American Revolution in “1776” by David McCullough


The book “1776” narrates the events that marked the start of the American Revolution. Throughout the book, David McCullough gives special attention to George Washington, King George III, Nathaniel Green, Henry Knox, and General Howe. The book also examines the leadership skills of George Washington. At times, McCullough portrays Washington as indecisive in the book. The book also details the main revolutionary war battles such as the battle of Trenton, Dorchester Heights, and Long Island. Specifically, the book emphasizes military events unlike political events, which give little attention. Events in the book detail occurrences beginning with the end of 1775 and featuring the whole of 1776. According to McCullough, 1776 is the defining year of the American Revolution when Washington got inspiring victories over the British (McCullough 1-300).

The first chapter starts by introducing King George III. In this regard, McCullough gives the prevailing conditions in England before and during the process of deploying British troops to Boston. In this chapter, the author describes King George as one with a simple taste. Moreover, King George is described as having a few pretensions. Throughout the chapter, the King is described as becoming disdain towards America. King George III sought to crush America after declaring them rebellious in parliament (McCullough 1-67).

The second chapter starts by giving the prevailing conditions in America. Also, this chapter gives an outline of leaders of the army as well as those in charge of the colonies. Specifically, McCullough describes the Army as poorly armed. Also, the author considers the army to be undisciplined and to be composed mainly of volunteer farmers. Essentially, the author depicts the American army to be losing morale continually until the defining moment, which was the year 1776 (McCullough 53-102).

The third chapter starts by conveying the British perspective. In this respect, the British ignore warning of a potential attack by the American army. Moreover, the British mock their American counterparts as having a poorly planned army. The chapter also recounts General Knox’s mission to Quebec where he went to retrieve French artillery. Moreover, the chapter gives an account of the American army’s siege of Dorchester and Boston (McCullough 102-126).

In the fourth chapter, the war is intense and the British army is escaping to the under-protected New York. The chapter narrates how Americans pursued the British army in New York. Moreover, the chapter focused on the indiscipline of most soldiers of the continental army. Also, the chapter gives an account of the events in New York especially the events that happen on the American side. Chief among the events mentioned in this chapter is the making of the United States Constitution (McCullough 101-146).

In the fifth chapter, McCullough begins by describing the ghastly storm that led to numerous deaths of American soldiers. The chapter also accounts for the British takeover of New York after the horrible storm. The chapter also shows how the American army retreated from the city. Moreover, the author uses this short-lived victory to show how disciplined the British army was, as well as their leaders, artillery, and their hygiene. The author compares British strength to that of the Americans whom he describes as rugged (McCullough 150-205).

The sixth chapter gives the story soon after the takeover of New York by the British army. Also, it looks at possible prospects for Washington soon after the New York defeat. Additionally, the author claims that Washington was losing faith in his soldiers as the prospects looked gloomy. Also, the chapter gives an account of some soldiers who left the battle. Moreover, some soldiers started acting rowdily while others lost hope in the coming battles. Also, the chapter talks about other obstacles that came about such as food shortages and inadequate clothing. Notably, the chapter also talks about the swelling number of sick soldiers. Interestingly, the British showed them no mercy and the future for the American contingent looked gloomy until something mysterious happened. McCullough calls it an act that went too far (McCullough 201-280).

The seventh chapter starts by providing a vivid description of Americans’ gloomy conditions. The army was dressed in rugs, a god number of soldiers were sick. Some of the soldiers had defected. On the other hand, the British army wanted to destroy what was remaining of resistance. Washington had sent letters for increased militias, but the governors took not the heed. By August, Washington remained with only 3500 troops. However, Washington launches the “brilliant stroke” which effectively changes American history, the year of birth of the nation. The American army managed to win both the Princeton and Trenton wars (McCullough 289-320).

Answers to the Review Questions

Unfolding historical events at the beginning of the book

McCullough chooses to begin with King George III to give the audience a detailed account of the huge task that was ahead of George Washington and his soldiers. Moreover, McCullough starts with King George to expose the feelings of the British about the upcoming war. To prove this, McCullough conveys British disaffection with King George III among his people who considered him conservative. By beginning with King George III, he gives the audience the feeling that the British have with the rebellious colonies in America. It, therefore, sets the tone for war in the book. McCullough changes the audience’s perception of the King because of the King’s offer for peace if the rebellious colonies apologized. Moreover, there is a feeling that the king is a reserve about proceeding to war without allowing rebels to surrender. Therefore, it seems that Great Britain is not united in their feelings towards America.

Qualities that made George Washington a successful leader

Washington was born a leader, he worked hard and managed to become prosperous in Virginia. Some of his most important qualities as a successful leader were his ability to persevere and plan. Moreover, he could see light when everyone saw darkness. Particularly, Washington’s ability to find talented, trustworthy, and reliable lieutenants made him successful in a war that was as good as lost. His ability to strategize and think through his plans also enabled him to succeed. Moreover, he never lost hope even when that was the only option left for him. The book reinforced my opinion of Washington because it gave him more qualities than I previously knew about him. Leading undisciplined soldiers without the desire to win and turning them around to seek the win was a very important skill in George Washington (Freeman 2-59).

The effect of the Declaration of independence on the army

The army received a declaration of independence by the continental congress warmly since it energized their mission. No longer were they acting on behalf of colonies alone but also in the spirit of independence. The army was now fighting for the birth of a new nation. The declaration of independence inspired the army and the people of America to fight for a cause. Moreover, their hunger for success was revitalized. A spirit of oneness could be felt among the soldiers with their commander in chief, George Washington. This announcement was important because it gave a new fighting spirit to an already depleted army. Defeat after defeat in the months towards the declaration had left the army hopeless, so the declaration gave them hope (Stockwell 1).

Advantages of untrained hastily constructed Colonial army over the British

Even though the untrained colonial army was raw, they had some advantages over their experienced British rivals. Firstly, McCullough notes that the British army was unimpressed by the preparations and capabilities of the colonial army. This made the British army to ignore calls of attack, a mistake that gave the colonial army an advantage over them. Additionally, it took nearly six months to send letters to London for approval of crucial military information. This delay in intelligence information gave the colonial military advantage over the British army. Also, the spirit of oneness after the declaration of independence by the colonies gave the colonies an edge of the British. The wealth of insight and letters gave us the ability to understand what was happening in the field. These provisions exposed the intrigues of the field, the real-life events that occurred in the field up to the time of victory for the Army (Maier 15).

Role of Nathaniel Green and Henry Knox in the success of the colonial army

Nathaniel green emerged from his position as an untested private militia to become one of the most dependable and gifted officers. Nathaniel was a patriotic sympathizer. He had a pronounced limp yet he acquired military strategy through self-studying of expensive volumes on war tactics (Youngs 1). He was expelled from the pacifistic Quakers for fighting the British. He rose through the ranks in Boston to become a major general under Washington. Henry Knox was another self-made colonel who studied military books at his bookstore. Knox aided the continental army with artilleries that helped in the war. Nathaniel Green and Henry Knox were George Washington’s confidants and close friends whom he trusted for their advice, reliability, and trust.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the book


McCullough’s book is essential because it covers American history at its most dramatic level. Moreover, the book gives a full account of Washington and his generals. Besides, the book provides a full account of Washington’s weaknesses and strengths. This is important because the author is neutral throughout the book. The author’s information is also reliable since they are backed by letters and insights from both the American and the British side. Furthermore, McCullough captures audiences’ attention by emphasizing the importance of the year 1776, which he considers as the defining moment in American history. The book offers an irresistible narrative that takes the reader through the experiences of both leaders, especially Washington. The book transcends through optimism, desolation, and optimism again; this makes the book quite absorbing. In essence, the book gives an epitome of American ingenuity despite many upheavals. Moreover, it shows how the British deserted a fight they had won, out of negligence.


Despite indisputable strengths, McCullough’s book has some weaknesses. Firstly, the book does not offer much information on the political background. For instance, the political affiliation of New York and Long Island residents were not conclusive. McCullough considers them all as loyalists, which is highly debatable. By narrowing the history of America to just one year, there is a feeling that much is left out in the history of the American Revolution. Moreover, it is quite plausible that some important events in the war were left out. For instance, the battle o Bunker Hill is left out when the book starts. Essentially, the book also left out other major generals who were helpful in the fight alongside Green (Ascherson 1). In as much as the book tried to make cover the most intense part of the American Revolution, it was limited to just one year.

Works Cited

Ascherson, Neal. David McCullough Shows How Washington Won the War of Independence by default in 1776. 2005. Web.

Freeman, Douglas. George Washington: A Biography, Volume Four, Leader of the Revolution, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951.

Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

McCullough, David. 1776, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Stockwell, Mary. Declaration of Independence. 2016. Web.

Youngs, Bill. Exploring George Washington’s Response to the Fall of Fort Washington, 1776. 2013. Web.

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