I enjoy reading history, and so was intrigued to discover that an ancestor had fought in a war that I’d never heard of, King Philip’s War. It took place in 1675-1676, in early colonial Massachusetts. And so last year, when my wife and I vacationed in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, we did some field research. From there it was an easy drive to Deerfield, now a sleepy prep school town, but then, it was on the frontier. King Philip’s War, waged between the settlers and the Wampanoag Indians led by the son of Massasoit, who had helped William Bradford and the Pilgrims at the Plymouth settlement, raged throughout Massachusetts, destroying half of the towns. It was perhaps the worst war in American history, from the standpoint of damage and casualties. The cover photo for “America’s Unknown Wars” was taken by my wife at the Deerfield Museum, and shows me at a door that is marked by tomahawk cuts!
I wondered about other unknown conflicts. We have heard about the French and Indian War (1754-1760), but the details are elusive. It was a war started by a skirmish led by the young Colonel George Washington in the unchartered Ohio Territory. It notably featured the capture of Quebec in 1759, and the battle on the Plains of Abraham there in which both commanders, Wolfe and Montcalm, died. The concluding event in North America was the capture of Montreal in 1760, although the peace treaty was not signed until three years later. To some extent it was a proving ground for the Revolution. But it nearly destroyed Washington’s reputation at an early stage in his career!
The War of 1812 (1812-1815) has left us with the National Anthem and a host of stirring battle slogans, but why was it fought? We tried to capture Canada in failed expeditions. In a war of great surprises, perhaps the most heartening for the United States was the performance of its fledgling Navy against the British superpower. The conflict did establish two distinct nations, Canada and the United States – and the main ground battle was fought after the treaty of peace had been signed at Ghent! The New Orleans victory also destroyed one of our two national political parties, which had opposed the war.
The Mexican War (1846-1848) was opposed by Congressman Abraham Lincoln, but it expanded America’s reach exponentially, making us a continental power. It had been preceded by the Texas Revolution, and a period of independence for the Republic of Texas, which was recognized by Great Britain, France and the United States! Annexation of Texas to the United States became a national issue, which probably made war with Mexico inevitable when it occurred. The Alamo was a rallying cry, but that battle had taken place 10 years before the Mexican War broke out. Here politics were never far from the battlefield, as the White House tried unsuccessfully to keep opposition Whig Party commanders from achieving national prominence.
The Spanish-American War (1898) made the United States a power with global reach. Fought over perceived Spanish injustices to its Cuban subjects, the United States Navy achieved startling successes at the Battles of Manila Bay and Santiago de Cuba. Imperialism became the campaign issue of the 1900 presidential election, which featured Governor Theodore Roosevelt as President McKinley’s running mate. There has probably never been a shorter war (10 weeks) with more far reaching consequences.
Each of these unknown wars demanded sacrifice, and is part of our national legacy. Have we learned the crucial lessons that each left us? Read this entertaining, fact filled account, and you’ll form your own opinion!
Those who have enjoyed “America’s Unknown Wars” may also like the second in my history series, “Maryland In The Civil War,” which examines this critical border state in a time of crisis – the politics that kept Maryland out of the Confederacy (only just), the heroic battlefields, and the aftermath of the end of slavery and the presidential assassination. It is the Kindle #1 Ebook bestseller for Civil War titles dealing with Maryland.
William S. Shepard has published several books using the new EBook technology, including “Coffee Break Mysteries,” “The Great Detectives (From Vidocq to Sam Spade),” and “Maryland In The Civil War.” The last two grew out of his lectures under the continuing education program at Chesapeake College. Shepard notes that he started researching “Maryland In The Civil War” out of his longstanding interest in the overall subject. What he discovered, however, was astonishing – the role of a largely unknown Maryland Governor, Thomas Hicks, in keeping our state in the Union in 1861. It is a story as heroic as any in Kennedy’s Profiles In Courage, and one that should be more widely known.
Shepard, a prize winning mystery writer, is also the creator of a new genre, the diplomatic mystery, now comprising four novels whose plots are set in American Embassies overseas. That mirrors Shepard’s own career in the Foreign Service of the United States, during which he served in Singapore, Saigon, Budapest, Athens and Bordeaux, in addition to five Washington tours of duty. These books explore this rich, insider background into the world of high stakes diplomacy and government. Shepard is Wine Editor for French Wine Explorers (www.wine-tours-france.com) and is also the author of Shepard’s Gujide to Mastering French Wines.