Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Off Topic and CWL: French and Indian War

Blooding at Great Meadows: Young George Washington and the Battle that Shaped the Man, Alan Axelrod, 272 pages, endnotes, index, Running Press Book Publishers. 2007.

The French and Indian War is local history for me.

As a child, a summer vacation from the southwestern Pennsylvania dairy farm, was an six hour event: a one hour drive to Fort Necessity to spend a Sunday afternoon, and then drive back in time to milk the cows around 6:00pm. On a high school field trip for a Latin (language) festival, I walked across the Fort Pitt bridge to 'The Point' and visited the Fort Duquesne/Fort Pitt Museum. Wjhile attending the local college and during an autumn Saturday, I travelled 90 minutes and hiked the Jumonville Glen at which Washington 'assasinated' the French embassador. After all, I was bred, born and raised in Washington County, Pennsylvania and it had once been named Augusta County and claimed by Virginia. 2004 was the 250th anniversary of the beginning of the very first world war and it anniversary commoration was a local event.
More text to come.

Alan Axelrod, the author, sticks close to the primary sources of the period. Unfortunately there is no bibliography and the narrative text is not exhaustively footnoted. Washington's Writings and Washington's Papers are heavily relied upon, so much so, that the clarity of Washington's voice comes through to the reader. Those biographies that are considered as academically solid and not hagiography are relied upon by Axelrod. Those biographies which are not well founded upon primary sources are used to contrast the stereotypical Washington with the actual Washington.

Axelrod looks for the flesh of the young Washington beneath the marble of the post-Revolutionary War patriot. The author's presentation of Washington's life before the Revolution is clear and concise. The reader understands the growth and development of the young Virginian on-the-make. The tide of colonial events and the current of Washington's own motivation carry him into the Appalachian wilderness several times. Two of the three excursions into the region of the Forks of the Ohio nearly ends the young man's life. The 1753 trek to and from Fort LaBeuf near Lake Erie during December is full of treacherous Indian guides, rafts on icy rivers, deep snow falls and near starvation. The 1754 campaign against Fort Duquesne ended in Washington's surrender at Fort Necessity and his inadvertent admission of guilt for the assassination of a French diplomat. The 1755 campaign with the British army, again towards Fort Duquesne, ended in the near massacre of the force, the death of British General Braddock, and Washington wearing a coat with six bullet holes in it.

The compressed and forceful narrative works well for the story, yet this reader wished for more coverage of the defeat at Turtle Creek. The title states the book ends at Great Meadows, at which Fort Necessity existed in 1754. Axelrod continues the story through the next year, 1755 and the Battle of Turtle Creek but the discussion of this event is slim, though well done. There are no maps or illustrations in the book; this is unfortunate. Overall though, Axelrod succeeds in providing a vivid, primary source driven story with due consideration of the myths that have evolved over the generations.

No comments: