Fusiliers: The Saga Of A British Redcoat Regiment In The American Revolution, by Mark Urban
This book was a deeply interesting one. I’m not going to say that I necessarily approve of the author’s perspective or share it, but the author does provide at least a good reason why a partisan of the British side during the American Revolution would wish to cheer on a regiment of redcoats that had a generally successful record during the entire war despite the ultimate lack of success of the British efforts overall. The author manages to impressively figure out from a fragmented but interesting body of documentary writing, including some unpublished letters and memoirs, the general actions that the regiment took and how it was that they fared in various battles. And someone who is less of an American patriot than I happen to be may even find a reason to cheer on the successful role of the 23rd Welsh Fusiliers regiment of the British army in the Battle of Camden, or mourn their losses due to illness in South Carolina as well as battles from Lexington to Yorktown. I personally am not among the mourners or celebrators of this regiment, but I can at least respect the author’s solid historiography in bringing the record of this regiment to light in an interesting way.
This particular book is a bit more than 300 pages long and is divided into 24 fairly short chapters, some of which focus on individuals in the course of the war based on the author’s research. And so after a list of illustrations and a preface we have a discussion of the March from Boston on April 19, 1775 (1), the regiment at the beginning of the war (2), the fight at Lexington and Concord (3), Bunker Hill (4), and the siege (5) and evacuation (6) of Boston. The narrative picks up in the fight for New York (7) in the summer of 1776 as well as the campaign of that year’s conclusion (8) and the opening of the next year’s campaign (9) and the march on Philadelphia (10) and the surprise at Germantown (11) and the wintering in Philadelphia (12). The author explores British grenadiers (13) and the specter of the world at war (14) and the divisions within England (15) as well as the move of the war South (16). The rest of the book focuses on the southern theater of the war with a look at the Battle of Camden (17), the move into North Carolina (18), the Battle of Guilford Court House (19), the move into Virginia (20), Yorktown (21), going home (22), home service (23), and the army reborn (24) against Revolutionary France, after which the book closes with notes on sources, a bibliography, and an index.
The author makes the oft-repeated claim that history is written by the victors, but then contradicts it through an effort at making the 23rd Fusiliers appear to be victors in a war that the British lost. This victory may not be the crushing of the American Revolution, but the author certainly finds other people to be responsible for that loss, and this book is little involved in the grand strategies that led Cornwallis to be trapped in Virginia or led the British army into a war of posts that was one post too far in Trenton and Princeton or that led that same army to attack Philadelphia and leave Burgoyne to his fate at Saratoga. This book is about the bravery and skill and success of the 23rd in various battles and manages to do a good job at recording what that regiment did, and how it influenced the success of British arms in the Napoleonic war through some of lessons learned in fighting against the Americans. As a regimental history it is certainly an accomplished one and one that deserves to be read by those who are interested in an unusual perspective of the American Revolution.