Cohen (Strategic Studies/Johns Hopkins Univ.; Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War, 2005, etc.) turns his youthful fascination with the writings and stories of Francis Parkman, Kenneth Roberts and others into an engaging account of the wars fought on the “Great Warpath.”
These were the trails, especially around Lakes George and Champlain, which marked a kind of western border for early settlers. The author recounts the eight major battles in those successive campaigns. He includes two naval battles: Plattsburgh, during the War of 1812, and Valcour Island in 1776, both of which he presents as decisive but underrated contributions to securing the young republic from foreign threat. The victory at Plattsburgh transformed the position of America's diplomats negotiating the Treaty of Ghent and led the Duke of Wellington to insist to the government of the day that “you have no right from the state of the war to demand any concession of territory from America.” Unable to control America's inland waterways, Britain could no longer sustain a troop presence in Canada. Valcour Island was Benedict Arnold's victory as naval officer. Cohen contrasts the treatment accorded Arnold (the “monster of treachery”) with the tribute paid to officers who transferred their allegiance and talents to the Confederacy. The author supplements battlefield accounts with discussions of the origins of America's characteristic “small group” fighting unit and its contrast with British fighting formations, as well as the role of professional versus volunteer soldiers.
A delightful-to-read piece of American history.