Becoming Men of Some Consequence: Youth and Military Service in the Revolutionary War.
In writing what may seem to be yet another book on the Continental soldier, the author of this one actually provides an important reminder about the men who committed to fight directly for George Washington in the War for Independence. While certainly providing an overview of the soldier experience, John A. Ruddiman's purpose is to emphasize that choices made by Continental soldiers can be explained more by their age than other factors. He states that "rather than simply asserting that Revolutionary soldiers were young, this study interrogates how age and position in the life course interacted with family, emotions, expectations for advancing in life, and gendered aspirations and prescriptions" (9). The author supports this thesis by almost exclusive use of primary documents presented in an easily read flow and construction.
Ruddiman found that this youth issue has been "hidden in plain sight" (8). By this he means that the youth of Continental soldiers has been acknowledged by historians, but rarely has the impact of youth on decision making been explored. Young men in eighteenth-century America faced the dual pressure of entering the adult world as productive and accepted contributors to society and doing that within the confines of accepted male behavior.
The author presents his argument in an easy flow, starting with the decision to enlist, essentially the determination that war presented a path to adult and male respectability. Though many went to war under peer, family, or political pressure, the war was often seen as a means to gain financial stability (especially with perceived incentives offered for service in the Continental Army) and cement their identity as men. He then discusses their experience in the army, relationships with civilians, leaving the service, and their lives as veterans. Much of the experience has a familiar ring to it for those who have read about the experience of war, and, until the twenty-first century, that experience has been male. Thus a certain locker room attitude emerges with cursing, drinking, and women. The question always needs to be asked if this is a result of war or the result of an exclusively young male culture. But also present and familiar, though undefined, is evidence of PTSD in veterans after the war.
Making excellent use of primary documents, Ruddiman allows the soldiers themselves to tell most of the story. He uses everything from the familiar (but still significant) Joseph Plumb Martin, to journals and letters, to pension applications (being very aware that these were now old men writing with a singular purpose). Ruddiman acknowledges that this provides a somewhat New England and white slant as New Englanders and whites tended to be better educated, but he does bring in the black and Southern experience where the extant sources allow him.
Those who write and read about war tend to be older, and though they acknowledge that soldiers were young, what is often lost by historians, by readers, and by the old veterans themselves is the thinking and culture of those eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds who went to war. Ruddiman reminds readers that wars are fought by not only young men but young men with a different world view from older men, young men in a different position in their "life course." It is an important reminder in assessing the Continental Army in the War for Independence, and, for that matter, any war.
Steven C. Eames
Mount Ida College
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|Author:||Eames, Steven C.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2017|
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