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Subject: American Revolution book recommendations rss

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Steve Bernhardt
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I just toured New England and am on a Am Rev reading kick. I've read quite a few books on the subject, so I'm looking for less-well known books as well. Thanks!

Also, I noticed in gravestones from that period are decorated with skulls and angel wings. Anyone know why?

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wargamer66 wrote:
I just toured New England and am on a Am Rev reading kick. I've read quite a few books on the subject, so I'm looking for less-well known books as well. Thanks!

Also, I noticed in gravestones from that period are decorated with skulls and angel wings. Anyone know why?



Ack! The worst part is I went to Boston and, when visiting some of the cemetaries, asked the tour guide the same basic question. And now I can't remember the answer. Had to do with the beliefs of the time period (I know, I know--Thank You, Captain Obvious!) Now I'm subscribed to one more thread, impatiently awaiting an answer...
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Captain Spaulding
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I'm assuming you've read this, but if you haven't "1776" by David McCullough is one of the best history books I've ever read. He also wrote the book about John Adams that was turned into a miniseries by HBO. I was glued to every page of 1776 from beginning to end.

It covers the events of the war that year, mostly from Washington's point of view, but also from the point of view of British Parliament and both British and American soldiers during and between battles. I was blown away by the level of tension and detail. Being pre-Facebook, many of these guys were extremely literate and kept copious notes of the day to day events. And the day to day events in the year 1776 is one wild ride. After reading it, I truly felt that I had survived, against all odds, a monumental, horrifying, and ultimately uplifting ordeal.
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Terry Hollern
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I picked up a nice AWI book earlier this year. "Henry Knox, Visionary General of the American Revolution" is by Mark Puls. The book was published in 08 or 09. The book covers the life of Henry Knox, Knox is primarily known as General Washington's officer of artillery. Puls shows that Knox made much greater contributions both on and off the field of battle. I recommend it.

A few years ago I read and enjoyed "Benedict Arnold's Navy" by James L. Nelson. Nelson's focus is on Arnolds efforts throughout the war with a major focus on the battle of Valcour Island. One of my favorite stories in the book has Arnold in battle. He has fallen under his horse. A British soldier runs up to Arnold and says, "You are my prisoner." Arnold pulls out a pistol, shots the man dead and says, "No I'm not." I recommend this book too.

Finally, I just finished Peter's War. Peter is slave who fought for the American cause and gained his freedom. Interesting topic, not as good as the above two but worth the read.
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Michael Lavoie
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I second Andrew Maly's recommendation of Bobrick's tome. A more recent study of the military picture is Almost a Miracle by John Ferling. Richard Ketchum's Saratoga is another good one.
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Two books that I highly recommend are by Jeff Shaara. They are works of fiction but they are such great reads! The first book is "Rise to Rebellion" and the second is "The Glorious Cause". Get them from your local library or cheap on Amazon or Ebay. I am getting to read them again myself.
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Possibly the best one I've run across for the big picture is The Glorious Cause by Robert Middlekauff.
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I liked 1776, but I thought a far beter book on the topic (the battle of New York, the retreat across New Jersey, and the Battles of Trenton and Princeton) was David Hackett Fischer's Pulitzer winning "Washington's Crossing."

Benedict Arnold's Navy by James Nelson is a great book on the Northern theater leading up to Saratoga -- the wilderness crossing in Maine, taking Ticonderoga, St. John's, and Montreal, the Siege of Quebec and the naval battle of Valcour Island.

The Henry Knox biography by Puls was excellent. Fascinating man and Washington's #2 man.

Washington's General by Terry Golway is excellent. It's a biography of Washington's #1 man Nathanael Greene.

If Benedict Arnold's Navy fascinates you, follow it up with James Thomes Flexnall's classic "The Traitor and the Spy" about the lives of Benedict Arnold, his wife, and John Andre.

His Excellency by Joseph J. Ellis is a wonderful biography about Washington. Ellis is my favorite author.

An interesting book about the beginning of the war is "The Day the American Revolution Began" by William Hallahan. It covers the battle of Lexington and Concord and the results that happened in various cities as the news spread.

I am currently reading "Washington's Spies" by Alexander Rose and am about halfway through it. It is about the first spy ring in America.

Now, if you want the meat of the battles, check out two books by John Buchanan. He is extremely detail-oriented. His first book is "The Road to Valley Forge" and covers the Battle of New York through Monmouth. The Second is out of this world, called "The Road to Guilford Court House" and covers the southern campaign from the first battle of Charleston through Guilford. You realize just how important the Southern Campaign was to our Independence, and it is laid out in outstanding detail.

I also have the Saratoga book mentioned, but it is next on the reading list.

Hope that helps.
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M Hellyer
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Here are my faves:

Non-Fiction
1. Rebels and Redcoats by Scheer and Rankin - Comprehensive history of the land war mixing well-written history with comments from a Revolutionary War veteran's memoirs.
2. Patriots by A.J. Langguth - Each chapter is a biography of one of the Founding Fathers who made the Revolution happen
3. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution - probably everything that needs to be known about the revolution in one volume
4. First Salute by Barbara Tuchman - How Dutch recognition of the U.S. (the first international recognition) helped bring about victory
5. Generals of Saratoga by Max Mintz - Compares and contrasts the careers of General Burgoyne and General Gates who met at the fateful battle of Saratoga
6.7. 1776 and John Adams by David McCullough - John Adams is the better written book -- it's a classic -- but goes well beyond the Revolution to cover all of Adams' life, but it is a wonderful book. I found 1776 to be a well-written textbook, interesting, but not the great engaging work that John Adams is.
8. Bicentennial Guides to the American Revolution by Sol Stember - Good for your next drive to the war's sites.
9. Six Frigates by Ian Toll - Only the first 1/3 (144 pages) is devoted to the Revolutionary era but it is the story of the founding of the U.S. Navy. I've just started it and it seems very well-written.

Fiction
1. Rabble in Arms by Kenneth Roberts - Events leading up and including the Battle of Saratoga
2. Arundel by Kenneth Roberts - Story of Benedict Arnold leading the attack from New England into Canada
3. Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts - Story about a fictional character who loved America but was a Loyalist to Britain
4.5. Trumpet to Arms and Guns of Burgoyne by Bruce Lancaster - 2 exciting works of historical fiction
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wargamer66 wrote:
Also, I noticed in gravestones from that period are decorated with skulls and angel wings. Anyone know why?


Not sure why... but that's what I want my tombstone to look like when I die.
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    A second vote for The First Salute by Tuchman, her weakest work which means it's merely excellent. Focuses on the British Navy of the era and their role in the war, and in true Tuchman style expands the focus of the subject to include the heavy European politics that were every bit as critical to the war as any of the battlefield action in America.

    Not many recommendations for the south, so I'll throw in The Road to Guilford Courthouse by Buchanan. A very different war in the south and every bit as fascinating.

             Sag.


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Steve Bernhardt
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chansen2794 wrote:
wargamer66 wrote:
Also, I noticed in gravestones from that period are decorated with skulls and angel wings. Anyone know why?


Not sure why... but that's what I want my tombstone to look like when I die.


No kidding, it looks like a biker tattoo.
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PlayMe1 wrote:
Here are my faves:

Non-Fiction
1. Rebels and Redcoats by Scheer and Rankin - Comprehensive history of the land war mixing well-written history with comments from a Revolutionary War veteran's memoirs.
2. Patriots by A.J. Langguth - Each chapter is a biography of one of the Founding Fathers who made the Revolution happen
3. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution - probably everything that needs to be known about the revolution in one volume
4. First Salute by Barbara Tuchman - How Dutch recognition of the U.S. (the first international recognition) helped bring about victory
5. Generals of Saratoga by Max Mintz - Compares and contrasts the careers of General Burgoyne and General Gates who met at the fateful battle of Saratoga
6.7. 1776 and John Adams by David McCullough - John Adams is the better written book -- it's a classic -- but goes well beyond the Revolution to cover all of Adams' life, but it is a wonderful book. I found 1776 to be a well-written textbook, interesting, but not the great engaging work that John Adams is.
8. Bicentennial Guides to the American Revolution by Sol Stember - Good for your next drive to the war's sites.
9. Six Frigates by Ian Toll - Only the first 1/3 (144 pages) is devoted to the Revolutionary era but it is the story of the founding of the U.S. Navy. I've just started it and it seems very well-written.

Fiction
1. Rabble in Arms by Kenneth Roberts - Events leading up and including the Battle of Saratoga
2. Arundel by Kenneth Roberts - Story of Benedict Arnold leading the attack from New England into Canada
3. Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts - Story about a fictional character who loved America but was a Loyalist to Britain
4.5. Trumpet to Arms and Guns of Burgoyne by Bruce Lancaster - 2 exciting works of historical fiction


Yes, you MUST read Rebels & Redcoats. After that, consider reading Redcoats and Rebels, the "flip side" of the war, written by Chris Hibbert. Both, but especially the former, are treasures filled with letters and diary entries written at the time, and not, as so often happens, corrected and modernized (it is amazing to see how grammar and punctuation have changed).

I also always recommend reading Lynn Montross' War Through the Ages and Dupuy & Dupuy's Encyclopedia of Military History, both of which are not "American Revolution" specific, but have excellent chapters on the subject as part of the larger narrative of military history. These books will help you put the whole thing into context.

For the social, political and religions background of the American Revolution, I highly recommend reading Crisis, Absolutism, Revolution: Europe 1648-1789 by Raymond Birn. The American Revolution did not happen in a vacuum, and you must understand "The Glorious Revolution" in England and Enlightened Depotism on the Continent to understand the Revolution. Many of the words and phrases in the Declaration of Independance were taken from John Locke's (d. 1704) writings and concepts of the Natural Rights of Man. The Founding Fathers were very familiar with his works.
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Judd Vance
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Another one I forgot was "Patriot Pirates" by Robert Patton (George's grandson). It covers the often referenced but rarely unearthed topic of the privateer war in the American Revolution. He also covers a lot about Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin's work in France to get them to enter the war. The writing is a bit dry, but the topic is definately uncommon, thus making it a worthwhile read.
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wargamer66 wrote:
I just toured New England and am on a Am Rev reading kick. I've read quite a few books on the subject, so I'm looking for less-well known books as well. Thanks!


I'm not sure what constitutes well known. I read 1776 and thought it was okay, but David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing was outstanding. I also recommend his Paul Revere's Ride.

http://www.amazon.com/Washingtons-Crossing-Pivotal-Moments-A...
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In the absence of a more expert view of the skulls on tombstones, I'm going to reach back into my memory and pull up what I can. I think putting a skull on the gravestone is another way of acknowledging and embracing mortality and the afterlife. There's an element there of keeping in mind the issue of salvation vs. perdition. The significance can be highlighted by contrasting those gravestones with Victorian gravestones that featured pictures of yew trees and urns, suggesting a more sentimental view of death and eternity (as did the mementoes mori).

I don't know about the wings. Maybe representing hope?

This is a very amateur explanation, but I think it's a step in the right direction.
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I'm currently reading the two volume set by Thomas J. McGuire entitled "The Philadelphia Campaign". A few I haven't seen on the list so far are Michael Stephenson's "Patriot Battles" and Richard M. Ketchum's "Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign That Won the Revolution".
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A very good military analysis and well written book is The Philidelphia Campaign 1777-1778 by Stephen R. Taaffe.

I would also recommend The Guns of Independence; The Siege of Yorktown, 1781 by Jerome A. Greene.

edit: italics for author
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Not that long ago The Killer Angels (Michael Shaara) was recommended to me as the one i should pick up next. It focuses on Gettysburg.
 
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caffeinehead wrote:
Not that long ago The Killer Angels (Michael Shaara) was recommended to me as the one i should pick up next. It focuses on Gettysburg.


It is good, I picked up his Glorious Cause book at the Bunker Hill visitor's center because I enjoyed The Killer Angels. I'm not usually into historical fiction, but I make an exception for Shaara.
 
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    Fair warning -- The Killer Angels is American Civil War. An easy enough mistake to make.

    The gentleman asked about the American Revolution, let's please try to stay on topic.

             Sag.


 
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Sagrilarus wrote:
Fair warning -- The Killer Angels is American Civil War.  An easy enough mistake to make.  The gentleman asked about the American Revolution, let's please try to stay on topic.

My bad.  Even after reading through the thread, i was thinking Civil War.  (smirk)  As is obvious from my Gettysburg comment.
 
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I know you'd mentioned being in New England, Steve, - and this one isn't about NE - I found The Southern Strategy to be pretty good with some good maps, especially if you are looking for something to tie into GMT's game, Savannah.

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=X2GrR0Eyh-4C&dq=david+k+...

Edited to add: - if you are familiar with the American Heritage Civil War book ( the one with all of the artistically rendered maps...) National Geographic put out a book on the Revolutionary War around the bicentennial that had 4 or 5 of these types of maps, although granted ti is just basically a coffee table picture book; you can probably find it on the second hand market like at Amazon or Abebooks or wherever else there is out there.
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Thanks for asking the question -- I'm getting into American Revolution history myself, and am working my way through 1776 first (as it's a relatively quick and easy read). I want to learn more about the battles, so my fiancee and I can visit the sites and play wargames back and forth. My plan is to post a GeekList on the topic, so I want to do my research first. So this post was a great way to get a bunch of sources real fast! A tip for you!

By the way, I looked into some of the winged skull symbolism. It's pretty interesting. It is along the lines that Lexingtonian mentioned.

From one site:
Through time there is a tight connection between the skull and bones logo and the skull with wings logo. A skull is representative of the transitory nature of life and death, or sometimes the death-resurrection cycle. Sometimes skulls are shown with wings (called death's heads or winged death--representing the fleeting nature of life and impending death) and sometimes with crossed bones beneath (representing death and the crucifixion).

Both the skull and bones and the skull with wings were popular symbols in America in the 17th and early 18th centuries, particularly on grave headstones. Here the winged skull symbolized the flight of the soul from mortal man. In this example [picture omitted -- K] from an early northeastern Protestant headstone, “Memento Mori” is Latin for remember death.

Likewise at the same time the skull and crossbones was popular both on headstones and with the flags of seafaring pirates - inspired by the gravestone symbology and meaning 'you are about to die'....

The symbology is old. Gravestone carvers during this period drew from a canvas of skulls, crossbones, wings, and hourglasses handed down through the middle ages.. In the 18th century the style changed to more happy images such as cherubs and happy images - more like what we are more familiar with now.


Also, this is a link to an excellent article on attitudes about death in Colonial America:
http://colonial-america.suite101.com/article.cfm/gravestones...

-K
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An interesting viewpoint on the retreat across New Jersey in 1776:

In David McCollough's "1776" he paints a picture of the American army running for its life, about to be crushed at any moment. Very tense.

In David Hacket Fischer's "Washington's Crossing", he paints the picture of the Hessian/British chasing the rebels out of jersey -- kind of like dogs chasing the fox. They had no intention of trying to overtake Washington, just to get him out.

I tend to side with Fischer. He points out a memo from Howe to one of the Hessian leaders telling him not to engage because one Jaegar life was worth more than 10 rebels.

Howe was more interested in reconciliation than conquest. He wanted to embarrass the Contintental Army. He believed that most Americans were loyal to the crown and a handful of rable-rousers were speaking for the whole. Between that and the lesson he learned at Breed's Hill (frontal attacks are deadly to the attacker), he was hesitant to engage Washington in all-out battle. His 1776 strategy was to take about 1/3 of the colonies, and he did that (New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey). When they offered amnesty in New Jersey, tons of folks flocked to it, fearing that the rebellion was dead/dying.

The two things that changed was Thomas Payne's tract "The American Crisis" ("These are the times that try men's souls...") that called for people to rise up in the hard times and then the twin surprise victories at Trenton and Princeton. That saved the rebellion and gave it new life. Howe underestimated his enemy and blew his chance to end it.

But the point was, I tend to believe he was more interested in flushing Washington out of Jersey than he was in crushing the Continental Army because he believed he could defeat the rebellion and win the colonies back to the crown with a minimum of violence and casualties.
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