After one or two books on the American Revolution one gets a sense of most of the great battles and movements of the war. Because of the presence of Washington through the course of the war, most histories tend to concentrate on battles in which he was involved even when, later in the war, most of the action was taking place in the southern states and far away from Washington’s direct control.
Rather than being a broad-strokes history Washington’s Immortals focuses on volunteers from the Maryland Colony who happened to be involved in many of the major battles through the entire revolution. This adds some extra detail to battles in the southern states fought under the likes of Nathaniel Greene and Robert E. Lee’s father “Light Horse Harry” Lee. These were the battles that put pressure on Cornwallis helping to push the British toward surrender. The northern battles rocked the British but the southern battles finally knocked the legs from under them.
Not that the Maryland troops missed the northern battles. The book opens with the story of the Battle of Long Island under Washington’s command, and the death of nearly 250 volunteers. The location of their mass grave in Brooklyn is still a matter of speculation. They were also present at Valley Forge and crossing the Delaware to conquer the Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey.
O’Donnell does an excellent job of culling information from diaries, memoirs, pensioner claims, and memories recorded by children of many of the men (and some women) in these battles. The most interesting histories will often give focus to a single event or individual to help the reader track the information as a narrative rather than a jumble of dates and events. O’Donnell mostly succeeds here, though with so many different soldier stories I found myself perking up when there were names I recognized, such was Washington, Hamilton, Greene, Ethan Allen, and others.
O’Donnell does an excellent job of covering the whole experience of war. Going beyond battles he deals with the political infighting among commanders, black volunteers, camp followers, diseases, surgery, and the infamous British prison ships where many captured Americans died and were tossed into the sea. He also covers some of the issues on the “Loyalist” side, those Americans who saw patriotism as supporting England and the king. Having ancestors on both sides it’s nice to see them all treated fairly.
Many of the early battles in the book are familiar territory, but with the added interest of new diary reports and the concentration of some individual campaigns. On the whole, an excellent book for those interested in early American history. It’s an immersive and humane book offering some unique perspectives.