The First Salute: A View Of The American Revolution, by Barbara W. Tuchman
I must say that I was rather impressed with this book, not least in the way that Tuchman managed to demonstrate the importance of the Caribbean and its role in the trade nodes that connected continental North America to Europe in the successful efforts of the United States to gain its independence in the American Revolution. Whether or not this book is enough to qualify Tuchman as an Atlantic historian a la Bailyn is unclear, but this book certainly makes a case for Tuchman’s awareness of the importance of the Atlantic world–not only the English but also the French and especially the Dutch–to the ability of America’s rebels to withstand the military might of the (not very) United Kingdom. Given the fact that it is hard to say something about the American Revolution that has not been said thousands of times before, this effort demonstrates that Tuchman had something new and worthwhile to say and was able to put it in a way that allows readers fond of her detail-heavy narrative historical approach (myself included) to enjoy a refreshing account of the importance of diplomacy and logistics to the study of the American revolution.
The title of this book springs from the importance of the “golden rock” of St. Eustatius in providing the first salute that recognized the United States as a belligerent in the American Revolution. This book begins with a discussion of that salute (I) after the usual acknowledgements and introductory notice before moving on to a discussion of St. Eustatius’ importance in the Dutch West Indies (II) and the rise (and malaise) of Dutch seapower from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries (III). After that comes the efforts of the United States to establish a navy (IV) as well as the importance of buccaneers to the early American naval efforts (V) and the way that English bungling led to yet another war with the Netherlands as well as Spain and France simultaneously with the American Revolution (VI). The author talks about Admiral Rooney (VII), a rather important personage here, as well as the French intervention (VIII), the low point of the Revolution in 1780 and 1781 (IX), the importance of a decisive battle in the midst of the indecisive course of the war (X), the critical moment where naval and land forces knew that one final push might be decisive (XI), and the course of the Yorktown campaign (XII), after which the book is closed by an epilogue as well as bibliography, reference notes, and index.
There are at least a few areas where this book particularly succeeds relative to many other books that merely rehash the same stories about the American Revolution over and over again. What allows this book to make a distinctive element? For one, the book discusses matters of diplomatic history, which are often neglected in accounts of the American Revolution. The author also explores the Dutch angle, another neglected aspect of studies of the war, which tend to focus on the US and Britain and often France, but seldom Spain or the Netherlands or anyone else. The author also shows an interest in naval history, particularly naval operations in the Caribbean, that allow for that neglected front of the American Revolution and the way in which success (or failure) in that front could have major repercussions in the home nation. In particular Rodney’s skill allowed the UK to hold serve in the Caribbean and avoid disaster in the face of the opposition of the French, Spanish, and Dutch, even as the failures of other admirals like Graves and Hood allowed the North American colonies to slip from Britain’s grasp. All in all, this book is a worthy history of the American Revolution and a thoughtful example of Tuchman’s contributes to Atlantic History.