Journalist and historian Kelly chronicles the poorly trained but determined men who fought with George Washington and other commanders to free the North American continent from British rule in the late 18th century.
In an oft-told but still inspiring saga, the author opens his popular history in 1754, as a young Washington was becoming seasoned in battles against French troops seeking to encroach on British territory. After that introduction, Kelly moves the action to 1774, as Washington commands a bunch of ragtag soon-to-be Americans against the British monarchy, which had lost favor due to high taxes, among many other transgressions. Kelly is fascinated by the details of specific battles, but he is well-aware that without finely wrought character sketches of those carrying out the fighting, military history can fall flat on the page. As a result, the author has carefully chosen his heroes and villains, using both primary and secondary sources to explain their paths to battle. A combination of psychobiography, lively prose and generous foreshadowing keeps the narrative moving from battle to battle, year after year, until the story ends in 1783. In the final chapter, Kelly looks back from the year 1824 at the remarkable victories of the revolutionaries; it was the 50th anniversary of the self-styled patriots’ encounter with the well-equipped British musketeers at Lexington Green. “Then began a celebration,” writes the author, “such as the nation had never seen: dinners, galas, speeches, salutes, parades, fireworks. At the Lafayette Ball…five thousand guests wandered through a fairyland dominated by thirty-foot-high transparencies showing Lafayette, Washington, and the marquis’ French estate at La Grange.” The hardships the patriots endured—lack of first-rate equipment, food, clothing and protection from severe weather, among other problems—were seared in the memories of the celebratory survivors and those who followed in the experiment of American democracy.
A rousing account of bloody sacrifice.