A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier

Written by: Joseph Plumb Martin

Published By: Signet Classics

Reviewed by Dorothy Doremus


            Most people believe the war between the newly formed colonies of America and England ended with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Quite the contrary – we were at war many years after that.  The brave men who served this country, mostly poor men, farmers and laborers, fought brilliantly against a formidable opponent in the British Red Coats.  If it were not for the Continental Army, we would be under British rule today, but fortunately, we triumphed.

            A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier tells the true story of a young Connecticut farmer named Joseph Plumb Martin, who enlisted in the Continental Army against the wishes of his grandsire.  We all tend to forget that not everyone was in favor of a fight against England, and some people were in fact hoping that the matter would pass and everyone would just fall into line.  This was not the case for most of the young men who were educated and understood where the country would stand if the British were in charge.  Joseph sets out on a long journey that would take him from the Hudson Valley to Philadelphia.

            If you think you are going to be reading a light-hearted tale like the ones in your fifth grade history books, think again.  This is far from a light-hearted read.  This book describes the harsh conditions that the soldiers all faced.  Most of the time, they had very little rations, clothes or money.  The men were usually given some flour and about three fourths of a pound of salt pork to eat for a week.  The Red Coats couldn’t even believe what passed as a meal for the Continental Army and often teased them about it.  Joseph often tells of the hunger pangs he suffered and how many of his men starved to death.  The soldiers relied upon the kindness of farmers or stole food to survive, especially during the winter months.

            The winters were the worst for these poor souls.  Most had no shoes or proper attire.  They were given flimsy wool blankets and no shelter to protect them from the snow, rain or cold.  Some froze to death as they huddled together to preserve warmth.  Others were overcome by illness which was rampant in the camps.  Joseph contracted Yellow Fever and was lucky to recover – a person in every fourth bed where he was hospitalized died of the illness.

            Most of the time, luck would win out and Joseph and his messmates would find food, sometimes eating bark off a tree to sustain them and using deerskin to make shoes and hats - living off of every ounce of goodness God would provide.  Did I also mention that they didn’t get paid for sometimes years at a time because the country couldn’t afford to pay its soldiers?

            Joseph served in the Continental Army from 1776 until 1783 and was present at the capture of Lord Cornwallis and many other notable battles.  He received a rank of Sergeant, the highest rank he would attain in the army, and was proud to do so.  He survived everything he encountered and made do with what he had.  He is a true American hero.

            If you are interested in history straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, this is a great read.  Joseph Plumb Martin published his memoirs in 1830 and does not sugarcoat anything.  A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier provides a great look into American resilience.  I would not recommend it for the very young due to the violence.  The book discusses real battles and the descriptions are very vivid.  If you really want to learn about the experience of battle and life with the revolutionary soldiers, this is the book for you.  It’s a no nonsense guide to what they went through and will not disappoint.


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