Essay: 1776 - David G. McCullough

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  • Subject area(s): Literature
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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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  • Number of pages: 2

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28 November 2016

McCullough, David G. 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.

George Washington was one of the most respected and dignified of all generals leading the least respectable and undiciplined of all armies. The American army was said to be foul mouthed, drunken, and unhygenic by alla ccountsz, including Washington. The British however, were highly experienced, historically victorous in battle and distinguished in nature. George Wahington was not enthusiastic about his army as history books tend to depict, and this army was by no means the glorious compilation of heros that I have grown up hearing about. David McCullough explores the contrasting resources and quality of soldiers between the British and American armies in the book, 1776.

 The British and American troops differed in every regard, including resources. George Washington asked Lieutenant John Trumball, a nineteen-year-old son of the Connecticut governor, to make mappings and drawings of the terrain so the army could have a better understanding of the land. This was the most equipped option Washington had in his army. For one sketch in particular, Trumball independently ventured to enemy lines by crawling through the tall grass to better assess British defense. Conversely, the British general assigned drawing the map to professional cartographer, Lieutenant Richard Williams. He assembled a crew to aid in the careful recordings of the different vantaage points they analyzed. Williams made it so detailed, that he even included the red-light district of Boston, the supposed Puritanism center of  the north, which only fueled reb disgust in the British camp. Ultimately, the army was delivered a hand-colored map entitled, “The true situation of His Majesty’s Army and also those of the Rebels”, and Washington was handed a couple of sketches. The British troops had better resources than the Americans in even the fundamentals, such as maps.

John Greene wrote to a friend at the Continental Congress his disturbances regarding the consideration of “how raw and undisciplined the troops are in general, and what war-like preperations are going on [in] England. (pg.#24)” While Washington is remembered for his great physical strength and leadership aptitude, he is never remembered as notably patient. It did not take long for him to implement disciplinary measures to those who did not adjust their conduct to his expectations. Every day, Washington would announce new orders and those that did not honor these orders were either drummed off of camp ground, beaten with a whip, or forced to ride the “wooden horse”, a torture device that inflicted extreme pain. If one were to be a distraction during the time designated to worship, he or she got whipped. If someone struck an officer, they would be the recipient of twenty lashes. If soldier’s disrespected an officer verbally, they would receive thirty lashes. Despite the severity of the punishments however, the men were not quickly adjusting to authority. Discipline was definitely lacking amongst American troops whereas the British were notorious for their discipline.

According to “The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence” by History professor John C. Dann of Michigan University, the Harvard yard  snowball fight best depicts Washington’s frustration with the soldier’s lack of discipline. Eye witness Trask, a ten-year old who joined his father in the war, did not share the story for another ten years. The innocence of a simple snowball fight quickly became a violent fight with gauging and biting amongst the troops. As violence grew, so did the number of soldier’s involved as fifty Virginia riflemen and Marblehead regiment sailors grew to over one thousand men. According to Trask, upon Washington’s arrival to the scene, in one swift motion he threw the horse reigns to his servant, leaped off his saddle and rushed to the center of the commotion. He pushed himself between the two biggest and strongest men of the fight, held each man by the throat with his hands and shook them both at arms-length lecturing them. This scared all the other men and they ran away as fast as they could.

The men’s lack of discipline did not help with the preservation of weaponry. The soldier’s fired their weapons whenever they wanted. Sometimes to start fired and other times just to shoot at wild geese for fun. Supplies depleted more and more everyday and replenishments were scarce to come by as gunpowder was not produced very much in the colonies. Washington was shocked to discover they only had ten thousand pounds of it, the equivalent of nine rounds per man per day. According to John C. Fitzpatrick in “George Washington Accounts of Expenses”  the head of the Board of treasury for the Continental congress indicates that he himself had to use $333.33 of his own money to invest in intelligence for someone to spy out the enemies camp. In addition to scarce funding and resources, clergymen Emerson accounts that some tents were made of sailcloth, boards or stone while others were made of turf, brick or brush. Essentially, the soldier’s tents did not resemble that of an army and looked rather like they were created by whatever was available.

The book 1776 is easy to read and understand becuase it tells of America’s early years in the form of a story rather than a series of events and facts. Because the book goes into more detail about this specific time period than a text book can, I found it especially interesting to learn about the different personalities of the people involved in the war. King George III was actually considered to be of “unaffected good nature” according to Samuel Johnson (pg. #3). It is interesting that early America’s biggest adversary was also a man who loved art, music and one considered a great gentlemen. Unfortunately, his reputation is tainted by the mental disorder of porphyria that was not diagnosable at the time. Understanding the personalities of people such as King George III or George Washington makes the story of 1776 relatable and paints a more vivid picture. This book is primarily written for a college level or older audience. I would recommend it to friends, family or professors because it is an easy to read story compiled of hundreds of sources and much reliable research.

It would be interesting to hear the stories of individual soldiers and what they were thinking that kept them from respecting their intimidating general. Naturally, with such severe punishments at stake one would expect the soldiers to adjust accordingly, but something in them wanted to rebel from any and all order and responsibility. To understand that aspect of the story would give a better understanding of why the army defiantly chose to remain divided from their general, ultimately unequipped for war.

The text book depicts the army as an unqualified militia, but does not truly illustrate the nature of these men. They were not just unequipped; they were undisciplined and unrespectable in their conduct. The American Promise addresses that Washington was selected to lead the army as it showed unity amongst the states, however it des not show the progression of Washington’s feelings toward this decision. As he began to understand the state of the army and what this war would entail, he would express in letters to his wife and close friends his reluctance to assume the position and concern that a victory for the Continental Army would be far beyond his capacity. The story of the year 1776 truly is an account of an unequipped and unprepared militia’s unlikely victory under the leadership of one of the most distinguished generals of all time.

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