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Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781

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From celebrated historian John Ferling, the underexplored history of the second half of the Revolutionary War, when, after years of fighting, American independence seemed very nearly lost. It was 1778, and the recent American victory at Saratoga had netted the U.S a powerful ally in France. Many, including General George Washington, presumed France's entrance into the war m From celebrated historian John Ferling, the underexplored history of the second half of the Revolutionary War, when, after years of fighting, American independence seemed very nearly lost. It was 1778, and the recent American victory at Saratoga had netted the U.S a powerful ally in France. Many, including General George Washington, presumed France's entrance into the war meant independence was just around the corner. Meanwhile, having lost an entire army at Saratoga, Great Britain pivoted to a “southern strategy.” The army would henceforth seek to regain its southern colonies, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, a highly profitable segment of its pre-war American empire. Deep into 1780 Britain's new approach seemed headed for success as the U.S. economy collapsed and morale on the home front waned. By early 1781, Washington, and others, feared that France would drop out of the war if the Allies failed to score a decisive victory that year. Sir Henry Clinton, commander of Britain's army, thought “the rebellion is near its end.” Washington, who had been so optimistic in 1778, despaired: “I have almost ceased to hope.” Winning Independence is the dramatic story of how and why Great Britain-so close to regaining several southern colonies and rendering the postwar United States a fatally weak nation ultimately failed to win the war. The book explores the choices and decisions made by Clinton and Washington, and others, that ultimately led the French and American allies to clinch the pivotal victory at Yorktown that at long last secured American independence.


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From celebrated historian John Ferling, the underexplored history of the second half of the Revolutionary War, when, after years of fighting, American independence seemed very nearly lost. It was 1778, and the recent American victory at Saratoga had netted the U.S a powerful ally in France. Many, including General George Washington, presumed France's entrance into the war m From celebrated historian John Ferling, the underexplored history of the second half of the Revolutionary War, when, after years of fighting, American independence seemed very nearly lost. It was 1778, and the recent American victory at Saratoga had netted the U.S a powerful ally in France. Many, including General George Washington, presumed France's entrance into the war meant independence was just around the corner. Meanwhile, having lost an entire army at Saratoga, Great Britain pivoted to a “southern strategy.” The army would henceforth seek to regain its southern colonies, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, a highly profitable segment of its pre-war American empire. Deep into 1780 Britain's new approach seemed headed for success as the U.S. economy collapsed and morale on the home front waned. By early 1781, Washington, and others, feared that France would drop out of the war if the Allies failed to score a decisive victory that year. Sir Henry Clinton, commander of Britain's army, thought “the rebellion is near its end.” Washington, who had been so optimistic in 1778, despaired: “I have almost ceased to hope.” Winning Independence is the dramatic story of how and why Great Britain-so close to regaining several southern colonies and rendering the postwar United States a fatally weak nation ultimately failed to win the war. The book explores the choices and decisions made by Clinton and Washington, and others, that ultimately led the French and American allies to clinch the pivotal victory at Yorktown that at long last secured American independence.

45 review for Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781

  1. 5 out of 5

    William Bahr

    Clinton Acclaimed — The other side of the story! Ferling’s thoughtful, well-documented, and well-written book focuses upon the British “Southern Strategy” (to retake South Carolina and Georgia) and the second half of the Revolutionary War. Showing much potential for success, the Southern Strategy was Lord George Germain’s idea. Unfortunately for Germain, the author blames him, George III, and Cornwallis for mucking up Clinton’s implementation. In the process, Ferling elevates Clinton from the Rev Clinton Acclaimed — The other side of the story! Ferling’s thoughtful, well-documented, and well-written book focuses upon the British “Southern Strategy” (to retake South Carolina and Georgia) and the second half of the Revolutionary War. Showing much potential for success, the Southern Strategy was Lord George Germain’s idea. Unfortunately for Germain, the author blames him, George III, and Cornwallis for mucking up Clinton’s implementation. In the process, Ferling elevates Clinton from the Revolutionary War’s incompetent schmuck to the star-crossed hero on the wrong side of the Revolution. Giving example after example of Clinton’s talents as a strategist/planner and executive, Ferling succeeds admirably in more or less a “first of a kind” Clinton rehabilitation. Washington On the subject of George Washington, however, be prepared if you’re a big George Washington fan. The book is pretty much a downer for him as Ferling again shines a light on Washington’s warts, making up for the praise he gave him in some of his previous books. What could Washington do? Ingloriously block Clinton, only attacking when a win was possible and otherwise waiting out the war until the British gave up. Also, work in concert with the French, not crossing them or Congress to work as a loyal and trustworthy partner to engender (and not lose) further support. While Ferling gives supreme credit to Rochambeau for orchestrating Yorktown with DeGrasse, realize Washington didn’t speak French and didn’t have the same access as French Admiral DeGrasse as did Rochambeau, but did orchestrate the duplicity and secrecy that allowed the rebels to slip off to Yorktown without alerting the British, and to set up a logistical masterpiece of getting the troops to their destination. Ferling gives General Charles Lee much credit as a strategist and criticizes Washington for not using him more. However, Lee was known to be a longstanding Washington critic and was non-responsive to Washington when asked to return men to Washington’s command for the eventual assault on Trenton, and became so careless that Lee found himself captured by the British. There was also suspicion that Lee possibly disclosed American plans to the British after his capture, with some hinting that he had continued working with them after his release. P 27: “Washington unwisely opted to leave a bit more than three thousand Continentals garrisoned in Fort Washington, a post that overlooked the Hudson River in the rural northwestern reaches of Manhattan. It was an absurd decision.” But, according to Wikipedia: Washington had considered abandoning Fort Washington, but he was swayed by Nathanael Greene (Ferling's "master strategist," aside from Clinton and Rochambeau), who believed the fort could be held and that it was vital to do so. Greene argued that holding the fort would keep open communications across the river and might dissuade the British from attacking New Jersey. Magaw and Putnam concurred with Greene. Washington deferred to Greene and did not abandon the fort.” P 40: “It was delusional to think that Howe could take Philadelphia and thereafter transport his army to Albany. The advance on Philadelphia would be a time-consuming undertaking, followed by a campaign certain to face worthy resistance by rebel defenders.” But Howe had expected to quickly march to Philadelphia, which would have allowed him to later help Burgoyne. It was Howe’s discovery that Washington was blocking his land march at Middlebrook Encampment that caused Howe to be delayed by having to take the sea route, leading to his later inability to rescue Burgoyne. P 48: “Washington fibbed to Congress that the enemy had gotten across because of the poor intelligence he had received.” But, Ferling doesn’t say why Washington was fibbing. P 95: “Despite the exaggerations of the two commanders, the engagement [Monmouth] was a standoff that had no immediate impact on the course of the war.” Well, except for proving to the rebels (and the British) that they could stand up and fight the British and especially for sending General Lee to his retirement! P 98: Ferling touts an invasion of Canada as an attractive strategic option. However, Lafayette, to his credit, smoked out the suggested option as a ruse that would get him out of the way of supporting Washington, saddled with insufficient men and equipment to make the invasion successful. The idea was rightly abandoned to most everyone's satisfaction. P 113: In pinpricking Washington’s reputation, Ferling doesn’t mention much of Gates and the Conway Cabal or Gates’ likely involvement in the Newburgh Conspiracy. This “cabal” so frustrated and embittered Washington that, contrary to Ferling’s intimations, he indicated that he would resign from the army if his performance continued to be brought into question: “Congress does not trust me. I cannot continue thus.” P 290: Washington was not 27, as Ferling asserts, when he married Martha, but 26 (over six weeks short of 27). He was also likely not 6 four; tallest measurement of six feet 3 and ¾ inches only by Washington’s undertaker, when Washington’s feet were pointed downward. By my calculations, averaging a number of assessments throughout Washington’s life, he was six feet 2 and ¾ inches tall. As Ferling mentions, Washington was shorter than DeGrasse, who by some accounts was said to be six feet four inches (depends upon if larger than English-scale French measurements were used). P 301: “Reports and letters aside, there is no evidence that Washington read anything other than an occasional newspaper.” Other historians have found that Washington frequently consulted his military books, and friends inundated him with political tracts, sermons, and newspapers. Quite possibly, he was also reading journals on architecture and agriculture to improve Mount Vernon., further prompting his estate improvement suggestions sent home to Lund Washington. P 509: “So why did America win the war?” From his ordered list, Ferling seems to imply Washington is way down on the list of credits. Between the two men and their mastery of the art of war, Ferling strongly tilts towards Clinton over Washington, especially in spectral linguistic nuances (e.g., me steadfast; you stubborn?). Along these lines, Ferling asserts Clinton was “not unscrupulous” for allowing rebel towns to be put to the torch, while Washington seems to suffer a stream of slams as “disingenuous,” “fibbing,” etc. Cornwallis P 368: Ferling reports Cornwallis purposely fired on his own men at Guilford Courthouse. Historians Babits and Howard and John R. Maass contend this was a myth created by not-quite-at-the-scene Lighthorse Harry Lee in his decades-later memoirs. For clarification, while associated with Cornwallis’ plan to move to North Carolina, the battles of Kings (no apostrophe) Mountain and Cowpens were in South Carolina. The final battle of the foray, Guilford Courthouse, was in North Carolina. Another Assessment: Cornwallis was upset that Clinton was not retiring to England, per Clinton’s previously expressed wishes, so that Cornwallis could not ascend in command. Others P 434: “Like Balfour, Rawdon was tall and strapping, but behind his back some limned him the ugliest man in England. That cruel and tasteless barb was unwarranted. Portraits by Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough captured a figure who was plain rather than handsome, but not unsightly.” But portrait artists were not paid to make their patrons look ugly! Note: Admiral Rodney shouldered some of the blame for not informing Clinton about DeGrasse’s progress. It should be pointed out that, due to the British Admiralty’s policy of rewarding admirals and captains with a percent of booty captured, Rodney was taking his time on St. Eustatius, also with expressed concern that the people were hiding wealth they would use to assist America. As well, he was plagued with severe prostate problems. Note: Ferling mentions only the rebels and Tarleton (who would have ridden to Ferguson's aid at Kings Mountain had he not been stricken) as having problems with yellow fever. Ferling also says Phillips died of typhus; other reports say malaria. As many other Brits likely contracted yellow fever as well, it is strange that Ferling does not mention the role mosquitoes played in the American Revolution. One respected report says, “Reading the evidence in contemporary accounts, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the microbes [especially via mosquitoes] may have done more than the patriots to ensure an American victory.” For those curious, the first (little known) Fort Lafayette was located at Verplank's point, across from Stony Point. Subsequent (one at a time) Fort Lafayettes were located in Pennsylvania and NYC. Overall assessment In conclusion, the book is a very worthy summary and recounting of the second half of the American Revolution, albeit, IMHO, with assertions sometimes hard to reconcile with conflicting accounts. Nevertheless, it effectively lays out the myriad pros and cons of the combatants’ strategic options. In doing so, Ferling makes a very substantial contribution to justifiably rehabilitating General Clinton’s reputation. Not to miss being mentioned, the maps and portraits Ferling provides are excellent. Bottom-line, I highly recommend this book! Of possible interest: George Washington's Liberty Key: Mount Vernon's Bastille Key - the Mystery and Magic of Its Body, Mind, and Soul , a best-seller at Mount Vernon. “Character is Key for Liberty!” and Strategy Pure and Simple: Essential Moves for Winning in Competition and Cooperation

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tina Panik

    An outstanding thesis that’s well written and extensively researched. A must read for fans of the American Revolution. This was an ARC.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    About time This new history takes on a much covered topic and makes it fresh. By placing the emphasis on the tactics and strategies of the generals in the American Revolution, most notably Clinton and Washington, the author ably shows how was are won and lost: by mixture of boldness and caution, great Intel and lost information, luck and patience. Nobody here is a genius, and there are few fools. Everybody has a pretty good ego, and is usually willing to give a few ribs to keep that ego intact. B About time This new history takes on a much covered topic and makes it fresh. By placing the emphasis on the tactics and strategies of the generals in the American Revolution, most notably Clinton and Washington, the author ably shows how was are won and lost: by mixture of boldness and caution, great Intel and lost information, luck and patience. Nobody here is a genius, and there are few fools. Everybody has a pretty good ego, and is usually willing to give a few ribs to keep that ego intact. Battles are often won by who has the better retreat. And yes, the battle for " hearts and minds" is two and and a half centuries old. And it is an excellent reminder that the enemy always had a vote on your plans. While mentioned, I would have loved to understand more on how the American army kept improving, yet the British, notably Germaine remained stuck in preconceptions. With an expansion to more thoroughly cover pre-1778, this could serve as a text. But as is, it should serve as a great start to a better balanced view of this war.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Sefton

    Winning Independence is the book both for those of us who are looking beyond what was covered in our history classes and for anyone who wants a better and deeper presentation of the hows and whys of the US War of Independence. Most importantly, the reasons behind political and policy decisions, and the effort and the sheer amounts of skullduggery involved, are illustrated--France's decision to align and support the nascent United States doesn't spring from the seafoam; it is a calculated decisio Winning Independence is the book both for those of us who are looking beyond what was covered in our history classes and for anyone who wants a better and deeper presentation of the hows and whys of the US War of Independence. Most importantly, the reasons behind political and policy decisions, and the effort and the sheer amounts of skullduggery involved, are illustrated--France's decision to align and support the nascent United States doesn't spring from the seafoam; it is a calculated decision by France to out-maneuver the UK in an ongoing cold war as well as gain traction in the North American continent via political alliances. Ferling's writing draws the reader in and keeps their interest with vivid descriptions. This is the book about the US War of Independence we wished we had in our history courses.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ranger

    FREE ARC from NET GALLEY, the PLACE for real READERS!!!!!!!!!! Too many readers of history (like me) don;t think there is much new out there concerning the revolutionary war and that we are not going to learn anything new. This author will be a pleasant surprise for you. Meticulously researched he brigs to life the opinions and thoughts of commanders on both sides enabling the reader to make their own tactical decisions. Few of us have seen the southern campaigns which were critical in rebuilding FREE ARC from NET GALLEY, the PLACE for real READERS!!!!!!!!!! Too many readers of history (like me) don;t think there is much new out there concerning the revolutionary war and that we are not going to learn anything new. This author will be a pleasant surprise for you. Meticulously researched he brigs to life the opinions and thoughts of commanders on both sides enabling the reader to make their own tactical decisions. Few of us have seen the southern campaigns which were critical in rebuilding the morale and faith of the fledgling army of the US and yet Ferling does a masterful job in doing just that. Many will be surprised at how close Britain was to victory and yet failed to capitalized on seizing several southern colonies. Well done!!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bloomsbury Publishing

  7. 4 out of 5

    Denise Marion

  8. 4 out of 5

    michael r. waller

  9. 5 out of 5

    Martin Frazee

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chris Elder

  12. 4 out of 5

    Paul Vogelzang

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Burns

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erik Christianson

  15. 5 out of 5

    Chris Carson

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brownt

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jim Kuhlman

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Friesen

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  21. 4 out of 5

    Steve Walker

  22. 5 out of 5

    Elyse

  23. 5 out of 5

    Deedee

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Cherpeski

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

  26. 5 out of 5

    'Aussie Rick'

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Purnell

  28. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Bull Chafin

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  31. 5 out of 5

    Robert Johnson

  32. 5 out of 5

    Carole Rokoff

  33. 5 out of 5

    Elisabeth

  34. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  35. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca James

  36. 4 out of 5

    Blair Hives

  37. 5 out of 5

    Alec Hallal

  38. 4 out of 5

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  39. 5 out of 5

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  40. 5 out of 5

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  41. 5 out of 5

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  42. 4 out of 5

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  43. 4 out of 5

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  44. 5 out of 5

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  45. 4 out of 5

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