Author: Stanley Weintraub

Title: "Iron Tears – America’s Battle for Freedom, Britain’s Quagmire: 1775 - 1783"

Publisher: Free Press 2005; 329 pages

"In Iron Tears – America’s Battle for Freedom, Britain’s Quagmire: 1775 – 1783," Professor Stanley Weintraub has written an excellent history of the American Revolution from the British point of view. Everything I have ever read about the American Revolution has been written from an American standpoint.

This book gives the reader a much better understanding of the War of Independence. It brought to me the enormous delays in communications. Gen. George Washington’s communications to his forces often took weeks, but for the British, it took months for orders and messages to be sent and received as they had to cross the Atlantic Ocean on sailing ships.

King George III in his 40s did not want to lose America, the jewel in Great Britain’s crown and, until the end, held out for denying the Americans independence, always putting the best light on every bit of news received months after the events in the colonies.

“Parliament … was literally in the king’s pocket. … The courts were also effectively the king’s. George III had an annual civil list of almost a million pounds from which he disbursed funds to purchase elections, bail out insolvent politicians, offer patronage, dispense pensions and influence justice. ‘The King’s Friends’ in the two houses openly combined loyalty with self-interest and, together with merely passive seatholders, assured him supportive majorities.”

This obviously prolonged the war as it was not popular with everyone, especially the taxes to pay for it.

The Army chief, who was victorious against the French in Canada, and Great Britain’s “most distinguished naval commander,” both refused to fight in America.

As the war became increasingly unpopular, Lord North, the leader of the House of Commons, repeatedly offered his resignation to King George, who refused it until the end because he really had no one else who would take the job. Lord George Sackville Germain ran the war as American Secretary.

“Germain had wanted the rebellion crushed in one campaign, but his plans for crossing the Atlantic had to be laid many months in advance," according to the book.

Another problem the British had is that few wanted to serve in the Army, so Parliament had to fund the hiring of Hessian mercenaries. Weintraub asserts that, when Washington crossed the Delaware River during Christmas 1776 to attack the Hessians in Trenton, Col. Johan Rall had been warned of the attack.

“Why Rall took no serious heed of this warning was unknown.”

Apparently, the use of Hessian mercenaries was not entirely successful.

Having abandoned Boston and taken New York, the British intended to sever the colonies in the North from those in the South. Thus, the plan for 1777 was to send the Gen. Burgoyne down from Canada to take Albany and the Hudson River Valley, while Gen. Howe in New York moved up to join him.

The slow communications between Germain and his generals hobbled any hopes for coordination. Howe decided a better strategy would be to occupy Philadelphia, the home of Congress. Both armies moved ponderously with Burgoyne being defeated and surrounded at Saratoga, while, without much opposition, Howe took Philadelphia, which he would give up a year later. The British defeat at Saratoga brought the hated French into the war.

The British decided on a Southern strategy and even thought of abandoning New York. Cornwallis enjoyed success in the South. But he got his army stuck surrounded by Washington’s army and the French as well as the French fleet, starting the beginning of the end.

Until I read this book, I did not realize the critical role played by American privateers. Weintraub writes by February 1778 American privateers had captured 733 vessels. Supply was a problem for the British. Since they did not control the countryside, they had to be supplied from Great Britain or its Caribbean Islands.

“With the war not remotely over, the army had already imported and consumed 3 million gallons of rum (not only for morale, but to purify water at the rate of one quart for every 16 canteens), 11 million pounds of salt beef, 40 million pounds of salt pork” plus boots, clothing, weapons," according to the book.

One tragic event I had never read about before were the anti-Papist riots in London. The overwhelming passage in the House of Commons of a bill for relief of Catholics in England resulted in several days of vicious and destructive riots in early June 1778. The bill was repealed. Members of Parliament were attacked and homes ransacked: “Yet the mob remained deferential to the monarchy, the historic symbol of England even to the unlettered and the destitute.” 

Like many historians, Weintraub could not resist mentioning that several of the British commanding generals enjoyed the close company of the wives of junior officers. Titillating, but not historic. Nevertheless, Weintraub has written a very interesting history of Great Britain’s attempt to deny the colonies their independence. I learned much more about the American Revolution, and the fact it was not going to be stymied by the British despite the best efforts of King George.

Bob Wefald is a retired North Dakota State District Court judge. Wefald became a lawyer in 1970. His career included serving a year as a law clerk, four years as attorney general, more than 23 years in private practice in Bismarck and 12 years as a judge. He served as an officer in the Navy for three years of active duty plus 24 years in the Navy Reserve.