Revolutionary reading

While I don’t have any armies from the American War of Independence (or American Revolution, if you will) in my collection, it is a period I have always found very colourful and fascinating.  It was seeing Fusilier Paul Crouch’s wonderful AWI armies that got me back into the hobby about a decade ago.  I was also fortunate enough to take part on a couple of iconic AWI games here in Wellington a few years ago – the battles of Guilford Courthouse and Saratoga/Freemans Farm (click on the links – they’re worth it, I promise!).  These beautifully presented battlegames, again using Fusilier Paul’s marvellous figures, are still talked about in almost hushed terms here in New Zealand! 

So whenever I’m in a secondhand bookshop, American history is one of the shelves I always browse in.  And recently I’ve come up trumps … twice. 

I’m a very visual person, so books of dense historical writing just don’t do it or me.  I want beautiful, inspiring pictures and a lively text.  So I was very excited when I found an old out-of-print AWI book that I had never heard of before, choc-a-bloc full of illustrations.  I nearly missed it too, as it had lost its dustcover and was sitting forlorn and lost amongst its much brighter-covered companions!   

Book cover
Cover of 'The Revolutionary War' by Bart McDowell, published by the National Geographic Society in 1967. I suppose the original had a dust jacket, but my second-hand copy unfortunately didn't.

The Revolutionary War by Bart McDowell was published way back in 1967, even before the bicentennial.   It is a National Geographic publication, so the style will be quite familiar, with the use of many full-colour pictures to illustrate the engaging text.  

McDowell’s chronological history has an interesting slant, as interspersed through the text are descriptions of  taking his family to all the places described in the story.  He uses first person language  for what his children say, giving the opportunity for some intriguing questions and comments that normally wouldn’t come out of the mouths of adults.  His wife and children were apparently very happy to be immersed in the history of the war – one wonders if they are still AWI buffs now, over 40 years later?! 

Written in 1967, the book is a little (did I say a little?) jingoistic.  But that makes it all the more entertaining, as it authentically reflects the views of that time.  So far as accuracy goes, it will of course be very dated and won’t reflect modern findings (for example, was Colonel Banastre Tarleton as bad as he was painted to be?). 

As mentioned, the book is lavishly illustrated.  Take this wonderful painting of the ‘Battle Road’, the march of the British back to Boston after the first shots of the war at Lexington (click picture to enlarge).  The small picture on the right is the author’s small son between two rocks that were really used as cover during this battle. 


Best of all, though, are the several birds-eye views of battles of the AWI.  I’ve seen paintings like this of the American Civil War (in fact, famous computer game designer Sid Meier was inspired to develop his Sid Meier’s Gettysburg by his memories of examining such pictures as a child).  But this is the first time I’ve seen such paintings for the AWI.  I can pore over them for hours.  They just cry out to be turned into demonstration wargames!  Here is Bunker Hill, for instance (click picture to enlarge): 

Battle of Bunker Hill 

And here is the wintery scene at Trenton, where a Hessian force was surprised and defeated (click picture to enlarge): 

Battle of Trenton 

The Revolutionary War, of course, is no longer available from normal bookshops.  However, at the time of writing, I have seen it listed in several places on the internet for only a few dollars.   If you’re an AWI fan, google it and get it … you won’t be disappointed! 

The other book I stumbled across is also filled with lavish illustrations.  Marines in the Revolution by Charles R Smith, as the title implies, describes the history of the US Marines (and their antecedents) during the American War of Independence.  This is a massive hardcover book (no dust cover again, but this time a painting is printed on the cover). 

Book cover
Front cover of 'Marines in the Revolution' by Charles R Smith, published by History and Museums Division, Headquarters US Marine Corps, 1975.

The text is a lot more detailed than the previous book I reviewed.  It covers pretty well every action, large and small, that the marines were involved in, both at sea and on land.  The wargaming potential, of course, is huge, especially for skirmish games. 

Dotted through the text are about a dozen two-page spread paintings.  I’ve illustrated several of them here to give you an idea, but the small size of my pictures just doesn’t do justice to the majesty and scope of these paintings.  Here, for example, are John Paul Jones’ men embarking onto small boats to raid Whitehaven on 22 April 1778 (click picture to enlarge):  

Embarking onto a boat. 

This painting shows John Paul Jones’ marines being reviewed at L’Orient by John Adams on 13 May 1779.  The marines on the Bonhomme Richard were a contingent from the French Regiment de Walsh, a red-coated former Irish regiment in the French service (click picture to enlarge). 


Finally, here is an unusual view of the fighting top on the Continental frigate Alliance during its battle with the sloops-of-war Atlanta and Trepassy on 29 May 1781 (click picture to enlarge).  Dramatic stuff! 

Fighting top. 

Again, look out for this book on Google.

8 thoughts on “Revolutionary reading

  1. The Revolutionary War by Bart McDowell helped generate my interest in wargaming. I have the book now in my library but just about wore out my school’s copy both in grade school and high school.

    There is also an American Civil War version as well – with the exact same type pictures of the battles.

    Inspiring for building tabletops!!!


  2. Good choice Roly – they are both inspirational books (and i got both of mine for under a tenner!). The Marines.. title is particularly good – a must have for keen AWI students i’d say. Cheers.

    1. Hi Roly,
      I’ve got both the Revolutionary War and Civil War books as mentioned above. They are a great series. I’ve also been trying to find a copy of the 1963 National Geographic edition that featured a 100 year anniversary article on Gettysburg. It had similar pictures to the Trenton one you show, but of the various days of gettysburg. My father had that copy when I was quite young, but I think it fell to pieces due to my incessant poring over it. That, along with “Charge”, were my inspiration for wargaming.

  3. Roly, I am in search of old books ont he American Revolution and saw one you had pictures of with the detailed paining above on Bunker Hill and Trenton called ‘The Revolutionary War’. I saw this one time when I was a young kid. Can you tell me the author’s name on that book. I haven’t had much luck googling ‘the revolutionary war book’. It brings every book up imaginable that had anything to do with the AWI. Thanks Roly.

  4. Bart McDowell. Obviously I needed to read further up. It would be wise if I start reading something from the top of the page than from the bottom. Thanks Roly.

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