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THE PERILS OF PEACE by Thomas Fleming Kirkus Star


America’s Struggle for Survival After Yorktown

by Thomas Fleming

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-06-113910-9
Publisher: Smithsonian/Collins

Riveting history of the two years between Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown and the 1783 peace treaty that ended the Revolution.

Popular accounts assert that America won the war at Yorktown, but Washington didn’t think so, and historian Fleming (The Secret Trial of Robert E. Lee, 2006, etc.) demonstrates how right he was. As the general feared, the colonies celebrated and then, if possible, paid even less attention to his unpaid, shrinking, often mutinous army. Although Washington gets the credit, Yorktown was largely the work of our French allies, who fielded 29,000 soldiers alongside 9,000 Americans. Immediately after Yorktown, the French fleet (which made victory possible) sailed off with many of those troops, never to return. The remainder of the French announced they would spend the winter on the spot, despite Washington’s pleas to march south. The British still controlled Georgia and much of the Carolinas, meaning that a future peace treaty might retain them as British colonies. The same was true of New York, whose largest city was occupied by forces far outnumbering Washington’s. An aggressive British general might have made short work of that tattered army; luckily, no such commander remained in the colonies. Benedict Arnold (now a loyalist) yearned to do the job, but the British disliked him as much as the Americans did. Washington continued to earn his well-deserved immortality, exerting sheer charisma to keep together his dwindling army, which numbered perhaps 5,000 by 1783. Nathaniel Greene, the Revolution’s most brilliant general, reconquered most of the southern states with an army that rarely exceeded 1,000. In France, 75-year-old Ambassador Benjamin Franklin delivered a virtuoso performance, cajoling the government to allow the colonies to make peace (despite an earlier promise to stick with the French till the end) and charming British negotiators.

A captivating account of a surprisingly little-known period that will educate even sophisticated readers.