Thursday, February 10, 2005

Washington's Crossing Books: Washington's Crossing (Pivotal Moments in American History)

I recommend this book by David Hackett Fischer. Well written, thoroughly researched, and thought provoking. Essentially covers about a year, the spring of 1776 to spring of 1777, from Washington's loss of New York City, through the battles of Trenton and Princeton, then the "forage war" in New Jersey. It's thorough and balanced. One thing surprising to me was his description of the American emphasis on technology, they used proportionately more artillery for their formations than did the British. I'd been reared on the Green Mountain Boys capturing Fort Ticonderoga, then Henry Knox dragging the cannon from the Fort to Boston in order to drive out the Brits. That gave me the impression that Washington was always short of artillery. Apparently not true. Fischer ties this into the American way of war--an emphasis on avoiding casualties, particularly important for a democracy.

I've also seen arguments that in the 20th century we relied on overwhelming materiel to win, rather than the quality of our soldiers and generals. It ties into the idea that Europeans conquered the Americas by the intimidation of their technology (see Prescott's book on The Conquest of Mexico, a book I read several times growing up). But there's the counter argument that the technology wasn't that great--see Ben Franklin's argument for bows and arrows. There was also a note in the DVD of "Lonesome Dove" saying that the Indian-white wars in Texas were balanced until multiple shot revolvers arrived.

But back to Fischer--he also has an interesting essay on the historiography and iconography of the crossing that in itself is a window into American intellectual history.

No comments: