The Men Who Lost America, British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire
By Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. Hardback. $37.50 ISBN: 978-0-300-19107-3;466 pages, 7.25 x10.25.
Many of us have been brought up with the understanding that the British leadership, both military and/or governmental, was made up of incompetents. This view is commonly maintained by both Americans and British. In addition, it is a view promoted by legitimate historians such as George Otto Trevelyan, and Winston Church. The vision of ineffectual leadership often appears in fiction. Arthur Conan Doyle, a historian himself, had his fictional detective Sherlock Holmes say, “…I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years…”
Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy convincingly presents the case that the monarch, George III, and the Prime Minister Lord North, were far from foolish and blundering. Nor were the other highlighted leaders which includes the Howe brothers; Generals Burgoyne, Clinton, Cornwallis; Admiral George Rodney, and the administrators George Germain, and the Earl of Sandwich.
O’Shaughnessy is quick to point out that these men were not error-free in their judgment nor error-free in their personal qualities. However, he carefully explains the problems they faced and how they reached the decisions they made. It is fascinating to see that some of their errors were based on erroneous reports on the situation in distant (both in communication time and mileage) America, or their own misunderstood concept of the situation on the ground. These men also had to balance military and logistical requirements not only in America but around the world which influenced their decision-making.
O’Shaughnessy demonstrates that these talented and competent men together formed a very capable enemy for the Americans to successfully overcome. The fact that the Americans did succeed only enhances the Americans achievement.
The book is beautifully written and reads easily. The scholarship is excellent and provides an insight into the British that for most will be fresh and thought provoking. I highly recommend it.
 This quotation appears in the story “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor” originally published in April 1892.