Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It

Image of Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It
Release Date: 
November 14, 2016
Reviewed by: 

The story of the United States’ eight year fight for independence from Great Britain is one known around the world. It generally tends to be seen as one of David against Goliath, given the latter’s then-global empire, commercial clout, and experienced military forces.

Having just enlarged said empire through the successful results of the Seven Years War, known as the French and Indian War in America, Great Britain was poised to roll over the rebellious colonists who took offense at having to pay for the war through increased taxation and other economic measures without proper representation in Parliament.

Although many see the Revolutionary War as two sided, the truth is somewhat different; it was multifaceted, multinational, and was fought on multiple fronts. It was just as much a global war as that of the Seven Years War. Notwithstanding the fact that most people are aware of the aid rendered by Lafayette, Rochambeau and the French nation, forgotten along the way are many other Frenchmen as well as the contributions of the Spanish.

This particular publication is an account of the behind-the-scenes machinations and intrigues and the overt, public events that surrounded the efforts put forth by these two European nations to aid the United States in its fight. But one must bear in mind that their efforts were not exclusively altruistic in fighting for or necessarily supporting American republican principles.

It was also a matter of hoping to put Great Britain in its place, refocusing the European balance of power back to France and recouping at least some of what had been lost by both nations in the results of the Seven Years War. 

Author Larrie Ferreiro has delved into French and Spanish archives, papers, and other official documents as well as personal papers and memoirs of participants to tell the story of just how these nations came to the decision to aid the United States, the human, financial, and other resources that they dedicated to the war, and how these efforts were instrumental in the final result.

As such, this is as much a political, diplomatic, and commercial history as it is a military one and, consequently, Ferreiro has managed to bring all of the central players into the light for our edification and, for that matter, gratitude. Creditably as well, he even includes those Prussians, Poles, and others who made their own individual contributions.

The thesis stated in the Introduction was that the Declaration of Independence wasn’t just that but also one which implicitly emphasized “that we depend on France (and Spain, too)” as the Continental Congress realized that it could not defeat Great Britain single-handedly and would need foreign backing in order to succeed.

Four of the nine chapters specifically cover the various and significant foreign merchants, ministers, soldiers, and sailors whose abilities and skills provided the basis for the aid to the American war effort. Indeed, the details of the loans, gifts, and other financial aid from France, in terms of today’s dollars, ran into the billions. As a result, the French Revolution, among other ramifications, is found in the book’s final chapter, The Legacy.

The remaining chapters detail the military maneuvers, battles, and campaigns specific to the war in America as well as at sea, the islands of the Caribbean, and even in India underlining the global nature of the conflict as well as the final negotiations and treaty which recognized American independence.

Nearly 20 illustrations of relevant figures and events mentioned in the text are interspersed through the book. The three maps are of the New World, Western Europe, and India to provide geographic context where the fighting took place.

The author’s extensive, if not prodigious, and exclusive research in primary sources only demonstrates that the information is there to tell the story he has told, one of which many are not aware but should be. We owe much more than we realize to the French, in particular, and the Spanish as well in spite of later, post-Revolutionary conflicts with these nations.

Larrie Ferreiro has cleared what might be considered muddy waters in the story of our independence and certainly given credit where credit is due. Everyone, especially Americans, is encouraged to read this all-encompassing account of how our independence was saved by international and individual political, diplomatic, commercial, and military efforts.