Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War
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Review by Sanford Levinson
This is a remarkable year for books on the American Revolution. Jack Rakove’s Revolutionaries and T.H. Breen’s American Insurgents, American Patriots, read together, explain how it is that formerly loyal subjects of the Crown became revolutionaries. But Thomas B. Allen, in his own superb book, amply demonstrates the validity of his subtitle, for, after all, that choice was not close to universal. The Revolutionary War was by no means simply a conflict between American Patriots and British Redcoats and their Hessian associates. Instead, it was a true civil war, in which every single colony was rent by often remarkably bitter divisions between rebels and those who remained loyal to the King and took up arms both for their King and, more to the point, against their neighbors and, in some cases, brothers and fathers. Victorious Americans would, within a generation, “call the Revolution a war between Americans and the British, losing from their collective memory the fact that much of the fighting had been between Americans and Americans.” No one reading this superbly researched and written book will forget this essential fact.
Civil wars are often accompanied by notable viciousness, precisely because many of those doing the fighting are not disciplined (and perhaps somewhat detached) professionals, but, rather, highly ideological devotees of a cause. The Revolutionary general Nathaniel Greene observed, with regard to the savage warfare in the South, “The Whigs [Rebels] seem determined to extirpate the Tories, and the Tories the Whigs…. If a stop cannot be soon put to these massacres, the country will be depopulated in a few months more, as neither White nor Tory can live.” Similar observations could have been made about much of the war throughout the colonies. Many who died were soldiers, regular or irregular, but many others were altogether innocent civilians, often women and children.
Allen also points to a central paradox of the War: If the savage warfare was conducted by those unequivocally committed to their respective causes, there was also frequent switching of loyalties by less committed colonialists/Americans, depending on the outcomes of particular battles. If Benedict Arnold is the most spectacular example of such a switching of sides, there were many other less dramatic episodes. Each side, upon taking control of cities, would often require inhabitants to swear loyalty either to King or the rebel cause, on pain, quite often, of seeing property seized or, indeed, burned down on failure to take the oath. As one might expect, may of the oath-takings were less than fully sincere, subject to recantation upon further developments. Allen underscores the difficulty of actually determining the precise levels of support for the Revolutionary cause. The number of “patriots,” no doubt, grew as the British, after initial successes, managed to lose the war (in large measure, ironically, because of French entrance into the War following the then-Patriot Arnold’s magnificent victory at Saratoga in 1777).
These three books not only offer a wonderfully deep understanding of the American Revolution, but also inevitably illuminate contemporary revolutions/civil wars.
Hardcover Book : 496 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers ( November 01, 2010 )
Item #: 13-186839
Product Dimensions: 6.0 x 9.0 inches
Product Weight: 23.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
I believe that Mr. Levinson's review says it all, besides it is hot and I want to go swimming. I will add this however, the brutality that was waged between people that had been brothers,friends and neighbors made the battle's of Bunker Hill, Trenton,etc. look like tea parties.
It was this image of the conflict between rebels and loyalist that took me by surprise. For all those involved that "rolled the dice" and took sides it was all or nothing and the retrobution for being on the wrong side meant losing your possions at the least, a horrible death at the most.
The book is a great read and I did not want put it down. I purchased an extra copy for a fellow teacher and I'm looking forward to reading the follow up book "Tories Abroad"...
I was not proud to find out that one of the key figures in the Torie movement Gen. Timmothy Ruggles was my 5th great grandmothers nephew. You can't pick your family.
Reviewer: Mark C