Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Patriot Battles (Book #80)

When I was growing up, we were taught that the American Revolution was all about scrappy frontier riflemen beating the robotic soldiers of an empire against incredible odds, mostly because the soldiers were so, well, robotic. You know, too stupid to realize that wearing bright red coats made them targets for those daring riflemen and so on. As an adult, and particularly an adult who's becoming something of an expert on the Napoleonic Wars, I'd figured that school history was a myth. The British were far from stupid, after all. 18th century battlefield tactics actually make a lot of sense when you understand the technology available then. E.g. rifles of the time had serious disadvantages compared to a musket--a much slower rate of fire, and frontier hunting rifles couldn't be fitted with bayonets, leaving a sharpshooter vulnerable when unloaded. Ideally you want a small number of rifles to supplement your musket-armed infantry with their sniper mojo. Which is what the Americans actually had during the Revolution, and what the British used so successfully in the Napoleonic Wars.

Anyway. That's one small myth of the many busted in Patriot Battles: How the War of Independence Was Fought (Michael Stephenson, 2007). A larger one is the idea that the odds were against the Patriots, what with Britain being one of the great superpowers of the day and all. Actually, the odds were stacked against the British to begin with, because they never had anything like enough soldiers available to garrison a large, hostile territory far from home. Sound familiar? It should. Stephenson draws the obvious parallel and gets excoriated for it by Amazon reviewers, but I think he's right. It's not an exact parallel, but there is a lesson there to be learned.

Oh, and it's a good, readable introduction to the realities of 18th century warfare, if you're interested in such things.

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