Cover image for The British are coming : the war for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777
The British are coming : the war for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777
1st ed.
Physical Description:
xviii, 776 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), maps ; 25 cm.
Rick Atkinson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning An Army at Dawn and two other masterly books about World War II, has long been admired for his unparalleled ability to write deeply researched, stunningly vivid narrative history. Now he turns his attention to a new war, and in the initial volume of the Revolution Trilogy he tells the story of the first twenty months of the bloody struggle to shake free of King George's shackles. From the battles at Lexington and Concord in spring 1775 to those at Trenton and Princeton in winter 1777, the ragtag Continental Army takes on the world's most formidable fighting force and gradually finds the will and the way to win. It is a riveting saga populated by singular characters: Henry Knox, the former bookseller with an uncanny understanding of how best to deploy artillery; Nathaniel Greene, the blue-eyed bumpkin who becomes one of America's greatest battle captains; Benjamin Franklin, the self-made man who proves himself the nation's greatest diplomat; George Washington, the commander-in-chief who learns the difficult art of leadership amid the fire and smoke of the battlefield. And the British are here, too: we see the war through their eyes and their gunsights, and as a consequence the mortal conflict between the redcoats and the rebels is all the more compelling. Full of fresh details and untold stories, The British Are Coming gives stirring new life to the first act of our country's creation drama. It is a tale of heroes and knaves, of sacrifice and blunder, of redemption and profound suffering. But once begun, the war for independence can have only one of two outcomes: death or victory. --


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From the bestselling author of the Liberation Trilogy comes the extraordinary first volume of his new trilogy about the American Revolution

Rick Atkinson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning An Army at Dawn and two other superb books about World War II, has long been admired for his deeply researched, stunningly vivid narrative histories. Now he turns his attention to a new war, and in the initial volume of the Revolution Trilogy he recounts the first twenty-one months of America's violent war for independence.

From the battles at Lexington and Concord in spring 1775 to those at Trenton and Princeton in winter 1777, American militiamen and then the ragged Continental Army take on the world's most formidable fighting force. It is a gripping saga alive with astonishing characters: Henry Knox, the former bookseller with an uncanny understanding of artillery; Nathanael Greene, the blue-eyed bumpkin who becomes a brilliant battle captain; Benjamin Franklin, the self-made man who proves to be the wiliest of diplomats; George Washington, the commander in chief who learns the difficult art of leadership when the war seems all but lost. The story is also told from the British perspective, making the mortal conflict between the redcoats and the rebels all the more compelling.

Full of riveting details and untold stories, The British Are Coming is a tale of heroes and knaves, of sacrifice and blunder, of redemption and profound suffering. Rick Atkinson has given stirring new life to the first act of our country's creation drama.

Author Notes

Rick Atkinson holds a master of arts degree in English literature from the University of Chicago and is a Pulitzer-Prize winning author and military historian

Atkinson is the author of the highly-acclaimed Liberation Trilogy, The Long Gray Line, In the Company of Soldiers and Crusade. Atkinson received the Pulitzer Prize for the first volume of the Liberation Trilogy, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943. The second volume, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, drew praise as well.

Atkinson also received the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting; and the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for public service, awarded to the Washington Post for a series of investigative articles directed and edited by Atkinson on shootings by the District of Columbia police department. He is winner of the 1989 George Polk Award for national reporting, the 2003 Society for Military History Distinguished Book Award, the 2007 Gerald R. Ford Award for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense, and the 2010 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. Atkinson has served as the Gen. Omar N. Bradley Chair of Strategic Leadership at the U.S. Army War College. In 2014 his title The Guns at Last Light made The New York Times Best Seller List.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Pulitzer Prize winner Atkinson (The Liberation Trilogy) replicates his previous books' success in this captivatingly granular look at the American Revolution from the increasing tension in the colonies in 1773 to the battles of Trenton and Princeton in 1777. Extensive research (including delving into the unpublished papers of King George III, only recently made available to scholars) allows Atkinson to recreate the past like few other popular historians. The result is a definitive survey of the first stage of the war, which would ultimately yield "two tectonic results": the reduction of the British Empire by one-third, and the creation of the United States. By providing vivid portraits of even minor characters, Atkinson enables readers to feel the loss of individual lives on both sides of the conflict, and by providing memorable details-such as starving soldiers relishing a stew made out of a squirrel's head and some candlewicks-he brings new life even to chapters of oft-told American history. Atkinson doesn't shy away from noting the hypocrisy of the slave-owning founding fathers, and his mordant prose (the author of a letter advocating a belligerent attitude towards the colonials is described as having "the cocksure clarity of a man who slept in his own bed every night three thousand miles from trouble") is another plus. This is a superlative treatment of the period. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian shifts his focus from modern battlefields to the conflict that founded the United States.Atkinson (The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945, 2013, etc.) is a longtime master of the set piece: Soldiers move into place, usually not quite understanding why, and are put into motion against each other to bloody result. He doesn't disappoint here, in the first of a promised trilogy on the Revolutionary War. As he writes of the Battle of Bunker Hill, for instance, "Charlestown burned and burned, painting the low clouds bright orange in what one diarist called a sublime scene of military magnificence and ruin,' " even as snipers fired away and soldiers lay moaning in heaps on the ground. At Lexington, British officers were spun in circles by well-landed shots while American prisoners such as Ethan Allen languished in British camps and spies for both sides moved uneasily from line to line. There's plenty of motion and carnage to keep the reader's attention. Yet Atkinson also has a good command of the big-picture issues that sparked the revolt and fed its fire, from King George's disdain of disorder to the hated effects of the Coercive Acts. As he writes, the Stamp Act was, among other things, an attempt to get American colonists to pay their fair share for the costs of their imperial defense ("a typical Americanpaid no more than sixpence a year in Crown taxes, compared to the average Englishman's twenty-five shillings"). Despite a succession of early disasters and defeats, Atkinson clearly demonstrates, through revealing portraits of the commanders on both sides, how the colonials "outgeneraled" the British, whose army was generally understaffed and plagued by illness, desertion, and disaffection, even if "the American army had not been proficient in any general sense." A bonus: Readers learn what it was that Paul Revere really hollered on his famed ride.A sturdy, swift-moving contribution to the popular literature of the American Revolution. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

This balanced, elegantly written, and massively researched volume is the first in a projected trilogy about the Revolutionary War, which follows Atkinson's Liberation trilogy about WWII, the premier volume of which (An Army at Dawn, 2002) won a Pulitzer Prize in History. Combining apt quotation (largely from correspondence) with flowing and precise original language, Atkinson describes military encounters that, though often unbearably grim, are evoked in vivid and image-laden terms. Beginning with Concord and Bunker Hill, and including the subsequent British victory at the Battle of Brooklyn Heights and occupation of Manhattan, he covers the beginning of the war, through the startling American victories at Trenton and Princeton. Besides military operations per se, Atkinson comprehensively covers related phenomena such as recruitment (and desertion), transit (and logistics), provisioning (food and ammunition), imprisonment and recreation, and physical conditions, including weather and prevalent diseases such as smallpox. His profiles of American and English (and allied Hessian) statesmen and soldiers are fair and sharply etched. His treatment of the elderly Benjamin Franklin, especially his diplomacy in Paris, is masterful and funny. Benedict Arnold, at this point in the narrative, emerges strongly as a brilliant officer and an American hero. The portrait of the omnipresent George Washington foreshadows his skills and later great accomplishments. Aided by fine and numerous maps, this is superb military and diplomatic history and represents storytelling on a grand scale.--Mark Levine Copyright 2019 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

MY OLD MENTOR, Edmund Morgan, used to say that everything after 1800 is current events. According to Morgan's Law, Rick Atkinson has been doing first-rate journalism, enjoying critical and commercial success for three masterly books on World War 11, all thoroughly researched and splendidly written. To say that Atkinson can tell a story is like saying Sinatra can sing. Now Atkinson has decided to move back in time past the Morgan Line, into that distant world where there are no witnesses to interview, no films of battles or photographs of the dead and dying. Visually, all we have are those paintings by John Trumbull, Charles Willson Peale and Gilbert Stuart, all of which are designed to memorialize iconic figures in patriotic scenes, where even dying men seem to be posing for posterity. Undaunted, Atkinson makes his debut as a historian, determined to paint his own pictures with words. "The British Are Coming" is the first volume in a planned trilogy on the American Revolution that will match his Liberation Trilogy on World War 11. ft covers all the major battles and skirmishes from the spring of 1775 to the winter of 1776-77. There are 564 pages of text, 135 pages of endnotes, a 42-page bibliog- raphy and 24 full-page maps. Lurking behind all the assembled evidence, which Atkinson has somehow managed to read and digest in a remarkably short period of time, is a novelistic imagination that verges on the cinematic. Historians of the American Revolution take note. Atkinson is coming. He brings with him a Tolstoyan view of war; that is, he presumes war can be understood only by recovering the experience of ordinary men and women caught in the crucible of orchestrated violence beyond their control or comprehension. Here, for example, is Atkinson on Benedict Arnold's trek with his small army through the Maine wilderness during the ill-fated campaign to capture Quebec, which earned Arnold the title of "American Hannibal" for a feat likened to crossing the Alps with elephants: "Hemlock and spruce crowded the riverbanks, and autumn colors smeared the hillsides. But soon the land grew poor, with little game to be seen. Ticonic Falls was the first of four cataracts on the Kennebec, and the first of many portages that required lugging bateaux, supplies and muskets for miles over terrain ever more vertical, from sea level they would climb 1,400 feet. 'This place,' one officer wrote as they rigged ropes and pulleys, 'is almost perpendicular.' Sickness set in - 'a sad plight with the diarrhea,' noted Dr. Isaac Senter, the expedition surgeon - followed by the first deaths, from pneumonia, a falling tree, an errant gunshot." It is as if Ken Burns somehow gained access to a time machine, traveled back to the Revolutionary era, then captured historical scenes on film as they were happening. At times, Atkinson's you-are-there style is so visually compelling, so realistic, that skeptical souls in the historical profession might wonder if he has crossed the line that separates nonfiction from fiction. How can he possibly know how the sky looked at Concord Bridge? The sound that ice made as it scraped the boats as Washington crossed the Delaware? Whether Gen. William Howe's boots were soaked with blood as he walked over the dead and wounded bodies on his way up Breed's Hill? The answer is in those almost endless endnotes. Based on my spot-checking of the sources, Atkinson has put his imagination on a very long leash, but it always remains tethered to the evidence. He is not a historical novelist, but rather a strikingly imaginative historian. Although he is less interested in making an argument than telling a story, the story he tells is designed to rescue the American Revolution from the sentimental stereotypes and bring it to life as an ugly, savage, often barbaric war. Unlike in World War II, most of the killing occurred up close. Advancing troops could literally see the whites of the eyes on the other side, as well as hear horses and men dying in agony. "A man 5 feet, 8 inches tall," Atkinson observes, "had an exterior surface of 2,550 square inches, of which a thousand were exposed to gunfire when he was facing an enemy frontally at close range." If he was hit in the torso, his chances of dying were more than 50 percent. As a result, a larger portion of the population died in the American Revolution than any conflict in American history save the Civil War. Part of the reason was disease; the war coincided with a raging smallpox epidemic. In addition, captured American prisoners had appoximately a 10 percent survival rate; the British were more barbaric in their treatment of prisoners of war than the Japanese in World War II. Instead of a Trumbull, the American Revolution needed a Goya. along the way Atkinson provides a steady flow of factual tidbits of the "did you know?" sort. For example, that the recipe for saltpeter, a prime ingredient for gunpowder, was bird dung mixed with urine; that the British Army at full strength required 37 tons of food a day; that one-quarter of the Hessian troops stationed in America decided to remain after the war; that the American obsession with Canada reflected the widespread assumption that it was destined to become the 14th state in the Union; that General Howe's alleged American mistress, Betsy Loring, was a blond beauty British troops named "Sultana" for her nonchalant demeanor while drinking Howe under the table. Notice that there is a 15-month gap between the start of the war in April of 1775 and the American declaration of independence in July of 1776. Bunker Hill, the bloodiest battle of the entire war, occurred over a year before a sufficient consensus emerged in the Continental Congress to leave the British Empire. Atkinson pays only passing attention to this political side of the Revolutionary story, devoting more space to the policymakers in London than their counterparts in Philadelphia. His title actually enjoys larger significance than Atkinson lets on, because the decisive factor in converting reluctant patriots to what was called "the Cause" was the looming British invasion in New York. By the summer of 1776 constitutional arguments had become irrelevant. The British Army and their Hessian mercenaries were coming to kill them, destroy their homes and rape their women. There was also a silent war of considerable significance going on during the interlude between the first shots fired at Lexington and the official commitment to American independence. Atkinson notices it in passing on several occasions, but I hope he will give it the attention it deserves in subsequent volumes. Up and down the Atlantic coast, in every colony, county, town and hamlet, the American resistance movement seized control of the local institutions of governance, requiring oaths of allegiance from all residents, forcing all reluctant revolutionaries to convert and all loyalists to leave. This was not war in the conventional sense of the term, but it was the ultimate reason the British Army was destined to discover that it was on a fool's errand. As Thomas Paine put it to Adm. Richard Howe: "In all the wars which you have formerly been concerned in, you had only armies to contend with. In this case, you have both an army and a country to combat." These caveats are not intended to deter readers, but rather to welcome Atkinson into the fraternity of historians. We are a contentious club of men and women who love to argue with one another. "The British Are Coming" is a major addition to that ongoing argument. A powerful new voice has been added to the dialogue about our origins as a people and a nation. It is difficult to imagine any reader putting this beguiling book down without a smile and a tear. Atkinson's Revolution is designed to rescue that conflict from sentimental stereotypes. JOSEPH J. ELLIS'S latest book, "American Dialogue: The Founders and Us," appeared last fall.

Table of Contents

List of Mapsp. xiii
Map Legendp. xiv
List of Illustrationsp. xv
Prologue, England, June 1773-March 1775p. 1
1 Inspecting the Fleet
2 Avenging the Tea
3 Preparing for War
Part 1
1 God Himself Our Captain: Boston, March 6-April 17, 1775p. 35
2 Men Came Down From The Clouds: Lexington and Concord, April 18-19, 1775p. 55
3 I Wish This Cursed Place Was Burned: Boston and Charlestown, May-June 1775p. 83
4 What Shall We Say Of Human Nature?: Cambridge Camp, July-October 1775p. 116
5 I Shall Try To Retard The Evil Hour: Into Canada, October-November 1775p. 141
6 America Is An Ugly Job: London, October-November 1775p. 164
7 They Fought, Bled, And Died Like Englishmen: Norfolk, Virginia, December 1775p. 182
8 The Paths Of Glory: Quebec, Decembers, 1775-January 1, 1776p. 195
Part 2
9 The Ways Of Heaven Are Dark And Intricate: Boston, January-February 1776p. 219
10 The Whipping Snake: Cork, Ireland, and Moore's Creek, North Carolina, January-March 1776p. 241
11 City Of Our Solemnities: Boston, March 1776p. 257
12 A Strange Reverse Of Fortune: Quebec, April-June 1776p. 273
13 Surrounded By Enemies, Open And Concealed: New York, June 1776p. 297
14 A Dog In A Dancing School: Charleston, South Carolina, June 1776p. 323
15 A Fight Among Wolves: New York, July-August 1776p. 348
16 A Sentimental Manner Of Making War: New York, September 1776p. 380
Part 3
17 Master Of The Lakes: Lake Champlain, October 1776p. 405
18 The Retrograde Motion Of Things: New York, October-November 1776p. 431
19 A Quaker In Paris: France, November-December 1776p. 465
20 Fire-And-Sword Men: New Jersey, December 1776p. 485
21 The Smiles Of Providence: Trenton, December 24-26, 1776p. 511
22 The Day Is Our Own: Trenton and Princeton, January 1777p. 530
Epilogue, England and America, 1777p. 555
Author's Notep. 565
Notesp. 567
Sourcesp. 703
Acknowledgmentsp. 747
Indexp. 753