1776 by David McCullough

1776

Summary:
  1. David McCullough outlines the actions and strategies of both the British and the colonists leading up to the independence of America in 1776.
Key Takeaways:
  1. Introduces King George III and the conditions in England prior to and during the deployment of British troops to Boston. King George was a simple person and not pretentious which I found unusual for an English King
  2. Depicts the conditions in America and outlines the leaders of the army and a few who were representing the colonies. It described the American army to be made of undisciplined, poorly armed volunteer force of farmers. The army’s morale was decreasing continually until the New Year, 1776.
  3. The British army had the advantage of good discipline, artillery, leaders, and hygiene over the rugged Continental Army.
  4. Independence initially was not the goal of the rebellion but simply protection of one’s liberties
  5. George Washington was known for his extreme self control. He was at first very disappointed and distraught at the caliber of men in his army and was very unsure if he was the right man to lead the colonial army
  6. Washington had an incredible ability to see things as they were and not as he wish they were
  7. Washington led his troops across the Delaware river to attack the British in Trenton. There was extreme weather and delayed them but they went on. It was a huge success for the Americans as they beat the Hessians and British. However, it would be more than 6 years after a treaty was signed with the British in 1783 in Yorktown 
  8. Support from Spain and France was vital. Washington’s ability to learn from his mistakes and to encourage his army were his biggest strengths. He never forgot what was at stake
What I got out of it:
  1. An extremely enticing read which draws the reader in to this extremely important historical time. Interesting to note how unsure the battle was the entire time, that Washington was doubted by his top men and was often unsure of his own ability. However, by never losing his temper, he was able to see things as they truly were, instead of as he wished they were and made better decisions because of it.

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  • The British were still unimpressed by the American army and chose to ignore warnings of attack.General Knox lead an expedition to Quebec to retrieve French artillery and later, the planned siege of Boston and Dorchester by the Americans
  • After forcing the British to surrender Boston, the army rushed to the under defended New York where the British had escaped to. The chapter chronicles the events taking place in New York on the American side and the drafting of the United States Constitution
  • Describes a horrible storm that killed many army men and the British takeover in New York City soon after. Seemingly without hope, the Americans retreated
  • The British takeover of New York City. Prospects weren’t looking good for Washington, as he is close to losing faith in his soldiers; some were acting rowdy, deserted battle, and are losing hope themselves. There were shortages of food and clothing and plenty were sickened with diseases. With the British showing no signs of mercy, the future looked gloom until an act went too far
  • Surprised British with overnight fort at Dorchester and British eventually fled Boston. Attacked Long Island a couple months after that. Washington performed terribly in NY and almost lost the war for America
  • William Howe and Charles Cornwallis were top ranking British officers
  • Nathanael Greene was one of Washington’s right hand men
  • After the disaster in NY, many men were questioning Washington’s leadership. NY was thought lost to the British to the point that Washington asked congress if he should burn down the city. The British captured NY but the next day there was a big American victory
  • There was a massive fire in NY that destroyed a lot of the city while the British were there 
  • Hessian soldiers were German mercenaries that the British hired for support in the war
  • British attacked the American’s fort in Brooklyn from three sides and eventually conquered it. Huge casualties on the American side and 1,000 POWs. Washington and the rest of his army was retreating south to NJ. Only had 3,000 but James Monroe, then 18, wrote that Washington showed no worry and was completely composed 
  • Thomas Paine, author of the pamphlet Common Sense, was a volunteer with Nathaniel Green and the two were very close. His pamphlet was the most read document in America up to that point
  • Washington’s top officers began doubting his ability to lead them to victory
  • General Charles Lee was captured by the British and it was a huge blow to the Americans efforts and the British celebrated like they had won
  • Philadelphia is now the most important city to protect
  • Washington was facing a problem in that in the new year , all enlisted men could leave and it was possible that they’d have to enlist a completely new army
  • Nathanael Greene was the most brilliant field commander and would take over if Washington was killed
  • Around 25,000 Americans killed in the war