Along with Washington's patience and leadership in keeping peace among different factions, I was struck by how big a role the French played in the U.S. gaining independence.
The French navy's control of the Chesapeake Bay after a victory over the British fleet ensured the American victory at Yorktown, where the French army's siege tactics led to British Gen. Cornwallis' surrender.
Philbrick, who also wrote a readable account of the early days of the Revolution in Boston and the Battle of Bunker Hill, shows that Washington often was dependent on French leaders such as Admiral de Grasse. Washington marshaled the highest diplomatic skills to persuade French leaders to support American aims.
Sometimes, they resisted, as when DeGrasse refused to send French ships up the York River, which might have allowed Cornwallis' forces to escape. A sudden storm dashed Cornwallis' plans.
Washington initially resisted moving his army to Virginia to bottle up Cornwallis. At first, he planned to attack British-held New York, a strategy that Philbrick struggles to justify.
Philbrick exposes Washington's repellent actions in regard to slavery. Several of Washington's slaves escaped, and apparently joined Cornwallis's army along with hundreds of other slaves. During the Yorktown siege, with food running low, Cornwallis expelled the slaves, many of whom starved or fell victim to disease.
After the battle, Washington attempted to recapture his slaves, hiring a professional slave hunter, according to Philbrick. After a peace agreement with the British had been signed, ending the war,Washington sought to prevent thousands of former slaves from leaving New York with British forces. The British insisted on the slaves retaining their freedom and traveling to Britain.
Washington in his later years did criticize slavery, and in his will freed his slaves, upon the death of his wife, Martha. But during his lifetime, he sought to uphold slavery at his home of Mount Vernon. Washington also resisted a venture by Lafayette to establish a farming venture that would operate without slavery.
The American commander agreed to aide John Laurens' proposal to establish black regiments in the Continental Army. I was astonished that Washington commanded the most integrated American army until Vietnam.
Yet, Philbrick notes that Washington's efforts to recapture slaves after Yorktown sowed the seeds of the Civil War.
Philbrick's book is part of a renewed interest in the Revolutionary War in recent years, fueled by the success of the musical "Hamilton" and popular biographies of Washington, Jefferson, Adams and other Founding Fathers.
While the Revolutionary War receives new attention, interest in the Civil War was waned, according to an article Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal's Cameron McWhirter. Visitation to Civil War battlefields like Gettysburg and Chickamauga has declined, McWhirter reported.
One reason is the campaign to remove Confederate monuments, and the violence at Charlottesville over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, McWhirter found.
Another cause is a declining knowledge of American history among young people. When I was growing up, Civil War interest was high among Southern males. Now, aging Civil War re-enactors are not being replaced by younger participants, McWhirter found.
Books on the Revolutionary War reveal that it was a nasty conflict, a civil war between the rebels and American British loyalists. Philbrick relates brutal British tactics such as throwing small-pox-stricken slaves into wells to poison drinking water. As another recent book details, the fighting continued for two years after Yorktown in a bitter civil war in the Carolinas.
Now, noted World War II historian Rick Atkinson has turned to the Revolutionary War. Atkinson's recently released "The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777:" is the first of a three-volume history of the war, following his trilogy about the allied victory over Germany in World War II.
The most striking scene in Philbrick's book is Washington bidding farewell to his officers in New York City. As Philbrick relates, Washington stood for a strong central government while refusing efforts to make him an American king. Our current president tramples Washington's legacy.