John Ferling, the dean of American colonial history, has written an outstanding one volume narrative of the American Revolution that is readable and informative for both the hard-bitten historian, and the folks who think that Sons of Liberty was realistic history.
OK, guilty confession, I LOVED Sons of Liberty, even though I knew it was as historically accurate as Hillary’s excuses on Benghazi, so yes, even Grouchy Historians have their brain candy.
However, this book is really marvelous. Ferling does a remarkable job of covering a myriad of topics in only about 300 pages, discussing everything from military strategy to colonial politics, to the issues of women and slavery. He weaves everything together to show the avoidable tragedy that was the American Revolution, and either directly or indirectly (mostly directly) shows that Britain could have either a) avoided the whole mess, b) won the war outright in either 1776 or 1777 or c) ended up with an acceptable stalemate and probable long-term victory in 1780. So let’s address these each in turn.
a) The whole mess could have been avoided if Britain had accepted political and economic reality that the colonies, while mostly loyal to England, did not like being dictated to by a governing legislature thousands of miles away where they had no representation. If England had let the colonists run their own affair and substituted taxation with a more reasonable tariff system on the growing colonial trade, they probably would have made more money and not totally torqued the colonists off.
b) Once the war started, the British had two excellent opportunities to end the war militarily. First in 1776, the whole New York campaign should have ended with General Howe capturing or destroying Washington’s army, but indecision and hesitation allowed Washington to escape his bad generalship (Ferling considers Washington less than a military genius, although an ideal commander for a revolutionary army) and launch a minor counterattack at Trenton to keep the rebellion going. 1777 was an even better opportunity to crush the rebellion by severing the New England colonies in a campaign to seize the Hudson River valley. Here again, petty bickering between British generals resulted in a lack of unity of command, creating the American victory at Saratoga and bringing the French into the war.
c) However, and this is the most interesting point from a military perspective, the British were actually winning the overall war in 1780, occupying New York, a large swath of the southern colonies, and FINALLY rallying large numbers of Loyalist Americans (a severely underutilized resource) to fight for the King. The colonies were nearly broke, war weary, and might have considered making peace with the forces in place, which would have left Britain in possession of 1/3 of the colonies and in a good position to strangle the rest economically. Instead, Lord Cornwallis brought his army out of the Carolinas into Virginia where he settled into a little port called Yorktown. The rest, as they say, is history.
By the end of the book, one is truly amazed that we aren’t drinking tea and eating crumpets. No wonder so many people believe the United States is a blessed country…our Founding Fathers nearly blew it on more than once occasion.
If you read nothing else about this critical period in American history, read this book…you won’t regret it.