Redcoat Leaders Weren't All Dolts

The British generals who lost the American Revolution were hardly incompetent fools.

Issue: July-August 2013

Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 480 pp., $37.50.

THE VICTORS in wars may write the history of those wars, as the cliché says, but history usually manages to delve into the perspectives, interests and exploits of the defeated as it pieces together, over time, a complete picture. A vast literature on the Napoleonic wars, the Civil War and both world wars includes such explorations of the defeated to explain how events unfolded and what factors drove them. But no similar body of literature has emerged to survey the British side of the American Revolution. British historians neglected a defeat that complicated the story of their country’s rise to imperial greatness, while Americans operated within the prejudices and assumptions of nineteenth-century patriotic writers. Later attempts to debunk their accounts rarely challenged the overarching—and overly deterministic—narrative of how the United States gained its independence.

You must be a subscriber of The National Interest to access this article. If you are already a subscriber, please activate your online access. Not a subscriber? Become a subscriber today!