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1776 by David McCullough

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1776: The Illustrated Edition 


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In this masterful book, David McCullough tells the intensely human story of those who marched with General George Washington in the year of the Declaration of Independence -- when the whole American cause was riding on their success, without which all hope for independence would have been dashed and the noble ideals of the Declaration would have amounted to little more than words on paper.

Based on extensive research in both American and British archives, 1776 is a powerful drama written with extraordinary narrative vitality. It is the story of Americans in the ranks, men of every shape, size, and color, farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers, no-accounts, and mere boys turned soldiers. And it is the story of the King's men, the British commander, William Howe, and his highly disciplined redcoats who looked on their rebel foes with contempt and fought with a valor too little known.

At the center of the drama, with Washington, are two young American patriots, who, at first, knew no more of war than what they had read in books -- Nathanael Greene, a Quaker who was made a general at thirty-three, and Henry Knox, a twenty-five-year-old bookseller who had the preposterous idea of hauling the guns of Fort Ticonderoga overland to Boston in the dead of winter.

But it is the American commander-in-chief who stands foremost -- Washington, who had never before led an army in battle. Written as a companion work to his celebrated biography of John Adams, David McCullough's 1776 is another landmark in the literature of American history.

About the Author

With his riveting, enlightening accounts of subjects from The Johnstown Flood to John Adams, David McCullough has become the historian that Americans look to most to tell us our own story. In his Amazon.com interview, McCullough explains why he turned in his new book from the political battles of the Revolution to the battles on the ground, and he marvels at some of his favorite young citizen soldiers who fought alongside the remarkable General Washington. More on David McCullough


Back Cover
Editorial Reviews

These United Colonies: The American Revolution - a HistoryWiz exhibit

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Bestselling historian and two-time Pulitzer winner McCullough follows up John Adams by staying with America's founding, focusing on a year rather than an individual: a momentous 12 months in the fight for independence. How did a group of ragtag farmers defeat the world's greatest empire? As McCullough vividly shows, they did it with a great deal of suffering, determination, ingenuity—and, the author notes, luck.Although brief by McCullough's standards, this is a narrative tour de force, exhibiting all the hallmarks the author is known for: fascinating subject matter, expert research and detailed, graceful prose. Throughout, McCullough deftly captures both sides of the conflict. The British commander, Lord General Howe, perhaps not fully accepting that the rebellion could succeed, underestimated the Americans' ingenuity. In turn, the outclassed Americans used the cover of night, surprise and an abiding hunger for victory to astonishing effect. Henry Knox, for example, trekked 300 miles each way over harsh winter terrain to bring 120,000 pounds of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston, enabling the Americans, in a stealthy nighttime advance, to seize Dorchester Heights, thus winning the whole city.Luck, McCullough writes, also played into the American cause—a vicious winter storm, for example, stalled a British counterattack at Boston, and twice Washington staged improbable, daring escapes when the war could have been lost. Similarly, McCullough says, the cruel northeaster in which Washington's troops famously crossed the Delaware was both "a blessing and a curse." McCullough keenly renders the harshness of the elements, the rampant disease and the constant supply shortfalls, from gunpowder to food, that affected morale on both sides—and it certainly didn't help the British that it took six weeks to relay news to and from London. Simply put, this is history writing at its best from one of its top practitioners.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–McCullough concentrates on George Washington's role in the creation of the Continental Army, starting with his appointment in 1775 to lead the rather amorphous army of the united colonies and continuing through his successes with that army at Trenton and Princeton as 1776 turned into 1777. He introduces readers to the 1776 that Washington experienced: one of continual struggle both to create a working army and to defeat the British. The victories that he met outside Boston were soon followed by defeat and near ruin around New York and gave rise to the realization that 1776 might easily have become the worst year in the history of America. McCullough not only provides readers with some of his best work yet, but also presents an important look at one of the most crucial moments in the history of the United States. Black-and-white and color photos are included.–Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine
McCullough’s reputation for telling a riveting story stands out in his latest work. The encounters that he examines and details he includes cut to the heart of what made 1776 a pivotal year in world history. His portrait of King George, although brief, goes beyond the superficial sketch of a clueless monarch that many historians usually offer. The author occasionally shows a frustrated and privately doubting Washington somewhat at odds with accepted mythology, but nonetheless burnishes the general’s heroic stature. Using Washington to drive the narrative may give some readers an unrealistically narrow view of the Revolution, but critics agree: this is history at its best.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From AudioFile
David McCullough brings his wise and gentle style once again to the American Revolution. Having focused on one of the Founding Fathers in his 2001 book JOHN ADAMS, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner reports on a single momentous year in the history of America in which George Washington of Virginia leads the fight for sovereignty against George III of England and his military commander, Lord Howe. McCullough's reading style is journalistic without being dry. With an even and engaging tone, he presents the geography, weather conditions, technology, and diplomacy of the time, at the same time describing the individual personalities who affected the war, drawing from personal correspondences, journals, memoirs, and transcripts of British Parliament and the Continental Congress. S.E.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Booklist
*Starred Review* As the year 1776 began, hostilities between American forces and British regulars, which had begun the preceding April, continued. Yet a full-fledged war for independence was not inevitable. In Parliament, such conciliators as Edmund Burke and Charles Fox attacked government policy as needlessly provocative. In America, many members of the Continental Congress also sought compromise. But the rush of events, especially the ongoing bloodletting, soon drowned out calls for moderation. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian McCullough has provided a stirring account of the year that began with the humiliating British abandonment of Boston and ended with Washington's small but symbolically important triumph at Trenton. In between, McCullough recounts the American disaster at Brooklyn and the demoralizing retreat across New Jersey. He is a gifted writer who enriches his story with ample use of the diaries and correspondence of ordinary soldiers on both sides. Yet it is his portrayals of the two principal antagonists in this struggle that makes this account both engrossing and poignant. George Washington, as expected, is seen here as iron-willed and ambitious, but McCullough also shows him as prone to self-doubt and occasionally in despair over the string of setbacks. George III, contrary to American prejudice and propaganda, is honorable, reasonably intelligent, and sincerely outraged at the ingratitude of some of his American subjects. This is a first-rate historical account, which should appeal to both scholars and general readers. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

"A stirring and timely work."-- The New York Times Book Review

"Brilliant . . . powerful . . . 1776 is vintage McCullough: colorful, eloquent and illuminating."-- Newsweek

"Should be required reading in living rooms from coast to coast."-- Dorman T. Shindler, The Denver Post

Amazon.com Review
Esteemed historian David McCullough covers the military side of the momentous year of 1776 with characteristic insight and a gripping narrative, adding new scholarship and a fresh perspective to the beginning of the American Revolution. It was a turbulent and confusing time. As British and American politicians struggled to reach a compromise, events on the ground escalated until war was inevitable. McCullough writes vividly about the dismal conditions that troops on both sides had to endure, including an unusually harsh winter, and the role that luck and the whims of the weather played in helping the colonial forces hold off the world's greatest army. He also effectively explores the importance of motivation and troop morale--a tie was as good as a win to the Americans, while anything short of overwhelming victory was disheartening to the British, who expected a swift end to the war. The redcoat retreat from Boston, for example, was particularly humiliating for the British, while the minor American victory at Trenton was magnified despite its limited strategic importance.

Some of the strongest passages in 1776 are the revealing and well-rounded portraits of the Georges on both sides of the Atlantic. King George III, so often portrayed as a bumbling, arrogant fool, is given a more thoughtful treatment by McCullough, who shows that the king considered the colonists to be petulant subjects without legitimate grievances--an attitude that led him to underestimate the will and capabilities of the Americans. At times he seems shocked that war was even necessary. The great Washington lives up to his considerable reputation in these pages, and McCullough relies on private correspondence to balance the man and the myth, revealing how deeply concerned Washington was about the Americans' chances for victory, despite his public optimism. Perhaps more than any other man, he realized how fortunate they were to merely survive the year, and he willingly lays the responsibility for their good fortune in the hands of God rather than his own. Enthralling and superbly written, 1776 is the work of a master historian. --Shawn Carkonen

First Chapter - Sovereign Duty

By David McCullough

God save Great George our King,

Long live our noble King,

God save the King!

Send him victorious,

Happy and glorious,

Long to reign o'er us;

God save the King!

On the afternoon of Thursday, October 26, 1775, His Royal Majesty George III, King of England, rode in royal splendor from St. James's Palace to the Palace of Westminster, there to address the opening of Parliament on the increasingly distressing issue of war in America.

The day was cool, but clear skies and sunshine, a rarity in London, brightened everything, and the royal cavalcade, spruced and polished, shone to perfection. In an age that had given England such rousing patriotic songs as "God Save the King" and "Rule Britannia," in a nation that adored ritual and gorgeous pageantry, it was a scene hardly to be improved upon.

An estimated 60,000 people had turned out. They lined the whole route through St. James's Park. At Westminster people were packed solid, many having stood since morning, hoping for a glimpse of the King or some of the notables of Parliament. So great was the crush that latecomers had difficulty seeing much of anything.

One of the many Americans then in London, a Massachusetts Loyalist named Samuel Curwen, found the "mob" outside the door to the House of Lords too much to bear and returned to his lodgings. It was his second failed attempt to see the King. The time before, His Majesty had been passing by in a sedan chair near St. James's, but reading a newspaper so close to his face that only one hand was showing, "the whitest hand my eyes ever beheld with a very large rose diamond ring," Loyalist Curwen recorded.

The King's procession departed St. James's at two o'clock, proceeding at walking speed. By tradition, two Horse Grenadiers with swords drawn rode in the lead to clear the way, followed by gleaming coaches filled with nobility, then a clattering of Horse Guards, the Yeomen of the Guard in red and gold livery, and a rank of footmen, also in red and gold. Finally came the King in his colossal golden chariot pulled by eight magnificent cream-colored horses (Hanoverian Creams), a single postilion riding the left lead horse, and six footmen at the side.

No mortal on earth rode in such style as their King, the English knew. Twenty-four feet in length and thirteen feet high, the royal coach weighed nearly four tons, enough to make the ground tremble when under way. George III had had it built years before, insisting that it be "superb." Three gilded cherubs on top -- symbols of England, Scotland, and Ireland -- held high a gilded crown, while over the heavy spoked wheels, front and back, loomed four gilded sea gods, formidable reminders that Britannia ruled the waves. Allegorical scenes on the door panels celebrated the nation's heritage, and windows were of sufficient size to provide a full view of the crowned sovereign within.

It was as though the very grandeur, wealth, and weight of the British Empire were rolling past -- an empire that by now included Canada, that reached from the seaboard of Massachusetts and Virginia to the Mississippi and beyond, from the Caribbean to the shores of Bengal. London, its population at nearly a million souls, was the largest city in Europe and widely considered the capital of the world.

George III had been twenty-two when, in 1760, he succeeded to the throne, and to a remarkable degree he remained a man of simple tastes and few pretensions. He liked plain food and drank but little, and wine only. Defying fashion, he refused to wear a wig. That the palace at St. James's had become a bit dowdy bothered him not at all. He rather liked it that way. Socially awkward at Court occasions -- many found him disappointingly dull -- he preferred puttering about his farms at Windsor dressed in farmer's clothes. And in notable contrast to much of fashionable society and the Court, where mistresses and infidelities were not only an accepted part of life, but often flaunted, the King remained steadfastly faithful to his very plain Queen, the German princess Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, with whom by now he had produced ten children. (Ultimately there would be fifteen.) Gossips claimed Farmer George's chief pleasures were a leg of mutton and his plain little wife.

But this was hardly fair. Nor was he the unattractive, dim-witted man critics claimed then and afterward. Tall and rather handsome, with clear blue eyes and a generally cheerful expression, George III had a genuine love of music and played both the violin and piano. (His favorite composer was Handel, but he adored also the music of Bach and in 1764 had taken tremendous delight in hearing the boy Mozart perform on the organ.) He loved architecture and did quite beautiful architectural drawings of his own. With a good eye for art, he had begun early to assemble his own collection, which by now included works by the contemporary Italian painter Canaletto, as well as watercolors and drawings by such old masters as Poussin and Raphael. He avidly collected books, to the point where he had assembled one of the finest libraries in the world. He adored clocks, ship models, took great interest in things practical, took great interest in astronomy, and founded the Royal Academy of Arts.

He also had a gift for putting people at their ease. Samuel Johnson, the era's reigning arbiter of all things of the mind, and no easy judge of men, responded warmly to the "unaffected good nature" of George III. They had met and conversed for the first time when Johnson visited the King's library, after which Johnson remarked to the librarian, "Sir, they may talk of the King as they will, but he is the finest gentleman I have ever seen."

Stories that he had been slow to learn, that by age eleven he still could not read, were unfounded. The strange behavior -- the so-called "madness" of King George III -- for which he would be long remembered, did not come until much later, more than twenty years later, and rather than mental illness, it appears to have been porphyria, a hereditary disease not diagnosed until the twentieth century.

Still youthful at thirty-seven, and still hardworking after fifteen years on the throne, he could be notably willful and often shortsighted, but he was sincerely patriotic and everlastingly duty-bound. "George, be a King," his mother had told him. As the crisis in America grew worse, and the opposition in Parliament more strident, he saw clearly that he must play the part of the patriot-king.

He had never been a soldier. He had never been to America, any more than he had set foot in Scotland or Ireland. But with absolute certainty he knew what must be done. He would trust to Providence and his high sense of duty. America must be made to obey.

"I have no doubt but the nation at large sees the conduct in America in its true light," he had written to his Prime Minister, Lord North, "and I am certain any other conduct but compelling obedience would be ruinous and...therefore no consideration could bring me to swerve from the present path which I think myself in duty-bound to follow."

In the House of Lords in March of 1775, when challenged on the chances of Britain ever winning a war in America, Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, had looked incredulous. "Suppose the colonies do abound in men, what does that signify?" he asked. "They are raw, undisciplined, cowardly men." And Lord Sandwich was by no means alone in that opinion. General James Grant, a member of the House of Commons, had boasted that with 5,000 British regulars he could march from one end of the American continent to the other, a claim that was widely quoted.

But in striking contrast, several of the most powerful speakers in Parliament, like the flamboyant Lord Mayor of London, John Wilkes, and the leading Whig intellectual, Edmund Burke, had voiced ardent support for and admiration of the Americans. On March 22, in the House of Commons, Burke had delivered in his heavy Irish brogue one of the longest, most brilliant speeches of his career, calling for conciliation with America.

Yet for all that, no one in either house, Tory or Whig, denied the supremacy of Parliament in determining what was best for America. Even Edmund Burke in his celebrated speech had referred repeatedly to "our" colonies.

Convinced that his army at Boston was insufficient, the King had dispatched reinforcements and three of his best major generals: William Howe, John Burgoyne, and Henry Clinton. Howe, a member of Parliament and a Whig, had earlier told his Nottingham constituents that if it came to war in America and he were offered a command, he would decline. But now duty called. "I was ordered, and could not refuse, without incurring the odious name of backwardness, to serve my country in distress," he explained. Howe, who had served in America during the Seven Years' War -- or the French and Indian War, as it was known in America -- was convinced the "insurgents" were few in number in comparison to those loyal to the Crown.

War had come on April 19, with the first blood shed at Lexington and Concord near Boston, then savagely on June 17 at Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill. (The June engagement was commonly known as the Battle of Bunker Hill on both sides of the Atlantic.) British troops remained under siege at Boston and were running short of food and supplies. On July 3, General George Washington of Virginia had taken command of the American "rabble."

With 3,000 miles of ocean separating Britain from her American colonies, accounts of such events took a month or more to reach London. By the time the first news of Lexington and Concord arrived, it was the end of May and Parliament had begun its long summer holiday, its members departing London for their country estates.

When the outcome at Bunker Hill became known in the last week of July, it only hardened the King's resolve. "We must persist," he told Lord North. "I know I am doing my duty and therefore can never wish to retract."


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