Friday, May 17, 2013

1776 by David McCullough

Once again David McCullough has produced a masterpiece. In 1776, he traces the origins of the American Rebellion in the years leading up to the outbreak of fighting in 1775. In April 1775, the militia in Concord fought back the British regulars and as the British soldiers retreated back towards Boston. More and more militia joined the attack and the British retreat turned into a rout. At the end of the day the British soldiers were besieged in the city of Boston. In June the British soldiers attacked the Rebel fortifications on Breed's Hill. They carried the field, but suffered about 1,000 casualties. This put an end to any attempt by the British Army to break out of Boston. In July, George Washington took command of the newly named Continental Army and began to organize it. The year 1775, ended with the British entrenched in Boston, but unable to leave.

In March 1776, the British finally gave up the city of Boston and sailed away. Washington suspected that their next target would be New York. He moved his army from Boston to New York where they began to prepare for the defense of the city. In the city of Philadelphia the decision had finally been reached to declare independence from Great Britain. The news was met with much rejoicing by the army in New York. They were no longer fighting a rebellion against the King of England. Now they were soldiers fighting for a nation of their own. The British began to arrive in New York in July. In August the American army was pushed off of Long Island. By September it had been pushed out of the rest of New York. Then came the long retreat. In December, with his army starting to fall apart, Washington decided to risk it all on an attack of the Hessian garrison at Trenton. The battle was a success and the Continental army had it's first major victory. A week later the Americans successfully attacked the British forces at Princeton. These two victories gave the army the encouragement that it needed to keep fighting.

McCullough's writing is always masterful. He understands how to use language to engage the reader throughout. One of his great strengths is bringing these historical characters to life. George Washington is the pivotal character in the book. A man who had never commanded an army in battle Washington made a number of poor choices in the New York campaign. He would learn from his mistakes over time. We also see the great commanders Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox. These two men would serve through the war and would be crucial supporters of Washington. We also get to see the rank and file soldier like Joseph P. Martin. It was the courage of these men and thousands like them that helped to create the United States of America. If you have not read this book then do yourself a favor and read it.

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