Book Review of The War of American Independence, 1775-1783
Posted by William Young on December 20, 2012
Richard Middleton. The War of American Independence, 1775-1783. Modern Wars in Perspective series. Harlow, England: Pearson Education, 2012. ISBN 978-0-582-22942-6. Maps. Notes. Appendix. Bibliography. Pp. xvi, 351. $44.00.
Dr Richard Middleton provides a superb up-to-date synthesis of published primary works and modern historical studies focusing on the political, military, naval, and diplomatic aspects of the War of American Independence (1775-1783). Middleton is an independent scholar and a former Reader in American History at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is the author of The Bells of Victory: The Pitt-Newcastle Ministry and the Conduct of the Seven Years War, 1757-1762 (1985), Colonial America, A History, 1565-1776 (Third edition, 2002), and Pontiac’s War: Its Causes, Course and Consequences (2007).
Middleton depicts the origins, course, and outcome of the War of American Independence. The author focuses on the leadership of the Britain, the Patriots and Loyalists, France, and Spain. He emphasizes British strategy (when it existed) over tactics in his narrative. The study covers military operations from Lexington and Concord (1775) to the battle and British surrender at Yorktown (1781). Middleton is outstanding in bringing in the naval dimensions of the conflict. Moreover, the work is valuable for his discussion of the international aspect concerning the Franco-American alliance (1778) and Franco-Spanish operations against British interests. Britain had to contend with a possible Franco-Spanish invasion of the British Isles, the siege of Gibraltar, and threats to the British West Indies. The lack of an ally, the opposition of the League of Armed Neutrality, and the outbreak of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784) contributed to British difficulties. British military, naval, and financial resources were stretched thin. In fact, financial difficulties endured by Britain, the Patriots, France, and Spain encouraged an end to the conflict. Middleton continues his narrative after the surrender at Yorktown to discuss operations in the Caribbean and Gibraltar leading up to the Treaties of Paris and Versailles (1783), ending with the British recognition of American independence and an end to the British conflict with France and Spain. In his conclusion, the author stresses the importance of France in the outcome of the War of American Independence. He writes: “After six campaigns, Britain and the United States were like two exhausted boxers. Neither was able to inflict a decisive blow on the other . . . . It required a third combatant, France, to end the stalemate, a fact too often neglected by American writers . . . .” (p.321). Middleton stresses that France and Spain set the war’s agenda after 1778 forcing Britain to respond to the actions of the Bourbon powers.
The War of American Independence, 1775-1783 is an outstanding survey of the conflict. Middleton provides a fascinating study that will interest readers that enjoy military, naval, and diplomatic affairs. The study is highly recommended. Other studies that concentrate on these aspects of the conflict include Stephen Conway’s The War of American Independence, 1775-1783 (1995), Jonathan R. Dull’s A Diplomatic History of the American Revolution (1985), Piers Mackesy’s, The War for America, 1775-1783 (1964), Hamish M. Scott’s British Foreign Policy in the Age of the American Revolution (1990), Donald Stoker, Kenneth J. Hagan, and Michael T. McMaster’s Strategy in the American War of Independence: A Global Approach (2010), William C. Stinchcombe’s The American Revolution and the French Alliance (1969), Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert’s, Diplomacy and Revolution: The Franco-American Alliance of 1778 (1981), and Jonathan R. Dull’s, The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787 (1975).
Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota