The Crossing: How George Washington Saved the American Revolution
By Jim Murphy
(Scholastic Press, New York, 2010, $21.99)
Washington Crossing the Delaware is an iconic painting of American history, suggesting the fortitude and military brilliance Americans ascribe to their first president. That it was completed by a German artist, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, almost eighty years after the Battle of Trenton has not dimmed the Washington’s or the painting’s reputation.
In The Crossing, Jim Murphy discussesWashington’s role in the early years of the American Revolution for middle-grade readers. He highlights the modesty for whichWashington later became famous. “From the day I enter upon the command of the American armies, I date my fall, and the ruin of my reputation,”Washington told a fellow patriot. During the war, the general showed courage and determination, persisting despite cold winters, an experienced enemy, and a dwindling army. (Thousands of American soldiers deserted the Continental army at a time.)Washington even faced internal opposition: Congress criticized his efforts, and two other generals vied for his position. However,Washington’s gift for ambushes surprised his allies – and his British opponents.
Murphy’s book is an excellent introduction toWashingtonand military strategy for readers already familiar with the American Revolution. Maps, paintings, and drawings bring to life the war’s battles and major players. Murphy also incorporates quotes from soldiers’ diaries and letters, making his descriptions of battles and hardships visceral. However, he misses a few opportunities to broaden readers’ understanding of war and early American life. At times, his text dismisses, even celebrates, British casualties. “The bridge looked red as blood, with their killed and wounded and red coats,” said one American soldier after a Continental victory. When you consider that most British soldiers were draftees and that even voluntary recruits were usually penniless, desperate young men, it is hard to summon anything but compassion for the slain “redcoats.” And although Murphy identifies William Lee, Washington’s “slave and close companion,” he never discusses slavery or grapples withWashington’s position as a slave owner.
Kids who enjoy history, particularly military history, should enjoy The Crossing. Murphy provides a vivid close-up of the Revolution’s early days, augmenting the material students learn from their textbooks. With a more nuanced discussion of the war’s participants, his book could have been even richer and more interesting.
Dorothy A. Dahm