David McCullough never disappoints! His research is impeccable and his writing makes history come alive. It was fascinating to read this one year overview and realize that American almost did *not* last as a new nation. How much we owe to the sacrifices, courage and perseverance to many.
1776 was a bleak time in our newly formed country. The Continental Army was untrained, undisciplined, often dealt with disease, poorly fed and barely had sufficient clothing, and at first, lost several battles.
“It was in the first week of August, at the end of his first month as commander, when Washington learned how much worse things were than he knew. A report on the supply of gunpowder at hand revealed a total of less than 10,000 pounds, and the situation was not expected to improve soon. Very little gunpowder was produced in the colonies… Washington was so stunned by the report that he did not utter a word for half an hour.”
Most of “1776” gives the perspective from the American side, but there are also chapters detailing the military battles and strategy from the British side, and England’s Parliament and King George. McCullough is never intimidated to explore and investigate the complexities of personalities and decisions that affect history.
It seems we owe as much to Henry Knox and Nathaniel Greene as we do to Washington himself, who was often beset with doubt and indecision. Of course, we remember Knox’s brave trip to Fort Ticonderoga in the middle of winter to bring back gunpowder and artillery, and McCullough covers some of that. But we also learn about Greene, and Generals Charles Reed and Joseph Lee. Benedict Arnold’s campaign to Quebec is also lightly explored and relationships between General Washington and those of his aides. And who does not remember the epic crossing of the Delaware in mid-winter that makes for such a heroic story?
“Because education did not figure prominently in his father’s idea of the Quaker way, young Nathanael had received little schooling. “My father was a man of great piety’, he would explain. “He had an excellent understanding, and was governed in his conduct by humanity and kind benevolence. But his mind was overshadowed with prejudices against literary accomplishments.’ With his brothers, Nathanael had been put to work at an early age, on the farm at first, then at the mills and forge. In time, determined to educate himself, he began reading all he could…”
“…On visits to Newport and Boston, he (Greene) began buying books and assembling his own library. ‘I lament the want of a liberal education… . I feel the mists of ignorance to surround me,’ he wrote to a like-minded friend.
I enjoyed learning about this time in history and once or twice, found myself having to re-read to find which generals were British and which American (there is a LOT to learn here), but McCullough’s writing is always well-researched and interesting. I now want to persevere and read more of this time period!