Friday, November 23, 2007


As I've said before, I'd read the phone book if it was written by David McCullough. 1776 was a revelation for me. I'd only known the school-book version of the American Revolution, which is all about how a rag-tag band of rebels beat the odds and bested the mighty British Army. The books leave out the fact that the first year of the revolution, after the successful capture of Boston, thanks to Henry Knox transporting cannons from Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain all the way to Boston in the middle of winter, was pretty much a disaster.

Washington didn't have battle experience; he hesitated; he changed his mind, all of which led to military fiascos. The Americans lost the Battle of Brooklyn very decisively. The only reason there was an army left after the battle was the astonishing retreat across the East River in the dead of night and shroud of fog. Otherwise, the American Revolution probably would have ended there. After Brooklyn, Washington retreated the troops all the way up Manhattan and into Westchester County and then into New Jersey, losing critical forts and troops - through injury, death, illness and desertion - the whole way.

The Battle of Trenton, in the dead of winter in 1776 was the crucial turning point for the whole escapade. Without that victory, we'd probably still be having afternoon tea.

Our family friend Jean recommended a book called Rabble in Arms, which is a fictionalized account of the Revolution from the Loyalists' point of view, and I'm now inspired to read it. One thing you do realize from McCullough's book is how many residents of the colonies were loyal to England. The success of the British on Long Island and at the Battle of Brooklyn was largely a result of the food, information, and shelter they received from residents who were loyal to the crown.

My only wish is that history books in school could be as entertaining and educational as this one. History class would have been a lot more fun, and I think I would have learned a lot more back in high school and college.

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