About Daniel Sauerwein

I am a graduate student in History at the University of North Dakota pursuing my PhD in History with a minor in Geography. My primary historical interests are military history, specifically early US and the Civil War.

Review of The British Defeat of the French in Pennsylvania, 1758

Reviewed for On Point: The Journal of Army History

Cubbison, Douglas R.  The British Defeat of the French in Pennsylvania, 1758:  A Military History of the Forbes Campaign Against Fort Duquesne.  Jefferson, NC:  McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010.  ISBN 978-0-7864-4739-8.  10 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index.  251pp.  $49.95.

Military historian Douglas Cubbison explores a turning point in the French and Indian War (1754-1763) with great detail.  The capture of Fort Duquesne was a major victory for the British during the war and redeemed the disaster that befell Edward Braddock’s expedition against the Fort in 1755.  Cubbison makes the bold claim that the campaign against Duquesne led by Brigadier General John Forbes was “among the most important in American history.”(1)  There is certainly credibility to this argument, as the capture of the Fort turned the tide of the war in Britain’s favor, which led to final victory.  The claim has merit within the context of British victory in the war being the catalyst of event that led to the Revolutionary War.  The importance of the campaign is primarily within the confines of the French and Indian War itself.

Cubbison’s motivation for creating this study of the Forbes Campaign lay in his observation that no dedicated scholarly study was produced for the 250th anniversary of the campaign in 2008.(1)  He stressed that his study was different from most historical treatments of events, as he did not delve into social history, and focused on only British and colonial sources.

Each chapter covers specific subjects on the campaign.  The first chapter discussed the life of John Forbes and his appointment to command of the expedition.  Subsequent chapters deal with organization of the forces, logistics, geography, supply, setbacks, and eventual British victory in the campaign.  In addition, appendices provide information about items brought along the campaign, including ordinance and trade goods for Native Americans.

Several positives stand out in this work.  First is the incredible detail.  If readers want to know statistical knowledge of the campaign, Cubbison will satisfy such curiosities, as he provides many segments of primary sources, as well as the appendices noted above that contain itemized listings of military material and other relevant statistics, including casualties and hunting results.  Second, is the inclusion of a couple of hand-drawn maps from the campaign, which illustrate the difficulties that Forbes and his force had to overcome in their advance against Fort Duquesne.  Finally, the documentation is thorough, with many notes and an extensive bibliography.

Despite the positives of the book, there are some areas of concern.  One is the focus on only a select group of sources, mainly British.  While Cubbison defends this in his introduction, the choice to focus on a select group of material limits the scope of his examination and the potential audience.  Further, while it is stressed that the study is not a social history, which resounds with some readers, incorporating some social history would have added to the richness of the story of the Forbes campaign.  A second issue was the long block quotations of primary sources, as while such sources are essential to a historical work, such long quotes, as opposed to paraphrasing, can cause readers to lose track of Cubbison’s history.  Finally, the lack of maps is a small, but important problem, as while this book is intended for those with background knowledge, a map, or maps, would better aid in understanding the campaign, as well as expand the potential audience.

Overall, Cubbison produced a traditional military history on an important campaign in American history.  While this book is geared to a rather focused audience, scholars and readers of military history will find it a useful source, as Cubbison provides amazing statistics and coverage of the many facets of an eighteenth century campaign in America.  While there are some issues with the book, this study of the Forbes campaign is long overdue and opens the door to future scholarly study on the subject.

Review of “The Battle of Bunker Hill”

Cross-posted to Military History Blog

This film is the first in a planned series under the title of America: Her People, Her Stories, which is produced by Tony Malanowski, who seeks to creat positive, family friendly productions that present a more positive outlook on American history. The film features a docudrama and a section providing the historical context, presented through interviews with historians. Having had a couple of weeks to reflect on the production since viewing it, I have found both positives and negatives within it.

First, as a historian, I want to commend Mr. Malanowski for his idea, as presenting history in an interesting light for children is always good. Despite covering a violent subject, like war, he presents the battle in a way that younger children can learn without being frightened. In addition, despite limitations he was able to pull off an over two-hour production rather well.

The film consisted of two main parts, a docudrama and a historical perspective. The docudrama part consisted of a movie reenactment of the battle, focusing on two fathers and sons, living in the area. The historical perspective placed the battle and the Revolutionary War within the larger context of early American history, incorporating interviews with three, as the film puts it, “historical experts.” Gregory J. W. Urwin is a scholar of both the Revolution and Civil War at Temple University who has written many works. Richard Patterson is the director of the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton, NJ, while William Chemerka has written several books on Texas history and has appeared on History Channel documentaries. My only problem is that Urwin is the only scholar working in the field covered by the film. Patterson is a good choice given his public history work at Trenton, but Chemerka seems out-of-place, as I could find no information related to any work he did on the Revolution. Though this is merely a difference of historical outlook, I had to mention it.

That said, the docudrama was an interesting work. The battle scenes were  well done, given the budgetary issues. It was portrayed well for an audience geared towards younger children and makes the colonial militia out to be heroic, which is good. My only observation was that the acting seemed a little over done at the beginning. The sons portrayed in the film present an interesting issue, as they seem to be fourteen or so. Their presence at the battle is a conundrum, as if old enough to come and help, they likely would have been allowed to stay and fight, as they would have known how to use a musket. Further, what about leaving the son home to tend the farm? Again, this is my observation and reflects training and a slightly different outlook.

The historical perspective was rather good and placed the battle in context, which is very important. Despite my concern over the experts chosen, they did well. In addition to the two main parts, a few extra features were added, including Reagan’s farewell address, which I enjoyed immensely.

Now, the only real artistic difference I would note is that I would have chosen a battle involving George Washington, likely Trenton, as while Bunker Hill was a significant engagement, the struggle of the army under Washington, especially at Trenton would have better achieved the goals of Mr. Malanowski.

Overall, the docudrama is a good program for families with young children to engage them in history. However, as I always state with any film, be sure to supplement the viewing with proper books and documents, as reading is always good. Get children reading the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and other primary documents. I look forward to seeing more from this project.

Click here to learn more about the film and to order a copy.

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Review of David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing

Fischer, David Hackett.  Washington’s Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

David Hackett Fischer has written a remarkable book on one of the more important events of the American Revolution:  the Battle of Trenton, placing that battle within the larger Revolution with great detail.  The book is part of the Pivotal Moments in American History series, edited by Fischer and James McPherson.  Fischer’s work, like others in the series examines a significant moment in American history and how that event shaped the course of the development of the nation.  Washington’s Crossing explores the importance of Trenton, as it is one of the most important days for the creation of the United States, as without this event, the Revolution would have likely collapsed.(ix)

Fischer provided an enormous amount of background, starting first with the competing forces.  He discussed the American army, including a brief biography of George Washington, noting more democratic elements within it, like the Committee of Privates in one Pennsylvania unit, as well as an overall lack of discipline.(11-2, 27)  In contrast to the American army, Fischer presented the British army as a more disciplined force.(42-45)  Finally, he explored the mercenary forces from Germany, collectively known as Hessians.

In addition to looking at the forces involved, Fischer devoted space to the background of the battle.  Subjects included the Howe brothers, who commanded the British/Hessian forces during the campaign, as well as the failures at New York.  Fischer then analyzed the desperate picture of the American Revolution, discussing Thomas Paine’s pamphlet The American Crisis and how it reflected the low point of the Revolution.  Overall, the inclusion of this background is very helpful to comprehending the importance of the Trenton Campaign to the success of the Revolution.

The detail on the campaign itself is immense, with Fischer describing the conditions of New Jersey under enemy occupation.  Further, his chapters explored key aspects and persons directly surrounding the battle, including Colonel Johann Rall, commander of the Hessian force in Trenton.  Readers will come to have a strong grasp of the battle and the Revolution thanks to Fischer’s inclusion of multiple, detailed subjects on the battle.

In addition to the rich focus, there are several other aspects of this book that make it a landmark work on the Battle of Trenton and the Revolution.  First, is the relative simplicity to the organization.  Fischer structured his chapters both chronologically and by subject.  This organization allows readers to use this book as a great research tool.  Second, is the use of maps and other images that compliment the text, which makes the book accessible to those unfamiliar with the Revolution.

The area where Fischer shines is in his historiography essay.  The essay covers the wide variety of interpretations on both the battle and larger war, focusing upon early views of both the battle and larger war from those who participated in the conflict.  Fischer illustrated how, for each side, Trenton represented different ideas, including republican virtue, criticism of British policy, as exhibited by the Howe brothers, contempt for the Hessians, and religious fervor.(425-432)  He then explored the creation and rise of a romantic school, embodied by Washington Irving, which later combined with an earlier republican school to create the Whig, later called Liberal, school.  George Bancroft characterized this school, which placed the campaign within the larger struggle of democracy and freedom against more oppressive forms of government.(433-437)  This idea of a moral struggle that Fischer alludes to (435) is rather similar to the earlier view held by some participants that viewed Trenton as a righteous victory.(425)

Fischer’s exploration of the historiography included interpretations linked to later events in American history.  He noted how historians after the Civil War studied the Revolution in light of their own participation in the conflict, which renewed their faith in republicanism and a national identity.(438-9)  One of the more interesting aspects he looked at was Marxist Howard Fast’s historical fiction on the war.  Fischer appeared to mention this subject for mere curiosity and hinted at a lack of value of Fast’s work.(445-6)  While Howard Fast may be a way to attract Marxist scholars to Fischer’s book, it seems irrelevant to the overall historiography.

Overall, Fischer’s look at historiography is quite helpful to those unfamiliar with it and wishing to learn more about the war.  He covered the many versions of writing over the years, including the clash in the late twentieth century between academic and popular history, as well as the rise of multiculturalism.  The result is a full treatment of Trenton and the war, which allows the book to be both a standard monograph and reference work.

Another great feature that sets this book apart is Fischer’s inclusion of an annotated bibliography, which lists and discusses the vast amount of primary and secondary sources.  He also provided his own interpretation of the value of various secondary sources.  This section adds to the reference qualities of the work and compliments the historiography essay well, and illustrates that Fischer’s book is based on sound scholarship.

There are so many great qualities to Washington’s Crossing that it is a must read for anyone interested on both the Trenton Campaign and the larger American Revolution.  Fischer provides the necessary background on the players involved and the conflict and created a rather balanced view of the event.   He drew upon both military and social history, discussing the commanders and strategies, as well as providing room for the inclusion of African-Americans and women in the story, which reflected the goals of the series the book belongs to of including traditional interpretations with new trends in scholarship.  His use of appendices, a historiography essay, and bibliography enhance the value of the work to general readers, students, and scholars alike.  While the book appears daunting, it is well worth the effort to examine.  With all the positives to this study, it is very clear why Washington’s Crossing won the Pulitzer Prize and was an American Library Association Notable Book.  David Hackett Fischer made a significant and wonderful contribution to the scholarship of the Revolutionary War.

Sorry for not posting lately

Sorry everyone for not posting lately, but I have not had much in the way of topics to post, plus I have been busy with classes. I will be posting some items soon, as I am finishing a class consisting of independent readings dealing with colonial North America and the Atlantic World. It has truly been rewarding and I have several book reviews that I will post as well as a couple other papers from it, so stay tuned in the next couple of weeks.

Please help the History News Network

Having served with this organization for a couple of years, I can attest to the value of The History News Network. It provides many interesting articles and news stories on a wide variety of subjects. Now, HNN needs your help, as it is attempting to raise $10,000 to cover expenses. I ask you all, if you are able, to consider supporting HNN by giving a tax-deductable donation, which you can do by going to this link.