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European power struggles were often paralleled by savage wars in the colonial North American wilderness.

By Kenneth P. Czech

While encyclopedic tomes have been written about the Civil War and the World Wars, comparatively little attention has been paid to the wars of empire waged across the face of North America prior to 1763. British, French and Spanish troops, often aided by indigenous tribes and colonial settlers, frequently clashed while protecting territories and spheres of influence. In several instances, colonial strife in North America was connected to greater wars in Europe.

In Colonial Wars of North America, 1512-1763: An Encyclopedia, editor Allan Gallay has gathered essays from an impressive group of scholars and assembled them into a complete reference for the era. Arranged alphabetically by topic, the selections run the gamut from military interests to geography, ethnography and biography. Gallay has included particularly strong references on Spain’s colonial battles in Florida, Mexico and the Southwest, as well as the French and British conflicts with which American readers are more familiar.

As Gallay notes in his introduction, the great powers of Europe never questioned their right to colonize the New World, and they “developed mercantile empires that, by their very nature, further promoted armed conflict.” Every move made by one power had to be countered by another. For instance, when the French extended their influence into western Louisiana and Missouri, the Spanish built forts in east Texas and sent troops to the Midwest.

More commonly encountered conflicts, such as King Philip’s War (1675-1676) and the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), are also examined and cross-referenced in great detail. Numerous battles, treaties and personalities are explored, as are military forts and outposts. Even such broad topics as French artillery and scalping are related in context to the colonial wars. Gallay also notes that Europeans did not introduce warfare to North America, “but they did enlarge its scope and increase the level of firepower.” As the colonial wars went on, more of the responsibility for a colony’s success rested with the colonists rather than regular army troops, imbuing them with a desire to break their ties to the Old World. Once those bonds were severed, the colonists enlarged their own holdings, increasing their conflict with the natives.

With more than 800 pages of text supplemented by maps, diagrams and illustrations, Colonial Wars of North America promises to be the ultimate single-volume colonial reference for scholars, students and military enthusiasts alike.