Todd Braisted is a Fellow in the Company of Military Historians, Honorary Vice President of the United Empire Loyalist Association, and on the advisory council of Crossroads of the American Revolution. This interview is based on his new book, Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground Around New York City (Westholme Publishing, 2016).
JF: What led you to write Grand Forage 1778?
TB: I was approached by the Journal of the American Revolution to know my thoughts about a possible series of books on lesser-known campaigns and events of the American Revolution, and what possible topic I thought might be of interest. That which is little written about or discussed is always of interest to me, as I enjoy learning new things, as opposed to simply a new spin on previously covered events. The operations around New York City in the second half of 1778 was perfect for that: a plethora of small events that all intertwined as a campaign, but which had never been discussed as such. I was honored when they agreed to that as one of the two lead volumes of the series.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Grand Forage 1778?
TB: While the large battles are often studied and dissected by historians, the smaller events often fall through the cracks or are ignored. Grand Forage shows how global events and logistics conspired in ways not fully realized by many of the participants then, or by students today.
JF: Why do we need to read Grand Forage 1778?
TB: At its heart, history is made up of stories. Grand Forage uses the accounts, and very often the exact words, of many of the participants of small actions and events not generally seen by the public. While a battle may mean one thing to a general, the viewpoint of a soldier in the ranks is quite often something completely different. Those sorts of accounts, culled from period letters, memorials, journals, pension applications, etc. open a window on the past that I believe brings the period to life. The Civil War has always enjoyed a greater awareness today, in part, I believe, to photographs and an abundance of written material from everyday soldiers. It makes a connection with people today. That is a harder task with the American Revolution, where the fashion and language can seem far more archaic and antiquated, making them less well understood or appreciated by a modern audience. It’s my hope Grand Forage brings this period of history to life for people today, particularly those in the geographic areas where the events took place, which too often are now the scene of urban sprawl.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
TB: I knew I loved history from the time of grade school. Growing up in Dumont, Bergen County, New Jersey history was literally everywhere you looked. Indeed, several houses in town had been plundered and burned during the American Revolution. The street I grew up on was a major thoroughfare at times for both armies during that war. In reading the popular histories of the war though, little or no mention was made of these actions and events. I wanted to dig deeper, and without the filter of modern spin or biases. I started primary research entering my sophomore year of high school, and never looked back. Loyalists in particular fascinated me, in part because the field appeared to be wide open here in the United States. I have never had the opportunity to utilize my knowledge of history as a professional career, but through writing, research, interpretation and preservation, I would like to think I have done my part, in some small way.
JF: What is your next project?
TB: That is already started! I am the project historian for the town of Fort Lee in researching the history of the 1781 battle there involving about 750 Loyalists & Rebels, an event that almost led to what perhaps would have been the bloodiest local action of the war. Again, this is one of those little known or studied actions that fascinates me. The findings will be a part of the National Park Service Battlefield Preservation Program that the town received a grant for in 2015. After that, it is back to my research roots, i.e. Loyalist studies.
JF: Thanks, Todd!