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Joined: 25 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 17, 2006 7:18 pm    Post subject: 1776 Reply with quote


I thought I knew quite a bit about the events surrounding the American Revolution. Anybody who saw The Patriot knows that Mel Gibson and the French defeated the British through a combination of Guerilla warfare and superiority at sea. But what if...and I'm only saying "if"...the events as portrayed in that film, or even the events we were taught about in school, didn't happen exactly the way we've been led to believe?

What if the outcome of the American Revolution was more due to overconfidence on the side of the British than it was the unerring leadership of General George Washington or the unflagging patriotism and bravery of the American soldiers? How would that skew your world picture as a citizen of the Greatest Nation on Earth?

In the House of Lords in March of 1775, when challenged on the chances of Britain ever winning a war in America , Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, had looked incredulous. "Suppose the colonies do abound in men, what does that signify?" he asked. "They are raw, undisciplined, cowardly men." And Lord Sandwich was by no means alone in that opinion. General James Grant, a member of the House of Commons, had boasted that with 5,000 British regulars he could march from one end of the American continent to the other, a claim that was widely quoted.

I admit that I do have a penchant for reading fiction with an alternative-history angle, but this is not fiction. It is so well-written that the narrative often feels like more like fiction than the dry, uninteresting history that I was taught in school. [url=">David McCullough's[/url] 1776 gives us a new perspective on the events of 1775 and 1776, using letters, journals and other historical documentation to piece together the actual events at the outset of the American Revolution (unfortunately, this book only covers this small period of time and not the entirety of that rebellion).

There were too many eye-opening revelations in thos book to cover them all here, but I did find it interesting that not all of the British politicians were as confident of Britain's unsurpassed might. John Wilkes, the Lord Mayor of London, was one of the few. His analysis of the situation seems almost clairvoyant.

We are fighting for the subjection, the unconditional submission of a country infinitely more extended than our own, of which every day increases the wealth, the natural strength, the population. Should we not succeed...we shall be considered as their most implacable enemies, an eternal separation will follow, and the grandeur of the British empire pass away.

Even more surprising than the feelings of superiority in Britain, was learning that George Washington, while a charismatic and inspirational leader, wasn't the master-tactician and decision maker that he is often portrayed as. His plans were many times called into question in the onset of the campaign against England, and many well-known leaders had their doubts of his ability to lead the army to victory. Racked with self-doubt, Washington dropped even lower when he inadvertently intercepted and read a letter from General Lee to Joseph Reed (one of Washington's most trusted advisors).

I received your most obliging, flattering letter--lament with you that fatal decision of mind which in war is a much greater disqualification than stupidity or even want of personal courage. Accident may put a decisive blunder in the right, but eternal defeat and miscarriage must attend the men of the best parts cursed with indecision.

The original letter from Reed to Lee which provoked this response was not known to Washington, but its contents could be surmised. Unlike Washington, we have the opportunity to know what was sent to Lee:

I do not mean to to flatter or praise you at the expense of any other, but I confess I do not think it is entirely owing to you that this army, and the liberties of America, so far as they are dependent on it, are not totally cut off...You have decision, a quality often wasted in minds other wise valuable...Oh! General, an indecisive mind is one of the greatest misfortunes that can befall an army. How often have I lamented it this campaign. All circumstances considered, we are in a very awful and alarming situation--one that requires the utmost wisdom and firmness of mind. As soon as the season will admit, I think yourself and some others should go to Congress and form the plan of the new army.

Remember, this was Washington's most trusted advisor - cursing Washington's indecisive nature and calling for new leadership. It wasn't an easy thing for Washington to put behind him when he learned of Reed's "betrayal," but he did and managed, throughout the rest of 1776, to trounce the British and their German mercenaries reinforcements, at nearly every turn, despite being less well-trained, less well-armed, less well-provisioned - often with little or no loss of American lives.

Also accompanying the well-written narrative of events in this book are three section of photos (color and black&white) with period paintings and drawings of the historical figures mentioned, as well as maps and letters.

I had been sure that I wasn't a fan of non-fiction, but this book, and a few others I've read recently, have convinced me otherwise. I even picked up a set of his other history books (John Adams, The Johnstown Floods, and The Path Between the Seas.
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