The first salute

by Barbara Tuchman

Hardcover, 1988




New York Knopf 1988


History. Nonfiction. HTML: Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, distinguished historian, and bestselling author Barbara W. Tuchman finally turns her sights homeward. Here she analyzes the American Revolution in a brilliantly original way, placing the war in the historical context of the centuries-long conflicts between England and both France and Holland, demonstrating how the aid of both of these nations made the triumph of American independence possible. She sheds new light on the key role played by the contending navies, paints a magnificent portrait of General George Washington, and recounts in riveting detail the decisive campaign of the war at Yorktown. A compellingly written work of history, The First Salute presents a fresh, new view of the events that led from the first foreign salute to American nationhood in 1776 to the last campaign of the Revolution five years later. It brings vividly to life the people and events responsible for the birth of our nation..… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member wildbill
This book published in 1988 was the last book written by Barbara Tuchman. She is one of my favorite authors. One of the things I liked about her is that she was not an academic but she was a very good history writer.
This book is about the American Revolution and Tuchman's approach is at least
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mildly unusual. The title refers to a salute given to the American ship Andrew Doria at the port of St. Eaustatius, a Dutch island in the West Indies. This took place on November 6, 1776 and was the first recognition by a foreign country of the United States.
From that moment Tuchman goes back to the 17th century and comes forward with a brief history of the Netherlands. She writes about the Dutch struggle for independence and William of Orange who ruled the Netherlands and was selected to be the King of England as William III after the English Glorious Revolution.
The action of St. Eaustatius and the island's use as a center for smuggling goods into America prompted the English to send a fleet under Admiral Sir George Rodney to capture the island for England. This is accomplished in short order and the focus shifts to the American Revolution.
Tuchman begins her story of the American Revolution after the American defeat of the British at the Battle of Saratoga. The American victory convinces the French to sign a treaty of alliance with America and begin sending them supplies and money. The French are seeking revenge on the British for their defeat in the Seven Year's War that made Canada a British possession.
The final third of the book tells of the Battle of Yorktown which ended the Revolution. Tuchman first covers the southern campaign of General Cornwallis in South and North Carolina. The American General Nathaniel Greene doesn't win many battles but he keeps his army intact. Cornwallis is frustrated by the lack of loyalist support and moves to Virginia to establish a base at Yorktown on the Chesapeake Bay.
A French fleet comes to America in 1781 to coordinate with American troops to defeat the British. The French make it clear that this expedition will be the last of its kind and Washington understands that this is his hour for victory. Washington wants to attack New York but the French Admiral De Grasse decides that the attack will be made on the Chesapeake. General Washington agrees and a combined French and American force of 20,000 moves against Cornwallis and his army of army of 8,800 at Yorktown.
Yorktown is a battle where everything works out just as planned for the Allies. The British fleet goes from the West Indies up to New York and when they check on the Chesapeake the French fleet is not there yet. Admiral Rodney, the most capable English naval officer had to go to England for surgery and is not available to direct the English fleet. The French fleet gets into the Chesapeake before the British and defeats the British in the Battle of the Capes on September 5, 1781. Cornwallis is now stuck between the French fleet and the Allied troops with no hope for relief.
The Allied forces now begin the siege of Yorktown. Clinton in New York promises but never sends any reinforcements for Cornwallis.
The allies steadily tighten their siege of Yorktown until Cornwallis has no choice but surrender. At 2:00 P.M. on October 17 the ceremony of surrender takes place. Cornwallis pleads ill health and sends General O'Hara forward to make the surrender for the English. Washington in response to Cornwallis' show of disrespect for the Americans directs O'Hara to surrender to his second in command. The defeat at Yorktown has the same effect on the English as the defeat at Dien Bien Phu had on the French in Vietnam. It convinces the English that they cannot defeat the Americans and there is no point in spending more treasure when the result will be the same. After lengthy negotiations the Treaty of Ghent in 1783 ends the war.
This book is not the usual narrative history of the American Revolution. I enjoyed the narrative on the Battle of Yorktown and the relationship between the American Revolution and the ongoing conflict between the European powers. What I found most interesting were the quotations from the letters of the British generals and political leaders. They were more involved in shifting blame for the lack of success than planning how to defeat the Americans. I did not have much interest in the lengthy detour into Dutch history and failed to see the connection with the American Revolution. While the book contained flashes of excellent writing it lacked focus. All I found was a series of facts in search of an idea that was never clearly stated.
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LibraryThing member carterchristian1
This is a good take on the relationship of the West Indies and the American Revolution. It also explains the history of the Netherlands, which I really never understood. All that stuff about Isabella's progeny who became involved. Why there are still Netherlands territories in the Caribbean. There
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is also a very good explanation of the battle of Yorktown and the end of the Revolution, including the debts that led France to the French revolution.

Tuchman always seems to pick good topics and have a good take on them.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
The American Revolution is so often romanticized and distorted by the political needs of Government and Policy that its reality, a ragtag rebellion of seditious wealthy men subsidized by the long-term enemies of England, gets completely lost. Tuchman, in her trademark popular-narrative, chatty
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style, reminds us that, had things gone a different way, we'd be *horrified* at the foolhardy yahoos who thought they could break the safe, profitable cocoon of Empire.

It's why I enjoy her books. She doesn't stint on facts, but she doesn't stint on personalities and ideas either. She has an eye for the telling detail, and she's not afraid to gore anyone's ox.

Easy reading, informative, and surprising. What more can a non-academic hist'ry reader ask for?
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LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn
By exploring the first recorded recognition of the U.S. flag by a foreign power, Tuchman recounts the background of the American Revolution and the importance of gaining foreign acceptance of the fledgling nation.
LibraryThing member Angelic55blonde
This is a pretty good book, Barbara Tuchman did a decent amount of research and did give a new and different look at the American Revolution. It's not a long book and I think it is worth the read.
LibraryThing member librisissimo
Substance: Describes the American Revolution through the connections with the Dutch and French vis-a-vis Britain. Interesting and less-often-seen information. Tuchman mentions many of the "miraculous" events that propelled the Rebels to victory, but stops short of ascribing them to God.
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Needed serious editing. Chronology is out of joint, some sentences approach incomprehensible.
NOTES: see book
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LibraryThing member omphale23
Thirty years later, Tuchman's Whiggish teleology of the actions of great men in furtherance of progress is a bit hard to accept. It's still wonderfully written, and nothing of the facts included is particularly incorrect. But beyond a few lines in the epilogue that address the imperfections of the
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American legacy, it's largely a recounting of the brave boldness of the Americans and the French, and the sluggish complacency of the British commands.

Tuchman's analysis of the development of Dutch beliefs that led to events at St. Eustatius, and of the efforts of Rodney, are a notable departure from the book as a whole, and some of the traditional elements of American Revolution history are left out in favor of a clearer description of naval actions and geopolitical effects. These are welcome, but still don't quite make up for the lack of nuanced interpretations or social history--details that have been become all but required in the years since Tuchman's book was published.
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LibraryThing member TanyaRead
Interesting though sobering history of the American naval forces during the Revolution. It was particularly sobering to read about how the British soldiers treated American civilians along the Atlantic coast during the conflict - it was basically just like Putin has treated the Ukrainian civilians
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during his war on Ukraine.
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LibraryThing member JBGUSA
Barbara Tuchman books are always quite well researched and extremely thorough. At least for me (a major history buff) they cover subjects with which many people are not familiar. This one partially covers the Revolutionary War. Most people with the slightest interest in history have some knowledge
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of that war. This book approaches the Revolutionary War from the south--not South Carolina or Georgia but the Caribbean. The book starts with a somewhat innocent first salute of Dutch cannons at the island of St. Eustatius .

The reason I don't give it five stars is that it doesn't proceed in chronological order. This makes in somewhat confusing. But the French and Dutch contribution to our independence cannot be overlooked. Barbara Tuchman does it justice.
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