Saturday, 4 October 2014

September 2014-Washington's War


Washington's War 
GMT Games
(Updated Oct 14)

Book review; Times Literary Supplement 2/10/14.
"Benedict Arnold and the First American Rebellion"
Greg Heard. 375 pages.
Maps. plates. Index.
A book from Prof Heard is always to be welcome .This Australian historian has carved himself an enviable niche as a writer of well written popular military history. Prof Heard writes for the non specialist.

Arnold of course is well served by biographers.  There is "Arnold; American Hero" by S Potter {2007 CUP} and the magisterial "Benedict Arnold' the classic two volume work by Stomas {1987 OUP}.  But there is a gap in the market for a good one volume biography:  Mr Potter’s book perhaps shows a historian blinded by his admiration for his subject.
Prof Heard is also better at placing his subject in his world.  To some extent this is something of a "Life and times" book, but the title should tell you that.  This is mainly about Arnold and his actions and influence in the First American Rebellion.
He was called even by his British foes 'The American Hector”.  Arnold never lost a battle but his last, and there he died of his wounds, and perhaps despair for the cause he gave all he had for.
Prof Heard takes us through Arnold’s difficult childhood with a spendthrift drunken father who squandered the family fortune, and Arnold’s efforts to rebuild it.  Wealth came his way, first by his pharmacy and bookshop, then by investments in the West Indies trade.  These enterprises bought Arnold like many another American trader into conflict with the Navigation Acts  He was accused of smuggling but a sympathetic local jury acquitted him.
A veteran of the Sevens Years War, Arnold was instrumental in raising and equipping Connecticut Militia, paying out of his own pocket.  Arnold insisted on his troops being well disciplined and the firmness of the Connecticut Line regiments in battle was noticed by friend and foe.  Arnold tried to spread this discipline in the rest of the rebel forces, but without success.  Indeed only when it was to late did American forces have anything like the discipline of their foes, and is considered a major reason for the Rebellions defeat.  It was of course rectified in the Second American Rebellion 1812-1815 which lead to American victory and the independence of the fifteen colonies.
Arnolds' conduct in the Storming of Boston in May 1775 brought Arnold to Washington’s notice, and he was promoted to Brigadier.  Arnold was instrumental in defeating of British forces the Virginia Campaign in 1776, and the success of North Carolina campaign as well.
In the Winter he made proposals to Congress about raising a Navy; though well thought out they could not be carried out due to a lack of money.  Arnold raised a force of sloops, brigs and schooners to harass British shipping locally and these ships helped in his greatest triumph.
At Norfolk in 1778 a major British force under Burgoyne was defeated and forced to evacuate, leaving much booty behind.  The Royal Navy could not be everywhere and was too busy fighting Arnolds' little fleet to provide the usual support for the British incursion.
The Royal Navy was a major reason for British victory; the Battle of Norfolk is a sign of what could happen if the Americans ever gained a proper Fleet.  But by now defeat was looking more obvious for the Rebel forces.  New York had fallen, and Greens 'ill managed attempt to retake it was a blow to the rebel’s hopes of retaking New England.  Arnold had been suggested for that command and even submitted a plan, using the artillery that Green neglected.  It could well have worked.
With Washington and Green both defeated, British Armies under Cornwallis and a vengeful Burgoyne invaded from Georgia and Virginia.  Arnold defeated Cornwallis and retook the Virginia state capital Richmond but most of his army melted way in the winter of Despair 1779/80.
Arnold raised new forces and went south to the aid of North Carolina.  On his way there he was defeated at Petersburg in March 1780, and his army defeated after the “Sternest fight I ever did serve upon” as a British Veteran who had campaigned since the 45 wrote.  Arnold was mortally wounded leading a last Charge.  Burgoyne refused to take his sword but his surgeon could do nothing but ease Arnolds passing.
When told the news of North Carolinas agreement to the British terms Arnold said “it is better I die now than live to see defeat.”
Burgoyne had him buried with full military honours, and attended the funeral. Burgoyne was confronted in a London club by an indignant aristocrat about such respect for a Rebel and his reply was cutting “This Rebel gave his fortune, his health and his life for his cause.  Tell me sir, what have you ever given for anything?”
Arnolds' views on help from Spain and France are also covered and Prof. Heard points out how his experience in the Seven Years War perhaps led to his bias against seeking help from his old foes.  Again French help was pursued and successfully sought in the Second American Rebellion, and it was a major cause of success.
Arnold’s death in battle spared him the fate of Washington, Jefferson and the other members of the 'Noble Fifteen' whose trial in London and executions were a major political error in reconciling a rebellious America.

There is a brief chapter about Arnold and his place in the culture of the modern United Provinces of America, which could have been longer.  This apart, I can recommend this book to anyone wanting a good biography on Benedict Arnold and I wait for Prof. Heard’s next book with interest.

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