#Onthisday General Benedict Arnold wrote to General Horatio Gates
Camp at Stillwater, September 22, 1777
When I joined the Army at Vanschaak’s Island the 1st instant you were pleased to order me to London’s Ferry to take the command of General Poor and Learned’s Brigades and Colonel Morgan battalion of riflemen and light infantry. Your command was immediately obeyed. I have repeatedly since received your orders respecting those corps as belonging to my division, which has often been mentioned in General Orders, and the gentlemen commanding those corps have understood themselves as my division. On the 9th instant, you desired me to annex the New York and Connecticut Militia to such brigades as I thought proper in my division, which I accordingly did and ordered the New York Militia to join General Poor’s brigade and the Connecticut Militia to General Learned’s. The next day, I was surprised to observe in General Orders the New York Militia annexed to General Glover’s brigade, which placed me in the ridiculous light of presuming to give orders I had no right to do, and having them publicly contradicted, which I mentioned to you as I thought it a mistake of the Deputy Adjutant General. You then observed the mistake your own and that it should be mentioned as such in the ensuing orders, which has never been done.
On the 19th instant, when advice was received that the enemy was approaching, I took the liberty to give it as my opinion that we ought to march out and attack them. You desired me to send Colonel Morgan and the light infantry and support them. I obeyed your orders and before the action was over I found it necessary to send out the whole of my division to support the attack. No other troops were engaged that day except Colonel Marshall’s regiment of General Paterson’s brigade
I have been informed that in the returns transmitted to Congress of the killed and wounded in the action the troops were mentioned as a detachment from the Army and in the orders of this day I observe it is mentioned that Colonel Morgan’s corps not being in any brigade or division of this Army are to make returns and reports only to headquarters, from whence they are alone to receive orders. Although it is notorious to the whole Army they have been in and done duty with my division for some time past.
When I mentioned these matters to you this day, you were pleased to say in contradiction to your repeated orders that you did not know that I was Major General or had any command in the Army. I have ever supposed a major general’s command of four thousand men a proper division and no detachment, when composed of whole brigades forming one wing of the Army and that general troops if guilty of misconduct or cowardly behavior in time of action were justly chargeable as a division. If on the other hand, they behave with spirit and firmness in action they were justly initiated to the applause due to a brave division, not detachment, of the Army. Had my division behaved ill, the other divisions of the Army would have thought it extremely hard to have been amenable for their conduct. I mentioned these matters as I wish justice due to the division, as well as particular regiments or persons.
From what reasons I know not, as I am conscious of no offense or neglect of duty, but I have lately observed little attention paid to any proposals I have thought it my duty to make for the public service and when a measure I have proposed has been agreed to it has immediately been contradicted. I have been received with the greatest coolness at headquarters and often treated in such a manner as must mortify a person with less pride than I have and in my station in the army. You observed that you expected General Lincoln in a day or two when I should have no command of a division, that you thought me of little consequence to the Army and that you would with all your heart give me a pass to leave it whenever I thought proper. As I find your observation very just that I am not or that you wish me of little consequence in the army and as I have the interest and safety of my country at heart, I wish to be where I can be of the most sevice to them. I therefore, as General Lincoln has arrived, request your pass to Philadelphia with my aid de camp and three servants, where I propose to join General Washington and may possibly have it in my power to serve my country, though I am thought of no consequence in this department.
I am &c.
Benedict Arnold was born in 1741 to a prominent Connecticut family. Arnold lost most of his siblings to yellow fever, calamitous events that triggered alcoholism in his father. As a teenager, Arnold’s family faced financial hardship. At the age of sixteen, Arnold enlisted in a militia and served in the French and Indian War in upstate New York. During the 1760s, Arnold started a successful apothecary business.
Arnold’s role as a prominent businessman brought him into direct conflict with both the Stamp Act and the Sugar Act, where the British government sought to regulate and tax colonial business transactions. Arnold joined the Sons of Liberty and continued his business in defiance of the British acts, effectively becoming a smuggler. He was elected to the position of captain in the Connecticut militia in 1775.
The first act that would make Arnold well known was his participation, along with Ethan Allen, in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga just to the north of Saratoga on Lake Champlain. Fort Ticonderoga had an immense store of cannon which were critical to win the Siege the Boston.
In September 1775 Arnold participated in the American invasion of Canada, per orders of Gen. Washington. Though the attempt at adding a “Fourteenth Colony” failed with a desperate attack on Quebec, Arnold was considered by most to have served valiantly as a brilliant tactician and hero after being wounded in the leg during battle. For this he was promoted to brigadier general.
In the summer of 1776 Arnold’s skills as a strategist were once again called upon as he was placed in charge of a new American Naval Fleet in Lake Champlain. His orders from Gen. Horatio Gates were to defend the area and attack only if attacked. Upon learning of a British naval force under Guy Carleton settling in the northern end of the lake, Arnold took his fleet and stationed it towards Valcour Island in October. Several days of battle ensued. Arnold was not able to do much damage to the veteran British fleet. He only saved many of his men after grounding and burning their ships. Yet, in Gates’ eyes, he had disobeyed orders by conducting an offensive maneuver.
Now at odds with not only his superiors, but with Congress over promotions he did not receive, 1777 became Arnold’s year to prove himself. The first chance came in August, when General Philip Schuyler ordered him to march west from Albany to prevent a force under British commander Barry St. Leger from over-whelming the beleaguered troops at Fort Schuyler (Stanwix). Arnold was able to turn St. Leger’s superior force against him by blackmailing a loyalist man into spreading rumors amongst the Indians about his coming. St. Leger’s allies retreated leaving him with no support; he ordered the retreat of his Regular force before Arnold ever arrived on August 21. As Arnold returned to Albany the Northern Army, now under command of General Gates, was bearing down for a defensive against British General John Burgoyne to the north near Saratoga, NY.
After the battle at Freeman’s Farm and an argument with Gates about whether or not to attack the shaken British force, Arnold was relieved of command. On October 7, Burgoyne struck again closer to the American lines. Seeing the enemy entrenched, Arnold rode to the field of battle to lead an American attack that captured an enemy stronghold all against Gates’ orders. This victory however, led the Americans to gain the position they needed on the field to force a British surrender. Arnold was wounded in the same leg that suffered injury in Canada. Scorned by Gates, but officially thanked by Washington and Congress, he was promoted to Major General and sent to Philadelphia to recover, as he could not command the field.
Arnold, though well respected as a battlefield general, was not often well like by his subordinates or fellow officers. He constantly argued with these men about the slightest things. These men, in turn, accused Arnold of many improprieties including theft. Arnold was eventually put under arrest for arguing with members of a court who refused to hear a witness against Colonel Moses Hazen, who Arnold had accused of theft.
Arnold was given command of the city of Philadelphia. Charges of misconduct again surfaced while he commanded Philadelphia not the least of which was his marriage to a known Loyalist, Peggy Shippen. A combination of debt and his disgust with his perceived American enemies eventually moved Arnold to join the British cause.
Arnold wanted a post from which he could do the most service to the British cause. Arnold, requested, and received, command of the American post at West Point. Arnold’s plan to hand over West Point to the British failed but Arnold escaped to New York.
Arnold was made a brigadier general in the British army. In December 1780, Arnold was given command of British forces sent to raid Virginia. Arnold remained there until July 1781 and then returned to New York. Arnold eventually moved to England where he became a merchant. His ventures met with mixed success. Arnold died in London at the age of 60.
Arnold’s name has become synonymous with treasonous behavior and is perhaps one of the most infamous figures in American history. It has been said that had Benedict Arnold died at the Battles of Saratoga, he would have been considered as one of America’s greatest heroes. Instead, he died in England in June of 1801 as General Washington’s most brilliant tactician and America’s worst betrayer.
To learn wish to learn more about the Battles of Saratoga, you can visit the Saratoga National Historical Park in the towns of Saratoga and Stillwater. The park website is at https://www.nps.gov/sara/
The Schuylerville Public Library and all the libraries in the region have a number of books on the Battles of Saratoga. One of the more popular and well written books is Nathaniel Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, And The Fate Of The American Revolution. (2016) New York: Viking. ISBN 0525426787
Saratoga is known for being the turning point of the American Revolution. In 1777 −− the second year of America’s War for Independence −− the British sought to quell the rebellion with a single decisive military campaign. The British plan depended on using an invading army to divide the colonies along a natural corridor of rivers and lakes stretching from Canada to New York City.
The Americans’ determined resistance at Saratoga, coupled with British strategic blunders, resulted in a stunning defeat and surrender for a British army. This timely victory reversed American military fortunes, boosted patriot morale, and gained them international recognition and support, including military assistance. That is why studying the Battles of Saratoga is integral to a good understanding of the American freedoms.