Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth by Holger Hoock

Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth

A magisterial new work that rewrites the story of America’s foundingThe American Revolution is often portrayed as an orderly, restrained rebellion, with brave patriots defending their noble ideals against an oppressive empire. It’s a stirring narrative, and one the founders did their best to encourage after the war. But as historian Holger Hoock shows in this deeply resear...

Title:Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0804137285
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:480 pages

Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth Reviews

  • Faith
    Jan 22, 2017

    As the author claims, "this is the first book to adopt violence as a central analytical and narrative focus". Unfortunately, that is not the history of the American revolution that I want to read. Had I known that this was the focus I would not have requested this book. It strikes me that the author is someone who is desperate to find a fresh take on a subject that has been written about a lot. Maybe he just needs to publish in order to buff up his academic credentials. That's fine, but I'm real

    As the author claims, "this is the first book to adopt violence as a central analytical and narrative focus". Unfortunately, that is not the history of the American revolution that I want to read. Had I known that this was the focus I would not have requested this book. It strikes me that the author is someone who is desperate to find a fresh take on a subject that has been written about a lot. Maybe he just needs to publish in order to buff up his academic credentials. That's fine, but I'm really not interested in reading about the beatings and shootings and weapons of choice employed by the British or the Americans. I abandoned this book pretty quickly. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  • Joseph
    Mar 06, 2017

    by Holger Hoock is a look at the more violent side of the American Revolution. Hoock holds the Amundson Chair in British History at the University of Pittsburgh and serves as Editor of the Journal of British Studies. Trained at the Universities of Freiburg, Cambridge, and Oxford, he has been a Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress, a Visiting Scholar at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at the

    by Holger Hoock is a look at the more violent side of the American Revolution. Hoock holds the Amundson Chair in British History at the University of Pittsburgh and serves as Editor of the Journal of British Studies. Trained at the Universities of Freiburg, Cambridge, and Oxford, he has been a Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress, a Visiting Scholar at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Konstanz.

    I was in middle school for the run-up to the bicentennial celebration. The Revolutionary War was taught with a great deal of idealism and although there was a war the violence was minimal. There was the Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and Saratoga but the battles seemed very civilized. Much emphasis was placed on the ideals of the revolution. Liberty, representative government, and the right to determine one’s own future were key issues. What was not mentioned was what the British were quick to point out -- Slavery. The American colonists were also unhappy with British troops occupying their property, much like the native Americans were feeling for and fighting for in the West.

    At the time warfare was still very violent and personal. Muskets had little range and the bayonet was still used often in close quarters. Bayonets used by the British were triangular rather than bladed. The shape was used to cause the most damage going in and coming out. Grapeshot (picture a canon sized shotgun) was used to attack massed troops. The killing was done close in. The navy was the only force that could shell from a great distance.

    What made the American revolution so violent is perhaps best seen from the British view. It was not so much a revolution but a civil war -- British against British. The Colonists were seen as traitors more than an enemy nation. In fact, the British had to look as the colonists as traitors, something far worse than enemies of another nation. To consider them otherwise would mean recognizing American independence. Captured colonist combatants were considered criminals rather than soldiers. This created another problem for the British. If colonists were captured and detained, they still had rights as British citizens to habeas corpus, bail, and a trial. Trying to suspend habeas corpus for the colonists also would mean suspending it for those in Britain too. The American Revolution became a legal as well as a military problem for the British.

    On the American side, British loyalists and officials were poorly treated by those “liberty groups” which seemed like roaming bands of thugs than patriots. Looting and beatings were very common. Rape was not uncommon (a charge leveled at both armies). Some patriot groups looted both loyalists and rebel homes and property. Military discipline was seriously lacking in many actions. The British in lower commands were just as bad at times. Most ranking military leaders, however, chose to abide by the European standards of warfare although this didn’t always happen, a serious effort was made by both sides.

    Prisoners perhaps bore the worst treatment. Britain held American colonists on prison ships in appalling conditions. Others held in occupied territory received little in the way of food and clothing. Although, in some circumstances opposing leaders allowed humanitarian aid to prisoners. This was unofficially done between commanders and Britain was unwilling to take any action that might be seen as recognition of an independent America. Logistics was a major problem with prisoners. Neither side could support the care and feeding of huge numbers of prisoners; it was difficult and expensive to keep the fighting armies fed and cared for, let alone prisoners.

    The American Revolution was a violent and bloody affair. It was not only the armies engaged in a violent struggle. It was colonist against colonist. It was colonists against native Americans. The war was more than a simply fighting a few battles. It was seven years of bloodshed which involved more than the Colonists and the British. Hessians were used by Britain since the king could not keep a large standing army. France joined America after the Battle of Saratoga and Spain seeing a distracted Britain declared war also. Hoock uses both American and British source material in his research and dedicates almost a third of the book to cited sources. A well done and enlightening history.

  • Shomeret
    May 28, 2017

    This historical study was not as earth shattering for me as it would have been if I had never encountered books that challenged the idealized perspective on the American Revolution that I imbibed during my years of schooling. Yet I still consider it illuminating. I received a digital ARC for free from the publisher via Net Galley in return for this review.

    It occurs to me that the excesses of the American Revolution represent the self-perpetuating cycle of abuse writ large. The revolutionaries w

    This historical study was not as earth shattering for me as it would have been if I had never encountered books that challenged the idealized perspective on the American Revolution that I imbibed during my years of schooling. Yet I still consider it illuminating. I received a digital ARC for free from the publisher via Net Galley in return for this review.

    It occurs to me that the excesses of the American Revolution represent the self-perpetuating cycle of abuse writ large. The revolutionaries were either persecuted in England, or were descendants of people who fled England due to persecution. From these experiences, they learned to persecute others such as the Loyalists who were a larger proportion of the American population than I had imagined.

    I was aware of escaped slaves who were freed as a result of fighting for the British, but I found out from this book that about half of them were re-enslaved by bounty hunters after the revolution. Yet 9,000 African American former slaves left America as free Loyalists.

    My conclusion about this book is that violent means to achieve a worthwhile end will always detour the struggle so that it may not achieve the intended goals. I think that this has been the trouble with revolutions throughout history.

    For my complete review see

  • Glen
    Jan 02, 2017

    I won this book in a goodreads drawing.

    With this book, Hoock tries to show that far from being an orderly separation, the American Revolution was a violent confrontation. He claims that violence is absent from the scholarship. This is false. For the last ten years at least, historian have been highlighting the violence of the revolution more and more.

    And this is a problem throughout the book. He seems behind the times. I don't think Hoock has a deep understanding of either the colonies, or on e

    I won this book in a goodreads drawing.

    With this book, Hoock tries to show that far from being an orderly separation, the American Revolution was a violent confrontation. He claims that violence is absent from the scholarship. This is false. For the last ten years at least, historian have been highlighting the violence of the revolution more and more.

    And this is a problem throughout the book. He seems behind the times. I don't think Hoock has a deep understanding of either the colonies, or on eighteenth century England. While the stated purpose of the book to highlight the violence, he actually seems most hung up on diversity.

    There is some value in this book, but I can't really recommend it as groundbreaking.

  • BAM The Bibliomaniac
    May 05, 2017

    A big thank you to Holger Hoock, Crown Publishers, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

    I've recognized a deficiency in my knowledge base of the founding of my country having recently become great friends with a Canadian who is both politically and historically minded. With this in mind, I look for strong nonfiction on this topic from various points of view to broaden my horizon. Scars of Independence is just such a book. Hoock chose to focus on the vi

    A big thank you to Holger Hoock, Crown Publishers, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

    I've recognized a deficiency in my knowledge base of the founding of my country having recently become great friends with a Canadian who is both politically and historically minded. With this in mind, I look for strong nonfiction on this topic from various points of view to broaden my horizon. Scars of Independence is just such a book. Hoock chose to focus on the violence of the war-"the perpetrators, witnesses, and victims". It's therefore a cultural study of the citizens who perished, the soldiers who invaded, the children who were stranded.

    After the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, England wished to raise funds to pay the debt incurred by taxing the American colonies. First came the Stamp Act, a tax on printed paper. Then came the Townshend Acts, which taxed imports, including tea-a major staple. Riots ensued, which led to a heavy British force quartering on the large towns like Boston. A mob mentality became the norm with taunts escalating tempers leading to the bloody Boston Massacre. Soon after soldiers were being quartered in empty houses, the English government began appointing administrators. All of these Intolerable Acts led to the coming together of fifty-six great mind of the colonies called the Continental Congress.

    The Continental Congress is taught in school as the leading body of men who were strong-willed but wordsmiths, not men of violent machinations; however because of them colonist persecuted colonist because one may have been a "Tory". A Tory, or British loyalist could be found in any walk of life. The terms "Patriot" and "Loyalist" actually shared many commonalities. But being labeled also split many families apart, some quite well known. It's a foreshadowing of the sorrow of the Civil War. Hoock does an excellent job here describing the atrocities experienced by the Loyalists. Not only did they suffer mutilation and death, but they suffered a character assassination.

    In 1775 when the Royal Navy entered the foray, the admiral upped the ante. Cannon balls rained from the sky, grape shot was spewed forth, buildings and wharves burned. But that's not the worst of it. The Rebels took these opportunities to ransack Tory property, leaving families homeless and destitute.

    Women and young ladies were not safe from the atrocities perpetrated by both the Loyalists or British soldiers. Ravishment was rampant in occupied cities. They connived their way into unprotected homes and taped any female occupants, some as young as ten years old.

    Hoock has written an insightful, masterful work. I've learned a great deal. He's thorough, organized, and thought-provoking. A first-rate read!

  • Thomas
    May 09, 2017

    The author tells the reader at the beginning of this book that he wants to focus on violence in the American Revolution.

    Quote: "It is the first book on the American Revolution and the Revolutionary War to adopt violence as its central analytical and narrative focus."

    While he does mention some books that spoke of violence, mostly regional histories, his book is indeed the only one to offer a comprehensive history of the violence in this war. As he explains, it was a civil war, Patriots fighting

    The author tells the reader at the beginning of this book that he wants to focus on violence in the American Revolution.

    Quote: "It is the first book on the American Revolution and the Revolutionary War to adopt violence as its central analytical and narrative focus."

    While he does mention some books that spoke of violence, mostly regional histories, his book is indeed the only one to offer a comprehensive history of the violence in this war. As he explains, it was a civil war, Patriots fighting Loyalists, with ever more cruelty. His claim that today's American public was not aware of the violence is not quite true. The Mel Gibson movie "The Patriot" depicted some of the British cruelty. See below where I wrote about a regional history and my visit to Cowpens Revolutionary battlefield.

    Cowpens National Battlefield Park is the site of a Revolutionary War battle (1-17-1780) between US soldiers under Gen. Daniel Morgan and British cavalry/dragoons under Colonel Banastre Tarleton, model for the chief bad guy in the Mel Gibson movie "Patriot."

    In the movie, Gibson kills the bad guy. In real life, Tarleton went back to Britain, served in Parliament, became a member of Wellington's card playing group, and died a peaceful death of old age. More info can be found in an excellent book"Partisans and Redcoats" by Walter Edgar. Mr. Edgar spoke about his book on C-SPAN. He commented that some British newspapers protested about the brutality in the movie "Patriot." He said that, in fact, the movie toned down the British ruthless behavior. He further stated if the combatants were judged by today's laws, Tarleton would be considered a war criminal. However, he went to say that there was cruelty on both sides, with Loyalists/Tories and US soldiers burning each others homes. Tarleton is notorious for the battle of Waxhaws, SC (5-29-1780), where his dragoons attacked and overwhelmed about 400 Virginia patriots. They attempted to surrender. Tarleton's men, following their leader's example, killed every last one.

    US soldiers under Morgan defeated Tarleton's dragoons at Cowpens. Tarleton escaped. Some US soldiers wanted to kill all the British soldiers, crying "Tarleton's Quarters!" but US officers managed to stop this. There is a loop trail about 1.5 miles long with interpretive signs. There is also a well done movie presentation of the battle, with a computerized map depiction of the battle. I also visited the King's Mountain Battlefield.

    The author goes into considerable detail of Patriot and Loyalist cruelties against each other, starting about 1774 with tarring and feathering of British civilian officials. There are graphic descriptions of rape and gruesome killings/torture. I was not aware of the extent of Patriot /Loyalist violence which did not end with the defeat of the British at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. It continued and a Loyalist execution of a Patriot leader in 1782 very nearly derailed the ongoing peace talks between the US and Britain.

    The author is from Germany and points out that he is not biased towards the US or British interpretations of the Revolutionary War. There is no translator listed and he is evidently fluent in English as his writing is excellent. The author did a great deal of fresh research, much of it in primary sources, i.e., letters, diaries, contemporary newspapers and various US/British official reports. There are about 100 pages of footnotes(my kindle edition had locations, not pages).

    I am one of those pedants who reads all the footnotes and I am impressed by the amount of research done by the author.

    If you are squeamish, this book may not be for you. I rate it 3.5 out 5 stars. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me this book.

  • Hadrian
    Jul 06, 2017

    Hoock writes that the American Revolutionary War was no clean and simple uprising, but more like the utter chaos of the Civil War some 80 years later. He writes much of how the colonists brutalized each other based on their allegiance to the British Empire or to rebellion, and how the British occupiers used the same scorched-earth tactics as they did against the Irish or Scottish, and would continue to use against the rest of the empire. Don't forget the entanglements of the German mercenaries,

    Hoock writes that the American Revolutionary War was no clean and simple uprising, but more like the utter chaos of the Civil War some 80 years later. He writes much of how the colonists brutalized each other based on their allegiance to the British Empire or to rebellion, and how the British occupiers used the same scorched-earth tactics as they did against the Irish or Scottish, and would continue to use against the rest of the empire. Don't forget the entanglements of the German mercenaries, freed or escaped slaves, as well as the numerous native tribes desperately deciding who to align with.

    A vivid and memorable account, which adds a note of tragedy to what is so often considered a triumph.

  • David Eppenstein
    Jul 04, 2017

    Recently a GR friend (thanks Jay) tipped me off to an appearance of the author of this book on C-Span. Unfortunately, because of confusion over the starting time I missed the first half of the program. Hopefully it will be rebroadcast and I can view the entire presentation as it seemed to be quite interesting. I mention this because during the presentation the author said that he wrote this book as a cautionary tale for the benefit of America. Initially I thought his caution was in regard to the

    Recently a GR friend (thanks Jay) tipped me off to an appearance of the author of this book on C-Span. Unfortunately, because of confusion over the starting time I missed the first half of the program. Hopefully it will be rebroadcast and I can view the entire presentation as it seemed to be quite interesting. I mention this because during the presentation the author said that he wrote this book as a cautionary tale for the benefit of America. Initially I thought his caution was in regard to the use of violence as a tool of national policy which it certainly is but now that I've finished the book the author clearly meant more. While it wasn't planned, the fact that I've finished this book and write its review on today's date of July 4 does seem poignant especially in the light of the intended purpose of this book.

    The author is a German born academic that has spent considerable time in England lecturing on British history and has also spent significant time teaching in the U.S. He offers this review of our Revolution from the perspective of an outsider, a neutral, not affected by any feelings of nationalism. He believes that after over 200 years the history of our Revolution has been mythologized and sanitized and most of its American participants deified. He is probably correct on this point but certainly over the last few decades many of our Founders have had their lives more clearly and truthfully inspected and reported. So now we need to look at our Revolution through the eyes of an objective reporter and I am able to state that I did learn some things that made this a worthwhile endeavor.

    To begin the book did start slow and was rather ponderous. I was concerned that I was getting another academic view of history in which the life of the subject would be drained away in the name of professional academic tradition. It never ceases to amaze me how people dedicated to advancing the knowledge of history can persist in writing only for other academics and not for the general reading public who they need to reach. My fear, however, was not realized. The beginning was only slow going because it dealt primarily with those events already well known to those with an interest in this period of history. When the author leaves this area and goes into subject areas not usually or never treated in any significant detail in other histories of the Revolution that the book really grabs your attention. The author's treatment of the conflicts between Patriots and Loyalists are immensely moving as it clearly depicts that civilian life during the Revolution was frequently chaotic, tragic, and violent. He also goes into our dealings with Native Americans and the violence practiced by both sides. In fact, that is really a benefit of this history being written by an author like this.

    The author's examination demonstrates that our Revolution was not some sort of clean sanitized conflict between good and evil. There were abuses committed by both sides but it would appear that the British were the greater practitioners and, consequently, suffered for it. It was adequately proven that the Americans quickly discovered the PR and propaganda value of British depredations and exploited them to the fullest while the British never seemed to learn that the whip is a poor recruiter of loyalty. It is repeatedly posed by the author that the British actions probably did more to turn Loyalists and fence sitters into Patriots than anything the Patriots were ever able to do. Nevertheless, the Americans did commit their share of atrocities even while Washington recognized the negative affects of such activity and did all he could to curtail and prevent them. Washington was adamant about the need for the Revolution to hold the moral high ground no matter how extreme British outrages went. Unfortunately, our Revolution was not a well disciplined military exercise which the book details extensively. Much of the fighting that never made the respected histories was fought by civilians and gives clear understanding to why our Founders were more afraid of "the mob" than any foreign invasion. Away from the army and the battlefield anarchy seemed to be prevail. Loyalist and Patriot bands enforced their own rules and were responsible for many of the extremes of violence. This seemed especially true once the war shifted to the South were the actions degenerated into more of a guerrilla operation by the Patriots and bands of Loyalists under British command but without strict military discipline.

    One area the author discusses has always been of particular interest to me. What happened during the period between Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown and the final Peace Treaty being signed? That was nearly a two year time lapse. Most Americans think the war ended after Yorktown. It did not but there were no more major military engagements during that period. What did happen was an unyielding period of civilian conflicts between local Patriots and Loyalists and more anarchy to be endured by innocent civilians who were not allowed to be neutral. The author even details events following the treaty signing and the independence of the U.S. being fully recognized. The subsequent treatment of Loyalists that tried to remain and those that tried to return to their homes is also the subject of continuing violence. This occurs inspite of the Treaty's specific agreement that Loyalists be protected and unharmed and that their property be returned.

    While this book attempts to demonstrate the futility of extreme violence as a tool for political gain the lesson seems lost on the British. Their subsequent colonial history in India, Africa, and Ireland doesn't indicate anything but that they never put down their whip and employed it at the first showing of local unrest or belligerence. As a consequence their empire is no more and they have a history in which there is much to be shamed of. As for us, the U.S., the author's caution is expressed in his perception that we are heading down the same road traveled by the British with our attempts at nation building, involvement in the affairs of other nations, and imposition of democracy where uninvited. The author has his opinion and that can be discussed and debated as the reader wishes. What is clear to me is that Americans are becoming less and less aware not only of their own history but of all history. We can profit greatly from understanding the mistakes of Britain but only if we bother to learn them.

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