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This Fierce People

The Untold Story of America's Revolutionary War in the South


Alan Pell Crawford (View Bio)
Hardcover: Alfred A. Knopf, 2024.

This Fierce People

A groundbreaking, important recovery of history; the overlooked story—fully explored—of the critical aspect of America’s Revolutionary War that was fought in the South, showing that the British surrender at Yorktown was the direct result of the southern campaign, and that the battles that emerged south of the Mason-Dixon line between loyalists to the Crown and patriots who fought for independence were, in fact, America’s first civil war.

The famous battles that form the backbone of the story put forth of American independence—at Lexington and Concord, Brandywine, Germantown, Saratoga, and Monmouth—while crucial, did not lead to the surrender at Yorktown.

It was in the three-plus years between Monmouth and Yorktown that the war was won.

Alan Pell Crawford’s riveting new book,This Fierce People, tells the story of these missing three years, long ignored by historians, and of the fierce battles fought in the South that made up the central theater of military operations in the latter years of the Revolutionary War, upending the essential American myth that the War of Independence was fought primarily in the North.

Weaving throughout the stories of the heroic men and women, largely unsung patriots—African Americans and whites, militiamen and “irregulars,” patriots and Tories, Americans, Frenchmen, Brits, and Hessians, Crawford reveals the misperceptions and contradictions of our accepted understanding of how our nation came to be, as well as the national narrative that America’s victory over the British lay solely with General George Washington and his troops.

"A vivid re-creation of the Revolutionary War in the American South, a guerrilla-style conflict that paved the way for the British surrender at Yorktown. In this intriguing work of military and social history, Crawford argues convincingly that the South was where 'the most decisive battles…were fought.' The author mines the historical record to show that the Southern conflict was an exceedingly violent version of a guerrilla war, one that pitted loyalists against revolutionaries at every level of Southern society. Gen. Nathanael Greene, taking command of the American side after some near-catastrophic losses, understood 'that he had stepped into what a later generation would also call a civil war. Neighbors were killing each other with horrifying regularity.' On the field of battle, conditions were punishing. Infectious diseases and starvation stalked the soldiers as both sides employed scorched-earth tactics and fought bitterly to hold their ground in South and North Carolina. Many Americans barely remember learning about the siege of Charleston and the battles of Camden, Kings Mountain, and Cowpens, but these were crucial to the eventual victory at Yorktown. There were some heroes, such as Johann von Robais, a superb German military officer who died fighting for the Americans, but there were cruel and opportunistic officers on both sides: the 'coldblooded and ruthless' British officer Banastre Tarleton and American officer Thomas Sumter, who authorized his troops to pay themselves by plundering property, which included enslaved people. Crawford follows the revolutionaries in their quest to cut off British supply lines from the coast to the backcountry. The author could have strengthened his superior account with more attention to the loyalists’ point of view. Nonetheless, he provides a clear picture of the stark cost of American independence on both sides of the conflict. A clear, coherent, and even suspenseful account of the American Revolution." — Kirkus Reviews