Volume 13

John Peebles' American War, 1776-1782

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John Peebles served as an officer with the grenadier company of the 42nd or Royal Highland Regiment (the Black Watch) for nearly the whole of the war for American Independence. Like many officers he kept a diary describing principal engagements and campaigns; British victories at White Plains and Fort Washington that secured New York in 1776; the struggle for eastern New Jersey; the invasion of Pennsylvania, and the battles of Brandywine and Germantown in 1777; The withdrawal from Philadelphia to New York, including the battle of Monmouth, 1778; the siege of Charlestown in 1780; and the belated British attempt to rescue Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781.

But Peebles did far more than describe great events. Longer and more persistently than any British diarist of the American War, he recorded the details of army life, details that help explain what made the army formidable through a long frustrating war: the ritualistic observance of royal anniversaries, national and religious holidays, and British victories that reminded officers and men of common obligations and achievements; the pursuit of pleasure and recreation that helped form and sustain friendships within the officer corps; and the regular exchange of correspondence which kept up morale and morals.