Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes Paperback – January 23, 2013
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently Bought Together
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From School Library Journal
- Paul Haskell, Edison High School, Alexandria, VA
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Redcoats and Rebels consists of 25 short chapters, each covering a specific phase or episode in the war. In addition to illustrations, some simple but decent maps and a detailed bibliography, Hibbert provides an interesting appendix on the post-war careers of the major participants. Overall, the narrative is well written and flows smoothly. These pages are obviously written by a professional historian.
Ultimately, Hibbert points to three reasons for the British defeat: poor leadership, the difficulty of the terrain and the tenacity of the American rebels. Hibbert is particularly scathing throughout the book in his criticism of the senior British commanders who fought the war: Howe, Clinton, Burgoyne and Cornwallis, as well as the senior political leadership in London. Although the British won battle after battle, their leaders seemed to lack the killer instinct to finish off the Americans when they had the upper hand. The fact that Howe could sit in Philadelphia and not attack Washington's tattered army only 20 miles away at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-1778 seems almost miraculous. One British officer at the time lamented that, "our generals and admirals don't seem to be in earnest about this business." Although Hibbert only touches on the subject of British motivation, it seems evident that most of the senior British leaders had serious doubts about the war and that a certain fatalism crept into decision-making. Hibbert's criticisms of British generals, who often seem more concerned with lavish dinners and mistresses, is not always fair since Howe and Burgoyne both demonstrated tactical competence. The second factor that determined defeat, according to Hibbert, was the rugged and expansive nature of the American terrain, which always provided the rebels with places to escape British offensives. There is no doubt that the British army in America was too small for the task; Hibbert notes that the British estimated that they needed 50-75,000 troops to subdue the rebels but never had more than 35,000 troops available at any one time. As the Americans found in Vietnam, the British could control any terrain they occupied but their forces were just too small to fight war on such a continental scale. Previous campaigns against rebels in Ireland, Scotland and England had not had to contend with such major terrain obstacles or distances. Finally, Hibbert credits the tenacity of the Americans - particularly Washington and Greene - with protracting the war until British resolve dwindled.
One major area that Hibbert only skims around is the issue of strategic objectives in America. Did Britain really have a chance to achieve a military victory and if so, what strategy offered the best chances? Hibbert does hint at the British strategic dilemma when he notes Cornwallis' efforts to raise loyalist troops in the south. With limited troops, Cornwallis could either protect the loyalist areas in a defensive strategy or pursue the rebel army in an offensive strategy. Without sufficient loyalist troops, the British effort in America was probably doomed, but a strategic defense that protected loyalist areas would inevitably yield the initiative to the revels. British commanders were split on the horns of this dilemma; Howe and Clinton were more or less content to hold the loyalist base in New York, whereas the more aggressive Burgoyne and Cornwallis made (fatal) efforts to catch and destroy the rebel armies. Hibbert's narrative also exposes the essentially one-dimensional approach of British strategy in containing the rebellion; the British relied too heavily on their own professional military and under-utilized the enormous political and economic tools at their disposal. Indeed, the main factor inhibiting the rebel war effort was always lack of hard cash yet the British made only modest efforts to go after this weakness. Politically, the British might have made more concessions earlier to encourage loyalist sympathies, but their envoys were never serious about compromise.
Finally, the question of war mobilization is also addressed in part by Hibbert. Fundamentally, Britain never committed the army and navy resources to achieve a decisive military victory in America, but that does not mean that these resources were lacking. Hibbert notes an interesting point about the King's dilemma in raising new army formations: enlisted manpower was cheap and readily available but the officers could draw half pay for ten years after their units were demobilized. Instead, the King relied on hiring large numbers of Hessian mercenaries in order to avoid the overhead costs associated with the enlargement of the British Army. Although the British only had to fight the Americans for the first three years of the war, large army and navy forces were retained in Great Britain in order to deter French and Spanish intervention, but this deterrent effort was a failure. Essentially, Britain opted initially to fight the war on the cheap but was forced into a gradual military escalation that kept the war going but could not win it.