Book Review: Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas by John Buchanan

Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas

Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas by John Buchanan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I decided to read Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas by John Buchanan as preparation for a vacation trip to visit the Ninety Six, Musgrove Mill, Kings Mountain, and Cowpens battlefields in South Carolina (due to the government shutdown, it seems I won’t be visiting three of the four since they are federal parks).

Road to Guilford Courthouse covers the American Revolution in the Carolinas from the beginning of the war through the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Buchanan tells the story by not just describing battles and troop movements but also by developing the personalities of the men guiding and leading those battles and movements. Through the use of primary sources, diaries, and autobiographies, he gives both the leaders’ view of the war and the line officers’ and soldier/militiamen’s view as well. One of the focuses of the book is on the use of militia, by both the Americans and the British, with a concentration on how they were properly used and who properly used them. Another focus is the analysis of both Regular and Militia leaders’ performance (including a chapter at the end of the book on what happened to many of them after the war).

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Road to Guilford Courthouse. It is a fascinating, captivating book that I often found hard to put down. The concentration on both actions and personalities give you a comprehensive look at that period of the Revolution in the south. It’s well researched and documented with extensive endnotes and a bibliography at the end of the book. The reason I haven’t given it a five-star review is its lack of maps. This campaign was very much a war of movement and maps showing the movements of the British and Americans would help the reader better visualize the relation of the two armies to each other. Maps of the battle would also help the reader visualize the positions of the units described in the text and the movements of the units during the Seige of Charleston and at battles such as Kings Mountain, Cowpens, and Guilford Courthouse.

Reading this book made me reflect on other conflicts. As I read, I kept coming back to the thought that the US military’s failures in Vietnam and Iraq are partly due to the failure to remember lessons from our own Revolutionary War. The southern war is rife with lessons on partisan/guerrilla warfare, particularly from the British on what not to do when fighting them and from the Americans on how to utilize your partisan/militia allies. As I read more about Greene and the war in the south, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Spruance at the Battle of Midway in World War II. Greene had to fight Cornwallis yet he couldn’t allow himself to be defeated in detail. Spruance had to fight Yamamoto yet he couldn’t allow himself to lose significant numbers of ships and men. If either had allowed themselves to lose their army or fleet, it would have been calamitous; arguably their decisions to be not as aggressive in battle were the correct ones.

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