The Indispensables: The Diverse Soldier-Mariners Who Shaped the Country, Formed the Navy, and Rowed Washington Across the Delaware

Atlantic Monthly. May 2021. 432p. ISBN 9780802156891. $28. HIST
Military historian O’Donnell’s (Washington’s Immortals; The Unknowns) latest book is a straightforward overview of the Marblehead Regiment, which he says played an important supporting role in the earliest stages of the Revolutionary War by ensuring Gen. George Washington’s safety. Extensive maps guide readers along as they follow individual soldiers within the Massachusetts-based regiment and the tensions that developed between Patriots and Loyalists in the town of Marblehead. The narrative is at its best when chronicling often overlooked figures from the Revolutionary War, such as Col. Edward Hand, an Irish surgeon who married an American and fought in the Continental Army, and Col. John Glover, a fisherman–turned–brigadier general who helped lead the army to victory. The author describes how the Marblehead Regiment fought alongside Washington and even ferried him and his troops across the Delaware for a surprise attack in the middle of winter.
VERDICT O’Donnell has made a career of shedding light on underreported yet interesting incidents in American wars, but his writing often veers into hagiography. This book will attract Revolutionary War enthusiasts, but it pales in comparison to Winning Independence, by John Ferling, which offers a comprehensive look at pivotal moments of the war.
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