Part One: Book Summary
David McCullough's 1776 explores the military animosity between American and British troops that took place in the first eighteen months during since the inception of the Revolution war. McCullough structures the book into three crucial sections: Battle of Dorchester Heights, Battle of Long Island and Battle of Trenton. The moments are pivotal in the book since they enable the author to imply to the reader that the outcomes Revolutionary War might have contributed to luck, fateful weather or strategic warfare. The events of the story commence in October 1775, where the legislatures were embroiled in a heated debate on whether or not King George III should wage war against the American insurgents (McCullough 8).
In the second chapter, McCullough exposes the inadequacies in the American camps. The American soldiers faced various challenges such as limited availability of gunpowder. Nathanael Green, who was a young and skilled American commander tried to alleviate the limited supply of gunpowder by ensuring its force remains compact and disciplined. The American troops were supposed to wait until the British army attacks them before they fire back (p.26). However, Washington is concerned that American army is continually disobeying their commander as well as becoming lazier as each day. Washington is compelled to introduce corporal punishment to instill high standards of discipline. The introduction of the corporal punishment prompts some men to exit the camp as well as starting a mutiny in the force. Washington decides to recruit black men into American army, regardless of earlier racial prejudices labeled against African Americans.
Irrespective of British soldiers emerging victorious in the Battle of Bunker Hill, the war was costly, prompting some legislatures to question the viability of another war against Americans. Finally, the parliament approved King George's strategic plan, although the support was not unanimous. Military professionalism, characterized by vast experience, advanced skills and equipment and adequate workforce form Germany gave British a significant advantage over American army in Bunker Hill battle. Towards the end of 1775, the British soldiers were enduring difficulties in Boston: Washington assumed there would be a quick compromise. However, it was not the case since General William Howe, remained intact, anticipating the possible attacks from Americans (p.11). The American troops persisted with their efforts to oust British battalions at Boston. Washington sends an expedition to Quebec but fails. However, Knox's return to Boston boosts American's morale since he comes back with the ammunition and cannons left behind by British.
Washington's primary plan of defeating British army was based on some of his soldiers playing undercover, and eventually enable American troops to seize Dorchester Heights. Washington's men sneaked cannon and soldiers to occupy the high grounds overnight. American soldiers disguised themselves with hay bales, compounded with loud artillery fire which distracted the opponents. On 5th March 1776, the British were shocked when they awakened by the news that the Continental Army had seized Dorchester heights, thus gaining an advantage (p.102). Upon losing their advantage to the Continental troops, the British army was compelled to flee to Canada. The Continental's reclaiming of the Boston made Washington emerge victorious, bringing much celebrations to the American camp.
New York increasingly became the center of attention for both British and American armies. Occupying New York was perceived as the dominant victory since it involved controlling of the Hudson River, which had the potential of isolating New England from the rest of colonies. Washington is compelled to protect New York at all costs. On April 13, the British Army started arriving, ready to seize New York (P.135). The landing of the British troops on July 2, coincided with Continental Congress dissociating entirely with Great Britain. This paved the way for the Battle of Long Island, which commenced on August 22. At some point, Washington and his men are headed for a defeat at Brooklyn. However, Washington encounters two key lucky breaks which give him a lifeline to defeat British army. For example, on August 27, Howe orders the premature withdrawal of his troops, thus failing to destroy the entire Continental army. Two days later, Washington's men, aided by weather (thick fog) executed a retreat of over 9000 British soldiers. In the end, Washington's gambles and resilience enabled American army defeat British.
McCullough decides to begin 1776 with King George III in England to provide an alternate perspective on the Revolutionary War. The approach enables the readers to acknowledge that there were significant disunity and inconclusive parliament debates regarding British involvement in the war (p.12). The presentation of King George III also helps the audience to understand his other side. It is revealed that King George is liked by people in the colonies, implying that he is not necessarily an absolute tyrant, as purported by Historians. Towards the end of this scene, it is apparent that Great Britain is divided in their feelings towards the war against Americans.
According to McCullough's revelation, General George Washington's leadership skills played a significant role in ensuring the Continental Army emerge victorious over Great Britain. In the beginning, Continental troops are depicted to be ill-equipped, undisciplined and outnumbered, hence making the British forces superior and on the pole position to win the war. Washington was adaptive and tactical. At some point, the American camp is beleaguered with a shortage supply of gunpowder (p.26), but his tactical approach enables the army to navigate the crisis. Washington is also a disciplinarian. He introduced corporal punishment in the American camp to ensure soldiers remain obedient and disciplined. 1776 changed my perception of Washington. I realized that he was a strong and perseverant leader, whose decisions in critical situations enabled the Continental Army to continue fighting regardless of the hardships they experienced.
The Declaration of Independence speech had a profound effect on Washington, and the Continental Army was also happy. "...we were determined to shake off all connections with a state so unjust and unnatural..." (p.78). However, it can be asserted that the Declaration of Independence did not have a significant impact on the soldiers since they are not interested in independence. Most of the soldiers were concerned on protecting their rights and homes by fighting against British. The Continental Army was fighting for equality with other Englishmen. This implies that it is the legislatures who valued the Declaration of the Independence more than the soldiers. However, it can be contended that the Declaration of Independence was ousted ed as a tool to motivate soldiers who took part in the war, attesting to them that their efforts were not in vain (p.79). By letting their intentions known, the 13-colonies demonstrated that they had shifted their allegiance from King George II and ready to join those in support of the independence. The representatives of the American colonies wanted to demonstrate to King George that a political separation from Great Britain was paramount.
Initially, the untrained and hastily assembled Colonial army was inferior and did not have any advantage over the British troops. The British soldiers were skilled and experienced military professionals, unlike the Continental army which was composed of farmers, tradesmen and inexperienced men (p.19). Unlike British soldiers who were motivated by the money and other benefits meant to appreciate their efforts, the Continental soldiers were only driven by emotional attachment to their country. Colonist army felt obligated to protect their homeland. The Colonists had a "home-field" advantage, and it enabled them to overcome the difficulties of the limited supply of ammunition, food, and medical equipment. The Colonists also had fast communication and fast decisions, unlike the British army who had to relay information over a long distance (across the ocean). McCullough's use of quotes and first-hand sources play a significant role in demonstrating the real conditions in the camp as well as highlighting the challenges that leaders encountered when making critical decisions.
Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox had limited education before they were elevated to their respective roles. Nathaniel and Henry focused on self-education where they learned different war techniques. Both men have physical defects. Henry lost two fingers in a hunting mission whereas Nathaniel had a limp leg (p.386). Initially, these disabilities hindered their chances of ascending to the higher ranks within the army but did not bar them from becoming successful leaders. Nathaniel and Henry's effective leadership approaches enabled the Continental Army to achieve significant success.
Nathaniel was only 33 years old when he led an organized and skilled troops of Rhode Islanders. Nathaniel was involved in various battles such as Battles of Fort Washington, Trenton, and Germantown. As a leader of the Southern armies, Nathaniel orchestrated the surrendering of the British soldiers at Yorktown (p.324). Knox began by joining the militia camp in the Bunker Hill battle. Knox hauled the guns and ammunition across the Mountains of Boston to gain a tactical advantage over the opponent. Knox was also a Brigadier General in Continental army. I think Washington chose Nathaniel and Knox because of their commitments and strong allegiance to Continental Army.
Part Three: Strengths and Weakness of McCullough's 1776
The strengths of 1776 by McCullough lies in the authors narrative styles, which makes the captured historical events to be memorable and captivating. The author segments his ideas into different sections which enlighten the reader that the outcomes Revolutionary War might have contributed to luck, fateful weather or strategic warfare. The book also contains chapters which are characterized by drawings, paintings letters and maps, accompanied by captions. These features are useful in giving a reader a deeper understanding of the book's content. The book is written, compounded with a conventional war history with adequate quotes and primary sources. This makes the book to be accessible and entertaining, making it suitable for an individual exploring U.S. history.
The book also depicts some weakness. For example, a British reader should have background knowledge of the history of Great Britain before beginning to read the book. The book commences when the Bunker Hill Battle (1775) is over, thus providing limited facts regarding this war. 1776 by McCullough also has a narrow scope. The author does not extend his narrative towards the ending of the war, making readers to speculate on whether Americans won the battle or were pushed further west until they surrender. Overall, McCullough's 1776 is an excellent piece of literature which explores military warfare between Great Britain and Americans.
McCullough, David. Seventeen Seventy-six: 1776. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006. print.
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