An eye-opening account of the redcoats.
Hagist, the managing editor of the Journal of the American Revolution, emphasizes that his subjects are not officers but private soldiers who, unlike sailors in the Royal Navy, were volunteers. Earning 8 pence per day—minus deductions for uniforms and food—it was a subsistence livelihood but secure. Soldiers usually enlisted for life, retiring with a pension when no longer physically able. The British soldier usually receives bad press in popular American histories, often depicted “as little more than a caricature,” as Rick Atkinson notes in the foreword. However, writes Hagist, “contrary to popular misconceptions, few were pressured to join in order to avoid jail or escape poverty.” Some were farm laborers, but most were from the trades—e.g., tailors, barbers, blacksmiths. Their reasons for enlisting were similar to today’s: a search for adventure or to escape an unsatisfactory civilian life. Training was intense, and discipline was often barbaric. Although few complained at the time, there was no shortage of misbehavior, crime, and desertion, but the result was a surprisingly content and skilled army who “were seldom bested on the battlefield, even in the face of much greater numbers.” The author’s research in American and British archives turns up a great deal of technical, statistical, and organizational details as well as personal writings of the large percentage of enlisted men who were literate. Readers will enjoy many revealing stories of soldiering in that distant era, provided they understand that Hagist is accustomed to writing for a scholarly audience. Thus, his chapter on the fate of soldiers at the end of their service is a fine explanation of 18th-century British pension boards, along with examples of soldiers who came before them, but it’s too much for general readers. Entire chapters devoted to housing, pay, and recruiting may discourage those who prefer not to skim.
A detailed and often entertaining history for academics.
Pub Date: today
Page Count: 392
Publisher: Westholme Publishing
Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020