The art of war in the age of the American Revolution—what American, British and European officers read—is the central theme of the Institute’s rare book collection. The collection reveals the evolution of the theory and practice of warfare in the Western world through the eighteenth century and provides context for understanding the achievement of the American forces and their French allies in securing the independence of the United States. The works of military art and science include drill manuals, technical and theoretical treatises, medical and mathematical texts and officers’ guides. In addition to these practical works, educated officers of the eighteenth century studied the classics of ancient Greece and Rome as well as histories and biographies of campaigns and commanders of the more recent past. A prize of the collection is a first-edition set of Diderot’s Encyclopédie, the great compendium of Enlightenment thought that includes many entries relating to the technology of war.

The rare book collection, encompassing works published to 1820, also includes official publications such as acts and regulations issued by the Continental Congress and the individual states, ordonnances du roi concerning the French army and navy, and British royal acts governing the conduct of war. The library holds a nearly complete run of the annually published British army lists spanning the years 1754 to 1800.

A broad range of contemporary publications present the issues and events of the Revolutionary era as they were experienced and understood by those who lived through them. Among these works are political pamphlets, histories, memoirs, sermons and periodicals. The collection contains numerous memorial tributes and funeral orations for prominent figures of the period, including more than one hundred eulogies published after the death of George Washington.

The Institute also holds a comprehensive collection of publications relating to the founding and early years of the Society of the Cincinnati, including the pamphlets circulated by the Society’s critics.