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WINNING INDEPENDENCE by John Ferling Kirkus Star


The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781

by John Ferling

Pub Date: May 11th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-63557-276-6
Publisher: Bloomsbury

A masterly history of the lesser-known second half of the Revolutionary War.

Ferling reminds readers that American patriots, ecstatic after the 1777 victory at Saratoga, were not expecting the fighting to continue for nearly twice as long as before. In the scene-setting preface, the author gives low marks to both commanders, dubbing Washington a figure of great political acumen but risk-averse. Though Gen. William Howe mostly got the better of Washington, he was often lethargic and wrong-headed. More than most historians, Ferling gives credit to Howe’s second-in-command, Henry Clinton, who took over in 1778. With the declaration of war by France, Clinton sent nearly half his troops to the West Indies and several thousand more to Canada and Florida. Historians—if not most Americans—understand that Britain’s priority after that declaration was defeating its major rival, leaving Clinton shorthanded. By year’s end, Saratoga was old news, and massive aid from France was nowhere in sight. Ferling paints a vivid yet bleak picture: War weariness was widespread, Colonial currency nearly worthless, enlistments falling, and Washington increasingly desperate for men and supplies. Eventually, French loans helped to sustain the “enfeebled United States,” and Washington fought no major battles for the three years before Yorktown, a fact that disturbed his French allies no less than American critics. Frustrated by Washington, Clinton turned his attention to the south, capturing Charleston in May 1780. “Some believed that Clinton’s victory had saved Lord North’s ministry, enabling Britain to remain at war,” writes Ferling. Readers may recall that Gen. Charles Cornwallis continued north through Virginia to disaster at Yorktown. The author astutely points out that Clinton disapproved of Cornwallis’ actions, and Washington opposed French commander Rochambeau’s plan to march their armies down to Virginia but gave in. A traditionalist, Ferling concludes that, but for its blunders, Britain would have defeated the rebels, who made their own blunders—but not enough to lose. Impeccably researched, as usual, the book is a must-read for any student of Revolutionary history.

Yet another excellent work of early American history from one of its best practitioners.