A solid piece of historical research that provides firsthand accounts of George Washington’s many brushes with death.
How was this seminal figure in American history able to survive so many serious illnesses and brutal military campaigns? In this debut work, Lorber explores the belief that Washington’s remarkable resilience was due to some kind of divine intervention. The author relies upon primary source material, most often in the form of letters: Washington’s own writings set alongside those of other individuals directly involved in the events under consideration. Lorber’s task, executed admirably, is to contextualize and string together those letters. By means of his concise expository style, he manages to strike a balance that can be tricky to achieve in this type of study, sufficiently orienting readers but then stepping aside to allow the letters to speak for themselves. This approach is especially helpful for those unfamiliar with 18th-century epistolary-writing quirks with regard to punctuation, abbreviations, spelling, modes of address and the like. After one letter in which Washington chastises his wife’s brother-in-law for writing on a Sunday instead of going to worship, Lorber notes: “It exposes a very dedicated and committed believer. This view of George Washington was seldom revealed to the public.” This is one of the rare instances where Lorber could elaborate further, as it suggests a sort of reticence on the part of most historians to acknowledge Washington’s religious beliefs. Not all letters included in this book are directly related to the notion of providence, but many detail the harsh conditions and lack of basic supplies that plagued soldiers. There are several gems here that combine action, hardship and even poetic overtones. For instance, Washington recounts an ambush by French and Indian fighters in 1755, describing the futility of trying to stop panicked troops from fleeing: “it was with as little success as if we had attempted to have stopd the wild Bears of the Mountains or rivulets with our feet, for they wd break by in spite of every effort that could be made to prevent it.”
Perfectly suitable for history buffs but, thanks to the author’s careful guidance, also appropriate for a general readership.