The People’s Army – Provincials in the 7 Years’ War

The central theme of Fred Anderson’s “People’s Army” seems to be distinguishing the cultural milieu of provincial volunteers from their British regular counterparts. By highlighting and evaluating these differences, Anderson is able to efficiently separate the New World society from that of the old mother country, allowing the New Englanders to develop and identify a distinct, separate identity, helping to foster revolutionary ideals a few years later.

Anderson supports his theme in many ways, by exploring several avenues of distinction between the regular and provincial forces.  Beginning by discussing the events leading up to the outbreak of the 7 years’ war as well as the makeup of armies in New England prior to the war, Anderson sets the stage for the forthcoming chapters.  Where the distinctions between the New England provincials and the British regulars really starts to take shape, however, is in discussing the various interactions that the two groups had with each other.  Anderson takes great care to explain normative societal functions in New England, with most young men not leaving their home town for the majority (if not all) of their lives.  To go out into the world as a fresh provincial volunteer and see the scope of the British army was a huge culture shock to a lot of these soldiers, and that was demonstrated time and time again with interactions between them and the British.[1]

Due to the short-term nature of service of the entire provincial force, they could not hope to obtain the experience, professionalism or battle-hardness of their British counterparts, and that was seen by the British as a deficiency that was noticed and commented on time and time again.[2]  Furthermore, the cultural ideas of covenants and contracts that the New Englanders held as the central understanding of their culture was so completely foreign to British commanders that they further held that against the provincial forces.[3]  For all intents and purposes, the soldiers volunteering for service in the 7 years’ war from New England viewed themselves, surprisingly, as employees working under contract – not for the British, but for the New England towns that raised the forces and sent them out.[4]  As such, they had little regard for authority of any stripe past their terms of enlistment, and were never capable of obtaining the same battle-hardness and efficiency of the British troops, making British leadership underestimate and devalue them – a costly error in judgement that was to cost the British North America in the years ahead.[5]

 

[1] Fred Anderson, A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers & Society in the Seven Year’s War (Williamsburg, VA: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 111-141.

[2] Ibid, 142-165.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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