cover image Victory at Yorktown

Victory at Yorktown

Richard M. Ketchum. Henry Holt & Company, $30 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-7396-6

This informative and entertaining chronicle of the American Revolution's final battles also concludes Ketchum's fine series of that war's campaign histories (Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill, etc.). The narrative begins in the fall of 1780. The Continental army is in low spirits, the nominally allied French having proven unreliable; Benedict Arnold's treason is uncovered; and shortages of rations, money and morale sweep the ranks. In his casual story-telling voice, Ketchum breathes life into historical characters as they come together in the war's largely familiar final moments to defeat the British. Relying heavily on anecdotes, the author relates Nathaniel Greene's brilliant win over a brewing war of attrition in the South, and the French officers' miraculous reorganization of land and sea forces that enabled the coordinated transport of Washington and Rochambeau's combined armies to besiege Yorktown. The real pleasure of this book, however, lies in its personal accounts, which reveal unusual details about colonial life. The Comte de Clermont-Crevecoeur, for example, unsparingly assesses the charms of American ladies in each region (Rhode Island women were frail, but had lovely complexions; Virginians were more hospitable, but aged faster). A nearly nude Peggy Arnold embarrassed George Washington into speechlessness by feigning hysterics to cover the tracks of her escaping husband, Benedict, and hide her own complicity. Washington's aide Tench Tilghman hurriedly rode from Yorktown to spread word of the American's triumph. A thoroughly satisfactory finale to the author's American Revolution magnum opus, this is an excellent volume for both new and seasoned students of colonial history.