The Strategy of Victory: How George Washington Won the American Revolution
By Thomas Fleming. Da Capo Press, New York. (2017).
Reviewed by David Curtis Skaggs, PhD
Few topics in American history have received more attention than the War for Independence and George Washington’s role in it. Into this crowded field Thomas Fleming (1927-2017) brings years of study regarding the country’s founding with his final book incorporating observations from several of his previous works. Early in the conflict the Americans adopted two battlefield tactics (not “strategies” as Fleming calls them): reliance on fortifications or “Bunker Hillism” and the use of militia to harass and defeat British regulars.
Fleming’s central thesis is that very early in his generalship the commander in chief adopted a strategy of protracted war that depended on a regular Continental Army with some assistance from local militia. “The strategy of maintaining an army to look the enemy in the face dovetailed with the policy of never risking that army on the roll of the dice of war.” Due mostly to the lack of money to fund the soldiers, Washington never had a Continental Army of sufficient size to impact the conflict’s outcome.
Fleming heaps most of the blame on New Englanders despite the fact that two of his most persistent critics were major generals Horatio Gates and Charles Lee, both former British officers who had settled in Virginia. Throughout the book he devotes extraordinary length on campaigns that reinforce his thesis. Thus he allocates two chapters on the 1780 New Jersey invasion of Gen. Wilhelm von Knyphausen’s Hessian and British regulars which supports his thesis and only two pages to the Yorktown campaign where the French army, French navy, French artillery, and French engineers were decisive contributors to American independence.
Moreover the absence of maps, bibliography, and index make it hard to follow the narrative and the sources used. Fleming pays no attention to the naval aspects of the conflict. Readers would be better served by using Don Higginbotham’s classic The War of American Independence (1971) for a rounded introduction to the political, military, naval and diplomatic facets of the emergence of the American nation and Sam Willis’ The Struggle for Sea Power: A Naval History of American Independence (2015) for the maritime factors.
Dr. Skaggs is a professor emeritus of history at Bowling Green State University and the author of three Naval Institute books dealing with the War of 1812 on the lakes. He is also the recipient of the USS Constitution Museum’s Samuel Eliot Morison Award for his “superior leadership and thoughtful scholarship on behalf of the preservation of our maritime heritage.”