Independent historian Schecter’s debut describes New York’s crucial role in the Revolutionary War.
The Founding Fathers agreed that New York was the pivot on which the Revolution turned. They were therefore disheartened when General William Howe routed George Washington’s forces on Long Island, landed his army on Manhattan (where the United Nations now stands), and occupied the city in a matter of days. Schecter's straightforward military history isn’t exactly a page-turner, but it makes an important addition to bookshelves filled with treatises on Lexington and Concord, Jefferson and Franklin, and other more famous battles and personalities of the war. Perhaps most enlightening is his depiction of how New York’s geography posed problems for both its defenders and attackers. The city’s harbor was ideal for trade but terrible from a strategic perspective. The many overlooks and coves provided staging areas from which cannons might bombard enemy ships, but the sheer size of the coastline to be defended presented problems for all but the most well-provisioned armies. At the outset of the Revolutionary War, the colonists did not possess such an army. The British did, and they held the city from the moment they landed until two years after Yorktown. Schecter retells with panache such well-known incidents from New York’s revolutionary war as the execution of Nathan Hale and the first combat use of a submarine (a tiny vessel nicknamed “the Turtle”). He also gives deserved attention to obscure figures like Charles Lee, a former British officer always accompanied by a train of dogs who fought for the American cause until he was captured, whereupon he offered suggestions on how the redcoats might defeat Washington in a manner of months.
An excellent summary of New York’s role in the inception of the US: Boston and Philadelphia, eat your hearts out.