- True for the Cause of Liberty: The Second Spartan Regiment in the American Revolution by Oscar E. Gilbert and Catherine R. Gilbert
The Revolutionary South was a chaotic and unforgiving battleground during the American War for Independence. Loyalists, Patriots, frontiersmen, Native Americans, Continental regulars, and British redcoats were all eager to punish others for their own sufferings. Personal animosity during the war meant that, in battle, quarter was rarely given. Oscar E. Gilbert and Catherine R. Gilbert turn the war's confusion into an understandable and personal story of "brutal partisan warfare as seen. … by the common people" (p. 16).
True for the Cause of Liberty: The Second Spartan Regiment in the American Revolution begins its story in colonial America, where Scotch-Irish colonists battled Baptists, Anglicans, and Cherokees for land in South Carolina's backcountry. The authors show that the South was already mired in conflict when the Revolution added a new dimension to the melee. As Carolinians chose sides for and against the British, old animosities were reborn. The conflicts that ensued, according to Gilbert and Gilbert, were a series of unstoppable raids and counterraids, skirmishes, and battles, as bands of Patriots and Loyalists crisscrossed the region. Farms were burned, traitors were executed, and revenge became strategic. Gilbert and Gilbert tie daily militia struggles into the larger war by discussing such major battles as Charleston, Camden, Cowpens, and Ninety-Six, but their focus remains the individual experiences lived by the militiamen. So while the authors acknowledge the strategic relevance of the battle of Kings Mountain, they end the story by noting the perhaps apocryphal story that British colonel Patrick Ferguson's "body was plundered for souvenirs. … [and] some of the 'mountaineers' defiled the corpse, urinating on it" (p. 169). The authors use South Carolina's Second Spartan Regiment as a [End Page 398] unifying theme for this story because elements of the unit participated in some of the major southern battles of the Revolution. Members of the regiment also engaged in prewar struggles with Native Americans and colonial authorities, allowing the authors to place Revolutionary militia warfare within the context of colonial expansion, imperial conflict, religious disagreements, and class struggles.
The authors base their work on testimonies from the federal pension application records of Revolutionary War veterans, filling the book with the raw emotions still carried by soldiers years after the war. Often, however, the book provides too many particulars and includes more characters than can be easily followed by the reader. As the text seeks context, it descends into details that obscure meanings Gilbert and Gilbert have tried hard to build. For instance, British general Edward Braddock's 1755 campaign and the typical diet of a southern family are mentioned on the same page. Such incongruities disrupt the book, and context is lost in loose ends. The book ends abruptly, failing to adequately explore how the war impacted soldiers' postwar lives. While following the postwar lives of these militiamen was not a goal for the authors, in a work searching for context, its absence is evident. Similarly missing are references to race, which is notable because of this topic's modern relevance and the fact that the authors spend so much time trying to understand the South's social conflicts. Indeed, free and enslaved African Americans did create armed bands supporting the British, a fact that added a perceived need for social control to the militia's duties. But this topic is not explored in the book. The authors' oversight is likely due to the sources used and the focus on the Second Spartan Regiment, which did not apparently participate in slave policing actions. Despite these shortcomings, Gilbert and Gilbert have created a well-researched and poetic account of the South's militia war that offers readers illustrations of events as documented by the soldiers themselves.