The Strategy of Victory: How George Washington Won the American Revolution

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Book review: The Strategy of Victory: How George Washington Won the American Revolution by Thomas Fleming (Da Capo Press, 2017)

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Thomas Fleming’s recent and likely last book, The Strategy of Victory: How George Washington Won the American Revolution, is a more of a narrative history of the revolution than a true analysis of Washington’s military strategy. Fleming provides several definitions of “strategy” and states that strategy does “… not fit neatly into a single sentence. Essentially it was a cluster of ideas and insights, all linked to a way of winning a specific war.” One of the challenges with analyzing Washington’s revolutionary strategy is first defining the elements of strategy then outlining how Washington’s thinking and execution evolved to respond to the changing environment. This is a complex task for any writer. Fleming’s broad definition of strategy provides great flexibility in developing the narrative.

Fleming begins his narrative with Lexington and Concord and concludes with Gen, Anthony Wayne’s victory at Fallen Timbers. Each of the sixteen chapters contains some reoccurring themes reflecting the elements of strategy Fleming finds important to emphasize. However, he never explicitly outlines these as the important elements of strategy selected for detailed analysis, perhaps with the exception of the importance of building a regular army. The elements include among others:

  • Washington’s work in building a regular army instead of relying on militia
  • Political military relations and Washington’s relationship and interaction with the Continental Congress
  • The terrible financial situation of the United States government
  • Leading and managing conflicts with subordinate generals and officers
  • Properly assessing British strategic success and failure

Thomas Fleming passed away in July of 2017, three months before this book was published, and it appears his refinement of the text was not yet complete when he passed away. Fleming’s depth of knowledge of the American Revolution, his writing skills, and his penchant for story telling make up for the lack of a clear, detailed identification and articulation of the elements of strategy that made Washington successful. Flemming produced a readable and enjoyable narrative that keeps the reader’s attention. If you are looking for a comprehensive analysis of Washington’s strategic thought during the revolution, you will be disappointed by this work. If, however, you enjoy one expert’s thoughts on the challenges Washington faced in his evolving military thinking and how these thoughts form some elements of strategy, you will find the narrative a worthwhile read.

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1 Comment

  • Patrick, I agree with your fundamental assessment that Fleming’s book is not a strategic military analysis but a good overview of Washington’s leadership and key decisions which impacted the outcomes of battles and eventually the War for Independence.

    A master storyteller, Fleming interjects accounts from common soldiers with actions of senior generals to knit together captivating accounts of the war’s major campaigns and battles. Fleming borrows several of the battle accounts from previous books, many of which have nothing to do with Washington’s strategy for victory. For example, Fleming devotes almost 20% of the book to Daniel Morgan’s leadership and victory at Cowpens, a battle and campaign that did not involve Washington. Also the last chapter on the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers is appended without any thesis reference to Revolutionary War strategy and could have been omitted.

    However, the short book is interesting, enjoyable and highly approachable by all readers. With the brevity, there are instances in which quotes and attributions lack source citation which would improve his scholarly contributions. In the end, Fleming captures the essence of the generals’ key decisions and their impact on the war’s major actions which is the book’s strong point. It is an outstanding volume to introduce new and unfamiliar readers to the War for Independence.

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