Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review: A Generous and Merciful Enemy

Cover Art
Dear Readers,

Until the advent of the "New Military History," most historians focused on the campaigns, battles, and great leaders of history. In the past fifty years, military historians have begun to examine previously unexplored aspects of military history, including prisoners of war.  Historian Daniel Krebs has recently covered the role of prisoners of war for the western German auxiliary soldiers during the American War of Independence. This book, an expansion of his dissertation, is entitled:  A Generous and Merciful Enemy: Life for German Prisoners of War during the American Revolution. 

Confused who exactly these German soldiers in the American Revolution were? Click here for an explanation! 

In his book, Krebs discusses all portions of life for the German prisoners of war. He gives excellent coverage to all portions of prisoner experience. His writing style is easy to read and engaging, a spectacular feat for a non-native English writer. Krebs divides the book into three sections: German soldiers in British Service, Into Captivity, and Prisoners of War.

In practical terms, the first section discusses recruitment and social composition of the subsidy soldiers. The second section explains the rituals of surrender and the difference between capture and surrender. Finally, the third section discusses the experiences of the various groups of German prisoners in the American War of Independence, and their eventual return to their native states. 

Krebs indicates that his overall goal is to write- Geschichte aus den Perspektive des gemeiner Soldat, or, history from the from the bottom up. Krebs amply succeeds in this goal, through a use primary source accounts, extensive German secondary literature, and statistical data.

This is not a book covering the military actions of the western German soldiers in the Revolution. For coverage of the campaigns of the "Hessians," the best work is still Rodney Atwoods' The Hessians. However, Krebs provides historians and historical hobbyists with an essential reference work for understanding the life of the western Germans who traveled to fight in the American Revolution.

For any serious student of the western German auxiliaries, or even of the American Revolution as a whole, this book is a must read. You can buy it here.

Thanks for reading,

Alexander Burns

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