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Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 15, 2016
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“Remarkable. . . . Brothers at Arms is one of the most important books on the American Revolution published in this decade.” —Dallas Morning News
“[I]n his wide-ranging study . . . [Ferreiro] draws attention to people and events that George Washington and the other eminent founders routinely overshadow. The result is a familiar story told from a new vantage point. Revisionist in the best sense, Mr. Ferreiro’s book deftly locates the war within the rivalrous 18th-century Atlantic world. . . . . Impressive.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Engaging and informative, Ferreiro’s Brothers at Arms refutes the widely-held view that the Marquis de Lafayette alone represented France until Vicomte de Rochambeau and Admiral de Grasse sealed the fate of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. . . . Ferreiro is a skillful storyteller. His experience in the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and Department of Defense, and as an exchange engineer in the French Navy, is on display in his descriptions of battles on land and at sea. Brothers at Arms is filled with telling—and titillating—details. . . . In the end, however, the enduring importance of Brothers at Arms is Ferreiro’s accurate (and perhaps humbling) reminder that when Brig. Gen. O’Hara, representing Cornwallis, emerged at Yorktown to surrender, and turned toward Rochambeau, he was acknowledging that the victory was as much France’s as it was America’s. And when Rochambeau wordlessly pointed him across the lane toward Washington, he was ‘well aware to whom belonged the moment.’ After all, as Ferreiro concludes, ‘the American nation was born as the centerpiece of an international coalition.’” —Glenn Altschuler, Tulsa World
“Imporant as scholarship, Ferreiro’s history is also eminently fluid for all readers interested in the U.S.’s beginning.” —Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
“Even seasoned American history readers will likely find new content on a pivotal era.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Ferreiro mounts a deeply informed, authoritative, and compelling argument for the importance of two major European powers to American independence. ‘Instead of the myth of heroic self-sufficiency,’ he writes, ‘the real story is that the American nation was born as the centerpiece of an international coalition.’ . . . Besides offering a vivid chronicle of combat, the author traces the tense negotiations between American emissaries in Europe—notably Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane—and their French and Spanish counterparts. . . . A largely untold, engrossing history of our nation’s fraught, and unlikely, path to liberty.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“For some time, historians have understood that globalization was born during the founding of the American colonies, north and south. Now comes Larrie Ferreiro to recount in this magnificent volume the myriad ways that the globalized world was very much in play when those colonies began to come undone—during the American Revolution. A whole canvas of passions and interests is illumined here, allowing us to see history through a thoroughly fresh lens.” —Marie Arana, author of Bolívar: American Liberator
“As Larrie Ferreiro proves in this fascinating and groundbreaking account of the American Revolutionary War, there would have been no United States without the help of France and Spain. Brothers at Arms is an important corrective to the notion that our nationhood was preordained. As Ferreiro demonstrates time and time again, American independence depended on France and Spain.” —Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Bunker Hill and Valiant Ambition
“In Brothers at Arms, Larrie D. Ferreiro recasts the American Revolution in a revealing new light by situating the local fight for freedom in the context of global power struggles. This eye-opening narrative takes us beyond the shores of the fledgling United States to show us how French and Spanish forces in places as far flung as Honduras and Gibraltar helped make victory possible.” —Laura Auricchio, author of The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered
“This book will revive in an enlightened way an old controversy among Americans—both historians and educated laymen—concerning the American Revolution: Could it have been won without French and Spanish help? Professor Ferreiro’s answer is clearly given in the subtitle and throughout his book. The book is excellent—based on solid research and wide reading, argued with much spirit and insight. It is an illuminating and suggestive study deserving of a wide readership in and out of universities and colleges.” —Robert L. Middlekauff, author of Washington’s Revolution
“Brothers in Arms vividly tells the forgotten story of how French and Spanish military and financial support enabled thirteen weak colonies to take down an empire. Anyone interested in how the United States actually won its independence should read this book.” —Kathleen DuVal, author Independence Lost
“An informative and wide-ranging introduction to the vital French and Spanish roles in the War of American Independence, Ferreiro’s survey is full of human interest details.” —Jonathan R. Dull, author of The Miracle of American Independence: Twenty Ways Things Could Have Turned Out Differently
“Surprisingly the war that we people of the United States call our revolution, could not have succeeded if it were not part of a world war. Here is the story of the various motives that came together with a common purpose—the defeat of Great Britain—that resulted in our independence. Fascinating and revelatory.” —Thomas Chávez, author of Spain and the Independence of the United States
About the Author
LARRIE D. FERREIRO received his PhD in the History of Science and Technology from Imperial College London. He teaches history and engineering at George Mason University in Virginia and the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. He has served for over thirty-five years in the US Navy, US Coast Guard and Department of Defense, and was an exchange engineer in the French Navy. He is the author of Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World and Ships and Science: The Birth of Naval Architecture in the Scientific Revolution, 1600-1800. He lives with his wife and their sons in Virginia.
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The book' argues that American independence would not have been achieved without massive French and Spanish support is entirely convincing.
That said, the writing is excellent. The complex details do not burden the overall narrative, which is lively and well-paced. Chapters are chronological but overlap a bit, focusing on particular aspects. Chapter 1 is about the prelude to war. Chapter 2, "The Merchants" concerns trade and particularly trade in arms, gunpowder and other tools of war (tents, uniforms, and many other items). The trade was fairly large in scale, and supposedly secret, before outright war was declared. The wheelings and dealings meshed with politics makes compelling if not easy reading. Chapter 3, "The Ministers," covers politicians and administrators, mostly in France and Spain, and some of the maneuvering to create alliance and policy leading to war.
Chapters 4 and 5 "The Soldiers" and "The Sailors" detail just that, on the French and Spanish side, but also the British and American. These cover what a history of our Revolution usually covers, but less battles and campaigns and more organizations, supply, coordination and difficulty in making it all work. Ferreiro's descriptions of the soldiers and sailors is outstanding. What will be new to some readers is the sheer extent of French support (including quite large loans, massive shipments of weapons and supplies, but also thousands of troops and a lot of naval support. This includes foreign volunteers like von Steuben, Pulaski and Lafayette. It also includes Spanish actions in the Gulf and Caribbean, far larger and more significant than most readers will be aware of.
Chapter 6 "The Pieces Converge," and 7, The Endgame" center on how Yorktown was set up--a lot of planning but also coincidence and luck. The French Navy's actions in and near the Chesapeake Bay were the key. The importance of French troops at Yorktown was also a key--they suffered twice as many casualties as the American troops.
Chapter 8, "The Road to Peace" and Chapter 9, "The Legacy" are in a sense anticlimax, but again most readers (like me!) may be surprised at the complexity of the peace process. The legacy chapter has some interesting detail, but is probably the weakest chapter in the book. A number of French and some of the Spanish stayed in the new country--the DuPont dynasty, foe example, and the family of the most famous Civil War admiral, Farragut.
There's a great deal of information. I found some of it surprising. The Spanish peso de ocho (piece of eight) was fully half the coins circulating on the colonies and then independent America. At the time of the Revolution, Americans had a substantially higher per capita income than British, 78 pounds per year to 50, a higher literacy rate and better health. The colonists were particularly short of gunpowder--a short section of the book covers this in fascinating detail.. There was considerable Spanish help sent from New Orleans up the Mississippi to Fort Pitt (the Spanish ruled the whole Louisiana territory, the British had East and West Florida) which was of particular help in the West. By the end of 1776, at least 10,000 muskets and a million pounds of gunpowder arrived in various ways from France. I had never thought about this before, but substantial American units were under the command of foreign officers--von Steuben, Lafayette and others, and French troops were sometimes under American command (Washington).
An important aspect of the narrative is how war elsewhere dovetailed with the Revolution. Spanish and French original plans included merging fleets and invading Britain. Battles also included Minorca (recaptured by Spain) and Gibraltar (retained by Britain) and major actions in the Caribbean, including not just naval battles but also on the Central American mainland and a number of islands. The largely Spanish operations against Mobile and Pensacola were far larger in scale that I previously knew. The Spanish have been ignored in histories of the Revolution until recently. Not only was the scale larger but operations were overall rather successful, a correction to the usual story of Spanish incompetence.
A stunning book.
Didn't expect such a honest book from an American historian.
I salivate on every page.
Washington started winning when his army became a Prussian army.
Steubenville, Oh // Ft. Steuben, after a drill sergeant only?
England, however, had also spent well beyond its means during the late war and it now insisted that its American colonies pay their fair share of the war's costs, as well as the mother country's burgeoning price tag for defending their increasingly lucrative and contentious colonies. When those colonies refused, the prospects for a new and bloody civil war - for that was what it really was - became an inevitability. Once the Revolutionary War had begun, both France and Spain, who still possessed substantial territory in North America, saw a great opportunity to further their own economic and military prospects by siding with the colonists. At first, aide was small and piecemeal from both nations but as the remote prospects of an American victory became a real possibility, that aide became larger and ultimately decisive. America, according to this well written and carefully documented history of Spanish and French involvement in the war, ultimately owes its freedom from England to those two nations.
One aspect of this history that may strike some readers as slightly negligent is the author's avoiding the inclusion of aide given by other nations, most notably the Dutch, who provided significant monetary loans to the fledgling nation. But American diplomats also sought aide from other European countries as well. Nevertheless, there is no question that the lion's share of financial and especially military aide came from the two nations whom author Larrie D. Ferreiro calls Brothers at Arms. There is also no question that the exigencies of this relationship had a profound effect on France, which absorbed the colonist's zeal for republicanism and rapidly developed their own anti-monarchical sentiments. The cry for liberty did not stop at North American shores but traveled all the way back to France, leading to their own demands for freedom from royal and aristocratic oppression and tyranny. The French Revolution began a mere 13 years after the American.
Brothers at Arms is carefully written and well argued and if you enjoy reading about the history of the Revolutionary War and think you might appreciate a new and different view of that war, you'll find that reading it is quite informative. Although some may quibble about the focus on only these two nations when discussing aide to the cause, few would argue that France and Spain were anything but the two most significant friends of the American struggle for freedom. Brothers at Arms is a solid historical overview featuring well documented assertions that offer a different view of a fascinating era in our history and it is strongly recommended..