October 10, 2007


The road to Yorktown: Fusiliers: Eight Years with the Redcoats in America by Mark Urban (James Delingpole, 10/10/07, The Spectator)

The American War of Independence is one of my least favourite periods and I expect it’s the same for a lot of Englishmen. For a start, the wrong side lost. Also, it’s fiendishly complicated, what with all the Whigs, Tories, Loyalists, Patriots, Frenchmen, Indians, Militia, Virginians, Marylanders, Light Bobs, Fusiliers and Continentals biffing one another in a confusing melee. And there is the lurking suspicion that, as Michael Rose has recently argued, it has depressing things to tell us about the US’s (and her allies’) current involvement in Iraq. [...]

Many of the received ideas one has about the period, Urban reveals, are little more than early American propaganda. The widespread belief among British soldiers, for example, that all the colonials were expert sharpshooters was almost completely erroneous. The line about the British being merciless (‘Tarleton’s quarter’) is unfair: the Americans committed many more war crimes. Nor is it true that the British infantry were too hidebound by tradition to adapt to meet the colonials’ cunning new guerrilla tactics.

In fact, Urban shows, British combat techniques began evolving from the moment they were found wanting during that long and terrifying march — sniped at all the way — from Concord to Bunker Hill. Slow, steady, close-ranked European-style drill methods were at least partly replaced by a much more fluid type of fighting, using specialist light infantrymen who could move faster and made better use of cover, and lots more bayonet charges.

The most astonishing thing to emerge from the book, for this ignorant reader at any rate, is how incredibly small-scale the whole business was. This was the war that gave birth to the most powerful nation on earth and brought our own empire to its knees. Yet it mostly comprised skirmishes scarcely larger and total troop numbers not much greater than the ones now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Go figure.

Except that we won both.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 10, 2007 7:35 AM

For most of the Revolution, the Americans held political control over most of territory in the colonies. The "insurgents" in Iraq and Afghanistan hold almost no territory at any time.

Posted by: Brandon at October 10, 2007 10:42 AM

Of course it is true that not all Americans were "Sharpshooters" (an anchronistic term when applied to the Revolutionary War).

Enough were, however, to make a big difference. British military history, Winston Churchill, John Keegan, others, notes that fighting the Americans was most hazardous to British officers' health. British General Fraser, popped at 500 yards in the work-up to the Battle of Saratoga was but one example.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 10, 2007 12:06 PM

Apparently Mr. Dinglebat's grasp of history is somewhat lacking in that he's forgotten the Iraq mission (regime change) was accomplished in an astounding three weeks. The occupation is another issue, currently in the climactic stages of resolution. He conveniently forgets we were capable of glassing Iraq over had we wanted to.

Regarding the War for Independence, every "rebel" who owned a rifle knew how to use it; they were specialists, so to speak. The rank and file of the line, both sides, largely used muskets at relatively close range and pointing generally sufficed. Burgoyne witnessed the devastating effectiveness of Morgan's Rifles at Saratoga.

Posted by: Genecis at October 10, 2007 4:18 PM