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"Joseph Plumb Martin's Hunger Games" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP16 Sep 2020 8:48 p.m. PST

"Not all primary sources are created equal. We venerate the Lives of the Twelve Caesars by Suetonius for providing us with a contemporary history of Imperial Rome. But does it tell us more about the lives of ordinary Romans than examining the graffiti on the walls of Pompeii? Similarly, the executive documents of Congress or the letters of George Washington are best understood if we have a background to set them against. Diaries written by private soldiers during the Revolution carry us closer to the war than any other type of document. For these scribblings were not composed with posterity in mind. Routinely generated, without a concern for history's judgment, their strength lies in their mundanity. Though seemingly trivial when produced, over time, they have become a precious account of "every day" Revolutionary America that rivals the most significant official proclamations.

For some participants, the conflict was the defining stage of their lives. Several young soldiers penned accounts showing that what began as an adventure quickly degenerated into an ordeal. Even though not published until five decades after Yorktown, the diaries of Joseph Plumb Martin record his contemporary experiences and bring to life the burdens of the common soldier. Martin never condescended to interpret the war outside his own immediate involvement, and though his reflections are insightful there is no strategic analysis or political pontification. Glorious battle scenes are entirely absent, with the British portrayed as a distant animus rather than despised enemies. Martin's true nemesis was not dressed in scarlet. Starvation was his deadliest foe. This is a narrative, first and foremost, of excruciating physical hardship with personal triumphs as likely to involve clandestine theft as heroic feats of arms. It is this mix of honesty and personal resilience that draws the reader back…"
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