BETWEEN THE LINES: Banditti of the American Revolution
- From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
War Gave Anarchy A Chance
REVIEWED BY BRENT TARTER
BETWEEN THE LINES: Banditti of the American Revolution, by Harry M.
Ward; Praeger, $49.95.
Harry Ward retired several years ago from teaching history at the
University of Richmond, but he continues to research and write about
his specialty, the Revolutionary War. Author of several monographs
and textbooks, he published four biographies of generals of the
Continental Army. He now turns his attention to the less well-known
and more disturbing topic of the civil violence that took place
between the dissolution of government under the Crown and the
foundation of state governments capable of ensuring domestic
Reading Between the Lines reminds one of the savage guerrilla warfare
in Missouri during the American Civil War, when war and the breakdown
of civilian authority allowed criminals to roam freely, and where
soldiers became outlaws. A good many examples from our own time
elsewhere in the world come quickly to mind, too.
ONE OF the costs of revolutionary change or warfare on one's doorstep
can be the loss of social order that brings out the worst in some
people and societies. The much-celebrated American Revolution had its
own terrible home-grown brutality, too, and that is the subject of
this book. This is not a book about patriots and loyalists. It is a
book about criminals and haphazard violence that arose under the
circumstances of war and organized violence.
Violence and outlawry took place everywhere during the war, but most
often near the scene of fighting between the real armies. The worst
violence occurred in up-country South Carolina, where a full-scale
civil war and almost total anarchy devastated the society.
IT BEGAN during the British occupation of the coastal region, but it
continued until well after the Revolutionary War was over. "The
uncivil war in the South," Ward concludes, "created a legacy of
proneness toward violence, vigilantism, extremism, and class hatred
that was to last many generations."
Add a consideration of this arbitrary, private violence to the
familiar misery of warfare, and we get a much different understanding
of what the Revolutionary War was like to the ordinary people who
lived near the scene of action. It is no wonder that during the
following decade, when the French Revolution plunged the United
States' first foreign ally into a similar bloody anarchy, a good many
Americans turned their backs on a struggle for freedom that had
seemed to grow initially out of our own.
This is an important and disturbing book, one of Harry Ward's best.
Brent Tarter is an editor of 'The Dictionary of Virginia Biography'
at the Library of Virginia.