“Two hundred and sixty-six years ago this month, a column of British regulars commanded by Gen. Edward Braddock was cut to pieces by French soldiers and their Native American allies in the woods just outside today’s Pittsburgh. The defeat turned into a rout when Braddock was shot off his horse, leaving the retreat to be managed by a young colonial officer named George Washington, whose own previous foray into the region had lit the tinder for the war.
This was the beginning of the French and Indian War (also known, much less poetically, as the Seven Years’ War), which as a boy I thought was the most interesting war in all of history.
I had encountered it originally through a public television version of “The Last of the Mohicans,” but I soon found that the real conflict exceeded even James Fenimore Cooper’s romantic imagination: The complexity of forest warfare and the diversity of the combatants on both sides, colonial, European and native; the majesty of the geographic setting, especially the lakes, mountains and defiles of upstate New York; the ridiculous melodrama of the culminating battle at Quebec, with a wee-hours cliff-scaling that led to a decisive showdown in which both commanders were mortally wounded, James Wolfe in victory and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm in defeat.”
David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Ross, thank you for an amazing essay. The top critics all make good criticisms, but they ignore the best parts of your piece. I posted your piece to my blog, just to capture your excellent list of histories on the seven years war, which I have never studied. I liked your suggestion of alternate outcomes, and novels about other forms of the present based on different outcomes of the past. I would especially like to see a novel based on the premise, that the Indians defeated the Europeans, and had to grow the continent with Indians in charge. Without the United States, the Germans and the Japanese would probably have prevailed in WW II, and that would be a great sequel novel.
I hope you find the time to read my historical ficiton on 18th century Vietnam, which was inspired in part by a biography in French of the extraordinary Bishop Pierre Pigneau de Behaine, who Nuguyen Anh, after becoming the new emperor of Vietnam, described as the greatest foreign friend in the history, of Vietnam and specifically, of Prince Anh’s success in seizing power in a long civil war, 1770-1802.