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David McCulloch’s 1776

Recently, I read McCulloch’s book on the first year of the Revolutionary War and I wanted to recommend it to readers.

The book is interesting throughout, with some unexpected discussions such as that of the debate in Parliament about whether to engage in war with the colonials. The book focuses on three principal events – the siege of Boston, the New York City conflict, and the New Jersey campaign.

While the book is called 1776, it is really focused on George Washington’s 1776. It describes how Washington’s army secured a limited victory in Boston (despite Washington’s desire to pursue a different strategy that probably would have been a disaster). It shows how Washington blundered in New York – both at Brooklyn Heights and Washington Heights – and nearly lost not only his army but the support of some of his principal officers. And then it concludes with Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton.

Part of the appeal of the book for me was that it takes place in areas where I had lived. I grew up in Washington Heights, where Washington lost 3000 men at Fort Washington (and across the river from Fort Lee, New Jersey, named for General Charles Lee, who was a thorn in the side of Washington). Some of it also takes place in Brooklyn Heights, where I also lived briefly.

One downside of the book is that it short changes the victory in the South. I recently visited Charleston, South Carolina and the guide on a tour noted the stunning victory of the revolutionary forces there in 1776. The book spends little time on it, treating it as a side show, but it was certainly an important event. I suppose it interfered with the book’s narrative of the trials of George Washington during his first year.

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