New book paints distinctly different picture of British soldiers in American Revolution


Don Hagist’s “British Soldiers, American War” brings to light new evidence about British soldiers. (Photo courtesy of Westholme Publishing.)

They were well-trained professional soldiers, sent to fight an unpopular war on a different continent.

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They were volunteers, who’d enlisted for a mix of reasons. Some were seeking economic advantage; others were just in search of adventure.

Each soldier had his own hopes, fears and aspirations.

You could be forgiven for thinking we’re talking about the veterans of America’s wars of the 21st century.

But this is actually a portrait of the British soldiers who fought against the American Revolution, as painted in a new book, “British Soldiers, American War: Voices of the American Revolution.”

“There are actually quite a lot of parallels,” said author Don Hagist. “It was an all-volunteer force of people who joined the army as a profession.”

Listen to an extended conversation with Hagist at TheWorld.org.

Haigst said there's a tendency to look at wars through the overly simplified construct of good guys and bad guys. But that doesn't always work out.

“So, you assume that if America’s enemy were the bad guys, then the people fighting in the army must have been bad somehow," he said. "So we lose sight of the fact that the armies are made up of individual people and they all had lives, they all had reasons for joining the army.”

The common British soldier of the American Revolution has a certain image in the popular imagination, the kind of mindless automaton you can see in movies like “The Patriot.”

Hagist’s research, which collects most of the written first-hand accounts of common soldiers from the period, together with years of archival research among military and public records, paints a distinctly different picture from the Hollywood image.

The popular idea of order maintained through constant, brutal discipline doesn't really fit either.

“There were brutal punishments, but most soldiers had pretty clean records," Hagist said. “The most surprising thing, is the simple humanity of these people, in contrast to most of the literature.”