- American Hannibal: The Extraordinary Account of Revolutionary War Hero Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens by Jim Stempel
The concept of this book offers much promise. The standard biography of Daniel Morgan by Don Higginbotham is now nearly sixty years old, so the time seems right for a reassessment of this important American military leader. Unfortunately, Jim Stempel's book does not live up to this promise. It is neither a biography of Daniel Morgan nor a study of the battle of Cowpens. [End Page 148] Rather, it is a highly flawed general account of the southern campaigns of the Revolutionary War, focused on a handful of individuals, including Morgan.
The book introduces the reader to Morgan in 1775 with the Quebec campaign. It then proceeds to the southern theater, with a rather long account of the battle of Camden and its aftermath. It takes the author six chapters and more than sixty pages to finally come back to Morgan, who arrives after Camden in dramatic, nearly miraculous fashion to rescue the shattered American army. The book moves through familiar stories of the southern campaign until it finally reaches Cowpens, which appears two hundred pages into the book and receives about fifty pages of coverage. The book then takes the reader all the way to Guilford Courthouse and Yorktown. At no point in this narrative does the author ever explain the book's title phrase, "American Hannibal."
Stempel, the author of several works of historical fiction, has certainly attempted to write a lively narrative with emotional, dramatic language. However, without adequate citation, it is not possible to separate his creative assertions from hard historical fact. Stempel takes great creative license throughout the book, blurring the line between fiction and history. Overwritten, hyperbolic, and factually dubious passages such as the following are a common occurrence: "Imagine that! [Banastre] Tarleton must have been euphoric. He had come close to catching the famous Morgan napping, if not literally, then at least figuratively, just as he had surprised Thomas Sumter at Fishing Creek, not to mention the entire American command at Monck's Corner before that" (p. 177).
The narrative itself collapses under its own weight. The book adopts a bizarre, point-of-view structure that follows a handful of characters in the fashion of George R. R. Martin. While such a structure works well in fantasy fiction, it entirely fails here, leaving the narrative to constantly start and stop, often with further interruptions for superficial mini-biographies. The lack of professional-quality maps is also a major problem in following along with the narrative, especially given the back and forth nature of the book's structure.
Ultimately, American Hannibal: The Extraordinary Account of Revolutionary War Hero Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens advances no convincing argument and provides no new insight into the battle of Cowpens or Daniel Morgan. Some general readers may find the author's style appealing, but the book has little merit as a serious work of historical scholarship.