The American Revolution Round Table of Richmond is very pleased to announce that the 2022 Harry M. Ward Book Prize honors two excellent but very different works on the War for Independence. Our winners are John Ferling’s, Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781 (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021), and Steven D. Smith’s, Francis Marion and the Snow's Island Community: Myth, History, and Archaeology (Ashville, NC: United Writers Press, 2021).
John Ferling is (or certainly should be) a familiar name to anyone with more than a passing interest in the Founding Era. He is one of the true deans of the history of the Revolution and its related events. Winning Independence takes a fresh new look at the later years of the War for Independence, when after years of fighting, the course of the conflict continued to defy prediction. The French Alliance had kept the patriot war effort war going, but with the shift of major British operations to the South, there was seemingly no end of the conflict in sight. Ferling’s perspective on the southern war is provocative. He presents a new and positive re-evaluation of the strategic vision of Henry Clinton, and thus takes a critical view of Cornwallis. Ferling also suggests that time was not necessarily on the patriots’ side as the American economy went into virtual free-fall and army and popular morale tanked along with it. Clinton actually thought a British victory was within his grasp. How Washington, the French, and any number of other patriots responded to all of this, and how British miscalculations ultimately led to Yorktown, makes for thoughtful and often dramatic reading. The book is based on an extraordinary research effort and is beautifully written. Winning Independence is John Ferling at his best.
Historians have looked at Francis Marion, the famous Swamp Fox who so vexed the British campaign in South Carolina, from almost every conceivable angle. Now, however, in Francis Marion and the Snow's Island Community, Steve D. Smith has added a new dimension to the story. He has, so to speak, dug Marion up—by excavating the territory that served as the partisan leader’s home base. Smith is an archaeologist at the University of South Carolina’s Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, and his book is based on an exhaustive study of Snow’s Island, a marshy and remote area north of Charleston. The people living on and near Snow’s Island were ardent rebels and were quick to join the rebellion against the Crown. Many of them had become partisans as early as 1775, and after the British capture of Charleston in 1780, they offered a haven to Marion when he arrived to launch guerilla operations. Smith has used extensive archaeological evidence to document the nature of the Snow’s Island community and how it served as a base and as a source of supplies and recruits for the Swamp Fox. Drawing deeply on the literature of partisan warfare, including the work of Mao Zedong, Smith describes the interactions of Marion and the civilian population and infrastructure that kept patriot resistance alive in South Carolina in the face of enemy occupation and anti-partisan efforts. The book is a fascinating read.