Wednesday 25 April 2018

Guest Review: The Fort by Bernard Cornwell

A slight change from my usual Wednesday guest review. Today I'm bringing you one of my usual Sunday reviews because I have been on quite a few Sunday blog tours of late. Sp if you've been missing your reviews of historical or sport-related books, here you go!

‘Captivate, kill or destroy the whole force of the enemy’ was the order given to the American soldiers.
THE FORT is the blistering novel from worldwide bestseller Bernard Cornwell.
Summer 1779.
Seven hundred and fifty British soldiers and three small ships of the Royal Navy. Their orders: to build a fort above a harbour to create a base from which to control the New England seaboard.
Forty-one American ships and over nine hundred men. Their orders: to expel the British.
The battle that followed was a classic example of how the best-laid plans can be disrupted by personality and politics, and of how warfare can bring out both the best and worst in men. It is a timeless tale of men at war, written by a master storyteller.

Review: Bernard Cornwell is well known for his historical action novels, particularly the Sharpe series set during the Napoleonic Wars and dramatised on television. This novel is set some 20 to 30 years earlier during the American War of Independence. In 1779, the third year of the war, the British established a garrison at Majabigwaduce on a peninsula in the Penobscot River in what is now Maine but was then the eastern province of Massachusetts. Their aim was to establish a base to protect British shipping between Nova Scotia in Canada and New York, still held by the British. A second aim was to provide a safe haven for American Loyalists, who did not seek independence but wished to remain loyal to the British Crown, many of whom had fled to that part of New England from Boston, Massachusetts to escape persecution after the American Patriots had taken that city.

Hence, a force of 750 British troops comprising two Scots regiments, supported by artillery and three Royal Navy warships, landed and began to erect a fort on the high ground, which they named Fort George in honour of the King. In response, the State of Massachusetts dispatched a fleet of over forty vessels, the largest fleet assembled by the Patriots during the War of Independence, to expel the British. These ships carried men of the Massachusetts Militia, the Massachusetts Artillery and Federal Continental Marines. Altogether, there were some 900 men, and the whole expedition came to be known as the Penobscot Expedition.

The book covers the events of the Penobscot Expedition, from the landing of the British, the dispatch of the Expedition, the landing of the Americans and the subsequent fighting that took place on and around the peninsula. The narrative follows both the American and British sides of the engagement and by doing so, Bernard Cornwell has attempted to give a balanced view of the War of Independence, certainly more balanced than that usually offered by Hollywood. He also provides a chapter at the end of the book, entitled Historical Note, discussing the events of the Expedition and its aftermath.

I found the story very exciting and was kept guessing about the outcome of the engagement until the dramatic climax. I particularly liked the way the story alternated between the two opposing sides and found that I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened next. I should warn that it is not for the faint-hearted, since there are some very graphic accounts of the battle scenes.

Like much of Bernard Cornwell's work, the book is based on actual events and characters. Of interest are two famous individuals, one from each side. Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Revere commanded the Massachusetts Artillery during the Expedition. He was one of the riders dispatched in 1775 to warn the towns of Concord and Lexington that British regulars were marching from Boston, and is immortalised in Henry Longfellow's poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere", published in 1861. Lieutenant John More was an eighteen-year in the British 82nd Regiment of Foot and first saw action at Majabigwaduce. He rose subsequently to the rank of Lieutenant-General, was knighted and died in action at Corunna during the Napoleonic Wars. Statues of Paul Revere and John Moore can be found in Boston and Glasgow, respectively, whilst the walls of Fort George can still be seen in what is now Maine.

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