Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and best-selling author Barbara W. Tuchman 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. This compellingly written history 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 paints a magnificent portrait of General George Washington and recounts in riveting detail the events responsible for the birth of our nation.
This book is about the American Revolution and Tuchman's approach is at least 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.
Tuchman always seems to pick good topics and have a good take on them.
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?
Style: Needed serious editing. Chronology is out of joint, some sentences approach incomprehensible.
NOTES: see book
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.