Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Colin Lindsay on Participant Accounts

I treat battles of the American Revolution like puzzles. For every major engagement there are numerous pieces of evidence that each shed some small light on what happened during the battle. My belief is that an accurate understanding of the overall battle stems from amassing as many of these pieces as possible and finding the ways in which they best seem to fit together.

Of interest to me then, was finding a participant of the American Revolution advocate for the same approach. Colin Lindsay, captain of the grenadier company of the 55th Foot, was a participant in the battle of La Vigie, Saint Lucia (December 18, 1778). During the first part of the battle he watched an engagement between British light infantry and French colonial infantry and recorded his observations:

"The light infantry, formed in a body, have charged through. The whole regiment of [Martinique], which was clothed in blue, gave way and ran along the beach."

Afterwards, however, he learned that "the light infantry themselves say that they did not charge as we imagined when the enemy gave way."

He concluded:

"This circumstance alone may serve to prove the truth of an observation frequently made, 'that any two persons giving an account of an engagement will often differ essentially even in material circumstances.' Every battalion, however, can tell exactly what happens to themselves; and thus, by carefully collecting the component parts, the figure of the whole may be accurately ascertained."

Because Lindsay spoke with a number of different officers, he was able to provide a richly detailed description of the French attempt to retake Saint Lucia. So too can the modern writer, who in the electronic age has easy access to a wide range of primary sources.


Alexander William Lindsay (1849). Lives of the Lindsays: Or, A Memoir of the Houses of Crawford and Balcarres.

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