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David McCollough's 1776 is a narrative of American colonists in the ranks of General George Washington: men of every age and shape: boys and men, farmers and schoolteachers, no-accounts and even Quakers, such as General Greene. Exemplifying the colonists who were so inspired by George Washington that they felt themselves bound to support him in fighting the British, a London-educated lawyer named Joseph Reed observed that Washington had
...expressed himself to me in such terms that I thought myself bound by every tie of duty and honor to comply with his request to help him through the sea of difficulties.
This charisma that Reed felt emanating from Washington was felt by others, as well. However, the Virginia-bred Washington also displays a haughty contempt for the leveling instincts of the officers toward their troops. Regarding the common Yankees, he remarked, "These people are exceedingly dirty and nasty"; Washington adds that they seem to be afflicted with an "unaccountable kind of stupidity."
In fact, Charles Lee, Washington's second-in-command, is described by another colonists as a ''great sloven, wretchedly profane,"; he is further described as so ill-tempered that ''his Indian name was Boiling Water.''
A typical judgment of the American fighters comes from the British general who crowed, ''If a good bleeding can bring those Bible-faced Yankees to their senses, the fever of independency should soon abate.'' That there was a great difference between the ideal and the reality was explicitly expressed by Joseph Reed to his wife,
''Your noisy sons of liberty are, I find, the quietest in the field,'' he wrote. ''An engagement, or even the expectation of one, gives a wonderful insight into character.''
Indeed, as in all wars, it is the true soldier who carries the cause and suffers most from war. For, in the battles against the British, there were those who fled and returned home to be the voices of Loyalists on the side of England, while others spoke bravely, but could not display such courage under fire. Certainly, then, McCullough's work provides much insight into the hearts of Americans through the characterization of historical figures involved in America's struggle for independence.
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