Westholme Publishing: Four Selections

I write the following book reviews to promote a small, but well-respected, outfit specializing in publishing Revolutionary War books (as well as other nonfiction works):  Westholme Publishing of Yardley, Pennsylvania.  Full disclosure:  Westholme has published two Revolutionary War books of mine (see author’s biography below).  Westholme provides a terrific service to those interested in studying the Revolutionary War by its willingness to publish books that are not in the mainstream.  You will not find in its catalogue another survey of the entire war, another biography of George Washington or Benjamin Franklin, or another study of the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Instead, you will find books that focus on less well known, but still fascinating, aspects of the Revolutionary War that a publisher concerned only with popular topics would not have chosen.  These books deepen and broaden our understanding of the war.  For this reason I believe Westholme, and a few others like it, should be strongly supported by readers of this website, so that more such works in the future will be supported.  Those who write about the Revolutionary War do not have the same wide audiences that authors writing about the Civil War or World War II have, despite the Revolutionary War being the seminal conflict that founded our country and molded its character.  For example, I have heard that New York City hosts about twenty-five Civil War roundtables (I can’t confirm the actual number) but only one Revolutionary War roundtable.

I highlight below four Westholme books that I have in my library.  Westholme is known for its colorful and attractive cover and back cover artwork, so I would recommend purchasing the hardback or paperback version, as opposed to obtaining the ebook version.

Year of the Hangman: George Washington’s Campaign Against the Iroquois (2005), by Glenn F. Williams, Historical Operations Officer at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C.  This book focuses on the bloody, but often overlooked, conflicts on the western New York and Pennsylvania frontiers.  We learn about the role of the Iroquois tribes and their allied (or dependent) tribes to the south and west, under pressure from westward advancement by white settlers.  I had heard about the massacre at Wyoming, Pennsylvania perpetrated by Major John Butler’s Tory rangers and American Indian warriors, but did not realize that the massacre was the result of an American Patriot column making a bad decision to attack the stronger enemy force and losing badly.  The equally gruesome massacre at Cherry Valley, New York, by the Mohawk chief, Joseph Brant, and his followers, is detailed.  Williams argues that the 1779 expedition into the Iroquois tribal territories commanded by Major General John Sullivan was more punishing for the Iroquois than most historians had previously thought.  Williams, an accomplished historian of colonial wars and the Revolutionary War, for this book won the Thomas Fleming Award for the Best Book in the American Revolutionary War History and received a favorable review in the Wall Street Journal.  After devouring this book, readers will gain even more appreciation of the plight of frontier settlers during the Revolutionary War when viewing the classic movie, Drums Along the Mohawk.

British Soldiers, American War; Voices of the American Revolution (2012), by Don N. Hagist, who is one of the editors of this online magazine.  Before authoring this book, Hagist was already renown (at least within the circle of students of the Revolutionary War) as a leading authority on the British Army during the Revolutionary War.  This book reflects his long-held interest in the experiences of ordinary British soldiers who served in North America in the 1770s and 1780s by printing nine of their first-hand accounts.  Hagist supplements these rare accounts with essays demonstrating his deep knowledge of the lives and routines of ordinary British infantrymen and dragoons.  One of my favorite parts of the book was discovering how and why the soldiers first enlisted in the army.  As Hagist points out, if a soldier enlisted in peace time, he was obligated to remain in the army for life, so enlistment was no small matter.  One hears the hand-wringing regrets of overbearing fathers and cruel masters when they learn of the lifetime enlistments.  Hagist adds many interesting tidbits to his essays, including that when seeking a pension after retirement, some soldiers exaggerated their years of service by some three to seven years.  This book has been well received on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and has quickly moved on to a paperback edition.

John Barry, An American Hero in the Age of Sail (2010), by Tim McGrath.  This is an outstanding biography of a previously underappreciated Continental Navy commander.  Readers will come to root for Barry, the son of an Irish immigrant who rose from obscurity to become an aggressive, outstanding and colorful ship captain.  While the book is deeply researched, McGrath writes with the grace of a novelist.  Gregory J. Urwin said it well when he wrote, “Readers of this vivid biography will imagine they smell the ocean’s salt air and sulfurous fumes of gunpowder as they navigate those action packed pages.  Fans of Horatio Hornblower and Lucky Jack Aubrey will rejoice in discovering their real-life American counterpart.”  This book was a finalist for the Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morrison Award for Excellence in Naval Literature and received a lengthy and gushing review in the Wall Street Journal.

Rebellion in the Ranks, Mutinies of the American Revolution (2008), by John A. Nagy, who is one of the contributors to Journal of the American Revolution.  Nagy has received just acclaim for a series of books on spies in the American Revolution, also published by Westholme, but I also enjoyed this jewel.  The Continental Congress and the thirteen states, for the most part, failed to adequately support American Patriots who risked their lives by enlisting in the Continental Army.  When inadequate or non-existent food, bad clothing and shelter, and depreciated or no pay became too much to bear as the war dragged on, Continental soldiers began to mutiny. This book not only details the well-known mutiny of the Pennsylvania line, it has chapters on the New Jersey line mutiny, Continental Navy mutinies, and even mutinies in the British and Hessian ranks.  It makes for riveting reading—including the appendix that lists all known mutinies in the war.

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2 Comments

  • I agree with Christian, especially with respect to Year of the Hangman. This was the first of many books I’ve now read concerning the western frontier in New York. The author, Glenn Williams, does an exceptional job in providing an accurate, well-researched and balanced book that makes the reader feel the loneliness, beauty, anxiety and wilderness of Iroquois country. Once read, I could never travel along I-81 or I-90 without observing the rivers that were used for transportation, the topography and land routes. Even some of today’s towns and villages in central/southern NY harken back to The Year as reflected in an occasional road sign.

  • There are several books from this publisher that I have on my reading list. Lord Dunmore’s War is one. Don Hagist’s work on British soldiers has found its way into my classroom as every single class features at least one student who echoes the long held myths about the British Army and American guerrilla war.

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