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Guts & Glory: The American Revolution
By Ben Thompson
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- Trade Paperback $8.99 $12.99 CAD
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- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
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From George Washington crossing the icy Delaware, to Molly Pitcher fearlessly firing her cannon, the people of the American Revolution were some of the bravest and most inspiring of all time. Jump into a riot in the streets of Boston, join the Culper Spy Ring as they steal secrets in the dead of night, and watch the signing of the Declaration of Independence in this accessible, illustrated guide to the birth of the United States.
History buff and popular blogger Ben Thompson’s extensive research and irresistible storytelling make history come alive in this fourth book in the unforgettable Guts & Glory series.
Origins of a Rebellion
Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of Liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.
—Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775
WHAT IF I TOLD YOU THAT THE STORY about George Washington cutting down a cherry tree is total crap, and that once, GW swore at a dude so much that the entire Continental Army stopped running away and turned to face a British bayonet charge? And what if I told you that Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States (and the guy on the nickel), had a panic attack when he found out he was supposed to write the Declaration of Independence? Seriously, Ben Franklin and John Adams had to chase him into a bar and drink beers with him until he finally decided, "Okay, yeah, I will write a letter to the dang king of England telling him to suck lemons."
Did you know that Andrew Jackson, the man on the twenty-dollar bill, joined the army at the age of thirteen, was captured by the British, and was so disrespectful to the officer who captured him that the dude chopped part of Jackson's hand off with a sword? Oh yeah, and what if I told you the greatest war hero of the American Revolution ended up turning traitor and joining the British? Now we have three monuments in his honor in the United States, but he's so hated that none of them actually mention his name.
The American Revolution is, without question, the single most important event in American history. It was the longest war the US has ever fought, it killed 1 percent of the American population (which might not sound like much, but it's a really big number of people), and it altered the course of human history forever. Victory in the American Revolution set up the first democracy in the modern world—you know, the system of government where people actually get to vote for things—and it marked the end of the old days, when the king or the queen basically forced the royal subjects to do whatever he or she wanted.
Now, there were a lot of things going on that led to war between America and Great Britain, but the short version is that the Americans didn't want to pay taxes to the British king. So they pulled out a bunch of guns and started threatening government officials. The British didn't back down, because they felt like the American colonies should pay taxes, and then all heck broke loose.
But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here. Let's back up 160 years or so to when the English first came to America. As much as the director of your school Thanksgiving play loves to talk about Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock and eating giant turkeys stuffed with cranberry sauce and bacon, the first English settlement in the New World was actually at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. Thirteen years later, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and started baking candied yams, and then over the next hundred years or so, more and more English settlements started popping up all over the place, from Rhode Island to Georgia.
Eventually, America was divided into thirteen colonies, each with its own governor: Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Present-day Vermont was part of New Hampshire, and Maine was part of Massachusetts. People living in the colonies were considered British subjects, under the rule of the king of England and the protection of the British Army, and laws were made by the king and the British Parliament, which is like their version of our present-day Congress.
America was a good place for people from England to go to live because England was super-crowded and really expensive. Over in America there was a ton of cheap land people could buy for farming or ranching or whatever. When your options are "work in a horrible factory or at a smelly dock for very little money in England" or "own a couple of acres of land and sit on your back porch in the middle of nowhere in America," many people chose to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to try to build a new life. The only thing you really had to worry about in North America was that occasionally a bunch of American Indians would come to try to kill you because you were technically stealing their land. But most Colonial villages set up groups called militias, which were neighborhood armies, kind of like a cross between a volunteer fire department and a US Army National Guard infantry battalion.
England wasn't the only European country that had colonists living in America. The British colonies were basically just the East Coast of the modern-day United States. Florida, Texas, Mexico, and most of South America were held by Spain, and the French colonists lived in Quebec, Canada, and on a humongous chunk of land just west of the Appalachian Mountains (this territory was called Louisiana, but it actually stretched from New Orleans all the way up to Detroit and was way bigger than the current state of Louisiana).
As you might imagine, England, France, and Spain all occupying North America at the same time eventually caused problems, and before long there was a huge war.
The fight actually started in Europe and had literally nothing to do with America. In 1756, Queen Maria Theresa of Austria went to war with the German state of Prussia over a little chunk of land called Silesia. Austria and Prussia called their buddies to help them, and before long you had an epic war, with Austria, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and France on one side and Prussia, Great Britain, and Portugal on the other. A lot of those countries had colonies that bordered each other in other parts of the world, too, so then you had guys fighting in India, the Caribbean, North America, and anywhere else.
In Europe, people refer to this humongous world war as the Seven Years' War, but in America we call our part in it the French and Indian War, because it actually only lasted four years, and over here the British colonists were fighting against the French and the American Indians. This makes it easier to keep track of.
The details of the French and Indian War could make a whole other book, but here's the deal: The British Army came to America and kicked France's booty, beating them up and down the Mississippi and in Canada. Then, over in Europe, the British Royal Navy smoked the French Navy into burning cinders, blasting apart their ships, crippling their sea power for decades, and making it really hard for them to bring fresh troops across the ocean. The American colonists contributed their small groups of militia soldiers to the British cause, but the colonists had very little formal military training (and zero experience fighting as regular infantry), so for the most part these farmer-soldiers ran away every time they had to fight actual French Army forces. This cheesed off the British a little, and eventually they stopped using Colonial militias to help them fight in important battles.
The French and Indian War ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763, which basically kicked the French out of North America once and for all. All French holdings in Canada went to England. All French holdings along the Mississippi went to Spain. Florida became a British colony, and England also took territory in India and the Caribbean from the French. It was a crushing victory.
Well, for all the glory and heroism and butt-kicking, England ended the war with a little bit of a problem. Wars are really expensive and require a ton of money to pay soldiers and keep them fighting. So the British figured since they'd basically just fought a big war in America to protect the American colonists from the French and the American Indians, the American colonists should cough up some taxes to help, you know, actually pay for it.
On the surface this might make sense, but there's a problem: America didn't have any seats in the British Parliament, so the colonists felt like they were stuck doing whatever England decided they should do. The Americans didn't have a single vote in the matter, and now they were going to be forced to pay all this money to the king over a war they didn't start—and that took place mostly on another continent. This made some folks in the colonies a little super-righteously furiously angry. (We'll see how that plays out in chapter 1.)
When war finally broke out between the American colonists and Great Britain, each side had very distinct advantages and disadvantages:
In 1775, Great Britain was the single most powerful country in the world. The British Empire was made up of England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Grenada, and Barbados, as well as parts of Africa and India and even China, and it stretched across every continent on Earth (even Antarctica!). It consisted of millions of people and had a nearly limitless supply of money coming in. It had the largest, best-trained, and most powerful navy in the world, and an army that had proved itself time after time on the battlefield. The British hadn't lost a war in over a hundred years, and they'd hardly lost a single battle in the Seven Years' War.
Of course, for a war in America, they would need to transport everything three thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean, and they would need to keep resources available to defend their holdings in Africa, India, the Caribbean, and even back home in England. There were a lot of angry countries—particularly France and Spain—that were just looking for an opportunity to shank the English in the back while they were focusing on a war with the American colonists.
THE AMERICAN COLONIES
In the early years of the Revolution, America had no formal government, no army, no navy, and very few actual cities. Despite being a gigantic chunk of land, America actually had, like, half as many people living in it as there were in England, meaning that America had far fewer soldiers to throw into combat. The Americans also had no formal currency, no way to pay for things, and few experienced military commanders. They'd fought poorly in the French and Indian War, and no American force had proved it could stand toe-to-toe with a European army on the battlefield.
Even worse, the country was divided among three distinct groups of people: the patriots (guys who were actively fighting in the rebellion), the loyalists (people who were actively fighting on the side of the British because they didn't want to break away from the British Empire), and people who refused to fight for either side. Still, despite this division and all these drawbacks, the Americans had a few advantages: They were fighting on their home turf, they knew the roads and the land, and they believed in the cause. And home field advantage can make all the difference.
It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed.
—Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams and First Lady of the United States
MY FIFTH GREAT-GRANDFATHER, THOMAS Jennings (1746–1812), came to the Colony of Virginia as an indentured servant at the age of thirteen. By 1776, he was thirty years old, five years younger than I am now, and he already owned his own farm in Spotsylvania County. He had just married a woman named Sarah Carter, but when the call came for soldiers to fight for American freedom, Jennings left his family and his home, enlisted in the army, and served throughout the war as a rifleman in Captain John Herndon's company of the Virginia Militia. I don't have a list of engagements he served in, but in addition to fighting as a soldier, he also—according to the documentation I have—"supplied beef." I have no idea what that means, but I like to envision him having totally jacked arms and punching people while saying "Here comes the beef!"
Even though this war was fought 241 years ago, the American Revolution seems to follow me around pretty much everywhere I go. I was born in downtown Philadelphia, two blocks from the Liberty Bell. I was named after my great-grandfather, who was named after Benjamin Franklin. My dad used to have a Brown Bess and a Pennsylvania rifle hanging on the wall of our living room, right next to a portrait of George Washington, and my pops used to impress his friends at parties because I could identify all three things by name when I was still a baby. He also did his senior history thesis at the University of Virginia on British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton (a guy I'll talk about in detail in chapter 19). Tarleton almost succeeded in kidnapping Thomas Jefferson, who founded the University of Virginia, so I don't know what this says about Dad's school spirit.
I can do the Patrick Henry "give me liberty or give me death" speech from memory because my mom would recite it every time my brother and I were driving her completely crazy. At my first "grown-up" job, working as a file clerk in some tiny Massachusetts law firm, I could look out the window of my cubicle and see the spot where the Boston Massacre went down. I once played in a softball game in the park across the street from the Bunker Hill monument. I've walked the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, accidentally discovered the battlefield at Cowpens while searching for a gas station, visited the Declaration of Independence in Washington, DC, and walked the parapets of Fort Independence in Massachusetts Bay.
Heck, I've reenacted battles from the Revolutionary War, fired a flintlock musket, and felt the weight of a loaded powder box on my shoulder. I have an exact replica of Lord Cornwallis's red army coat hanging in my closet right now, and every time I'm too lazy to think of a good Halloween costume, I slap that together with a powdered wig, some dark makeup, and a tricorne hat and go as Zombie Cornwallis. As you might imagine, this costume sometimes requires a little explaining.
What I'm saying is that for me this stuff isn't just ancient history buried in the pages of a dusty textbook so boring it can be used as a form of torture. The American Revolution is part of every single aspect of our lives, whether you're voting for a class president, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, signing a petition, or handing a cashier a ten-dollar bill. You can still see leftovers of the Revolution in street names, monuments, money, and statues all across the United States, and in TV shows like TURN and video games like Assassin's Creed III and Fallout 4. And, as much as 1776 feels like an eternity ago, think about this for a minute: America has been a country for just over 240 years. When we became a nation, Great Britain had existed for more than seven hundred years. Before that, the Romans were around for over a thousand years, and the Chinese emperors reigned for more than two thousand. America is a blip on the timeline of world history, and the Revolution was not as long ago as you might think.
With this book I wanted to tell the story of the American Revolution from beginning to end, highlighting white-knuckled acts of incredible bravery, from epic battles, to sword-swinging mayhem, to fearless spy missions, to high-octane bayonet charges. But I also wanted to highlight the heroism of progressive thinkers like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and many others who were trying to figure out a brand-new system of government that had never been successfully tried before. There are some stories you'll know and others that I bet will surprise you. Either way, it's going to be a heck of a journey from the riotous streets of Boston, to the bloodstained shores of Yorktown, to the very beginning of the country that we are lucky to live in today.
All right, let's do this.
The Sons of Liberty
The "Iron Man of the People" Throws the Redcoats a Tea Party They Won't Soon Forget
Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can.
—Samuel Adams, American patriot
THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION BEGAN IN the same place where many of the all-time greatest Dungeons and Dragons campaigns have started: a cool, old-school, wood-paneled tavern, lit by candles and full of all kinds of seedy outlaws.
It's fitting, then, that one of the great rabble-rousers of American independence was a dude who is now best known for having a brand of beer named after him.
Praise for Guts & Glory: The American Revolution:
"The book's greatest strength is its colloquial storytelling.... Thompson's passion for his subject is infectious.... An easy, breezy series opener that should help create a few new history buffs."—Kirkus Reviews
- On Sale
- Mar 12, 2019
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers