Book: The British Are Coming
Author: Rick Atkinson
Review by: Jim Reed, President, YKK Corp. of America
“The regulars are coming out!” is what Paul Revere is actually reported to have cried when warning militia of the advance of a fast-moving British force coming to confiscate weapons in Concord.
This is only one of hundreds of wonderful stories and facts uncovered in Rick Atkinson’s carefully researched and detailed telling of the American Revolution.
Wisely, Pulitzer Prize winner Atkinson chose the more poetic, if unconfirmed, Revere warning cry,“The British Are Coming,” for the title of this first volume of The Revolution Trilogy, which covers the War for Independence from Lexington to Princeton, 1775 – 1777.
If you are a fan of Atkinson’s incisive World War II Liberation Trilogy, then you will love this one at least as much. And if you are new to Atkinson, The British are Coming is a great place to start. It is detailed and disciplined history written with a fast-paced fluidity of an adventure novel. No side story or personal portrait disappoints. Atkinson paints a vivid landscape of this heady, charged, confusing and often brutal period of history.
It is all too easy to be deterministic when considering historical events, especially momentous ones like the American Revolution. Atkinson does a great job of letting us know just how the birth of our country was anything but inevitable.
In fact, I was so swept up in his superb telling of Washington’s retreat from Manhattan to New Jersey that I temporarily forgot that I knew how the story ends. In fact, Atkinson does such a masterful job of painting in all the extraordinary actions and actors, forces of nature, whims of chance, confluences, divisions and acts of unfathomably poor judgment and extraordinary bravery, that I was left amazed as to how we ever got here at all.
This volume is rife with action, drama, and tragedy, but I was especially moved by his chapter on the battles of Lexington and Concord. If you are like me, a child of Schoolhouse Rock, you cannot wipe the cartoon images of ‘The Shot Heard Round the World’ out of your mind. Atkinson smashes these sanitized caricatures as he follows the progress of the British advance troops who set out from Boston at 10 p.m., April 17, 1775, to confiscate a reported cache of weapons at Concord.
Selected from different companies among the British forces for their soldierly skill and physical endurance, they form a vanguard ordered to reach Lexington before the Americans wake up. Wearing heavy wool coats, wool waistcoats over linen shirts, breeches, canvas gaiters, leather boots, oh, and yes, either a large round bearskin hat, or tri-corner leather hat, these soldiers ran the 18 miles to Lexington and then Concord at a clip of 100 steps a minute. And they did it carrying, an 11 pound ‘Brown Bessy’ musket with a 14 inch bayonet, a box of three dozen musket balls, and a leather haversack.
Of course, the work of Paul Revere, William Dawes and three other riders (including a 16-year-old young woman named Sybil Ludington) ruined the surprise the British had planned. The ensuing running gunfight as the British tried to extricate themselves from the hornet’s nest of militiamen they stumbled into is reminiscent of Mark Bowden’s narrative of the Battle of Mogadishu in Black Hawk Down, and it is no less gripping. Please give it a read.
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