George Washington
George Washington's forces were not without fault during the American War of IndependenceWikimedia Commons

The American War of Independence was really the First American Civil War: Americans fought against fellow Americans and both sides committed grave atrocities, according to an explosive new book.

The birth of the US has for a long time been characterised as a noble rebellion that saw honourable Patriots throwing off the shackles of an oppressive foreign regime.

The story goes that the British were criminal and dastardly, while George Washington's forces showed restraint, boyed only by their commitment to the inalienable rights of man.

However, this characterisation is a myth, according to Holger Hoock in his new work 'Scars of Independence'.

The huge numbers of Americans willing to fight and die for the British Crown is not something that will garner much, if any, attention this 4 July.

But consider the Battle of King's Mountain in 1780, later immortalised by President Hoover as the moment a "small band of Patriots turned back a dangerous invasion."

In fact, Hoock says, there was only a single British participant in the battle, which was actually a huge all-American fight between those loyal to George III and pro-independence Patriots.

At the end of the 18-year war, an incredible one in 40 Americans had to go into permanent exile because they had fought to maintain British rule.

The book does not contest that British and Loyalist forces committed multiple atrocities during the conflict.

However, it sheds light on dishonourable deeds performed by Patriots that have been largely airbrushed from the history books.

George Washington himself ordered the "total destruction and devastation" of the native Iroquoia's settlements after they sided with the British, according to Hoock.

IBTPOTY2017
22 February 2017: Dean Malissa, dressed as George Washington, chats with a young visitor at the Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia on the 285th anniversary of the birth of the first president of the United States of AmericaChip Somodevilla/Getty Images

To punish their allegiance he demanded the "capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible," adding: "It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more."

This is just one example recounted by Hoock of the way in which the war stirred racial tensions that still plague the US today.

In another incident, a 15-year-old slave girl was lashed 80 times and had burnt embers poured on her wounds because she had attempted to flee to the British, who were attempting to recruit enslaved Americans.

Meanwhile, churches were smashed and priests were killed by Patriot forces, while civilians had to take loyalty oaths at their behest.

Scars of Independence
'Scars of Independence' challenges the story of America's birthPress release

The widely accepted version of an entirely ethical, almost intellectual, struggle against a foreign enemy is blown apart by accounts of Loyalists being tarred, feathered and choked with pig manure.

"This timely, powerful book reveals a side of America's founding too often forgotten: the American Revolution was our first civil war, and the United States that emerged long bore its scars," said Maya Jasanoff, Professor of History at Harvard.

"I have read no account of the conflict that so impressively shows how the violence of this war touched all Americans: patriot and loyalist, enslaved and free, indigenous and colonial," she added.

While the justice of the colonies' cause is never brought into question, Hoock's book serves as fascinating reminder that the Patriot's rightful struggle for independence was not without ethical hiccups.

Food for thought, this 4 July.