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Posted on Jul 8, 2011 in Stuff We Like

The Fort: A Novel of the Revolutionary War – Review

By Robert Helmsing

The Fort: A Novel of the Revolutionary War. Bernard Cornwell. Harper, 2010. 468 pages, 1 map. Hardback. $25.99

In a departure from his typical fare, medieval novelist Bernard Cornwell dives into the realm of the American Revolution with his newest work, The Fort. I had never read any of Cornwell’s work prior to this one, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The story takes place in the summer of 1779; Washington and the Continental Army are on the ropes. As the British prepare for a new offensive in the southern colonies, the government of Massachusetts takes note of a small British contingent (two Scottich regiments, to be exact) building redoubts on the island of Majabigwaduce (now Castine, Maine). "Fort George, " as their citadel was called, comes complete with a Royal Naval detachment of three gunships, making the fort virtually impregnable and cutting off access to "East Massachusetts " (present day Maine).

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Although cutting off "Maine " would have no serious impact on the American war effort, the Colony of Massachusetts, in the midst of a financial crisis, sends an expedition to the fort to raid whatever valuables may lie within its three anchored gunships. The expedition, however, is little more than an untrained rabble of militiamen. Ostensibly, the better-trained Revolutionaries were fighting elsewhere in the colonies. Cornwell takes an interesting twist on the story as he depicts several of these militiamen as reluctant warriors. Many of them, in fact, are forced into the militia ranks by gunpoint. Breaking with the traditional lore of the American Revolution, Cornwell has obviously done his homework. Modern historians have divided the colonial population into three groups: one-third Patriots, one-third Loyalists, and the other third didn’t give a hoot. Often, it was the latter group that suffered the most. Well-to-do businessmen and farmers who cared nothing for the Revolution were frequently strong-armed into it by either side.

The main character is Brigadier General Peleg Wadworth. Unlike protagonists many in military novels, Wadsworth was an actual person and many of his exploits are touched upon by Cornwell. On the British side, we meet General Francis McLean and John Moore (of Peninsular War fame). We also see a less-than-flattering portrayal of Paul Revere that stands in stark contrast to the man we heard about in the famous poem.

Cornwell’s writing keeps the book moving along at a steady pace. The action sequences are described in hauntingly vivid detail and specifications of the military equipment are guaranteed to entertain enthusiasts of the subject. As I am less familiar with the history of the American Revolution, I can’t attest to the book’s full historical accuracy, but the plot meshes well with what I do know of the Revolution.

Highly recommended for Cornwell fans, military enthusiasts, and Revolutionary War history buffs. The Fort is an exciting and worthwhile read.

Robert Helmsing is a freelance writer and military historian. A veteran of the U.S. Army, he is an avid scholar of guerrilla warfare and the histories of World War I and II.

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