An iconoclastic, provocative study of the Revolutionary War that invalidates a few chestnuts—including the one that the surrendering British played “The World Turned Upside Down” at Yorktown.
“There is no hard evidence,” writes former Military Book Club editor Stephenson (ed., Battlegrounds: Geography and Art of Warfare, 2003), that the British played anything other than a slow march, befitting the mournful occasion. There is plenty of evidence, though, that the war was a tough business for all concerned. Proceeding cautiously, Stephenson makes a case that will induce teeth-gnashing on the right-wing talk-show circuit, namely that, inasmuch as “colonial wars share a certain geometry,” it is not beyond the pale to liken the rebel colonial struggle in America to nationalist insurgencies in places such as Vietnam and Iraq, where American soldiers now take the place of the imperialist lobsterbacks of old. (In case the point is lost, Stephenson notes that George Bush is more George III than George Washington.) Whatever the parallels, Stephenson observes that an army with a home-field advantage has vastly better odds of survival than one in a different country and culture; moreover, it is part of that geometry that militias will take it as a priority to crush loyalism, wherever it might be encountered. In the American colonies, this meant civil war on several fronts, though the loyalists were at their strongest in New York and New Jersey, one reason the British tried so hard to center the war there, where they could count on the help of friends. After examining such matters as the lives of officers, who had it easier than the enlisted men if only because they could resign without being hanged or beheaded as deserters, and the musket-and-mutton material world of the soldiery, Stephenson turns to more familiar ground, analyzing the war’s most important battles and sometimes, as with Trenton, musing about why things didn’t work out disastrously for the American cause.
Contrarian and well-written—a welcome remedy to Parson Weems–ish tales of the past.