David McCullough




Date Reviewed:

November 25, 2006

his non-fiction book, 1776, is about the first year of the American Revolutionary War (actually, the book starts in October of 1775 with the Americans laying seige to the British, who are surrounded by the Continental Army in Boston). This is a great read, there is a wealth of new and interesting information here, and it is well written.

I did not know there were so many loyalists in America, it sounds like nearly half the population still supported King George, and gave aid and information to the British army. Nor did I know much about the battle for New York City, which went poorly for the Americans. George Washington's command was nearly obliterated on several occasions. There is an exciting description of how the Continental Army is trapped on Long Island, facing a superior British force. Of course, the powerful British navy controls the water ways. If they try to sail off of the Island, the cannons of the navy will pound them to shreds. But if they face the superior British forces will overrun their army and the rebellion against King George will be over. But fate intervenes, heavy fog moves over the river, and George Washington directs a secretive the American evacuation, so the army escapes through the fog and lives to fight another day.

I liked reading about how the Americans moved the captured cannons from Fort Ticonderoga up onto the Dorchester Heights and forced the British out of Boston. History presented in this style is an enthralling subject, it is too bad classrooms can't be taught by McCullough.

Washington is described in a positive manner by McCullough, always appearing like leader, encouraging his troops, when he privately feared for their chances, and often was appalled by their lack of discipline or experience. Washington is not flawless, McCullough does describe Washingtons' mistakes, such as dividing his army on Long Island, or failing to guard a pass through which the British eventually march through to attack his flank, but overall the portrait of Washington shows why the country holds him in such high regard. His generals Knox and Greene also come across as stalwart, self-taught fighting men, while Henry Clinton doesn't get much praise from McCullough (Clinton carelessly allows himself to be captured by the British, much to their delight, because they consider him, not Washington, to be America's best commander). After reading this book, you will truly appreciate why Washington is considered the father of this country.

In July, the Continental Congress takes the fateful step of declaring independence. Up to that point, most people had hoped for a negotiated settlement. But as warfare inflamed passions, and British soldiers were described slaughtering the colonists, the rebel cause grew angier, until finally the Declaration of Independence was drafted. Now if the rebellion failed, the leaders would be hung as traitors to the King.

The Christmas Day attack by Washington on the Hessian mercenaries is a great read, even though every school child already knows the outcome. It was a tremendous morale boost for the Americans, and maybe it saved the army from disbanding in despair after the defeat at New York City. Washington's victory at Trenton was an enormous psychological victory for the colonies, and it let England know that the rebels were far from being crushed.

When the British troops land on Long Island, it is a farmers paradise. The fields and orchards are bursting with food. The redcoats are astounded to see such bountiful lands, they are unable to grasp why people who live in such wonderful conditions would find cause to rebel against their King. McCullough tells us that in 1776 the Americans enjoyed the highest standard of living of any society in the world. I love reading information like that!

It is amazing to read how much sickness delibitates the American troops. Cleaniliness is not option, since most of the soldier have only one set of clothes, and washing/bathing is not a priority. It sounds like at least a third of the men are incapacitated at any given time by dysentary or other diseases. The troops are sorely lacking in supplies too - at one point the Americans have only enough ammunition for a couple of rounds per man. There are several descriptions of men marching with feet bound in rags because they have no boots, and no uniforms. This book shows the reader just how unlikely an American victory was - the British have superior numbers, experience, supplies - everything is seemingly in their favor. The Revolutionary War could easily have been lost.

Too bad McCullough is not planning on writing 1777, 1778, 1779... it would be a great series. I will have to pick up some of the other books written by McCullough.