“The British Are Coming begins in 1775 with the lead-up to the battles of Lexington and Concord and ends in January 1777 after the battles of Trenton and Princeton. Many of us have heard of these places, and some of us have visited them. One of the many virtues of Atkinson’s skill as a researcher and writer is that he is able to strip away contemporary accretions and give readers a tactile sense of those times and lands.
Few of the Founding Fathers appear in these pages; they are off in Philadelphia writing their declarations and acts of the Continental Congress. But Ben Franklin, nearing 70, makes an arduous winter journey to Quebec as the Americans try and disastrously fail to split Canada away from Great Britain. Then there is Henry Knox, an overweight bookseller who turns out to be a brilliant artillery strategist. And the brothers Howe, leaders of the British Army and Navy, waver between punishing their enemies and treating them lightly to coax them back into the arms of the mother country.
Towering above them all is George Washington, famous for his physical grace and horsemanship. During much of this time, he is such a failure that some officers plot against him, and he fears being dismissed as the military leader. Under his leadership, the army retreats again and again and again. The enemy mocks Washington, ironically calling him “the old fox.” He must beg soldiers to stay when their enlistments expire. He endures.”