Book Summary: Scars of Independence by Holger Hoock

My Personal Summary

This book is about the American Revolution, written specifically about the violence that occurred during it.

Most histories of the American Revolution leave out many of the bloody details, instead painting the revolution as a neat, orderly, majestic affair.

In reality, there was intense violence experienced by rebels, Loyalists, British soldiers, Native Americans, and even women and children.

In battle, the most gruesome way for a soldier to die was typically from being stabbed repeatedly with a bayonet.

As a prisoner of war, soldiers were often forced to eat moldy food, live in tight quarters where disease ran rampant, and often had very little clothing given to wear during the winter months.

Even citizens couldn’t escape violence in the war. It was common for soldiers to enter towns and inadvertently spread diseases such as smallpox and influenza, which could wipe out entire swaths of towns.

Book Notes

  • More than ten times as many Americans died, per capita, in the Revolutionary War as in World War l, and nearly five times as many as in World War ll.
  • Roughly 8,000 Americans died from battle,10,000 died from disease in camps, and 16,000 died in captivity as prisoners of war.
  • On January 25, 1774, a small boy accidentally ran his sled into a British customs official named John Malcolm. Malcom struck the boy. When a merchant tried to intervene, Malcolm struck the man with a cane, rendering him unconscious. A crowd caught wind of this and went to Malcolm’s house. He barricaded in his room but was eventually dragged out. The crowd stripped him naked, poured boiling hot tar on him, covered him in feathers likely from the pillows in his own home, dragged him through town and whipped him mercilessly. They then carted him back home. The whole ordeal lasted 5 hours and somehow he survived, although he would live with the scars the rest of his life.
  • In 1774, legislators from 12 of the 13 colonies met in Philadelphia and decided to formally boycott British goods. To ensure that these boycotts were enforced, they created “safety committees” in each colony in which local citizens were told to keep a watchful eye on their neighbors to ensure that they supported the American cause. Those who supported America became known as Patriots and those who supported Britain became known as “Tories” or Loyalists. Patriots frequently terrorized Loyalists by throwing them in freezing lakes or rivers, or whipping and beating them until their ribs were broken. Sometimes Patriots even branded the faces of Loyalists with the initials G.R., which stood for “George Rex”, a nickname for King George lll of England. Even Loyalists who weren’t physically abused were often ostracized by their community, making it very difficult for them to find employment.
  • On one occasion, a mob rubbed animal dung into the eyes of a Loyalist and then shoved it down his throat before telling everyone in his community to shun him.
  • Occasionally, Patriots took women hostage as a way of blackmailing their Loyalist husbands into changing their allegiance.
  • One of the harshest punishments dealt to Loyalist leaders was being thrown in an underground prison in Connecticut that was 80 feet underground and where men had to sleep on hay which was infested with fleas and lice. Communal tubs were used as toilets and these unsanitary conditions were a perfect breeding ground for fevers, dysentery, typhoid, respiratory problems, and other diseases.
  • In October of 1775, two British ships bombarded the town of modern day Portland, Maine for nine hours straight with cannonballs and artillery fire, setting homes and shops aflame. A total of 160 families suddenly had to begin the winter months without any shelter. This aggravated American forces who believed this was a particularly cruel act of warfare against mostly citizens.
  • Interesting: After the Declaration of Independence was announced in 1776, citizens in Manhattan tore down a statue of King George lll and melted it down into 42,000 bullets, which were to be used by the Patriots against the king’s troops.
  • If soldiers in the Continental army were found guilty of pillaging the homes of civilians while on duty, they were commonly punished by being stripped naked, tied to a tree, and whipped 39 times with a cat-o-nine-tails whip until their back was covered in blood. One witness called it the equivalent of having the talons of a hawk tear the flesh off their bones.
  • One of the biggest struggles for the British was shipping fresh food across the Atlantic to soldiers in the U.S. Often the quality of the food was so poor that hungry soldiers refused to eat the “mouldy bread, weevily biscuit, rancid butter, sour flour, worm eaten peas, and maggoty beef.”
  • Interesting: Instead of being killed in battle, many British soldiers died from surprise attacks and skirmishes by rebels while foraging for food.
  • Because it was so difficult to maintain adequate food and supplies for thousands of men, it was common for the both American and British troops to plunder houses of civilians.
  • It was so difficult to keep an adequate amount of shoes available for the soldiers that it was said “the ground was literally marked with the blood of the soldiers’ feet.”
  • American newspapers used reports of battle field misconduct and raping of women and children by British soldiers as a means of rallying all Americans in a unified cause to oppose the British and also as a way to recruit additional men by convincing them that they must protect their wives and children from the barbarous British army.
  • Many American soldiers taken as prisoners had to endure brutal conditions in British prisons. They were forced to eat moldy bread, putrid water, and spoiled pork and often had very little clothing to keep them warm in the winter months. Diseases ran wild in the unsanitary prison conditions as well.
  • One of the most brutal places to be held as a prisoner was among British ships anchored off New York City. On these ships, American soldiers were held as prisoners and kept below deck in tight quarters. There was minimal fresh air and scurvy, dysentery, yellow fever, typhoid, influenza and smallpox was common.
  • One some ships, prisoners were kept in confined rooms that were only three feet tall so they could never even stand.
  • Interesting: It’s estimated that roughly half of all Patriots who took up arms in the Revolutionary War died in British prisons and on prison ships.
  • In 1778, British general Charles Grey lead a surprise attack in the middle of the night against troops sleeping in barracks. To be as stealthy as possible, the British troops used only bayonets to murder the American troops. Even though the troops readily surrendered, Grey still ordered his men to kill them all. This massacre became widely known and was used by the American newspapers to demonstrate to the American public just how savage the British fighting tactics had become.
  • In 1778, Iroquois and British troops attacked colonial settlements in the towns of Wyoming, German Flatts, and Cherry Valley. As revenge, George Washington ordered attacks on Iroquois lands in which troops were instructed to completely destroy villages along with crops and livestock so that the Indians would have nothing to eat during the winter months. Soldiers even looted the gravesites of Indians, taking jewelry and other tools that were often buried with bodies.
  • Indians gave George Washington the nickname “Town-Destroyer”.

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