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02.02.06 Webb, James Henry, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, published in 2004

Notes Concerning the Author

James Henry “Jim” Webb, Jr. was born February 9, 1946, the son of an Air Force Colonel and a 1968 graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy.  He served as a Marine Corps Infantry officer and is a highly decorated Vietnam War combat veteran.  Following military service, he attended Georgetown Law School and graduated in 1975.  He was Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs from 1984 to 1987.  He was Secretary of the Navy from 1987 to 1988.  He served in the United States Senate as a Democrat from 2007 to 2012, choosing to not seek a second term.

Webb is the author of several books, published between 1978 and 2008, the earlier ones involving military subjects and the last, A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America, concerning present-day political issues.

Webb has also been involved in writing movie scripts and producing movies.  He wrote the script for “Rules of Engagement” (2000) and produced the movie.  He wrote the script for “Whiskey River,” which is under development at Warner Brothers.

Our Review

Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America is about the Scotch-Irish (or Scots-Irish) history and culture beginning in northern Ireland and continuing into North America.  Webb starts with the Scots fighting the Romans, and the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, and explores how the continuing battles the Scots fought shaped their character and culture.  Webb then takes a look at the impact of the Ulster Plantation and the Presbyterian religion that so many Scots adopted, and that the English government worked so vigorously to suppress. This led to a major migration to the American colonies in the early 1700’s.

From there, Webb examines the roll the Scotch-Irish played in the development of the new country, as fighters in all of its wars, and as the base for much American culture. In all of this, he draws from examples of his own ancestors, which makes it much more interesting, and less dry and academic.  This book is well worth reading, but the cautionary comment below ought to be considered.

While the importance of the Scots-Irish to Southern frontiering and military exploits is rightly recognized, some writers go too far in attributing all Southern distinctiveness from the North to a “Celtic” heritage, as in Cracker Culture by Grady McWhiney.  In Webb’s case he overstates the degree of difference and antagonism between the Scots-Irish and other Southerners, which had disappeared by the very early 1800’s.  It is also an over-statement to attribute all Southern military achievements to the Scots-Irish.  Washington, Lee, Francis Marion, Forrest,  Beauregard, Raphael Semmes, Matthew Maury, Chester Nimitz, and many other Southern war leaders were not Scotch-Irish.  And many Northern leaders were:  Grant, McClellan, Sheridan, McDowell, etc.

Television Series

Senator Jim Webb has produced a television series of two one-hour programs that are being presented on the Smithsonian Network.  They are titled: Born Fighting: Shaping America and Born Fighting: Preachers and Warriors.

Availability of this Book

This book is readily available as a print book as as a Kindle e-book.  We suggest Amazon.