On May 28, 1754, a group of militia and Indians led by a twenty-two-year-old major named George Washington surprised a camp of sleeping French soldiers near present-day Pittsburgh. Washington could not have known it, but the brief and deadly exchange of fire that ensued lit the match that, in Horace Walpole's memorable phrase, would "set the world on fire." The resulting French and Indian War in North America became part of the global conflict known as the Seven Years War, fought across Europe, India, and the East and West Indies. Before it ended, nearly one million men had died.
Empires at War captures the sweeping panorama of this first world war, especially in its descriptions of the strategy and intensity of the engagements in North America, many of them epic struggles between armies in the wilderness. William M. Fowler Jr. views the conflict both from British prime minister William Pitt's perspective—as a vast chessboard, on which William Shirley's campaign in North America and the fortunes of Frederick the Great of Prussia were connected—and from that field commanders on the ground in America and Canada, who contended with disease, brutal weather, and scant supplies, frequently having to build the very roads they marched on. As in any conflict, individuals and events stand out: Sir William Johnson, a baronet and a major general of the British forces, who sometimes painted his face and dressed like a warrior when he fought beside his Indian allies; Edward Braddock's doomed march across Pennsylvania; the valiant French defense of Fort Ticonderoga; and the legendary battle for Quebec between armies led by the aristocratic French tactical genius, the marquis de Montcalm, and the gallant, if erratic, young Englishman James Wolfe—both of whom died on the Plains of Abraham on September 13, 1759.
For many, the French and Indian War has been merely the backdrop for James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Last of the Mohicans. William M. Fowler Jr.'s narrative reveals it to have been a turning point of modern history, without which the American Revolution as we know it might well not have occurred.
"As William Fowler puts it in the spirited Empires at War, the 'most decisive battles' of the Seven Years War took place in North America, where what we know as the French and Indian War 'war the hinge upon which the outcome of the [larger] war swung.'"—Michael Kenney, The Boston Globe
"A spirited account of the French and Indian War as an event in its own right and as the seed of the American Revolution. Fowler is a superb writer, and his narrative a model of brilliant descriptive power."—Ed Voves, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"William Fowler is a superb historian, and his Empires at War is absolutely first rate—both a work of expert scholarship and a clear, insightful unfolding of one of the great dramas in history, the importance of which can hardly be overstated."—David McCullough, author of 1776 and John Adams
"A masterful account of the clash of two great empires. Ultimate victory by the British and their colonial allies ended in the expulsion of France from North America and brought the English vast new territories. It also brought them a mountain of debt, which they determined to reduce by levying taxes on the colonists—laying the groundwork for the American Revolution. Mr. Fowler has told this immensely complex story with such clarity and knowledge that the reader is caught up in the danger and excitement of that critical time."—Richard Ketchum, author of Victory at Yorktown and Divided Loyalties
"Readers daunted by the length of the definitive account of the French and Indian War, Crucible of War, by Fred Anderson, which clocks in at 832 pages, will find Fowler's account a slimmer, more strictly narrative alternative. Like Anderson, Fowler quickly gets to the strange-but-true incident that touched off the war: George Washington's 1754 ambush of French soldiers in western Pennsylvania. That such a minor fracas on the frontier could ignite a world war is made plausible as Fowler sets within context the European diplomatic situation between France and Britain; in North America, the author sets the geographic constraints for the rivals' final showdown for control of the continent. Fowler efficiently relates the opening campaigns, such as the victory of the marquis de Montcalm at Ticonderoga in 1757, which brought William Pitt to power in England on a win-the-war platform. He succeeded in bringing Britain's numerical superiority to bear, although the contingencies of the crucial battle of the war at Quebec in 1759 are appropriately emphasized here. A well-modulated presentation for history buffs."—Booklist
"In this solid narrative history of a once neglected conflict, historian Fowler, author of The Baron of Beacon Hill: A Biography of John Adams, glances occasionally at the European and Caribbean theaters of this 'first world war,' but concentrates on the North American operations that determined Britain's victory over France in the struggle for imperial supremacy. The outcome, he makes clear, was a foregone conclusion given the British colonies' vast population and economic base in comparison with French Canada, British control of the seas, the high priority Prime Minister William Pitt assigned to the conquest of Canada and the indifference the people of Paris felt toward its 'few acres of snow.' But the French and their Indian allies fought well under competent commanders, administering bloody defeats to the redcoats and colonial militias until they were swamped by superior British numbers and logistics. Fowler's lucid account details the strategic, political and personal dynamics behind the campaigning and conveys the color and drama of this arduous struggle, in which the genteel etiquette of 18th-century warfare sometimes gave way to massacre and counter-massacre and the harsh wilderness terrain reduced combatants to starvation and cannibalism. The result is a judicious, well-paced and engaging introduction to a turning point in American and world history."—Publishers Weekly