This breathtaking installment in Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s mega-bestselling Killing series transports readers to the most important era in our nation’s history: the Revolutionary War. Told through the eyes of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Great Britain’s King George III, Killing England chronicles the path to independence in gripping detail, taking the reader from the battlefields of America to the royal courts of Europe.
What started as protest and unrest in the colonies soon escalated to a world war with devastating casualties. O’Reilly and Dugard recreate the war’s landmark battles, including Bunker Hill, Long Island, Saratoga, and Yorktown, revealing the savagery of hand-to-hand combat and the often brutal conditions under which these brave American soldiers lived and fought. Also here is the reckless treachery of Benedict Arnold and the daring guerrilla tactics of the “Swamp Fox” Frances Marion.
A must read, Killing England reminds one and all how the course of history can be changed through the courage and determination of those intent on doing the impossible.
About the Author
Martin Dugard is the New York Times bestselling author of several books of history. He and his wife live in Southern California with their three sons.
Read an Excerpt
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania June 16, 1775
George Washington is out for blood.
Twenty years almost to the day after Braddock's Defeat, as the infamous battle in the Ohio River Valley has come to be known, the six-foot-two Virginian pushes back his chair and rises to his feet. Seventy-year-old Benjamin Franklin watches him from across the cramped Assembly Room here in the Pennsylvania State House. Delegates to the Second Continental Congress sit in high-backed chairs, their papers splayed before them on cloth-covered tables, waiting to hear if Washington will accept the new title he has been offered.
At the head of the room on this oppressively humid Friday morning, overseeing the proceedings, sits John Hancock, the wealthiest man in Massachusetts and president of the Congress. A man of medium height and build, he is thirty-eight and soon to be married, with a baby already on the way. Born the son of a clergyman, Hancock was sent to live with a rich uncle at the age of seven, after his father had died and his mother could no longer care for him. The uncle had no children of his own, so Hancock was raised to take over the family's highly successful import-export business. In time, Hancock added to his growing wealth by becoming a smuggler of wine, tea, molasses, and tobacco. His duties as president of the Congress are slight — most often, mediating debate. On days when the arguments become loud enough for people outside the tall windows ringing the Assembly Room to hear what is being said, Hancock might insist that they be kept closed. But this morning, thanks to the temperature and thick morning air, they are wide open.
Sitting on the aisle next to the second row of desks is Benjamin Franklin. He is weary but attentive, his impish sense of humor nowhere to be seen. Just six weeks ago, he returned home from eleven years in England. Unfortunately, his wife, Deborah, who had remained in Philadelphia due to fear of ocean travel, had died during Franklin's absence. Shortly before last Christmas, she was felled by a stroke. Her husband got the news while living in a small brick row house between Charing Cross and the Strand, in London.
As much as he misses his wife, it is not her passing that lays the biggest burden on Franklin's heart. His original purpose for sailing to London had been to act on behalf of his home colony, seeking to establish a closer relationship between Pennsylvania and the British Crown. But the effort was soon overshadowed by England's exploitative policy of taxing the American colonies to pay British debts. Onerous legislation such as the Molasses Act, Sugar Act, and Townshend Acts forced the Americans to pay duties on everyday amenities such as rum, paper, paint, and glass, with all the revenue flowing to England — all to pay for the same frontier defenses the colonies already provided for themselves. The colonists believe this to be illegal.
Even worse, there was no attempt to allow the colonists a voice in Parliament, leading many to fume that "taxation without representation" was a form of slavery.
The Intolerable Acts of 1774 went a step further, punishing the people of Massachusetts by abolishing their provincial government and installing a British general as the colony's new governor.
At first the enraged colonists responded by actually beating tax collectors. With rebellion in the air, Franklin's focus changed. Instead of just Pennsylvania, he found himself representing all the colonies as a diplomat, working tirelessly to keep the peace.
Franklin is not a timid man. He knows there is a time and a place for war. In 1755, shortly after Braddock's stunning annihilation left the colonies wide open to French and Indian attack, more than four hundred white settlers were slaughtered and scalped in Pennsylvania. It was Franklin who led the call for a state militia to defend the people. His pleas were ignored until the bodies of those dead settlers were brought by wagon to Philadelphia and dumped on the steps of this very statehouse.
Two days later, Franklin had his army.
In his efforts to prevent war between England and America, Franklin has made every effort to be impartial. "In England," he once wrote of the criticism thrown his way, "I am accused of being too much an American, and in America of being too much an Englishman."
Now, despite his diligent efforts, war has come. On April 19, 1775, shortly after he boarded a ship for the voyage home to America, the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts saw the first casualties of a conflict that would eventually become known as the Revolutionary War.
* * *
On this very day, north of Boston, twelve hundred colonial soldiers are hastily building defensive fortifications on the hills of the Charlestown Peninsula. Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill offer a commanding view of Boston, a city of fifteen thousand people and long a hotbed of loathing toward the British. The Crown has occupied Boston since 1768, as it tightened restrictions in the most rebellious of colonies, controlling the ebb and flow of daily life while carefully monitoring the growing divide between "patriots," as the rebels call themselves, and the Loyalists. There has been bloodshed as a result of this friction, most notably the Boston Massacre in 1770, when British soldiers fired into a patriot mob, killing five men. Currently, a force of six thousand regulars is garrisoned within Boston's one-square-mile limits.
Were it not for a thin stretch of land known as the Roxbury Neck connecting it to the Massachusetts coastline, Boston would be an island. Colonial troops under Artemas Ward control access to the Neck, forming a narrow barrier preventing the British from marching out of Boston and expanding their control of the surrounding towns. Yet, while the English may be contained, they are by no means cut off. They control Boston, which means that English ships come and go with impunity, resupplying the regular army garrison and preventing the military siege that would see British food and ammunition choked off. The Massachusetts Colony has no navy to contest these vessels, many of which are armed with cannon. Thus, a stalemate has existed for months between the two forces — and continues to this day, despite the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord two months ago.
If the British were to take control of Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill, the colonists would lose a key strategic position. From their lofty summits overlooking Boston Harbor and the city itself, the colonists can fire cannonballs — which is why the British have spent the last three weeks secretly plotting an invasion of the Charlestown Peninsula, to capture those heights. But just two days ago, on June 13, the rebels got word of the British plans. Working day and night, they have been preparing redoubts from which to fend off the redcoats. Six feet high, made of earth, with wooden platforms on the interior from which men can stand to fire their muskets, the square-shaped fortifications are protected from assault by ditches around their perimeter.
Early on the morning of June 17, British warships fire on Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill, to little effect. The emboldened colonists endure a sweltering day in the sun as they await the next move from the English. Soon, they spot longboats rowing soldiers from Boston over to the Charlestown Peninsula. The flotilla is massive, ferrying some fifteen hundred grenadiers and light infantry across the harbor. Some of the colonists quietly desert, retreating back toward Cambridge rather than facing sure death. Those who choose to remain will long remember the confusion of that day, as the local militia volunteers mill about with a lack of military discipline, even as the British regulars fix their bayonets and prepare for the attack. The mere sight of them is daunting: hundreds of red-coated soldiers stand abreast, lining up in four neat rows, prepared to launch a full-frontal assault on the hastily built colonial defenses. When American snipers fired from buildings in the town of Charlestown, British cannon responded with red-hot shot, setting fire to the city and casting great plumes of smoke into the air.
Yet it is the colonists who win the early stages of the fight, thanks to the strength of their defensive positions. Shooting with a sniper's precision, they pick off the English with ease. Many grenadier and infantry units lose almost all their men, some with "only eight or nine men a company left," in the words of one English observer. It appears to be a stunning repeat of Braddock's Defeat, a comparison made all the more apparent by the fact that the British commander, Gen. Thomas Gage, served side by side with George Washington at that battle as another aide to Braddock.
The first British attack stalls when the light infantry, attempting to turn the American flank, is decimated by fire from a barrier on the shoreline. A second assault fares only slightly better. The British entered the battle believing the colonists would run at the first smell of gunpowder. Their arrogance has been costly, the grenadiers' advance slowed by fences and other obstacles that disarray their columns and allow them to be cut to ribbons by the fortified colonial positions. Dead redcoats lie sprawled in the dense grass just outside the American fortifications. The wounded and the dying cry for help, but their pleas go unanswered.
As afternoon turns to evening, however, the colonists run out of ammunition. Only then does the tide of the battle turn toward the British. The colonists' muskets, used more often for hunting dinner than killing men, lack bayonets. So, as the professional soldiers come over the parapets during the third English assault in late afternoon, the combatants resort to hand-to-hand fighting, and the battle swings toward the English.
Having no other choice, the colonists retreat, leaving Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill to the British. They flee toward Cambridge where they will have safety in numbers, some getting caught by British bayonets but most escaping. The retreat is orderly and precise, saving the lives of hundreds of colonists and preventing their imprisonment. And while they have lost what will become known as the Battle of Bunker Hill, the men of Massachusetts have extracted a fierce toll: almost eight hundred wounded and more than two hundred dead, including a large number of officers. Most astounding: almost half of all British soldiers entering this battle are now casualties.
Sir William Howe, a British general newly arrived from England, will report this shocking news back to London: "When I look to the consequences of it, in the loss of so many brave officers, I do it with horror — the success is too dearly bought."
* * *
All the fighting in Boston will take place tomorrow. Right now, the Continental Congress is deciding who will form and lead the American army. "Resolved," the minutes of its June 15 meeting read, "that a general be appointed to command all continental forces raised or to be raised, for the defense of American liberty. That five hundred dollars a month be allowed for his pay and expenses."
Though the salary is lavish, the obstacles to success are many. Enthusiasm for the fight is high throughout the colonies, but most potential soldiers prefer to remain close to home, serving with their local militia, taking orders from friends and relatives. The idea of fighting in a Continental Army, obeying the directives of strangers, and waging war hundreds of miles from their families is distasteful. It will be the role of the new general to convince those uneducated and unsophisticated men that accepting his commands is in their best interest.
Then, of course, there is the harsh penalty for failure.
If the new commander in chief can successfully raise, train, feed, clothe, and equip an army, he must still find a way to defeat the British regulars, widely considered the world's greatest fighting force. Should he lose, this new general will not merely be placed in captivity as a prisoner of war, he will be treated as a traitor to the British Crown and hanged for high treason.
This will not, however, be an ordinary hanging.
High treason is considered the greatest capital crime a man can commit against the king of England. The punishment is extraordinary, ensuring a slow and hideous death. It will begin when the accused is tied to a horse and dragged to the gallows. He will then be hanged by the neck, but cut down before he dies so that he remains alive for what comes next, which is the slicing open of his abdomen and the burning of his intestines as they dangle outside his body. Only then will this general have his head cut off. His corpse will then be cut up into four parts, all of which will be delivered to the king. But the punishment will not end there. All lands and monies will be confiscated from this unlucky man's estate. His wife and children will be forever forbidden from purchasing property or owning a business. And, of course, if the general's wife should also be accused of treason for conspiring with her husband, she will be burned alive.
Ben Franklin no longer has a wife, but as he looks around the cramped Assembly Room on this June morning, he is well aware that simply attending this seditious meeting to discuss waging war against the Crown is grounds for high treason. It is not just the new general who stands to stretch a rope, but every single delegate in the room. Simply traveling to Philadelphia to attend the Congress was an act of great courage, for a recent smallpox epidemic in the city killed three hundred men, women, and children.With no assurances that the outbreak has passed, the delegates entered the city to take part in the uncertain business of forging a nation.
The problem facing these men now, even after war has broken out, is that Georgia, not yet believing fully in the cause of independence, has refused to send a delegate to this convention. In other words, thethirteen colonies are still unwilling to stand together as one to fight for their common future.
It is Franklin who will sound the ominous reminder of their fate if this does not change: "We must, indeed, all hang together — or most assuredly we will all hang separately."
* * *
Despite the long odds against defeating England, a number of men have stepped forward to apply for the generalship. Candidates include the slovenly British-born lieutenant colonel Charles Lee, a man with a temper so fierce that during the French and Indian War, the Iroquois nicknamed him Ounewaterika, "Boiling Water." Lee is missing two fingers, thanks to a dueling accident, and has a passion for prostitutes that will one day be his undoing.
Another candidate is Artemas Ward, a fiery, heavyset forty-seven-year-old Bostonian who is presently commanding the forces at Bunker Hill. Ward, who suffers frequent bouts of ill health, enjoys a reputation as a military leader so illustrious that Massachusetts has appointed him commander in chief of "the Grand American Army," as the collection of local militias has been nicknamed by the press.
However, the most popular choice is the genteel John Hancock. Despite a lack of military experience, the Massachusetts native feels that his service as president of this Congress entitles him to be appointed commander in chief. He is a man born to privilege, fond of expensive wine, dancing, and the pursuit of life's many pleasures. Rather than simply travel on horseback, for instance, Hancock drives a carriage pulled by six matching bay-colored horses. His mode of dress is shocking in its garishness: "He wore a coat of scarlet, lined with silk, and ... a white satin embroidered waist coat, dark satin small clothes, white silk stockings, and shoes with silver buckles," one observer wrote.
John Hancock presumed he would be given the title of commander in chief as thanks for his serving as president of this Congress. In fact, he presumes many things, thinking himself worthy of almost every great honor. Ironically, Hancock is not in favor of colonial independence. He is a hardened Anglophile who spent four years in London learning to run the House of Hancock, the family business that revolves around the sale of British goods to the colonies — in particular, whale oil. His loyalty to the British throne led him to attend the London funeral of King George II in November 1760, and then remain in England for the coronation of the current monarch, George III, ten months later.
In truth, Hancock has more to lose than almost any other man in this room. His livelihood depends on the freedom of the high seas, allowing his ships to smuggle Dutch tea and French molasses into the colonies. The outbreak of war will see an end to that. John Hancock will never be a pauper, but he will also never see the heights of wealth he knew before the disruption in trade caused by the war with Great Britain.
Excerpted from "Killing England"
Copyright © 2017 Henry Holt.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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