A useful study of the Revolutionary War as it played out in a remote—but critically important—region of the southern colonies.
Though critics faulted Roland Emmerich’s recent film The Patriot for attributing actions to the hated British Legion that were in fact those of the SS in WWII, Edgar (History/Univ. of South Carolina) writes that atrocities were many in the South Carolina backcountry: women and children slaughtered, prisoners executed without trial, whole towns put to the torch. Revolutionary Whigs, he allows, were likely to commit excesses in the name of their cause, but the British and their Tory allies were particularly bad actors; as Edgar writes, “if [their] actions had been committed in the 1990s instead of the 1780s, Lord Cornwallis and a number of his subordinates, such as Banastre Tarleton and James Wemyss, would have been indicted by the International Tribunal at the Hague as war criminals.” The British campaign of brutality backfired, however; stirred by the butchery, the leave-me-alone Scots-Irish inhabitants of the backcountry organized and, in time, began to deliver crushing defeats to the once apparently invincible British and their loyalist militia. In the wake of disasters at places like Thicketty Fort, King’s Mountain, and Cowpens, the British eventually retreated to the safety of Charleston, freeing southern armies to engage Cornwallis’s troops in Virginia and eventually to defeat them at Yorktown. The historical facts behind Edgar’s narrative are inherently interesting, but they suffer in the telling: there’s far too much repetition, sometimes pointless anecdotes, and groaners along the lines of “the militia force melted away almost as rapidly as the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz.”
Still, by highlighting an often overlooked theater of battle, Edgar provides a solid addition to the Revolutionary War literature.