Had no idea there were boys in the war. Best part was their duties in the military . Worst part of the book was the boys home life. How they got into the war and by far how many died during those awful times.
This is the kind of book I really like, in that it concerns a topic I knew nothing about and, after reading, I now know something. There's a sad note as well; Cox died before the book was published. It's not clear how much Middlekauf did, aside from introductory comments, but he is among the most prominent American historians (and one of the best writers).
Most readers will have seen at some point an illustration of a Revolutionary War trio of fife, drum and flag, the drum usually featuring a drummer boy. That drummer boy did exist, but because drummers customarily wielded the whip when a soldier was punished, that very hard work usually required an adult (in the British army a sizable number of punishments were 1,000 strokes but in the American, 100, Cox says). There is a fascinating discussion of the drum, usually a snare drum, and its use in communicating commands--and it's worth remembering that the drum, and other aspects of military music, originated in European copying of Ottoman Turkish army originals.
Cox explored an unusual resource: pension applications. In the 1830s, the Congress passed a bill authorizing pensions for surviving Revolutionary War veterans, and applications sometimes had details on service, and dates given on the application allow knowing the age of the veteran at the time of service. Cox provides details, and also in each chapter a sort of fictionalized version of one veteran's story, beginning "Perhaps it was like this." These sections are clearly identified, so the problem of identifying history and fiction does not arise, as it does in some contemporary "history" writing.
Cox offers some background on the rarity of boys in the military prior to the Revolution. Many soldiers' tasks required adult strength: a longbow required a 75 to 100 pound pull, swords and other edged weapons required strength. Presumably there were boys among the camp followers of the era, which usually included families. Changes in weapons made boy's service more likely (I should mention that "boy" in the bookis defined as under 16), such as the reduction in weight of firearms. The introduction of the socket bayonet made pikes obsolete--pikes required adult strength.
Boys were not common in the Revolutionary forces, but were not rare, either. Chapters in the book consider boys' desires to enlist, the role of fathers in the process, and related topics. Among the reason boys might try to enlist were escaping from domineering fathers, poverty (a boy's wages and enlistment bonus would have gone to the family), or service with a father or other relative as a sort of servant. There's another reason, a fascinating topic in itself; while a sort of draft required service, a man could hire a substitute. Cox says there was no moral judgment about hiring a substitute, and that a substitute would be paid by the man avoiding service, useful money for some families. A young son also might go to substitute for a father, an ailing brother, or replace a sick or injured family member. Some boys saw combat, some were drummers, some experienced camp and little more.