Lewis Lapham: Washington Gobsmacked by Pathetic Ammo

As the Revolutionary War was heating up in 1775, the rebels in New England faced an acute shortage of weapons and gunpowder.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

There were ancient muskets and some old cannon in provincial arsenals. And powder stocks were depleted through use, spoilage and British curbs on war materiel.

New Hampshire had only four ounces of powder for each militiaman and muskets for just one in four.

In August, George Washington was leading the army besieging Boston. When told that the main magazine in Cambridge held 38 barrels of gunpowder -- not the 300 he was led to expect -- he was so appalled he couldn’t speak for half an hour.

Two days later, he wrote to John Hancock that total supplies in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut added up to nine cartridges per man.

I spoke with Kevin Phillips, author of “1775: A Good Year for Revolution,” on the following topics:

1. Military Fervor

2. Boston Tea Party

3. Arms Race

4. Propaganda Machine

5. Unsung Heroes

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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

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