“Love to my country actuates my present conduct, however inconsistent to the world, who very seldom judge right of any man’s actions.”
~ Benedict Arnold
Episode One: “Hero”
This is the untold story of Benedict Arnold. For the crucial first three years of the American Revolution, Arnold foiled the key British strategy to control the Champaign/Hudson Valley corridor. The British repeatedly attempted to isolate the New England colonies from the rest of the country as the keystone of a master plan to divide and reassert control. The whole history of the Northern theater of the revolution is relatively unknown because to tell this story is to tell the story of Benedict Arnold. And his eventual treason has so eclipsed his contributions to the cause that we have been missing an important part of our history.
In 1775, Arnold launches a preemptive strike on the important Lake Champlain Fort Ticonderoga, capturing the cannons needed to defend Boston. Then, at the request of George Washington, he leads a daring mission through the harrowing Maine wilderness to try and win Quebec over to the American cause. He mounts a valiant attack on the fortress city and holds a long siege, but Congress fails to send reinforcements. In a strategic withdrawal, he leaves a path of destruction denying the enemy access to resources they would use against the Americans.
In 1776, he oversees construction of a naval fleet on Lake Champlain and uses it to fend off a massive British armada invading from the Canada. The strategy he deploys at the Battle of Valcour Island becomes a hallmark of naval warfare. And then in a daring overnight escape, followed by a three day running battle down the lake, Arnold keeps the enemy from retaking Fort Ticonderoga. Denied their chance to crush the American fleet, the British return to Canada for the winter season.
In 1777, with a small group of volunteers, Arnold resists a rampaging British force sweeping through Connecticut countryside, and bravely defends the village of Ridgefield. His horse is shot out from under him and still Arnold fights on. John Adams urges a congressional medal be struck commemorating Arnold’s heroism at Ridgefield.
Later that same year, the British once again attempt their strategy to split the rebelling colonies with a bloody campaign through Lake Champlain and the Hudson River valley. George Washington calls on Arnold, his most valued general to once again defend the Northern theater.
Episode Two: “Betrayed”
As three British armies move to converge on Albany, New York from the North, West and South, Arnold uses a clever deceit to turn back back the British offensive moving from the West along the Mohawk valley. Next he fights the British invaders from the North to a standstill at the first battle of Saratoga.
Following his battlefield victory Arnold becomes embroiled in a bitter dispute with his commanding officer General Gates who takes all the credit for the success. This is the culmination of a long simmering rivalry and one of several disputes Arnold has had with other officers and civilian leaders of the revolution. Early life experiences shaped Arnold’s personality into a volatile mix of principled ideals, heightened sensitivity to perceived insults and a short temper. Despite being repeatedly passed over for promotion and unfairly accused he remained committed to the cause — sacrificing his own blood and treasure.
The second battle of Saratoga begins and the Americans falter. Disobeying orders Arnold rallies the troops and leads them to victory. But he is grievously wounded. Again General Gates takes all the credit for the stunning British defeat. As he recuperates Arnold begins to lose faith in the cause. His injury Leaves him crippled and unable to lead in battle, so George Washington assigns him a desk job: Military Governor of Philadelphia.
A British occupation of the city had just ended leaving in its wake a deeply divided community. Radical patriots were eager to punish loyalists who had supported the occupiers and Quakers who, in neutrality, had acquiesced. As governor of the whole population Arnold endeavors to protect the lives and property of the loyalists and Quakers. This offends the sensibilities of the radical patriots who also take issue with his marriage to a young Philadelphia socialite, Peggy Shippen. She had come of age during the time women of her class socialized with the British officer corps and she continued to correspond with some of them at their new post in New York City. His marriage into a Quaker family, coupled with business deals he had with some merchants who may have collaborated with the enemy occupiers further enrages the radical patriots.
Arnold’s old rivals and personal enemies came back to haunt him. Finally the radical patriots persuade George Washington to publicly reprimand Arnold on trumped up allegations. For Arnold this is the final straw. He feels betrayed. He comes to believe that America would be better off as a British colony than under the Leadership of the Patriots.
Arnold requests a transfer from Philadelphia to the command post of the Hudson River fort at West Point. He begins corresponding with his wife’s contacts on the British side and arranges for a British takeover of West Point and possible capture of George Washington himself. The pint is foiled when his co-conspirator is captured with incriminating evidence. Arnold barely eluded capture himself. Washington and the other leaders must vilify Arnold so others dare not follow his lead back to British loyalty.