'To Try Men's Souls' is a poignant and timely reminder of the challenges faced by those brave persons of the Revolutionary War 233 years ago. Imagine no adequate roads, no motorized vehicles or watercraft, rifles that had to be reloaded after each shot, and travel on a stormy night. Actually, stormy doesn't accurately describe the weather conditions that December 25th - 26th...sleet, freezing rain, bone chilling wind, snow...a night that we would have a hard time venturing out in, even with all our modern contrivances. Now add men...men who knew naught but defeat, men with mud-caked clothing little better than rags, often barefoot, suffering from a wide range of diseases caused by hunger, exposure, and substandard food and water. Men, who willingly chose to serve their young country a month longer than they were required. Add one ice choked river (crossed twice in 24 hours), a nighttime march to a daytime battle, two flooded ravines, heavy artillery, and nine miles of icy hills and fields (one way)...and waiting for you at the end, the finest fighting force of their time - the Hessians. The Battle of Trenton was so much more than just one battle in a war long ago; it was the proving point for our young nation - it was the point where our patriotic forefathers threw everything they had left at an enemy that represented the oppressive evil of bondage - be it outright slavery or fealty to a king.
What drove these brave men on this cold, miserable night in December 1776? One word - FREEDOM. The barely glowing ember of freedom was on the verge of going out as Congress had all but abandoned Philadelphia. But on that night, and with their backs against the wall, with a watchword of "Victory or Death", freedom burned fiercely in the hearts of those brave men marching on Trenton. A new country was forged on that cold December day; a day when we shifted from the united States to the United States.
Through their fictional family of Jonathan van Dorn, Newt Gingrich, William R. Forstchen, and Albert Hanser allow us to witness the very real struggle that pitted brother against brother - a struggle that was real in the Civil War as well. Even today, we often find it is easier to find a true brother in those people who share our ideology...and perhaps this is part of what it is to be an American. We are capable of looking beyond our doorstep and forging alliances born of shared struggle...bonds that are often more enduring than blood.
Woven in with the van Dorn's are General George Washington and Thomas Paine. 'To Try Men's Souls' follows their challenges and heartaches as they sought to make good on the promise of freedom and liberty set forth in the Declaration of Independence. I doubt there could have been a better commander of our Revolutionary forces than Geo. Washington - defeats, blunders, and all - for he set many precedents in war and in his presidency 20 years later that are followed to this day.
I enjoyed reading the novel, and learning a bit more about the Battle of Trenton. The writing was okay for a historical fiction - moving in some spots, especially with the `real' historical characters. Truthfully, it is more like a 4-1/2 star book, so I'm being generous with the 5. It is an easy read...although it may take you longer to read it (if you are a moderate reader) than it did for General Washington to cross the Delaware, win the battle, and return back to Pennsylvania!
In closing, we tend to forget, in the general softness of our modern age, what transpired here many generations ago. We would do well to remember that patriotic spirit...for it is part of us; all of us.
Can such a debt ever be repaid? Yes...if we never forget.