The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire
By Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013
This work provides a welcome reappraisal of the British loss of their American colonies, i.e., the American Revolution during 1775-83, in the context of British global strategic decisionmaking. The subject is not new. Author Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy credits Piers Mackesy, The War for America, 1775-1783 (1964, reprinted 1992), on the first page of the Acknowledgment, highlighting Mackesy's belief that the war was winnable but was lost to poor generalship, among other things. O'Shaughnessy states clearly that American victory was not inevitable. It is a somewhat harder task to challenge the conventional wisdom that the British loss was due to "incompetence and mediocre leadership," both political and military. The author packages the monograph in nine biographical chapters, examining ten British leaders at policy, strategic, and theater strategic/operational levels, in sequence: King George III; Lord North as prime minister; the Howe brothers, Admiral Lord Richard and Lieutenant General Sir William; Major General John Burgoyne; Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for the Colonies, a third Secretary of State created in 1768; Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton; Major General Charles, 1st Marquis Cornwallis; Admiral Sir George Rodney; and John Montague, Earl of Sandwich, as First Lord of the Admiralty.
The work features senior leaders wrestling with an unprecedented set of problems, in the author's words "obstacles of such magnitude." He explains their decisionmaking in the overall context of the eighteenth century; the nature of the English state, extant political institutions, and their processes; global strategy; and ultimately the nature of the military element of power, land and naval....