Monday, February 18, 2019

Review of The War for America 1775-83 by Piers Mackesy

I will begin with the end summary first: this is one of the best books about the American Revolution that I have read in a long time.  It provides a very nice counterpoint to Matthew Spring’s With Zeal and With Bayonets Only.  While Spring’s work focused on the nitty-gritty of British tactics and soldiers’ experiences, Mackesy gives a global perspective on the American rebellion.

What is known today as the American Revolution was truly a world war.  Fighting began on Lexington Green in Massachusetts in 1775.  But by the time peace was signed, the war had been waged in Africa, India, the Caribbean, and the seas of Europe.  Though many of these operations are mostly forgotten today, Mackesy fits all of them into the grand strategic plans formed by the leaders in London.  However, events rarely conformed to their plans, and the decisions taken by commanders on the spot (both on land and sea) are also examined.

But this book is not just a sweeping campaign narrative.  It is also the personal story of men tasked with leading their country through a difficult war.  The decisions and personalities of Lord North, Lord Sandwich, and Lord George Germain (not to mention King George III) are just as important to the story as the movements of fleets and armies.  How they each influenced the war is a major part of the book.

The Royal Navy forms a large part of Mackesy's book

To create a book with any kind of biographical content (or even history in general) usually requires digging deep into primary sources, and Mackesy has done so.  Page after page contains footnotes to letters or reports from the War Office, or the Foreign Office, or a host of other sources.  It is impressively researched.  The only minor criticism is that his sources are overwhelmingly British ones.  Few rebel or French, or even Loyalist sources for that matter, are used.  However, his story is that of Great Britain fighting to save her empire, and so probably does not require as many sources from other perspectives.
To anyone with an interest in the American Revolution, I would highly recommend this book.  It is a detailed look at the British strategy during the war, so it can be a little slower than other books at some parts.  However, this book’s wealth of information well repays any effort put into it.

5/5 stars.