A Complaint about the American Revolution!

I have a complaint about the American Revolution!  Which is a strange sort of complaint, so perhaps it is not a complaint about the Revolution itself, which sort of happened a while ago, but about the history books that have sprung from it and which I consume in overly large doses like Fritos.

My complaint today has to do with the treatment of supporting cast, or more to the point, lack thereof!  Most of the book on the actual war itself are very focused on His Excellency, George Washington, and how awesome he is.  He’s always played by some very important leading man, like Brad Pitt or Christian Bale or Johnny Depp.  Tall and good looking, an imposing red-haired figure at 45 in his blue coat with excellent buckles, how can you miss him?

But I contend his supporting cast is more awesome and my specific complaint is the total lack of coverage of Henry Knox who, when he does get to appear on screen, is played by a comedian or some second-string sidekick who can pull off a nebbishy bookseller from Boston who whips out the super-secret winning plan at the last moment.

Like most of the supporting cast of the American Revolution, he was awesome. Hauled cannons in sleds from Upstate New York to Boston in the middle of winter! Orchestrated the Crossing of the Delaware! (Someone had to come up with that plan.) A founder of the Society of the Cinnicinati, a bona-fide somewhat Secret Society! First Secretary of War and founded the US Navy! And he was such a horrible insane tyrant in his old age up in Maine he was the model for Col. Pynchon in Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables.

Yet he is relegated to being played by a Topher Grace in the history of the Revolution when the movie is made and the book adaptation released. Compared to Washington, who has all the best lines, who cares about a crazy Bostonian with a flair for coming up with completely implausible plans that somehow work?

My problem with the American Revolution in general and the history books in particular is the same problem I have with True Blood: I get tired of the Mary Sue main characters (although in history there are rarely Vampire boyfriends) and find the secondary cast so much more interesting. The secondary cast has all the color and flair! These main guys? Sure they can stop bullets and fly, but where’s the fun in that?  The secondary cast is so cool it’s difficult to believe they weren’t just made up.  By me.

I shake my fist in muted history-nerd rage.

(Yes, I’ve read Angel in the Whirlwind, and it has awesome parts about the secondary cast.  McCullough’s 1776 has some nice in-depth on secondary characters on both sides of the conflict.)

  • Adam Dray

    Henry Knox is one of my favorite folks from the Revolutionary War. I first learned about him in “1776.”

    I think he’s leading man material, myself. I’d totally go see a movie about him and the cannons. I especially love how, when he actually returned with the damned cannons, Washington was a bit flabbergasted and put Knox in charge of the artillery.

    I recall they brought in some Boston bookseller, who happened to know calculus and trigonometry, to help them learn how to fire them properly (and set up ballistics tables and stuff). Who was that?

  • I actually don’t remember who that was, but I bet he’s in Angel in the Whirlwind — /everyone/ is in that book. But it may have been Knox’s brother? They were in the bookselling business in Boston.