On a recent trip to the Niagara region, I came across the publication printed above, Green Coats and Glory, the United States Regiment of Riflemen, 1808-1821. It tells a truly fascinating story about the first American attempt at forming a corp of riflemen.
As the essay by scholar John C. Fredriksen acknowledges, we often think of the independent and resourceful riflemen of the Revolutionary War, but in the War of 1812 this loose and independent compilation of men had been regularized into a formal unit. They were still deadly and independent and resourceful, but they also were issued uniforms and equipment, following the command of officers.
Unlike English counterparts, Fredericksen explains, the American military history of regiments has been neglected in favor of the political as regards the War of 1812. While military history often gets snubbed and looked down upon by “serious” scholars (in some cases simply because it is regarded as tedious), it is one of great popularity among history-lovers in the general populace. And further, while it is can be the work of piecing together troop movements and strategic military chess, it can also be an enlightening foray into social history.
This examination of social history is especially true of military inquiries on this side of the pond where military advancement into the officers’ ranks was not unattainable as it largely was among the British units. Thus, the study of the men in the units is frequently a study of a real cross-section of the population.
Fredericksen’s decade of research through many archives–especially those of historical societies–is one demonstration of many for the possibilities of rigorous historical research in military history that produced an interesting survey of social American history. Many storylines were revealed as he accessed a more personal account of the War of 1812, especially, beyond the few usually geo-political analyses of a largely forgotten war.
Hopefully, this type of inquiry will garner both more attention from the public and appeal from researchers in honor of the War of 1812’s anniversary.