- The Frontier War for American Independence, and: The French and Indian War
Two authors have recently taken up the subject of frontier warfare in eighteenth-century North America. William Nester's work concerns the American Revolution in the wilderness, while Alfred Cave gives an overview of the earlier French and Indian War. While Nester succeeds for the most part in describing what he holds to have been the key to American victory [End Page 228] in the struggle for independence, Cave's brief study is a confusing jumble of sketches and essays marred by errors.
Cave's book is part of the Greenwood "Guides to Historic Events 1500- 1900" series, designed to lead students "to a more sophisticated understanding of the events and debates that have shaped the modern world." This conceptually weak study fails to do so. Beginning with a cover illustration from the wrong war, Cave's brief overview of his subject reads like a dozen or so encyclopedia entries cobbled together, and is riddled with errors that ultimately ruin the book's credibility as a "resource for student research" (p. viii). To give but a few of many examples: several dates are wrong (one by as much as one hundred years, p. 6); George Washington was not a "civilian aide" in Braddock's Campaign (p. 8), nor was he "orphaned during his boyhood" (p. 117); James Wolfe was not a mere brigadier general at Quebec, nor was that campaign strictly a "naval operation" (p. 20); Edward Braddock was not born in 1695 (p. 101); and the British 23rd Regiment did not fight in America during this war (p. 21); and so on.
Following a sparse twenty-one page overview of the military events of the war, Cave provides five thematic chapters, and brief biographical sketches of key players. It is striking how much of the book is not directly related to the subject Cave claims to treat. His chapter on Native Americans, for instance, is an ethnohistorical treatment of Indians from 1492, the bulk of which does not address military issues or the middle of the eighteenth century. In another chapter entitled "Aftermath," more space is devoted to events leading up to the American Revolution than the subject at hand, while other essays seem to be only tangentially related to the struggle for North America between France and Great Britain. While several pages devoted to previous North American colonial conflicts and the challenges of using Indian allies are useful, Cave's volume is superficial and contains far too many errors to be reliable.
Nester provides a detailed and well-researched narrative of the "racial war without mercy along the frontier" that "paralleled and at times intersected" (p. 1) with the conventional war on the Atlantic seaboard. It was "at once genocidal and decisive" (p. 3), a war that Nester rightly claims the Indians lost. By frontier war, Nester not only means skirmishes and raids, but major battles as well. This conflict "involved two distinct elements. Large-scale campaigns were mostly fought by regulars or volunteers, but often accompanied by Indians who served as guides, scouts, and flankers. Small-scale raids were mostly composed of Indians and sometimes joined by white officers and volunteers" (p. 15). This frontier war in America was, he asserts, "more than a bloody sideshow." Rather, it "diverted huge amounts of men, money, supplies, and energies from the East Coast" (p. 21). Nester supports his claim of frontier importance by reminding readers that "the war's turning point [Saratoga], after all, took place on the frontier" (p. 21). This victory not only emboldened France to aid the American cause but also served to significantly cow northern Indians from supporting the British effectively for the rest of the war. The strength of Nester's detailed narrative of wilderness [End Page 229] fighting...