The French & Indian War: Deciding The Fate Of North America, by Walter R. Borneman
I must say that as someone who reads a fair amount about the French & Indian War that there was not a great deal of new information here. Where this book did excel was in looking at the scope of the careers of people like Robert Rogers, whose rangers have received a great deal of hype in many historical accounts and whose behavior was questionable to say the least and seldom effective when it came to pitched battles. While many of the stories the author tells are somewhat familiar, and while the facts of the war, including the disastrous start, glorious finish, and troubling aftermath, are very familiar to many readers (especially those of us who have family connections to the areas where the war was fought), this book does a good job at putting the war in a larger context and in pointing out that the failure to put the war in its larger context is part of what made the war so disastrous for France and, later on, Spain. The author does a good job at noting the importance of the French & Indian War in deciding the fate of North America, so this can be considered a mission accomplished for a competent historian.
After an introduction that explains why the author chose to write a book about this particular subject and some interesting features including a list of “key players” in the French & Indian War, the author begins by discussing colliding empires (I) with the period of temporary peace that followed the War Of Austrian Succession/King George’s War in 1748 (1), where ambitions over Ohio immediately became more problematic (2) and where competition among various colonial powers doomed attempts at unity in Albany in 1754 (3), the defeat of Braddock’s army (4), and Pitt’s belief that he could save England alone (5). The author then turns to Mr. Pitt’s global war from 1757 to 1760 (II), beginning with the massacre at Ft. William Henry and a general sense of stalemate (6), the weakness of New France due to its logistical problems (7), the defeat at Ticonderoga (8), Bradstreet’s logistical success in raiding a key French fort (9), the invasion of Forbes to conquer Ft. Duquesne (10), the successful Caribbean gambit that took over numerous sugar islands (11), the falling dominoes of French fortresses unable to keep fed (12), the seeming battle for a continent in Quebec (13), the making of the legend of Wolfe (14), and the decision of the fate of Canada in Montreal (15). The author then closes with a look at the prelude to the American Revolution (III) in the efforts to take over all of the French forts (16), further British successes from the Caribbean to the Philippines (17), the peace treaty made in Paris (18), the unresolved matters of native American hostility to British control and a lack of gifts (19), and the rising unhappiness in the American colonies over taxation and settlement issues (20).
Like many books on the subject, this particular one captures a few of the key problems in understanding the context of the French & Indian War. For one, the desire of glory for France on the continent left their empire to wither on the vine. Similarly, the success of Great Britain in using its naval dominance to increase its empire led it to underestimate the need for support for imperialism and centralization within its settler colonies, which led to the American Revolution rather predictably. Although like many other books this particular volume focuses on the war in North America, it does a good job in not only focusing on the battles and the tactical matters but in the importance of diplomacy, in the vital importance of logistics and naval power, and in the political will to win that must be found within nations in order to win the sort of global war that began in the backwoods of western Pennsylvania where I spent my first few years of life. The book shortchanges neither the planners and political and military moves and shakers or the people on the ground, be they native Americans or French planters in the Caribbean who had to maneuver in the complicated world of imperial rivalry.