71. From the Revolution to D-Day

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On this much-touted (and deservedly so) 80th anniversary of the Normandy beach landings that profoundly shaped the outcome of World War II, I recall a passage from my second book, The Road to Assunpink Creek, that alludes to the exploits of the Continental Army during its legendary winter campaign of 1776-77—specifically the resistance led by Colonel Edward Hand against a much larger enemy force on January 2, 1777—and that I think speaks to the emotions attendant to this occasion:

The democratic impulse behind the efforts of Edward Hand and his men reflected a desire to be free of arbitrary governmental authority and to enjoy the prerogatives of political and economic self-determination that have since the Republic’s founding been gradually extended to more and more Americans. That motivation has been frequently and notably expressed in many ways and by many individuals since the Revolution but was perhaps never more succinctly articulated than it was by a more recent military hero who rose from the nation’s heartland, Dwight Eisenhower, when he was asked to comment on the events of D-Day—the invasion of German-occupied France on June 6, 1944 that he commanded under the code name, Operation Overlord.
During an interview on Omaha Beach for a special CBS television program marking the 20th anniversary of that engagement, the old soldier spoke against the backdrop of the English Channel, which the American, British, and Canadian troops of the Allied Expeditionary Force had traversed on that June day—the most celebrated nautical undertaking by American infantry since Christmas night 1776. From there they stormed the French beaches during the most decisive battle of the Second World War and went on to liberate western Europe from the tyranny of Nazi rule. Looking out at the history-laden waterway, America’s 34th president reflected with a compelling simplicity on the force of an aroused democracy: “It just shows what free men will do rather than be slaves.”

Obviously, no moral equivalence exists between Britain’s colonial policy towards its North American colonies in the 1770s and the atrocities that characterized Nazi governance, but we are reminded once again how the impulse to attain human freedom—however perceived by those striving for it and however relative the challenge it may face at any given time and place—spans generation after generation, and presumably always will.

38. New Books

I thought I’d take a brief respite from working on my next opus to suggest a few new Revolution-related books for your consideration. These are based on my own reading, listening to author talks, or in one case an author interview.

In no particular order  .  .  .

Surviving the Winters: Housing Washington’s Army during the American Revolution, Steven Elliott (University of Oklahoma Press, 2021) — The author has crafted a detailed narrative and penetrating analysis of how the Continental Army housed its units and camp followers, which explains how the construction and operation of these camps was important to the success of the Patriot cause. When you consider that the army spent a great deal more time in these settings than it did on the battlefield, this is a significant contribution to the literature of the Revolution.

Liberty Is Sweet: The Hidden History of the American Revolution, Woody Holton (Simon & Schuster, 2021) — The author offers a new and refreshing look at our struggle for independence that incorporates the story of marginalized  Americans—black people, women, Indians, and religious dissenters—into the mainstream of Revolution-related historiography in a way that general histories of the period have not done until now, while considering other overlooked aspects of the war that factored into its outcome.

The Revolutionary World of a Free Black Man: Jacob Francis, 1754-1836, William L. “Larry” Kidder (S.P., 2021) — This story of a free black man’s struggles with the systemic racism that accompanied enslavement in early America chronicles his youth as an indentured servant, his service in the Continental Army and Hunterdon County militia, and his post-war life as a husband, father, and farmer, as well as his youngest son’s efforts in the abolitionist cause. (BTW see my blog post no. 27, “Jacob’s Ladder,” to read the author’s comments about his work.)

These Distinguished Corps: British Grenadier and Light Infantry Battalions in the American Revolution, Don Hagist (Helion & Company, 2021) — For the authentic military history buff, this should be a real treat to read, being the product of a noted authority on the eighteenth-century British army who is also managing editor of the Journal of the American Revolution. The reader is provided with a thorough and well-written analysis of the role played by British light infantry and grenadier battalions during the Revolutionary War that relies predominantly on a vast array of primary source material.

Happy Reading.

26. Talking about the Revolution & Stuff

For today’s post, I wanted to share with you—through the link at the bottom—my recent appearance on “Back Story with Joan Goldstein” on Princeton Community Television, hosted and produced by Joan Goldstein, Ph.D., a sociologist and retired college professor.

The program, which runs about 28 minutes and was first aired on June 9, focuses on the meaning of the Revolution and how it relates to current circumstances. And any fans of the most famous and least accurate depiction of Washington crossing the Delaware—see above—will get loyts of Lotsa, I mean lots of Leutze. Best of all, there’s no commercial interruption. (For example, you won’t hear me say, “I’m not a historian but I play one on TV.”)

Apologies are due in advance for at least one verbal gaffe—inexplicably substituting “decades” for “centuries” at one point when it’s obvious I meant the latter (no, really)—and excessive use of the convenient but less-than-silver-tongued expression, “um.” My only other regret was not managing to squeeze into our exchange the gustatory aphorism about how democracy resembles pizza. (When it’s good it’s very, very good and when it’s bad it’s still pretty good.)

Hope you enjoy the show.