Book review: Washington’s Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution by Patrick K. O’Donnell (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016).
The author uses the words of the actual participants to craft a powerful narrative of the American Revolution focusing on the contributions and sacrifices of the units from the State of Maryland. Organized chronologically, in forty-three short but well written chapters, the author highlights the campaigns, major battles and engagements where the Maryland troops were present. He follows a number of officers and soldiers from the formation of independent militia companies in 1774 and 1775 through the disbanding of the Continental Army in 1783 and in the process the reader gains an appreciation for the many complexities that make the American Revolution both a conventional fight and an ugly civil war.
The author describes his intent for this book to serve as a “Band of Brothers–style history of the Revolution.” He definitely accomplished his goal. He uses a nice mix of primary and secondary source material to support his narrative and where available uses participants letters and pension records to support his findings. Given the tumultuous nature of combat and the constant restructuring of units, he follows specific individuals to tell the story of men and units from Maryland.
O’Donnell’s experiences living, working and writing about modern day warriors reflects an understanding of the human elements of combat and clearly inspired his writing. His analysis of the Carolina campaigns is particularly noteworthy. Using the Clausewitz concept of a center of gravity (COG), he identifies the population as the COG and the requirement for the British to secure the population and control the countryside. The inability of the British to accomplish this key task led to their defeat in the Carolinas and ultimately to Yorktown.
Once the reader begins this book, he will find it difficult to put down. O’Donnell created a very readable text that serves both the general reader and the student of the Revolution. Historically accurate and well written, O’Donnell’s story of the Revolutionary warriors from Maryland is a must read for those with deep or casual interest in the American Revolution.