An Interview with A Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution Co-authors Theodore P. Savas and J. David Dameron
A Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution is the first comprehensive account of every engagement of the Revolution, a war that began with a brief skirmish at Lexington Green on April 19, 1775, and concluded on the battlefield at the Siege of Yorktown in October 1781. In between were six long years of bitter fighting on land and at sea. Authors Theodore P. Savas and J. David Dameron recently sat down with Sarah Stephan of Savas Beatie LLC to discuss their reference guide.
: Thank you both for this interview. To jump right in, I'll ask: Why write a book detailing the battles of the American Revolution?
Ted: I came up with the concept of a new guidebook, for lack of a better word, that would provide a comprehensive synopsis of virtually every engagement that occurred during the American Revolution. There are a number of very good reference books about the battles of the American Revolution, both individually and collectively. In the latter category is my favorite, Battles of the Revolutionary War, 1775-1781, by W. J. Woods. However, his book focuses only on the major battles, and each chapter is essentially an essay about the battle. This makes it very difficult to quickly discern and recall the relevant facts about each engagement. That, in turn, prompted me to think of a new way of presenting these actions.
Dave: I was immediately hooked on Ted's idea to create a guide because I knew there was a huge literary void concerning most of the battles in the war. After all, many of the smaller engagements are just as fascinating as some of the larger battles, but they are rarely covered. The opportunity to present the actions that have been overlooked or brushed aside as insignificant events became a passion for both of us. As we explored the events and laid them out, it became apparent that the story of the American struggle for freedom was filled with overlooked and long forgotten clashes that were-and remain-relevant to our national heritage.
: So your goal is to detail battles that have been disregarded in other works?
Dave: Yes, that part of our goal we hope we have accomplished. The bulk of the engagements during the war were primarily small unit actions. These occurred not only in the backwoods of our young nation, but throughout this hemisphere. For example, significant battles were waged throughout the Caribbean Sea and the British Isles and in the western wilderness. How many people know that? Beyond the specialists, not many.
: There were also more nations involved in these actions than many people realize...
Ted: That's true, too. American soldiers and sailors were assisted by Spanish and French forces that struggled not only against the British, but German troops and Canadians as well. Additionally, native Indians throughout North America were heavily involved in the unfolding revolution. As you can imagine, the result of many of these battles had a lasting impact on their legacy and their own unique struggle for liberty.
: How did you go about researching the smaller battles?
Dave: Well, they required a great deal of research to validate the facts surrounding them. The location of where many of these engagements took place was often difficult to pinpoint because geographic locales and names have changed over the years. Were it not for the tireless efforts of organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), the battle and grave sites associated with many of these engagements would have been lost forever. I salute the selfless service of these organizations, as our American history would be incomplete without their work.
: How did the efforts of these organizations help you?
Dave: In many cases we were able to piece together the smaller battles because the DAR and SAR marked the sites and recorded experiences of the individual soldiers through their ancestors' service and pension records. Documents from the Loyalist Institute and books written by soldiers of other nationalities also aided in our quest to define the battles. Hidden within these documents were facts about the fights that we recorded in our guidebook.
: Let's discuss how the book is laid out. Can you describe the template you used for each battle?
Ted: Sure. Each battle entry lists key information, such as the commanders, time/date of occurrence, weather (if known), terrain, and the composition and disposition of all the forces involved. The battle is briefly described from the perspectives of both sides, and then summarized in terms of casualties involved and the result of the combat. We also included a section with suggested readings for additional information.
: How do you think this easy-to-use format enhances the guide?
Dave: We believe it provides a very rewarding experience for the reader. There is a clear focus on each battle that was heretofore unavailable in a single, comprehensive guide. And we also think it will make much of the war more accessible to people with only a passing interest. Many hundreds of thousands of people visit Revolutionary War sites each year. How many of these people really want to read one book about Bunker Hill or Saratoga that is hundreds of pages long?
: Not many, I imagine...
Ted: That's right, not many! Our hope is that this book will help introduce more people to the breadth and depth of the combat that took place during the Revolution, and yet do so in an entertaining and bite-sized manner.
: The maps in the guide also will help readers visualize each battle...
Dave: Yes, maps are key to understanding many of the battles. For example, the terrain associated with the Battle of Bunker Hill is very common knowledge and has been reproduced in many books about the war. However, have you ever seen maps of the Battle of Kettle Creek, Huck's Defeat, or even the better-known King's Mountain? By visually exploring the terrain associated with a battle, the reader can quickly grasp how a band of partisan Patriots-using the last battle as an example-could very easily isolate and trap their enemy by using terrain to their advantage.
Ted: Likewise, the dominant British victories at battles such as Brandywine Creek and Charleston can be readily understood when the battle is presented in a visual context. Additionally, maps give the reader a greater sense of perspective regarding troop movements and tactical maneuvers that forged either victory or defeat at each engagement. Again, maps of the major battles have been previously published, but many of the maps in this book have never been widely available, and each of them is original, most drafted by David (co-author J. David Dameron).
: How did you go about writing this book? It must be daunting at first to look at all the information...
Dave: Well, it was at first! Ted and I had to conduct a survey of all the engagements (land and maritime) that occurred during the war. This was a tremendous task and took many months of research in both primary and secondary source material. As I mentioned before, many of the battles were not located in the United States. Nonetheless, we had to include them, lest the picture remain incomplete.
Ted: Yes, and to be fair, the lion's share of that work was performed by David. Once he comprised our list of battles, we then validated them (confirmed locales, units, etc.), collected all the pertinent facts (weather, time, terrain, etc.), and wrote each respective event chronologically in the template format.
: What sources were particularly useful as you started to gather information on the battles?
Dave: Several publications provided a good foundation for the list of battles, such as documents created by the U.S. National Park Service, the individual state archives, and the DAR and the SAR. Previous publications, such as Gardner Allen's Naval History of the American Revolution (1913), Benson Lossing's comprehensive and multi-volume Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution (1850), and the many books written by and about the participants and battles that we had devoured over the years were all helpful.
: Did you also visit many of the fields?
Dave: Yes, taken together, both of us have been to most of the actual battle sites. I very much enjoyed visiting rural and little-known sites such as Musgrove's Mill in South Carolina, where it is a challenge to find the aging historical marker. The rewards of these little jaunts improved the book. By exploring local archives and libraries, we discovered pertinent facts. This type of research-the journey of creation and exploration-is fun! However, if you don't have the time or the ability to visit battle sites, this book will (hopefully!) be a helpful resource for you. We did the legwork for the reader and compiled the information into a single, comprehensive guide.
: While conducting research, did you discover anything that surprised you?
Dave: What a great question-Yes! The contributions of common men and women at the grass roots level forged the spirit of America and won the war. While major battles were important in terms of cost (manpower and materiel), conquering and/or defending terrain was not the sole measure of victory.
: Can you provide an example?
Dave: Sure. Every time the British secured terrain, such as the state of New York, the American seat of government and its little army would simply slip away from, and occasionally lash out at, their enemy somewhere else. Meanwhile, the smaller and seemingly inconsequential battles waged in the backwoods communities between Tory and Patriot settled the differences between them. Armed with determination, the Americans simply refused to surrender or buckle under when many others would have. The Americans could lose battle after battle (and did), and yet still score a strategic victory and win the war. Ultimately, the Americans, aided strongly by their French allies under Rochambeau, achieved their goal at Yorktown, where they outmaneuvered the experienced British and probably their best field commander, trapped them on the end of the peninsula, and besieged them until they surrendered. [Read more about this final engagement in The Guns of Independence: The Siege of Yorktown, 1781, by Jerome A. Greene, Savas Beatie LLC 2005.]
: Ultimately, when a reader puts down this book, what do you want them to come away with?
Ted: We hope all readers will gain greater insights regarding the breadth and scope of the war. The fighting in the American Revolution was not just between Redcoats and Rebels, as the theme of the war is generally portrayed. On the contrary, the many nationalities involved and far-flung locales of the many battles and skirmishes they have never heard of will undoubtedly catch many readers by surprise. We hope they think, "I had no idea there were this many engagements!" and find the guide so helpful and interesting they repeatedly reach for the shelf and pick it up to read.
: What do you think the beginning Revolutionary War student will gain from your book and how do you think the advanced scholar will use it?
Dave: For the beginning reader, the book lays out the course of events in chronological sequence. The format provides readily discernible facts about all the battles. For the scholar, the book provides a logical synopsis of all the engagements, which has never been widely available before in this format. Hopefully, scholars will enjoy the ability to quickly find facts by turning a few pages, and enjoy the previously unavailable maps of many of the smaller fights.
: Short of trekking to the actual battle sites, it sounds like this book is the best way for anyone to quickly learn about virtually every battle of the American Revolution.
Dave: We hope so. Thank you.
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