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Empires at War: The French and Indian War…

Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North…

by William M. Fowler

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When people think of the “first world war,” they normally think of what happened during the period of 1914 – 1918. That war was never called “The First World War” or “WWI” until the next world war came along in 1939. Up until World War II it was called “The Great War.” In the book Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754 – 1763, William M. Fowler Jr. says that the series of struggles between 1754 and 1763 were truly the “first world war.” These small wars between England and France were not for who should succeed whom or who should control some small principality, or for that matter, who should dominate Europe. These wars were fought to see which country would dominate the other continents: Africa, America, India, and Asia. “Although the war was fought all over the world, its most decisive battles were in North America. The struggle for this continent among Indians, French, Canadians, British, and British colonials was the hinge upon which the outcome of the war swung.” Beginning with this introductory thesis, Mr. Fowler goes on to explain in detail the major parts of what is known in the United States as the French and Indian Wars.

Mr. Fowler begins with a comprehensive list of the major (and even some minor players) in the conflict, gives a chronology of the events of the war, and then begins the main part of his book by explaining who were allied with whom, both in North America and Europe. This is actually explained in language that it is easy to understand, and one does not need a scorecard to keep track of the belligerents. From this point onward the book follows the time-line of the war, beginning with George Washington’s escapade into the Ohio Valley that, as Sir Horace Walpole said, may well have “set the world on fire,” and ending with the departure of William Pitt from his position as Prime Minister, and his statement that he “will be responsible for nothing that I do not direct.” , and the expansion of the war into the Caribbean.

In the epilogue Mr. Fowler explains the changes in the landscape of North America and the division of the newly gained territory into “four distinct and separate Governments, styled and called by the names of Quebec, East Florida, West Florida and Grenada.”(1) In this first world war England was the victor, and its military leaders “laid at the feet of their sovereign vast new territories nearly twenty times the size of the British Isles. Not even Rome’s legions had conquered so well and so quickly. A war that had began accidentally, and without a plan, ended with grand consequences.”(2)

While this book does not go into great detail as other books do, notably Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America by Fred Anderson, Mr. Fowler does a more than credible job of explaining what happened and when, especially for the reader who is either just beginning their study of the Seven Years’ War or is just interested in an overview of the period. What Mr. Fowler has included that is interesting to anyone with an interest in the French and Indian War is a superb section of notes that include not only contemporary sources, but sources that one does not normally find, such as the Minutes of The Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, The New York Colonial Documents, and The Dictionary Of Canadian Biography.
Overall, Empires at War is a book that does more than just focus on the battles of the French and Indian War. The book tells the story from not only the perspective of the politicians in Europe, but the commanders in the field as well. It also describes the lack of supplies, brutal weather, and diseases that faced the armies of England and France in the mid-1700s – issues that armies have continued to face up to the present time.


1. William M. Fowler, Jr., Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754 – 1763, (New York, Walker & Company, 2005), 1.
2. Ibid., 1.
  Rebellew | Feb 4, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0802777376, Paperback)

Most histories of the Seven Years' War focus on either the European or the North American theatre of the war. William Fowler's Empires at War is original, and praiseworthy, because he troubles to set the North American conflict in the European context. Bravo! Written in lively and engaging prose, Empires at War tells the story of what Fowler calls the "first world war." By keeping one foot in the North American wilderness and the other in the courts of Europe, Fowler makes a strong claim for the critical importance of early Canadian history to the history of the world. Fowler is also to be praised for the prominent role he assigns to the First Nations of eastern North America, who fought according to their own agendas and not merely as French or British auxiliaries. A third strength of this work is to found in Fowler's willingness to shatter myths. For example, many American historians have chosen to ignore George Washington's shameful conduct at Jumonville Glen, or they have looked for excuses for it. Fowler, to his credit, lays the blame right where it belongs: "It remains an open question why Washington felt compelled to attack a sleeping camp without warning at a time when two nations were at peace." Fowler is particularly good at fleshing out all of his characters: General Jeffrey Amherst is ruthless and brutal; James Wolfe nervous and complaining; the Marquis de Montcalm pessimistic and defeatist. The Seven Years’ War led directly to the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the rise of Great Britain as a 19th-century superpower. It is vitally important that we learn more about these connections, and Fowler's Empires at War is a great place to start. --William Newbigging

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:45 -0400)

On May 28, 1754, a group of militia and Indians led by 22-year-old major George Washington surprised a camp of sleeping French soldiers near present-day Pittsburgh. The brief but deadly exchange of fire that ensued, in Horace Walpole's memorable phrase, "set the world on fire." The resulting French and Indian War in North America escalated into a global conflict fought across Europe, Africa, and the East and West Indies. Before it ended, nearly one million men had died. This book captures the sweeping panorama of this first world war and the huge cast of characters who fought it, including the aristocratic French tactical genius Henry Montcalm and the gallant young Englishman James Wolfe, who both died on the field outside Quebec; Sir William Johnson, who sometimes painted his face and dressed like a warrior when he fought beside his Indian allies; and the "Great Commoner" William Pitt, who saw the world as a vast chessboard.--From publisher description.… (more)

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