charging on his horse at the Battle of Saratoga.
Arnold: The Father of Our Country? (Part II)
Arnold saved the Revolution once, then he
saves it again - before betraying it.
Arnold's aggressive defense at The Battle of
Valcour Bay delayed the British advance through the winter of
1776. By the spring of 1777, though, British forces were amassing
to move down Lake Champlain, take Fort Ticonderoga and then the
city of Albany. From there, they could link up with British units
in New York City, splitting the colonies in half and bringing
the American Revolution to an end.
Battle at Saratoga
Over the winter, British commander Guy Carleton
had been replaced by the more aggressive General John Burgoyne.
With a 9,000 man army, he swept down from Canada and easily captured
Fort Ticonderoga. To meet this threat, the Continental Congress
placed Major General Horatio Gates in charge of the defense at
Saratoga, just outside Albany. At that location General Gates
built elaborate fortifcations and awaited Burgoyne's attack.
Gates, who was more an army administrator rather
than a field commander, was outmatched by the clever Burgoyne.
Burgoyne decided to bring 42 heavy cannons down from Ticonderoga
and outflank Gates by positioning them on high ground where they
could shoot down on the American defenses. From there he could
pound the Americans into surrender.
Fortunately, Bendict Arnold had been sent to assist
Gates. Arnold saw the danger of Burgoyne's strategy and convinced
the reluctant general to allow him to lead an assault against
the British before they could get into position. (As one member
of the staff recorded, Arnold had "..urged, begged and entreated
him [Gates] to do it..")
Arnold took charge and ordered Colonel Daniel Morgan's
Virginia sharpshooters to attack the approaching British at Freeman's
Farm. According to one soldier, Arnold also got involved in the
action himself with a total disregard for personal safety, "Arnold
rushed onto the thickest part of the field with his usual recklessness,
and at times acted like a madman." The battle raged at Freedman's
Farm for three hours and finally Arnold and his troops retreated.
Though the Americans were forced toleave the field, they inflicted
serious losses upon the British and stopped their advance. With
over 600 of their men killed or injured - nearly twice the amount
of American losses - it was a very expensive "victory" for the
leg was seriously wounded as he and his men took the critical
Gates unfortunately tried to take all the credit
for the battle. Arnold, annoyed at this, argued with the general
and Gates had him confined to his tent for the second clash at
Saratoga, three weeks later. During those weeks, Burgoyne had
built fortifications and was waiting for assistance from other
British units. On October 7, 1777, after realizing that help was
not coming and knowing his supplies were dwindling, Burgoyne decided
to gamble on assaulting the American fortifications at Bemis Heights.
Despite orders to stay out of the battle, once Arnold
heard the guns firing, he leapt on a horse and raced to the scene
of the action. There his presence on the field heartened the Americans.
Seeing that General Ebenezer Learned's brigade in the center of
the assault was losing ground, he helped Learned rally his men
and organize a counterattack. Arnold not only forced the enemy
back, but led the troops in capturing a key enemy redoubt, saving
Ten days later, with his army greatly weakened by
the fight, Burgoyne was forced to surrender. The news of this
important victory gave the Americans renewed credibility with
the French and who then agreed to join the war effort. This, in
turn,greatly increased the odds of the American Revolution being
Again, Arnold had saved his fledging nation, though
at great cost to himself. In capturing the redoubt that day he
was wounded in the leg, an injury that would bother him for the
rest of his life. A statue to his leg still stands on the battleground
to Arnold's Leg
More than a century
after Arnold's leg was gravely wounded at Saratoga, a brigadier
general from the Civil War paid to have this monument erected
at the Saratoga Battlefield. It reads:
By JOHN WATTS de PEYSTER Brev: Maj: Gen: S.N.Y. 2nd V. Pres't
Saratoga Mon't Ass't'n: In memory of the most brilliant
soldier of the Continental Army who was desperately wounded
on this spot the sally port of BORGOYNES GREAT WESTERN REDOUBT
7th October, 1777 winning for his country men the decisive
battle of the American Revolution and for himself the rank
of Major General.
Because of his
later betrayal Arnold's name is not mentioned on the monument.
After Arnold turned traitor, he captured an American soldier
and asked what would have happened if the situation was
reversed. The reply the soldier gave Arnold was that the
patriots would "Cut off your right leg, bury it with full
military honors, and then hang the rest of you on a gibbet."
Clearly Benedict Arnold was a patriot and an aggressive
fighter. He might have just been the man to replace Washington
in the fall of 1777 if the leader had fallen victim to a British
So how did this patriot, this combative American
hero, wind up having his name forever associated with treason?
Why did he betray all that he had fought for?
For some reason Arnold was never the favorite of
certain members of the Continental Congress. That body repeatedly
passed him over for promotion, something he greatly resented,
especially after his grave injury at Saratoga. In 1778, Washington
put Arnold in charge of Philadephia after the British evacuated
the city. Perhaps to distract himself from his disappointments,
Arnold threw himself into the city's social life, and running
up bills he couldn't pay. Members of Congress accused him of corruption
and he was court-martialed. "Having become a cripple in the service
of my country, I little expected to meet [such] ungrateful returns,"
he wrote to General George Washington about the situation.
Duirng this period Arnold met Margaret Shippen,
an attractive woman whom he eventually married. Shippen had loyalist
leanings and undoubtedly influenced Arnold's thinking and he began
a correspondence with British General Sir Henry Clinton. Shortly
after that, Arnold sought command at the crucial Fort West Point
in New York and Washington put him in charge of it. Arnold, disaffected
to the American cause by his constant disagreements with Congress
and convinced the British would treat him better, made plans to
betray his country.
Fortunately, his plot to turn over West Point and
its garrison of 3,000 to the British for 20,000 pounds sterling
and a position in the British Army failed when a spy carrying
papers signed by Arnold was caught. Arnold fled to the British
lines and was given the position of brigadier general, but the
British never really trusted him. After the war he lived out his
life in Canada and London, trying to restart his trading business
with little success. Scorned by both the British and Americans,
he became a forgotten figure who died in poverty in 1801.
Like the protagonist in a Greek tragedy, Arnold
was a hero with a fatal flaw. He could have been a champion of
the Revolution, his name honored like Washington if he had simply
held fast to his principals. Perhaps if he had been called on
by Congress to replace Washington he might have won the war and
would now be known as the father of our county.
If so, would our nation's capital be called Arnoldton?
Return to Part I
Copyright Lee Krystek
2007. All Rights Reserved.