Scars Of Independence: America's Violent Birth by Holger HoockScars Of Independence: America's Violent Birth by Holger Hoock

Scars Of Independence: America's Violent Birth

byHolger Hoock

Hardcover | May 9, 2017

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A magisterial new work that rewrites the story of America's founding

The American Revolution is often portrayed as an orderly, restrained rebellion, with brave patriots defending their noble ideals against an oppressive empire. It’s a stirring narrative, and one the founders did their best to encourage after the war. But as historian Holger Hoock shows in this deeply researched and elegantly written account of America’s founding, the Revolution was not only a high-minded battle over principles, but also a profoundly violent civil war—one that shaped the nation, and the British Empire, in ways we have only begun to understand.

In Scars of Independence, Hoock writes the violence back into the story of the Revolution. American Patriots persecuted and tortured Loyalists. British troops massacred enemy soldiers and raped colonial women. Prisoners were starved on disease-ridden ships and in subterranean cells. African-Americans fighting for or against independence suffered disproportionately, and Washington’s army waged a genocidal campaign against the Iroquois. In vivid, authoritative prose, Hoock’s new reckoning also examines the moral dilemmas posed by this all-pervasive violence, as the British found themselves torn between unlimited war and restraint toward fellow subjects, while the Patriots documented war crimes in an ingenious effort to unify the fledgling nation.

For two centuries we have whitewashed this history of the Revolution. Scars of Independence forces a more honest appraisal, revealing the inherent tensions between moral purpose and violent tendencies in America’s past. In so doing, it offers a new origins story that is both relevant and necessary—an important reminder that forging a nation is rarely bloodless.
Holger Hoock was educated at Freiburg and Cambridge and received his doctorate from Oxford. He currently serves as the J. Carroll Amundson Professor of British History and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. His previous books include Empires of t...
Title:Scars Of Independence: America's Violent BirthFormat:HardcoverDimensions:576 pages, 9.53 × 6.6 × 1.54 inPublished:May 9, 2017Publisher:Crown/ArchetypeLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0804137285

ISBN - 13:9780804137287

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Read from the Book

Chapter Six SlaughterhousesThe George Washington of American legend is the humanitarian who, in a young lady’s widely published acrostic, “Intent on virtue, and her cause so fair, / Now treats his captive with a parent’s care!” From the very start of the conflict, Washington had been adamant that his army’s conduct towards prisoners of war align with European customs. The honor of the American nation, as well as Washington’s own obligations as a gentleman officer and wartime leader, was at stake. It was, after all, for a place among the world’s civilized nations that Amer­ica was vying. For leaders like Washington, treating prisoners of war adequately was a genuine moral concern that also made sound strategic sense. Washington had a personal history to reckon with. In his very first combat mission, on the Ohio frontier in 1754, he had failed to prevent his Native American allies from committing the gruesome ritualistic murder of a French envoy, Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville, and then massacring other French soldiers after they had surrendered to him. Washington had covered up the disaster as best he could. His official report glossed over the extreme violence, making it sound as if all French casualties had been sustained during an honest fight. But when he had to sur­render Fort Necessity to the French later that year, Washington—unable to read French—signed terms of capitulation that held him responsible for Jumonville’s “assassination.” When the British and American Loyalists resurrected the mur­der charges two decades later, we can only imagine how it must have nettled Washington, who guarded his honor and reputation as jealously as any gentleman officer in the British Empire. He appreciated that he must go out of his way to observe—and, cru­cially, to be seen observing—the codes of civilized warfare. Wash­ington knew that defending “the sacred Cause of my Country, of Liberty” required him and his army to embrace Enlightenment ideals and what John Adams called a “policy of humanity.” Washington had absorbed the codes of war pertaining to the capture, treatment, and exchange of prisoners of war, as far as conflicts among European powers were concerned, when fighting alongside British officers in the Seven Years’ War. These codes of war allowed an army to imprison any enemy soldier or officer in order to prevent him from taking up arms or as a ransom for peace terms. Captors, however, had no right over the life of a surrendered soldier: prisoners of war were not to be killed unless they made a new attempt to fight or had committed a crime warranting death. Both sides had a vested interest in the preservation, and ultimately the exchange, of expensively trained captive soldiers. In the eighteenth century, conventions of war dictated that captive soldiers were to be fed, housed, and cared for like one’s own armed forces, although they were to receive clothing and payment from their own state or army (and not their captors). En­listing prisoners of war in one’s own military was forbidden. Dur­ing most eighteenth-century conflicts among Western European powers, ransoms and, increasingly, agreements between belliger­ent powers, so-called cartels, regulated the imprisonment, provi­sioning, and exchange of captives. Although a state was bound to procure its own prisoners’ release—a promise that was crucial to recruitment—commanders might delay exchanges in order to temporarily impose a greater economic burden on their opponents or deny them fighting strength. At war’s end, ransom or compen­sation would settle mutual claims. Unlike soldiers, captured offi­cers were commonly released back home or allowed to move freely within a specified territory, on their honor and parole—from the French for “spoken word”—to abide by certain restrictions. These principles of prisoner treatment were not easy to up­hold under the conditions of war. Unequal numbers of captives, inadequate record keeping, and the sheer scale of transcontinen­tal warfare in the eighteenth century meant that exchanges were complex to organize. There was, therefore, a broad trend away from large-scale exchanges and towards holding prisoners for longer periods of time in the captors’ homeland. In the American Revolutionary War, unique politico-legal circumstances further complicated matters: the British refused to designate captured rebel combatants as prisoners of war, since that would mean recognizing the United States as a sovereign state. In doing so, they rendered large-scale exchanges characteristic of wars between European nations impossible, which meant that both sides faced the challenge of keeping unusually large populations of captives. Throughout much of the war, British officers sought to arrange partial, ad hoc exchanges on the honor of the local commander and without formally invoking the king’s name, so as not to com­promise the government’s position. Whereas Washington was bent on a pragmatic humanitari­anism and hence willing to participate in exchanges in order to alleviate prisoner suffering, Congress wanted to use the issue of prisoners to force Britain to recognize the United States. It also wished to avoid returning too many British soldiers. It was keen not to pay for large exchanges if accounts could not be settled. And it preferred to conceal the short terms of enlistment of Ameri­can soldiers. Throughout the war, American and British leaders blamed each other for the repeated collapse of exchange negotia­tions. The numbers of prisoners exchanged through ad hoc ar­rangements, though probably totaling several thousand over the war as a whole, proved too small to relieve in a meaningful way the pressure on detention sites in most places at most times. Some British officers in America demanded that “rebel” cap­tives be treated as such, and not like prisoners from legitimate, conventional European armies. At least keeping them indefinitely, suggested the Irish-born Captain Frederick Mackenzie, “and in a state of uncertainty with respect to their fate, would certainly strike great terror into their army.” He worried that the failure to implement capital punishment—“Not one rebel has suffereddeath, except in Action”—only encouraged the insurgency. Never­theless, even Mackenzie later insisted that it was “right to treat our Enemies as if they might one day become our friends. Humanity is the characteristic of the British troops, and I should be sorry they should run the risque of forfeiting what redounds so much to their honor, by one act of even necessary severity.” Mackenzie advocated strategic humanitarianism in order for Britain to create the right climate for postwar reconciliation. In practice, the British could hardly treat American captives as traitors without any rights. This was, first, because officials in charge of recruiting German troops had asked the British government not to complicate their task by repeating the situation of the anti-Jacobite campaign of 1745: pris­oners then could not be exchanged, a predicament the German negotiators were now well aware of. And once the Americans had captured significant numbers of British troops, Britain had to treat American captives as de facto prisoners of war in order to protect their own from retaliation. * * *Washington set the tone early on in the Anglo-American debate about prisoners. Just weeks after taking charge of his new army at Cambridge in 1775, he complained to General Gage that “the Officers engaged in the Cause of Liberty and their Country, who by the Fortune of War have fallen into your Hands, have been thrown indiscriminately into a common Gaol appropriated for Felons—That no Consideration has been had for those of the most respectable Rank, when languishing with Wounds and Sickness. That some have been even amputated in this unworthy Situa­tion.” Washington demanded that politics be set aside; instead, he asserted, “[o]bligations arising from the Rights of Humanity, & Claims of Rank, are universally binding and extensive, except in Case of Retaliation.” With this caveat, Washington invoked an­other principle in the laws of war, thus putting Gage on notice that in the future his treatment of Anglo-German captives would mir­ror the treatment of American prisoners in British hands. Gage replied that, to “the Glory of Civilized Nations, humanity and War have been compatible; and Compassion to the subdued, is become almost a general system.” The British, he reassured Washington, “ever preeminent in Mercy, have outgone common examples, and overlooked the Criminal in the Captive. Upon these principles your Prisoners, whose Lives by the Laws of the Land are destined to the Cord, have hitherto been treated with care and kindness, and more comfortably lodged than the King’s Troops in the Hospitals.” It was Britain’s natural humanitarian impulse, Gage was saying, not her obligations under the laws of war, that had ensured the good treatment of rebel prisoners. If he indeed had ignored distinctions of rank, it was only because “I Acknowledge no Rank that is not derived from the King.” Retaliation worked for Gage as well, he reassured Washington, especially since he also had the American Loyalists to consider: My intelligence from your Army would justify severe recrimi­nation. I understand there are of the King’s faithfull Subjects, taken sometime since by the Rebels, labouring like Negro Slaves, to gain their daily Subsistence, or reduced to the Wretched Al­ternative, to perish by famine, or take Arms against their King and Country. Those who have made the Treatment of the Prison­ers in my hands, or of your other Friends in Boston, a pretence for such Measures, found Barbarity upon falsehood. But Washington was not going to be intimidated by imperious saber-rattling. He lectured Gage that he had deliberately avoided political questions, such as whether “British, or American Mercy, Fortitude, & Patience are most preeminent,” or “whether our vir­tuous Citizens whom the Hand of Tyranny has forced into Arms” deserved to be hanged as rebels. As far as the Loyalists were con­cerned, however, Washington had made inquiries and reported that “[n]ot only your Officers, and Soldiers have been treated with a Tenderness due to Fellow Citizens, & Brethren; but even those execrable Parricides, whose Counsels & Aid have deluged their Country with Blood, have been protected from the Fury of a justly enraged People.” Congress duly published the Washington-Gage correspondence for propagandistic effect. By this time, not only in America but in Britain, too, Washington was becoming widely recognized as an honorable gentleman officer who sought to up­hold high ethical standards.  Even as allegations of British maltreatment of American cap­tives soured relations, and perhaps especially then, Washington continued to cling to these standards: he would always try to “ren­der the situation of all prisoners in my hands as comfortable as I can, and nothing will induce me to depart from this rule, not a contrary line of conduct to those in your possession. Captivity of itself is sufficiently grievous, and it is cruel to add to its distresses.” Noble ideals, captured in soaring rhetoric, found their real test in the actual treatment of prisoners under the strains and stresses of a grueling war. As Patriot soldiers learned throughout the conflict, being a rebel prisoner in British hands was a precarious and often violent experience.

Editorial Reviews

"Drawing upon impressive research, [Hoock] makes a fluent, original and thought-provoking contribution to American Revolutionary scholarship.… Hoock compellingly argues that the era was characterized by far more pervasive brutality—both physical and psychological—than prevailing perceptions of a high-minded fight for liberty might suggest…. Well-crafted vignettes reveal how the violence unleashed by the Revolution spread far and wide, leaving few communities immune from its effects." —The Wall Street Journal“Unsparing... a fine new book.”—The Economist"[R]evelatory... Scars of Independence [forces] readers to confront the visceral realities of a conflict too often bathed in warm, nostalgic light.... [Hoock] marshals a good deal of startling new evidence, the fruits of prodigious research in British archives too rarely used by historians of colonial America.... The myth of an America conceived in love and sprung fully formed from the thigh of George Washington misshapes our present as much as it distorts our past. Hoock’s research casts a startling light on that primal scene. We must not turn away."—Jane Kamensky, The New York Times Book Review"[A] sobering corrective to the sanitized version of the American Revolution passed down through generations.... [and] a fascinating case study in the power of myth-making.... Scars of Independence eschews comforting good/bad dichotomies in favor of assessing the past in all its complexity and ambiguity.... [A] balanced, unvarnished portrait."—The Boston Globe "Certainly, no reader will ever be able to imagine the Revolution again as the pop-gun pageantry ... instilled in us [as] kids.... Hoock makes the wise point that, given what wars of national liberation are actually like, Americans should perhaps be disabused of our enthusiasm for nation-building and democracy exportation.... The Revolution, he shows, was far more brutal than our usual memory of it allows."—Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker"[O]utstanding and long-overdue... [Scars of Independence] dares to look beyond the principles and perceptions of righteousness that pervade much of the popular literature on the subject, illustrating that the operational aspects of the war were fraught with atrocities and injustices... that were committed by all sides."—Journal of the American Revolution"A fresh approach to a well-trod subject... Deeply researched and buttressed by extensive useful endnotes, this is history that will appeal to both scholars and general readers. The author presents his grim narrative in language that is vivid without becoming lurid... An accomplished, powerful presentation of the American Revolution as it was, rather than as we might wish to remember it.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred)“Hoock has written a history of violence in the Revolutionary War that is as fascinating as it is enlightening.”—Library Journal (starred)“In this bracing and convincing book, Holger Hoock gives us an original and thought-provoking account of the violent nature of the founding of our country. We cannot understand our past or our present without grappling with the profound issues that Hoock raises here.”  —Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion and Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power    “This timely, powerful book reveals a side of America's founding too often forgotten: the American Revolution was our first civil war, and the United States that emerged long bore its scars. I have read no account of the conflict that so impressively shows how the violence of this war touched all Americans: patriot and loyalist, enslaved and free, indigenous and colonial. Hoock's careful research and vivid writing bring to life a history at once gripping, challenging, and essential.”  —Maya Jasanoff, Harvard University, and author of Liberty’s Exiles    “As Americans we’d prefer to believe our revolution was inherently different from everybody else’s—that it was more about eloquent speeches in the halls of the Continental Congress than violence and bloodshed. But as Holger Hoock reveals, it took a brutal, soul-damaging war to bring our country into being. Scars of Independence is a revelatory examination of the long and bloody conflict that came to define in so many deeply troubling ways what America would become.”  —Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Valiant Ambition  "Hoock strikes an effective balance between description and broader historical analysis, crafting a gripping narrative that holds appeal for general audiences and historians alike."—Publishers Weekly  “This striking history exposes the grim realities behind America’s origin myth. But it is not an exercise in disillusionment or cynicism. By describing the Revolutionary War as it really happened, Hoock adds vividness and realism to implausible legends of heroes and saints. He sheds light on divisions that shape the world today, and most important, he reminds us how far we’ve come.”   —Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Better Angels of Our Nature    “In this deeply researched and indeed harrowing book, Holger Hoock strips away the easy language of patriotic memory and explains just how cruel a war the American Revolution often proved, with quarter denied to prisoners, women and girls exposed to the horror of rape, and communities often degenerating into civil war. No historian before Hoock has made the experience of violence so central a theme of the Revolution.”  —Jack Rakove, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Original Meanings and Revolutionaries     “From the scalding tar poured on merchants and customs officials to the public stripping of women suspected of loyalist sympathies, Holger Hoock’s deep research and gripping prose expose the frightening violence of the American Revolution and overturn the sentimental myth of our nation’s bloodless birth.”   —Kathleen DuVal, University of North Carolina, and author of Independence Lost  “Engrossing… This is difficult but necessary reading, a book that reminds us that victory in our ‘Glorious Cause’ came at a terrible cost.”—Booklist  “It is difficult to extricate the Revolutionary War from the romance of national mythology, but Holger Hoock offers an important correction in Scars of Independence, the first book to examine the tragic and shocking role of violence in the conflict.”  —Andrew O’Shaughnessy, University of Virginia, and author of The Men Who Lost America    “Scars of Independence is a brilliant comprehensive history of the Revolutionary War that accents how this bloody and destructive conflict touched the lives of ordinary men and women. Holger Hoock’s account goes beyond well-known Founding Fathers at war to show the violence and terror that befell soldiers and civilians on both sides. This is an important book that should be read by all who seek a better understanding of the true nature of America’s War of Independence.”  —John Ferling, author of Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It    “War by definition is about violence, but Holger Hoock’s brilliantly written book is perhaps the first to use violence as its main focus for understanding the War of American Independence.  He highlights some truly shocking instances of violence—on both sides—in a gripping (if at times stomach-churning) account.  All students of the American Revolution and its war should read this book.”  —Stephen Conway, University College London, and author of The British Isles and the War of American Independence  "The America of Scars of Independence is both a philosophy and a country in the process of being invented, one that looks a lot more like the one we live in today than any version we’ve seen before."—Under the Radar"In this American Revolution, neighbors killed neighbors. Patriots slaughtered American Indians, and vice versa. British soldiers committed mass atrocities on the battlefield. Loyalists were tarred, feathered and worse by Patriot mobs. Hoock plays no favorites as he makes clear through copious research that there was nothing clean about the Revolution. It was messy, complicated business, drenched in blood. It was, after all, war."—Dallas Morning News"[Hoock] vividly presents a grittier, unvarnished narrative of 'America’s first civil war'.... After this, readers will see America’s war for independence in an altogether new light."—Fort Worth Star Telegram“While the many romantic and sanitized versions of the American Revolution present it as a just and idealistic war... Hoock presents a much more complex and nuanced story of American-on-American violence.... [An] important and corrective account.”—MHQ Magazine