Is there anyone who is not troubled by the times we live in? We face each day unrest, violent protests, looting, the loss of respect for values, attacks against opinions unacceptable to some, and if that isn’t enough we also face the up and down onslaught of a virus no one seems to understand. Jan and I both decided it was time to take a look to our past and how we started as a nation, a country, a land that we love. In answer to the feelings and despicable behavior we view nightly on the news, we picked up David McCullough’s 1776 and were transported to a time where people truly fought for a new nation, for the values of freedom, and made the ultimate sacrifice.
As the title suggests, this book covers only the year 1776, the first full year of the Revolutionary War. McCullough, with his impeccable research, used diaries, letters, and papers from officials on both sides as he narrowed his focus, giving us an up close and personal accounting of this year.
The history books have romanticized the war to some extent, but this is a fresh look at history that doesn’t gloss over the failures and difficulties that faced Washington and his army. Washington isn’t presented as a mythological figure, but one who faced heavy criticism, challenges, and failures. Privately, Washington expressed doubts and discouragement, yet, he never wavered in his leadership, perseverance and determination to the troops.
There were many sacrifices and hardships they endured. The ragtag army was untrained and undisciplined and the officers lacked experience. Despicable acts were perpetrated by both sides. Lack of sanitation and illness was rampant. Desertions were frequent. There were regional conflicts. The states were reluctant to send more troops and Congress often didn’t meet Washington’s requests for funds and supplies. Weather could either help or hinder the troops and the lack of military intelligence was a challenge. Yet, the soldiers who stayed, accustomed to hard work and adversity, demonstrated incredible bravery against seemingly insurmountable odds.
King George III and the British commander, General Howe, underestimated the Americans at their peril. It’s fair to say we would never have won the war without Washington’s leadership. Was he without faults? No. It’s unfair to judge him by the standards of today. He was highly respected by the soldiers and certainly was the man for the job.
At a time with so much turmoil and social unrest this book is an excellent reminder that our nation has endured much and emerged stronger and better than before, and we will again.
1776 is a year we Americans celebrate as the year we gained independence. We must never forget it was a year of unimaginable suffering, failures, and discouragement, but also a year of courage, determination, victories and bravery. Our success was nothing short of a miracle and a testament to the human spirit’s desire for independence.
This is narrative non-fiction at its finest by one of the best historians of our time. McCullough delivers a riveting tale, making history come alive.
* This was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce, one we both enjoyed immensely and highly recommend.
Look to our past…could anything make you more aware of the way in which our country’s very beginning came to be than a book by the esteemed author David McCullough? He writes with such a clear vision of what had transpired and makes history become not only alive but one in which the blinders are removed and the true story is told.
Such is the case with his book 1776. This is the year that started everything, the year we discovered the grit, the courage, and the valor needed to cast off the country of Great Britain and eventually become a little fledgling nation on its path to glory.
However, the route to freedom was fraught with danger and led by General Washington, who clearly saw exactly the situation we were in. “In truth, the situation was worse than they realized, and no one perceived this as clearly as Washington. Seeing things as they were, and not as he would wish them to be, was one of his salient strengths.” The war was not going well for the Americans. In fact, Jan and I often marveled at how on earth we could ever win. Out flanked, out maneuvered, and met by the greatest army the earth had ever known seemed a recipe for disaster. For many it was exactly that, disaster.
Yet met by the forces of the British General Howe, George Washington, Nathaniel Greene, and Henry Knox became leaders. Young, inexperienced facing insurmountable odds, these men persevered through conditions that were appalling, life threatening, and seemingly impossible. Yet, succeed they did. Although, it did seem that at times the very weather seemed to favor the impoverished army made up of farmers, blacksmiths, store keepers and others who had little or no training, no uniforms, few supplies, and the fate of treason and death hanging over their heads.
Mr McCullough pulls no punches. He doesn’t make this history one of glory with bugles blazing and drums pounding. He makes the reader understand the very gritty and horribleness of the war, the fact that the British soldiers plus the mercenaries, the Hessians, looked upon the Americans as rebels, as no accounts, as the figurative dirt beneath their feet. He makes us understand that we were ripe for losing. It was probably something laughed about across the sea in the court of George the Third. We were doomed, failure was the determined outcome, death to those who would dare to challenged England, the master of all they surveyed.
Yet, here we are, a nation founded on the will of people who did what needed to be done. “There are no people on earth in whom a spirit of enthusiastic zeal is so readily kindled, and burns so remarkably, as Americans” Perhaps in all the history of the world, there is no more a valiant story than the one Mr McCullough relates to us. We can be proud of what transpired before us, of the bravery, the very fearlessness, fortitude, and heroism that proceeded us. Perhaps in every way, we can find within ourselves the very mettle our ancestors had to face the multiple challenges of an America we currently live in. I hope and pray that we do.