Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

Valcour (Book Review) by Jack Kelly

Happy 4th of July!  Thank you ENDLESSLY to my partner St. Martin’s Press for the finished copy of Valcour:  The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty by Jack Kelly!

I grew up about 20 minutes from Valcour (town of Schuyler Falls) and am a sucker for both revolutionary and Lake Champlain history.  It was taught so extensively in our schools as kids, but is it funny that I care more as an adult?  I have never jumped on a title faster than this one, and although I have mentioned the book multiple times…. it’s time for this! 

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Valcour: The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty
  • Author: Jack Kelly
  • Publisher & Release: St. Martin’s Press, 04/06/21
  • Length: 304 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ for history and revolutionary readers!

The synopsis from Amazon:

The wild and suspenseful story of one of the most crucial and least known campaigns of the Revolutionary War when America’s scrappy navy took on the full might of Britain’s sea power.

During the summer of 1776, a British incursion from Canada loomed. In response, citizen soldiers of the newly independent nation mounted a heroic defense. Patriots constructed a small fleet of gunboats on Lake Champlain in northern New York and confronted the Royal Navy in a desperate three-day battle near Valcour Island. Their effort surprised the arrogant British and forced the enemy to call off their invasion.

Jack Kelly’s Valcour is a story of people. The northern campaign of 1776 was led by the underrated general Philip Schuyler (Hamilton’s father-in-law), the ambitious former British officer Horatio Gates, and the notorious Benedict Arnold. An experienced sea captain, Arnold devised a brilliant strategy that confounded his slow-witted opponents.

America’s independence hung in the balance during 1776. Patriots endured one defeat after another. But two events turned the tide: Washington’s bold attack on Trenton and the equally audacious fight at Valcour Island. Together, they stunned the enemy and helped preserve the cause of liberty.

This is a great history of the early revolutionary conflict im the Champlain Valley.  It adequately describes and vividly depicts the hardships that were faced trying to build the American fleet in order to delay the British from coming down Lake Champlain.  The book begins at the American retreat from Montreal, touches on the smallpox epidemic, and goes on to describe the people involved, the building of the American fleet, Benedict Arnold’s struggles with various idiotic military and government personnel, and finally the battle and aftermath, ending before Washington crosses the Delaware.  A fascinating but not necessarily widely known time period and I think the book is interesting, informative, and readable for history buffs and those with casual interest alike.

I think a super broad overview of prior events would have been helpful at the beginning, but Kelly drops us right into the story with Arnold leaving Canada. The book got off to a tad of a rough start for me without that broader context. The smallpox epidemic and the American retreat were terrible in terms of casualties and defeated morale, and it would have been a perfect starting point within a broader context. 

Once the Americans regrouped and fielded their sick, building a fleet was the next challenge.  Finding sailors. Food and hygiene. Native American relations.  Court tribunals and Arnold’s famous temper.  There is so much to consider!

Arnold is a fascinating historical figure and I liked how both he and Carleton, the British general, were shown. Ever wonder what led up to Arnold turning sides? Ever wonder how men on the ships relieved themselves? I have to say I never thought of rags on a rope but Kelly really brings the soldiers and ships to life.  A good history book makes me feel submerged in the events!

((Personal opinion: It always shocks me how Arnold is mostly only taught as a traitor, he is really so freaking interesting and got shafted))

Other than the beginning, I also felt like the maps left out a few necessary landmarks, like île Aux Noix.  The island was a horror show during the American retreat and totally deserves to be on the map, but I don’t have many other qualms about this book.  One is that if Kelly is going to call Canada Canada in 1776, why not mention Plattsburgh since pretty much anyone can put Plattsburgh on a map?  Small things.

Generally I found this to be a very readable account of the early revolutionary struggles in the Champlain Valley.  It briefly ties in the Declaration of Independence, naming of the states, and some of George Washington’s struggles too, so that is fun, but there isn’t a ton of revolutionary information not related to the lake.

If you like nonfiction, read Valcour. If you prefer fiction with a lot more detail and intrigue – read Rabble in Arms and in larger part, The Arundel Chronicles by Kenneth Roberts. I felt like Kelly took the outline straight out of Arundel #3, and the historical accuracy of either is pretty legit.

Now I’m sad because I hope I wrote a coherent sounding review without dragging too much of my own knowledge and prior reading into it!

3 replies on “Valcour (Book Review) by Jack Kelly”

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