HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Memoir of a Revolutionary Soldier
Author: Joseph Plumb Martin
Publisher: Dover Publications, republished in 2006
Related website: www.doverpublications.com (publisher)
Language level: 3 (barely)
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Teens and adults
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Martin, Joseph Plumb. Memoir of a Revolutionary Soldier (originally published in 1830 as A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier by Glazier Masters and Co., Hallowell, ME; republished in 1962 as Private Yankee Doodle, and in 2001 as A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier; republished again in 2006 by Dover Publications Inc., 31 E. 2nd St., Mineola, NY 11501). In 1775, Joseph Plumb Martin (November 21, 1760 – May 2, 1850) was a wide-eyed fifteen-year-old boy who decided to leave his grandfather’s Connecticut farm and join the Continental Army, first as a private then a sergeant, to fight the English during the American War for Independence. During the next eight years, he participated in some early battles, such as White Plains, Kipp’s Bay, and Redbank; spent the famous winter of 1777-1778 near Valley Forge, though not in the camp itself but at Milltown between Philadelphia and Lancaster; and was at Cornwallis’s 1781 surrender in Yorktown. His term of duty actually lasted a couple of years past the end of hostilities, and he retired from service in 1783 at the ripe old age of 23.
However, this narrative, written from memory when Martin was seventy, is basically an account of gnawing hunger, bitter cold, and the fear of battle that accompanied Martin and his fellows as they criss-crossed the mid-Atlantic states, went south to Virginia, and then returned north after the British surrender at Yorktown. He records in grim detail his harrowing experiences with staggering losses of human life and the agony of long marches, balancing them with humorous stories about excursions for hunting, fishing, and other diversions. He also mentions his connections to “the Commander-in-chief,” the infamous General Charles Lee, the traitor Benedict Arnold, and even the spy Major Andre. Being the fullest existing description of the Revolutionary War by an enlisted man, the book is an excellent first-hand source material for the American Revolution and will help students understand what it must have been like to have fought in that war. The St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch said that it is “one of the best firsthand accounts of war as seen by a private soldier.”
There are several references to drinking alcohol—wine, whiskey, brandy, ale, and especially rum. Forms of the “d” word are found a few times, but they are written “d—d” or “d—n,” though I don’t know whether this was done by Martin or by an editor. In one such instance “the Commander-in-chief” said it with reference to General Lee, who undoubtedly deserved it, but Martin wrote that “it was certainly very unlike him.” Also the “h” word and the term “son of a b—h” (written that way) are each used once. Some of the descriptions of battle are blunt but not overly graphic. Martin must have been well-versed in the Scriptures because there are numerous Bible quotations and references throughout. I picked this book up in the gift shop while visiting Valley Forge National Historical Park. Though there is really nothing in the book that is inappropriate for anyone, the style of writing would make it more suitable and of interest to older teens and adults. A version for children and younger readers down to age nine entitled Yankee Doodle Boy: A Young Soldier’s Adventures in the American Revolution has been adapted and published in 1995 by Holiday House.