‘Captivate, kill or destroy the whole force of the enemy’ was the order given to the American soldiers in the summer 1779.
Seven hundred and fifty British soldiers and three small ships of the Royal Navy. Their orders: to build a fort above a harbour to create a base from which to control the New England seaboard.
Forty-one American ships and over nine hundred men. Their orders: to expel the British.
The battle that followed was a classic example of how the best-laid plans can be disrupted by personality and politics, and of how warfare can bring out both the best and worst in men. It is a timeless tale of men at war.
The Fort tells the story of the military action which took place at Penobscot Bay where General McLean of the British Army was sent to set up a garrison to control the New England seaboard and offer a place of refuge for loyalists fleeing from the American War of Independence. The American rebels in their turn planned to oust the British in a show of strength. The novel is told from four perspectives – both the British and American, and for each side descriptions of the action on land and at sea. This gives the reader a feel for the complexity of what was going on and also the rivalries which can cause problems for military expeditions. One problem I initially had with this approach though is that some of the sections, particularly at the beginning of the book, were quite short and I had to stop to remind myself which side I was reading about; but as the story progressed this became less of a distraction. I found myself becoming increasingly engrossed in the story and eager to find out what happened next.
The American War of Independence is not something I have studied in any great depth so the story of Fort George was completely new to me. As with all of his novels Mr Cornwell has obviously spent a great deal of time researching this period, and this action in particular, and has conveyed a real feel for warfare at the time. I was particularly impressed with his descriptions of the navel engagements from both a tactical point of few and from the perspective of the sailors. Such battles must have been truly terrifying for the participants.
Fans of Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Sharpe’ novels may be surprised by this book; it has a very accurate historical focus but less attention is given to the personal lives and romantic relationships of the characters. Having said that, most of the people who appear in this novel are real historical figures and much of their conversation and actions is based on authentic documents. This gives the novel a real feeling of authenticity, placing the reader in the midst of the conflict and eliciting feelings of anger and frustration towards some of the people (I have completely changed my view of Paul Revere!) whilst leaving me wanting to know more about others (in particular Lieutenant John Moore who went on help reform and develop the British Army and who appears to have been a fascinating character).
The Fort is not a novel for those who like historical stories where the main protagonist is in a fight of ‘good and evil’ against an opponent who holds some sort of a grudge against them, and where the hero then goes on to win the day pretty much all by himself. But if you like a well-researched, accurate account of a little known event in history then I would recommend that you take the time to read and appreciate The Fort.
‘The Fort’ can be found on Amazon
Bernard Cornwell’s website
More of my book reviews can be found here