Guns of Independence:
The Siege of Yorktown, 1781
by Jerome A. Greene
Guns of Independence: The Siege of Yorktown, 1781 by Jerome A. Greene
334 pages: 15 chapters with maps & illustrations
190 pages supplemental material: 5 Appendices, Endnotes & Bibliography
Before beginning the review, it has to be noted that an advance bound galley was read for this review. It is thus assumed that the handful of basic editing issues have been corrected for the finished published edition. Also of note is that there was no index included in the galley, but is included in the published book. The review will concentrate on the structure and style of the material.
As stated in blurbs for the book, this is a scholarly work, which means it has not been written as a narrative. Most books on the Siege of Yorktown spend a great deal of time setting stage by recounting the events and politics in play during 1781, which came together at Yorktown. Because the pacing of the siege is rather slow, the narratives concentrate on the events leading up and following the Siege itself, perhaps giving a glimpse of the siege with a few personal episodes that are meant to signify the entire siege.
Jerome A. Greene's approach is instead been written as a factual presentation of the progression of the military actions of the seige. The basis of the book was a treatment that Mr. Greene actually put together almost thirty years ago to assist the Colonial National Historical Park at Yorktowk during the observance of the bicentennial in 1976. Mr. Greene has revisited the material and updated it for this publication. The structure of the book does mostly follow in chronological order, but there a few jumps within the chronology of the siege when talking about a particular element, such as artillery or certain fortifications.
The book spends little time on the background of the war and quickly brings the parties together at Yorktown. He then goes into detail about fortifications, and the distribution of forces on both sides. Mr. Greene assumes the reader has some basic knowledge of sieges, because he does not stop to define each term used to describe siege elements. It is recommended that the reader familiarize oneself with siege terminology and basic strategy before tackling this material, so that the reader can concentrate on how siege techniques were carried out at Yorktown.
Mr. Greene clearly spent a great deal of time researching the events of the battle from the varied number of American, French, German, Hessian and British sources that he cites. He also illustrates the confusion of war by citing several versions of events when a clear concensus could not be reached from the primary sources. He breaks up the recounting of facts and figures with some personal moments drawn from those varied sources, such as a sapper's surprise encounter with General George Washington and a recounting of how an argument between Henry Knox and Alexander Hamilton was settled by a British shell.
The book is full of additional details, such as the artillery numbers and amount of ammunition expended, a lengthy breakdown of the chain of command for American, French and British forces and descriptions and maps concerning the fortifications. The supplemental information (170+ pages worth not including an index) following the 330 pages of text further enhance the reasons for adding the book to one's collection. The five appendices are the following: Modern Photographic Gallery (22 images), Washington and Cornwallis Correspondence (copies of five letters from October 17-18), The Articles of Capitulation (copy of the official surrender document), The Archaelology of the Grand French Battery Complex and The Artillery at Yorktown. The book includes bibliography and a vast number of endnotes (fully 90 pages in the galley), so a reader can continue their own research.
If one is looking for greater detail of the Siege of Yorktown, then this book is highly recommended to not only be read, but added to one's collection for repeated reference.