The Improbable Victory
The Campaigns, Battles and Soldiers of the American Revolution, 1775–83: In Association with the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
Edited by Chris McNab
Osprey Press, New York, 2017, 260 pages
Book Review published on: August 4, 2017
Chris McNab’s The Improbable Victory is a welcome addition to the study of the America Revolution. It is the result of meticulous editing of twenty-three Osprey books on all aspects of the American Revolution and the militaries involved in answering the question: “Why would a group of colonists who had little in common other than their links to the mother country go to war against arguably the greatest army in the world and undoubtedly the greatest Navy?”
Among McNab’s many significant observations and reflections, three stand out. First, he asserts that George Washington may be history’s most underrated commander. He compares Washington with two contemporaries: Frederick the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte. Frederick the Great and Napoleon inherited formidable militaries, and both had extensive military training and experience prior to assuming command of armies. Washington was better educated than the majority of people living in British North America, but he had little formal military training. Washington had to build his army from scratch. Frederick the Great’s victories added to Prussia’s territory and prestige but failed in elevating Prussia beyond a regional power. Napoleon’s meteoric rise eventually resulted in his being exiled and France’s eventual devolvement as a third-rate power. Washington would forge the thirteen colonies into a nation that would dominate the world.
Second, the French and Spanish contributions in terms of land warfare were significant, even critical, to the outcome of individual battles and the war. Yet one of their greatest contributions was at sea. The French and Spanish navies engaged the Royal Navy on the high seas from the European theater to India to the West Indies. This significantly degraded Great Britain’s ability to supply and support its forces in North America. The navies also attacked British outposts throughout the world forcing Great Britain to deploy a majority of its army to protect its interests worldwide. The British army seemingly lacked the troops to contain the insurrection. The situation was made worse from 1778 when France and Spain entered into the war. The percentage of the British army stationed in North America dropped from 65 percent in 1778 to only 29 percent in 1780.
Third, no British officer could be forced to serve overseas, and as a result, many quality officers who simply did not wish to fight British citizens living in the colonies stayed home. Lord Percy, later the Duke of Northumberland and whose conduct at the Lexington and Concord helped save the retreating British Army, was one of many officers who could not stomach the war against British subjects in the colonies. After distinguished service in 1776, he returned home.
The Improbable Victory’s strength is McNab’s use of illustrations, vignettes, and in-depth analysis of key battles, opposing strategies, and the militaries involved. It reminds us that the American Revolution evolved into a truly international conflict, most notably drawing the French, Spanish, Dutch, German, and Indian forces into helping create a republic that changed the course of history. This work is highly readable and provides a comprehensive examination of the American Revolution. It would be an excellent addition to the library of any historian or student with an interest on the subject.
Insurgency and counterinsurgency will remain alive and well for the foreseeable future. Waging Insurgent Warfare bridges the gap between academia and practitioners and is a must read for those desiring a better understanding of insurgent warfare.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas