Bill Mauldin,
Mud & Guts
(National Park Service, 1978; 1995)

Mud & Guts is an unusual little book about the common Revolutionary War soldier. Bill Mauldin admits he is no historian; he is, rather, a political cartoonist who offered up his wares to Stars & Stripes during World War II and served as a correspondent during several later armed conflicts. This book grew out of a request from the National Park Service for a book about the experience of the common soldier during the American Revolution -- in honor of the 200th anniversary of American independence. The book was not finished until 1978, but it certainly does make for an interesting look at the subject matter.

The book is basically split down the middle, half text and half political cartoons. Personally, I didn't find any of the cartoons particularly engaging. The text, on the other hand, did touch on some interesting things. There's just not much focus to any of it, though, as the book is too short to cover anything in detail. For the most part, it all comes down to a string of anecdotes (such as a description of cootie races at Valley Forge) -- but Mauldin does succeed to some degree in conveying the hard reality of life for all of the anonymous men who secured the United States' independence. He talks about the horrible conditions, lack of food and drink, the ferocity of hand-to-hand combat and the medical woes for anyone unlucky enough to take a hit on the battlefield -- if the wound didn't get you, the almost unavoidable infection would.

Mauldin has some interesting things to tell us, but the brevity of the book constrains him to basically just jump around from one story to another without marshalling any strong sense of cohesiveness. Of course, my opinion reflects the fact that I look at this subject through an historian's eyes, and Mauldin freely admits he's no historian. The book is definitely worth reading for anyone interested in sneaking a few revealing glances at the reality of life as a common soldier of the American Revolution.

by Daniel Jolley
11 March 2006

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