Friday, August 12, 2011

Benedict Aronld, Enough with the Traitor Tag

Benedict Arnold, a name that just makes American's scream traitor. Arnold may be perhaps the most dastardly character in American history to date. But I figure since this is my first blog I might as well start out with a bang and defend the great patriot that Arnold was. (That's right I called him a patriot.) When I was still in college I was part of the Fairleigh Dickinson History Club, I know I should have warned you I am a dork but here you are reading a history blog, but I defended Arnold then and I will do it again now. Besides I think as Americans, it is time to let bygones be bygones in the case of Benedict Arnold. He has endured over 200 hundred years of bad mouthing and having a crappy breakfast dish named after him. I say enough and no more, it is about time someone took a stand for Benedict and mentioned the good things and the insignificance of  his "treasonous" deed.
                                                                                     National Archives

 Before explaining Arnold's great contributions to the birth of America, both militarily and economically, we must examine Arnold's life a little more deeply then we ever learned in our grammar school history classes. Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut to parents who, well were wealthy. Arnold's father, Benedict Arnold III, was a merchant who had great success and moved his family up the social class ladder of colonial Norwich. Arnold's mother, Hannah Waterman King, also came from a wealthy family which only helped the the Arnold status. Yet the fact of Arnold's family wealth can be put on the side for the moment. Arnold was educated at in a private school but before being able to continue his education death's in the family forced young Benedict to return home and hold together the family business. However, Arnold would not have much time to master the family business as just around the corner the French and Indian War was waiting.

Now Arnold didn't head out into Indian Territories west of the Appalachians and start busting enemy French and Natives skulls. He was yet a mere teenager, 16, as he joined his local militia and was prepared to start taking down some Frenchies and Savages (terminology of the times people not my opinion.). Yet to the young Arnold was in for the shock of a lifetime, which actually would later mold a decision in which would give him the bad rep he's had since that faithful day in 1779.

At the time of Arnold's arrival at Fort William Henry the stories awaiting would basically make anyone hate the French. The short of it is that Fort William Henry was garrisoned by roughly 2500 British troops. Unfortunately for them the French and Indian forces numbered upwards of around 8000 combined. The French lead forces bombard the fort for about a week and finally due to deaths, injuries and lack of supplies the Brits finally gave up the fort. It was the next set of events that would lead Arnold to hating the French to the point he turned on his beloved nation and cause.Yet again something that must be remembered for a later time.

Now it was not the siege of the fort yet the massacre which occurred after. First, it was the French's allowance of their Indian allies to plunder the fort. The problem wasn't that they were enjoying the spoils of war but that they killed all the wounded and sick that did not evacuate the fort with the whole of the British garrison. It did not stop there, as the British were given "aid" by the French at Fort Edward, the British had no idea what awaited them in the morning. The French allowed for the British to surrender with honor and allowed them to keep their weapons (with no ammunition) and return to the British controlled colonies under French guard. However, the French fell way short on this deal. As the column of British soldiers, women and children left Fort Edward French protection fell apart and the British were open targets for the Indian allies. The Indians then again killed all the wounded and sick outside Fort Edward but did not stop there. They then focused on the main group of British fleeing the area. At the end of the day the Indians left some 190 dead. The story of the savagery endured by the British reached all the colonist but it hit Arnold harder then most. Perhaps it did influence him to his young age or even because he saw and heard some of the victims stories but Arnold never viewed the French the same again.


Now you may be asking, "what did Arnold think of the French?" and if you are then you're in luck because I am about to tell you and if you're not then go back and reread the previous few paragraphs. After the events at Fort William Henry, Arnold decided he had enough of the French. He now felt the French were no longer trustable, today, tomorrow, in 10 years, never again in the existence of a French nation could they ever be trusted. Now for the why, it is three reasons, first for the dishonorable treatment towards British POWs, second, a failure to honor the surrender agreement and third, the French knew that the Indians would attack at the first opening, honestly if their was anyone who hated the British more then the French it pretty much would have to be the Native American tribes. It is for these reason that from that day on the Arnold saw the French as a virus that plagued the earth and that any association with them would be TREASONOUS.

 So lets fast forward a few years from the French and Indian War and surprise surprise I am talking about the American Revolution. Again, we can discuss something that almost none of us are taught about Arnold and that is contributions to the American Cause. First, as a business man living in the colonies Arnold opposed all the Acts imposed by the British on the colonists. He was an active member in The Sons of Liberty and finally was very outspoken about the wrongs in British rule in the colonies. With his credentials solidified Arnold was made a General in Continental Army. Arnold's first major achievement would be the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. The capture of the fort was of great military and strategical importance. Militarily it was a huge boost for the Continental Army since it was one of the first victories for the Americans. Secondly, it was quite amazing that Arnold planned and lead the attack and captured the fort without one shot being fired. It was a strategical victory because it gave the Americans control of Lake Champlain but more importantly it gave them weapons. Those weapons were then taken to Boston where and when George Washington used them to drive out the Brits from city which our independence sprang from. Now usually we don't learn that because Arnold's credit go to a guy a furniture store is named after Ethan Allen.

After Arnold's success at Fort Ticonderoga he was given the mission of invading Canada. Arnold lead a secondary force and commanded around 1100 men. During the siege Arnold received two promotions from George Washington himself, people George Washington promoted this guy. Then to top it off Arnold was wounded and kept fight the British. After the eventual take over of Quebec Arnold was sent to regroup the American forces and prepared the troops for movements against the British. From there Arnold racked up three more wins for the Americans, the Battle of Valcour Island, Ridgefield and Fort Stanwix. All the strategies drafted by Arnold and he executed the moves right there on the field with his men. In the midst of Arnold win streak he was given his next big task and perhaps the task which turned the war in the Americans favor.

                                                                                    National Archives

The Battle of Saratoga, or as I like to call it, "the reason America is a free nation and not still a colony of England all thanks to Benedict Arnold's military genius and balls of steel." Ok so my description still isn't really excepted by other historians but it has a nice ring to it. It was at the battle that again, Arnold got some props from G.W. when he called him "the most aggressive of all my commanders." Basically what Washington said was this guy is awesome and without him and his bravery we would have lost the Battle of Saratoga and then lost the War for Independence. Again it was another battle plan drawn up by Arnold and even when that plan looked like it was going to fall apart, Arnold then rallied the troops and on the fly figured out how to stop the British from flanking them. He even believed the idea so much that he lead the charge to stop the British. he even kept fighting with a broken leg. Most of us reading this would probably take off work for 6 weeks and then use our vacation pay to take off an extra week. But instead of being honored and revered as a great military genius the whole credit for the victory was given to Horatio Gates. Now nothing against Gates but com'on he didn't  stand on the lines with his men, he didn't fight the British with a broken leg due to a musket ball going in one end and out the other. Arnold screwed again, no credit then and forgotten by us today.

                                                                                National Archives

 So after Saratoga Arnold partied like it was 1779, mainly because of his success and the turning of the tide in favor of the Americans. But the Americans couldn't do it on their own and the leaders of our slowly developing nation sought help from abroad. now they had plenty of choice, I mean they looked to Europe and basically everyone hated the British. First, I'd like to offer the Dutch option, still a significant naval power and was even known by the British. The British actually feared the Dutch Navy so much that then attacked the Dutch in 1780 in order to stop them from helping the Americans. Second, the Spanish. Now why the Spanish, well because the Enlightenment ideas sparked the Spanish people the same way it touched American colonists. They also supplied the Americans with weapons before France showed an interest in the American cause. They also had a much larger ground force then the French and the Spanish eventually attacked the British strongholds in Florida after the Revolution. Finally, I can offer the Russians. Before they were our sworn Commi enemies they could have been our BFFs. The Russians at the time had one thing going for them, they were armed and crazy. Their military and navy was something no one knew about, almost like a mysterious force that had a potential to destroy the world...twice. But the Americans didn't look to these nation for help, they looked toward the French.

The French option may have been their best option, as history has shown us, but they did not think of the affect it would have on the colonists. Colonists knew the French were just as imperialistic as the British and could just as easily colonize the American nation as soon as the British were defeated. Also the French did not share the same ideas as America, the ideas of Liberty were still a few years away from France, as during the Revolution they were still under the control of a monarch. Let us also not forget the French and Indian War which showed the brutality of the French military of their new found allies. One man who did not forget this was Benedict Arnold.

  Now you may be saying to yourself, "Mike you must be crazy." But I am not and I can prove it. Arnold was willing to give up West Point to the British. Yes, it was wrong but would it have changed the war? I say no. I bet right now your asking, how? Well let me explain. West Point had one thing going for it and that was it chain defense system. Basically it was chains and sunken barges that were supposed to stop the British Navy from sailing through the Hudson River into Lake Champlain and further north. It is here that I can disprove the value of these chain defenses. First, the Americans lacked a navy and had nothing more then a few privateers working for them. Second, the British controlled New York Harbor. They had such a control of it even the great saving French Navy did not dare to attack New York. Third, there are three examples of the systems failures. First, at Fort Washington. The chain defensive between Fort Washington (NYC) and Fort Lee (NJ) was sailed passed several times and Fort Washington was evacuated before the British Navy could cut off an escape route. Second was at Pollepel Island, this lead to the British burning Kingston, NY to the ground just to show they could do what they want. Finally there was the system set at Fort Montgomery which was just laughed at by the British as the sailed past all the American defenses and took the fort in less then a few hours. The last stop on the British Navy's tour of destroying the American defenses was West Point. As seen in the previous examples the British would have just rolled right in smacked the Americans around and took it anyways.


Now looking at this I can even argue that Arnold surrendering West Point as a good thing. Yes, he could have handed it over to the British but would we be able to call him a traitor? Or would it look like he just surrendered? Either way Arnold would have saved American lives. He could have by allowing them to escape, which I believe he would, or in worst case scenario they would be take as POWs. Still the men would have not faced the horrors of a battle they could not win. It is also possible to argue Arnold gave up West Point because he knew it lacked strategic value and the the try value laid in the forts further up river and on Lake Champlain. Yet it is quite obvious that Arnold, like other Americans, were worried about French involvement on the American continent.

                                                                                    National Archives

 Now in the words of my favorite history professor, I'd like to put a wrap on this. Benedict Arnold has suffered long enough. It the scope of history Arnold's plan can be seen as a failure. So can a failure at being a trader still make you a trader? I say know I say Arnold felt he was doing the right thing. He loved his nation so much he was unwilling to see it tainted by the French.  He saw the horrors that the French were capable of and refused to be associated with it. It would be the same way on a playground, no one wants to side with the bully and that is who France was. Today is the day I say we look to Arnold's achievements as an American and reinstate him as an American hero. It is time we add his name to the Boot Monument at the Saratoga Battlefield. Let Americans know of the greatness this man supplied our nation, the bravery of a man who fought in battles wounded, the courage of a man who stood up for what he believed in. Benedict Arnold a man misunderstood and hero which we need to honor and betray no more.


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