George Washington has long been hailed the hero of the American Revolution, and with valid reason. His patience, perseverance, and ability to push past major disappointment and crushing defeats to see his undermanned army to the end provide the blueprint for all of us who face substantial obstacles in our daily lives. Washington, despite personal doubts of his own ability, never let his men see his insecurities.
In his novel, 1776, Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough takes us directly into the mind of Washington. We see his indecision and, at times, crippling lack of confidence, things that could have easily led to the demise of American independence. We begin to understand that heroes, including iconic figures such as Washington, are straddled with faults and warts just like the rest of us.
The reader learns of several trusted confidants in Washington’s inner circle that eventually, in one way or another, through incompetence or treason, let the general down. That said, the story makes superstars out of Henry Knox and Nathaniel Greene, who stuck by Washington from beginning to end. The mutual admiration and respect between these three men are as big a reason for the outcome of the war as any.
We find out about the British side, as well. We begin to correlate specific decisions made by British generals that allowed a ragtag outfit, the so-called, “Rabble in Arms,” to hang around when it could have been annihilated several times over. Despite boasting a plethora of seasoned generals and leaders, the fact that British leaders were rarely on the same page or could hardly work together somewhat levelled a playing field that was overwhelmingly stacked in favor of the redcoats.
Finally, it is worth noting that McCullough, for the most part, keeps the story within the specific parameters of its title. While the reader has the advantage of knowing how everything played out, it is important to understand how intimidating it must have seemed to be a soldier in the American army at that time. 1776 handed the Patriots several lopsided losses and subjected them to embarrassing retreats of supposed strongholds. Morale was extremely low, and people were deserting the army in droves. Washington’s leadership ability itself was very much in question, and despite a nice rally at the end of the year, especially the defeat of the Hessians at Trenton, he was hardly thought of as a hero. Seeing the situation as those in the army at that time allows the reader to better understand the how perilous things were.