I just finished Washington’s Crossing (Pivotal Moments in American History) by David Hackett Fischer. I was engrossed…..it had so many fascinating revelations, it replaces the the cartoonish history we all learned in high school, even college (e.g., the Hessians were not drunk from Christmas revelry).
I don’t have time to do a review, but I’d like to mention a few points. First, part of Washington’s brilliance was his ability to be flexible in many ways, not the least of which was learning how to lead a mix of essentially foreigners (Virginians, New Englanders, backwoodsmen, etc.) all in the Continental Army, and then utilizing that army well with the local militias, especially in New Jersey.
Second, Thomas Paine isn’t given enough credit in saving the Revolution. After the failures in Long Island and New York, with the army fatally shrinking (soldiers were leaving when their enlistment contracts ended) and public opinion at absolute lows, the entire War might have ended in December 1776. Paine saw the low morale and on December 23, 1776, published his first Crisis article, which began as follows:
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
His words re-lit the fire in soldiers and civilians and helped enable the victories at Trenton and Princeton.
Third, the author weaves a compelling vision of the successes of December ’76 through March ’77 as a web of independent decisions. From Washington to Cornwallis, from sergeants to privates, from Hessian and British pillagers to outraged New Jersey civilians….the entire American success was not a top-down engagement.
Every American ought to read this book.