Book: 1776 by David McCullough
On the Fourth of July, we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But this book focuses on the war that preceded the Continental Congress and continued after the important paper was signed;the war that gave the document meaning.
In 1776, David McCullough transports us to October 1775 through the end of the war. We are with the troops day by day, hour by hour. We also read what the British were doing and saying. The British soldiers were far from home and not overly enthusiastic. While the rag tag American troops–the home team–were cheered and urged on by villagers and farmers along the way.
In the background, the politicians met in Philadelphia and carried on their (to British eyes) treasonous business.
“We are in the midst of a revolution,” wrote John Adams, “the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations.”
And as the delegates to the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, McCullough writes:
“..the citizen-soldiers of Washington’s army were no longer to be fighting only for the defense of their country, or for their rightful liberties as freeborn Englishmen…It was now a proudly proclaimed, all-out war for an independent America, a new America, and thus a new day of freedom and equality.”
The war dragged on but the book ends with New Year’s Day 1777. It ends with just a mention of the surrender at Yorktown and the final treaty that was not signed until 1783.
What better way to celebrate July 4th than to visit some of the less-frequented sites related to the Revolutionary War.
In New York City, you can travel to the very southern tip of Manhattan and be amazed at the cobble-stone streets and 18th century buildings that remain. This was pretty much all there was of New York when the war began. It is easy to miss the small Fraunces tavern where Washington said goodbye to his troops. A restaurant serves patrons on the ground floor, and when I was there, I had to ask a waiter to allow me up the stairs to see the rooms where Washington met with his troops.
The entire National Historic Park at Valley Forge in southern Pennsylvania is beautiful, peaceful countryside, unlike the rough conditions soldiers faced there in 1776. My favorite spot was the stone house that served as Washington’s headquarters. There you can actually walk up the wooden stairs that Washington climbed to the bedroom that served as his office.
I loved the Pennsylvania park at Washington Crossing (there is another park on the New Jersey side.) Made famous by the exaggerated painting of Washington standing up in the boat, the park now incorporates some 18th century buildings that you can tour. Drive down the River Road where the troops walked during that bitterly-cold winter crossing that proved a brilliant move as the British were not expecting company in Trenton, New Jersey.
I did not go on to the Trenton Battle Site Monument, the spot of the decisive battle, but that is on my list for another time. Just a small crossroads at the time of the war, the city has obliterated the site of the battle, but a 150′ monument stands where the Americans had their artillery. Fittingly, George Washington stands atop the pillar, towering over the city, as he did over our history.
Finally, visit Yorktown Virginia, where the last battle took place and the British surrendered after being let down by their hired Hessian troops.