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Authors: Jeff Shaara

The Glorious Cause

BOOK: The Glorious Cause
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A Novel of the American Revolution





Dedicated to my great-grandparents
Giuseppe and Anna Sciarra
who left Italy one hundred years ago,
and brought their dreams to America.
The legacy of our founding fathers
takes many forms.



This is the second of a two-volume series that tells the story of the American Revolution from the points of view of several key participants. This story follows a time line that begins in August 1776, shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and follows the progress of the war itself to its conclusion. However, this is not what anyone would describe as a history textbook.

By definition, this is a novel. The story is told by the characters themselves, from their perspective, through their actions, dialogue, and thoughts. However, the events, and each character’s contributions to those events are as historically accurate as I could present them. Through research that includes memoirs, written accounts, diaries, and collections of letters and documents, I have attempted to reach into the minds of each character, to show you their world as they saw it.

This story is told primarily from the points of view of George Washington, Nathanael Greene, Benjamin Franklin, and Charles Cornwallis. Throughout, there are numerous other characters, including names that are familiar (I hope) to every schoolchild: the Marquis de Lafayette, Nathan Hale, Benedict Arnold, “Mad Anthony” Wayne, John Paul Jones, “Light-Horse Harry” Lee.

While I never knowingly alter any direct quote, or change the wording of any written document, the spoken language of the time presents a challenge to the modern ear. Though speech is certainly less formal than what was written (as is true today), there is, to our ears, a stilted and sometimes poetic quality to their language. While I am careful to remain true to the era, the dialogue must still be understandable to the modern reader. I have thus attempted to tread a fine line between the old and the new, avoiding at all costs any anachronistic words or phrases. I have also purposely avoided the use of foreign accents. The English characters in this story certainly spoke with “veddy” proper British accents. Those French and German characters who spoke English at all, naturally spoke with accents appropriate to their native tongues. For me to write this dialogue with every inflection (“Ya, I yam comink, Cheneral Vashington . . .”) would have been a needless interruption of the flow of the story and a distraction to the reader. I am aware of the accents. I am asking you to be as well. For this, I hope I am forgiven.

As you move through the events of this extraordinary time, you may be surprised by the primitive nature of the war. There were no railroads, no telegraphs, no West Point training. The weapons were smoothbore cannon and flintlocks, to which words like
simply don’t apply. The most useful weapon was the bayonet. And for much of the war, the Americans didn’t have them. It often surprises people how few soldiers actually fought in the most critical battles. Very often, three thousand men was considered an “army.” (By contrast, in 1863, the two armies at Gettysburg totaled close to two hundred thousand troops.)

The American Revolution was in many ways our first civil war, and eventually became the first true world war. But regardless of the scope and the numbers, it was a war fought by individuals, whose sacrifice and dedication secured the existence of this nation. It is regrettably easy for us to take for granted the freedoms we live under without considering who paid the price to secure them. That is only one reason among many that these extraordinary people
be remembered. That is, after all, the purpose of this story.




At the end of the French and Indian war in 1763, the victorious British government is nearly bankrupt from the costs of the war. Beginning in 1765 with the Stamp Act, the young King George III begins to enact a series of taxes, feeling that the American colonists who have benefited from the protection of the British army should show their appreciation by paying the cost. As these taxes are enacted by the British Parliament, the response in America is not what the king expects. For nearly a century, the American colonies have been allowed to manage most of their own affairs, and each has its own colonial legislature. The king’s policies begin to intrude upon the fragile autonomy of the colonies, and the protests grow.

Hiding from the harsh eye of British law, a secretive group of men organize to protest the policies of King George. They call themselves the Sons of Liberty. They are led by Samuel Adams, a man with a talent for propaganda, who recognizes that the true power in the colonies lies in the hands of the people. The only means of tapping that power is by appealing to emotion. In 1770, what begins as the mean-spirited taunting of a British sentry grows into a violent mob, which escalates further into a panicked response from British troops, who kill five civilians. As tragic as the event is, the event itself is not as significant as how it is used. The Sons of Liberty label the tragedy the Boston Massacre, and for the first time, newspapers become an effective tool of protest. With relentless energy, and a considerable skill at manipulation of facts, Adams raises the awareness of the people of Boston to what he describes as outright oppression by the British. The protests continue, escalate, and in 1773, in a hard slap at British authority, three shiploads of British tea are tossed into Boston Harbor.

Throughout this entire process, King George and his government are utterly baffled by the outcries against what they still believe are reasonable demands. Though they occasionally bend to the protests, the king will never concede the last word, and he views the upstart colonists with increasing hostility.

Throughout the British empire, no citizens of any colony are granted the full rights of Englishmen, something the British government blithely takes for granted. The Americans see differently, and in 1775, each colonial assembly chooses men to represent them at the First Continental Congress, an attempt to unite the thirteen colonies into one voice. Meeting in Philadelphia, the congress is a strange mix of cultures and special interests, each of the colonies separated by boundaries far more cultural than geographical. For the first time, Americans begin to understand their true diversity, and the challenge of creating a united voice is nearly impossible to overcome. Despite their differences a spirit of cooperation brings them together the following year, when the Second Continental Congress convenes.

The Continental Congress is an assemblage of the finest minds in the colonies, and as the men come to know each other, the single voice finally begins to form. King George and his government refuse all attempts at reconciliation, regard the congress as a criminal body, and, by doing so, further strengthen congress’ unity. King George and his ministers have unknowingly made a disastrous blunder.

Though the congress continues to press for a peaceful resolution to the controversies, the British government turns a deaf ear to any correspondence the congress will offer. The king’s hostility and impatience grows, and he inflames the protests by sweeping away many of the limited freedoms the colonists already enjoy. To quiet what he believes are assaults on his absolute authority, he sends his army to Boston, to occupy the city. Under General Thomas Gage, the British begin to demonstrate their power, confiscating arms and supplies used by local militia and declaring the Sons of Liberty criminals. In April 1775, Gage sends the army across the Massachusetts countryside on a mission to capture colonial munitions and, if possible, to capture Sam Adams. The outrage from the local citizenry results in a surprising show of militia, which results in the battles of Lexington and Concord. Concord is a British disaster, and Gage’s men retreat back to Boston, pursued by angry citizens who exact a horrifying toll on the British troops. Emboldened by their success, the militia continues to organize, and they fortify a position on the Charlestown peninsula, overlooking Boston itself. With his position in the city now threatened, Gage orders the British army to sweep the colonial rabble off the peninsula. Twenty-five hundred British regulars march against the militia, and in what becomes known as the Battle of Breed’s (or Bunker) Hill, the British succeed in capturing the ground, but lose an astonishing forty percent of their men. For the first time, the British army realizes that it may be facing far more than a band of farmers who will run merely at the sight of a line of redcoats. Requiring a scapegoat for the embarrassment of Breed’s Hill, King George replaces Thomas Gage with General William Howe, and strengthens the armed presence in Boston. But the militia continues to gather and organize, and the British are quickly sealed into the city.

The Continental Congress is slow to adopt any measures that will further inflame an already dangerous situation, but through the efforts of Sam Adams and his cousin John, and the sympathy toward the New Englanders from the influential representatives from Virginia, notably Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, the congress agrees to appoint a commander in chief to go to Boston and assume command of what has become a blend of militia from several colonies. Since their primary concern is the selection of a man with experience, their choice is Colonel George Washington, of the Virginia Militia. Washington accepts with extreme reluctance and goes to Boston to present his commission to men who have no use for such an outsider. Washington exhibits astounding patience, and a skill at choosing subordinates, and gradually, the ragged militia units begin to take shape as an army.

In an astounding stroke of tactical skill, in one single night, Washington occupies Dorchester Heights, south of Boston, and General Howe wakes to find his entire position within range of colonial cannon. Rather than attack Washington’s army, Howe abandons Boston.

In Philadelphia, the Continental Congress has continued lengthy and rancorous debate, many men of great influence still clinging to the notion that America must remain part of Britain and remain loyal to the king. Facing a nearly hopeless deadlock, the congress is stunned to learn that King George has declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion, that any hope of reconciliation or compromise has been swept away by the hand of the monarch, who will accept nothing but the complete capitulation of his subjects. The move sways the congress to begin, for the first time, talk of independence.

While the congress debates, the American people have begun to read a pamphlet, written by an unknown expatriate Englishman named Thomas Paine. “Common Sense” finds its way to every street corner and public square, and the logic and clarity of Paine’s arguments against the rule of monarchy sway American public opinion far more effectively than anything the congress has done. Realizing that the citizenry is far more willing to pursue a course of independence than they are, more voices in the congress call for a formal declaration. A committee is appointed, and a document is prepared, written primarily by a young Virginia lawyer, Thomas Jefferson. After more debate, the document is formally adopted. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is given final approval, and copies are sent to every corner of the thirteen colonies.

Though the British army has sailed away from Boston Harbor, Washington will not celebrate his victory and moves his army rapidly to the one logical place the British might yet appear, New York City. He fortifies the city as much as possible, but it is nearly an indefensible position. When the British fleet arrives, Washington understands that the Declaration of Independence will have no meaning if he cannot win what is now an inevitable war.


Born 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, grows up with a love of the land around him, develops considerable skills as both a farmer and surveyor. When he is twenty years old he inherits the estate of Mount Vernon upon the death of his brother, Lawrence.

Joining the Virginia Militia soon after, Washington receives the traditional officer’s commission due a prominent landowner. Without any military training, Washington commands a column of militia assigned to confront a settlement of French trappers who, according to the British royal governor, are trespassing on British soil. Washington marches his men into a confrontation, and when the French do not obey his demands to leave the area, he fires on them. The incident sparks enormous outrage in both England and France, and marks the beginning of the French and Indian War.

Though chastised for his unwise and costly show of force, Washington is allowed to retain his commission as lieutenant colonel, and in 1755, is assigned to accompany British general Edward Braddock on a campaign to confront the French, who have secured a strong outpost at the head of the Ohio River. Braddock’s expedition is ambushed by a well-hidden force of French troops and their Indian allies, and the result is the first great British disaster on American soil. Braddock and most of his officers are killed, and only through the efforts of George Washington do any of the British force survive capture. Washington’s heroism erases the stain of his earlier blunder, and he is promoted to full colonel of militia.

He yearns for a commission in the regular British army, but when he is repeatedly denied, he retires from the service, frustrated by the arrogant British prejudice toward colonial officers. He returns to Mount Vernon and attempts to settle into the peaceful life of a gentleman farmer.

In 1759, he marries a widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, whose wealth far exceeds his own. The marriage thus produces a couple who rank among the wealthiest in Virginia. Together, they charm Virginia society with their grace and quiet affection, and though Martha has two children of her own, Washington hopes to rear his own offspring. But their marriage produces no children.

By his status alone he is expected to participate in Virginia politics, and eventually is chosen to attend the Continental Congress. Though he has been ignored and insulted by the British, he harbors no particular hostility toward King George. As the British abuse turns from matters of policy to matters of violent confrontation, Washington leans closer to the voices favoring independence. Never one to speak out, he is nevertheless a strong presence in the congress, and by his experience is a natural choice to lead the new army.

His success in holding the army together in Boston stems from his quiet and stoic demonstration of authority, though he will occasionally display a fierce temper. He is a large man by any standards, and his size alone gives him a martial presence that commands attention, if not outright respect. Though still seen by many of the New Englanders as an outsider, he demonstrates considerable talent for choosing capable senior officers, notably Charles Lee, Israel Putnam, and Nathanael Greene. He does much to weed out the incompetent and local political bigwigs from important positions of command. He understands more than anyone in the army that they must become professionals if they are to confront the British.

He is not present in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence, but he embraces the principle with absolute dedication. On July 9, 1776, he orders the document read to his assembled troops in New York. The response is a riot of patriotic emotions, from his army and from the citizenry of the city. It is the inspiration he must have if he is to lead this band of untrained amateurs against the finest army in the world.


Born 1742, in Warwick, Rhode Island, into a founding family of that colony. His father is a successful businessman, owner of an ironworks, and a Quaker minister of limited tolerance, who despises books and any source of education for his children beyond the teachings of his religion. It is not a doctrine Greene can follow, and in 1773, after outspoken protest against the strict tenets he is expected to observe, Greene is dismissed from the Quaker community.

Greene manages his father’s business until 1771, when the senior dies. Leaving the ironworks to the care of his brothers, Greene moves to Coventry, Rhode Island, develops friendships with men who are active politically, and begins to understand the seriousness of the issues swirling around the colony. Though Greene serves in the Rhode Island Assembly, he is rarely outspoken and shows no inclination toward a career in politics. In 1774, he marries Catharine “Kitty” Littlefield, who is twelve years his junior.

He is an avid reader, and makes great efforts to secure books of all types. Books, he writes, “inspire the mind to action and direct the passions.” As events around Boston grow more incendiary, Greene follows many of those from Rhode Island who accept the responsibility of lending assistance to their neighboring colony. He and his friends establish the “Kentish Guards,” but Greene is afflicted with a slight deformity, a permanently stiff leg, and his friends consider that a disqualification from any sort of command. Embarrassed, he serves as a private.

He travels to Boston and witnesses the first great influx of British soldiers, but his mission is more personal than business. He has been told of a noted bookseller, and so, because of his voracious appetite for new reading material, he makes the acquaintance of the man who shares his literary passion. The bookseller is Henry Knox.

Greene returns to Rhode Island, where he receives news of the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord. He is one of two men chosen by the Committee of Safety to organize their colony’s contribution to the rapidly growing continental forces forming around Boston. Authorized by the colonial assembly, the newly organized body is called the “Army of Observation.” Greene is surprised to be elected brigadier general, attributes the selection to prominent members of the assembly who are longtime friends of his well-known family. He accepts reluctantly, knowing full well he has no qualifications for command. By the end of May 1775, he is marching to Boston.

BOOK: The Glorious Cause
12.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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