Physician asks what if George Washington was shot during the Revolutionary War?

Ronald Gibbs. (Courtesy Ronald Gibbs)

If RONALD GIBBS, could step into an alternate timeline, he would trade his research and teaching in obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford Medicine to become a historian specializing in 18th-century American history.

It wouldn’t be much of a leap. He has read extensively on the Revolutionary War, researched its grisly medical technology and collected maps from the period.

Gibbs talked with me about his affinity for this era of American history and his new self-published novel, The Long Shot: The Secret History of 1776. The book is set in an alternate reality in which Gen. George Washington is shot in the chest, sustaining a potentially fatal wound early in the Revolutionary War.


Which came first, your interest in history or your interest in medicine?

Oh, I suppose my interest in history — I grew up in Philadelphia, the center of early American history — and then along came my interest in medicine when I was an undergraduate. The two interests converged when I was in medical school. I won a history of medicine prize and got to go to London one summer to study medicine of the American Revolution, as seen from the British viewpoint. A number of the treatments and techniques stayed with me all these years, and I incorporated them into my book.


A particular injury features prominently in your new novel. Can you tell me more about it?

It’s an alternative history novel that asks, “What if, during the early, precarious days of the American Revolution, Gen. George Washington got shot?”

It’s a plausible theme because Washington was thrilled by battle and often led from the front. On Sunday morning, Sept. 15, 1776, the British Army had just attacked Manhattan in their campaign to capture New York City. Washington charged down from his headquarters in northern Manhattan to the battlefield. He tried to rally the men, but they were too panicked. British Rangers were closely approaching Washington. As history tells it, Washington was in danger, but his aides got him safely off the field of battle.


What was it like to write a novel?

This was really the intellectual thrill of my life — to enter an area that I wasn’t formally trained in and weave this plot, combining true characters and events with those from my imagination. I just absolutely loved it, and it was a great thrill to see the book in print.

Read the full article on the Stanford Medicine website.