The First American Army: The Untold Story of George Washington and the Men behind America's First Fight for Freedom

The First American Army: The Untold Story of George Washington and the Men behind America's First Fight for Freedom

by Bruce Chadwick

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This is the first book that offers a you-are-there look at the American Revolution through the eyes of the enlisted men. Through searing portraits of individual soldiers, Bruce Chadwick, author of George Washington's War, brings alive what it was like to serve then in the American army.

With interlocking stories of ordinary Americans, he evokes what it meant to face brutal winters, starvation, terrible homesickness and to go into battle against the much-vaunted British regulars and their deadly Hessian mercenaries.

The reader lives through the experiences of those terrible and heroic times when a fifteen-year-old fifer survived the Battle of Bunker Hill, when Private Josiah Atkins escaped unscathed from the bloody battles in New York and when a doctor and a minister shared the misery of the wounded and dying. These intertwining stories are drawn from their letters and never-before-quoted journals found in the libraries belonging to the camps where Washington quartered his troops during those desperate years.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402250477
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 10/01/2006
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 938,964
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Bruce Chadwick, PhD lectures in American History at Rutgers University. He is the author of 5 other historical books: George Washington's War (Sourcebooks, 2004); Brother Against Brother; Two American Presidents: Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis 1861-1865; Traveling the Underground Railroad and The Reel Civil War. He lives in Randolph, New Jersey.
Bruce Chadwick is a former journalist and author of seven works of history including 1858, The First American Army, George Washington's War, The General and Mrs. Washington, Brother Against Brother, Two American Presidents, Traveling the Underground Railroad, and The Reel Civil War. He lectures in American history at Rutgers University and also teaches writing at New Jersey City University.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Chapter 1
Bunker Hill: The Arrival of Private John Greenwood, Age Fifteen, Fifer

Early on the warm morning of June 17, 1775, British artillery in Boston and on Her Majesty's ships in the harbor opened fire on the Charlestown peninsula, north of the city. The peninsula contained the community of Charlestown, with its four hundred homes and some two hundred shops, warehouses, barns, and churches, plus three very high and large grassy hills, Bunker, the highest, Breed's, and Morton's. American troops had fortified Bunker and Breed's hills with earthworks, wooden fencing, and six cannon on the previous evening. General Thomas Gage, the commanding general in British-occupied Boston, was determined to clear the wide knolls to prevent the rebels from maintaining an elevated location where they would shell his army in the city or his ships in the harbor. An artillery pounding was to be followed by an afternoon attack of more than fifteen hundred troops.

Just after 1:30 p.m., a small navy of twenty-eight wide barges, each filled with more than forty armed British soldiers, and one transporting the man in charge of the operation, General William Howe, and his staff began to make its way across the harbor from Boston toward Morton's Point. As the ships moved through the water, the eyes of the men on board focused on Breed's and Bunker Hills.

At just over six feet tall, physically well-proportioned and able to remain calm under fire, the affable Howe cut an impressive military figure. He and his men landed and quickly realized that their cannon had the wrong-sized cannonballs and were inoperable. Howe sent the boats back for reinforcements and usable ammunition while the British navy and land artillery fired shells into Charlestown. The shells hit several of the wooden residences there, igniting small fires whose thick smoke drifted throughout the area. One shell hit a church steeple, setting it on fire, and it soon toppled into the street.

The British assault on the two hills was viewed by one of the largest audiences of civilians to witness any battle during the American Revolution. The British artillery had opened up earlier that morning and the cannonading awakened everyone. Hundreds of residents in Charlestown climbed to the tops of their homes and raced out into nearby streets and meadows to watch the fighting on the hills. In Boston, several thousand people stood on the roofs of their houses for a good view. Some climbed to the tops of churches. Hundreds more packed the wharves near the water where the view was clearer.
Somehow, it was Breed's Hill, a lower and less defensible knoll than Bunker, that the majority of the Americans wound up fortifying that day as the British continually shelled the area. The top of the hill was so elevated that the men there could see all of Boston's dozen or so church steeples. They could also look down on the mill pond, the north battery full of British cannon, Hudson's Point, and, barely, John Hancock's commercial shipping wharf, plus the tops of the masts of ships moored at the Long Wharf, on the other side of town. The provincial forces were led by General Israel Putnam, a veteran of the French and Indian War, and Colonel William Prescott. It was Prescott, the tall commander with the muscular build, developed from nearly twenty years of farming, who made most of the decisions. The esteemed Dr. Joseph Warren, sixty-nine, head of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, had joined them as a volunteer in a rash burst of patriotism applauded by all.

Wrote James Thacher, a local doctor who was an eyewitness, "[The British] immediately commenced a tremendous cannonade from their shipping, their floating batteries, and from all their fortifications. Bombs and shot were incessantly rolling among the provincials during the forenoon 'til the Royal Grenadiers and light infantry could be prepared to make their formidable attack."1 Private Peter Brown, a company clerk in Prescott's Massachusetts regiment, had fought at Concord. He watched the sea of Redcoats in their immaculate uniforms swarm off the barges and prepare for the attack. It was an awesome sight. Brown wrote that the British had so many men that they appeared ready to surround the provincials. "They advanced toward us in order to swallow us up. But they found a choky mouthful of us, though we could do nothing with our small arms as yet for distance and had but two cannon and nary a gunner. And they from Boston and from the ships a firing and throwing bombs, keeping us down 'til they got almost round us."

Howe ordered his men to march slowly in the direction of the newly dug breastworks on Breed's Hill. He sent the Royal Welch Fusiliers on a trot across a beach near the rear of the hill, toward a low stone wall and wood fence below the breastworks that seemed lightly defended because there was no firing coming from it.

Howe and his officers did not realize that Colonel John Stark and others had instructed their men behind the wall to withhold their fire until the Redcoats were close enough to hit with some accuracy. They were also instructed to shoot the officers to cause confusion and prevent orders from being heard.

When the intimidating Fusiliers, four abreast, bayonets fixed, trotted within fifty yards of the wall, the Americans opened up. The sound of the volley-it seemed that every musket was fired at once-could be heard throughout Boston.

The fury and force of the gunfire stunned the British. Stark had been right. At that close distance the muskets were lethal. Officers were hit and went down. The first line of men, instead of continuing up the slope toward the Americans, halted and tried to exchange fire with their muskets; this caused the second line to walk right into them. They were all easy targets for the Americans. Some of the British soldiers pitched forward, dead, and the men next to them fell backwards, musket balls lodged in their heads and chests, blood spurting everywhere. Those behind and around them were hit and killed or wounded and went down. Screams filled the air. Howe's vision of one single charge to drive the Americans off the hill and back to Charlestown evaporated in a roar of muskets, the air filled with the flames of the guns discharging and a rising cloud of smoke. Howe's own trousers were splattered with the blood of his men.

On the southern side of the hill, a similar outcome occurred as the Americans unleashed a thunderous musket volley that cut into the British army approaching the earthworks and the redoubt, a wooden wall that protected them. The British were decimated. Their regulars were not only easy targets, but Howe had so many of them, 1,550, and they were positioned so close together, that musket balls missing one soldier hit the man next to him or behind him.

The British were also advancing through grass that hid large rocks and deep holes. Soldiers tripped on the impediments and fell, sometimes bringing down those near them. Others tripped over their bodies as they tumbled. Their formations came apart in minutes and their legendary ability to maneuver on the battlefield was thwarted. As they tried to stand or help each other, they were hit with yet another volley of fire from the provincials behind the breastworks on top of Breed's Hill. Orders shouted by the English army officers were drowned out by the screaming of the wounded lying in the grass, the triumphant shouts of the rebels and the sounds of the muskets. Blood flew everywhere in the hot afternoon air and the British, shaken, retreated back down the hill.

Table of Contents

Author to Reader
Chapter 1 : Bunker Hill: The Arrival of Private John Greenwood,
Age Fifteen, Fifer
Chapter 2 : The Siege of Boston, 1775–1776: Private Greenwood
Joins an Armed Camp
Chapter 3 : Camp Life
Chapter 4 : Mother and Son Reunion
Chapter 5 : The Soldiers
Chapter 6 : Why They Fought

March to Quebec
Chapter 7 : Private Jeremiah Greenman and Benedict Arnold
Chapter 8 : Jeremiah Greenman: Prisoner of War
Chapter 9 : A Harrowing Retreat
Chapter 10 : The Healers: The Reverend, the Doctor, and the Smallpox Scourge
Chapter 11 : Death Becomes a Daily Visitor
Chapter 12 : The Compassionate Minister and the Enraged Doctor
Chapter 13 : Christmas, 1776: Private John GreenwoodCrosses the Delaware
Chapter 14 : The Victory That Saved the Revolution
Chapter 15 : New Jersey and Pennsylvania, 1777–1778: Lieutenant James McMichael: A Poet Goes to War
Chapter 16 : Women of the Revolution
Chapter 17 : Saratoga, 1777: The Arduous Journey of Sergeant Ebenezer Wild, Nineteen

Valley Forge
Chapter 18 : The Harsh Road to a Winter Camp
Chapter 19 : Private Elijah Fisher and the Agony of Valley Forge
Chapter 20 : "The soldiers of our army are almost naked . . .": Lieutenant James McMichael: The Poet
Chapter 21 : Private Elijah Fisher Joins Washington's Elite LifeGuard, 1778
Chapter 22 : Monmouth, 1778: Captain Sylvanus Seely's Militia Goes to War
Chapter 23 : The Secret Life of Captain Seely
Chapter 24 : Spring 1778: The African American Soldiers
Chapter 25 : The Heroism of the Black Rhode Island Regiment
Chapter 26 : John Greenwood, Privateer
Chapter 27 : 1779–1780: The War's Worst Winter and Mutiny
Chapter 28 : Springfield: The Militia Saves the Revolution
Chapter 29 : 1781: Victory at Yorktown

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First American Army 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
warpig3 More than 1 year ago
Bruce Chadwick's book is full of first hand accounts of the struggle of Washington and his army. The book which is full of accounts by the soldiers themselves, the heart and soul of the Army. And it is through their eyes that the story of the Revolution is told. The book goes from the begining of the war at Lexington and Concord, to the surrender at Yorktown and discharge from the Army. For those interested in the Revolution this is a different outlook of the tradtional story of the Revolution. If you are interested in how the every day soldier than this book is the one for you. It's easy to read and at times heart breaking in the suffering and miseray of the enlisted soldiers. I reccomd this book to anyone by the esteemed historian Bruce Chadwick.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly recommended for those interested in military history or simply the human condition. Times, technology, and issues change, but people facing danger fighting for their country or cause remain the same over the centuries. The Continental Army soldier of the revolution is basically the same GI of WW II, the grunt of Vietnam, and the soldiers putting it on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan. This bok will help people realize this fact.
Brainylainy More than 1 year ago
A very readable and detailed account of the Revolutionary War I read a fair amount of history, centering on The Civil War and WWII. I've read some histories of the war for Independence, but apparently not enough. This showed me how ignorant I was about that war. Knowing about Valley Forge, Betsy Ross and crossing the Delaware doesn't begin to tell the amazing story of how a ragtag army of settlers defeated the mightiest country of the 18th century. I also learned about the Black regiments who fought for our independence although their brethren were cruelly enslaved in "The Land of the Free"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book does not follow one individual, but makes use of the letters and diaries of several people to give the reader a feel for the progress of the war from a non-command standpoint. We tend to forget the length of the War, and the constantly changing battle areas. We also like to end the War in a neat fashon at Yorktown. The author is able to humanize the long conflict, and point out the length of the war. Sadly he skips over very quickly the contributions of the Armies in the Southern States, one area that would have given the book five stars
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great way to tell the story of the revolution, through the journals and experiences of those that actually fought in the war. The only drawback is that some of the people that fought in this war were far more interesting than some of the others. I found myself racing through parts of this book while crawling through others. The good outweighs the bad in the end. If your looking for Benedict Arnold stories, there are a few good ones in here. I feel the author could have revisited him during his downfall towards treason to make this book even more interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting and well written book about the PEOPLE that fought in the revolution. It's hard to believe the participants suffered so much and received so little thanks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book, gives a lot of details - makes one feel you are right in the center of our history!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read! I loved this book I'm usally not one for history but I couldn't put this book down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For history "buffs" great reading!!!
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He watched the aprentices fight and scuffle. When it was over he said to Flamingpaw. "You need to keep your balance. Keep your weight low,and strike with only 1 paw at a time. And strike fast. That will keep you on balance much better."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book features a more personal account of the Continental Army than I have read previously. The sufferings & deprivations of the army are made real. You can empathize with the squalid conditions of those suffering from smallpox or those encamped at Valley Forge. The battle descriptions are general so as not to bore the reader with minutia yet giving the battles a personal touch. The narrative is free-flowing and makes for an easy read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well went school today and at 12:20 my friend came to my school and suprised me he just got home he did so much for this country and i am glad to see him ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!! Hes a good man
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Interesting, informative, and well written. A must for history buffs.
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