People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years’ War

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Fred Anderson. A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years’ War. Reprint. The University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years' War

Anderson sets out to examine New England provincial soldiers and their experiences during what he terms the “last and greatest of America’s colonial wars.” He considers it a work of social history because of the quantitative data on which it is based but caveats that its focus is a single conflict, the Seven Years’ War, as opposed to a long term study. His focus is on ordinary men. His conclusion is that the Seven Years’ War was nothing less than world-shaping and thus unifying to the lives it impacted. Their common experience marked them as a unique generation, like others in later times who would be identified with the major events of their lifetime.

He also considers this work to be one of military history because of its focus on war and military service. But he claims an intentional diversion from the classic approaches of military historians whose focus is more on campaigns and the “analysis of generalship.” Anderson’s focus is the story of the common citizen-soldier inclusive of their shared values and their beliefs concerning war and military service.

He divides his study into three parts. The first section titled “The Contexts of War,” provides background for military service of men in Massachusetts. A key conclusion of this section is that “the way in which provincial armed forces were recruited strongly influenced their performance in the field.” The second section, “The Experience of War,” looks at the details of daily life in the military. Anderson examines both the nature and impact of variables such as diet, shelter, disease, discipline, work, and combat. He concludes that the delta between the experiences of these men before and after military service began was so large that it created a unique frame-of-reference from which they subsequently viewed their experience. The third section, “The Meaning of War,” explores in more depth the unique frame of reference possessed by soldiers from Massachusetts and how that remained incomprehensible to both their superiors and British regular officers. Much of the content of the book comes from primary sources of soldier’s own accounts.

The audience for this book is those interested in scholarship on America’s early history, social history, and military history. It has several special features including five informative appendices. One includes as listing of primary sources predominantly in the form of diaries. Another provides a fascinating summary of troop disorders suffered within the Provincial Army between 1755 and 1759. Anderson has chosen to footnote his work rather than have a separate notes section.

Fred Anderson brings strong academic credentials in fact this work is based on his doctoral dissertation. He received his B.A. from Colorado State University in 1971 and his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1981. He has taught at Harvard and at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he is currently Professor of History. His has also published Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (2000) and, with Andrew Cayton, The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000 (2005). This work is entirely readable and an excellent addition to early American scholarship. Its extensive use of personal accounts adds to its appeal.

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A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783

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Charles Royster. A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783. Reprint. University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

In his award winning, sweeping work on the American Revolution, Charles Royster sets out to prove his thesis that “there was an American character prevalent during the War for Independence and that we can profitably analyze it.” His focus is on the emotions, attitudes, and conduct of Americans in wartime but he also set out to prove that Americans exemplified collectively the disposition of revolutionaries. This notion of national character is an important one because it suggests an emergence of a sense of nationhood among the inhabitants of America’s colonies. Royster acknowledges that not all Americans were anti-British but he does conclude that the majority of Americans during the War for Independence were loyal to the revolution’s cause. These arguments are foundational to his discussion of the Continental Army. Royster deals with the rather broad topics of the ideals of revolutionary citizenship, society, and state by limiting his scope to the standards “that Americans defined for themselves in creating, recruiting, and fighting in an army” and it is this focus that makes the book more relevant to the military historian. He finds evidence of a disparity between society’s ideals and its actual conduct, the latter being “always flawed.” To find reasons for the disparity he touches, admitted lightly, on other areas such as religion, government, and commerce, drawing a connection between these and the way in which Americans related to the army.

Royster describes his book as analytical rather than narrative history. This distinction drives the book’s chronological format which supports his position that the study of revolutionary attitudes and the changes that took place over time are best observed “in the order that Americans experienced them.” Royster begins with an examination of the high ideals that Americans caught up in the revolutionary mindset placed upon themselves and others, ideals of virtue and valor. This foundation then allows him to explore the “tension” created when Americans failed to live up to those ideals and how they dealt with the disparity between desired standards and reality. Thus Royster begins with the years prior to the war’s start, describes the “rage militaire” of 1775, and then proceeds through the early war years in a series of chapters with religious titles and analogous themes: 1776: The Army of Israel, Jericho, and The Promised Land. The second half of the book focuses on Valley Forge, Treason, Division, and finally Legacy. It is in this final chapter that Royster brings together his analysis of the whole of the American experience at war.

This work is intended for students of early American history and particularly those who want to better understand the American Revolution. It should also find interest among military historians because of its focus on the experience of soldiers in the American Army of Independence as well as the institutional history of America’s armed forces. Royster’s forays into the realms of sociology, psychology, political, and civic history, should allow the book to find even broader readership. The work’s extensive notes section is worth mention. There is also an essay in the appendix that challenges some other authors who draw conclusions too quickly from statistics about American soldiers who fought in the Revolution, many of whom were both young and poor. The book is particularly noteworthy for its use of readily available primary sources but fresh approach to the information contained therein. His presentation is entirely satisfying albeit occasionally repetitive. One of the clear strengths of the book is its introduction to the reader of a broad number of characters of the period often through their own narrative or those of others around them.

Charles Royster brings impressive credentials to his work which is a shortened version of his doctoral dissertation. He received all of his degrees from the University of California, Berkeley including an A.B. (1966), M.A. (1967), and Ph.D. (1977). At the time of the book’s publication, Dr. Royster was assistant professor of history at the University of Texas. He is now professor of history at the Louisiana State University. Royster has amassed an impressive list of publications several of which received academically recognized awards. His work Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans won the Bancroft Prize, The Lincoln Prize, and the Charles S. Sydnor Award in Southern History. A Revolutionary People at War was recognized with the 1981 Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, the 1979 John D. Rockefeller III Award, the 1981 National Historical Society Book Prize, the 1980 Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award from the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York, and the 1980 Silver Medal, Nonfiction from the Commonwealth Club of California.

Overall, Royster provides an excellent addition to scholarship of early America.

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Fabian Strategy and the American Civil War

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One of the concepts Millett and Maslowski mention in their book, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, is the Fabian Strategy. It refers to an approach by one side in a military conflict who avoids big decisive battles in favor of small engagements designed to wear the opposition down, reducing their will to fight and their numbers by attrition.

The term is attributed to Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (ca. 280 BC-203 BC), a Roman commander who used the technique in fighting Hannibal during the Punic Wars. He harassed Hannibal’s army through small engagements and cut off their supply lines but avoided getting pulled into a decisive battle. Needless to say, the strategy requires time to succeed. Because of this, it also requires the support of the governing powers on the side that adopts it because there is no decisive showdown event. In Fabius Maximus’ case, the Romans politicians listened to his detractors (peer commanders) and replaced him with men who would confront Hannibal head on. They were resoundingly defeated at the Battle of Cannae (pictured right). The Romans eventually went back to the method of battle avoidance and harassment as designed by Fabius and eventually succeeded in driving Hannibal back to Africa.

The Fabian Strategy was used during the American Revolution by Continental forces against the British. While politically unpopular, Washington agreed to adopt it. Interestingly, the idea for its use NathanBedfordForrest.jpgcame from Nathaniel Greene.

I’d be interested in thoughts from my readers on use of the Fabian Strategy during the American Civil War. While I have yet to study in depth the exploits of Nathan Bedford Forrest (pictured right), my sense is that this kind of harassment of the enemy was a forte of his Tennessee Cavalry. I’ve also heard the phrase  “removing the Fabian” associated with Sherman’s march through the south. No doubt this refers to the ferreting out of harassing guerrilla-type forces.

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Fixing an Army – Steuben

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The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783 (norton In-house Inst PbI’m still finishing up last week’s reading of A Revolutionary People at War: The Continential Army and American Character, 1775 – 1783 by Charles Royster which has been very interesting albeit a bit redundant at times. It covers in some detail the character of both American (and to some extent British) enlisted men and officers. Also examined are the experiences of “camp,” march, battle, and discipline. Of absolute certainty is that Continental enlisted men had an independent streak and “such a high opinion of their own prowess that an officer had to be exceptionally overweening to outdo them.” [i] This puts in perspective my study of Civil War enlisted soldiers who still swaggered with independence.

Prior to the arrival of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (right), who became Inspector-General to the Baron Von Steuben Continental Army, American officers made a concerted effort to pattern themselves after their British peers. A rather startling example… Commander-in-Chief George Washington lobbied congress for permission to allow 500 lashes as punishment to maintain discipline among his soldiers! Congress never approved above 100 lashes. The British allowed 1000! Officers were becoming more and more “separate” from the enlisted cadre. The divide was often one of respect.

When Steuben arrived at Valley Forge (see the park site here), he found an army still struggling with many military basics. He introduced “skills of the parade ground, then attention to dress, cleanliness, equipment, health, camp sanitation, orderliness on the march, grievances among the men, and all the other elements of mutual respect and hierarchical obedience. These provided a code by which soldiers could judge officers and expect to be judged by both their officers and their fellow soldiers. ” [ii]

“The survival of American independence entailed not only the preservation of revolutionary ideas and the reluctant use of the coercive powers of government, but also the growth of military discipline that proudly replaced individual freedom with the professionalism of an army.” [iii]

Steuben helped the Continental army become “an internally disciplined group apart, more self-consciously virtuous than the society at large. The professional loyalty and pride of achievement that Steuben encouraged provided a tangible partial expression of the unity in unselfish service to which revolutionaries aspired.” [iv]

[i] Charles Royster, A Revolutionary People at War: The Continential Army and American Character, 1775 – 1783, (The University of North Carolina Press, 1979), 222.
[ii] Ibid., Ibid.
[iii] Ibid., 228.
[iv] Ibid., 223.

 

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New Acquisitions – Indian Wars and Military History

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Have acquired several new books this week that relate to the class at hand – Studies in U.S. Military History – (see details here). 

The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000
By William H McNeill
ISBN 0-226-56158-5
The University of Chicago Press, 1982
405 pages
$17.10
Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000

King Philip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict
By Eric B Schultz and Michael J. Tougias
ISBN 978-0-22150-483-5
The Countryman Press, 1999
416 pages
$18.95
The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict

The Skulking Way of War: Technology and Tactics Among the New England Indians
By Patrick M. Malone
Copyright by Plimoth Plantation
ISBN 1-56833-165-7
Madison Books, 1991
133 pages

Technology and Tactics Among the New England Indians

The following two books were mentioned as excellent resources / predecessors of For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. I picked up both…

Arms and Men: A Study of American Military History
By Walter Millis
Rutgers University Press, 1956
384 pages
$22.00 (although I got a copy for less than $6.00)
A Study in America Military History

The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy
By Russel F. Weigley
ISBN 0-253-28029-X
Indiana University Press, 1973
584 pages

A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy

Military History Word of the Day – Trainbands

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Reading For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America about military activity in America between 1607 – 1689, I ran across the word “trainbands.” Authors Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski suggest that colonists brought with them “religious attitudes, economic views, political thoughts, and military ideals and institutions grounded in English history.”[i] This included all things military and “the colonists’ most revered military institution (the militia) and their most cherished military tradtion (fear of a standing army) both came from England.” [ii]

The adoption of the Elizabethan militia concept in the colonies was crucial to their survival. The basic tactical unit in all the colonies was the company or “trainband.” American Heritage Dictionary defines trainband as follows:

train·band (trān’bānd’)
n. A company of trained militia in England or America from the 16th to the 18th century.
[Contraction of trained band]

I have added as a new word to “the terms” page here.

[Photo credit: http://home.att.net/~Hillgartner/Pages/TillHist.htm
trainband. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/trainband (accessed: April 09, 2008).
[i] Allan R. Millett, Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 4.
[ii] Ibid.