How the Redcoats Gave Their Best Shot; 18th Century Warfare ... the British Redcoats and American Patriots in a Skirmish at the Battle of Lexington in April 1775

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Byline: BERNARD CORNWELL

Fusiliers: Eight Years With The Redcoats In America by Mark Urban Faber& Faber [pounds sterling]20 [pounds sterling]18 free p&p (0845 606 4213) ****

The American War of Independence has long inhabited a mythical world,especially in the United States where the founding fathers are revered andGeorge Washington, called 'first in war and first in peace', has beenapotheosised into an untouchable icon.

Ask most Americans to tell the story and you hear of Britain's 'tyranny' andhow brave rebels, drawn from their farms, outfought a stupid enemy and finallyforced them into an ignominious surrender.

The British, stumbling about in their red coats, are easy targets for nimbleAmerican riflemen who haunt the woods, and so the mighty are brought low andthe story reinforces the American conceit of exceptionalism.

It was not quite like that, and Mark Urban's superb book, Fusiliers, throws astrong sideways light on what it was like to fight in that hopeless war. Thebook tells the tale of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, who were there at thebeginning of the conflict and present at its end.

The war began badly and ended disastrously, but in between is an inspiringaccount of the British Army's skill at coping with an elusive enemy, thedifficulties imposed by the geography of the Thirteen Colonies, and accounts ofthe fighting ability of the men in red coats.

Little of this matches the myth.

The war, of course, was not just fought in the Thirteen Colonies. It provoked aflurry of propaganda aimed at the 18th Century's chattering classes. Whigjournalists in America and Britain seized on every British setback andmagnified it, and managed to turn victories into propaganda defeats.

When, for instance, one night in 1777, 600 Redcoats slipped through dark woodsto surprise a sleeping enemy and, in a sudden attack, bayoneted the newly wokentroops, it became the Paoli Massacre. It was a battle, pure and simple.

The Americans lost because they set no sentries, but in the hands of hostilejournalists it became further evidence of Britain's tyranny.

The journalists did not win the war for the US - that was achieved on onebloody afternoon by a man whose memorial stands close to where he led Americantroops to a startling victory on the battlefield at Saratoga. 'To the bestsoldier of the revolution' the memorial says, but gives no name because thatsoldier was Benedict Arnold, who later defected to the British side. …