Authors: Newt Gingrich,William R. Forstchen
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There is only one dedication that is truly fitting for the conclusion of this trilogy. To the memory of those who fought by Washington’s side, from Boston to Yorktown, and our all but forgotten allies, the French troops and sailors who insured our victory at Yorktown. In a world where, at times, friendships of old can be forgotten, we should always honor the memory of the aid France gave us in our struggle for liberty, and in turn, the sacrifice we offered back in the great struggles for freedom of the twentieth century.
George Washington can be a hard persona to touch emotionally. It is easy to picture an evening with Abraham Lincoln, him leaning back in his chair, long legs stretched out and resting atop his desk, spinning out stories, some funny, some profound, some deeply emotional. He is easy to picture as “one of us.” This was due, in large part, to the advent of the new technology of photography that left us with hundreds of images of him, which captured, as Carl Sandburg wrote, this “Hoosier Michelangelo.” Consider the world before photography, how anonymous the lives of even the famous could be. It explains in part why kings once wore crowns so that all recognized the king, and there were strict laws restricting you to wearing clothing only of your social caste so we could sort out “who was who.” It can rightly be said that Abe was our first modern-media president, and thus seems far more “reachable” and familiar to us.
Forty years later it was even more so with Teddy Roosevelt, of whom we have motion pictures and sound recordings. All toothy grin, more than a touch of bombast, but a man you could easily tag along with as he hiked with John Muir through what would become our glorious National Parks that are his legacy, or yes, even charge with him up “San Juan” Hill. With FDR we know we could be charmed and maneuvered as he mixed a martini, his warm patrician voice so familiar from his fireside chats. Then there is Ronald Reagan, a film star before he became president, his motion picture images already casting for so many of us, his admirers, as the embodiment of the quintessential goodness, strength, and wisdom from the Old West and apply it so correctly and forcefully in the confrontation with an evil empire. Here, as well, was a man we feel we could sit back and chat with. With all these great leaders we can build an image, real or not, based upon photographs, printed newspapers, and as early as T.R., recordings of their voice and moving images.
But George Washington?
Our only image of him comes from the posed and formal paintings of the era. There is no recording of his voice. His features are even hard to define, except as marble busts like those of the ancient Romans. Even much of his personal side is lost to history. While there survives the lively, warm, at times, even passionate correspondence between John Adams and his “dearest friend” Abigail Adams, which spanned decades, upon the death of Washington, Martha burned over thirty years of personal correspondence. What a rich treasure, like a burnt offering on a pyre, went up in smoke that day! It could have reshaped the marble bust into a man just like us, and just as accessible to historians and writers as melancholic Lincoln or a grinning Teddy Roosevelt.
When my coauthor Bill Forstchen and I decided to write a trilogy about George Washington and the Revolution the task seemed daunting. We are historians, but we also love a good story and believe that neglect of good stories has always been the failure of most traditional histories, which turn such exciting adventures and personas into dull and lifeless facts. The challenge? How do we bring Washington alive?
The glimpses of him as a man, just like us, are indeed rare. As a general in command of an army desperately hanging on against near-impossible odds, he had to remain aloof, calm, and ever-confident. For any show of weakness or doubt could have, most definitely would have, caused a collapse of that heroic, starving, and ragged “band of brothers.” As president he was aware that he was being watched by the entire world. He was the central actor on the stage of an entirely new form of government. The slightest comment or gesture carried grave significance. He knew he was establishing precedents and he played his role to perfection.
But what of the man within? As trained historians we of course had to adhere to facts, but as historians who believe that novels can enrich and broaden our knowledge of the past, our quest became one of trying to delve within, and at the same time, reveal the nature of the men who fought by his side, and as well, those who fought against him.
Consider that wonderful movie,
The Last of the Mohicans.
Beyond its grim story of the brutality of the French and Indian War, we had personalities that engaged us. The brave and appealing “Hawkeye,” the pompous British major who in the end comes through with a noble sacrifice, and even the villain Magua, who carries the realization of the tragedy that made him thus. Few realize this was, as well, the world and the war in which George Washington matured to manhood. Few can picture him, as he was in his early twenties, out on the frontier of the 1750s as a scout, a leader of a tough band of borderland “rangers.” We tend to picture Washington toward the end of his life, living in the stately mansion of Mount Vernon, rather than as a young man as much a frontiersman as Hawkeye, Daniel Boone, or his friend and comrade in arms Dan Morgan. Few can picture him as a powerfully built man, considered nearly a giant for his time at 6'2". He was known as the finest horseman in northern Virginia. First in any race at breakneck speed, admired even by his Native American foes, who believed that the hand of God protected him, for how else to explain his reckless courage in battles from which he always emerged unscathed. He was even a man, like “Old Abe,” capable of outwrestling any of the local frontier toughs. Long before our Revolution, he was admired and respected. When the great crisis finally came, there was near-unanimous assent that he should be our military leader. Such trust does not coalesce around marble statues, pompous fools, or wax images. In the Americas of the eighteenth century such trust was earned by a man’s reputation, his gravitas, as the Romans would have defined it, and by his moral strength. Only such a man could have pulled together such a divergent group of true revolutionaries, from Georgia to New Hampshire, and ultimately welded them into an army that against all odds humbled the greatest empire in the world.
This is the Washington we sought to capture in our trilogy that concludes with the story of Yorktown. This is the man who startled the world, when not once, but twice, he renounced the prospect of absolute power, as an army commander and later as a president, to return back to private life, saying he had merely performed the service that any citizen of a free republic should embrace. Little wonder that his greatest foe, King George III, would finally proclaim that Washington would be remembered as the greatest man of his century.
Prior to our trilogy about Washington, Bill Forstchen and I enjoyed writing what we call “active history” and most call “alternative history.” But for Washington? His story is so astonishing and inspiring that we knew we had to write it “as it was.” Our goal was to delve into the heart and soul of this enigmatic figure and try to bring him to life. Most certainly he was one of the greatest leaders in history, but what of the man within?
On the night before his crossing of the Delaware, during the freezing nights of Valley Forge as he watched his army all but collapsing from starvation, disease, and cold, on the boiling hot plains of Monmouth, New Jersey, in what we believe was the turning point battle of the war, and on the long desperate march, a near-forlorn hope, to Yorktown, were there not moments of fear, of hesitation, of near-crushing fear that all would be for naught? What inner struggles were there with the Titan-like weight placed upon his shoulders, when a single mistake could have doomed our efforts, and with every decision, the lives of thousands of men who followed him were put in the balance?
This is the Washington we wished to reach for and we hope that you, the readers, believe we have reached that mark.
To have achieved this required five years for three books, in which other efforts at times held our attention as well, such as a bid for the presidency, along with our roles as parents and citizens. Thanks are owed to many. Of course there is Steve Hanser, our technical editor, who resolved many a difficult question. For Bill Forstchen there was his ever-patient daughter, Meghan, who, while this series was being written, went through her teenage years and knew so often that when her father said “just let me finish this chapter,” a day might pass before he emerged from his office. As always for Bill there are thanks to his school, Montreat College, with an ever-understanding staff and president when he was wrapped up in research or writing, and, on occasion, wandered in late for a class, or needed several days off for research travel. As he worked on the series he shared parts of it with his history classes and drew inspiration from their responses. Thanks, as well, to his close aviation friends Don Barber and Danny McMullen, who kept him safe when he sought a few hours of relaxation, flying his World War II–era plane in order to “clear his head.” Thanks, as well, to friends such as Maury Hurt, John Mina, Frank Smith, and fellow author Bill Butterworth, who were always there with encouragement.
I’m grateful to our agent, Kathy Lubbers, and to our advisers, Randy Evans and Stefan Passantino; the talented staff of Gingrich Productions and other members of the Gingrich team, including Alicia Melvin, Joe DeSantis, Anna Haberlein, Vince Haley, Jorge Hurtado, Bess Kelly, Christina Maruna, Kate Pietkiewicz, Michelle Selesky, Liz Wood, and Ross Worthington.