Thursday, May 27, 2010

"1776" by David McCullough

Few of us Americans really appreciate what struggles where borne by the Continental Army during the long war for American independence. Nor do most of us care. Years ago, I would have given you a vile (and ignorant) opinion of the revolution, based solely on my simple disgust of present day politics. I also would have been entirely unable to explain what was meant by "independence."

In his book 1776, David McCullough gives an enrapturing account of the events of that historic year, beginning with what I feel is a fair treatment of the situation on both sides. He tells of the splendor and good character of George III, and of the many loyalists who resided in the colonies at the time. He also extols the virtues of George Washington, who had just taken command of the then nameless "rabble" which barely constituted an army.

Chronologically, the account begins with British forces trapped in Boston by the American rebels. It continues to describe the major figures on both sides, supported with accounts from privates and non-military persons. The siege of Boston was a brilliant one in the history of military action, and was very successful.

The next move was the defense of New York, which went terribly for the rebels. Being a water-laden city and the British Navy being world-class at the time, the Americans could not hold it. McCullough details Washington's failures in the New York campaign with an honesty too gentle for a critic and too, well, honest for traditional American bias.

McCullough's telling of the tale demonstrates the brutal conditions in vivid color, allowing one to be transported to the time and place and situated among the ranks. From those suffering from sickness and wounds, to those who deserted both sides, to those who fled the battlegrounds in terror, it is a raw and detailed account—well-supported by preserved documentation where it exists, with fairly labeled speculation used where it is not.

Overall, a must-read for free-thinking people about one of the most important battles in human history.

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