About Michael Cecere
Michael Cecere teaches U.S. History at Robert E. Lee High School in Fairfax County, Virginia and at Northern Virginia Community College in Woodbridge, Virginia. He was recognized by the Virginia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution as their 2005 Outstanding Teacher of the Year, is a former president of the Board of Directors for Historic Dumfries, Virginia, Inc. and is an avid Revolutionary War reenactor who gives talks throughout the country on the American Revolution. Mr. Cecere is the author of eleven books on the American Revolution. His books focus primarily on the role that Virginians played in the Revolution, but his seventh book diverged from this and explored the little known role that Maine (which was still claimed by Massachusetts) played in the Revolution. Mr. Cecere’s latest book, entitled, Second to No Man But the Commander-in-Chief: Hugh Mercer, American Patriot, a biography on General Hugh Mercer of Virginia
What inspired you to start researching and writing about the Revolution?
The origins of my research on the American Revolution began over a decade ago with a quest to determine the color of the hunting shirts that the 3rd Virginia Regiment wore in 1776. I had just started reenacting and was working with a small group from the Fredericksburg area to recreate the 3rd Virginia Regiment. In my search to document the color of their hunting shirts, I discovered the transcribed diary and letters of Captain John Chilton of the 3rd Virginia in a 1930 volume of Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine. I was so impressed with Chilton’s honest and heart felt words and observations in his letters and diary that I resolved to learn more about Captain Chilton and share it with the public. The result was my first book, They Behaved Like Soldiers: Captain John Chilton and the 3rd Virginia Regiment. Bitten by the research and writing bug, I’ve since written ten more books on the Revolution, nine of them focus on Virginia’s role and one on Maine’s role (my home state) in the Revolution.
I’d say that my primary inspiration for writing is simply to share these amazing stories as accurately as possible with the public. I try to share the accomplishments and events of the Revolution in the words of the participants as much as possible, so my writing is full of primary source passages (quotes). It’s always thrilling to find a quote that few people are aware of.
What historians or books have most influenced your work?
When I first started to improve my knowledge of the Revolution War, I found books like Craig Symonds’s A Battlefield Atlas of the American Revolution, and older works like Henry Carrington’s Battles of the American Revolution and Mark Boatner’s Encyclopedia of the American Revolution very informative. They gave me a foundation for understanding the Revolutionary War. Henry Johnston’s writings of the late 19th century on the New York and Virginia campaigns of 1776 and 1781, and David Hackett Fischer’s work on Lexington and Concord, and Trenton and Princeton, have also been very valuable resources. Henry Lee’s, The Revolutionary War Memoirs of General Henry Lee, is an excellent first source for events in the South.
Nowadays, most of my research involves primary sources and I’ve found the Papers of George Washington, published by the University of Virginia, extraordinarily useful. I’ve also found the papers of Thomas Jefferson, Nathanael Greene, and the Marquis de LaFayette (all of which have been published) very useful (depending on the topic). Colonial Williamsburg’s Rockefeller Library’s digital collection of the Virginia Gazette is an amazing resource as is the historic interpreters in town (who always teach me something new on my frequent visits there). I can’t forget the Naval Documents of the American Revolution and the many journal and diary sources that exist, (Ewald, Simcoe, Dearborn, etc.) many published and many others scanned online through sources like archive.org.
What is your “go to” research resource?
Of all of these sources, though, I’d say that my “go to” source is The Papers of George Washington either the bound editions or the online editions through the Library of Congress. Of course, it all depends on the topic.
What books about the American Revolution do you most often recommend?
There isn’t a single book I could recommend about the American Revolution in general. I’ve always approached the twenty year struggle in phases with most of my emphasis on the war.
So for 1775 I’d recommend David Hackett Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride. For 1776 Henry Johnston’s The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn and Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing are excellent sources For 1777 I like John Luzander’s Saratoga, and John Reed’s Campaign to Valley Forge. Thomas McGuire’s The Philadelphia Campaign is a solid two volume work on events in Pennsylvania in 1777. I’m still waiting for the definitive work on the Battle of Monmouth. I think John Buchanan’s Road to Guilford Courthouse is an excellent source for much of the southern campaign and Larry Babbits work on Cowpens A Devil of a Whipping and Guilford Courthouse Long, Obstinate, and Bloody, with Joshua Howard, are great sources for those important battles. For Yorktown, I found Jerome Greene’s The Guns of Independence, an exceptionally useful book. Lastly, I’d like to think that my most recent book, A Universal Appearance of War, is an excellent source for anyone interested in the War in Virginia. Oh, and on that topic, John Selby, The Revolution in Virginia is great for understanding the overall Revolution in general in Virginia.
What other hobbies and interests do you enjoy?
As a history teacher in northern Virginia, my research and writing has made me a much better educator. The same is true for my 15 year involvement in Revolutionary War reenacting. Between teaching, writing, and reenacting, most of my life is involved with the American Revolution.
What new research projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a biography of General William Woodford of Virginia. He commanded Virginia troops for most of the war but died as a prisoner of war in New York in 1780. His service has been too long overlooked by history.
Why is the Journal of the American Revolution important to you?
It’s been a thrill to watch the Journal of the American Revolution develop and grow. It has become an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about the Revolution and I am grateful that it exists to provide another venue for which to tell the important story of our Revolutionary past.
Is there an article or subject area that you would like to see appear in the Journal of the American Revolution?
This year, 2015 marks the 240th anniversary of the year 1775. I would like to see the JAR commemorate this anniversary with more articles that highlight the year 1775.