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Six months after the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution was all but lost. A powerful British force had routed the Americans at New York, occupied three colonies, and advanced within sight of Philadelphia.Yet, as David Hackett Fischer recounts in this riveting history, George Washington--and many other Americans--refused to let the Revolution die. On ChrisSix months after the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution was all but lost. A powerful British force had routed the Americans at New York, occupied three colonies, and advanced within sight of Philadelphia.Yet, as David Hackett Fischer recounts in this riveting history, George Washington--and many other Americans--refused to let the Revolution die. On Christmas night, as a howling nor'easter struck the Delaware Valley, he led his men across the river and attacked the exhausted Hessian garrison at Trenton, killing or capturing nearly a thousand men. A second battle of Trenton followed within days. The Americans held off a counterattack by Lord Cornwallis's best troops, then were almost trapped by the British force. Under cover of night, Washington's men stole behind the enemy and struck them again, defeating a brigade at Princeton. The British were badly shaken. In twelve weeks of winter fighting, their army suffered severe damage, their hold on New Jersey was broken, and their strategy was ruined.Fischer's richly textured narrative reveals the crucial role of contingency in these events. We see how the campaign unfolded in a sequence of difficult choices by many actors, from generals to civilians, on both sides. While British and German forces remained rigid and hierarchical, Americans evolved an open and flexible system that was fundamental to their success. The startling success of Washington and his compatriots not only saved the faltering American Revolution, but helped to give it new meaning....

Title : Washington's Crossing
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ISBN : 0000195170342
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 564 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Washington's Crossing Reviews

  • Matt
    2019-02-28 07:20

    Despite a great love of history, I’ve never been able to really connect to the American Revolution as a historical event. The reason, I think, is that the Revolutionary War is our creation myth. Like other creation myths, such as the Christmas Story (the one with Jesus, not the BB gun), historical veracity and the exact sequence of events is not as important as the fact that event happened at all. Rigorous analysis takes a backseat to emotional considerations. Objectivity is shrouded in the mists of symbolism. In the end, the American Revolution becomes an article of faith. As with any faith, there are icons, and the iconography of the American Revolution is as visible today as it was in the late 18th century. Walk into an elementary school classroom and you will likely see a copy of Charles Peale’s portrait of George Washington. Walk into a courthouse and you will likely see Archibald MacNeal Willard’s The Spirit of ’76. Walk into my closet and you will see a print of John Trumbull’s Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown that my wife will not let me hang on the wall. (This has led to several arguments in which she claims that marriage constitutes an implied contract not to display any Revolutionary iconography, and in which I call her a damned Tory).Of course, the most famous icon of the Revolution, and indeed, one of the most famous images in American history (up there with Joe Rosenthal’s picture of the flag raising at Iwo Jima), is Emanuel Leutze’s painting Washington Crossing the Delaware. I have no hesitation in saying that you have seen this painting. Everyone has. Heck, if you were anything like me as a child, you probably, at one point or another, found a tricorn hat, put on a bathrobe, made a boat out of chairs and blankets, and attempted to replicate this scene. Fittingly, David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing, begins with a description of Leutze’s work: its creation, composition, symbolism and preservation. (You also learn that contrary to the contrarians, Washington probably did stand up in the boat, since the bottom of the boats were full of icy water). But Fischer’s book is about so much more than the crossing of the Delaware River and Washington’s subsequent victory over the Hessians at Trenton. It is, actually, the best book I’ve read on the Revolutionary War. The first few chapters of Washington’s Crossing carefully set the stage for what is to follow, by describing and comparing the three different armies at the heart of this story: the British, the Americans, and the Hessians. Fischer makes a distinction between the armies of liberty (the Americans) and the armies of order (the British and the Germans); however, he doesn’t come to the facile conclusion that one would expect (liberty = yay!; order = boo!). Instead, with restraint and judgment, he shows the relative strengths and weaknesses of both. I was especially engaged by Fischer’s chapter on the Hessians, and his ability to humanize them. While some were conscripts, Fischer shows how many of these troops were proud of their service, and were rewarded relatively generously. (As an aside, is there anything quite as terrifying as a German? They are cold, disciplined, tireless and efficient; when they turn those traits towards warfare, watch out! And I say this as a person who had a great German friend in college. I loved him as a boy might love a robot). Once Fischer has created this context, we begin the journey towards December 25, 1776. This road starts in New York, with the invasion of that city by Lord William Howe (of whom Fischer has many laudatory things to say) and his brother Admiral Richard Howe (a third Howe brother, George, was killed during the French and Indian War; American colonists commissioned a statue in his honor, which is still located at Westminster Abbey). Lord Howe’s army crushes George Washington’s poorly-arrayed troops at the Battle of Long Island, forcing Washington to save his army by retreating to Brooklyn Heights and ferrying his army across the East River (while the Delaware crossing on Christmas night is Washington’s most famous amphibious operation, he replicated the act on several occasions, to great effect).The Battle of Long Island heralded the dark season of the American Revolution. New York City fell to the British, as did Fort Washington. Washington kept retreating and the British, under Cornwallis, kept pursuing. The British launched an invasion of New Jersey by scaling the Palisades and crossed the entire State, nipping at Washington’s heels. With winter coming on, the British and Hessians halted at Trenton. At the moment of the Revolution’s nadir, Washington conceived a brilliant and risky plan to capture the Hessian garrison under Colonel Rall at Trenton. On Christmas night, with the help of John Glover’s Marblehead men, Washington’s troops crossed the Delaware River. The crossing, ironically, was the easy part (and in the book is covered in a couple pages). The troops then had to make a forced march through a raging storm to reach Trenton before the garrison was alerted. The Continentals, helped immensely by the skill of Henry Knox and his artillery, soundly whipped the Germans. Fischer’s writing is a seamless integration of narrative and analysis. His style is as open and engaging as the best popular historians, such as David McCullough; however, unlike some popular historians, his scholarship and judgments are impeccable. This is the rare kind of book that is not only a pleasure to read, but is also written with an analytical eye. The drama of the story never overtakes Fischer’s reasoned judgment, and vice versa. Fischer never fails to remember that history is a story about people: their decisions, their actions, their triumphs and their mistakes. In brief sketches, he manages to humanize the leading personalities. He tells us how the humane Lord Howe wanted to avoid war with the Colonists; how the fatherless Washington treated his aides as sons; and how Cornwallis, known to Americans as the loser at Yorktown, bucked the conventions of his class to marry for love. This is not history written as a chronology; this is history forged moment-by-moment by fallible, recognizable humans. Fischer does what he can to conjure the reality – the sights and sounds – of a long-ago battle: The American infantry were aiming at the Hessian officers and brought down four Lossberger captains. Colonel Rall was in the thick of it. As another junior officer went down, Rall turned to console him. Then the colonel himself was hit and ‘reeled in the saddle,’ shot twice in the side; both wounds were mortal. The dying German commander was helped off his horse, carried into the church, and laid upon a bench. In the center of Trenton, the battle became a bedlam of sound. The streets echoed with the thunder of artillery, the crash of iron on brick and stone, the noise of splinter wood and shattering glass, shouts and curses, and the cries of wounded men. On the vast scale of human slaughter this eighteenth-century battle was nothing to compare with other wars, but its very close combat of cold steel, massed musketry, and cannon at point-blank range created a scene of horror beyond imagining. I did not come into this book completely ignorant of the Battle of Trenton, but I still learned a lot. For instance, until now, I did not know about the high number of rapes committed by British soldiers. Further, I learned that the Americans actually had a really good supply of artillery, weapons, and ammunition, though they were endemically short of food and blankets. There is also the popular conception of the Germanys partying hard on Christmas, and thereby suffering from a massive hangover during the battle. In fact, the Hessians were quite sober. The reason they were tired, and caught unprepared, was that Colonel Rall had had them up on alert the preceding nights, due to raids by New Jersey militia (operating independent of the Continental Army, to unplanned effects). On the day of battle, Washington was greatly abetted by a winter storm, which lulled the exhausted Germans into a false sense of security. (I probably should’ve have known that the Germans, with their rigid sense of duty, wouldn’t have been drunk. Now, if they had been Irish troops…). Fischer’s text is greatly enhanced by 19 detailed maps. This is a big deal in a book like this, at least to me. My spatial imagination is horrible, and if I don’t have a good map for reference, all subsequent descriptions of troop movements is a waste of ink. In other words, I have the geographical sense of Christopher Columbus. The maps in Fischer’s books, created by Jeffery Ward, are wonderful. They show roads, landmarks, and troop positions, while also including a modern-day overlay, so you know exactly where events are taking place. Despite all this information, the maps are easy to follow. I also appreciated the fact that this book’s illustrations are interspersed throughout the text, rather than clumsily bunched into a center-section, like a publisher’s afterthought. Illustrations should serve a purpose. In Washington’s Crossing, when Fischer introduces a character, there will be a portrait of that character on the page. It’s such a simple thing, yet so few history books do it. Washington’s Crossing does not end with the Battle of Trenton. It goes on to discuss, at length, the little-known Second Battle of Trenton, the Battle of Princeton, and the so-called Forage Wars, where small bands of Continentals, aided by New Jersey militia, annoyed and harassed the British army. It’s a testament to Fischer’s abilities as an author that this material, which might seem anticlimactic, is possibly more thrilling than the Battle of Trenton. I was especially pleased with Fischer’s treatment of the Battle of Princeton, which I would venture to guess most Americans have not heard of (and which I have seen some historians qualify as a draw). Militarily speaking, George Washington usually garners the most credit simply for keeping his army together. He saw the Revolution as a “war of posts,” and at Long Island, he nearly met with catastrophe trying to lure the British into another Bunker Hill. At Princeton, though, you see boldness, panache and brilliance. Faced off with Cornwallis, Washington managed to disengage from the enemy, steal a march, and strike unexpectedly at the British base.Fischer ends his book with a concluding chapter. Here, he helpfully reminds you of everything you were supposed to learn. This is a bit pedagogic, but never condescending. Fischer also includes a number of fascinating appendices that hold forth on various topics including the British, Hessian, and American order of battle; a weather almanac; a note on the ice floes in the Delaware; casualty lists for each army in each battle; a time and distance analysis on the American march to Trenton; a discussion about dubious historical documents; and a section entitled “Historiography,” where Fischer describes how the Battle of Trenton has been written and interpreted from 1776 to the present day. All in all, it is trove of facts, figures, and erudite analysis.Today, the American Revolution exists in a haze of jingoism, self-congratulations, and firework smoke. There isn’t a lot of time spent parsing its meanings and complexities. I mean, if you take a second to dig a little deeper, beyond catchphrases and loaded words, things get a bit uncomfortable. For instance, those taxes levied “without representation” were meant to pay for Britain’s defense of the Colonies during the French and Indian War. Without British help, we might all be speaking French right now. Mon Dieu! The Revolutionary Era’s prominence in our modern age is as a cudgel used to beat political opponents and score cheap political points. Indeed, there is a burgeoning party – the Tea Party – named after a famous protest that occurred in Boston Harbor. One of the Tea Party’s stalwart leaders, Minnesota’s Michelle Bachmann, self-confessedly joined the conservative party after reading a Gore Vidal novel that “slandered” the Founding Fathers. There is even a well-regarded legal theory that wants to derive the meaning of the Constitution based on the societal beliefs and norms of the day it was signed. (This works out very well for white males of the landed gentry; not so well for blacks, Indians, Jews, Catholics, renters, or women). (I mention this not as a political commentary, but rather a critique on using historical antecedents to shape current political thought. Using history in this way inevitably distorts that history). Clearly, the American Revolution now carries a bit of baggage. Thus, throughout Washington’s Crossing, I paid close attention to whether Fischer had a particular point of view or axe to grind. He does not. Fischer makes a conscious effort to be objective and accurate. This doesn’t mean finding some false equivalence, but rather in presenting the facts as they are known. The British were well-led and professional, yet some British troops raped and pillaged across the countryside. The Americans were brave and motivated by high ideals, yet they also kept slaves. (And no, I don’t think slavery is something that can be blithely dismissed as a minor character flaw, such as posting half-naked pictures of yourself on Craigslist, or casting a leering eye at the page boy).I mentioned above that it is hard to connect to the American Revolution. It is a creation myth; it is a political sword; it predates photography; and it is captured in stylized paintings. Nothing about it has concrete reality. There is no stark Matthew Brady-like photo of the dead. Fischer’s achievement is to scour the subject so that it becomes something real. The thing is, once you strip away the mythology, and discover what really happened, you end up more impressed than you were before.

  • Lisa (Harmonybites)
    2019-03-04 07:13

    Less than two weeks ago I read David McCullough's 1776, a history of the first year of the Continental Army under George Washington, its mixed success in Boston and disaster in New York City and culminating--after a night crossing of the Delaware River--in their victory in the Battle of Trenton. It was an engaging, well-told story of such suffering and such blunders I left that book amazed the American Revolution, the army and cause survived to triumph. This book covers much of the same territory, with a particular focus on the crossing of the Delaware on Christmas of 1776, the ensuing Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton less than a week later. The Editor's Note claims that: "No single day in history was more decisive for the creation of the United States than Christmas 1776. On that night a ragged army of 2,400 colonials crossed the ice-choked Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New York in the teeth of a nor'easter that lashed their boats and bodies with sleet and snow." Given the overlap in material I thought this book was likely to suffer in comparison. That 1776 would likely make the stronger impression having been read first. McCullough is arguably the more engaging, more concise writer--but not only did Fischer have a different read, emphasis and details, but in the end Washington's Crossing is the stronger, more scholarly book, packed with notes, maps and illustrations. Although you'd have to enjoy not just history but military history. Fischer paints the crucial battles in a much more detailed way than McCullough did, not simply in terms of grand strategy but the more personal tragedies and individual casualties. And if McCullough's book arguably throws George Washington in sharper relief, Fischer is superb in depicting the various armies, their soldiers and officers. Fischer tells you of their training, their discipline, even about their drum calls. The British commanders, the brothers General and Admiral Howe, come across in a more complex, human way--the same is true of the Hessians and their officers. For one, Fischer explained that even in contemporary times, a British officer could say there was no British army--only a collection of "tribes" which is why the British army could never bring off a coup. You understand what that meant when Fischer details the very different customs and cultures of various regiments--the Scottish Highlanders going into battle in their kilts and determined not to let down their kin and clan fighting beside them. The Americans were varied as well. I had known blacks had served in the Revolutionary War--I hadn't known that in at least one Massachusetts regiment they served in integrated units--and that there were black officers, one of whom rose to the rank of colonel. The various folk ways of the different American regions, and the need to wield them together into a unified force that didn't conflict with the revolutionary ideals were a big part of the story. I really liked 1776, and I'd recommend both books really. And probably 1776 with the more sweeping, less detailed overview is the one to read first. But if I were forced to choose only one book to read or keep on the bookshelf, it would be Washington's Crossing. I'd certainly be interested in reading more of Fischer in the future.

  • Max
    2019-02-21 09:22

    Washington’s Crossing is a real page turner. It is well researched and filled with detail yet never becomes tedious. An added bonus is the historiography at the end showing all the ways the same events have been interpreted over the years by historians and artists of different nations. For someone who is weary of constant references to American exceptionalism by the clearly unexceptional, Fischer’s genuine depiction of American revolutionary leaders who deserve the accolade is wonderfully refreshing. Standing out above the rest was George Washington. Fischer depicts the American victories at Trenton and Princeton as a turning point in the war. The British had driven the Continental army out of New York. They along with their Hessian mercenaries occupied New Jersey in a display of overwhelming strength. Loyalists were emboldened and as the revolutionaries became disheartened, capitulation seemed possible. Instead the loyalists soon lost faith. Washington’s quick precision strikes at Trenton and Princeton showed the Americans could fight and the British could lose. Cornwallis was forced to retreat settling into enclaves near New York as local militias supported by the Continental Army operated with guerilla tactics. While thoroughly professional, the British and Hessians were limited in imagination and flexibility due to their strict hierarchy. Their arrogance caused them to underestimate the fighting ability of their opposition making them vulnerable. Their troops were constantly harassed outside their bases and became dispirited as the death toll mounted. Support for the war in England suffered as its costs rose and the prospect of quick victory faded. General Howe exaggerated his wins and minimized his losses in his reports to Parliament. However, his requests for thousands of additional troops made many back in England realize they were not getting the straight story. All of these things make one instantly think of the Viet Nam War. George Washington demonstrated remarkable leadership. He had the capacity to grow into the job and to learn from experience. His presence and his calmness under pressure enabled him to lead by example. His openness, the ability to draw out, to absorb new ideas and reach consensus made him highly effective. His brilliance was in his ability to recognize and adopt the best available ideas regardless of their origin. He was always mindful of public opinion. This coupled with his deep morality led him to minimize casualties and treat prisoners and loyalists humanely drawing a sharp distinction with the British and Hessians. Their widespread plundering turned the local population against them.Washington adopted a mobile, flexible military strategy that looks thoroughly modern. He had a great sense of timing, of maintaining the initiative and keeping his opponents off balance. His tactic of concentrating his army on isolated elements of enemy positions was effective and well executed. Before the idea had a name he was clearly proficient in the use of force multipliers. In this time when so many heroes seem tainted, here we have this highly credible account of the exploits of an American who deserves the title and our respect. George Washington was truly an exceptional leader and Fischer gives us an exceptionally vivid account. This is historical writing at its very best.

  • David
    2019-02-27 06:26

    Almost everyone knows the famous painting of General Washington standing heroically in a shallow boat, surrounded by soldiers in a variety of garb including James Madison holding an American flag, crossing the ice-choked Delaware river. The painting, done by a German artist 75 years after the fact, is a pretty romanticized depiction of the event. But there's no debating the significance of what happened on that Christmas Day 1776. This book, which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for History, is a remarkable record of the events leading up to the crossing, the truth about the crossing itself, the rout of the Hessians in Trenton that followed, and the aftermath in the war for independence. He describes in great detail the British invasion of New York some months after the Declaration of Independence, and the dismal state of the American effort at that point. The impact of British and Hessian atrocities helped motivate the sluggish colonists; but Washington's character and leadership shine most brightly. I was newly fascinated by the vivid but very readable description of what Fischer believes to be the turning of the tide that led to American independence.

  • Gary Hoggatt
    2019-02-25 06:16

    I've been reading a lot of American Revolutionary history lately, and even so, David Hackett Fischer's 2003 volume Washington's Crossing, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for history, stands out as excellent. Much like David McCullough's fantastic 1776, Washington's Crossing focuses in on a narrow portion of the Revolutionary War and brings it to vivid life.Washington's Crossing is devoted to an in-depth look at the New Jersey campaign of the winter of 1776-1777. However, Fischer doesn't just dump you into the icy Delaware River without some background. He starts off by examining each of the three armies involved, the American, British, and Hessian, looking at where they came from, how they viewed the Revolution, how they operated, and what their goals were. This section is extremely interesting, and did a lot to enhance my understandings of all sides.The challenges Washington faced with Continental troops from all over the colonies and militia only vaguely under his command, the plans of British commanders Admiral and General Howe to pacify the countryside and aide the surely-numerous Loyalists in keeping the colonies under the King, and the economic and historical reasons Hessians became excellent mercenaries, and more - all of this was illuminating. Finally, Fischer gives an overview of the disastrous routing of the Continental Army during the New York campaign, which lead to the dire straights the Cause found itself in by November 1776.Once he turns to the New Jersey campaign, Fischer breaks the action down into four main parts - the Battle of Trenton, the Battle of Assunpink Creek, the Battle of Princeton, and the Forage Wars. The Battle of Trenton, of course, is where the title of the book - and the famous painting - comes from, and was the initial shock that stunned the British and Hessians. Fischer does a great job of setting the scene for just how big a gamble this was for Washington. He also dispels the common myth about the Hessians being drunk on Christmas, as instead explaining how their openness to attack was a combination of fatigue from being on watch for days on end for militia who had been harassing them and an assumption that no one could be crazy enough to attack in the intense blizzard that, in fact, served the American purpose excellently by covering their approach.My favorite part of the book, in fact, may be the part detailing the Battle of Assunpink Creek (also known as the Second Battle of Trenton). I hadn't even heard of this battle before. It was the British counterstrike after their loss at Trenton, and the Americans were forced into defending the indefensible city they had just taken from the Hessians days before. Through a combination of bravery from the men, ingenious generalship from Washington, and a willingness to fight the way that worked, instead of the way the British expected them to, the Americans not only won the battle, they were able to slip away from under the British's very noses in the middle of the night and make their way to Princeton, surprising the British once again with the American ability to show up where they weren't expected.What followed was the Battle of Princeton, where the Americans ran into reinforcements headed to Trenton and defeated the British in a pitched battle on open field - a first. In less than two weeks, the Americans had run up several victories against the British, and rallied a Cause they seemed nearly dead only a month before. But they weren't done yet. The rest of the winter was consumed by the Forage War, in which the Americans - mostly militia - harassed the British in their winter quarters and while they attempted to supply their army from the countryside. By the spring of 1777, the British had gone from assuming the war was nearly over to, among some major leaders and many of the men, believing it could not be won.Fischer covers all the bases in Washington's Crossing. He explains the motivations of the people and forces involved, he compellingly describes the battles with a novelist's flair, and he clearly lays out the effect the events of this book had on the Revolution as it continued. He really leaves no angle unexplored in this thorough effort, and is entertaining all the while.One detail that aided the book greatly was the care given to the visual aspect of history. Maps of all the major encounters are plentiful, as are portraits of the major players, and they all appear in the text when the person is introduced, and not sequestered in a glossy break in the narrative midway though the pages of the book. This may not seem a big deal, but so many histories and biographies manage to mess it up that it's refreshing when it's handled well as it is in Washington's Crossing.Finally, a comparison, since I mentioned it at the beginning, to David McCullough's 1776. There is certainly overlap between the two books. 1776 mainly covers between the Siege of Boston and the Battle of Princeton. It does so quite well, and is fantastic at covering the American side of the story. Washington's Crossing covers from the Battle of Long Island to the Forage Wars, and gives more attention to the British and Hessian side of the story than does 1776. Both are excellent and I recommend them to any fan of American history. If I had to pick one, it would probably be Washington's Crossing, by the narrowest of margins.British General Lord Cornwallis, known to Americans as the loser at Yorktown in 1781, was also involved in the New Jersey campaign, and told Washington after Yorktown, "When the illustrious part that your Excellency has borne in this long and arduous contest becomes a matter of history, fame will gather your brightest laurels rather from the banks of the Delaware than from those of the Chesapeake." Cornwallis was right - as important as the later battles of the war were, Washington saved the Revolution with the Continental victories in the New Jersey campaign. Washington's Crossing will show you why.I highly recommend David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing to any fan of American or military history. Fishcer's work is compelling, thorough, well-researched, and most of all enjoyable. History fans will not be disappointed.

  • Frank Stein
    2019-02-22 10:16

    A rare and impressive example of a modern academic doing military history, and doing it well.Yet clearly part of the reason Fischer wrote this book was to provide a kind of on-the-ground justification for his earlier work of social and cultural history, "Albion's Seed," where he discovered four major "folkways" in America which he thought descended from four separate waves of migration. Sure enough, he finds similar divisions here, such as that between the "ordered liberty" of the New England regiments and the "levelling liberty" of the Pennsylvania Associators. Whats surprising perhaps is how convincingly he makes his case, describing how the Pennsylvanians, for example, elected their own officers and forbid sartorial displays of differing rank. He furthermore extends his social analysis to those on the British side like the fiercely independent Highland Foot regiments (one of whom fought a bloody battle in its own right to keep its kilts and tartans back in Scotland) and the infamous Hessians, who were sent over to the US as part of the Handelsoldieten (solider trade) in what some at the time called "the deal of the century" for the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, who received millions in gold for his troubles.Fischer also demonstrates the world-historical consequences of these social and military confrontations along the Delaware river in late 1776 and early 1777. The defeat of the Hessians at the first battle of Trenton caused Europe, inspired especially by an anonymous pamphleteer who was probably Ben Franklin, to react against the mercenary trade and helped end it on the continent. On the other hand, Washington is portrayed as one of the first to understand how to create a new American order out of distinctive and differing visions of liberty, namely, through negotiation and tolerance. His command foreshadowed later government recognition of differences and compromise, yet kept the army united enough to achieve victory.Overall though, the book is mainly a well-wrought military history, describing the lay of the land and dispositions of regiments and how they clashed in battle. I haven't read anything like it in awhile, but I'm certainly glad I read this one.

  • Joe
    2019-03-18 11:25

    This book is so far, my personal favorite. I wasn't 10 pages into it when I realized I was really going to enjoy this book. David Fischer won the Pulitzer prize for History for it, and I can see why. The story unraveled like no other I have ever come across. Just like other reviewers have said, it should be required reading for anyone who is interested in learning about one of (if not thee) most important moment in American history.This is a wonderful story... There is suspense, drama, impossible odds, and an underdog who is triumphant in the end as our hero. And it was all true. What else can you ask for?

  • Richard
    2019-03-19 11:11

    David Hackett Fischer has produced a highly readable and fact-filled account of the important battles of the Revolutionary War following the Declaration of Independence. This conflict required a young, self-made country to draw soldiers from among its colonies to go against the strongest army of the time without the knowledge of how or when the outcome would play out. I think the heart of the American War of independence was the people of all classes who joined regiments and went to war under sometimes terrible physical conditions, for pay, food and clothing which was meager when available, which was not often. The glue which held this together was the aristocratic George Washington, whose prior military experience several decades earlier in the French and Indian War was far from stellar. How all of this came together and led to ultimate victory is the driving force of the historical study of this war. This story begins in the summer of 1776, after the new American commander, Washington, had driven the British from Boston. The Colonists were able to use the terrain around that city to make it unbearable for the occupying British to remain there. New York was a different story. General Howe landed a powerful army of British regulars and German "Hessians" on Staten Island. Washington's strategy quickly changed from stopping the invasion to moving his gradually disintegrating army from one disastrous defensive position to another. Fischer provides clear maps showing the defeats and retreats from Long Island to Harlem Heights to Fort Washington by Washington's army after being tactically outmaneuvered by the British Navy and Army. Washington's only "successes" during these months consisted of brilliantly executed and lucky withdrawals of his forces while on the verge of being enveloped by the enemy on several occasions. After his retreat across New Jersey to Trenton, and then across the Delaware River to Pennsylvania, Washington was able to stop running, but most of his army was killed, captured or had deserted by then. The remnants were due to end their enlistments at the end of the year. It was entirely possible, by the winter of 1776, that the Revolution would run out of steam. Washington made a daring plan to turn his fortunes around. He crossed the Delaware River during the evening of Christmas to attack the Hessian regiment which had taken up winter quarters in Trenton. He put his 2,400 men in boats and crossed the river at night in a strong ice and snow storm. Fischer's descriptions and maps show how the Americans were able to maneuver into position to defeat a force of professional soldiers. Not content to withdraw with his prisoners back to Pennsylvania and sit out the winter, Washington kept his forces in Trenton to face the British relief army of General Cornwallis at Trenton. The Americans skillfully withdrew back along the route the British marched from Princeton, and fought successfully against the British there. Unlike the two next disastrous winters when the American Army would almost starve and freeze to death in encampments, the 1776-77 winter would be spent by the Americans in New Jersey, carrying on a "forage war" of attacks which effectively kept the British main forces tied up in New York City until the following spring.Fischer writes a history which describes one of the great military reversals of all time. The casual reader can find a wealth of interesting information in an enjoyable read, while the historian and scholar will be impressed by the depth of research used in writing the book. Fischer always, though, is focused on the General who was able to keep his army going under all challenges, and the people who he led. The American Army at this time could contain a collection of types such as: Virginia gentlemen, New England seamen, Scot immigrants, western frontiersmen, Pennsylvania and New Jersey farmers. Some were attired in their civilian clothing as part of militia regiments; some wore the uniforms of state regiments. Some were black (it is interesting that the novelty of a racially integrated army starting in 1948 was actually preceded by the Revolutionary War). I didn't make up the preceding description of American types fighting with Washington. The list is actually from Fischer's critique of the iconic painting of "Washington's Crossing the Delaware" by Emanuel Leutze. This American treasure in the Metropolitan Museum of Art was actually painted to inspire the 1848 European revolutionary movements by the artist, who had returned to Germany from America. It is interesting that the original 1850 painting remained in Germany and was destroyed by the bombing of Bremen in World War II; the famous painting in the Met is an exact Leutze copy of the original dated 1851. Fischer ends his book with an examination of the historiography of the contribution Washington made to the Revolution through his victories at Trenton I and II and Princeton. I enjoyed reading his descriptions of the differing historical interpretations of these events by the Romantic Historians, Whigs, Nationalists, Debunkers, Multiculturalists and others. This section is a mini education on historical method. Fischer's position on the subject is that you can assign any motives you want to Washington and the Patriots, but the only fair conclusion of the cause they fought for is that they were trying to build a country according to the highest principles. Two discoveries concerning the human condition were being put to the test here, not in academia but in a war for survival. The first was the principle that a society could be organized on the basis of liberty and freedom, and it could actually work. The other concerned the capacity of humans for order and discipline. These Enlightenment altruisms, not necessarily compatible with each other, were at work in 1776, when Washington had to lead an army of individualists who came from different colonies representing different sectional interests, many of whom joined up to preserve the idea of American independence from vasalege to the Mother Country. Nevertheless, these individualists needed to be trained to subvert their will and talents to the service of others, and to accept the military system of punishment and reward used to drill soldiers. A last note on the importance of Leutz's painting. Fischer is aware of the debunkers who have trashed this painting because it contains numerous historical inaccuracies. Even the American flag dominating the center of the painting is incorrect, since it was not adopted until the following year. Fischer, however, chose to use the painting on his book cover because it is the greatest visual symbol of the spirit of the times. Leutz correctly portrays a boatload of soldiers facing great odds. The atmosphere of high drama and feelings of desperation portrayed here were no doubt clearly felt by the small force who just faced five months of disastrous defeats and now were operating with a sense of urgency to attempt one more, high-risk try to save a movement that they had devoted their lives to. America's greatest generation? It could very well be that.

  • Christopher Sturcke
    2019-03-09 02:59

    Simply browsing the title, table of contents, and some reviews potential readers may fall into the trap of thinking that this book is too similar to David McCullough’s 1776 to justify reading it. However, this assumption isn’t correct. While both stories follow Washington’s army through the fall of New York and conclude with the battles of Trenton and Princeton, Fischer’s focus is different than McCullough’s. McCullough’s main focus was on Washington’s army throughout the entire year of 1776 starting with a detailed description of the Boston siege. Fischer only in minor detail discusses the very end of the siege of Boston in setting the stage for the showdown in New York. Fischer focuses more on the dark days of November/December 1776 precluding Trenton/Princeton and what Washington did to revitalize his fleeting army and keep the American cause alive. Following through on this focus, Fischer can be guilty at times of hero worship regarding Washington. It almost seems that Fischer chooses to throw more light on the flaws of the British to smooth out Washington's wrinkles.Fischer begins with a somewhat thorough overview of the key characters who would play major parts in the campaign of 1776: the Americans, the British, and the Hessians. Fischer is less descriptive of the Battle for New York than McCullough. The heart of the story lies in the account of the activities that took place in New Jersey immediately preceding Washington’s Christmas Day attack and its aftermath. Instead of focusing solely on Washington and his army, Fischer chooses to focus more on British loss of control of New Jersey as the true reason for Washington’s triumph. Fischer focuses on the rupture, insubordination, and sheer misjudgment of the British and Hessian chains of command and how events ruined William Howe’s plans for the pacification of New Jersey. Howe’s plans for peace instead ended in violence.In the aftermath of his fumbling loss of New York, Washington quickly learned from his mistakes was able to utilize intelligence to his advantage, monitoring the enemy while buying time, strengthening, reforming his army, and consolidating his command. When he saw opportunities present themselves he acted by first doing what he could to disrupt the enemy and put them on edge before his official attack. While recounting the facts of Washington’s crossing and the events that followed, Fischer (in his unique way) is quick to debunk many myths and legends that surround the events. For instance, factual accounts prove that the Hessians were not drunk and engaged in their holiday festivities that night but had actually been quite alert all day and engaged in their regular guard duties. However, these soldiers were completely fatigued, warn out from the raids and uprisings that had kept them vigilant night and day for several weeks in December. The reason they were surprised is because of their own misjudgment had let their guard down thinking it impossible that the Americans would attack in a blinding snow storm. The book can be a bit of a slog at times. Fischer wrote this book as part of an Oxford Press series that he coedited with James McPherson entitled Pivotal Moments in American History. Maybe being part of a series that seems to have been written more for those less familiar with history might explain why this books seemed to me as quite pedestrian. It seems as though that was Fischer's goal. This clearly isn't his best work, but I would still recommend giving it a look. There is some good information especially on the events that occurred in New Jersey during the British occupation of the colony such as the New Jersey risings which I have not read about elsewhere. For that I give it three stars.

  • Don
    2019-03-05 08:10

    Washington’s Crossing is one of those tomes that every American citizen should read. It’s very well paced with an inclusive narrative that places the reader squarely in the action. This book is so well written, I found myself under the mistaken impression that Fischer had actually interviewed the participants and their first generation relations. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. This is not only a good read for history buffs, it’s revealing of the subdural attitude, for better and worse, sets us apart globally.It is fascinating to learn under what circumstances my country won it’s freedom from a largely egomaniacal oppressor. For instance, I had no idea that our military was completely made up of volunteers with no formal training. I had no idea that each soldier was under contract and once that contract ended, they were free to walk off the field. I had no idea that there were disparate units of militia acting on their own initiative and that a grand plan was very hard to execute.At the beginning of the Revolutionary War we truly sucked. England was rich with personnel and superior in every military sense. They enlisted the help of German troupes under a very lucrative contract. Both England and the Germans hated what the American Revolution stood for; democracy. We were driven and beaten back from the shores of New York to Pennsylvania and the situation was desperate. What seems to have saved us from ourselves were unbelievably bad weather conditions and an active disengagement from the rules of war. What I find most ironic is that we’ve become what we fought; a great and powerful nation that forcefully protects it’s global interest through highly organized and regimented military superiority. It worries me to think about a resourceful enemy besting us at our erstwhile game.As I read this book, it was wintertime, albeit mild and sporadic, in Chicago. During the winter war of 1776-1777, our troops were walking through blinding snowstorms, walking through icy rivers, barely clothed and in many instances unshod. During this particular Chicago winter, I ride a foldable bicycle about a mile and a half from the train station to work. On particularly snowy days, the conditions are unfavorable for biking on the small wheels that deem my ride “portable” and I am given to walking. During by snowy walks, I couldn’t help but proudly and thankfully reflect on the tenacity of our forefathers while protected by my London Fog down and Dr. Martens.

  • Jason
    2019-03-21 10:03

    Part of the Oxford Pivotal Moments in American History series, Fischer's work is a cultural history surrounding the events that Washington's Revolutionary Army participated in from March of 1776 to March of 1777, with the middle of the book focusing on the pivotal turning point of the unlikely capture of the Hessian garrison in Trenton, New Jersey on Christmas of 1776, made famous by the painting featured on the cover of the book.Fischer's book was published at nearly the same time as McCullough's 1776, which covers nearly the indentical time period, yet unlike McCullough's focus on the narratives and characters of the of the dark days of the American cause in 1776, Fischer's work is a close examination of cultural trends and mores that developed and moved the American Army, unlike no other movement in the world at the time. In short, McCullough's book would be best enjoyed by those looking for a tree-top level of the events of the day. It is an excellent book that will be read for years, and Fischer is complementary of it, but Washington's Crossing is an in-depth look at why the American cause took the course it did and what precisely that means for us today. It is most certainly not history-as-pageant-on-parade. Most importantly, Washington's Crossing does a wonderful job of de-mythologizing the American cause to American readers, while reintroducing the concepts of rare and unique combinations of leadership and service that actors such as Washington, Knox, Monroe and down to the yeoman citizen-militia were in world history. Something new was happening along the banks of the Delaware that December, when it was most unlikely to.

  • Chris
    2019-02-24 05:17

    In Washington's Crossing, Fischer covers the New Jersey Campaign of December 1776 through the spring of 1777.  He also explains the lead-up to th the battles in New Jersey and the Continental Army's disastrous actions during 1776 and how and why control of the war shifted from the British to the Americans during the few months of December '76 through April '77.   This enlightening analysis of the war helped me to understand some of the reasons why the Americans ended up victorious in the conflict.  To be sure, the Continental Army had more trials to face in the later years of the war, but these few months showed that they could face the British and win battles against this mighty foe. I highly recommend this book to Revolutionary War History buffs.

  • Lewis Weinstein
    2019-03-02 10:01

    An exciting description of one of the main reasons we are no longer part of the British Empire. Page-turning history.

  • Wanda
    2019-03-08 03:16

    Excellent report of the famous crossing of the Delaware. Shows you a very detailed account while also laying out tremendous groundwork for explaining why things happened as they did.

  • Jim
    2019-03-17 09:16

    In Washington’ Crossing, David Hackett Fischer has given us a fresh view of the events, motivations and consequences surrounding the New Jersey Campaign of 1776, pitting the British and Hessian army under General William Howe against the Continental Army and attached militia under General George Washington. Extremely well written and extensively documented, using numerous primary and secondary sources as well as many very helpful maps, Fischer has produced a book that, in my opinion, will be definitive on this subject for many, many years. Not only has he given us an extremely detailed and lucid account of the military maneuvers encompassed by this campaign, but he has also elucidated a cogent framework for understanding the motivations of the two armies, the leadership styles of the commanders on each side, particularly Howe and Washington, and the effect of this campaign on the future success of the American army. In addition, and most importantly for the accurate representation of historical events, Fischer has challenged many of the long held beliefs we have about certain aspects of this campaign and its participants.The driving narrative of this work is the detailed description of the New Jersey Campaign of 1776. Contained in it are numerous corrections of long held beliefs about the campaign and its participants. Fischer begins with a description of the participating armies and their motivations, devoting one chapter each to the Americans, British regulars, and Hessians. Over the years stereotypical notions about the motivations of the British and Hessians have taken root. Our need for a villain in every story has led us to demonize not only the British and Hessian armies , which are thought of alternatively as a tool of a tyrannical dictator, and a brutish mercenary army, but also men such as Charles Cornwallis, William and Richard Howe, and Johann Rall. As Fischer makes clear, though flawed in many ways, these men were honorable and were trying to do their best to serve their countries. In many cases, particularly with the Howes and Cornwallis, British leaders sympathized with the Americans and were working not to defeat them utterly, but to bring them back to their loyalty to the crown.It has become fashionable to denigrate the motivation of those fighting for American independence. For many, it is a trite cliché to say they were fighting for freedom and liberty, yet as Fischer shows, along with other factors, these notions were the primary motivator for most Americans. Fischer does an excellent job of not only describing the structure of each army, but also in taking an objective look at each of the participants, highlighting the positive and negative attributes of each.As Fischer describes it, the British Army was not only “one of the finest ever seen,” but was also an army full of paradoxes.(Fischer, 33) As an institution and as its “regimental badges and colors proclaimed, it served the King. (Fischer, 33) Yet, it was actually a creation of Parliament, subject to re-authorization every twelve months. As occurred later in the United States, the British people were very proud of the accomplishments of their military, yet were distrustful of a standing army and “kept it on a short leash.” (Fischer, 33) In organizational terms, it was both bureaucratized and decentralized, more like an army of separate tribes, with their own rules and customs. Most importantly however according to Fischer, is the mistaken notion that the British army was simply the bludgeon by which King George III intended to defeat America. In reality, for the British army, like their American counterparts, the war “was a clash of principles in which they deeply believed.” (Fischer, 50) Primary among those beliefs was loyalty to the British monarchy. As Fischer points out British soldiers swore a personal oath “to be true to our Sovereign Lord King George.” (Fischer, 50) For these soldiers, this loyalty and the rituals that celebrated it represented Ideals of loyalty, fidelity, honor, duty, discipline, and service…” (Fischer, 50)The motivation for the Hessian armies in America, though different from those of the British and Americans, was nevertheless quite different than the simpleminded pursuit if money that is ascribed to them by most people. While the army was paid handsomely for their services in America, this was not their prime motivation for agreeing to serve. In reality, the Hessian army was created as part of an enlightened culture that prized “reason and order, fidelity and loyalty, discipline and regularity.” (Fischer, 54) Friedrich Wilhelm II viewed his Hessian army as a school of discipline, and encouraged all able-bodied men to join, even those of aristocratic families. The result was the largest army in proportion to population in the world. And, while the average Hessian underwent far stricter discipline than their British and American counterparts, their motivation, according to Fischer were the values of “order and discipline…service and honor.” (Fischer, 61)As noted above, it has become almost cliché to say that those fighting for American independence were doing so for freedom and liberty. It has become fashionable to ascribe motivations of greed and selfishness as the primary motivation for these soldiers. As Fischer makes very clear, this is simply not the case. He has marshaled an impressive array of primary evidence that clearly indicates that Americans were primarily fighting for their notions of freedom and liberty, first to regain their rights as Englishman, and later to gain their independence from Britain altogether. Fischer does not discount other inducements. For the soldiers from Marblehead, Massachusetts, for example, profit was most definitely on their mind in their desire to return home and join the privateers plundering British shipping. And, clearly, the depredations committed by many British and Hessian soldiers during the New Jersey campaign motivated thousands of men to join the militia. In addition to making a persuasive case that these notions of freedom and liberty were the driving motivations for most American soldiers, Fischer does an excellent job of describing how men from different parts of the country viewed those notions, and then tying that to a description of how George Washington was able to adapt to this and create an American way of fighting.Notions of freedom and liberty in 1776, for which most Americans fought, was understood differently based largely on where one resided. From “the collective rights of New England, [to] the reciprocal rights of Philadelphia Associators, the individual rights of back country riflemen, and the hegemonic rights of the Fairfax men,” all viewed freedom as their primary motivator. (Fischer, 364) As Fischer ably demonstrates, George Washington, largely as a result of his experiences in the French and Indian War, was able to accommodate these different views and in so doing create an American way of “war-fighting,” characterized by the notion that all the American army had to do was to survive, by a willingness to take chances with success, with a prudence in risking the lives of the soldiers, a reliance on religion as a motivating factor, and most unique of all, a concern for popular opinion. It is this last, Fischer argues, which characterizes an army subservient to civilian authority.At the center of this new way of fighting was George Washington. It was his ability to accommodate himself to its realities that made this new way successful in the end. This is evidenced by the way in which he took advantage of the New Jersey militia following the victory at Princeton; by submerging his moral distaste for the lack of discipline among the militia and allowing them to engage in the type of guerrilla war that brought success.This Forage War caused almost as many enemy casualties as did the New York and New Jersey campaigns combined. It was also evidenced, according to Fischer, by the style in which Washington conducted his councils of war. In contrast to Cornwallis’ which were characterized by extreme deference and a pre-ordained outcome dictated by Cornwallis himself, Washington’s reflected a “diversity of cultures…the pluralism of elites…a more open polity…a less stratified society, and especially by expanding ideas of liberty and freedom.” (Fischer, 315) In his councils, Washington encouraged a free exchange of ideas, listened more than he talked, and took freely from the ideas of others. The result was an enthusiastic consensus for the course of action, of which the decision to attack Princeton in an excellent example, and more importantly, a growing respect and admiration among the officers for George Washington as their leader.The heart of Fischer’s book of course is the detailed narrative of the New Jersey campaign itself. It is often very easy to get lost in the description of battles and maneuvers, especially if one does not have a military background. However, Fischer was able to describe the campaign in a very detailed way that did not leave me totally confused. Important here were some very well placed battle maps which aided in the comprehension of the detailed narrative. In addition, Fischer was able to dispel some well established misconceptions about this campaign, and to illuminate some aspects of it that were overlooked. Most importantly as I described above, are the myths surrounding the motivations of the different participants. However, events such as the Second Battle of Trenton and the Forage War, almost universally ignored in other works, are described in detail here. The myth persists that the Hessians were nursing hangovers when Washington attacked. Fischer clearly demonstrates that this is not true, and in so doing elevates what the Americans accomplished, as well as dispelling the notion that the Hessians were incompetent. He also shows that the Americans did not lack ammunition, and in fact, were better armed in many ways than the Hessians. He also takes issue with those who mock the notion that Washington would be standing in the Durham boat as they crossed the Delaware River as depicted in Emmanuel Leutze’s painting, noting that had he been seated, it would have been in a puddle of frozen water. Finally, is the notion that Washington was more lucky than gifted. As Fischer makes clear, Washington learned from his mistakes in the New York campaign, and clearly out generaled his opposition.He concludes his book with an excellent summary, along with a description of the importance of this campaign. Disputing the notion that these were symbolic victories, Fischer notes that the New Jersey campaign inflicted severe damage on the British and Hessian armies. It was also of course a shot in the arm for the American cause. As the result of these victories, Washington was able to force the British from New Jersey, cause British leaders to look to the defensive, and most importantly, it allowed Washington to recruit enough men to carry on the fight, It also instilled in the American public a new confidence in heir army and its leaders, particularly Washington, and it gave the army new confidence in themselves.Fischer also includes an excellent section describing the humanity in which American leaders fought. It was not enough to win, but it was necessary to win “in a way that was consistent with the values of their society.” (Fischer, 375) In contrast to the attitudes of many British and Hessian leaders, this meant quarter would be granted to all who surrendered, and that prisoners would be treated humanely. While there were those who did not agree, Washington set the standard.There is little to fault in this book. It is extremely well sourced, clearly written, and makes very persuasive, almost unassailable arguments. Fischer includes an exhaustive appendix that includes many details not found in the main narrative, and the index is one of the best I have seen.Very highly recommended.

  • Heather
    2019-02-19 09:17

    I liked this author. He does a good job of describing the context and events surrounding the famous painting Washington's Crossing, but I liked the beginning of the book the best. Towards the middle there were a few too many details for me, but ultimately it did help me understand more of the times, people, circumstances and turning points during the years of 1776 and 1777 in the American Revolution. I particularly enjoyed learning about General Washington and his leadership, how he worked together with others, and how it really was a team effort in so many ways that lead to an American victory. It was definitely not a sure fight. I'm always impressed by the courage of those who stood up for freedom and liberty in such an uncertain time. I liked how the author finished by reminding us of how history is made by the choices of individuals who decide to act and make a difference in the world.I thought that an important and inspiring turning point was the council that met on the night of December 27. After their success at Trenton, NJ in the cold the last thing anyone wanted to do was to continue further in the cold the next day, but that's exactly what they all decided to do. They came together and recognized the importance of their efforts and sacrifices. The author points out that their initiative, tempo and speed were important in their ultimate victory. I'm impressed by their examples and grateful for their sacrifices. It so interesting to be reading a book like this when I feel like we live at another turning point in history. We must be responsible about the choices we make that do change the world.A few inspiring quotes:"[George Washington's creed he followed all his life] valued self-government, discipline, virtue, reason, and restraint....It was a philosophy of moral striving through virtuous action and right conduct, by powerful men who believed that their duty was to lead others in a changing world. Most of all, it was a way of combining power with responsibility, and liberty with discipline....A major part of this code of honor was an idea of courage...a gentleman would act with physical courage in the face of danger, pain, suffering, and death. They gave equal weight to moral courage in adversity, prosperity, trial, and temptation. For them, a vital part of leadership was the ability to persist in what one believed to be the right way (p. 12).""George Washington and the New England men slowly found a way to work together. Washington learned to listen, to reason, and to work through councils of war in which a majority of officers were Yankees. New Englanders learned that an army was not a town meeting, that somebody had to give orders, and that orders had to be obeyed. The result was an untidy and unstable compromise, which allowed an army of cantankerous Yankees to operate under a gentleman of Virginia (p. 21).""In 1776, Americans were less interested in pulling down a monarchy than in raising up a new republic. Washington's leadership was becoming a major part of that process within the army. Men who came from different parts of the continent were beginning to understand each other. And Washington was learning how to lead them....Slowly this army of free men was learning to work together. They were also coming to respect this extraordinary man who was their leader, but...Washington knew that they were about to meet some of the most formidable troops in the world, and the outcome was very much in doubt (p. 30)."Nathan Hale's "gentle dignity" as he quotes Addison's Cato as he dies, "How beautiful is death, when earn'd by virtue! Who would not be that youth? What pity is it That we can die but once to serve our country (p. 108)."Watching a great loss from the Jersey Palisades across the Hudson River on November 16, 1776, "George Washington was shattered....He blamed no one else for what happened, took all the responsibility on his shoulders, and judged himself more severely than anyone else could judge him...he began to weep with the tenderness of a child. His aides did not know how to help, or ever if they should. Some were beginning to doubt that he could lead them....It was the lowest point of Washington's long career. In the agony of that moment he felt that he had lost everything: lost the war, lost the Cause, lost his own way. But then this extraordinary man reached deep into his last reserves or inner strength. Not much was left, but enough to shake off a terrible despair. He looked away from Fort Washington and rallied his aides around him. Together, they would try again (p. 113).""Thomas Paine wrote to Edmund Burke, 'I have seen enough of war and the miseries it inflicts to wish it might never more have an existence in the world, and that some other mode than destruction might take place to adjust and compose the differences that occasionally arise in the neighborhood of nations.' But in 1776, Paine had come to believe that some evils in the world were even worse than war, and one of them was the tyranny that British ministers were attempting to fasten on their frontier colonies (p. 141).""Everyone agreed that it was a perilous moment when things had gone deeply wrong for the American War of Independence. It was a pivotal moment when great issues of the Revolution were hanging in the balance. Most of all it was a moment of decision, when hard choices had to be made. Thanks in part to Thomas Paine, it became a time when many Americans resolved to act, in ways that made a difference in the world (p. 142).""Nobody thought that the enemy could attack in such weather (p. 205)."Before enlistments were set to expire on December 31, Washington said, "My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do, and more than could be reasonably expected; but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with the fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you probably can never do under any other circumstances (p. 273)."Alternatively, "Cornwallis introduced an air of complete confidence....went into council with his generals not to ask what should be done as Washington did, but to tell his subordinates what he meant to do (p. 291).""The Americans improvised a different system of command. It was forces upon them by a diversity of cultures in the country, by the plurality of elites, by a more open polity, by a less stratified society, and especially by expanding ideas of liberty and freedom. The man at the center was George Washington. From much hard-won experience in American politics and war he had learned to work closely with his subordinates. Washington met frequently with them in councils of war and encouraged a free exchange of views. He also listened more than he talked and drew freely from the best ideas that were put before him. In early councils he actually took a vote. Later he worked more skillfully by the construction of consensus. In that way he created a community of open discourse and a spirit of mutual forbearance (p. 316).""By the spring of 1777, many British officers had concluded that they could never win the war. At the same time, Americans recovered from their despair and were confident that they would not be defeated. That double transformation was truly a turning point of the war. We have seen how it happened: not in a single event, or even a chain of events, but in a great web of contingency. This book is mainly about contingency, in the sense of people making choices, and choices making a difference in the world (p. 363).""John Adams resolved that the guiding principles of the American Republic would always be what he called the policy of humanity. He wrote, 'I know of no policy, God is my witness, but this--Piety, Humanity and Honesty are the best Policy. Blasphemy, Cruelty and Villainy have prevailed and may again. But they won't prevail against America, in this Contest, because I find the more of them are employed, the less they succeed (p. 376).""They set a high example, and we have much to learn from them...The story of Washington's Crossing tells us that Americans in an earlier generation were capable of acting in a higher spirit--and so are we (p. 379)."

  • Michael
    2019-03-21 04:11

    This book begins with the defeat of Washington in New York during the American Revolution. Three thousand soldiers were captured, most of whom died on prison ships (more men died on these ships than in all the battles of the war). Washington was down to 5,000 troops, and that number would drop even further as enlistments expired. Support for the war was surging in England and waning in America. On December 25, 1776 Washington succeeded in crossing the icy Delaware River undetected… An incredible accomplishment. He then defeated the Hessians at Trenton and took 900 prisoners. He beat back a counter attack by Cornwalis delivering a decisive blow to England. It was a turning point in the war.Fischer begins by explaining the famous painting of Washington’s crossing by the German painter Emmanuel Leutze. Modern critics complain that the painting is completely unrealistic and idealized. While there are a few historical inaccuracies (the flag), Fischer points out that many facets of the painting are accurate based on hundreds of written accounts of the event. The crossing was truly an heroic event. Compared to the Civil War or World War II, the Revolutionary War was much smaller in scale and size. But size is not necessarily a measure of significance. Leutze knew that the American Revolution was an earth shaking event. This was the first time a society was successfully established on the basis of freedom. This was also the first time a free people successfully ordered themselves and disciplined themselves to preserve their freedom. His painting reflects that especially in the diversity of soldiers that are in the boat with Washington. Notes“A people unused to restraint must be led. They will not be drove.” George WashingtonWashington’s closest companion was a tall African slave by the name of William Lee. He wore an exotic turban and long riding coat. He and Washingtom were both superb riders. Before the war they hunted together. They were both fearless. Washington later emancipated him. Washington customarily attended church on Sundays, even during the war. Washington’s challenge was to lead a diverse and independent army against a highly disicplined and professional army. Washington came from the “Northern Neck of Virginia.” He lived by a creed of moral striving through virtuous action and right conduct. He believed that powerful men had a duty to lead others in a virtuous way. His credo combined power with responsibility and liberty with discipline. The only fear that Washington ever mentioned in his writings was the fear that his actions would reflect eternal dishonor upon him. A vital aspect of leadership was courage - the courage to do what was right. Liberty was independence from involuntary passion. The worst slavery was to be in bondage to unbridled passion and not in full possession of the self.“Liberty” for the men of the Northern Neck of Virginia, was determined by economic status. Economically independent men (land owners, etc.) had the most liberty. Slaves had the least. Washington kept men of lower social rank at a distance. For Washington and his era, “condescension” was to treat men of lower rank with respect while maintaining a system of inequality. He built one of the largest family fortunes with a net worth of more than a million dollars. His estate included many thousands of acres and three hundred slaves. After 1775 he spoke of slavery as an evil. He emancipated all his slaves in his will. He was a major in the Virginia Militia at the age of 20. He gained a lot of experience during the French and Indian War. At 23 he was a colonel. He was a disciplinarian. “Discipline is the soul of an army.” His American troops did not respond well to this! The New England soldiers were probably the most literate soldiers in the world. Almost all could read and write. They were very independent minded. They were all caught up in the poltical debates of the day. Washington needed to compromise with the New Englanders. He couldn’t force them to obey him, but they needed to understand that not everything was a town meeting. American riflemen were highly skilled. It was not unusual for them to hit targets as small as the tip of a nose at 250 yards over and over again. British and Hessian officers lived in fear of the American riflemen. The Culpepper Minute Men wore rough brown shirts, a bucktail on their hats, and a tomahawk or scalping knife in their belt. Their flag was the image of a timber rattler with the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” They were from the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia. Many Virginians feared them as much as they feared Indians. The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia was an iconic symbol of American freedom. It was inscribed with a verse from Leviticus, “Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof," (Leviticus 25.10). However, there were different ideas of liberty at that time among the American colonies. The Virginians believed in an economically stratified liberty. The West Virginians had a radical view of fierce individual independence. The British Navy and Army were led by the Howe brothers, Richard and William. Richard was a quiet, methodical man. Of William, the author said, “Priviledge opened the doors of opportunity. Merit took him through them.” He was also quiet, like his brother. When the war was over, he returned to England wearing buckskin and and Indian moccasins. His relatives called him “The Savage.” The thousands of American soldiers, each with their own personal weapons, loved to fire them at will - sometime injuring one another. This lack of discipline infuriated George Washington. “Constant firing in the camp, not withstanding general orders, is very scandalous! And seldom a day passes but some persons are shot by their friends.” In many port cities like New York, twenty percent of women of childbearing age were prostitutes. Washington issued stern warnings against “lewd women.” But his troops in New York suffered and epidemic of veneral disease. Field sanitation was a great problem for the Americans. One officer wrote that the troops were “easing themselves in the ditches of the fortifications, a practice that is disgraceful to the last degree!” They lacked experience and camp discipline and paid a terrible price for this with all sorts of gastro-instestinal diseases. One chaplain wrote, “Many were sick with dysentery and other putrid disorders.” The British were surprised and irritated by the attitude of defeated and captured Americans. In their minds they were dishonored. But the Americans believed in their cause and that they would win in the end. Captain Nathan Hale, a young Yale graduate, volunteered to spy against the British. He disguised himself as a Dutch schoolmaster and entered the British camp with great courage but little skill. He gave himself away. General Howe ordered a summary execution on September 24, 1776. Before his death he repeated a few lines from Addison’s Cato (a play that inspired the Americans): “How beautiful is death when earned by virtue. Who would not be that youth? What pity is it that we can die but once to serve our country.”The Howes had more than half the British armed forces. One of their biggest problems was maintaining supply. Thomas Paine published the essay, The American Crisis, on December 19, 1776. He insisted that it be sold for two cents to cover only printing costs. It spread rapidly. This essay helped re-inspire the Americans. John Whitherspoon, aScottish Presbyterian pastor, was president of the College of New Jersey, later Princeton. He was a representative from New Jersey to the Continental Congress and the only signer of the Declaration of Independence who wore clerical bands. He closed the college in November 1776 and continued to support the revolution. The British made Nassau Hall at Princeton, their headquarters. The Americans, British, and Hessians plundered. Fischer claims that the Hessians plundered on a much more severe scale. The Americans carried off what their hands could hold. The Hessians plundered by the wagon load. The Hessian women, who followed the army, were the most formidable plunderers of all. British abuse of women was a serious problem. Howe denied it, but Fischer said there was evidence from junior officers that knew better. The people of New Jersey responded with sabotage and ambush. As law and order collapsed, the civilians were at war with themselves. Most people in the 18th century were unable to swim. This included the soldiers crossing the icy Delaware. Washington’s password for the operation was “Victory or Defeat.” He personally wrote this on small slices of paper for all the units. Washington often presented his ideas as someone else’s idea rather than his own. He felt that this invited more honest discussion and debate. Rommel’s Law: Battles are won or lost by the quartermasters before the first shot is fired. By 1777 more than half of Howe’s army of British regulars and Hessians (31,000) were either killed, captured or rendered ineffective (wounded or sick). Britain suffered from lack of troops for the rest of the war. Washington was always listening, encouraging, guiding. He rarely demanded, commanded or coerced. Since the founding of Jamestown, Americans have fought a major war in every generation, sixteen generations. But they always thought of fighting as an interruption in their lives. They did not fight for the sake of fighting, they fought to win. William Howe complained that the Americans moved with much more celerity than the British. Both the British and the Hessians were too attached to their baggage. Americans could move their army at two miles per hour, no small accomplishment given bloody feet and muck choked roads.

  • Greg Bailey
    2019-03-11 09:01

    One of life’s simple pleasures is to be blown away (amazed, enthralled, thrilled) unexpectedly by a book. It doesn’t happen often, but David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing did that for me in spades. I’ve been mildly interested in this book for some time, but having read David McCullough’s 1776 a few years ago, I wasn’t sure I needed to cover the same ground again. Even a few chapters into Washington’s Crossing, I was wondering whether I needed to go on, as Fischer was giving me lots of facts about the Howe brothers, who commanded the British army and naval forces in America; about the Hessians who fought for the British as mercenaries; and about the American blundering in the campaigns around New York City in the summer of 1776. The book seemed interesting but dry. However, with his cast of characters and the context established, Fischer soon began to build an enthralling narrative.Part of what makes this account so engaging is that the stakes were so high. At the end of 1776, the American Revolution was at a tipping point. It had been a year of blunders, defeats, and retreats for the Continentals. The army was in terrible shape and men were going home as their enlistments expired. Washington himself had almost run out of credibility as the commander. It is no exaggeration to say that when Washington decided to cross the Delaware into New Jersey on Christmas night, he was risking almost everything. Fisher’s accounts of the first Battle of Trenton—and then the Second Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton a week later—are clear and gripping. Here his introduction of key players earlier comes to fruition. He mines their diaries and letters to help us understand what these men were feeling and thinking. Further, he shows what Washington’s men had to do in order to fight these battles, and how they were able to win. In significant ways, this book revolutionized my understanding of the Revolution, or at least this critical phase of it. Legend has it that Washington’s crossing of the Delaware and his subsequent victory over the Hessians at Trenton swung the momentum of the war. Actually, there had been a subtle change of momentum in the weeks before the crossing. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet The American Crisis (“There are the times that try men’s souls . . .”) had awaken Colonial support for the small army. Perhaps even more significant, British and Hessian plundering in New Jersey had angered the Colonists, and they had begun to fight back, with militiamen harassing and attacking the invaders. By keeping the British and Hessian forces on alert, these militiamen tired them out, creating an opportunity for Washington. I had never before been aware of this New Jersey rising. In much the same way, I was completely unaware of a very significant phase of the war that followed Washington’s triumphs at Trenton and Princeton. In January, the British attempted to settle into winter quarters in New Jersey, but needing forage for their horses, they sent out parties to seek hay and other goods. For most of the rest of that winter, the Colonials relentlessly harassed these parties, taking a toll on them, gaining experience in warfare, and raising American morale. Striding through it all is Washington, the indispensable man. The more I read about him, the more convinced I become that it is possible that no man was ever more perfectly suited for his times and the roles he was called upon to play. Certainly not the greatest thinker or orator among the Founding Fathers, Washington nevertheless was the key man, the leader that the young country needed, both in war and peace. It made perfect sense, then, to hear Fischer say, in an interview at the end of the audiobook, that he views Washington’s Crossing as partly a study of leadership. Indeed, he pays close attention to Washington’s incredible feat of setting aside his Virginia gentry attitudes and finding means to lead by persuasion, by consensus, and by listening to others from all walks of life and very different regions of the infant nation. In strong contrast to the British leaders, who chose to command as rulers, Washington led, even into the most dangerous corners of his battlefields, and his men followed. I read much of this book with a lump in my throat. It was difficult to be reminded again of what ordinary Americans suffered and risked for the sake of the individual liberties we take for granted and even abuse. I wish every American could be exposed to this kind of history lesson.In the quality of the writing (clear, engaging), the depth of the research (evident in the clear descriptions of places and the “aliveness” of the characters), and the well-argued conclusions, Washington’s Crossing is simply superb.

  • Steve
    2019-03-02 08:07

    I'm finding it hard to give this book only 4 stars. It's deserving of more. But five stars is "AMAZING" and I think that's tough to justify as well. So, 5 will have to do with a caveat or two. It's dense, and is written as a military history, so some readers may need to look up some terms. Also, there's a fairly large cast of characters on both the British and Colonial side, that at times I forgot who was who. That being said... read on.I think that this book needs to be "rellooked" at in terms of today's political climate. It's a book for every American, in my opinion, and others as well who simply want a classic case of great leadership. In addition, if you're from New Jersey or live in New Jersey, and you're mildly interested in New Jersey's history in the Revolution, this book really gives you most of it.So, the basic rundown is it's a military/strategic/tactical breakdown of the fall and winter of 1776 into 1777. This encompasses the American defense of New York's Long Island and Manhattan Island, our retreat across New Jersey into Pennsylvania and then the subsequent battles of Trenton and Princeton and a variety of other skirmishes throughout New Jersey in the late winter and spring of 1777. If you've been around NJ and seen one of those blue plaques denoting a historical site, my guess is it's covered in this book, as New Jersey really was the centerpiece of the American Revolution, at least in the early years.But this is not solely a military history book. It dives nicely into the personalities involved, from the vengeful Britons in London, to the forgiving Howe brothers to the questioning Washington of course. It will give you some nice maps and details about the famous battles of Trenton and Princeton, including the crossing of the Delaware River that fateful Christmas night in full bloody detail. But it will also give you the thoughts behind these decisions and maybe that's where the true weight and value of this book lies. What was Washington thinking? A midnight crossing of an ice choked river by exhausted, low morale troops who only had a few days left in their enlistments? And let's not forget all the horses and cannons that needed to cross too! But that's the point! Fischer's writing will give you exactly what Washington was thinking, what was at stake, from many different points of view, painstakingly researched (for instance, the edition I read was done at page 379, yet the book has another 150+ pages of notes, appendices, and other extras) and showing the command decisions that were made by Washington, Howe and others and how it affected the "boots on the ground" or the common soldiers who had to deal with it.By comparison, there's several points where Washington's leadership is showcased on display versus the British command's decision making process and it shows the true value of a leader like Washington. We celebrate the man as a Founding Father, a war hero and a shining example of what it is to be American. My suggestion would be that we actually give his example another look. There's a political climate out there that could certainly learn some lessons from him, as well as the common people who in 1776 rose to meet the challenges of Washington's leadership and I would suggest need to keep in mind some of the ideas that make us/me/you and American.No, I'm not talking about "Murica"... I'm talking about the United States of America and some of the things that may not have been written down at the time, but clearly was on our very young national conscience. Washington's Crossing is a very good read and a summary of the character of the people who rose up and created a nation. The very same character that we as a nation may need to be reminded of, if only to recall the tremendous effort that went into creating this nation, not just from Washington and our leaders, but from the individual rank and file. And to not take it all for granted.

  • Corey
    2019-03-09 05:21

    A fantastic review of a year in the Revolutionary War and some of the best writing on the military aspects of the battles, campaigns and strategies for both sides in the year 1776 and the war in general.Like most history lovers, I think I have neglected the actual nuts and bolts of this war. So much has been written (and rightfully so) about the towering personalities and characters of the Founding Fathers, but often times the obstacles facing the milita and soldiers in the trenches battling each other has been overlooked. This book is a great reminder of the sacrifices and sometimes absolutely bloody warfare that occurred. I think often we relegate those tales to the Civil War and the two World Wars, but one must remember the hard fighting and adverse conditions endured in the war that made us an entity.The contrasting leadership styles implemented by the generals on both sides was intriguing as well. It seemed a bit stereotypical and simplistic to depict the aristocratic British leadership as opposed to Washington's more egalitarian style (seems a bit awkward to call Washington an egalitarian), but perhaps there is a nugget of truth in that stereotype.Of course, even after saying that I enjoyed the depiction of the experiences of average troops, the standout of the story, as he always seems to be, is Washington. His presence and charisma are in this story again, but I thought it was a more human side of Washington that emerged. Quotations and shared memories of soldiers who fought under his leadership show him to be completely human and not devoid of passion or faults as he is so often made to be.Finally, it is yet another fascinating example of what one so often stumbles upon when reading about our nation's past--that is, how close this nation came to never existing. Whether one reads about the dark days of 1776, the bickering in the generation following the Fathers, the conflicts over slavery in the mid 19th century, the obviously dangerous times of the Civil War or any other conflict after, one becomes utterly aware of just how precarious was our existence, especially at the start.

  • Bruce
    2019-03-08 10:02

    Fischer’s historical work focuses on a particular time during the American Revolution, the period from late 1775 into early 1777. 1776 was a tumultuous year, the first three quarters of which was characterized by one military defeat of the Continental Army after another, beginning with the loss of New York City and the steady retreat of the army into New Jersey and south across the state and the Delaware River into Pennsylvania south of Trenton, NJ. Innumerable challenges faced Washington and the army, and the situation seemed increasingly hopeless. It was from that location that Washington recrossed the Delaware, defeated the British and their Hessian allies, and began the process of gradual ascendency over the enemy that inspired the new nation and turned the tide of the conflict.Fischer has written a lucid and well-researched history that is easy to read and follow. His abundant maps are particularly useful, and there are copious appendices and end notes with references. Especially important is his final chapter, “Conclusion,” in which he summarizes his arguments and admits that his motivation in writing this history was his impatience with some modern scholarship that he judges to be inappropriately and inaccurately critical of American conduct of the war. Whatever the reader’s personal convictions and conclusions might be, Fischer raises interesting issues that deserve thoughtful consideration. I found the book to be very interesting.

  • Tweed Scott
    2019-03-05 08:10

    This is a fabulous book! This Pulitzer Prize winner is a compelling book in that you will learn things about the condition and spirit of the people who lived through this trying era. Many times through the book I had the sense of being there as the events unfolded. The most remarkable thing for me was chronicling the growth of George Washington as a leader. As a battle commander he was defeated time & time again and was run out of NY by the British. After arriving in New Jersey he began to get better intelligence. His style of leadership took a different turn and he began to have some success and emboldened by the people around him, he saw the opportunity to save the army & the war. The Battle of Trenton came within hours of losing his army because their enlistments were about to expire. This was truly an extraordinary time in the American saga.This book is meticulously documented. The appendices are fascinating by themselves. This is a fast read. The battles of Trenton & Princeton were turning points in the American struggle for independence. I have even greater respect for the men & women of that time period--even more so George Washington. This book is worthy of your time spent with it.

  • Brian Eshleman
    2019-03-15 04:22

    I'm not surprised to find out from the interview with the author at the end of the book that he is a professor of more than forty years experience. His lectures must be spellbinding. He can keep the main narrative moving in a straight line that is easy to follow. He can do this while finding the appropriate timing to comment on the forces of the larger culture at work. Then, he can compound his effectiveness by entering into the hearts and minds of the individual actors, charting maturation or the increasing bitterness of individual figures and the ways in which this development of individual psyches impacted the main storyline. If keeping these three aims in tandem were not mastery enough, he then helps the reader to connect them to trends which continue to our present day, to the American way of war in the ensuing two centuries, for instance.

  • Cindy
    2019-02-20 08:58

    By Christmas Day 1776, the Revolutionary War looked like it was already over. Ninety percent of the troops had gone home. The British and the Hessians had won every major battle. The way Washington turned that around saved the cause of independence. That turn around is the focus of this book. Don't be put off by the size. There's a huge appendix at the end, complete with order of battle and bibliography. It reads much faster than it looks. I liked that the maps and the portraits are scattered throughout the book, rather than stuck on just a few pages in the beginning or middle, as seems to be popular now. Especially once the action started, I would turn a couple of pages back to the map so I could refer to that and understand what was going on. Well written, great subject, extensively researched. Highly recommended.

  • Steve
    2019-03-02 04:13

    Probably the best history I've read on the Revolutionary War. Lots of stuff I didn't know before, especially about the make up of the armies (Colonial, British, and Hessian). But Fisher never gets bogged down with details, and keeps the narrative flowing. I was surprised at the level of brutality involved with the British/Hessian occupation of New Jersey. Gang rapes, from little girls to old women, plundering houses, etc, all of which,in a compressed amount of time (a few weeks), pretty much undermined the official British "hearts and minds" campaign.

  • Greg Strandberg
    2019-03-21 07:07

    I remember picking this up at the library. It was in the new section, and I got it because of the great cover. It's a good history, if a bit dry. As you can tell from the length (526 pages is a long book, even subtracting the typical 100 page notes/bibliography sections these books cram in) the book has a large tapestry. If you want a look at just the night of the crossing, perhaps a shorter book would be to your liking. Still, if you like broad histories of a period you don't know that much about, this is good.

  • Jimmie
    2019-02-24 11:23

    I read Washington's Crossing as a required reading for a class assignment. I was surprised by how much I did not know after reading this book. I realize I have slept since elementary school, but I lost a lot of detail over the years. The best part of this book was learning how strong mentally our forefathers and foremothers were and how determined they were to be free. I have a new leaned respect for the freedoms they gave us and I will do my best to keep these freedoms alive and well.

  • Tom Rowe
    2019-02-28 05:25

    A very interesting book. There was so much more to Washington's crossing the Delaware than I ever knew. David Hackett Fischer's analysis of the event goes far deeper as he points out how Washington and this event set the tone for how the American Army would come to function and its place in the government in the US. And the back of the book (almost half) is filled with interesting appendices. I highly recommend.

  • Peri
    2019-03-16 03:15

    This book is about more than just Washington crossing the Delaware to fight the battle of Trenton. It covers the events that lead up to this pivotal event, and effects of this important victory. It is very readable and enjoyable, and does make a great impression of what a massive accomplishment this was and how it impacted the psyche of the country.

  • Len
    2019-03-16 04:09

    I read this book because I liked David McCullough's "1776" so much -- especially the fifteen pages or so when he describes the Battle of Trenton.This book takes those fifteen pages and expands it to a couple hundred pages. The level of detail is extraordinary, and Fischer does this without sacrificing readability. Political and military history buffs both will enjoy the book very much.