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Thursday, March 24, 2016

1776

My latest book was 1776 by David McCullough, recommended to me by my mother.  Next up are Beloved, Heretics of Dune, and Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage.

1776 tells the story of the colonial forces rebelling against King George were able to stave off complete defeat, despite being completely outmatched in numbers, training, supplies, and money.  It is very much a military history with a laser focus.  While the Revolutionary War was really just beginning, the book concludes at the end of its eponymous year.  It was certainly a good read, but I would love suggestions for a book that covers the entire War.



After reading this book, I have to believe that anyone aware all of the circumstances would have had thought, at least for the vast majority of 1776, that there was no way that the colonies' rebellion would be successful.  America had a handful of great officers, when measured by their commitment and ability to rally the troops.  But even among the officers, field experience and tactical knowledge were uncommon.  While they made a few daring, brilliant maneuvers, While the author clearly has a great deal of respect for Washington as a humble, passionate soldier with a brilliant mind, he does not sugar coat mistakes.  Washington lost thousands of troops by being indecisive about keeping a fort which provided no real advantage and had little chance of being held.  He was often impatient for engagement and would have made disastrous advances against a heavily fortified Boston if not prevented by his War Council.   Washington's second in command as head strong and had little respect for orders.  He was caught by the British staying at an inn three miles from his troops.

These officers were the least of the colonial army's problems.  Congress was distrustful of a standing army, so all recruits were only there for temporary terms.  Masses of soldiers would depart from the front lines at the most inopportune times when their commitment ended.  Even while obligated to stay, soldiers would come and go as they please or outright desert.  These were only two of the many disciplinary problems of the troops.  Additionally, supplies were scarce.  They had a general lack of clothing and food.  Many soldiers went barefoot.  Guns were in short supply and powder was especially hard to come by.  At one point they only had enough for each soldier to fire ten shots.  Hygiene was poor and sickness was rampant.  These problems fed into one another.  Departing troops would take guns that belonged to the army.  Sick soldiers would return and spread illness, hurting recruiting efforts.

Contrast the colonial army, the effective size of which generally fluctuated between six and twelve thousand, with the forces deployed by the United Kingdom.  By the end of the year, over 400 ships had arrived, including dozens of their "ships of the line" with 50+ cannons each.  These made it impossible to hold New York City, which they could attack from any side.  The British forces, including hired foreign mercenaries, numbered over 30,000.  That's greater than the population of any American city at the time.  These troops, especially compared to the colonial army, were well fed, clothed, trained, equipped, and disciplined.  To the extent they cared, they viewed their cause as just.  They saw the colonists as godless rebels with no real complaint.

It's really interesting to take in the manner in which warfare was conducted.  British generals and admirals would wait for instructions from England, which would take months to arrive and were written with intelligence that was already months old.  Even those conveying instructions from within the continent would get directions to the troops far to late to be useful.  The British fleet, which could be an overwhelming force when a mild breeze was with them, could be rendered benign by a lack of the same.

Definitely glad I read this, but I would definitely be interested in a book that has a broader scope.

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