What do we remember about Benedict Arnold’s place in the American Revolution? George Washington was the good guy and Benedict Arnold the bad one, right? But why – what drove Arnold to treason, how did he commit it, was he guilty and what happened later? I certainly remember next to nothing about the specifics, if I ever knew.
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution
by Nathaniel Philbrick
2016 / 443 pages
** And a huge thank you to Penguin Group at Viking for the ARC via NetGalley **
Digging beneath the surface of the military actions and personalities of the struggle for independence, Nathaniel Philbrick has come up with some very interesting conclusions – not necessarily aligned with the ones we read in our grade school history texts – along with all sorts of extenuating circumstances and tons of fascinating extras even for the fairly well versed.
The first half was familiar territory for me but Philbrick writes nicely and it was a good review of the times between the time Admiral William Howe and his brother General Richard Howe sailed into American waters just south of New York, through Washington on the Delaware and at Trenton, the battles around New York and near the Hudson (Saratoga, etc.) winding up coming towards, but not including, the last battles in the South.
The way it’s covered seems spotty or choppy at first glance, but the focus is on the personalities as well as the battle proficiency of George Washington and Benedict Arnold plus Horatio Gates, John Andre and a few others. This is the information which is indispensable to fully appreciate the completely absorbing latter half of the book. And it’s so fascinating I read and reread, took notes and completely enjoyed the ride.
Apparently there were some in the US military and population who wanted independence from Britain not only out of a love of freedom, but also out of personal ambition, for money, property and personal advantage. – (Is this a big surprise in 2016?)
Arnold did NOT simply one day up and join the enemy – it took quite a lot for him to finally go to those lengths – plus the love of a Loyalist woman – and his love of money. He was incredibly brave and served his country well until he thought perhaps they weren’t very appreciative of all it had cost him.
Washington was not always thought to be the decisive and inspiring leader we’ve grown up learning about. At the time there were plenty who thought he was doing a rather poor job of it and pushed their own personal ambitions. The Congress in Philadelphia, such as it was, sometimes seemed more interested in their own little plots and schemes than in providing for the military. Philbrick gets into the specifics of these things which contributed heavily to a war of Independence that we almost didn’t win. But for all that – we do know the ending.
Highly recommended for those interested and with a bit of background in the American Revolution as a whole.