Book excerpt: Rick Atkinson begins a new history trilogy

I have not yet read Rick Atkinson’s three books on World War II, his so-called Liberation Trilogy. Having now read the first of his new history trilogy on the American revolution, I eagerly anticipate not only the second and third volumes of the Revolution trilogy but also the earlier books.

This book opens in March of 1775 before Boston was occupied, before the Battle of Bunker Hill, before the “shot heard round the world” — that, Mr. Atkinson asserts based on the woeful inaccuracy of muskets, probably missed.

It closes with the Battle of Princeton immediately after New Year’s in 1777.

Between those dates, the British tried to smack the rebels smartly enough to bring them to their senses, and the rebels mostly tried to duck — with some well-known exceptions.

After George Washington was placed in over-all command of the Continental Army, he showed up at headquarters north of Boston to find the “Army” even more irregular and notional than he had feared. Lack of supplies, desertions, poor training!

His first shout-about-it victory was forcing the British to abandon the occupation of Boston. He did so by adroitly seizing and fortifying the heights of Dorchester. The British commander thought about a frontal assault, was delayed by weather, then decided to decamp to waiting ships of the British Navy and sail for Halifax in mid-March 1776.

Once Boston was secured, he marched his Army (and Colonial militias) south to New York. In July, word came from the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. A broadsheet was read to the assembled troops “at six p.m. on various parade grounds, from Governors Island to King’s Bridge.”

That evening the commander in chief himself appeared on horseback at the Common with a suite of staff officers… Erect and somber, Washington rode into the middle of a hollow square formed by New York and Connecticut regiments while a chirpy throng of civilians ringed the greesward. A uniformed aide spurred his horse forward; the crowd hushed as he unfolded his script and began to read: “In Congress, July 4, 1776.” Even the most unlettered private recognized that something majestic was in the air.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Mr. Atkinson covers battles from Quebec to North Carolina, and from both sides. He is adroit at finding and presenting letters from participants. His quick descriptions of well-known and not-so-well-known people are apt — for example, Thomas Jefferson is “a lanky, ginger-haired Virginia planter” with ‘a happy talent of composition,’ as John Adams conceded.”

If you purchase the book, I strongly urge you to get a printed version so you can study the maps and ponder the portraits!