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Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge Hardcover – October 25, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Fleming enhances his position as a leading general-audience historian of the American Revolution in this convincing argument for the importance of internal diplomacy in the conflict's development. Like David McCullough's 1776, Fleming's volume depicts Valley Forge as the revolution's turning point, with the fulcrum being George Washington's ability to develop "a new kind of leadership" that combined military and political elements. Recognizing the limited applicability of European precedents in the new republic, Washington simultaneously had to revitalize an army on the point of collapse and energize a Continental Congress ignorant of how to conduct a war. He performed both feats while maintaining both his authority as commander-in-chief and the principle of military subordination to political authority. And, all the while, he managed to keep the British believing that conciliation was preferable to battle. Fleming credits Washington's achievement to a force of character that increasingly impressed soldiers and politicians alike, but even more to Washington's ability to persuade waverers and opponents to his point of view by using a "series of positive proposals, well researched and closely argued." Fleming's use of short chapters (one- to three-pages each) and lively prose helps keep the complicated political maneuvers easy to follow. (Oct. 25)
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From Booklist

George Washington's contemporaries regularly referred to his aura of gravitas, part of which was as an apparent ability to remain above the petty squabbles that characterize democratic politics. Yet, as Fleming indicates, that detachment from political warfare was mostly illusion. He focuses on the winter and spring of 1777-78, when the Continental Army was encamped in deprived, brutal conditions at Valley Forge. This, of course, was a turning point for both Washington and his army. Aided by Baron Von Steuben, the army emerged from their travails as a disciplined, professional fighting force. In Fleming's view, this was also the period when Washington honed his skills at political warfare. He was the target of constant criticism from members of the Continental Congress, and ambitious subordinates hoped to replace him. But Washington learned to give as good as he got, while still maintaining the appearance of aristocratic distance from the fray. Fleming has provided an original and provocative reinterpretation of a critical period in the struggle for independence. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian; New title edition (October 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060829621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060829629
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"How do you write a book?" 24 year old Thomas Fleming asked bestselling writer Fulton Oursler in 1951. "Write four pages a day," Oursler said. "Every day except Sunday. Whether you feel like it or not. Inspiration consists of putting the seat of your pants on the chair at your desk." Fleming has followed this advice to good effect. His latest effort, "The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers," is his 50th published book. Twenty three of them have been novels. He is the only writer in the history of the Book of the Month Club to have main selections in fiction and in nonfiction. Many have won prizes. Recently he received the Burack Prize from Boston University for lifetime achievement. In nonfiction he has specialized in the American Revolution. He sees Intimate Lives as a perfect combination of his double talent as a novelist and historian. "Novelists focus on the imtimate side of life. This is the first time anyone has looked at the intimate side of the lives of these famous Americans, with an historian's eyes." Fleming was born in Jersey City, the son of a powerful local politician. He has had a lifetime interest in American politics. He also wrote a history of West Point which the New York Times called "the best...ever written." Military history is another strong interest. He lives in New York with his wife, Alice Fleming, who is a gifted writer of books for young readers.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The young American nation had lost its first capital, Philadelphia, in the fall of 1777. The army of General George Washington had suffered clear defeats from the British, and retired exhausted to Valley Forge, a wooded area 25 miles west of the former capital. The army was there to rest up for the winter in order to fight again when warmer weather came. Washington had to fight the British once again, but that is not the story in _Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge_ (Smithsonian Books / Collins) by Thomas Fleming. The war Washington had to wage while in retreat was not against the British, but against the good guys, well known founding fathers like Sam and John Adams and Benjamin Rush. In many ways, it was a matter of regional prejudice. Fleming writes of Washington's opponents, "They had long since decided that Virginians and almost everyone outside New England were morally inferior to high-minded, Harvard-educated descendents of the Puritans." They were insistent on an unrealistically idealized view of how an army of patriots could fight and how a nation of patriots might supply that army with its needs, and they were willing to sacrifice Washington in order to get their views put into practice. It might well have been that they would have sacrificed victory as well. Fleming presents a fascinating view of Washington's work as a consummate politician, using his strong understanding of practical motivations, to thwart the generals and politicians who were conspiring against him.

Mention the words "Valley Forge" and a patriotic mist clouds the vision of many Americans. Fleming does a wonderful job dispelling the myths while never neglecting the importance of the encampment.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By David Kutcher on October 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Having just finished "1776" and been extremely disappointed, I debated whether I really wanted to follow it up with another American Revolutionary War book.

I'm glad I did.

This book was enjoyable to read, insightful, thought provoking, and again, ENJOYABLE.

If you enjoy history, or even just a good read, pick it up. As you'll gather from the other reviews as well as the book description, you'll learn lots of the back story to the Continental Army's stay in Valley Forge, PA, the politiking of Washington and the Continental Congress, and the "Secret War" that was going on behind that scenes that had the potential of changing the outcome of the war.

All in all, 5 stars and an incredible book to read.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Robert T. Taylor on January 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Once again, Thomas Fleming has brought us closer, ever closer, to what has been so vieled in the fog of history. George Washington, icon, marble statue, staring at us through stiff formal portraits and idealized creations in literature, is so much more in his flesh and bones. The more we get to know him the greater he becomes. Fleming is truly a marvel, once again, at bringing history to us in an intimate and marvelously written portrait of Washington's fight to retain his position as commander in chief of the Continental Army. His war against those who would displace him during the winter at Valley Forge shows his political skill at least as good as his military skill, if not better. Fleming's book 1776 Year of Illusions is far and away better than the more recently published 1776 by another author. There, as here with Washington's Secret War, Thomas Fleming teaches us history in a way that is irrisistable. A wonderful book by probably the best writer on American Revolutionary history in America today.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Stolte on June 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed much of the book and part of me wants to rate it much higher. However, 2 things stuck out that bother me. First, the role of Gates in the Conway Cabal is very cloudy in some of the other books I have read while this one insists on his role being a strong one. The author notes when he makes an inference about things but I can't say I always agreed with his conclusions. The second is the timeline issue. The book skips around a few months and backtracks here and there which makes the when and why somewhat confusing. This could have been solved rather easily by including a few more dates when meetings took place etc.

But, I still strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in the Winter at Vallet Forge and the months leading up to it. A perspective much different than you will find in 1776 or John Adams books can be found here.

The Continentals were not just up against the mighty British Empire. They had to fight for food, shelter and supplies at every turn and many Tories, Quakers and "rebels" turned a blind eye to their struggle. Washington's character and his adversities against all kinds of foes including the Adams cousins is well documented and very well explained.

For a novice like me, this was anothe fascinating book on the struggle for liberty.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Terry L on May 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
If you believe George Washington was a great man, this book will reinforce that belief. (If you believe otherwise, you have been misinformed.) Washington had no need whatsoever for the Revolutionary War; he was a wealthy man who could have lived in peace and ease under British rule for his entire life. Yet he choose to risk everything he had and sacrifice many years of his life to the War of Independence.

In Washington's Secret War, the author presents Valley Forge, not just as a winter when soldiers fought for their lives against hunger, disease and cold, but as a winter when George Washington fought not only the elements, but also against those who schemed to bring him down.

The book begins with several chapters of set-up wherein we learn who is who and what happened that Washington ended up at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777. We find out who is more interested in profit or position than independence. We see the Quakers in Pennsylvania who tend to act so noble, profit from the British conquest of Philadelphia, while they walk right by American soldiers dying of hunger and cold in British prisons. The author states it thusly: "So the American prisoners in the New Jail and the statehouse froze and starved while Philadelphia's most pious--and wealthiest--citizens went complacently-even self-righteously-about their business only a few blocks away."

Back in Valley Forge, Washington was fighting against corruption and incompetence that kept food and clothing from getting to the soldiers who froze and starved. Congress itself was a huge part of the problem. And while Washington fought for his men, he also fought for his position as command of the American troops against lesser men who conspired against him.
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