Osprey Publishing examines the Forts of the Frontier

Chartrand, Rene. The Forts of New France: The Great Lakes, the Plains and the Gulf Coast, 1600-1763. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2010. Illustrations, Maps, Photographs, Index. 64 pp. $10.42.

Chartrand, Rene. The Forts of Colonial North America: British, Dutch, and Swedish colonies. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011. Illustrations, Maps, Photographs, Index. 64 pp. $10.42.

Many of you may be familiar with Osprey Publishing, which produces hundreds of titles related to military history on a variety of subjects. Those interested in the forts of the British colonies and New France will enjoy two titles that Osprey released a few years ago. Forts were important to the history of the colonial frontier, as some of the pivotal battles of the wars that occurred in North America between Britain and France were fought for control over fortifications (ex. Forts Duquesne, Carillon, and the fortress of Louisbourg). Therefore, understanding them and how they were constructed is important to understanding the broader competition for empire in North America.

In 2010, Osprey released The Forts of New France: The Great Lakes, the Plains and the Gulf Coast 1600–1763 by Rene Chartrand. The book is a wonderful introduction to the various levels of fortifications and change over time of them across France’s far-flung colonial empire in North America. Several would be fought over during the series of wars between France and Britain (King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, King George’s War, and the French and Indian War).

The book is beautifully illustrated, as is customary for Osprey products, with several plates devoted to different forts in New France. The book follows a chronological and geographical flow, examining the forts of each region of New France (Gulf Coast, Plains, and Great Lakes region) from the earliest period of French colonial activity to the conclusion of the French and Indian War, when France was expelled and the territory transferred to British control.

The garrison sizes were discussed, as most forts in the regions were smaller affairs, served by only a couple dozen troops. In addition to establishing French claim over the area, the forts served as centers of trade and establishments of relations with Native Americans. Many of the early forts were established specifically to facilitate trade with Native American groups, especially those in the Great Lakes area (the Pays d’en Haut). Most forts were simple wooden construction and relatively small, but some grew into very large stone fortifications by the eighteenth century.

The forts covered allowed France to maintain its authority over such a vast swath of North America and make its claims over areas. They also served as scenes for the struggle for empire between Britain and France, and with Native Americans in North America. One fort that I was delighted to see included was Fort de Chartres in southern Illinois. I have visited this restored post several times, as it is only a couple hours from my hometown. The book discussed to two distinct fortifications at the site, first wooden, later replaced by stone, both under constant threat from the Mississippi River.

Like the French, the English (later British), Dutch, and Swedes established forts in their colonies to serve as places to claim territory, establish trade with Native Americans, and protect their imperial frontier from French and Native incursion. In The Forts of Colonial North America: British, Dutch and Swedish colonies (2011), Chartrand examined the history of fortifications built by the English, Dutch, and Swedes during the 17th century and the conquest of the latter by the English. Later, these sites became the backbone of British control over its North American colonies and the front line of defense when war with France raged. Like the French, these forts also started as smaller, simple wood-constructed stockades, with some growing into larger wooden fortifications, or taking on stone facades.

This book provides a wonderful general introduction to early colonial history along the American coast and traces the history inland, as Britain begins to establish inland forts. Several forts are illustrated in beautiful color plates that attempt to show readers what they may have looked like in their day. One fort that is featured is Fort William Henry, site of a major siege during the French and Indian War that was later novelized and dramatized in James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans and its film adaptations.

Rene Chartrand was an excellent choice to write these works, as his background is fitting for writing such works for a broad audience seeking a general informative overview. He served as curator for over three decades for Canada’s National Historic Sites before venturing into freelance writing. This allows him to write the works for the casual reader that is seeking knowledge on the broad subject as opposed to a deep academic analysis.

Both books provide wonderful information about the subjects they cover, including detailed maps, chronological tables of key events, as well as glossaries of terms related to the subjects, allowing readers who do not have the background to better appreciate the subject covered. Though geared towards general readers and non-academic audiences, these two books are great for those seeking to get an introduction to the forts of colonial America and some basic factual information surrounding them. They serve as a springboard for diving into other literature on the subjects of fortifications, New France, British America, relations with Native Americans, colonial military history, and a bit of engineering.

Well-researched and illustrated, these two books are worth having on your shelf if remotely interested in colonial era fortifications. While they focus on the sites of empire, Osprey also suggests other related titles that deal with the troops of the various imperial powers fighting for control of North America. At less than $15, these books are a great deal to begin building a library on colonial history and can be enjoyed by readers both young and old, though I would say a good minimum age for these works would be around 12-14 given the subject matter and terms used.

If a fan of Osprey books, or just a casual interested person looking for something different, certainly give these two works a try.

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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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 First Way of War by John Grenier

I wrote the following review for On Point: The Journal of Army History and it will appear in an upcoming issue.

The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607-1814. By John Grenier. Cambridge University Press, 2005. i-xiv, 232 Pp. Figures. Maps. Index. ISBN 0-521-84566-1. $30.00

Through gripping accounts taken from primary sources to maps of the regions in question, Air Force officer and Air Force Academy history Professor John Grenier argues and illustrates how America developed its unique military heritage and style of war making based upon irregular warfare. Specifically, Grenier examines the killing of non-combatants and destruction of crops and homes during the wars in the colonies as well as the American Revolution, the Indian wars of the early republic, and the War of 1812.

In his introduction, Grenier discusses the history and historiography of military and specifically American military history, including the development of America’’s unique way of making war. He lists off several historians and works from the past that discuss this topic, which provide the reader with a good background on the subject presented in this work.

Grenier presents the history of American rangers through much of the work and he keeps the story in chronological order beginning with the wars in the colonies from 1607-1689, which occurred between colonists and Indian tribes. He brings to light how ranger companies were generational with sons often leading units that their fathers once led. He then moves into the wars on the continent between France and England in the eighteenth century as well as the lesser-known wars, noting the role that rangers and the tactics they used played in the conflicts in the mid-eighteenth century prior to the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

Grenier then breaks the flow of the work with a chapter dealing with the history of petite guerre in Europe. This story is important for understanding this work, but would better serve the work if it was the first chapter as in the current placement as the third chapter, it breaks the flow in a way that hurts the story that the author is presenting. This is not to say that the chapter does not belong as it does, but rather that it belongs in a different place within the larger work.

Grenier then examines America’’s way of war making in the French and Indian War. He notes that Britain realizes the need for American rangers, especially after Braddock’’s defeat, but that they are slow to realize this. Shortly after Braddock’’s defeat, various units of American rangers are formed in response, including one unit formed by Robert Rogers (the famous Roger’’s Rangers). He also notes how the British after initially relying on the rangers attempt to replace them, but fail. Finally, he concludes the chapter by examining how the British adapt the American way of war.

Grenier also examines the Revolutionary War period, primarily focusing on the war on the frontier, which includes stories about George Rogers Clark as well as the Northeast frontier. Grenier then examines the 1790s, which present great defeats and triumphs on the frontier from St. Clair’’s defeat to the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The story then carries into the early 1800s, focusing on events like the Indian war in the Northwest against Tecumseh and the Creek War to the south, finally ending in 1815.

Overall, Grenier’’s scholarship is quite good with many primary sources drawn together for this work, including the papers of Sir William Johnson, as well as many government documents. He also provides a good selection of maps and illustrations to aid the reader in understanding. His style is formal, but not beyond the general reading audience, which gives it a wider audience as both historians and general readers can understand the book. Though he is an Air Force officer, Grenier proves that he knows the subject well. His work adds greatly to the scholarship of both American history and US Army history. Both historians interested in the topic and general audiences will benefit from reading The First Way of War.

Thoughts on the PBS Documentary “The War That Made America”

My apologies for not keeping up with this site, but I hope to keep up with it, as I am reviewing a book dealing with the period, and I hope to get other writers involved.

I have been meaning to write something about the documentary “The War That Made America” for some time now. As one who enjoys good television programming on the subject of early American history, I not only own this show, but both “Frontier” series put out by the History Channel (back when it was good), as well as the A&E documentary “The American Revolution”, which is a classic (reviews on these will appear some day).

That said, I would like to highlight some of the good parts, as well as some of the bad with this program. The documentary is narrated very well by Graham Green, an Oneida actor who had ancestors that fought in the conflict. The documentary is packed with information and good living history excerpts. It examines the war from all sides and discusses many of the important figures and events of the war, though sometimes with only a mention. In addition to good narration and balance, the research is quite solid. Finally, the acting for the living history is good and certainly not as annoying as recent documentaries on The History Channel.

There are a couple of problems that I do have with this program. While the acting is quite good, the way it is presented is somewhat awkward. This is because in many of the scenes the main character in question (Washington, the Marquis de Montcalm, etc.) pulls a stunt out of Saved by the Bell, in which the scene seems to freeze with the actor portraying the character in question talking to the audience. While the tactic is interesting and makes the attempt to have a historical figure communicate with the audience, I believe that a traditional scene, similar to a movie would be more appropriate. This is only a small problem that does not negatively affect the value of this program much.

The other, more serious, problem is the portrayal of George Washington. The program portrays Washington as a brash and blundering young man. While this may be somewhat true based upon the events involving him and the ignition of the war, it must be noted that if he were so brash and blundering, how could he have secured a position as a major in the Virginia militia? Yes, his family was well off, but Washington did possess valuable experience.

In addition to the portrayal of Washington, another problem is the overt amount of attention paid to him by the program. While I certainly revere Washington and admire him, I also know that he was a minor player in the grand scheme of the war in America. More attention could have been paid to other aspects of the conflict, like the siege of Louisbourg.

Overall, while there are minor problems, I find this program to be very good and a useful tool for educators wishing to find a good program to show classes dealing with this period. I applaud PBS (which is a rarity given my views on their politics) on this fine program and encourage everyone to consider watching it.

A late, great colonial historian worth reading

Every now and then, an author comes around that is worth reading, even after death.  Howard Peckham is that author.  Peckham, who died in 1995 served as both a history professor at the University of Michigan and director of the Clements Library from 1953-1977.  He wrote numerous articles and several books during his life.  His most well-known book was Pontiac and the Indian Uprising (1948), which explored the famous Indian rebellion of 1763 led by Pontiac, in which he placed Pontiac in the context of a local leader within a greater anti-English movement by the Native Americans. 

Another well-known work by Peckham is The Colonial Wars, 1689-1763 (1964).  This book chronicles the history of the series of wars between the English and French, and their respective colonists in North America, as well as the Native Americans.  This work, though dated, is well worth reading in order to begin understanding much of the period covered by this site.  If one desires great reads by an accomplished historian, then consider reading Howard Peckham.