War and Society in the American Revolution: Mobilization and Home Fronts

By Kaminski, John P. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

War and Society in the American Revolution: Mobilization and Home Fronts


Kaminski, John P., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


War and Society in the American Revolution: Mobilization and Home Fronts * John Resch and Walter Sargent, eds. * DeKaIb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2007 * via, 318 pp. * $48.00 cloth; $22.50 paper

This anthology of eleven original essays grew out of a challenge by John Shy in 1976 to integrate a new military history of the American Revolution with the social history of the American colonies. The authors of these essays have admirably succeeded in subjecting "the lives of ordinary people and their communities" to social science methodologies so as to provide "a new window through which historians could gain a unique view of society and the complexities of the Revolution" (p. 294).

The first three essays deal with New England mobilization. Charles Neimeyer shows that after purging their militias of loyalists, Massachusetts towns were able to stand up to General Gage's raids on town arsenals. The purified militias were younger than their predecessors and often came from a core group of families. Walter Sargent found that Massachusetts militiamen came from "the entire spectrum of the social structures" (p. 44). "The decisions about who served-and when and where they served-were shaped crucially by such personal concerns as family obligations, ambition, excitement, and opportunity, as well as by the larger political and ideological issues" (p. 44). When the theaters of war shifted away from New England in 1779, mobilization became more difficult. In New Hampshire, John Resch found that "what began as a people's uprising became a war of attrition conducted by a determined group of hardcore leaders who sustained war-weary townsmen and by young soldiers who were drawn from both the fringe of society and its establishment" (pp. 70-71).

Michael A. McDonnell shows that race and class were vitally important in the recruitment of Patriot and Loyalist forces in Virginia. The middle and upper classes believed that only the lower class should serve in the rank and file of the army, while "lower-class Virginians refused to be coerced into serving for the state, and almost all fought to secure the best deal they could in return for doing the bidding of others" (p. …

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