Book Review: Unhappy Catastrophes: The American Revolution in Central New Jersey, 1776-1782


by Robert M. Dunkerly

El Dorado Hills, Ca.: Savas Beatie, 2022. Pp. xiv, 192. Illus., maps, appends., e-notes. $16.95 paper. ISBN: 1611215277

New Jersey, Pivotal Theatre of the American Revolution

Often overlooked in accounts of the Revolution, New Jersey witnessed more of the War for Independence than any other state. In this new contribution to the Savas Beatie "Emerging Revolutionary War" series, Dunkerly, a National Battlefield Park guide and author of several books in military history, looks at operations in central New Jersey – Morris, Middlesex, Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Somerset, and Hudson Counties – where Washington's army spent much of the war. There were winter encampments, several famous battles like Trenton, Princeton, or Monmouth, and many smaller ones such as Bound Brook, Short Hills, or Springfield, as well as, guerrilla fighting and raiding, strategic movements, spies and counter-espionage, mutinies, and more.

The war came to New Jersey after the British seized New York City in September of 1776, and then pursued Washington through the state, until rebuffed at Princeton and Trenton, after which both sides went into winter quarters.

There followed years of campaigning back and forth, as Washington kept the principal Patriot army in the state in order maintain a threat to the British hold on New York City, so central New Jersey was repeatedly the "dance floor of war".

Dunkerly recounts the events chronologically, as they unfolded. He covers both sides with an even hand, as the fighting see-sawed back and forth across the state. Dunkerly's treatment includes the evolution of the Continental Army, showing how these events helped turn it into an effective fighting force, forged in battle that united soldiers of different European ethnicities, even including African Americans and Native Americans, into a capable fighting force which would ultimately win independence for the colonies. Moreover, unlike some authors, he gives us a look at how these events affected the local people, caught in the middle of what amounted to an increasingly vicious civil war, with homes and towns destroyed.

Dunkerly includes several appendices, written with three other historians, covering the first reenactments of these events, an archaeological overview of the region, the role of New Jersey as "Crossroads of the Revolutionary", and, "Why Preserve Revolutionary War Battlefields," this reviewers favorite.

Dunkerly does an excellent job of explaining how the New Jersey and Washington’s army helped win the war, and why it still matters. He also makes an important case for the need to seek out the remaining unpreserved sites from those days, to save for the future, helping us better remember what happened.

Unhappy Catastrophes is an invaluable read, and highly recommended.


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His most recent previous reviews here include Their Maryland, The Lion of Round Top, Rites of Retaliation, Animal Histories of the Civil War Era, Benjamin Franklin Butler, Dreams of Victory: General P. G. T. Beauregard, Bonds of War, Early Struggles for Vicksburg, True Blue, Civil War Witnesses and Their Books, Love and Duty, When Hell Came To Sharpsburg, Lost Causes, Six Miles From Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell, "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania", James Montgomery: Abolitionist Warrior, Cedar Mountain to Antietam, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Count the Dead and All Roads Led To Gettysburg.




Note: Unhappy Catastrophes is also available in e-editions.


                                                           StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with                                                           The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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