American War of Independence…A Short Reading List

So much to blog about, and so little time. That being the case, I thought I’d share a (totally non-comprehensive!) reading list of good studies on the American Revolution, which might be of interest to those wanting a good starting point for studying the military history of the conflict. For me, it’s useful to look back on the unit I just finished teaching my students (and testing them).

Piers Mackesey, The War for America, 1775-1783.  Remains the classic study of the British war to recover the colonies, focusing especially on strategy, and the on placing the war in its global context once France entered the conflict at the beginning of 1778.

Commager and Morris, The Spirit of Seventy-Six, and Scheer and Rankin, Rebels and Redcoats.  Combined, these two books are a vast goldmine of primary source material for the military, diplomatic, and political history of the Revolution. Being older publications, they are not what we would  today consider “comprehensive” in terms perspective–for economic, gender, social, and cultural perspectives, we must look elsewhere. However, in terms of understanding “wie es eigentlich gewesen” from a military standpoint, they cannot be bettered. Which is probably why they are still easily obtainable in print.

John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, Revised Edition. Although he describes his essays as “a product of the Vietnam era in American history,” they are all of them well worth the time spent reading them; “A New Look at the Colonial Militia,” “American Strategy: Charles Lee and the Radical Alternative,” “The Military Conflict Considered as a Revolutionary War,” and “The American Military Experience: History and Learning” are some of the gems in this collection.

Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, two volumes, 1952. Another work of considerable longevity, useful for its minute examination of military events.

Lawrence E. Babits, A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens, 1998. Fantastic study of Morgan’s victory over Tarleton’s forces in January, 1781. In some ways the “textbook” example of a battle-focused micro study.

John S. Pancake, This Destructive War: The British Campaign in the Carolinas, 1780-1782, 1985.  Probably THE most important single study of the British war in the South, and a masterful demonstration of how social, political, and cultural factors intertwined with the military in the American Revolution.

Paul Lockhart, Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army, 2008. Excellent micro-study of von Steuben and the training of the Continental Army. When combined with the reprint of the 1794 drill manual, easily obtainable from Amazon, Lockhart’s study can be especially effective.

John Buchanan, The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas, 1997.  An excellent companion to Pancake’s study.

Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Enlarged Edition, 1992. Remains a classic on the subject, despite the passing of years.

Savas and Dameron, A Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution, 2006. A more popular-oriented compendium of engagements in the Revolution, with plenty of maps, even if somewhat simple in their presentation. Some useful information on the current state of the battlefields and visitors’ centers.

Mark V. Kwasny, Washington’s Partisan War, 1775-1783, 1996. Another classic study, emphasizes the role of the militia in the war, paralleled by Martin and Lender’s much shorter A Respectable Army.

Matthew H. Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783, 2008. Of all the books mentioned here, I think this one has impressed me most. An amazingly well-written, comprehensive, and, in many respects, ground-breaking study of the British Army. Absolutely essential if one wants to understand the strategic, operational, tactical, social, and cultural workings of the army, and the challenges it *actually* faced in trying to break the revolution.

Finally, I would like to add the photo essays of Revolutionary War battlefields contained on http://johnsmilitaryhistory.com/revvirtual.html. The site has photo essays on a wide variety of battlefield sites across time periods, and they are extremely useful in class for “dropping down” to the tactical level of warfare.

Happy reading…