Cover image for In the hurricane's eye : the genius of George Washington and the victory at Yorktown
Title:
In the hurricane's eye : the genius of George Washington and the victory at Yorktown
Author:
Philbrick, Nathaniel, author.
Edition:
[Large print ed.]
Publication Information:
New York, New York : Random House Large Print, [2018]

©2018
Physical Description:
xvii, 616 pages (large print) : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Summary:
In the fall of 1780, after five frustrating years of war, George Washington had come to realize that the only way to defeat the British Empire was with the help of the French navy. But as he had learned after two years of trying, coordinating his army's movements with those of a fleet of warships based thousands of miles away was next to impossible. And then, on September 5, 1781, the impossible happened. Recognized today as one of the most important naval engagements in the history of the world, the Battle of the Chesapeake--fought without a single American ship--made the subsequent victory of the Americans at Yorktown a virtual inevitability. In a narrative that moves from Washington's headquarters on the Hudson River, to the wooded hillside in North Carolina where Nathanael Greene fought Lord Cornwallis to a vicious draw, to Lafayette's brilliant series of maneuvers across Tidewater Virginia, Philbrick details the epic and suspenseful year through to its triumphant conclusion. A riveting and wide-ranging story, full of dramatic, unexpected turns, In the Hurricane's Eye reveals that the fate of the American Revolution depended, in the end, on Washington and the sea.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781984827739
Format :
Book

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"Nathaniel Philbrick is a masterly storyteller. Here he seeks to elevate the naval battles between the French and British to a central place in the history of the American Revolution. He succeeds, marvelously."-- The New York Times Book Review

The thrilling story of the year that won the Revolutionary War from the New York Times bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea and Valiant Ambition.

In the fall of 1780, after five frustrating years of war, George Washington had come to realize that the only way to defeat the British Empire was with the help of the French navy. But as he had learned after two years of trying, coordinating his army's movements with those of a fleet of warships based thousands of miles away was next to impossible. And then, on September 5, 1781, the impossible happened. Recognized today as one of the most important naval engagements in the history of the world, the Battle of the Chesapeake--fought without a single American ship--made the subsequent victory of the Americans at Yorktown a virtual inevitability.

In a narrative that moves from Washington's headquarters on the Hudson River, to the wooded hillside in North Carolina where Nathanael Greene fought Lord Cornwallis to a vicious draw, to Lafayette's brilliant series of maneuvers across Tidewater Virginia, Philbrick details the epic and suspenseful year through to its triumphant conclusion. A riveting and wide-ranging story, full of dramatic, unexpected turns, In the Hurricane's Eye reveals that the fate of the American Revolution depended, in the end, on Washington and the sea.


Author Notes

Nathaniel Philbrick was born in Boston Massachusetts on June 11, 1956. He received a bachelor's degree in English from Brown University and a master's degree in American literature from Duke University. In 1978, he was Brown University's first Intercollegiate All-American sailor and he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, Rhode Island. After graduate school, he worked for four years at Sailing World magazine. Afterward, he worked as a freelancer for a number of years and wrote/edited several sailing books including Yachting: A Parody.

After moving to Nantucket in 1986, he became interested in the history of the island and wrote Away Off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People. In 2000 he published In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. A motion picture of the book was released in December 2015. His other books include Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition; Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War; The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn; Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution; Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, and In the Hurricane's Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Historian Philbrick (Valiant Ambition, 2016) is one of the most prominent popular-history writers in print today, and he will have another hit with this chronicle of the events that led to the French navy joining in to achieve a decisive victory for the newly coalescing United States in its War of Independence from Great Britain in 1781. The war dragged on for several years before French warships came to Washington's aid in the Battle of the Chesapeake, a naval showdown that made the subsequent Siege of Yorktown possible. Philbrick depicts George Washington as a flawed yet effective leader, while bringing other essential figures to light, including Nathanael Greene, a decisive major general. Philbrick makes clear the importance of France's role in the American victory, as troop morale was often low due to poor weather conditions and little or no pay. All readers interested in the Revolutionary War, and especially fans of naval history, will find Philbrick's fresh account rewarding, right through the epilogue describing what happened to many of the key figures going forward.--Brian Johnston Copyright 2018 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Philbrick follows up his previous popular history illuminating lesser-known aspects of the Revolutionary War (Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution) with another insightful and accessible account of its by-no-means-inevitable success. Instead, he argues, drawing extensively on primary sources, the "bitter truth was that by the summer of 1781 the American Revolution had failed." The Revolutionary Army was underfunded by the 13 states, whose posture of limited support was not challenged effectively by the Continental Congress. That contributed to thousands of "able-bodied citizens refusing to serve," leaving the army understaffed and the fate of the colonies dependent on the French military. Philbrick's narrative builds toward a dramatic recreation of what he deems "the most important naval engagement in the history of the world," the Battle of the Chesapeake. In that undeservedly obscure encounter, French ships under the command of Adm. François de Grasse defeated a British fleet, which made Washington's victory at Yorktown a "fait accompli." Philbrick depicts Washington warts and all, including his responsibility for the rift with Alexander Hamilton and his slave ownership, highlighting the disconnect between the ideals of the revolution and its leaders' enslavement of kidnapped Africans. This thought-provoking history will deepen readers' understanding of how the U.S. achieved its independence. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

National Book Award winner Philbrick (Valiant Ambition) claims that historians have given insufficient attention to the pivotal September 1781 battle between the French and British Navies off the Chesapeake Bay during the American Revolutionary War. In Philbrick's estimation, while involving no Americans, it was the most decisive event leading to the defeat of British Army general Charles Cornwallis that October. After the fight, the French fleet backed up American and French ground troops strategically positioned around Cornwallis, who was entrenched at Yorktown with no chance of rescue by water. Philbrick credits the genius of George Washington's coordinated plan, which hinged on French naval support and control of the Chesapeake, for the Yorktown victory. He recounts the coincidental Caribbean hurricanes that sent the French fleet north, the Chesapeake Bay fight and naval maneuvering, last-minute financing, preliminary land battles, methodical placement of colonial and French forces for the clash with Cornwallis, as well as Washington's postvictory administrative headaches. Washington found it providential that all essential meteorological, military, and personality elements of his complex plan connected favorably at the right time. VERDICT Readers of Revolutionary War history will be enrapt by the blow-by-blow detail of this lively narrative, which is supported by countless letters and journal entries from key participants. [See Prepub Alert, 4/23/18.]-Margaret Kappanadze, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Preface The Land and the Sea   For five years, two armies had clashed along the edge of a vast continent.  One side, the Rebels, had the advantage of the land.  Even when they lost a battle, which happened more often than not, they could retire into the countryside and wait for the next chance to attack. The other side, the Empire, had the advantage of the sea.  With its fleet of powerful warships (just one of which mounted more cannons than the entire Rebel army possessed), it could attack the Rebels' seaside cities at will. But no matter how many coastal towns the Empire might take, it did not have enough soldiers to occupy all of the Rebels' territory.  And without a significant navy of its own, the Rebels could never inflict the blow that would win them their independence.  The war had devolved into a stalemate, with the Empire hoping the Rebels' rickety government would soon collapse, and with the Rebels hoping for the miraculous intervention of a powerful ally. Two years before, one of the Empire's perennial enemies, the Rival Nation, had joined the war on the Rebels' behalf.  Almost immediately the Rival had sent out its own fleet of warships.  But then the sea had intervened.  When France entered the American Revolutionary War in the spring of 1778, George Washington had dared to hope his new ally would put victory within reach.  Finally, the British navy's hold on the Atlantic seaboard was about to be broken.  If the French succeeded in establishing what Washington called "naval superiority," the enemy's army would be left open to attack from not only the land but also the sea.  But after two and a half years of trying, the French had been unable to contain the British navy.   First, an inexplicably protracted Atlantic crossing had prevented French Admiral d'Estaing from trapping the enemy's fleet in Philadelphia.  Shortly after that, d'Estaing had turned his attention to British-occupied New York only to call off the attack for fear his ships would run aground at the bar across the harbor mouth.  A few weeks after that, a storm off the coast of southern New England had prevented d'Estaing from engaging the British in the naval battle that promised to be a glorious victory for France.  Since then, a botched amphibious assault at Savannah, Georgia, had marked the only other significant action on the part of the French navy, a portion of which now lay frustratingly dormant at Newport at the southern end of Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay.  By the fall of 1780, amid the aftershocks of devastating defeats at Charleston and Camden in South Carolina and Benedict Arnold's treasonous attempt to surrender the fortress at West Point to the enemy, Washington had come to wonder whether the ships of his salvation would ever appear. For the last two years he'd been locked in an unproductive standoff with Sir Henry Clinton in and around British-occupied New York.  What fighting had occurred had been, for the most part, in the South, where British general Cornwallis sought to build upon his recent victories by pushing into North Carolina.  Between the northern and southern theaters of the war lay the inland sea of the Chesapeake, which had enjoyed a period of relative quiet since the early days of the conflict.   All that changed in December of 1780, when Clinton sent his newest brigadier general, the traitor Benedict Arnold, to Virginia.  Having already dispatched the Rhode Islander Nathanael Greene to do battle with Cornwallis in the Carolinas, Washington sent the young French nobleman whom he regarded as a surrogate son, the Marquis de Lafayette, in pursuit of Arnold.   Thus began the movement of troops that resulted nine months later in Cornwallis's entrapment at the shore-side hamlet of Yorktown when a large fleet of French warships arrived from the Caribbean.  As Washington had long since learned, coordinating his army's movements with those of a fleet of sail-powered men-of-war based two thousand miles away was virtually impossible.  But in the late summer of 1781, the impossible happened.   And then, just a few days later, a fleet of British warships appeared.  The Battle of the Chesapeake has been called the most important naval engagement in the history of the world.  Fought outside the entrance of the bay between French admiral Comte de Grasse's twenty-four ships of the line and a comparable fleet commanded by British Admiral Thomas Graves, the battle inflicted severe enough damage on the Empire's ships that Graves returned to New York for repairs.  By preventing the rescue of 7,000 British and German soldiers under the command of General Cornwallis, de Grasse's victory on September 5, 1781, made Washington's subsequent triumph at Yorktown a virtual fait accompli.  Peace would not be officially declared for another two years, but that does not change the fact that a naval battle fought between the French and the British was largely responsible for the independence of the United States. Despite its undeniable significance, the Battle of the Chesapeake plays only a minor part in most popular accounts of the war, largely because no Americans participated in it.  If the sea figures at all in the story of the Revolutionary War, the focus tends to be on the heroics of John Paul Jones off England's Flamborough Head, even though that two-ship engagement had little impact on the overall direction of the conflict.  Instead of the sea, the traditional narrative of Yorktown focuses on the allied army's long overland journey south, with a special emphasis on the collaborative relationship between Washington and his French counterpart the Comte de Rochambeau once they arrived in Virginia.  In this view, the encounter between the French and British fleets was a mere prelude to the main event.  In the account that follows, I hope to put the sea where it properly belongs:  at the center of the story.   As Washington understood with a perspicacity that none of his military peers could match, only the intervention of the French navy could achieve the victory the times required.  Six months before the Battle of the Chesapeake, during the winter of 1781, he had urged the French to send a large fleet of warships to the Chesapeake in an attempt to trap Benedict Arnold in Portsmouth, Virginia.  What was, in effect, a dress rehearsal for the Yorktown campaign is essential to understanding the evolving, complex, and sometimes acrimonious relationship between Washington and Rochambeau.  As we will see, the two leaders were not the selfless military partners of American legend; each had his own jealously guarded agenda, and it was only after Washington reluctantly--and angrily--acquiesced to French demands that they began to work in concert.  Ultimately, the course of the Revolutionary War came down to America's proximity to the sea--a place of storms and headwinds that no one could control.  Instead of an inevitable march to victory, Yorktown was the result of a hurried rush of seemingly random events--from a hurricane in the Caribbean, to a bloody battle amid the woods near North Carolina's Guilford Courthouse, to the loan of 500,000 pesos from the Spanish citizens of Havana, Cuba--all of which had to occur before Cornwallis arrived at Yorktown and de Grasse sailed into the Chesapeake.  That the pieces finally fell into place in September and October 1781 never ceased to amaze Washington.  "I am sure," he wrote the following spring, "that there never was a people who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs than those of the United States."   The victory at Yorktown was improbable at best, but it was also the result of a strategy Washington had been pursuing since the beginning of the French alliance. This is the story of how Washington's unrelenting quest for naval superiority made possible the triumph at Yorktown.  It is also the story of how, in a supreme act of poetic justice, the final engagement of the war brought him back to the home he had not seen in six years.  For it was here, on a river in Virginia, that he first began to learn about the wonder, power, and ultimate indifference of the sea. Excerpted from In the Hurricane's Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown by Nathaniel Philbrick All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.