Revolutionary Roads: A book review by Bob Morris

Revolutionary Roads: Searching for the War That Made America Independent…and All the Places It Could Have Gone Terribly Wrong
Bob Thompson
Twelve (February 2023)

Here is a “ridiculously ambitious, one-person staff ride of the Revolutionary War”

Bob Thompson may characterize the narrative he shares in this book as being “ridiculously ambitious” but I do not. It pales when juxtaposed with signing a “declaration of independence” — what could become a death warrant — and then waging war with what was then considered the world’s most powerful military force, both on land and at sea. In fact, Thompson traveled countless roads when “searching for the war that made America independent…and all the places it could have gone terribly wrong.”

Those who read this book are his companions. His travel agents include participants in an eight-year war as well as dozens of  fellow historians who are identified within the text and in his 22 pages of “Notes.”  Much of his attention is focused on situations that “could have gone terribly wrong.” Brooklyn/Long Island, for example. Thompson also notes, “If you had to explain why Bunker Hill turned into a war-altering disaster for the British, it would be this: They gave the defenders too much time.” There are so many situations like these in the “woulda/could/shoulda” category.

These are among the other passages of greatest interest and value to me, also shared to suggest the scope of Thompson’s wide and deep coverage:

o Battle of Cowpens (1-3, 6-9, and 301-306)
o Saratoga Campaign (Pages 5-6, 137-176)
o Thomas Gage (10-18, 46-48, and 80-81)
o Lexington (16-17, 25-28, and 25-28)
o William Howe (41-44, 46-48, 79-81, 181-187, and 190-191)

o Benedict Arnold (52-54, 271-280, and 325-328)
o Daniel Morgan (54-56, 162-165, and 300-306)
o George Washington (65-69, 83-86, 89-90, 180-187, and 283-284)
o Battle of Brooklyn (83-86 and 106-107)
o Henry Knox (70-81, 133-134, and 362-363)

o Charles Lee (83-84, 111-112, 115-119, 201-203, 2006-2008, and 233-234)
o John Burgoyne (137-14, 143-145, 147-150, 156-158, 160-162, and 164-172)
o Philadelphia Campaign (146-147 and 180-188)
o Marquis de Lafette (177-181 and 328-330)
o Anthony Wayne (206-207, 314-325, 336-339, and 376-377)

o African Americans (210-211, 212-234, 242-247, and 320-322)
o Henry Clinton (247-252 and 259-261)
o Banastre Tarleton (251-255, 261-264, and 378-379)
o Nathanael Greene (292-293, 314-319, 354-357,
o Jean-Baptists Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau (339-342, 344-345, 347-348, 364-365, and 376-377))

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The information and insights enriched my understanding of arguably the most important decade in U.S. history. I also appreciate the pleasure of Bob Thompson’s company. In the Epilogue,  informs his reader, “if you walk into the Capital Rotunda today and look straight up, you’ll see [Geotge Washington] seated in the center of an 1865 fresco called [begin italics] The Apotheosis of Washington Washington [end itakics] He’s surrounded by Roman gods and goddesses; by thirteen happy maidens representing the original states; and by myriad figures, real or allegorical. A female Armed Freedom, sword in hand, defeats Tyranny and Kingly Power; Vulcan’s forge produces a cannon and a steam engine; Minerva appears to be lecturing Benjamin Franklin; and Mercury, weirdly, hands Robert Morris a bag of cash.”

What a journey this has been since the Introduction!

Those who share my high regard for Revolutionary Roads are urged to check out two others: Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 (The Revolution Trilogy, 1) and John Ferling’s Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781.


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