Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

ARRT-Richmond Announces the Winner of its 2015 Book Award

Thanks to Mark Lender for the following announcement:

The American Revolution Round Table—Richmond is pleased to announce that the winner of its annual Book Award for 2015 is Michael C. Harris’ Brandywine: A Military History of the Battle that Lost Philadelphia but Saved America, September 11, 1777, published by Savas Beatie of El Dorado Hills, California.

The book is never closed on any historical subject, and there is always room for new interpretations as new evidence comes to light—and this is especially true in the case of subjects as complex as major military engagements.  The Battle of Brandywine, fought on 11 September 1777, is a classic example in this regard.   Brandywine is already the subject of several studies, but Michael Harris has significantly enhanced our understanding of this critical action by digging deeply into the original sources, finding new ones, and combining his findings with fresh new thinking.  In addition, Harris uses his thorough knowledge of battlefield terrain—he worked for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission at Brandywine Battlefield—to disentangle the various troop movements and explain how and why the flow of the combat developed as it did.  This is fine military history.

The result of Harris’ effort is a well-written and deeply-sourced narrative, the best yet on a battle with a profound impact on the course of the War for Independence.  Tactical developments and strategic implications mesh nicely in the author’s telling, and the story line clearly separates fact from accretions of myth and fiction that have attached themselves to the Brandywine chronicle over two centuries.  The battle was the largest general action of the war, and while it resulted in a British victory and the eventual loss of the de facto rebel capital of Philadelphia, it also revealed a growing competence in the Continental Army.  As Harris carefully explains, while the British flanking movement caught the rebels off guard, patriot troops did not fall apart.  They fought well at Birmingham Hill, their leaders adjusted to changing conditions, and their eventual retreat was not a rout.  The army that finally took up winter quarters at Valley Forge was battle-hardened and anything but a rabble.  Von Steuben did not have to start from scratch with his retraining regimen.

No doubt there will be other books on the Battle of Brandywine; but subsequent authors will have to acknowledge the scholarship of Michael Harris’ fine work.  Our readers appreciated the quality of the original maps, modern photographs, and well-chosen illustrations; they vitally compliment the text and help make the action of 11 September 1777 explicable.  And by the way, the footnotes are actually at the bottom of the page!  Thank you Savas Beatie!

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