Jul 7, 2014
You read that title right. Benedict Arnold was a hero of the American War for Independence. We all know the stories of his treason & betrayal of the American cause. Do you know the rest of the story, though?
Before the war, Arnold was a businessman – first as a pharmacist, then getting into shipping. He had a small fleet of ships with which he got into the trade between the colonies and the Caribbean. Arnold became fairly wealthy until the Stamp & Sugar Acts put the kibosh on colonial trade.
As a Captain in the Connecticut militia, he and his company fought during the siege of Boston. While there, he came up with a plan to capture Fort Ticonderoga. His plan was approved, and he and his men headed Northwest towards the Hudson River Valley to seize the fort.
On the way, he met up with an irascible Vermontonian named Ethan Allen, who was leading his own militia: the Green Mountain Boys. Arnold, by this time a colonel, had expected to lead the mission. The Green Mountain Boys had other plans, however. They threatened to go home unless Allen led the show. Arnold reluctantly agreed, and was relegated to second-in-command. The combined force snuck up on the Red Coats in the middle of the night, and caught all fifty of them asleep. After the Green Mountain Boys went on a three-day drinking spree and tore up the fort like a rock band in a hotel room, Allen wrote a letter to Arnold’s commanders and took the credit for the successful attack for himself. Later that year, Arnold led an expedition to Canada, where he laid siege to the city of Quebec. He was wounded in the leg on New Year’s Eve 1775 when he led an attack on the city during a blinding blizzard.
By the Autumn of 1776, Arnold’s leg had healed, and he defended New York from a British invasion via Canada. He knew that the British would sail down Lake Champlain to reach the Hudson River so Arnold and his men quickly built a small fleet. In a matter of weeks, they had built 15 ships. Although outnumbered by the British, Arnold and his makeshift flotilla delayed them long enough that the fighting season was over, and the British were forced to return to Canada.
If you’re American, you may recall that the Battle of Saratoga is often considered the turning point in the War for Independence – when American Horatio Gates defeated General ‘Gentleman’ Johnny Burgoyne. What’s not often mentioned is that Benedict Arnold was one of the American Generals, and if it weren’t for him, the battle might’ve been lost.
Before the battle, Gates & Arnold met and discussed strategy. Arnold, always the aggressive attacker, proposed bold action. Gate preferred caution. Tempers flared and Gates had Arnold confined to his quarters.
Arnold didn’t care. On the day of battle, he led his troops anyways – using Native American tactics such as fighting behind cover and using camouflage. While one of the British generals rallied the Red Coats, Arnold ordered his men to target the officer. It took three shots to kill the general. The British began to retreat, but not before Arnold had been shot in the same leg as before.
When a subordinate asked, ‘Sir, where are you hit?’Arnold responded, ‘My leg, though I wish it had been my heart.’ If it had been his heart, we might remember Arnold quite a bit differently.
The attack was repelled and the battle won, but Gates never mentioned Arnold and the former garnered all the glory and honour.
When the British left Philadelphia, George Washington named Arnold the as city’s military commander. While there, he had closed many businesses and began rationing in order to help alleviate the mass starvation that had developed in the city during the British occupation.
Many of the movers & shakers in Philadelphia didn’t care for Arnold personally, or for his handling of the situation. The newspapers began publishing articles attacking him and insinuating that he was hording the merchants’ goods for his own profit. The movement was led by Pennsylvania governor Joseph Reed. Reed demanded that Arnold be investigated, but the Continental Congress could find no evidence of wrong-doing or corruption. Undeterred, Reed wrote to Washington and informed him that Pennsylvania would remove material support for the war unless Arnold was found guilty.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Washington was forced to officially reprimand Arnold. Arnold, not knowing the true reason for the reprimand, was horrified. His honour had been slammed for the last time. Having recently been made commandant of the American fortress of Fort Arnold – what we know today as West Point – Arnold devised a plan. With the help of his wife and one of her friends who was a British officer, Arnold would turn over control of the fort to the British. Unfortunately for him, the plan was discovered, and the rest is history.
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