Tories and Patriots: A Novel of the American Revolution
by Martin R. Ganzglass (Somalia 1966-68)
A Peace Corps Writers Book
Reviewed by Thomas E. Coyne
The “born again” patriots of this country who want to do away with Advance Placement history courses and sanitize the writing of the American story are really going to dislike this novel. Actually, it isn’t just a novel for author Martin Ganzglass is on a mission to produce accurate, readable history set in a vivid, true life atmosphere that gives the reader a “See it Now” experience.
Tories and Patriots is the second in Ganzglass’s Revolutionary War series following last year’s Cannons for the Cause. The series follows Willem “Will” Stoner as he travels with General George Washington’s Continental army as a teamster and artillery man during the early days of chaotic fighting and retreating in this country’s war for independence.
The dislike will come from the fact that this is not a simplistic saga of noble united patriots challenging and defeating the superior armed might of the British military and Hessian mercenaries to win freedom from England. It is, more accurately, a gritty, often grisly, tale of battles and retreats; of American militia dissolving in the face of the threat of actual combat; of cold and hunger and greed on the part of loyalist and rebels alike; and of a war in which many in the country did not share the desire to sever ties with England.
The tale starts with the battles around New York City, including the retreat across the East River saving the Continental Army (and one of two major ferrying feats by the Marblehead Mariners of Massachusetts). The fights and retreats that follow from New York City to Newark, New Jersey to Brunswick, to Princeton, to Trenton and then across the Delaware to Pennsylvania are harrowing and disheartening. Washington’s efforts to keep an army together in the face of desertions and wholesale departures of colonial militias when their terms of enlistment were up (even in the face of impending battle with the Hessians and British) bring a new appreciation of his merits as the Father of our Country.
Along the way the cast of characters include steadfast patriots, opportunists, (both Tory and Patriot), plunder driven mercenaries, rapist British soldiers and equally vicious colonial militia.
The courage and endurance of the regular Continental Army troops and of the well organized and committed colonial militias provide a sharp contrast. One can only marvel that our great nation was birthed in such chaos.
Although a novel, the author takes pains to insure historical accuracy. The End Notes he provides cover any discrepancies caused by the literary licenses he takes with his fictional and historical characters. The graphic descriptions and detail as to clothing, language, weather conditions, etc. all are testimony to his research and use of original sources. If you like your history as it actually happened and not as a feel good fairy tale . . . this is a book for you.
The novel would be stronger with the addition of maps, due to the battles and terrain being covered. Also, although a series, it can be read alone and, given that, a tad more background for the central characters would be helpful for the first time reader. These, however, are minor deficiencies considered against the precise and accurate writing, the tense action sequences, the descriptive battle scenes and the bone chilling depictions of wounds and weather.
From New York battle defeats to seemingly endless retreating to, at last, the truly heroic re-crossing of the Delaware by Washington and the Continental Army ferried by the Marblehead Mariners, this is the story of the motley, courageous, ordinary but extraordinary, men and women who were willing to conquer their fears and endure in the face of hardship from man and nature. It is real history, human history and, thankfully, our nation’s history.
Martin Ganzglass tells the story well . . . and more is yet to come.
Thomas E. Coyne (full disclosure— he’s John Coyne’s older brother) is Vice President for Student Services Emeritus at Western Michigan University. He has a B.A. in History from Western Michigan University (1955) and an M.A. in History from the University of Michigan (1956).