Academic journal article Military Review

America Goes to War: A Social History of the Continental Army

Academic journal article Military Review

America Goes to War: A Social History of the Continental Army

Article excerpt

AMERICA GOES TO WAR: A Social History of the Continental Army by Charles Patrick Neimeyer. 244 pages. New York University Press, New York. 1995. $35.00.

Despite its title, Charles Patrick Neimeyer's study is less about "war" and more about "America"-the America that existed in the late 18th century, when the Colonials finally decided they had had enough of British absentee landlords. Neimeyer,s bold thesis is sure to raise the eyebrows of those whose patriotism has led them to revere the "typical" Continental citizensoldier who left his farm to join General George Washington in the righteous struggle against foreign aggression.

Neimeyer claims instead that the men who won America's independence were a motley crew of vagrants and mercenaries whose desire to earn a decent wage and escape abject poverty drove them to enlist. While leaders such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson railed against the tyranny of King George III and the English nobility, it was an assemblage of recent immigrants from countries such as Germany and Ireland, African-Americans both free and slave-and a smattering of Native Americans who were suffering through the bitter winter cold and sweltering summer heat to stave off the better-armed and better-disciplined British forces.

Neimeyer offers a detailed account of these men's daily lives. Individual chapters analyze the contributions of each of these underprivileged groups. The author also details the economic dimensions of soldiering, pointing out through the use of letters and diaries how angry the common soldier became when the Congress or the military administration failed to deliver on promises of a decent wage, decent food and adequate clothing. …

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