The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown

Thomas Fleming, Author
Thomas Fleming, Author . Collins/Smithsonian $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-113910-9
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The battle of Yorktown in October 1781 and the surrender of Cornwallis's army to Washington is popularly thought to have made the success of the American Revolution a done deal. True, the war officially ended two years later—but surely its conclusion was only a formality? Novelist and historian Fleming (Washington's Secret War ) persuasively argues that, in fact, final victory was by no means inevitable. Indeed, even before Yorktown, the Continental Army had fallen to just 5,835 men and the country was bankrupt, while 26,000 British troops and armed Loyalists remained in North America. Ironically, the battle itself was “potentially ruinous,” writes Fleming: Washington could ill afford to keep his army in the field—as the British well knew. Their post-Yorktown policy was to drag out diplomatic negotiations for as long as possible until Americans tired of war agreed to reunite with the empire. It was left to Washington to avoid these “perils of peace” and make the republic a reality. Fleming is a narrative historian with a wide following, and his latest, while not groundbreaking in terms of scholarly research, tells an important story from an unusual perspective. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Oct.)

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