Review: The Trans-Appalachian Wars, 1790 – 1818 by John Eric Vining

January 12, 2018Frank Frisson

FF’s Star Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ 

               A little over a month ago I had the idyllic opportunity of reviewing a very intriguing historical fiction novel by author John Eric Vining called Cable of Fate: The Zimmermann Affair and the Great Southwestern War of 1917. Now, I got to review yet another work by Vining called The Trans-Appalachian Wars, 1790-1818: Pathways to America’s First Empire, a three part non-fiction examination of “the struggles of the Old Northwest, Old Southwest, and Old South from 1790-1818”, three unrelated conflicts that led to the inevitable territorial expansion of the United States. 

               The 1790 campaign of a still green United States to subdue the Native Americans, led by one Brigadier General Josiah Harmar, was an absolute failure. 120 Indians had been killed but the campaign had led to the deaths of 183 American soldiers and 37 wounded. Harmar resigns from the Army in 1792. General Arthur St. Clair, commander of the American Army at the time, is forced to resign by President George Washington in the same year. A new general is sought after for a second expedition. As the history of the Miami Valley/Great Black Swamp Corridor develops, the path to America’s first empire is revealed to be paved with blood. 

               The first paragraph of the first chapter ends with the following interesting point: “How very curious that we cannot see that our entire society west of the Appalachian Mountains was built on the very concept we silently despise!” Over time, there has been many empires, and as the author reveals, some of them are viewed as evil. As for how the modern American views the rise of the American empire, things are curious as Vining writes in the quoted point. 

               “Of all the methods the United States used to build its first empire in the Old Northwest Territory, perhaps none was as insidious as the treaty process in which it engaged with the Native American inhabitants of the area.” The fact of the matter is, America was taken from its native inhabitants and this book reveals the steps that had been taken between 1790 and 1818 by Americans then. Their opposition was the British Crown who had allied themselves with the Indians. The most notable figure of the Native Americans that we meet is a man named Tecumseh whose impact on the War of 1812 was surely felt and whose “influence lived on.” 

               Like the Native American war leader Tecumseh, there’s nothing I enjoy more than learning about people who, now long gone, have left their mark on history. Tecumseh should be seen as a hero, no doubt, and he’s a person I would like to learn more of as this is the first time that I’ve heard of him. I enjoyed the military logistics that the author examined and all of the interesting points he made especially as seen in the first paragraphs of most chapters. 

               The United States is shown to be a small force in the beginning of the book. In 1815, the American forces seems like a strong enough opponent to face off against the British forces. Under examination also is how Britain’s clever move of giving Spain territory in exchange for strengthening their forces only to reclaim the lands at a later date. Plans, plans. Interesting strategies are put into place by all sides involved and one’s fascination only grows with every turn of the page. Vining remains unbiased throughout and I found that to be strongest aspect about this book. America was a prize back then, and Vining doesn’t aim to make readers see it as anything more or less. 

               On March, 9th, 1818, one General Jackson of the American forces arrives at Fort Scott where 5,000 soldiers – 2,000 of them allied Indians – await his arrival. General Jackson is a figure that is seen a lot in the book and at the aforementioned point in his service to America, things look good. At least technically, that is. Bad weather had halted the transport of food for these forces and the problem they are faced with here is the prospect of starvation. So, one could say, that this book has more to show readers than the mental workings of military leaders during the battle for the United States. The problem General Jackson is faced with shows us that nothing is certain in war, that might doesn’t always mean victory, and that anything can happen to tip the scales of war in favor of the opposition. 

               This book is definitely well-researched, well-written, and engaging. It is a flawless work of historical non-fiction, with absolutely nothing negative that I can point out about it. Minor dislikes are limited to me wishing that the author could dive deeper into figures like Tecumseh and General Jackson, but that is all. If I could have a cup of tea or something with the author I would listen to him talk American history all day long, never wishing for him to stop. That’s how good he has written this book. Vining obviously knows his stuff, but I never felt that he was being self-assertive in his writings. Instead, the writings are presented in a pleasant, story-like narrative that many readers will find refreshing. 

               Vining writes in a manner that makes you feel like an observer watching these events unfold right before your eyes. Some of the military philosophy presented in this book was stimulating. One word that I would use to describe this read is fascinating. This historical examination becomes addicting after a time. Whether it’s for research purposes or purely for a relaxing few days of diving back into the warring makings of the United States, you simply know that you’ve made the right choice by choosing to read this book. 

               By the end of the book, readers are left with a clear answer as to what it meant for many leaders over the course of history to build their empires from scratch. Always – and the empire of the United States is no different – the cost was blood. Highly recommended for buffs of American history.

Publisher: Trafford
Date Published: January 28, 2010
Genre: Americas
Pages: 288