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The First Salute (2000)

The First Salute (2000)
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3.91 of 5 Votes: 1
ISBN
1842121774 (ISBN13: 9781842121771)
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English
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knopf
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The First Salute (2000)
The First Salute (2000)

About book: Call me a traditionalist, but I think it is reasonable to assume that a book promising to be about the American Revolution, even one claiming a "fresh approach", should have more than a passing reference to the battle for American independence. Instead, Barbara Tuchman has given us a very scholarly and well-researched discourse on the Dutch and British navies, with an occasional mention of the conflict in the colonies. Ms. Tuchman wants to demonstrate the importance of the Dutch navy, the Dutch's recognition of American vessels, and their willingness to trade with the colonies despite Britain's embargo, on the overall outcome of the war. That is all well and good, but she gets so hopelessly bogged down in detail that the average reader loses focus as she meticulously explores topics such as the history of the "ship of the line" method of naval warfare, complete with irrelevant digressions on earlier British court martials of admirals from the 1740's who deviated from the rigid rules of naval warfare. If you have a unique interest in the conflict between the British and Dutch navies, and the historical context of the American Revolution to that European conflict, than this is the book for you.A glaring error is her treatment of Burgoyne's surrendered army.Twice she refers to it as being paroled back to Europe, when it wasn't. Gates terms were too generous for the Continental Congress, and King George III would have adamantly refused to officially recognise the rebellion if it approving the scheme of exchange had ever reached him officially.Furthermore, the "convention army" was not just never paroled, it stayed in the colonies, marched from Boston to Virginia then Pennsylvania as determined by the Congress, until the end of the war; all the while losing over 40% of the 6224 POW's to desertion, ie they liked what they saw in America to life back home with their families, etc.This book is a serious page turner. Too bad that Tuchman doesn't stop at her available documentation. When she runs out of direct quotes and well documented facts, she speculates. It is a shame to see someone who is obviously such a meticulous scholar jump to such conclusions when the facts she had at hand were more than adequate. While trying and to a point succeeding to give an adequate picture of the minds of people like Generals Clinton and Cornwallis, and Admiril Rodney, Tuchman uses eighteenth facts combined with twentieth century sensibilities. The chronicals a large part of the revolutionary war, and the queat to bring an end to Britian's naval superiority in American waters. Tuchman does a wonderful job of searching through accounts of events and battles, but doesn't stop there. When she has told the facts as they are documented, she begins to speculate, perpetuating a number of myths about american social and military history that have taken a century to begin to dispel. This is inexcusable as in many cases the plain truth of the Americans fighting from behind rocks and trees from Lexington to Yorktown have been dispelled and are easy to document as she proves herself, when she provides a map of the siege at youktown laying out the lovely linear siege tactics employed by the French and Americans. She implies that Cornwallis at Yorktown was more interested in preserving some mideavil idea of honor by requesting to march out of Yorktown with his colors displayed in full parade. Her condescinding tone criticises the general sharply without bothering to examine that the military standards of the day dictate that if your defenses are breeched to the point that you can march out through them in full parade and regailia, you are essentially indefensible. If you don't march out, basically, your enemy will march in the same way. Cornwallis wished to prove and document for all time that he was indefensible. Tuchman robs this sad historical figure of this consideration and ridicules him for it. One of the problems I find with historians when it comes to the Rev. War is that without making a study of military history, they make a habit of forming conclusions, which First Salute does repeatedly.The book is diffuse and a bit chaotic - certainly I understand her premise: in telling the history of the Revolutionary War at sea, and its effect on the world itself, it is certainly necessary to detail preceding events - certainly the war of independence was not an isolated event, but one of a web of changing international conditions. But her scope is so ambitious, and her seeming energy and will to accomplish so weak, that I had the feeling of reading a pile of miscellaneous facts, some of them not particularly well researched, rather than a coherent discussion. Admiral Rodney, despite being sidelined during much of the conflict, is given a outsized portion of this book - we have details of his debts and his preoccupations which tell us why he was not there; relevant to an extent that it illustrates the British mishandling of leadership, but not worth page after page - in a book the scope and size of Distant Mirror, this may have been absorbed; in a book this size this admittedly nicely studied character dominates the book, without dominating the story.

I have read nearly all of this author’s historical works; and after a slow start, I really enjoyed reading this one about the American Revolution and the effects it had on most of the other Western countries besides Great Britain. (At one point, Empress Catherine II of Russia (Catherine the Great) offered to mediate the disputes between Great Britain and her American colonies.)Generally, the book covers the period from 1776 to 1781, and covers the salute to the American colors of the Andrew Doria by the Dutch governor of St. Eustatius, the affairs of the Dutch Republic, naval warfare of the period focusing on Admiral Rodney of Great Britain, the American land battles in the South, the intervention of the French with money, material and ships, and the long march leading to the siege of Yorktown.It seems fairly clear that the American colonies had a better will to win the war than the British had to win it. For many years, indeed all the way to Yorktown, the British considered the rebellion of its American colonies to be nothing more than a population of loyal Britons deluded by demagogues who would soon see the error of their ways and return to the mother country. They thus saw the war as being one that would be won by Great Britain as a matter of course, and never entertained the thought that the Americans under Mr. Washington could win the war, with or without French assistance. Additionally, the British priorities were firmly with keeping their islands in the Caribbean safe from the Dutch and French (they were known as the “sugar islands”, and they had a tendency to not send their best men, either army or naval, to tend to the affairs of their colonies farther north. Finally, the French aided the Americans not because they loved the idea of representational democracy (at the time they were a monarchy), but because by doing so they would seriously upset the British trade and British complacency.As always, I enjoyed reading this historical work of the authors; I have read most of her books, and need to find the ones she has written that I haven’t read yet to put in the pile of books to read.
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Reviews
Michael
"First Salute" is the best book I've read on the American Revolution. It starts with a mistaken cannon salute by an obscure cannoneer in a Dutch port in the Carribean which inadvertently recognizes the government of the rebelling colonies which is an insult to England which leads to war between England, France and the Netherlands which leads to a fleet being sent by France. The French fleet stops in Cuba and receives news that George Washington wants to move the army from New York to Yorktown to trap Cornwallis but doesn't have the money to make the move. Funds are acquired in Cuba, the French fleet sails north and does battle at the mouth of the Chesapeake with an English fleet, the French win, Washington moves the army south, Cornwallis is trapped and the rest is history. Barbara Tuchman has a way of writing from a point of view seldom considered by other authors and "First Salute" is a perfect example of it. The entire affair was a series of miracles, all of which were necessary for the establishment of the United States.
Lissa Notreallywolf
It's been a long time since I read anything pertaining to the Revolutionary War, except Ezra's Stile's literary journal, more recently. While I enjoyed an excellent American history teacher in high school, that was a very long time ago, and I don't recall the focus on the Revolutionary period as much as other aspects of American history. This book makes critical connections with Europe, something I was hoping to find, although I picked the book because of Tuchman's well earned reputation as a historian without realizing that it would make those critical connections. In school American history is taught in sort of a nationalistic vacuum, but this book makes it clear that the Dutch had an enormous cultural influence on the Founding Father's pleas for personal liberties. They were the covert supporters of the American Revolution, whereas the French supported it with a ruinous amount of aid to thwart their rivals, the British. Without French ships and troops, the war would have sputtered into some compromise with the British. Tuchman also points out that the British navy was in a hellacious condition due to graft, but even in the best of times the 'floating castles' or war ships would have been hellish. The British navy had been told by one of its surgeons that scurvy was preventable with citrus, but they chose to ignore this because of the costs. Their ships were manned by impressed crew, often teenagers taken from Ireland and the countryside. After a long voyage, where the men's urine was retained in stoops for fire fighting purposes, they arrived stinking and sore from scurvy. British naval tactics were draconian on board and very ponderous in a fight. Yet battles were a source of prize money, and were therefore anticipated with some degree of desire. Tuchman seems to imply that if they had given as much thought to naval tactics as they gave to the division of spoils they would have been more successful, particularly in the conflict between Rodney and Hood. Throughout the book she speculates on the nature of war, and indicts the British commanders for their cautious behavior, and downright inertia. Part of this was due to the fact they were fighting an unpopular war, one that was not interesting to the people at home who resented the costs. They hauled many old men out of retirement to staff the leadership, and most of these men drank heavily. No one researched why the colonies were in revolt, or got to know the colonists, nor were spies engaged effectively. They could not incorporate the Loyalists into their military machine. That scarlet coated machine marched in regiments into battles with half starved men in sensible colors of homespun, and made good targets for the guerilla tactics of the rebels. The Americans sensibly hired von Steuben to train their troops in the ways and means of the European forces, and apparently employed more effective spies. Colonialism crippled the British because they had little respect for their enemies, to the point they ignored a map of the Gulf Stream compiled with the help of American whalers, and this delayed their transits across the Atlantic. But several technological advantages were not promoted during this war, and I was somewhat shocked to find out that the American colonies had to learn to make gunpowder rather than relying solely on imports from the Caribbean. The American government had no capital to pay its army, which resulted in desertion. The conditions at Valley Forge are well known to American schoolchildren of my generation, but the lack of wage is rarely mentioned. Perhaps the revolutionary War is better taught on the east coast where there is more local interest demonstrated, and the state history curriculum has some correspondence with the earliest periods. I was unaware that the decisive battle occurred in the Chesapeake Bay, I couldn't have told where the decisive battle was before reading this book. Washington crossing the Potomac always seemed to indicate New York City, and a feint was staged in New York's harbor to fool the Brits. But there was that very long march from Valley Forge to Yorktown, where the soldiers were in very poor condition and threatened to quit until they saw Morris's pay barrels. The British Cornwallis comes off very poorly in this-he holes himself up for a siege and then depends on a rescue from New York, which arrives too little and way too late. But Tuchman doesn't make the British buffoons as much as all this listing of the causes of defeat might imply-they also had some bad luck when Rodney was laid up with a blockage in the Caribbean. He had a much clearer idea than Hood about the potential for the battle occurring in the Bay, was a much better tactician. His early career as a gambler hurt his reputation, but it may also have been that nature that would have been helpful. The book also lays the seeds of the French Revolution in France's extraordinary extension of aid to the American cause. I recommend this book highly.
Ajj
A good 4th of July read. "The First Salute" is written by someone who values the intellects and ambitions of our founding fathers and shows the rich contrast they made versus the leading minds of their day.Tuchman engages in another of her powerful discussions of history. Again the theme of ossified standards leading to the downfall of the powerful is explored. Instead of the knight and decentralized feudal society (as in "A Distant Mirror")it is the man-of-war and the slowly rotting administration of the British Empire that receives her careful deconstruction.I do not know if it was my familiarity with her topic or the scope of the book but I found this book a little less engaging and enlightening than I found "The Guns of August" or "A Distant Mirror".
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