Monday, April 13, 2015

eBook Review: Beat the Last Drum

Thomas FlemingBeat the Last Drum: The Siege of Yorktown 

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 3851 KB
    • Print Length: 278 pages
    • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
    • Publisher: New Word City, Inc.; 1 edition (February 26, 2015)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B00U2MF8WG
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Enabled
    • Word Wise: Not Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled
    • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars (16 customer reviews)
    • Price: $2.99 

1. Short review: *:D big grin (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it. Will read it again soon.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: I enjoyed Beat the Last Drum very much. I looked forward to returning to my Kindle to read it. In its place, I now read Bushido. I plan to read BtLD again once I finish Bushido.  It is that good.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A roller coaster punctuated with walks in the park.
Outstanding value for the money. Easily worth ten times the price I paid.

2.2. What I did not like: Does not apply. First to last, it's good.

2.3. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. Searching for more books by Thomas Fleming.

2.4. The work in a nutshell:
     BtLD is a comprehensive history of the Yorktown campaign. It covers the naval actions -- French and British -- that determined the outcome, Washington's march from New York to Virginia (no small feat), the siege, the dithering of Clinton and Graves, Cornwallis's surrender, and the effect the news of the surrender had on affairs in England.
     TF managed to give his history immediacy by including excerpts from journals and letters written by American, French, and English generals and sergeants, too. He included letters from German troops pressed into service for England.
     I knew the ending before I began, but TF still made it exciting. I felt the surrender negotiations would collapse at any moment over trifles.

2.5. Other:
     There is so much in BtLD that I find it hard to choose a start. 
     History is best and most true when it is not written as history but is written as a near-contemporaneous record for another purpose.  Arthur Gould Lee wrote the letters that make up the majority of No Parachute to ease his wife's fears; the excerpts from his diary give the lie to his letters. Thus his book is a better story of the RFC in 1917 than the official history.
     Before I have written that history is about lies. The closer the sources are to the events and the less their intent is to record them for public consumption, the more true they are. Such histories lie less. When these are collected, lies creep in because the editor chooses which sources to include and which to exclude.
     In college, a professor shared his monograph with me. The thrust of the monograph was that DuPont built a gunpowder mill on the first fall line of the James River in Virginia. That one mill supplied two-thirds of the gunpowder used by the Continental Army. This explained why Cornwallis was at Yorktown. He was there to be supplied and reinforced by sea before he marched up the James to destroy that powder mill. 
     The half hour I spent reading that monograph and discussing it with its author taught me more about history than all the classes I took. I learned that recitation of events and dates is historiography. The purpose of history is to explain why events happened. 
     With the passage of time and more reading, I have come to doubt the professor's explanation of Cornwallis's actions. But I have never forgotten what I learned about the purpose of history that day. 

     Americans may be interested to learn that in all the years of Cornwallis's service to the crown, Yorktown was his only defeat. He won every battle he fought before Yorktown and every battle after. He went on to illustrious campaigns in India and Ireland and governed both well. 

     TF made it clear that Lafayette was a captain of reserves in the French army but a major general in the Continental Army.

     One thing I saw in BtLD that TF did not point out is that the Continental Army marched and worked faster than the British or the French. During the march from New York to Virginia, the American army took a day to cross the Hudson; the French army -- of the same size -- took four. During the siege, when the Americans stormed the British forward redoubts, they dug parallel trenches the same night; morning found the American army under cover. The French were still digging. (This was never so pronounced and astonishing as at the siege of Boston. The British knew the Americans had to take Dorchester Heights, but their officers opined that the work required 3 weeks and that gave them plenty of time to counterattack. Knox moved his guns there and entrenched all in one night. The British sued for terms the next day and quit Boston within a week.)  
     On the field of battle, the Continental Army could not stand toe to toe with the Royal Army. It could, however, defeat the Royal Army on a field of its own choosing. The Continental Army's ability to outmarch and outwork the Royal Army meant that more often than not, the Continental Army chose the field. 


2.6. Links: Thomas Fleming

2.7. Buy the book: Beat the Last Drum

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