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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Friday, August 3, 2012

1776 by David McCullough Another Masterpiece

17761776 by David McCullough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Took me a bit longer to read this McCullough than usual. The primary reason is that it is difficult to take military manuveurs in large doses, not that the book dwells on them. It is a wonder we ever won the Revolution. This first year, with a less than well trained army and literally no navy, had us in a pretty weak position. The only real professional soldier involved was Washington's second in command, Lee, who eventually went back to the British side. Yet, somehow, despite incredible losses in Brooklyn and on Manhattan Island and Fort Lee, in New Jersey, by the end of the year Washington had crossed the Delaware and taken Trenton. Much more suffering would ensue at Valley Forge but, in time, the rebels would desert the " gentleman's way" of fighting--lined up in open fields firing point blank at each other --and victories would begin to amass. But for this year, things were less than promising.

For me the book appealed because I grew up in Manhattan--the place names of roads, and sections of the city as well as the Palisades of New Jersey and Fort Lee are all familiar to me. The Palisades haven't changed much and Hell's Gate is still as trecherous. Imagining a battle raging in Brooklyn, which in my memory was an area of warehouses and dirty neighborhoods and which is now becoming the gentrified, desirable borough, is all but impossible. But the boating across the River to Manhattan, the streets of the city in flames, the Hudson River with Fort Lee and Fort Washington on either side is much easier to envision. Yet, though I was so familiar with battles farther up the Hudson and in Pennsylvania and farther South, I really had not paid much attention to the hallowed ground upon which I trod daily for over 25 years. Wish now, I'd given my NY as much attention as I have given Boston and Philadelphia in studying the War for Independence. But, in some ways, New York has never really given itself as much attention as those other cities when it comes to its place in Revolutionary history,most likely since the brothers Howe routed us so badly there.

Another revelation, though I think sometime in the past I must have known this, is the relative youth of so many of the famous names among the ranks of American soldiers. Alexander Hamilton was 19; Aaron Burr, who several years later would kill Hamilton on the Weehauken Heights of New Jersey, was 20. George Washington, himself, was only 43. Henry Knox, whose home, Montpelier, in Maine is so beautiful and whose portrait shows him much later in life, was 25 when he was sent to Ticonderoga to bring cannons cross country to Boston--an unimaginable feat, if you've ever tracked his route and realized how much more rugged it was 246 years ago! Nathaniel Greene, the over six foot tall Quaker, who was possibly the best of Washington's commanders, was 33.

In addition to the fact that most of these men are visualized by today's Americans as men well advanced in years and are considered to be the Fathers of our country is the added forgetfullness of the service rendered the cause by Benedict Arnold until disillusionment and disappointment led him to be a traitor to what was already a traitorous act. Young Benedict was present with Ethan Allen at the taking of Ft Ticonderoga and he was entrusted with a force sent to attack Quebec. Not a very successful foray but under his command nonetheless. Of course, he also lost a leg at Saratoga later in the War.

All in all, though slow going for me, it was enjoyable to take one year at a time to study the beginnings of our Nation. McCullough, as always, brings the characters to life and not just the major players. Letters and diaries of the common soldier and civilians were frequently quoted and the descriptions of the men from the various parts of the country was well done. He does not ignore the players on the other side, either. The brothers Howe, Cornwallis,Hessian Col Rall and even members of Congress and of Parliament are quoted and described. A very thorough presentation of the first steps on the road to freedom and independence for a new nation and well worth the time.

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  1. From one avid reader to another, your reviews are terrific.

    Best of luck on your reading goal!

    1. Thank you. As you can see I didn't fare as well in 2012 as I'd hoped so have set my sights lower for 2013. 2011 was my banner year for some reason--lol