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A Look Back at Our Beginning,
This review is from: 1776 (Hardcover)
At the crest of a hill on 150th Street, in Jamaica, Queens, a simple unobtrusive boulder with a bronze inscription announces that it was at that spot the Battle of Long Island was fought in 1776. The British had travelled throughout the night probably along what is now Hillside Avenue to take the American rear by surprise at dawn. The fact that the plaque sits on someone's front lawn, and is a brief ten-minute walk from my apartment is a reminder that before the asphalt and brick that predominate the landscape, our nation was taking its first, precarious steps toward nationhood.
David McCullogh's book, 1776 stirred my imagination about the tribulations of George Washington at the onset of the American Revolution that began in Boston, spread to New York City, and finally, Trenton. Beset by disloyalty, intrigues, and creating an army from scratch, the author makes you feel the weight of responsibility that was placed on Washington's shoulders. He was a man who had to assuage congress, keep his officers working together in spite of backstabbing, and fight the British.
McCullough provides trivial but interesting information that makes one whistle, "So that's how...." Murray Hill, a telephone exchange and landscape in Manhattan got its name from Mrs. Murray who served Washington and his officers tea as they were being kicked around Manhattan by the Brits. Washington was nearly shot from his horse near what is now 3rd Avenue and 34th Street. Although the bullets missed, today he would have most assuredly been run over by a number of vehicles that wouldn't have.
He describes how Providence saved Washington at Brooklyn Heights when a fog rolled over the East River as the Americans were fleeing to Manhattan. That and the procrastination of General Howe prevented their slaughter by Hessian bayonet the following morning. It's hard to imagine that Hessians were encamped in the same neighborhood as the house where "Moonstruck" the movie, was filmed.
Washington's other monumental task was shaping an army where conscripts never before in their lives had been told by anyone what to do. Many simply returned to their homes after a battle or at night. In a time when armies died more from disease caused by poor sanitation than battle, Washington had to teach them to stand and fight, and relieve themselves in only one place, and not do all three at the same time against a formidable enemy. The US Army was in its infancy, and it was fighting the sun-won't-dare-set-on-it-if-it-knows-what's-good-for-it British empire.
The book takes us to the Battle of Trenton where Washington pulled off another miracle and did the unheard of, attack during winter. He destroyed the Hessian garrison at Trenton without the loss of a single soldier. This was particulary sweet for Washington whose troops were bayonetted unmercifully by the same contingent, earlier in the year at Harlem Heights.
For the history buff who wonders what was it like back then, David McCullough will provide the vision. All you have to do is provide the imagination.