Today we review a classic work that follows the Continental Army for the year as they fight the British for independence. 1776 by David McCullough takes the reader from the stalemate win in Boston in the beginning of the year to the historic victory in the Battle of Trenton to close the year, as well as through all the loses, the hardships, and the near finishing blows for our American rebels.
The author rightly concludes that the British did not understand the conflict of which they were engaged. The Brits fought a conventional style war where they went after choice territory instead of just trying to slaughter the American ragtag army. In the Battle of Long Island the British could have kept going after their big win and taken all of New York in a one big sweep that would have destroyed our army and it is unlikely that the congress would have been able to recruit a new one. Other small fights followed and the Americans continued to lose. It wasn’t until the difficult winter that George Washington was able to muster up a huge win when he famously crossed the Delaware River to take Trenton on Christmas Day.
General Washington is the focal point of the author’s attention. Other than the British almost destroying the American Army, Washington had to worry about the congress destroying the army’s funds. Pay was often late, supplies were short, and decisions delayed. Washington had a difficult time trying to get what he needed from congress. His letters to John Hancock and John Adams are quoted throughout the book and they vividly illustrate Washington’s frustrations. Also, Washington was forced to keep together a group of civilian first time soldiers who had yet to unite under a national banner. Militias were loyal to their state and this created rivalry and division among the Continental Army. The Declaration of Independence helped to unite, but the spirit of ’76 was for independence from the British, while the spirit to unite as a nation came later.
Overall this is a great book.