Tag Archives: Benedict Arnold

Arguing over Benedict Arnold

The U.S. ambassador to Britain, puzzled by a plaque marking Benedict Arnold’s last residence in London, wondered why it refers to Arnold as an “AMERICAN PATRIOT.”

NBC News has found the guy who got it put there: a distant relative named Peter Arnold.

“I think he was a good guy, you see. I don’t see him in the same light as so many Americans do,” Arnold told NBC News, explaining that he didn’t mean to upset anyone with his plaque — or create a diplomatic incident.

Arnold said he has received telephone death threats — gruff American voices telling him he’s a traitor just like his ancestors. But he’s amused by them and used to other interpretations of Benedict Arnold and his deeds.

“His heart was in America and he felt that what he was doing was in the interest of America as a country and the people who lived there. And at the end of the day he didn’t think we should be divorced from England and the king,” he said. “So somebody loved us!”

I’m not sure I share Peter Arnold’s appraisal of his distant kinsman. Benedict Arnold was an extraordinarily brave man, one of the most enterprising and gifted officers in the Continental Army. If we’re going to remember Benedict Arnold as an “American Patriot,” we should do so for his exploits from 1775 through 1777.  His eventual decision to offer his services to the British wasn’t exactly an act of pure principle, as Peter Arnold seems to indicate.

Having said that, I find it downright bizarre that Americans are apparently taking the trouble to contact Peter Arnold by phone and threaten him over something that happened more than two centuries ago. I’m more interested in the Rev War than most people, but there is such a thing as being a bit too emotionally invested in a subject.

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Revolutionary roots and branches

Check out this chart of the American Revolution, with the causes depicted as the roots of a tree, various milestones listed along the trunk, and branches for each year of the war sprouting into smaller limbs for the important battles.

As the writer for Slate notes, it’s a little weird to see Arnold’s treason listed on the trunk alongside the two Continental Congresses, Washington’s assumption of command, and the French alliance.  Arnold’s treachery was a big deal, but consider everything that was happening on southern battlefields that same year.

It’s also interesting to see the adoption of the U.S. flag listed on the trunk.  And take note of what isn’t there—the creation of the navy, for example.  Too bad the chart doesn’t have a publication date.

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Rev War books are headed your way

Some new and upcoming titles I find worthy of note:

I’m going to be completely broke by the end of the year.

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American Hannibal

Arnold as depicted in a 1776 print. From the Anne S.K. Brown Collection of Brown University via Wikimedia Commons

As I continue trying to catch up on my reading backlog, I’ve just finished Benedict Arnold’s Army: The 1775 American Invasion of Canada During the Revolutionary Warby Arthur S. Lefkowitz.  It’s a fine campaign study, thoroughly researched and compellingly written.  I’d recommend it to anybody interested in the Revolution.

Arnold’s march across the Maine wilderness is the sort of stuff of which legends are made, as is the dramatic nighttime assault he and Richard Montgomery launched against Quebec.  The failed attack cost Montgomery his life and Arnold a wound in the leg—his first leg wound, actually, since he caught another one at Saratoga.

The Quebec expedition is not one of the Revolution’s better known incidents, which is a shame and also a little odd.  After all, the march was much longer and far more arduous than the Overmountain Men’s 1780 expedition to defeat Ferguson, as well as Washington’s retreat across New Jersey in late 1776.  Its relative obscurity alongside other Revolutionary episodes may have something to do with the fact that the attack on Quebec didn’t succeed, but I can’t help but wonder whether Arnold’s eventual treason might have something to do with it.  He was a remarkably audacious and inspiring combat commander.  When reports of his small army’s trek to Canada reached the Americans, they lauded him as a modern Hannibal; five years later, they were calling him an American Judas.  Had his Saratoga wound been fatal, he probably would’ve joined Montgomery and Daniel Morgan in the pantheon of Revolutionary heroes.

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Benedict Arnold is getting the trial he never had

…courtesy of the National Museum of American History, and you can be on the jury.  It’s a neat idea for a program.

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Doomed to repeat it

You know what they say about those who don’t learn from history. 

Just yesterday, my American Revolution class was discussing the failed American invasion of Canada in 1775.  You know the story:  Benedict Arnold led his men on a grueling trek through the Maine wilderness, short of food and with numbers dwindling by the mile.  Finally arriving outside the walls of Quebec, Arnold linked up with another American force commanded by the heroic Richard Montgomery.  Deciding to attack the city, the Americans launched a disastrous assault on a frigid New Year’s Eve, an attack that cost Arnold a wound in the leg and Montgomery his life.  John Trumbull immortalized the tragic scene on canvas in 1786.

Clearly, Americans don’t fare well when invading their neighbor to the north.  Imagine my shock, then, when I logged onto the information superhighway mere moments ago.  It was only a short blurb, hidden innocuously in the links section of a reputable news site.  But oh, the dreadful implications that lay therein.  I copy it below:

Obama talks trade, war in Canada.”

War in Canada!  Yes, in this century! 

Doesn’t our supposedly history-savvy chief executive know how this is going to end?  Has he spent so much time poring over Team of Rivals that he’s failed to learn the lessons of the Revolution and the War of 1812?  Will he next send the navy to plunder the British coast, in imitation of John Paul Jones?  And where’s Sean Penn when you need him?

Okay, two recommendations, in all seriousness.  First, I recommend that Msnbc.com put a little more effort into writing these link titles.  Nobody likes to see America’s top online news source with egg on its face simply because some hack thought a comma would work just as well as the word “and.”  (And yes, this means I’m aware of the actual nature of the news item.  Please save your well-intentioned suggestions that I work on my reading comprehension.  Thanks.)

My second recommendation is for you, the dedicated reader.  Get yourself a copy of Benedict Arnold’s Army, a fantastic account of Arnold’s expedition by Arthur S. Lefkowitz.  While you’re at it, stock up on all the Rev War titles published by Savas Beatie.  If we do pick a fight with Canada, you’ll need some reading material in your fallout shelter.

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