Book Review: The Fort by Bernard Cornwell

My introduction to the writing of Bernard Cornwell was through his very successful  Sharpe series of  novels and so I expected THE FORT to be a good read. And it was.

Set during the American Revolutionary Wars, THE FORT is based on the true story of the 1779 Penobscot Expedition. This expedition was organised to oust the British Army from Fort George, on the Majabigwaduce Peninsula, Penobscott Bay, in present day Maine, and to prevent the establishment of a British colony there.

The expedition was under the command of Commodore Dudley Saltonstall, Adjutant General Peleg Wadsworth, Brigadier General Solomon Lovell and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere.  Bernard Cornwell’s research revealed that Saltonstall and Lovell, the naval and land force commanders respectively, continually disagreed; Revere was a law unto himself and Wadsworth, the only one of the four to emerge from this disaster with his reputation intact.

The British were greatly out numbered, but the reluctance of Commodore Saltonstall to commit his ships to taking the harbour, gave the British time to strengthen the defences of the fort and send for aid. Time and again, an opportunity for the Americans to launch a successful land attack was thwarted by disagreement. Eventually British reinforcements arrived forcing a retreat up the Penobscott River.

Peleg Wadsworth was certainly the hero of the expedition and of this novel. The opening chapter, with its heart-warming images of Peleg Wadsworth practising army drills with the help of his children, endeared the man to me. Throughout the novel he is the calming influence on those around him and unlike the other commanders does not engage in petty rivalries.  Wadsworth took charge of organising the retreat up the Penobscott River, ensuring that as many men as possible got away in the ensuing chaos.

Paul Revere did not fare well in this narration and I was surprised that he was not quite the hero I imagined him to be.  Bernard Cornwell himself pointed out that most of us are familiar with the Paul Revere from the poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a descendent of Peleg Wadsworth. In THE FORT he is depicted as  incompetent and a coward.

General Francis McLean was in command of the British and one of his subalterns was none other than John Moore, later to become “Sir” John Moore, hero of the Peninsular Wars, who lost his life at the battle of Corunna.

The ending is ironic in that Saltonstall’s obsession with keeping his ships safe resulted in most of the American fleet  being destroyed: the ships were either captured by the Royal Navy or burned by the Americans themselves as they retreated up the Penobscott River.

THE FORT is another fine historical novel by Bernard Cornwell. Readers interested in this era will certainly enjoy it and those after a good adventure story will also find satisfaction here.

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