American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm

Article excerpt

By Gail Buckley. New York: Random House, 2001. 534 pages. $28.95.

American Patriots is, as the title clearly states, a history of the participation of black Americans in the conflicts of our nation from 1770 to the present. From the outset it ought to be said, however, that Gail Buckley is not a historian. The daughter of the famous singer Lena Horne, Buckley writes with the training and style of a journalist. She has only a weak grasp of the primary source material that is available on the topic of African-American military service. She does not have the academic training to separate some of the wheat from the chaff. That said, this is a decent book, perhaps even an important book. Professional officers should buy it, not just get it from the library, and they should read the stories Buckley presents. While there are more academically rigorous books on the subject, they are not well known and are difficult to find. American Patriots will be a book that influences how we relate to each other regarding race and culture, because it is certain to be widely read.

At first glance this work would appear to be pure history, but it contains little comprehensive narrative, and much of the historical context is lost because the author tends to focus upon individuals. A more accurate title might have been "Stories of Blacks in the Military," as this is what most of the book presents--individual vignettes. However, these vignettes prove to be the strength of the book. Buckley's accuracy steadily increases as the book moves from early America to more recent times. This is partly a function of the fact that there are few useful and reliable primary sources from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 that include accounts of African Americans. Yet even the author's material on the Civil War is somewhat dated, incomplete, and does not rest upon the firmest scholarship available. The book would have benefited from the use of some of the more recent work in this emerging field. Over the past ten years alone, numerous solid dissertations on the topic of African-American service in the Civil War have been turned into respectable works with academic and historical value. Buckley seems entirely unfamiliar with such material, and her book suffers for its exclusion. …