A legend passes away

I found out via Facebook that renowned historian Edmund S. Morgan passed away at 97. You can read more about it at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/us/edmund-s-morgan-historian-who-shed-light-on-puritans-dies-at-97.html?smid=pl-share.

Morgan wrote on the Puritans and the larger colonial period. One of his major works that influenced generations was American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975). He was an influential and important scholar and will be missed.

The Slaves’ Gamble a look at African Americans in the War of 1812

Cross-posted to Civil War History

While a little outside the chronological range covered by this blog, I thought I would share exciting news about a new book that seeks to alter our impression of antebellum slavery through the lens of the War of 1812.

9780230342088

Smith, Gene Allen. The Slaves’ Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 272pp. $27.00.

Gene Allen Smith, historian at Texas Christian University, has written an interesting examination of how slaves viewed and used the conflict for their own opportunities. He showed that the war saw all sides using African Americans to aid their causes, while blacks saw the war as their chance to assert themselves, whether for seeking equality, in the case of free blacks, or freedom for slaves. Further, the war was a turning point in American race relations, as Smith noted that slavery was in a tenuous situation on war’s eve.

He noted that the war drastically altered this path of decline and that it further halted any potential progress towards freedom or equality, as blacks who joined British forces, seeking to better their lot in life, returned with invading forces, leading enemy troops into American communities. The consequence of this was a greater distrust among whites of arming slaves and enrolling blacks in militia units to augment white manpower, which continued into the Civil War, where African Americans served in segregated regiments with white officers. One of the other major problems resulting from the war was the expansion of available land for plantation agriculture, and plantation-based slavery.(3-4)

Smith begins his study by examining the story of black participation in North American wars. What is great about this chapter is the examination of the cross-cultural interactions, echoing Richard White’s remarkable work The Middle Ground. He concluded that the contributions of blacks to military conflicts during the colonial and revolutionary periods redefined the relationships between blacks and whites in North America.(31)

As he examined the role of blacks during the War of 1812, he weaved in the stories of black participants across the various theaters, providing a new and exciting understanding of the war that is as important to the larger field of study on the war as Donald Hickey. Smith concluded that blacks found became aware that their contributions to the war were minimized in post-war America. Further, white Americans began to react fearfully to black insurrection possibilities and worked to prevent the arming of blacks. Also, northern states began enacting laws outlawing blacks residing in them. Slavery became more entrenched in the South, as new areas were available for cotton production. Thus the war served as the last opportunity for blacks to attempt to fight for their place in society until the Civil War.(210-214)

The book is well researched, relying on sources from such scholars as Richard White, Gary Nash, Ian Steele, Stagg, and Don Hickey. In addition to strong secondary sources, Smith utilized several great primary sources that considered black participation, as well as interactions with Native Americans.

A good monograph that examines the difficult situation faced by blacks as they attempted to choose a side in the War of 1812 to further their position, Smith’s The Slaves’ Gamble is a great book for scholars interested in African American history, military history, the War of 1812, and is a good book for those interested in the Civil War, as it illustrates quite well how the forces that led to that great struggle came into being by America’s “second war for independence”.

Book Review of The War of American Independence, 1775-1783

Originally posted on International History:

Richard Middleton. The War of American Independence, 1775-1783. Modern Wars in Perspective series. Harlow, England: Pearson Education, 2012. ISBN 978-0-582-22942-6. Maps. Notes. Appendix. Bibliography. Pp. xvi, 351. $44.00 (paperback).

Richard MiddletonDr Richard Middleton provides a superb up-to-date synthesis of published primary works and modern historical studies focusing on the political, military, naval, and diplomatic aspects of the American War of Independence (1775-1783).  Middleton is an independent scholar and a former Reader in American History at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  He is the author of The Bells of Victory: The Pitt-Newcastle Ministry and the Conduct of the Seven Years War, 1757-1762 (1985), Colonial America, A History, 1565-1776 (Third edition, 2002), and Pontiac’s War: Its Causes, Course and Consequences (2007).

Middleton depicts the origins, course, and outcome of the War of American Independence.  The author focuses on the leadership of the Britain, the Patriots and Loyalists, France, and Spain.  He emphasizes British strategy (when…

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Book Review of The Global Seven Years War, 1754-1763: Britain and France in a Global Power Contest

Originally posted on International History:

Daniel A. Baugh. The Global Seven Years War, 1754-1763: Britain and France in a Great Power Contest. Modern Wars in Perspective series. Harlow, England: Longman, 2011. ISBN 978-0-582-09239-6. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 736. $53.20 (paperback).

This is a study of the Seven Years War, including the French and Indian War, which was fought on a global scale between Britain and France from 1754 to 1763.  Dr Daniel A. Baugh, Professor Emeritus of History at Cornell University, is a well-known authority on British maritime history in the eighteenth century, and is the author of British Naval Administration in the Age of Walpole (1965), editor of British Naval Administration, 1715-1750 (1977), and has published many articles on British naval history in scholarly journals.

In this massive, definitive study, Baugh thoroughly examines Anglo-French politics, diplomacy, strategy, as well as military and naval operations in the global conflict called the Seven Years War.  In this struggle, Britain…

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Thoughts on PBS’s The War of 1812

As we approach the bicentennial of the beginning of the War of 1812, I thought I would share my thoughts on the PBS documentary The War of 1812. PBS has helped produce several remarkable documentaries, including Ken Burns’ The Civil War and Baseball as well as The War That Made America, dealing with the French and Indian War. The War of 1812 discusses this largely forgotten, but important conflict in much the same way that The War That Made America covered the Seven Years’ War, with stunning graphics and reenactments.
This film provided great context on the years leading up to the conflict, including the chief reasons for war, freedom of the seas and impressment, which Britain seized American sailors and forced them into the Royal Navy. This was due to Britain losing thousands of sailors while fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, both to battle and desertion. It also discussed the role of Native Americans prior to war, with a diverse cast of historians and experts providing several points of view.
As the years of conflict are chronicled, several personalities are presented, both high up in the armies of both sides, as well as the common soldiers. Viewers are introduced to Tecumseh, Isaac Brock, Sir George Prevost, Canada’s Governor-General, James Madison, Shadrach Byfield (a British soldier), William Hull, Henry Dearborn, Winfield Scott, and Andrew Jackson, among others.
The failures of the American army are quite clear. Plagued by inadequate, aging leadership, as well as militia that refused to cross the Canadian border, both invasions of Canada in 1812 and 1813 failed miserably. There were several firsts in this war, some that have not happened since. An American fort on American soil was captured and occupied by a foreign power (Revolutionary War and Civil War not being considered). An American city was surrendered (Detroit) to a foreign power, which was not counting the Revolution. The nation’s capital was captured and burned.
Two themes are important throughout the documentary. Canada coming into its own as unique from America and Native Americans losing both their territory and influence over North American war. It seems that Canada owes its eventual nationhood to the bumbling of American leadership during the war, as the invasions should have succeeded, as Canada was lightly defended and the invading armies usually outnumbered their enemy.
For Native Americans, Tecumseh represented the last significant stand for their people. He proved important before and during the war, as while a victory, the Battle of Tippecanoe was not as one-sided as American legend makes it out to be. Further, he provided important allies to the British war effort, getting along quite well with Brock.
James Madison is shown to be an interesting character and not of strong presence, while his wife Dolly was shown as a strong figure. In addition to Native Americans, the roles of women and African Americans is treated well.
In terms of artistry, the documentary weaves good reenactment scenes, animated maps, stunning effects with paintings and images, and gripping first-hand account narrations to make the war come alive to viewers. The internal political disputes over the war within the United States was treated well, showing that America’s position was rather fragile.
Overall, I urge everyone to watch the documentary, which you can do here. You can also buy the DVD and accompanying book, and check your local listings to see when it will show. The War of 1812 gets two thumbs up from me for great artistry combined with good history.
If you want to learn more about the conflict, I recommend Donald Hickey’s The War of 1812:  A Forgotten Conflict, which is out in a new bicentennial edition. I also recommend Hickey’s Don’t Give Up the Ship!:  Myths of the War of 1812, which presents the war in a question and answer format.