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Benedict Arnold's Navy Paperback – May 1, 2007
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From the Back Cover
An epic story of one man’s devotion to the American cause
In October 1776, four years before Benedict Arnold’s treasonous attempt to hand control of the Hudson River to the British, his patch-work fleet on Lake Champlain was all that stood between British forces and a swift end to the American rebellion.
Benedict Arnold’s Navy is the dramatic chronicle of that desperate battle and of the extraordinary events that occurred on the American Revolution’s critical northern front. Written with captivating narrative vitality, this landmark book shows how Benedict Arnold’s fearless leadership against staggering odds in a northern wilderness secured for America the independence that he would later try to betray.
Praise for James L. Nelson:
"James Nelson is a master both of his period and of the English language."
--Patrick O'Brian, author of Master and Commander
"James L. Nelson tells this story with clarity and literary skill and with such ease and order that the reader feels he is attending a dissertation on history given by a consummate lecturer."
--Ron Berthel, Associated Press, on Reign of Iron: The Story of the First Battling Ironclads, winner of the American Library Association’s 2004 Award for Best Military History
"It is, by far, the best Civil War novel I’ve read; reeking of battle, duty, heroism and tragedy. It’s a triumph of imagination and good, taut writing . . . "
--Bernard Cornwell on Glory in the Name, winner of the W. Y. Boyd Literary Award
His name is synonymous with treason, yet few men did more to prevent America’s defeat in 1776
The story of America’s fight for independence has been dominated by accounts from the battlefields where George Washington fought the British, but one of the most critical and least remembered battles of 1776 was a bloody, lopsided fight on a wilderness lake hundreds of miles north. In a war marked by improbable turning points, that one naval battle would, in the end, prove the key to America's ultimate victory.
Award-winning historian James L. Nelson weaves a thrilling narrative around the Battle of Valcour Island, in which a cobbled-together American fleet, led by the bold and resourceful Arnold, stood up to the might of the British navy, only to be destroyed in the end by overwhelming odds. Setting the desperate battle in its context, Benedict Arnold ’s Navy describes the strategic importance of the Hudson River and Lake Champlain, the ambitious and largely successful American invasion of Quebec in 1775, and the bloody retreat of the following year. The one-year delay of the subsequent British invasion from Canada won by Arnold’s gallant, overmatched fleet made possible an American triumph in the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, the first significant victory of the Revolution. This success finally convinced France to join America in arms and turned the tide of war.
Using storytelling skills honed by a dozen novels, including the popular Revolution at Sea Saga and the W. Y. Boyd Award-winning Glory in the Name, Nelson brings to life a new image of Benedict Arnold. He is not the vainglorious traitor of popular imagination but a fearless and talented officer, a favorite of General Washington, and a man who, in thirty months of fighting, led troops into hell and back.
This suspenseful drama is a salutary reminder that the American Revolution between 1775 and 1778 was a two-front war. Benedict Arnold ’s Navy is a much needed look at the less-celebrated front to the north, where armies clashed in the wilderness and on the cold waters of Lake Champlain in battles that would determine the outcome of the war as surely as the fighting at Trenton and Yorktown.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
James L. Nelson is the author of two. series of novels about the great sailing navies: Revolution at Sea. and Brethren of the Coast. His nonfiction book Reign of Iron: The. Story of the First Battling Ironclads was named the best military. history book of 2004 by the American Library Association.
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Luckily, historians and members of the general public alike have James L. Nelson's book to assist in our understanding of the man and his actions during the first couple of years of the War for Independence. Nelson's thesis is apparent from the book's subtitle: that Benedict Arnold's small fleet of ships on Lake Champlain saved the American Revolution despite losing the actual Battle of Valcour Island. This may sound like a stretch, and obviously there were many more ingredients involved in the winning of the war, but Nelson's point is an important one. If it were not for that small naval battle in 1776, the British probably would have been able to invade New York from Canada, divide New England from the rest of the newly-minted United States, and attack General George Washington's small, bedraggled army while it was at one of its lowest points. Instead, the British chose to remain in Canada during the winter of 1776-77, a crucial time for the Continental Army to regroup and recover from its battles in the New York area.
The prologue reads more like prose than history, which serves to engage the reader from the beginning, and Nelson's style throughout is highly informative and to the point, while remaining accessible to any reader. Even the technical information on ships and artillery is written in a way that is interesting and easy to comprehend. The story is told from several points of view, with nearly every switch from one principle to another leaving us with a cliffhanger. This may bother some of the more analytical historians out there, but for most of us it's a delightful change from some of the dry, no-nonsense writing in the field. Pure history doesn't seem to be Nelson's primary concern, nor should it be. Nelson is an excellent storyteller, and his novels have been highly praised, including a blurb from none other than Patrick O'Brian, author of the popular Master and Commander series. He has won awards for both his fiction and non-fiction works, all of which relate to ships and navies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Lest I give the impression that this book is akin to a historical novel, let me stress that Nelson obviously did his homework. His bibliography is extensive, and, although the book is not annotated in the strictest sense, he does provide sources for each main subject in every chapter, and nothing in the book appears to be fabricated, or even exaggerated. His acknowledgement section details where and how he did much of his research, and his many years as an actual sailor lend an added credibility to his writing.
Perhaps the most important accomplishment of this book is that it allows the reader to get to know Benedict Arnold as a person, rather than the basic caricature of the archetypical traitor he's become in our history textbooks. We've been taught that Arnold was vain, greedy, and self-serving...willing to sell out his country for some cash to pay his debts. Nelson exposes us to a different Benedict Arnold, however. This is a man who used his own money to pay for supplies for the small army he was helping to create, even after being cheated by the Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety when they had promised to repay him. This is a merchant who was willing to set his own ships (his means of income) on fire in an attempt to win a battle. This is a soldier who was at the forefront of a battle, leading his men, and at the tail end of a retreat. In fact, says Nelson, "Arnold was the last American soldier to leave Canada" (p. 217). It was not until a bitter rivalry with his commanding officer, General Horatio Gates, caused him to miss out on being given the commands he desired and the recognition he deserved, along with a second serious wound to his left leg with a long convalescence, that Arnold began to transform into the traitor willing to sell West Point and control of the Hudson River to the British.
Obviously, no book is perfect, but this one's flaws are few and far between. In fact, my only real complaint, which is the title, is probably as much a result of my own preconceptions as it is any fault of the author's. While the creation of a navy from scratch for the defense of Lake Champlain is certainly a major focus of the story, most of the book deals with how Arnold ended up in the position of having to accomplish such a feat, rather than how he did it. Since my primary interest is in naval battles of the American Revolution, I was hoping for some setup, followed by extensive details regarding the Battle of Valcour Island. What I found was a detailed history of Benedict Arnold from the moment of his commission by the Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety in 1775 to his part in the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. In hindsight, I can't think of a better name for the book myself, and in no way did it detract from the overall experience once I was fully aware of what I was getting.
I enjoyed the photographs and primary source maps at the books center, although it might have been helpful if some modern maps were included. Having grown up in New England and visited Quebec, I am very familiar with the areas involved in the book, but I don't know how many others would be able to visualize the geography without consulting an atlas. Perhaps some pictures of some of the other primary people in the book would have been a good idea as well, since, as it stands, there are only engravings of Arnold himself and General Phillip Schuyler.
But I didn't choose the book for the pictures; I chose it for the subject matter and the writing, both of which I found to be superb. I learned a great deal about not only Benedict Arnold, but also the entire Canadian Campaign during the early part of the American Revolution, and I'm sure most other readers will as well. I only wish all the history books I've read and will read in the future were this exceptional.
His previous non-fiction efforts have focused on the civil war navies and in particular the Confederate Navy, which is a little told, but very interesting facet of that war.
His fiction pieces have dealt with pirates and with the Revolutionary War and hopefully there will be more of those forthcoming as well.
In his latest he takes a man whose name stands for treachery and tells of his role in helping America to ultimate victory during our war for independance.
Benedict Arnold, the ultimate traitor, was for 30 months one of America's most stalwart military figures enduring great sacrifice and exhibiting much bravery.
Those of us who live in Maine are familiar with the story of Arnold's March to Quebec and The Arnold Trail is a route through Maine which somewhat follows that daring and brave adventure. For a number of years, I have fished and hunted in the area of Chain of Ponds and Coburn Gore where Arnold and his men passed through and while it is generally known that it was a difficult passage, you have no idea until you have read Mr. Nelson's account of it.
This is a definitive account of a part of the Revoltionary War which has received scant attention until now, so if well written history interests you, let James Nelson take you through it. It is quite a trip!
I also need to thank Mr. Nelson for answering my emails. I loaded him with questions about his book and he answered them all!