.
"Hell of a fox hunt it is now, Andre."
"Keep driving them!" Grey shouted as he remounted.
Allen stepped forward as if to interrupt and Grey looked down at him.
"You got one I see," Grey announced pointing to Allen's blade, the blood on it black in the moonlight.
Andre's hand was on Allen's shoulder pulling him back.
Grey spurred his mount and was off.
Allen turned on Andre and shrugged his hand off.
"It would have served no purpose, Lieutenant," Andre said. "He sees you now as one of us. You got your man."
"One of you?" Allen replied woodenly.
He looked back toward the forest, the burning wigwams. The blood frenzy was abating and he could see a column of prisoners, most of them wounded, staggering out of the woods, prodded along by guards with bayonets lowered. One of the men staggered and fell, and in an instant, two guards were on him, bayoneting him.
Andre again grasped Allen by the shoulder.
"With your damn accent you can't stop it. Let the fury leave them. By morning more than one will be on his knees to God asking for forgiveness."
"And the other side?" Allen asked coldly, nodding westward. "What will be their prayer?"
By the early light of dawn Anthony Wayne pressed along the road leading west. Staggering behind him was the wreckage of his command. Except for the cries of some of the wounded carried on stretchers or helped along by comrades, nearly all were silent, heads lowered, numbed, dejected.
Their general, however boiled with silent rage.
He had lost a battle, which was shame enough. He had also endured a massacre and he would have his vengeance, he swore to God, if it meant his life, he would have vengeance. Gone forever was any thought that this was a conflict of gentlemen. In his heart it was war as savage as any fought on the frontier and he would fight it thus until the end.