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The Whites of Their Eyes: Bunker Hill, the First American Army, and the Emergence of George Washington Hardcover – June 7, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The strengths and weaknesses of the early Revolutionary War effort are illuminated in this stimulating history (the second this season, after Thomas Nelson's The Fire and the Sword) of the first engagement—and of the 1775 American siege of Boston. Historian Lockhart (The Drillmaster of Valley Forge) skillfully explains the factors that shaped it: the American blunder of fortifying Breed's Hill instead of the more defensible Bunker Hill; the British blunder of halting under fire instead of pressing home their bayonet charges; the ammunition shortfall on the American side that decided things; and the horrific British casualties. He sets the battle against a vivid portrait of the American army, a fractious, panicky, ill-disciplined force some of whose soldiers often walked off at the drop of a hat, but still managed to stand up to the vaunted Redcoats. (His account closes with an appalled George Washington taking over a camp that was the antithesis of Valley Forge.) Lockhart's shrewd, well-judged interpretation corrects myths about the battle and the men who fought it while doing full justice to their achievement in creating an army—and a nation—out of chaos. 17 b&w photos; 2 maps. (June)
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From the Back Cover

Paul Lockhart combines military and political history to offer a major reassessment of one of the most famous battles in American history.

One hot June afternoon in 1775, on the gentle slopes of a hill near Boston, Massachusetts, a small band of ordinary Americans—frightened but fiercely determined—dared to stand up to a superior British force. The clash would be immortalized as the Battle of Bunker Hill: the first real engagement of the American Revolution and one of the most famous battles in our history.But Bunker Hill was not the battle that we have been taught to believe it was.

Revisiting old evidence and drawing on new research, historian Paul Lockhart, author of The Drillmaster of Valley Forge, shows that Bunker Hill was a clumsy engagement pitting one inexperienced army against another. Lockhart tells the rest of the story, too: how a mob of armed civilians became America's first army; how George Washington set aside his comfortable patrician life to take command of the veterans of Bunker Hill; and how the forgotten heroes of 1775—though overshadowed by themore famous Founding Fathers—kept the notion of American liberty alive, and thus made independence possible.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061958867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061958861
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #732,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'll be honest...I just about didn't even bother to read this book...after an undoubtedly sincere but entirely too personal Preface and a poor Introduction, I was ready to set this one aside. But I'm so glad I didn't. The story of the American Revolution from the days after Lexington and Concord - "The Glorious Nineteenth" - up to an through the Battle of Bunker Hill - and then the emergence of George Washington - as told by Dr. Lockhart is enthralling. Putnam, Ward, Prescott, and - especially - Warren: these are the Patriots we should be hearing more about and teaching our children about. Yet, for me, the most revealing and touching part of the book were the revelations about the deep American ties among the British officer corps...his characterization of Gen. Gage is sensitive and sympathetic and justly so. Some complaints: the maps - while understandably incomplete in this preview version - do hint at being disappointing; too few and when spread across two pages they are hard to decipher...the author's all-too-often use of ellipses in this copy may be eliminated in the final version, but if not they were distracting. The Civil War is my area of expertise and not the Revolution, so I can;t speak to the scholarship, but this is a story that is well told, indeed. Recommended!
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is an account of the American "army" and its British counterpart from after the Battles at Lexington and Concord until the British left Boston - a period of well under a year. The Battle of Bunker Hill is the centerpiece, but the battle itself only gets one chapter. The remainder of the book chronicles the events (or lack thereof) leading up to the battle and then its aftermath.

Mr. Lockhart does a fine job of analyzing the strategy of Artemis Ward, the rebel army's first commander-in-chief and General Gage of the British. He supports both of their cautious strategies leading up to the battle, outlining well both armies' weak points - which far outnumbered their strengths. He also accounts for the actions of the more belligerent underlings who forced the action in the battle.

The author also does a fine analysis of the "winners" and "losers" taking both short-term and long-term views on the issue. The Americans caused more casualties, the Brits took the hill, in the short-term. But Lockhart added deeper more insightful analyses of the long-term effects of the battle on the psyches of the soldiers and leaders on both sides.

Lastly, Mr. Lockhart also paints fine portraits of the participants by name, both the well-known and the little known, as well as the faceless soldiers on both sides.

This is an extremely well-researched and detailed history of a short period in our history. It is not a casual look, but one that is detailed in facts and well-honed in theory. A very complete history on the subject, perhaps not for the casual reader of history.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
On a hot June day in 1775 British regulars of the best trained army in the world marched up the slopes of a hill outside Boston, full of confidence that was shattered by cunning Yankee sharpshooters who were only overwhelmed then they ran out of ammo. That is the commonly held view of the Battle of Bunker Hill and in his new book, The Whites of Their Eyes, Lockhart sets out to get beyond these myths to really see what happened on that hillside. The result is a very well researched, well written book that manages to be both entertaining and educating.

Far too many of these books focus on one side or the other but Lockhart is able to alternate between sides and while Gage and his British soldiers stew in Boston with all their problems of being besieged, we are treated to an almost laughable vision of the colonial army with way too many leaders and followers who frequently didn't, a supply system that was far from perfect and leaders who frequently led off their men on marches without telling their superiors, just because they wanted action.

Indeed Lockhart paints a picture of the siege of Boston in those early months where the generals of two completely unprepared armies lived in fear that the other side would attack them while their men chaffed at a chance for action against those people and to get out of their stinking camps. As the battle nears the humor elements quietly slip from the pages and a sense of inevitable settles in as two armies blunder into a battle neither general wanted.

There are a few problems with the book. Lockhart indulges in a little idol worship but like his research it falls on both sides and is even handed.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The opening chapter tells of a more peaceful time, when the battle of Bunker hill is memorialized, with speeches, camaraderie, and veterans reminiscing in a landscape that in many places is foreign to the one they fought in less than a lifetime ago in this same area. Setting the stage for the narrative to follow, we are drawn into the solemnities, wanting to know more. And for the most part, we are not disappointed. For this is truly a "You Are There" type of narrative, and in places, I felt like I was slogging in the mud or digging an embankment half asleep, with heavy hands and heavy eye lids, or watching my comrades as well as the enemy, be flung about in the throes of death by musket-ball or British artillery.

The narrative is spellbinding in places, a bit confusing/wordy in others. However, it captures the flavor, the action, the carnage of that era, of those battles, the great generals and commanders as well as the "sleepers" who rose to prominence and who implored, wheedled, or ordered their men into fighting form on that fateful day at Bunker Hill, Charlestown, Breeds Hill and Roxbury.

As with any war, on both sides, there is also a war of egos within the upper ranks, orders are ignored or modified without permission, men break ranks and run, tactics are mulled over or improvised, opportunities wasted and mistakes turn the tide of battle, sending many more to their deaths.

Ole Putnam and his dynamic presence was beautifully fleshed out, as was John Stark (and his ruthless but brilliant tactics) and ("the first to go and the least remembered") Artemas Ward's exceptional leadership and devotion to duty.
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