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The Indispensables: The Diverse Soldier-Mariners Who Shaped the Country, Formed the Navy, and Rowed Washington Across the Delaware Kindle Edition
The acclaimed combat historian and author of The Unknowns details the history of the Marbleheaders and their critical role in the Revolutionary War.
On the stormy night of August 29, 1776, the Continental Army faced annihilation after losing the Battle of Brooklyn. The British had trapped George Washington’s army against the East River, and the fate of the Revolution rested upon the soldier-mariners from Marblehead, Massachusetts. One of the country’s first diverse units, they pulled off an “American Dunkirk” and saved the army by navigating the treacherous river to Manhattan.
At the right time in the right place, the Marbleheaders, a group of white, black, Hispanic, and Native American soldiers, repeatedly altered the course of events, and their story shines new light on our understanding of the American Revolution. As historian Patrick K. O’Donnell recounts, beginning nearly a decade before the war started, Marbleheaders such as Elbridge Gerry and Azor Orne spearheaded the break with Britain and helped shape the United States through governing, building alliances, seizing British ships, forging critical supply lines, and establishing the origins of the US Navy.
The Marblehead Regiment, led by John Glover, became truly indispensable. Marbleheaders battled at Lexington and on Bunker Hill and formed the elite Guard that protected George Washington, foreshadowing today’s Secret Service. Then the special operations–like regiment, against all odds, conveyed 2,400 of Washington’s men across the ice-filled Delaware River on Christmas night of 1776, delivering the surprise attack on Trenton that changed the course of history . . .
The Marbleheaders’ story, never fully told before now, makes The Indispensables a vital addition to the literature of the American Revolution.
Praise for The Indispensables
“Perfectly paced and powerfully wrought, this is the story of common men who gave everything for an ideal—America. The product of meticulous research, The Indispensables is the perfect reminder of who we are, when we need it most.” —Adam Makos, author of the New York Times bestseller A Higher Call
“O’Donnell’s gift for storytelling brings the once famous regiment back to life, as he takes readers from the highest war councils to the grime and grit of battle.” —Dr. James Lacey, author of The Washington War
“Comprehensive . . . Revolutionary War buffs will delight in the copious details and vivid battle scenes.” —Publishers Weekly
“A vivid account of an impressive Revolutionary War unit and a can’t-miss choice for fans of O’Donnell’s previous books.” —Kirkus Review
[A] vivid and brilliant narrative...the one indispensable book on the early and most trying days of the American Revolution.-- "James Lacey, New York Times bestselling author"
A gripping narrative that captures the extraordinary story of fighting men of whom few Americans have ever heard but who nonetheless proved themselves 'indispensable' to the cause of American liberty.-- "Glenn F. Williams, PhD, author of Dunmore's War"
A vivid account of an impressive Revolutionary War unit and a can't-miss choice for fans of O'Donnell's previous books.-- "Kirkus Reviews"
An amazing book about not just a regiment but a community. People from Marblehead contributed to every aspect of the American Revolution.-- "Don N. Hagist, author of The Revolution's Last Men and editor of the Journal of the American Revolution"
Comprehensive...Revolutionary War buffs will delight in the copious details and vivid battle scenes.-- "Publishers Weekly"
Draws upon a variety of primary sources: diaries, letters, orderly books, manuscripts and period newspapers...A detailed, reliable account of the War for American Independence's earliest years--one that embraces its nautical dimensions.---- "Wall Street Journal"
O'Donnell writes with an innate sympathy for the American soldier.-- "Edward G. Lengel, author of General George Washington"
Perfectly paced and powerfully wrought, this is the story of common men who gave up everything for an ideal--America.-- "Adam Makos, New York Times bestselling author"
Sheds new light on a previously overlooked or unappreciated aspect of American military history.-- "John C. McManus, author of Fire and Fortitude" --This text refers to the audioCD edition.
About the Author
- ASIN : B08M12FQ85
- Publisher : Atlantic Monthly Press (May 18, 2021)
- Publication date : May 18, 2021
- Language : English
- File size : 29184 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 424 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #39,770 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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This highly fascinating, well-researched, and well-written book is about the men of Marblehead, Massachusetts, who became indispensable in getting the American Revolution off to a successful start. Marblehead, at the time of the story, was a town whose people worked the Grand Banks fishing for cod, with that product being 1/3 of the Massachusetts economy. Fishing was a dangerous business, and the men on the boats quickly learned they needed to work together to stave off frequent life and death situations. Whatever the men’s color or creed, their worth was quickly assessed by their talent, quick-thinking, resourcefulness, and especially the content of their character. With trust and teamwork their bywords, these men and their leaders spearheaded the American Revolution as an indispensable team for the indispensable man, George Washington.
The author fills his book with little-known stories he gleaned from primary research he made into muster rolls and pension applications made by Revolutionary War veterans in 1820. He starts the book with a sailor seeking to retain his freedom by revolting against his impressment into the British navy. The author then goes into a discussion of Marblehead’s inoculation attempt against the deadly smallpox virus, which set up a mini-civil war with conservative loyalists who objected to the vaccinations sponsored by several of the book’s major Marblehead figures: Dr. Nathaniel Bond, Elbridge Gerry, and John Glover. Dr. Bond goes on to later inoculate Washington’s army (perhaps saving it from destruction by smallpox). Gerry becomes a towering political force in the Revolution and later becomes James Madison’s vice president. And Colonel/General John Glover leads Marblehead’s impressive military efforts and becomes a trusted confidant to Washington.
The main focus of the book, a list of Marblehead’s Revolutionary War involvement, includes:
Lexington and Concord
Battle of Brooklyn (ferrying Washington’s army out of Brooklyn to enable their escape)
Kips Bay (making a stand as the rest of the army melts away)
Washington’s Life Guard (staffing)
Throg’s Neck and Pell’s Point
Battle of Fort Washington
Trenton (ferrying Washington's men across the Delaware & capturing bridge to cut off Hessian escape)
Helping to start the American Navy (strategy of capturing British ships to get ordnance & precious gunpowder for rebels and depriving said from British)
Not mentioned in the book, but helpful to know as the action develops:
The town of Marblehead was earlier called Marble Harbour by Captain John Smith of earlier Jamestown fame, who also named the area “New England. Continuing the tradition of mistaking the town’s seaside granite ledges for marble, settlers would later name the town “Marblehead,” focused upon the ledges as a “head” or exposed rock (geologically the uppermost extremity or projecting part of land). Marblehead’s claim to be the birthplace of the U.S. Navy is disputed by a number of other towns: Beverly, MA; Machias, ME; Philadelphia, PA; Providence, RI; and Whitehall, NY.
Neck: a narrow piece of land that comes out of a wider part (e.g., Great Neck).
Point: a projecting usually tapering piece of land or a sharp prominence. (e.g., Pell’s Point).
Pounder – cannon descriptor indicating weight of cannon balls.
Trunions: Pins or gudgeons, especially a cannon’s two small cylindrical projections, which form an axis on which the cannon pivots as it is aimed.
Gunpowder constituents: 15% charcoal, 10% sulfur, and 75% saltpeter. Sulfur (yellow/gold) burns at a relatively low temperature (sort of like kindling), carbon (black) is the main fuel, and saltpeter (gray) is the oxidizer, the intense source of oxygen, the ignition accelerant. Not an accident is that black, gray, and gold are the school colors of the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Tactics are outgrowths of technology. With the advent of gunpowder and the use of the musket as a weapon, battlefields were now smoky and noisy. Leaders needed to maintain control, via drums, bugles, and keeping their men close. Musket firing in volleys maintained the speed of loading and firing. The psychological effect of a round of mass fire, where many inaccurate muskets managed to hit at least something in an effort to shock and awe, was followed either immediately or after several more rounds by a massed bayonet charge. The speed of firing and cohesive unit movement was a critical focus of Prussian army drill. [Military tactics later changed with the advent of the rifled musket and Minie ball for speed and accuracy, allowing for dispersion of units, with soldiers now more often able to move independently as seen in America’s Civil War.] Note: P 54: The author writes, “Under the best possible conditions, a well-trained and well-supplied soldier could load and shoot four or five times per minute.” While it is said that a well-trained Prussian soldier (someone who spent many years practicing) could get off rounds up to six times a minute, some of the very best modern-day Rev War reenactors can barely make four times per minute. Many times in battle involving unit movement, a soldier would be lucky to get off one round per minute.
Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 was a rebellion led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, with the help of the Scots and the French, to regain the British throne for his father, James (Latin Jacobus, hence Jacobite) Francis Edward Stuart, son of King James II/VII Stuart, who had been removed from power by William and Mary in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
I believe you’ll find the author has a great style of writing. He uses many fine words that carry the story quite well. A few times, however, his tries to keep the action going by using logical but likely speculative supposition about various action (P 59: John Gerry…dipped his pen into his inkwell…. His pen scratched as he scrawled his missive, and he hastily sealed his letter with wax before handing it off to an express rider.) And how did the author know this? Sometimes, he also goes into great extended detail, which can either be engaging or not, depending upon the reader’s level of interest. And, at least once, I believe he makes an error of fact: P 196: "Lee [Washington's valet] was later described by Thomas Jefferson “as the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback.” Actually, the person Jefferson was describing was George Washington himself.
In his content, the author covers much of the first half of the American Revolution by “colorizing” the Marbleheaders in an otherwise black & white Revolutionary War history. Many times the Marbleheaders are major players, but sometimes the full event histories are recounted even if there are just slender threads of involvement. For example, for Lexington, we learn of it primarily because some of the involved Marbleheaders were there hiding in a frozen cornfield. Other times, we learn of a famous person because a Marbleheader worked for him. But whatever the action, the reader will find many revealing anecdotes, quotes, and origin stories of famous patriot personages not found elsewhere. One event I found particularly interesting was the propaganda race to get news of Lexington and Concord to England. Who fired the first shot? Who was at fault? Whoever got the news first to tell their story, the rebels or the Brits, would gain some advantage!
Overall I found this book about the truly Indispensables both engaging and enlightening. As well, it features excellent maps, portraits, and documentation. Bottom-line: very highly recommended!
Of possible interest: George Washington’s Liberty Key: Mount Vernon’s Bastille Key – the Mystery and Magic of Its Body, Mind, and Soul , a best-seller at Mount Vernon. “Character is Key for Liberty!” and
Strategy Pure and Simple: Essential Moves for Winning in Competition and Cooperation
Consider the fact that, in the winter of 1776, a pall of gloom and the prospect of capitulation hovered over the nascent United States." In fact, "As Washington direly confided in a letter to his brother, 'I think the game is pretty near up.'" According to O'Donnell, Washington staked the entire war on a desperate gamble: "engaging in some of the most difficult maneuvers of the Revolutionary War." Specifically, "a night attack, an assault river crossing in the middle of a nor'easter, and a strike on the British controlled town of Trenton." Washington turned to "the only group of men he knew had the strength and skill to deliver the army to Trenton -- John Glover's Marblehead Regiment. The indispensable men miraculously transported Washington and the bulk of his [severely diminished] army across the Delaware in the heart of the raging storm, without a casualty."
On numerous occasions in months and years to come when the war would have been lost had it not been for "the SEAL-like operations and extraordinary battlefield achievements of this diverse, unsung group of men and their commander. They were primarily responsible for the development of the origins and foundation of both the American Navy and Marines. Marblehead ships' captains smuggled or seized crucial supplies. When a virus threatened the Continental Army's very existence, a "fighting surgeon" from Marblehead saved the troops with inoculations.
O'Donnell examines several dozen inflection points during the course of the Revolutionary War when the Marblehead patriots' commitment, talents, skills, resources, and initiatives either helped to achieve an essential (albeit temporary) success or prevent what could have been a catastrophic failure. These are among the dozens of other passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of O'Donnell's coverage:
o Prologue (Pages xi-xiii)
o Distinguished families in Marblehead, MA (7-13)
o Smallpox (26-32 and 343-344)
o Fort William and Henry raid (59-69)
o John Cochran (61-68)
o Salem confrontation (70-81)
o Black Horse Tavern (82-89 and 123-124)
o Battle of Bunker Hill (125-144)
o Battle of Breed's Hill (128-130 and 141-142)
o John Glover and naval operations; procurement of gunpowder (151-160 and 162-163)
o Stephen Moylan (159-163 and 171-174)
o Continental Navy: Beverly (MA) and military maneuvers (185-193 and 204-212)
o Royal Navy and invasion of New York (213-221)
o Battle for Brooklyn (224-237)
o Kips Bay attack (246-257)
o Battle of Pell's Point (264-271)
o Delaware Crossing (291-304)
o Battle of Trenton (305-318)
o Battle of Assunpink Creek (319-329)
o Battle of Princeton (330-337)
One final point: With all due respect to the quality of Patrick K. O'Donnell's scholarship, I also want to commend him on his superb writing skills. Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to checkout his earlier book, Washington's Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution (also published by Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016) and Rick Atkinson's The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 (The Revolution Trilogy, 1, Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2020).