Journal of the American Revolution, Vol 1 – Book Review
Wow! I couldn’t put this down, read it in one five-hour sitting. Me. A guy who finds mistakes in Revolutionary War books that won the Pulitzer Prize. Who can tell you whether or not Ethan Allen got a smallpox inoculation. Who has memorized the opening lines of Paine’s The Crisis. And I found more information in this one volume than I have in the last half-dozen books on the Revolutionary War that I read.
First, about the book. It was culled from articles on the online journal allthingsliberty.com, with a few additional features written just for the book. Fifty-eight offerings, from the single page “10 Facts About British Soldiers” to a 10-page opus on the crossing of the Delaware River. Journal Of The American Revolution is lavishly illustrated, with a portrait, photo, period picture, or map on almost every page. But these are no puff pieces, no “look at all the pictures” with vague text around them. These are seriously scholarly articles, and some of the illustrations are remarkably rare and are appearing in a publication accessible to wide audiences for the very first time.
For the student of history this book is a wonderful treat. Articles such as the biography of Artemus Ward, or the story of Nathan Hale’s capture, or the life of British army camp followers are engagingly written and provide a great look at the Revolutionary War. Military enthusiasts will delight in the aforementioned Delaware crossing article, the details of Pyle’s Massacre, and coverage of Eutaw Springs and the skirmish at Monmouth that occurred two years before the better-known Battle Of Monmouth. There are even a few recipes for making 18th-century food such as savory chicken pie and boiled pudding (you don’t need a bread oven, you can use modern conveniences).
So what about the hard-core, dyed-in-the-indigo, I Know What Cornwallis Ate For Breakfast student of the American Revolution? You’ll learn that the famous 1776 “Take Notice” recruiting poster was actually printed in 1798 for the Quasi-War with France. You’ll discover the phrase “no taxation without representation” first appeared as a newspaper headline in 1768 London and deeply researched pieces on the deaths of Major John Pitcairn and General Simon Fraser. The origin of the Molly Pitcher legend, what happened after the 1780 Battle of Camden before General Nathaniel Greene took command of the colonial forces, a biography of John Trumbull, an interview with best-selling author Thomas Fleming—this book contains all that and so much more.
About a third of the articles have footnotes, some of them quite exhaustive; the article “Whites Of Their Eyes” runs just two pages but is followed by a full page worth of footnotes! Throughout the book a Revolutionary War buff will find references to other books and authors, original source documents, and even films and documentaries. One article by Todd Andrlik—the founder and editor of the Journal of the American Revolution—is a mini-handbook on newspaper and journal publishing in the 1770s, with detailed information on specific Philadelphia papers. Another article lists five dozen newspapers that presented the text of the Declaration Of Independence. (See the Armchair General review of Todd Andrlik’s Reporting the Revolutionary War.—Ed.)
As I said, all of the writers deserve praise for their work, and the editors have done a fantastic job putting the words together with illustrations. The publication generally follows the war, with the article “Stamp Act Riot To-Do List” opening the book, and the last few articles dealing with the post-war fate of loyalist / Washington spy James Rivington, reminisces of John Adams, and a Revolutionary War reading list.
I absolutely loved the “Ages Of Revolution” piece—Artemus Ward was only 46? I thought he was far older—and I found the “Spies And Bayonets” article one of the best I’ve seen on the failed British Hudson campaign of 1779. I don’t agree with everything in the book; I don’t care what Michael Schellhammer says, Peter Francisco will always remain The Incredible Revolutionary Hulk to me (but the author does a commendable job of myth-busting). And I disagree completely that Anthony Wayne was murdered by James Wilkinson. Wait a minute—Journal Of The American Revolution Volume 1 provides a six page article on the death of Anthony Wayne (with footnotes and bibliography)! I love it!
If you enjoy well-written history articles—you’re reading Armchair General, so you must—you’ll love this book. It gets my highest recommendation.
Sean Stevenson is a Pittsburgh-based writer and bookseller, the same age as the young and sprightly Artemus Ward. He has written several reviews of Revolutionary War period wargames and books for ArmchairGeneral.com.