by William R. Nester
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. Pp. xii, 386.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0806142944
The Man who Won the West for the Infant United States
George Rogers Clark (1752-1818) secured much of the region from the Appalachians to the Mississippi for the American cause during the Revolutionary War, but found peace a more difficult opponent than Native Americans or the British, for a time even being put under arrest on possible charges of treason. In this, the first biography of Clark in some two generations, Nester, author of several works on the military history of the late colonial period and the early Republic, focuses on Clark’s man’s Illinois campaign (1778-1779), conducted with considerable skill and even brilliance, in a literal wilderness with very slender resources; at Vincennes, his most important victory, both “armies” together totaled perhaps 450. Nester attributes Clark’s success to a unique combination of a great intellect, unusual courage, strong determination, charisma, tact, and a deep understanding of human nature. The book is full of hard marches and desperate fights, both with arms against enemies and with paper against bureaucrats, and a number of very interesting personalities (some famous and some not, Jefferson, Washington, Fernando de Leyba, Joseph Brant, Patrick Henry, Francesco Vigo, etc.).
Although Nester is occasionally free with personal observations or opinions, his book is well-written, interesting, and of particular value for reminding us how the original “West” was won, and will be of interest to students of the American Revolution, unconventional warfare, and military leadership.