The American Revolution is often portrayed as an orderly, restrained rebellion, with brave patriots defending their noble ideals against an oppressive empire. It’s a stirring narrative, and one the founders did their best to encourage after the war. But as historian Holger Hoock shows in this deeply researched and elegantly written account of America’s founding, the Revolution was not only a high-minded battle over principles, but also a profoundly violent civil war—one that shaped the nation, and the British Empire, in ways we have only begun to understand.
In Scars of Independence, Hoock writes the violence back into the story of the Revolution. American Patriots persecuted and tortured Loyalists. British troops massacred enemy soldiers and raped colonial women. Prisoners were starved on disease-ridden ships and in subterranean cells. African-Americans fighting for or against independence suffered disproportionately, and Washington’s army waged a genocidal campaign against the Iroquois. In vivid, authoritative prose, Hoock’s new reckoning also examines the moral dilemmas posed by this all-pervasive violence, as the British found themselves torn between unlimited war and restraint toward fellow subjects, while the Patriots documented war crimes in an ingenious effort to unify the fledgling nation.
For two centuries we have whitewashed thishistory of the Revolution. Scars of Independence forces a more honest appraisal, revealing the inherent tensions between moral purpose and violent tendencies in America’s past. In so doing, it offers a new origins story that is both relevant and necessary—an important reminder that forging a nation is rarely bloodless.
Release Date: May 9, 2017
Scars of Independence is certainly well researched, containing a wealth of information on the American Revolution. Clearly, the author spent countless hours researching the subject.
That being said, I had a difficult time getting through this book. In fact, it took me a couple of months. I kept putting it aside in favor of something else, with little desire to get back to it. The writing has a dry textbook feel, often with too much focus on numbers and lists. Sometimes I felt I should be taking notes for the exam afterward.
Cornwallis’s army moved relatively slowly – it daily consumed seventeen tons of food; it needed to stop early each day to collect wood for fuel and to bake bread; the 1,000 horses drawing the massive baggage train required hay and water.
The larger problem, for me, was in the presentation of the material. The author’s stated focus is to write the violence back into the Revolution. His claim is that we glamorize this war, which, to an extent, is true, though I don’t agree that we’re all naive in believing this war was somehow a highly principled, gentlemanly event. Here, the author’s intense focus on specific violent acts and skirmishes has the unfortunate byproduct of leaving out the humanity. For instance, his dry recitation of rape statistics had no more emotional depth than if I’d been reading about the theft of weapons.
Major General Nathanael Greene, too, was at that time speaking of hundreds of women being raped in New Jersey – the number unprovable, and probably inflated, but one that speaks to the very real concern about sexual abuse by enemy soldiers.
This book works well as a textbook and/or for readers interested in a chronicle of events throughout the American Revolution. For readers like me, looking for an immersive experience, this is a more challenging read.
*I received an advance ebook copy from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.*
Thanks for reading. 🙂