Washington’s Marines is a niche history, focusing on the contributions of the Continental Marines at the beginning of the American Revolution. The book is brought to the public by Savas Beatie, a publisher renowned for introducing micro-histories and volumes focused on lesser-known aspects of American military history to readers. General Bohm has performed research across a broad and deep array of primary and secondary sources to produce a book that is both an organizational analysis and a battle history.
The book is divided into ten chapters, the first five of which deal with the coming of the American Revolution, its outbreak and early days, and the American colonies’ attempts to develop naval capability to deal with British maritime strength. As General Bohm points out, a good portion of this American capability consisted of naval infantry, whether in the form of Continental Marines, Marine forces raised by colonial, later state, legislatures, or privateers performing roles traditionally associated with Marine forces such as participating in boarding parties or serving in raiding functions against enemy ports or other land-based targets. The second half of the book focuses on the trials General Washington and the Continental Army faced in its retreat across New Jersey after the loss of New York in late 1776. At this point, the fate of Washington and that of the Marines become intertwined and the story evolves into a campaign narrative, focusing on the role of the Marines in the Battles of Trenton and Princeton.
General Bohm begins very strongly, with a discussion of the role of naval infantry throughout history and the development of European Marine roles and responsibilities in the age of sail and gunpowder. This introduction evolves into a description of the Continental Congress’ decision to design an American Navy around a fleet of fast, mid-weight frigates focused on commerce raiding and small actions rather than larger capital ships capable of meeting British ships of the line in large-scale battles of fleets exchanging broadsides. It soon became apparent that a Marine contingent could provide additional flexibility to frigates engaged in this style of warfare, and thus Congress commissioned Samuel Nichols as the first officer of the Continental Marines in November 1775, and authorized that two battalions of Marines be raised to support the American Navy, which had been established a month earlier. Bohm then goes into detail regarding Nichols’ efforts to recruit, organize, equip, and officer his Marines.
Chapters two and three of Washington’s Marines represent an interesting author’s choice. Having discussed the development of the naval infantry concept and how it was applied to the strategic circumstances of the American Navy at the start of the American Revolution, General Bohm then devotes the next two chapters of the book to discussing the political origins of the American Revolution itself, the initial engagements at Lexington, and Concord on 19 April 1775, Washington’s appointment as commanding general of the Continental Army, and the subsequent British pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June of that year. While well written, these chapters detract from the flow of the story of the Continental Marines and add very little to the overall narrative of the book. General Bohm is attempting to the tell the story of Washington’s development in the role of commanding general in parallel with the story of the Marines, but the result is a disjointed narrative that jumps back and forth between two distinctive stories with little connective tissue in the first half of the book. As the story progresses through the battles around New York in 1776, and the initial operations of the Marines against targets in the Bahamas and during ship versus ships actions off the American coast, the parallel storylines begin to converge, resulting in the most interesting aspects of the book.
Washington experiences defeat in a series of battles throughout the summer and fall of 1776, and subsequently gives up the defense of New York, and retreats westward across New Jersey, ultimately seeking temporary safety in Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River. In the now familiar tale, by December the fortunes of the Continental Army are at their nadir, enlistments are expiring and soon the Army will cease to be a force in being. The British appear to have every advantage and the American cause is all but lost. Washington seizes upon the idea of striking a telling blow against the Hessian garrison across the Delaware River, at Trenton, New Jersey to revive flagging Patriot morale. General Bohm tells this story well, with great attention paid to how the initial operation was planned as an amphibious raid and the roles that several units played in executing Marine tasks in support of the mission. More importantly he details the participation of the Continental Marines throughout the “ten crucial days” that encompasses not only the initial attack on Trenton, but the subsequent Second Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton, in which the Continental Marines figure prominently.
The dark days of 1776 are the period when the Continental Marines truly became “Washington’s Marines”. General Bohm’s love for the Corps and respect for those Marines who fought at Trenton and Princeton come through in every page of this book. I highly recommend it to fans of the United States Marines and to students of the American Revolution alike.
This book is available through Amazon, Savas Beatie and Casemate Publishing.