The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that contrary to general opinion George Washington, as military leader, was not a mediocrity, but genius who managed to win the war in which he had to fight the combined forces of the most powerful empire and local loyalists with poor mix of with untrained volunteers and militia that typically was not capable for serious fight. He managed to do it by using Fabius’ strategy of avoiding battles and draining enemy resources and will until settlement becomes more attractive then continuation of the struggle. Moreover it required not only military but also political genius necessary to mediate tensions between Congress that consistently undersupplied resources, officers and men that were cheated of their promised compensation and at the end of war were on the brink of military coup, and other generals who were intriguing to undermine him.
Here author states the objective of this book as attempt to demonstrate military genius of Washington. It is somewhat unusual statement because the generally accepted view is that Washington was at best a mediocre general, lost more battles than he won, and achieved victory in the war mainly via logistical sophistication that allowed him to keep his army in the field until combination of British exhaustion with the war and massive help of French assured this victory. Author’s claim, however, is that there was more to that and that Washington actually proved to be a military genius by demonstrating capability to change strategy in the middle of the war and succeeded in this turn.
Chapter 1 THE FIRST STROKE
This starts with the analysis of the first encounter of the war in April of 1775 when British troop failed to disarm Lexington militia and lost significant number of their troops in process. Author makes point that it was not result of spontaneous enthusiasm and heroism, but rather well prepared logistical and tactical operation conducted by well-trained militia that was qualitatively better than other Americans militias that for years failed to match this initial achievement.
Chapter 2 PROPAGANDA MEETS REAIJTY IN 1776
Here author analyses role of successful political propaganda campaign that followed Lexington that increased numbers of American militias, simultaneously decreasing their quality. The next American victory in June 1775 at Banker Hill in author’s opinion created false narrative that greatly hurt American cause for many years afterword. Author calls it Bunker Hillism and characterize it as conducting military operation with objective to capture well situated and fortified position and then expecting enemy to repeat British mistake at Bunker Hill of attacking such position headlong. The chapter narrates details of American defeats during second half of 1776 in New York in elsewhere as result of this tactic, that British were able easily overcome by maneuvering and going around fortified position, cutting them off and periodically forcing Americans into pitched battles, in which poorly trained, undisciplined, and often incompetently led militia could not possibly match professional British and Hessian troops.
Chapter 3 THE YEAR OF THE HANGMAN
This is about 1777, which started with remnants of Washington’s army achieving military small, but psychologically huge success at Trenton. After that it was a string of defeats that eventually forced Washington to change strategy to model it on Roman general Fabius’ strategy against Hannibal – avoid direct confrontation and just try to stay in the field long enough for enemy to give up. Author also trying to make case that British commander Howe did not really wanted to military defeat Americans, but tried rather to force them into settlement.
Chapter 4 THE PERILS OF FABIUS
Here author describes political perils that come with the strategy of avoiding fight: Congress political rambling and competitor General Gates getting more traction in his political maneuvering. Eventually Washington was able to avoid replacement and moved to Valley Forge where despite all the problems with supplies and winter he was able to conduct more or less effective training of the army.
Chapter 5 GENERAL DOUBLE TROUBLE
The general Double Trouble was General Lee who was formally more experienced than Washington and, despite being POW for a while, intrigued against Washington and promoted idea of cheap army / militia. While Lee did cause a lot of trouble and continuously demonstrated insubordination, these troubles were resolved in the battle at Monmouth where Lee absolutely failed.
Chapter 6 A SURPLUS OF DISAPPOINTMENTS
This chapter going into details of initial failed cooperation with French fleet and then into money matters when paper money became nearly worthless and material condition of troop and officers greatly deteriorated. It also reviews British attempt to move war to South in hope to get Tories of Florida and especially South Caroline more involved into fighting Americans. They failed mainly because Southern Carolina colonels refused to provide material support. It also describes French failed attempt to take Savannah. However, the most interesting part probably Clinton’s victory at Charleston where the number of militia found in hiding after surrender was 3 times the number of troops actually fighting.
Chapter 7 LEXINGTON REPEATED–WITH AN ARMY TO LOOK THE ENEMY IN THE FACE
This is about British attempt to finish Washington’s army in the June 1780 with landing operation in Elizabethtown. By this time continental army was in pretty bad shape due to shortages of everything including food to such extent that they even had mutinies such as Connecticut Continental brigade. Nevertheless, the landing operation after initial British success stalled with British and German troops constantly harassed by militia and attacked by Washington’s regulars. Author makes an important point that a lot of problems were caused by British generals’ competition and intriguing against each other.
Chapter 8 ENTER THE OUTRAGED CONQUEROR OF CARLESTON
This chapter is about continuation of this battle, which developed into battle of Springfield when British were forced to retreat, but were not completely defeated, leaving many on American side deeply disappointed.
Chapter 9 HOW MUCH LONGER CAN FABIUS LAST?
This is about the next stage of the war when British moved further into South Carolina. Initially it was another defeat of Americans under command of general Gates who once again violated Washington’s rules of using militia. This chapter also briefly discusses Benedict Arnold’s treason, but from an interesting angle: it probably caused Congress appreciate Washington quite a bit more than before. At the end if Arnold left the cause, what would have happened if Washington did the same?
Chapter 10 A PLAN SO DARING EVEN DANIEL MORGAN FEARED THE WORST
This chapter goes in details of event in Carolinas backcountry where Americans under Green and Morgan succeeded with not small help from British arrogance and stupidity that pushed locals into American camp. It narrates about maneuvering in this area between Americans and the best British tactical commander Banastre Tarleton that eventually led to one of the most tactically interesting battles when Morgan intentionally put his troops in position where it would be obvious that give up fighting and run as militia did quite regularly would not be a viable option if one wants to stay alive.
Chapter 11 DOWNRIGHT FIGHTING
This chapter is detailed narrative of battle at Cowpens when thanks to Morgan’s masterful use of combination of militia, infantry, and cavalry British were defeated with quite serious consequences for the war overall.
Chapter 12 FIGHT, GET BEAT, RISE AND FIGHT AGAIN
The next stage of war was Cornwallis movement to South through North Carolina and another battle at Guilford Court House, which Americans under command of Nathaniel Green kind of lost, but were able orderly retreat. In process inflicting serious casualties on Cornwallis. After that Green moved to South Carolina, but Cornwallis decided that he had enough of Deep South and moved up North to Virginia in hope eliminate Washington’s Northern Army.
Chapter 13 FROM MUTINY AND DESPAIR TO IMPROBABLE VICTORY
This chapter is about deteriorating condition of continental army exhausted by multiyear war, devastated by currency inflation that deprive them of practically any meaningful material compensation, and slowly losing any motivation to continue fighting. This situation caused increasing tension and even mutinies in some cases. In addition, Benedict Arnold, in command of some 2000 British troops by this time, raided Virginia forcing Jefferson to run away from his home. Simultaneously France also got tired of the war and start planning peace conference in Vienna with clear intention to abandon Americans to their fate. However, the new and probably the last opportunity presented itself when Cornwallis moved to Yorktown, French fleet moved in to join forces with Washington, and Green wreak havoc on British troops in South. The outcome of all this was defeat and surrender of Cornwallis just when American Revolution was seemingly at its last legs.
Chapter 14 VICTORY’S UNEXPECTED CHALLENGE
This is a bit about peace negotiations when Franklin and Adams had to find way to establish America as an independent state without giving in either to France or to Britain. But it is more about seldom discussed internal American affairs of the period, specifically question of compensation for veterans of revolutionary war when Congress unwillingness to meet obligation put country on the brink of military coup. All this was complicated by British troops remaining in America.
Chapter 15 GEORGE WASHINGTON’S TEARS
This chapter is continuation of the narrative of American veteran’s standoff with Congress, which could end pretty badly if not George Washington. Unlike practically all military leaders before and after him, he did not move to the head of upset military and become dictator, but rather used all his influence to prevent such development that practically makes him the greatest political actor in history. The story here is about specific and famous episode when Washington shed tears at the farewell meeting with officers.
Chapter 16 MAJOR GENERAL ANTHONY WAYNE TO THE RESCUE
The final chapter is about later period when Congress’ neglect of military led to St. Clair’s defeat at the hands of Indian alliance, which jeopardized American Western expansion. This even led to revival of American military, the job that Washington assigned to Antony Wayne who did it and in process created foundation for future American professional military.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I see value of this book in providing much more details than it is usually done on strategically complex decisions of Washington that changed Bunker Hill approach to conduct of the war to Fabius approach. From tactical point of view it is interesting how Washington, Morgan, Green, and others developed methodology of using interplay between training professional army and poorly trained militia to achieve good enough outcome in several battles that convinced British to forfeit hope for clean victory. I also found it very interesting and generally poorly understood psychological genius of Washington who managed to prevent military takeover of the country with the following lawlessness and disarray that was plentifully demonstrated later on in the history of Latin America. In short the more one learns about American history the more one can see intellectual and moral superiority of some founding fathers (all warts included) over the most of people who were in power in USA for 2.5 centuries afterword.