Wilderness Ordeal

Two hundred and fifty years ago, Major Robert Rogers and his rangers launched a daring wilderness raid against an enemy village, but paid a steep price

A dozen miles north of the British fort of Crown Point on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, amid the buttonbush, bulrush, and cattail wetlands that crowded Otter Creek’s delta, Maj. Robert Rogers glassed down the lake for the lateen sails of a patrolling enemy French sloop or schooner. Pulled into hiding within the marsh lay 17 whaleboats, each bearing eight oars and provisions for a month. It was Saturday, September 15, 1759, in the midst of the French and Indian War, the titanic struggle between the French and British empires for dominion over North America.Read more »

The Real First World War and the Making of America

It has taken us two and a half centuries to realize just how important this conflict was

Two hundred and fifty years ago this winter, European courts and diplomats were moving ever closer to war. It would prove larger, more brutal, and costlier than anyone anticipated, and it would have an outcome more decisive than any war in the previous three centuries.

The Revolution 1776 To 1787

I’ve been fighting the war of the American Revolution (on paper, that is, and with none of the suffering the participants endured) off and on since 1962, and my research has included journals, diaries, letters, newspapers, and books on nearly all the campaigns. For the list that follows I have assumed that a reader is interested in the overall story of the Revolutionary War. (Books about specific campaigns or battles are far too numerous to include.) These are books I have found informative, enjoyable, and, in some cases, worth reading again and again.Read more »

France And Us

The French helped us win our Revolution. A few years later we were at war with Napoleon’s navy. The two countries have been falling in and out of love ever since. Why?

Congress serves freedom fries, American military wives talk of freedom kisses, vandals in Bordeaux burn and deface a model of the Statue of Liberty. It’s a good time to remember that American-French relations have had many ups and downs. The ups include the Franco-American joint operation that was the Yorktown campaign; the tough-minded love letter to the United States that Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America; fighting on the same side in two world wars; and cinéastes taking inspiration from John Ford.Read more »

The Spirit Of ’54

More than two decades before the Revolution broke out, a group of Americans voted on a scheme to unite the colonies. For the rest of his life, Benjamin Franklin thought it could have prevented the war. It didn’t—but it did give us our Constitution.



Improbable it may seem, but an industrious, aquatic, fur-bearing rodent deserves a share of the credit for the first real effort at unifying Britain’s American colonies. Just as we tend to forget that the Americas were discovered as a byproduct of the search for pepper, the reason the beaver’s contribution has gone unsung all these years is, in the words of the journalist Henry Hobhouse, “Men have always liked to believe in their own influence.” Read more »

The Deerfield Massacre

One terrible night came to symbolize the whole struggle for supremacy on the North American continent

Our traditional picture of colonial New England is essentially a still life. Peaceful little villages. Solid, strait-laced, steadily productive people. A landscape serene, if not bountiful. A history of purposeful, and largely successful, endeavor. Read more »

The French And Indian War In Pittsburgh: A Memoir

She played the war, learning to creep through the woods without leaving footprints or snapping twigs. She read and dreamed about the war, lying on her bed, limp with horror and delight. The history of the war was a drug and she was an addict.

The French and Indian War! This was a war of which I, reading stretched out in my bedroom, could not get enough. The names of the places were a litany: Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, Fort Frontenac on the St. Lawrence, Vincennes on the Wabash. The names of the people were a litany: Captain Claude-Pierre Pécaudy, Sieur de Contrecoeur; the Swiss commander of Fort Pitt, Simeon Ecuyer; the great Indian fighter Col. Henry Bouquet; Maj. Robert Rogers of the Rangers; the Sieur de Marin; the Marquis de Montcalm; the Seneca chief Half-King.Read more »

“The Miraculous Care Of Providence”

George Washington’s Narrow Escapes

Upon at least five occasions when in great danger from gunfire George Washington remained unscathed. His hat was shot off his head; his clothes were torn; horses were killed beneath him, but the hero was never so much as scratched by a bullet. For this immunity he thanked “Providence.” He also wrote himself down as lucky. Read more »

The Debacle at Fort Carillon

It started with jaunty confidence and skirling bagpipes. Five days later it had turned into one of the bloodiest and most futile battles ever fought on American soil.

At Ticonderoga, Lake George spills its waters northward into Lake Champlain, and for over a century whoever controlled the narrows there controlled the gateway to a continent. Travel through the dense American forests was arduous at best, impossible when supplies and trade goods needed to be taken along. If smugglers, traders, or armies wished to pass between the domains of Britain and France, between New York and Montreal, they had to go by water. Read more »

Americans As Guerrilla Fighters: Robert Rogers And His Rangers

As the fourth ice age of the Pleistocene epoch receded some eleven thousand years ago, an almost impenetrable forest of oak, elm, birch, maple, and pine trees sprang up between the coast of New England and the shores of the Mississippi. So fertile was the soil and so thick did the green canopy become that sunlight seldom penetrated to the forest floor, where ferocious beasts prowled and decaying tree trunks littered the primordial gloom. It was in this great arboreal cavern, stretching from Maine to Missouri, that Robert Rogers found himself at home.Read more »