With Fire and Sword

Written by James L. Nelson
Review by John R. Vallely

General Sir William Howe commanded a British assault force against a ragtag collection of ill-trained rebels at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Howe’s Redcoats were a cross section of units from the army which had gained Britain an empire and were believed by many to be the finest professionals in the world. Victory over farmers, tradesmen, and mechanics was assumed, and all but certain. Yet Howe would say he experienced “a moment that I never felt before” when his regular soldiers turned and ran in the first of three charges against the Americans. Where Lexington was a clear victory and Concord was perceived as an oddity, Bunker Hill to the British Army was a chilling introduction to battle in a new world struggling to be born. Win the British certainly did, but at a horrible cost. The prolific James Nelson (16 books since 1996!) brings Redcoat, Loyalist, and Rebel to life by a virtuoso blending of personal narrative and an analysis of events and motives that is absolutely spot-on. Popular history such as this is a challenge to write, and Nelson’s example sets a standard that stands head and shoulders above all but a few. The writer of historical fiction can learn a great deal about structuring their fiction by the gifted prose of Nelson.