A Suspenseful History Thriller

In 1939 Clark Gable was Rhett Butler, Dorothy walked the yellow brick road, and Freeman Cleaves wrote one of the most suspenseful books I have ever read. Huh? Freeman who?

His biography of William Henry Harrison is a hold-your-breath can't-put-the-book down thriller. Historians often write in broad strokes. They tell of large movements and trends. Cleave also does this, but at the same time knows when to slow down the action, to recount every second, every breath.

His descriptions of the War of 1812 battles defies my ability to explain. He talks about bullets striking flesh and near misses, cannonballs decimating targets, rifles firing, tomahawks and scalping knives destroying. There were actually times when it would have been impossible for me to stop reading, and put the book down. It shows the human side of war, the groans, shouts, and cries of the common soldier on the battlefield.

The heroism recounted in the stories is beyond comprehension. The British, native Americans, and USA fighters were made of steel. Harrison himself was fearless in battle. He was a true forger of his country's future. He saved Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, etc, for the the USA in the War of 1812.

It is a shame that Harrison is remembered for the anticlimax of his life. He delivered the longest inaugural address in Presidential history (2 hours), and served the shortest time as President (about a month). This clouds his rightful position in our history.

I appreciated Harrison's humanity. He was a regular guy, putting on his britches one leg at a time, like the rest of us do. He struggled with the issue of slavery and Native American rights. He supported abolition and colonization, and always treated the native Americans with dignity. Of the latter, many fought with him, and many against him, but they all—including his arch-rival Tecumseh—respected him.

Harrison said one American could beat two British soldiers, three Frenchmen, or four Spaniards, but it took two American soldiers to beat one Indian. I found this fascinating because I once read the great historian Stephen Ambrose's assessment that the native Americans were the greatest warriors the Western Hemisphere ever produced.

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