Experience is the best teacher that is what many people say. If this is true, then history is the master teacher and the facilitators of that learning are the historians. But sometimes suspicion arose as to the manner of interpreting of facts. Thus, the most reliable historian is the eyewitness, the person in the thick of battle and he who experienced what the event being described. In the history of the American Revolution, a historian of exceptional talent has left a legacy that will be cherished as long as an American flag flies.
Moreover, this historian is not merely reporting what he heard others say, this historian is an eyewitness. And to make it more interesting Joseph Plumb Martin is also a foot soldier in the said war of Independence. Martin wrote the book to quiet the incessant pleas of his friends to retell his exploits. Martin wrote, “… my friends, and especially my juvenile friends often urged me so to do; to oblige such, I undertook it, hoping it might save me often the trouble of verbally relating them” (p. 2).
Those who enjoyed his work are very much thankful that his friends did not grow weary or else the classic book would not have been made. The following is an examination of this interesting fellow who at a young age suffered so much yet at the end gave future citizens of the United States of America two precious gifts: freedom and his memoir, also known as Private Yankee Doodle. The Smell of War America is at a crossroad. The colony has established itself to the point that it can challenge the “mother country”, – the seat of the British Empire – England.
The fledgling nation is now an economic power that could no longer be ignored. The Empire knew this and also the inhabitants –descendants of the pilgrims who first came here more than 200 years ago. The Americans realized that an absentee ruler, hundreds of miles away, could not forever bully them. In short war broke out. In the middle of all this is a young 16-year-old gentleman by the name of Joseph Plumb Martin who enlisted to join the Continentals, a 18th century term for the ragtag army who wished to challenge British hegemony.
Joseph Martin is the son of a clergyman but in the book he is proud to say that he is of farmer’s stock. The smell of war did not bring any warlike behaviour to the fore; in fact the young Martin could not imagine being part of an army and killing fellow human beings. He told himself that it is better to be safe than sorry. At first he had a very practical outlook and staying out of the war is his primary concern. But then something happened.
In the introductory part of the book, Thomas Fleming said that there are at least two major reasons: 1) Martin fought for the right to be free and enjoy the bounty of a blessed country and 2) the brutal ways of the British, e. g. the shooting of Americans on Lexington green in April 1775 (p. v – vi). So, of he went excited and anxious at the same time. The morale was great at the beginning and Martin had an idea, as to why this is the case, “The general opinion of the people was, that the war would not continue three years longer…” (p.52).
Against All Odds The Continentals were sorely ill-equipped to battle with a grizzled war machine who has perfected the art of war for centuries. The Empire does not only have military experience on their side but its riches enabled the ruler to hire mercenaries. So Martin’s army is not only lacking supplies and experience they were also outnumbered. It is a testament to man’s yearning for freedom that a person can endure seven years of torment an continue fighting in nakedness, starvation, fatigue and bitter disappointments.
An example of such deplorable state was described by Martin, using humor no doubt for the sake of the reading public: …any hogsty was preferable to our tents to sleep in […] we had nothing to eat, nor scarcely anything to wear […] I one day strolled to a place […] some cattle was slaughtered, here I had the good luck to find an ox’s milt, which had escaped the hogs and dogs […] I steered off to my tent, threw it upon the fire and broiled it […] I had not had it long in my stomach before it began to make strong remonstrances and to manifest a great inclination to be set at liberty again (p. 65).
It was not at all romantic and pretty. Martin was honest enough to admit that many times he behaved more than a juvenile delinquent than a soldier. There was the incident when he allowed to be chased around by a certain Col. Fleury. He showed he was a typical teenager caught in the complexities of war, “We would watch an opportunity to escape from the vigilance of Col. Fleury […] but he often noticed me, and as often threatened me, but threatening was all […] and I cared but little for his threats (77).
There was also another funny incident when he conspired with a fellow soldier to make a Captain come tumbling down an incline. All of these to create a diversion, a respite from the maddening war. A Look into the Past Martin’s account is not only informative but allows the reader a glimpse of the past that not only serves as a source of information but also as way of realizing how present day Americans must be thankful for whatever they are enjoying right now like freedom and other civil liberties. A poignant example is the way Americans view society in the 18th century.
It was seen as having social classes, distinct from each other and members of a particular class look down on others. Martin was a hero in this book yet he may not be seen as one by the black Americans of the 21st century after reading this passage from his book: The man of the house where I was quartered had a smart looking negro man, a great politician […] He quickly began to upbraid me with my opposition to the British […] I had no inclination to waste the shafts of my rhetoric upon a negro slave. I concluded he had heard his betters say so.
As the old cock crows so crows the young one: and I thought, as the white cock crows so crows the black one (p. 49-50). Conclusion In the beginning Martin gave a reason for writing this book. Yet in the end it was a little bit clear why he actually wrote it and it can be found in a comment made after a successful battle with the enemy, “Here ends the account of as hard and fatiguing job, for the time it lasted, as occurred during the revolutionary war […] But there has been but little notice taken of it; the reason of which is, there was no Washington, Putnam, or Wayne there.
Had there been, the affair would have been extolled to the skies […] Great men get great praise, little men, nothing” (p. 82-83). That in a nutshell can explain the source of the passion that created the classic. He wanted to honor his fellow foot solders who were instrumental in the victorious campaign to secure America’s independence. Aside from this, the book is such an important contribution not only to the study of history –looking at the information that Martin supplied to modern readers specially the culture and social norms at that time – but also to American literature as well.