Sunday, March 02, 2008

Rabble in Arms...

..for Christmas I got a pile of books, one of which was "Rabble in Arms" by Kenneth Roberts.

I'm always on the lookout for good readable fiction to provide colour and background to the wars I re-fight on my wargame table, and I seem to remember that this one was amongst a number of books set in the American War of Independence that had been recommended..

I'm pleased to say that having just finished it, I would definitely agree with those far off recommendations.

The book is set against the Saratoga campaign and Burgoyne's invasion from Canada and is it is chock full of background. The book is told from the first person perspective by Peter Merrill a ship captain and seaman from New England and tells of the events that he experiences while serving as one of Bendict Arnolds scouts, including capture by the British, imprisonment with the Indians, and eventually escaping...

This was the first book that I have read that has gone into a lot of the background into why the fledgling American army was in such bad condition, the bickering and politicking of congress, the policy of paying militia bounties rather than focusing on the Continental/regulars, etc. Although it's a novel, Robertson is scathing on the activities of congress, and their ineptness in those early years of pursuing the war - all very informative, but more importantly quite readable.. He is also very good on the career of Arnold, his undoubted qualities, bravery, and how poorer performing men were consistently promoted above the American generals who actually won the battles (Schuyler, Arnold, Morgan and others)

On the wargaming front, there is the action on Lake Champlain (where Arnold's rapidly built fleet took on, but ultimately failed to stop the more powerful British fleet from moving south), Freeman's Farm, and Bemis Heights...

It's a big book, 600 odd pages, and it's also a very "gentle" read - Tom Clancy this is not. Once you get into the flow of it though, it's very difficult to put down. The book is the second of a trilogy, and on the basis of this book I shall be seeking out the other two!


  1. I read this many, many years ago and still remember that it is one of the few AWI books I enjoyed. Now I'll have to go back through my book boxes and see if I can find it!

  2. Thanks for the heads up - I'd never heard of this one. There's not much readily available AWI fiction around these days.


  3. Giles - I've not read it yet, but in addition to the other two parts of this series, I also have "The Hessian" by Howard Fast on my list...

    ..of the more modern fiction, while not quite the period (more F&IW), I like the two Jack Absolute books by CC Humphreys...

  4. you should search out a copy of Roberts' Oliver Wiswell - a very rare thing,in that the hero is a loyalist. every bit as good as Roberts other novels, and so well researched that Boatner admitted using it as a source for his account of Ninety-Six !