The Battle of Lexington, by Amos Doolittle, 1775. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Rick Atkinson’s new book begins on the early morning of June 22, 1773, with King George III admiring his fleet and the power of his kingdom. The rest of The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775–1777, which covers the first twenty-one months of the War of Independence and is the first entry in a trilogy, leaves the monarch’s mood far less buoyant, what with tea being flung into harbors, shots being heard ’round the world, and new leaders coming to the fore.
“No one could foresee,” the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian writes in his prologue, “that the American War of Independence would last 3,059 days. Or that the struggle would be marked by more than 1,300 actions, mostly small and bloody, with a few large and bloody, plus 241 naval engagements…Roughly a quarter million Americans would serve the cause in some military capacity. At least one in ten of them would die for that cause—25,674 deaths by one tally, as many as 35,800 by another. Those deaths were divided with rough parity among battle, disease, and British prisons, a larger proportion of the American population to perish in any conflict other than the Civil War.” Atkinson adds, “The odds were heavily stacked against the Americans: no colonial rebellion had ever succeeded in casting off imperial shackles. But, as Voltaire had observed, history is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooded shoes coming up.”
Lewis H. Lapham talks with Rick Atkinson, author of The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775–1777.
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