God Save Benedict Arnold

The True Story of America's Most Hated Man

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Pub Date 05 Dec 2023 | Archive Date 19 Dec 2023


"A dazzling addition to the history of the American Revolution." ―Kirkus Review (starred)

"Finally... a full and fascinating portrait of a true hero of the American Revolution, until he was visited by villainy. A riveting read." ―Tom Clavin, New York Times bestselling author of Follow Me to Hell

Benedict Arnold committed treason— for more than two centuries, that’s all that most Americans have known about him.

Yet Arnold was much more than a turncoat—his achievements during the early years of the Revolutionary War defined him as the most successful soldier of the era. GOD SAVE BENEDICT ARNOLD tells the gripping story of Arnold’s rush of audacious feats—his capture of Fort Ticonderoga, his Maine mountain expedition to attack Quebec, the famous artillery brawl at Valcour Island, the turning-point battle at Saratoga—that laid the groundwork for our independence.

Arnold was a superb leader, a brilliant tactician, a supremely courageous military officer. He was also imperfect, disloyal, villainous. One of the most paradoxical characters in American history, and one of the most interesting. GOD SAVE BENEDICT ARNOLD does not exonerate him for his treason—the stain on his character is permanent. But Kelly’s insightful exploration of Arnold’s career as a warrior shines a new light on this gutsy, fearless, and enigmatic figure. In the process, the book offers a fresh perspective on the reasons for Arnold’s momentous change of heart.

"A dazzling addition to the history of the American Revolution." ―Kirkus Review (starred)

"Finally... a full and fascinating portrait of a true hero of the American Revolution, until he was visited by...

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Featured Reviews

A very intriguing look at the enigma that was Benedict Arnold. The author does an outstanding job of telling the complete story from the time of his growing up, through the revolutionary war and his ultimate betrayal of the United States. The story provides an in-depth perspective of the political misdeeds and backstabbing that took place among the members of the continental congress against the military during the war. The book offers a valid and compelling explanation of why Benedict Arnold betrayed his country. Overall, a great read.

Thank you to #NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Benedict Arnold: It is a name that is immediately recognizable to most in the U.S. If you were to poll people about what they know about him, most would probably immediately describe him as a traitor and would hopefully also realize that the historic moment he was affiliated with was the American Revolution. Beyond that scratch on the surface of history, probably most people would come up blank with anything else to share about Benedict Arnold.

God Save Benedict Arnold: The True Story of America’s Most Hated Man certainly has the title right. About a century and a half since Arnold’s time, we may not know much, but we know he should be hated for his betrayal during the infancy of the American experiment. What a way to go down in history, remembered for a dark moment in a full life. Jack Kelly seeks to open his reader’s eyes to the man behind the story, to add long-forgotten nuance and context to the tale, and provide long overdue recognition for heroic efforts Arnold displayed time-and-time again before his fateful decision to abscond to Britain.

Benedict Arnold was the fourth thus-named individual in his family tree, and he would father the man who would be the last to bear the name, a son who died in his late twenties after an injury, predeceasing his father by about six years. The fate and fortune of the family changed over the course of the generations. The earlier Benedict Arnolds were well off, the first of whom was governor of Rhode Island. By the time of the 3rd generation (the father to our subject), the family was established in the Colonial America society. Unfortunately, Arnold’s father lost much of the family fortune amidst alcoholism so by the time Arnold was a teenager, his circumstances had changed for the worst. Arnold joined the fight in the French and Indian War and then was able to leverage family connections to establish himself as a merchant. He spent time at sea, often commanding his own ships, an experience that established a specific type of leadership that probably also matched Arnold’s natural proclivities. As a result of the salty language typical of sailors, others in polite society found Arnold a bit vulgar compared to his contemporaries.

Kelly’s story really picks up steam in the dawn of the American Revolution, a moment that was uniquely shaped to Arnold’s strengths. His decisiveness in difficult situations and ability to lead men through horrific settings while near starvation are skills that in another time and another place would never have been evident. It is clear that Arnold thrived in situations of risk, moments ready-made for valor, and had a keen strategic sense. He played a pivotal role at Ticonderoga in upstate New York, leading a group to take the fort from the British. Arnold knew the fort was not heavily protected in the early days of the war and saw this prime opportunity to demonstrate the strength of the colonists. With nary a shot fired, Arnold and Ethan Allen’s troops took the fort.

From there, the momentum took Arnold up into Canada to Fort St Jean and then he encouraged his government to invest in building ships on Lake Champlain. He eventually met the British in a battle on the Great Lake and through cunning was able to stand his ground more than expected before a nighttime escape under the cover of darkness that saved countless lives.

Arnold’s strong personality and convictions became clear early in the military conflict. He had disagreements with his peers and with the government. These conflicts established what would continue to be an ongoing challenge over the course of Arnold’s life. Over time, a combination of disputes with individuals, who made formalized complaints about Arnold, and the politicization of military promotions in Congress, where non-soldiers made academic decisions about how to promote military leadership, created a perfect storm of dissatisfaction for Arnold. He was passed over for promotion several times. To add salt to the wound, people junior to him were promoted beyond his rank. Arnold was not shy in explaining his displeasure and contacted Congress for reconsideration.

Over time, Arnold became frustrated enough with what amounted to a lack of appreciation for his efforts that he even tried to and in fact did resign from the military. But every time he did that, a new conflict would emerge, and he would run off - title, rank, or standing be damned - to display continued heroism in the war effort.

Kelly explores several historic assumptions about Arnold’s defection, including the fact that he was motivated by money, and calls some of these into question when viewed against the larger backdrop of Arnold’s life and deeds. He also offers several thoughts on what may have been motivators for Arnold. And it is of course clear that no one other than the man himself will ever know what drove his thinking. In my read of it, Arnold seems like a man who more than anything else needs to be needed - whether by the women he sought to romance, by his soldiers, or by his country - and the early Americans definitely came up short in meeting Arnold halfway.

What I also really appreciated is how Kelly explored Arnold’s lasting negative legacy compared to others who could be comparable types of traitors, depending upon one’s vantage point. For example, several high profile Americans joined the American South at the start of the Civil War and were welcomed back in to the country afterwards. As it was, the British never fully embraced Arnold either. Kelly’s point is well taken when he indicates but for the random chance of time and circumstances, America could just as easily ended up with a situation where Arnold was remembered as a true patriotic hero with God Save Benedict Arnold on our lips instead of a sullied name.

Kelly set out to establish Benedict Arnold as a well-rounded, complex person instead of the archetype associated with his name. He was successful in leveraging tales from Arnold’s life - both military and non-military - to bring a clearer picture of the man. God Save Benedict Arnold is an important addition to the way we need to continue to evaluate history through updated thinking and knowledge. It is so easy for people to forget that historic people were truly just as human as any of us - with their own baggage, concerns, personal loss, and family histories that shape them as they meet the world events that happen to occur during their lives.

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God Save Benedict Arnold: The True Story of America's Most Hated Man by Jack Kelly is an excellent nonfiction that takes an in-depth look at the notorious, complex, and yet fascinating historical figure.

I have read quite a bit about the Revolutionary War, but to focus on Benedict Arnold, his life, the role that he played in history, and the choices he made…was really quite eye-opening.

I have enjoyed Mr. Kelly in the past, and this book did not disappoint. It was easy to understand, paced well, and the way it was presented really made it enjoyable to learn while I relaxed. I highly recommend.

5/5 stars

Thank you NG and St. Martin’s Press for this wonderful arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication on 12/5/23.

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This was a really interesting history nonfiction book, I enjoyed getting to learn about the person that is Benedict Arnold. Jack Kelly has a great writing style and it worked well in this book. It gave a good look into his life, I enjoyed what I read and thought this worked well in keeping people invested.

"Two possibilities: stay and fight or retreat toward the forts. If they stayed, the enemy’s superior firepower might destroy the fleet. If they ran, the faster British ships might chase them down. If they stayed, they might hold off the enemy and eke out more days of delay. If they ran, they might make it to Ticonderoga where they could support the fort from the water."

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An interesting book from which I learned a lot. Well researched and in depth.
I voluntarily reviewed an advance reader copy of this book.

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Enjoyed this books. I didn’t not get all the way through it so I will be purchasing it when it comes out.

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God Save Benedict Arnold: The True Story of America's Most Hated Man gives an interesting insight on this historical figure. Four stars.

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God Save Benedict Arnold: The True Story of America’s Most Hated Man
Jack Kelly
Author Jack Kelly analyzes Benedict Arnold’s character and personality in an effort to not excuse his actions but to examine the man. While we may hate Arnold’s betrayal and treason, we can take an unbiased look at him. He was an excellent leader and a daring military officer. Benedict Arnold was a contradiction. Author Jack Kelly shares Arnold’s background including his childhood; he discusses the war and Arnold’s traitorous actions. Kelly shows the actions of the Continental Congress and how they were not as united as I had always believed they were.

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"God Save Benedict Arnold" by Jack Kelly is not only a first-rate biography of the heroic Revolutionary War American General who ended his service by betraying his country, it is also a fascinating history of the engagements in which Arnold was involved.

Through Kelly’s descriptions of Arnold’s daredevil, danger-loving childhood, his brief militia service in the French and Indian War, his adventurous life at sea as a merchant/trader, and his leadership of a Connecticut militia unit that immediately marched to Cambridge, MA upon hearing of Lexington and Concord, we get to know something of the arrogant, contentious, heroic, and inspiring young man. It’s when he reaches Cambridge that his military career takes off. The Americans need cannons and Arnold knows where they can be had: at New York's Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga. Appointed Colonel of a Massachusetts regiment, he leads six hundred men into New York and, along with Ethan Allen, captures the vital artillery.

Mr. Kelly goes on to write of Arnold’s bravery and extraordinary leadership during a march into Canada and in actions at Quebec, Valcour Island/Lake Champlain, Ridgefield, Fort Stanwix, and Saratoga, to mention a few. These battles were so well described that I could almost feel the winter cold at Quebec and smell the gunpowder smoke and the blood of the wounded at Saratoga.

Mr. Kelly fully discusses Arnold’s treason and offers a number of possible reasons as to why Arnold might have “turned his coat” to become a British general and fight against the men he once led.

He concludes by describing Arnold’s somewhat unhappy post-war life with his family in London--where he was admired by some but avoided by others--and Canada, where he was roundly disliked, occasioning his return to London where he died.

Throughout America’s history, Benedict Arnold has been so detested and reviled for his treason that it’s all anyone thinks of upon hearing his name (which has become an eponym for disloyalty). While Mr. Kelly in no way excuses that treason, he does manage to bring Benedict Arnold to life as a very talented, brave, and charismatic leader who, despite his perfidy, made a significant contribution to the American war effort.

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Jack Kelly has a way of making history into a story and the story of Benedict Arnold is as compelling as any.
I must admit, I am an avid Revolutionary War fan and have read and listened to a lot of media about the era. Besides some information about his life after the Revolution, this book didn’t offer me anything I didn’t already know. However, it made a story of the events while tying in just enough background information to help someone who may not be as well versed. That being said, I found the chapters somewhat non-cohesive as they often started with an event to then went to a flashback to lead up that event. It was fine for me but I could see it being somewhat confusing for someone who just picked up the title.
But as with Valcour, his previous Benedict Arnold focused book, Kelly offers an amazing epilogue. Honestly, reading the book was worth it for the epilogue. It offers thought provoking sentiments that explores the complexities of how we understand Benedict Arnold today.
I will certainly be keeping a look out for whatever Jack Kelly writes next.

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God Save Benedict Arnold
By Jack Kelly

This book – and its predecessor "Valcour" – offer a picture of Benedict Arnold which most people know nothing about. To the majority of Americans, Mr. Arnold is a one dimensional figure who is remembered only as a traitor to the cause of the American Revolution.

"Valcour" tells the tale of the early days of the war and Benedict Arnold's heroic actions, which stopped the British from seizing Lake Champlain and the Hudson River – and almost certainly ending the war before it could gain momentum. Arnold, prior to the war, had captained ships at sea and at Valcour proved himself an able and daring seaman.

This book is much more expansive in its telling of Arnold's exploits, his friendship with George Washington, his fearlessness under fire and his great skill as a strategist in battle. But it also tells of his thin skin and his constantly looking to find personal insult which left him disgruntled. He had as many enemies as friends. He was a complex man. And he was only human.

Mr. Kelly has obviously researched well the life and motivations of Benedict Arnold. He does not write as an apologist for Arnold, but simply as a historian attempting to understand why Arnold did what he did. While no clear answer will ever be known, Mr. Kelly presents a Benedict Arnold who was more than just a traitor.

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Benedict Arnold is a traitor and that's it. That's all we were taught. But this book shows him to be a more complicated man and may even persuade you that he wasn't evil and he was pushed into his decision by less talented commanders who kept him down. Maybe.

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An even-handed and very detailed account of Armold's activities on behalf of The Colonies in the early years of the War for Independence. Kelly really brings to life both the difficulties of Arnold's advances and battles and of the violence and bloodshed in that war. What is not clear are Arnold's reasons for betraying his country and going to the British side. The author posits several explanations, but the real reasons are not known.

The book is an excellent in-depth account of Arnold's career.

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A very nuanced look at a complex man and time period. I found the book a fair representation of events. While dry in some parts, overall a good book.

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An interesting re-analysis of an often reviled figure in American history. The events aren't new here, but the interpretation is. Recommended for those willing to challenge what they think they know.

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I have now completed my read of Jack Kelly's "God Save Benedict Arnold: The True Story of Americas Most Hated Man", published and graciously provided to me in the form of an ARC by St. Martin's Press. It is an enjoyable and well written examination of the life of Benedict Arnold, particularly as it intersected events during the Revolution of the 13 Colonies against Great Britain. Many, if not most, Americans would easily name Benedict Arnold as the most famous traitor in American history, but this book is concerned with contextualizing (not justifying) Arnold's well known and often explored treason against the backdrop of his truly remarkable military career. His almost intuitive grasp of military affairs combined with his understanding of and ability to work with colonial militia formations distinguished him from many of Washington's commanders, who were often quick to draw comparisons between the oft maligned combat record of colonial militias and their better trained and disciplined Continental line regiments. Kelly's narrative particularly distinguishes itself as he recounts the details of battles from Canada and Fort Ticonderoga to Saratoga, and it is his here that his narrative really takes off. What emerges from all of this is a kind of American Achilles, brave and skilled, but petulant and conceited, often more focused on his own reputation rather than the broader implications of his behavior. I think the book belongs in any public library and in the public schools. There is much to be learned from Benedict Arnold, both his career and his fall from grace, and Kelly's writing style should lend itself to YA attention; the text is accessible and the exposition is often thought provoking while possessing an almost cinematic quality.

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