Book Review: Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin (Four Stars)


Book Review: Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

(Four Stars)

“His presence alone stopped the retreat,” the marquis [de Lafayette] recalled in his memoirs. “His graceful bearing on horseback, his calm and deportment … were all calculated to inspire the highest degree of enthusiasm. I thought then as now that I had never beheld so superb a man.”

Another look at the founding of the United States. While the title implies a focus on the winter of the Revolution’s discontent, the text covers the whole war–in fact, most of the life of George Washington. Because, make no mistake, while there were many other stories involved in our founding, the central and critical role was played by the enigmatic planter from Virginia.

“He apologized to Lafayette for the threadbare clothing and substandard armaments of his troops. Without hesitation the Frenchman replied that he had come to the United States [sic] to learn from the Americans, and not to teach. Washington never forgot the moment.”

Unlike the better histories this one depends on heavily secondary sources. It’s a short cut, but it risks getting a second helping of someone else’s mistakes or prejudices without knowing it. For example, the authors repeat and credit Ron Chernow’s deconstruction of George Washington’s personal faith. On the contrary, surviving documentation points to Washington having a deep and sincere belief in God, if not quite the conventional Christianity of his or our day.

“Before there was a United States, before there was any symbol of that nation–a flag, a Constitution, a national seal–there was Washington.” Garry Willis

Thumbnail biographies of many key characters. Provides depth by investigating the players, politics and problems of the English side of the war. Their occupation of Philadelphia wasn’t one big party.

“All this might have been enough to induce a commander of lesser character to throw up his hands and return home to his wife and family. Washington, needless to say, was not that commander.”

Debunks popular myths, and provides depth to the miracle that the Continental Army didn’t only survive its winter at Valley Forge but emerged stronger and better equipped to confront the increasingly disheartened and distracted British.

“As Washington wrote to his old friend Patrick Henry in Virginia, ‘Next to being strong, it is best to be thought so by the enemy.’”

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