The War That Made America

In an effort to expand my military history knowledge beyond the wars in the Twentieth Century, I decided to read Fred Anderson’s The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War. The book is an excellent summary of the French and Indian War in fewer than 300 pages.

Described by some as the first world war, the Seven Years War – or, as referred to in America, the French and Indian War – mainly pitted the British Empire against the French Empire. The book primarily focuses on the struggle between the combatants in North America with summaries of the War’s other significant events in Europe and elsewhere sprinkled throughout.

As a relative novice to the study of the War, I appreciated Anderson’s background information on the events that led to the War. I learned in school that the Indians played a minor role in the War. Anderson dispels that misperception by providing example after example of how the Indians, especially the Iroquois Confederation, influenced the War. For example, the Iroquois Confederation was at first “neutral” in the War – they traded with both sides and provided information about one side to the other. However, they eventually sided with the British when they realized that the French presence in North America was doomed due to successive British victories in 1758 and 1759.

Another strength of the book is how Anderson balances the political and military situation. He explains how intricately connected diplomacy was to military operations. For instance, William Johnson, New York’s commissary of Indian Affairs, was instrumental in managing British diplomatic relations with the Iroquois Confederation. As a result of his efforts, many Indians chose to not join the French.

Anderson expertly explains how the seeds that started the American Revolution were sown during, and as a consequence of, the French and Indian War. For example, Lord Loudon, British commander in chief in North America (1756-1758), infuriated many American colonists with his contemptuous treatment of them. When the colonists refused to billet his troops, he “simply seized the quarters he needed by force.” Although later placated by Secretary of State William Pitt, some colonists would remember Loudon’s treatment of them when the colonists protested the Stamp, Townsend, and Tea Acts after the War.

Finally, Anderson is able to explain the events and personalities of the French and Indian War with a novelist’s hand. The book easily describes the complex relationships between the various participants and glides from one page to the next.

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