Author – Mark Urban
Reviewed by William Sartan
I will start this off by saying I am a little confused by Fusiliers. I have found that this book has also been published with a different looking cover and slightly different title. The copy I have is the featured image. The second is the image on the top of this page. Inside I have found the text’s are identical. I gather the cover of the second is more catchy to the casual book browser.
The author of Fusiliers, Mark Urban shows a lot of knowledge and learning in the period which makes the book a must read for all those who crave for the in depth knowledge about the American Revolution. The author, even though an American related the war from the British point of view which is very uncommon among most historians of the American Revolution.
Contrary to what has been the thinking of many people that the British lost the war because they were they were out fought the author believes that the British lost the war because they were outnumbered.
Another thing that is very interesting about the book is that the author pays close attention and gives a fantastic full account of the British military for the war. He talks about the recruitment process of the British. He talks about the different kinds of equipment they are equipped with as well as the rigorous training they went through in full detail.
There have been a good number of different books from different authors all about the British in the American Revolutionary war but few of them however have been able to come up with a day-to-day analysis of the war. What most of other books touch briefly, this book exceeded the limits in explanation and the narration. It’s indeed going to be a great addition to your library because of its wealth of information about the war.
The book is extremely well-written and highly comprehensive to read.
>Excellent history on the British military side of the war of independence. Its successes and failures. the author goes in great detail on the tactics, the evolution of fighting in the colonies and the positive and negative characteristics of the generals, colonels, captains, etc., of the British army. The author focused on the 23rd Welch (correct spelling, not welsh) Fusiliers which was involved throughout the American Revolutionary war (or the war of rebellion to the British). The author also believes that due to the revolutionary war, the British army was able to use what they have learned during the Napoleonic wars (in the way of light infantry tactics). He also feels the British army was not incompetent, nor was it brilliant. the army was made up of individuals who did not realize they were fighting a new kind of war; similar to the situation of the united states during the early years of Vietnam-1965-70.
>Different perspective on the revolution. Urban worked from original sources, not used before. I’m not sure how objective this story is, nor how representative the regiment was of the British as a whole. The author, an American journalist, seemed to get personally involved with Brits–almost seemed to be cheering them on. One would conclude from Urban’s account that England lost the war because the generals refused to cooperate. The men and company grade officers–most of them anyway–fought bravely and skillfully. Sounds likely. Is it true today?
>A useful addition to anyone’s American Revolutionary War library that traces the conflict from start to finish from the British perspective through the participation of this regiment. The author does, however, unnecessarily play down American successes and, in so doing, lessens his credibility. For instance, the Highlanders at The battle Cowpens were not defeated because they “stopped to reload.” They in fact screwed up royally and got their clocks cleaned by the Continental Line. Still, an interesting read.
>This is an interesting side story for readers interested in the American Revolution. It is not by any means the groundbreaking work touted by the publisher’s PR department. It’s a journalist’s book, so has some purple prose, triteness, and lacks academic rigor. Finally, it contains more than a bit of apologia.
Urban is a TV journalist and English Empire buff who has written a number of hooray-for-us books primarily about British military prowess. In “Fusiliers,” he has located and assembled a number of first-hand accounts of the American Revolution as experienced by the British troops in the field. The most fruitful source was the Royal Welch Fusiliers, who were present from Lexington all the way to Yorktown.
The book is best when it keeps its focus on the soldiers themselves and their lives in the British military. Urban also wisely provides important information on the power struggles among the higher ranks, not to mention between England’s Whigs and Tories, and the impact these constantly shifting priorities had on the troops.
Urban stumbles when he tries to make broader claims based on a few entries in a letter or diary, seeking data to fit the conclusion, already made. When Urban quotes one or two sources, not especially reliable, and says “well that settles that,” he simply annoys the more informed reader.
What this slowly reveals, however, is an undercurrent of apologia for Empire, which grows more pronounced as the book proceeds. Urban tries to make the case that British troops got a little over enthusiastic now and them, but the atrocities they are alleged to have committed are largely patriot propaganda. And by the way, the patriots were much, much worse.
This is hardly virgin territory, so I’m surprised Urban attempts this maneuver with such little, sketchy, and unreliable information. Not with the mountains of research easily available which, at the very least, muddies up some of his assertions. Again, nothing new is presented, and more important, much is left out.
Late in the book, Urban tips his hand when speaking of military strategist David Dundas: “He was one representative of a political family that effectively turned Scotland from a rebellious backwater into a bastion of loyalism….”
So, a free people who resist the invasion and subjugation of a brutal, larcenous tyrant are a “rebellious backwater”? Well, that settles that.
>As others have mentioned a look at the American War of Independence written exclusively from the point of view of the British soldiers and line officers seemed to be a unique and welcome addition to the historical record of this conflict. The author cites a number of first-hand accounts from letters and diaries from the men of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and weaves these quotations into a general narrative of the conflict. Unfortunately a number of obvious factual errors and a stronger than necessary bias within the narrative detracted greatly from what would otherwise have been an interesting work.
My first concern came in the preface of the book in which the author said that even the better U.S. historians “stick to the enemy-image of the redcoat as a brutalized robot, marching on inept orders, ” and that American writers only find “inventive leadership, enthusiasm and bravery” in the ranks of Washington’s army. These pointed comments which I totally disagree with, were a good indication of what was coming. The book was filled with numerous minor unnecessary slights to Americans. For instance, 315 prisoners from the Battle of Brandywine are called “American deserters”. Regarding the American army at Valley Forge in the winter of 1776 the author described their motivation for being there as “booze, food and clothing, as well as affording the prospect of adventure”. What?!! These and countless other admittedly minor, but still tough to swallow “opinions” not backed up by any primary source materials made this an irritating and sometimes infuriating book to read.
While my complaint of bias might be argued by some as simply a matter of national perspective the factual errors mentioned above are not. Any history book hoping to be taken seriously cannot claim that the British sailed up the Delaware river in the summer of 1777 to take Philadelphia, when every high-school history student knows that Howe sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and landed his troops at the “Head Of Elk” near Elkton, Maryland. The first mission of a history text should be not to get the obvious things wrong.
Criticisms aside, this book does shed light on the day-to-day combat soldier’s life and the unique system of advancement within the British army, but requires extreme detachment on the part of the American reader to get through it. A far, far better alternative of the war through British eyes is “Those Damned Rebels” by Michael Pearson which I would place very highly in the annals of the histories of the American War of Independence.
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