War ends up being so pivotal in so many developments in history and, yet, the more I read about the most crucial wars in our country's history, the more I am amazed by how much of the outcome was due to incompetence, bad decisions, or just plain luck.
David McCullough's 1776 describes the events of that decisive year in the outcome of the Revolutionary War. Starting with the Siege of Boston, which began in 1775, McCullough takes us through the events that lead to the British abandoning Boston and eventually taking New York. The year ends with two stunning American victories at Trenton and Princeton, victories that occurred at such a low point in morale in the army that, had they not happened, the war may have gone a completely different way.
McCullough is a master at describing the events on the ground. Drawing from a huge number of primary sources, especially letters and diaries, he shows us the conditions the average soldier dealt with, including marching in freezing weather with rags covering their feet and hauling cannon through mud and across rivers. You get a sense for how difficult it was, especially considering that moving the army occurred entirely by foot - there were no transports of course.
In particular, we get great insight into the thinking of the important players, such as Washington, Greene, and Knox, as well as some of the British commanders. It is amazing that Washington, leading the entire army to determine the future independence of the United States, was only 43 years old in 1775. I myself, as I write this, am 38. Jefferson was only 32 and John Hancock, president of the Second Continental Congress, was 38 himself. Amazing to think how young these leaders were! Washington is the particular focus, as McCullough tries to uncover the thinking of this most central man. As the Americans lost battle after battle in New York, due in no small part to the indecisiveness of Washington, and as soldiers left the army as their enlistments ended.