Benedict Arnold, Fort Ticonderoga, Quebec, Battle on Lake Champlain, Freeman’s Farm, Bemis Heights, West Point and Major André

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 14th, 2012

Politics 101

Arnold prevented a British Drive down the Hudson Valley to separate New England from the Rest of the Colonies

There was a fine line between Patriot and Loyalist.  And between Patriot and traitor.  For Benedict Arnold, at least.  Who went from Patriot to hero to traitor.  Some would argue that if it weren’t for Benedict Arnold we may not have won the American Revolutionary War.  And they may be right.  Yet at the same time he almost single-handedly lost the Revolutionary War. 

Benedict Arnold was both the best and the worst of Americans during the Revolution.  For he was a complex man.  And a flawed man.  After hostilities broke out at Lexington and Concord Arnold led his company from New Haven to Boston.  One of the first to answer the call of duty after that fateful day when a shot was fired that was heard ’round the world.  He was in it from the get-go.  A Patriot.  When it became apparent that the Americans lacked the artillery to attack the British in the fortified Boston they looked west.  To Fort Ticonderoga.  The Massachusetts Committee of Safety directed Arnold to raise a force and march on Fort Ticonderoga.  Capture it.  And bring back their cannon for action on the British fortifications at Boston.  The Connecticut Committee of Safety, not knowing of the orders given to Arnold, gave similar orders to Ethan Allen.  These two leaders met on the way to Ticonderoga.  Argued a little.  Then shared command.  Captured Ticonderoga.  Ethan Allen dragged the captured cannon back to Boston while Arnold went on and captured Crown Point.  Captured a British ship.  Sailed it to St. John.  And captured it.

Right from the beginning Arnold was what the Americans needed.  An aggressive leader who took the initiative.  And he would again.  But Arnold was also a prima donna.  He yearned for glory.  Shortly after Ticonderoga Congress decided on a Canadian campaign.  To conquer the British in Montreal and Quebec (City) so the Canadians could join the Americans as the fourteenth colony.  While a campaign was put together for Montreal Arnold persuaded General Washington for another campaign he would lead through Maine to Quebec.  Washington approved. 

Arnold’s Action around Saratoga brought the French into the War and Changed everything for Britain 

So Arnold gathered his force.  Including one Daniel Morgan.  And marched through the inhospitable wilderness of Maine in some unpleasant weather.  His men were wet, hungry, cold and miserable.  They made it to Quebec and assaulted the fortress in a January blizzard.  It did not go well.  Richard Montgomery, coming to join Arnold after conquering Montreal, was killed in the attack.  Arnold was wounded.  The Americans retreated.  First to Montreal.  Then all the way back to Ticonderoga.  Battling the British in a rearguard action.  While smallpox decimated the American ranks.  British General Carleton was in hot pursuit coming down to Lake Champlain.  Where Arnold would meet him.  He threw together a small makeshift squadron and met Carleton in battle on Lake Champlain.  Arnold lost his fleet.  But he delayed Carleton a month.  Unprepared for a winter campaign, Carleton retreated.  Thus Arnold prevented a British drive down the Hudson valley to separate New England from the rest of the colonies.

About a year later British General John Burgoyne launched a three-pronged attack consisting of a force attacking east from Oswego through the Mohawk valley.  A force attacking north up the Hudson River from New York.  And a force led by Burgoyne taking the same route Carleton had a year earlier.  Down through Lake Champlain and into the upper Hudson valley.  All three prongs to converge around Albany.  To cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.  The southern prong coming out of New York never materialized, though.  For General Howe was busy running around in Pennsylvania.  While the other two prongs got bogged down before reaching their objectives.  Burgoyne himself was having some trouble around a little town called Saratoga.  Burgoyne’s lines of communications were stretched dangerously long.  He was getting into trouble.  At the same time, though, political intrigue changed the American commander.  Horatio Gates replaced General Schuler.  Gates was content to trust his defenses and wait for the British assault.  Arnold saw the British were going to attempt to turn a weak American flank at Freeman’s Farm.  He argued with Gates to counter that move.  He finally gave in and agreed to send a force that included Daniel Morgan’s riflemen.  As that battle ebbed and flowed Arnold led a force against the British center. 

Arnold saved the day.  Had he received reinforcements he may have defeated the British army that day.  Instead Gates relieved Arnold of his command.  And marginalized him in his report to Congress.  At the subsequent battle at Bemis Heights Arnold, without a command, gathered some men and assaulted some British fortifications as the British retired behind them.  Breached the fortifications.  Sending the British in retreat all the way back to Saratoga.  Getting a horse shot out from underneath him in the process.  And taking another bullet in the leg.  Because of Arnold’s action around Saratoga Burgoyne had no choice but to ask for terms of surrender.  And he surrendered to General Horatio Gates.  Who got all the glory.  While his part in this victory was marginal at best.  But this victory was big.  It brought the French into the war.  Which changed everything for Britain.  Who now had a world war on their hands.  And the Spanish would later join that war against the British.  As allies to the French.  Then Catherine the Great of Russia led a drive for an armed neutrality of the other nations not taking sides in this new world war.  Which isolated Britain further.  Making it more difficult to interdict supplies going to the American rebels on neutral ships.

We remember Benedict Arnold not for the Hero he was but for the Traitor he Became

You could say that Benedict Arnold made this all possible.  By saving New England twice.  First by delaying Carleton on Lake Champlain.  Then winning the battles at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights.  But did he get the glory?  No.  Some respected him.  General Washington did.  But the politics of the Congress were against him.  Which was a problem for a man like Arnold.  Who had a huge ego.  Was arrogant.  A bit of a hothead.  And had a gambling problem.  Put it all together and it caused this Patriot to become a traitor.  Because he was not given the proper respect for his glorious achievements.  And saving the American cause time and again.  If the American political elite would not give him the proper respect the British would.  And made a deal with him.  Money and security for the rest of his life for him and his family.  In exchange for information.  And control of the Hudson River via the forts of West Point. 

Arnold asked for and got command of West Point from General Washington.  And then started feeding the British inside information.  And began making plans for the handover of West Point to the British.  To finally sever New England from the rest of the colonies.  And it might have happened as planned if not for his British contact, Major André, being caught behind the American lines out of uniform with plans of how to capture the forts of West Point.  Arnold was to meet General Washington that day who by then knew of André’s capture.  Arnold did not.  But he found out just in time to escape to the British lines.  André was not so lucky.  For the Americans hanged him as a spy.

Arnold would return to America.  As a British general.  Landing in Virginia and leading an army of Loyalist Tories near the end of the war.  Doing some damage.  But he would never recapture past glories.  He would retire to England.  Pretty much a footnote in the British history of the American Revolutionary War.  For their investment in Arnold delivered little.  So Arnold would live out his remaining days a man with no real country.  He could never return to America.  And the British never really accepted him.  Americans and British alike lamented the death of Major André.  Who died because of Arnold.  A death he nevertheless faced with honor and courage.  But Arnold would suffer a worse fate.  Indifference.  He mattered to no one.  He had no honor.  Lived another 20 years or so.  Insignificant.  And died a traitor.  Which is the only thing we remember him for.  Not the hero he was.  But the traitor he became.

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Chinese Trade, Constantinople, Compass, Stirrup, Gunpowder, Cannon, Renaissance, Enlightenment and Gunboat Diplomacy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 18th, 2012

Technology 101

The Ottoman Turks used the new Cannon to Breach the Great Stone Walls of Constantinople

China was a mysterious and distant place.  It was about as far away from Europe you could get.  But the things that came from there were intoxicating.  Caravans working the Silk Road brought things west.  To Constantinople.  And to northern Europe.  Silk.  Porcelain.  And those eastern spices.  If you were interested in having the finer things in life you bought them from China.

Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire.  The eastern part of the Roman Empire that survived through the Middle Ages.  Constantinople sat on the Bosporus.  The trade crossroads of the world.  Where Europe met Asia.  Where the Black Sea (and the rivers of Eastern Europe and Russia) met the Mediterranean Sea.  Where Christianity met Islam.  Where Catholicism met Christian Orthodoxy.  Not only a city of great wealth but of strategic importance.  And coveted by everyone who didn’t have it.

China also invented paper, the compass, the stirrup, the ship rudder and moveable-type printing.  And they were pretty good at map making, too.  Things that Europeans used to great success.  Including another Chinese invention.  Gunpowder.  But the Europeans weren’t the only ones using these inventions.  The Seljuk Turks made good use of the stirrup.  Riding out of central Asia.  Whose archers were able to stand in their stirrups while at full gallop and bring down a withering and accurate fire upon their enemies.  Who went on to conquer much of the Byzantine lands.  Except Constantinople.  Whose thick stone walls were impervious to the archer’s arrow.  But the Ottoman Turks were able to break down those thick walls with another Chinese invention.  Gunpowder.  Used in cannons to hurl great projectiles into the stone walls of Constantinople.  Breaching them.  Allowing them to finally conquer the great city in 1453.  When Constantinople became Istanbul.

The Renaissance and the Enlightenment bloomed in Italy

When the Western Roman Empire fell the Byzantine Empire retained some portions of it.  Including what grew into the Italian city-states.  Tied into the Byzantine economy they grew wealthy from that Asian trade.  Many of those coveted Chinese goods that made it to Europe went through them.  It was their wealth that led them out of the Dark Ages.  Kicked off the Italian Renaissance.  And rekindled an interest in the ancient Greek texts and the knowledge they contained.  The chancellor of Florence invited a scholar from Constantinople to Florence to teach their students Greek.  To help these students read the old Greek texts.  More scholars followed after the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople.

The flourishing trade helped to create the banking industry.  Aided by their development of double-entry bookkeeping that the Italians invented.  The Italian city-states were making money.  Which made good use of that Chinese paper.  To account for all the money they were making from those Chinese luxuries.  Made a lot of rich men.  Who indulged in the arts.  Renaissance art bloomed in Italy.  As did the Enlightenment.  From all that Greek learning the Italians gained from those Greek texts.  And it flowered from Italy throughout Europe.

But all was not good.  As these city-states grew great and wealthy they became targets for their rivals.  And plunged them into a series of wars that consumed more wealth than the city-states created.  Wars they fought with hired mercenaries.  Which Venice and Florence financed with some of the first government bonds.  But their days were numbered.  Because others wanted that wealth.  And they wanted to find a way to get to those Chinese goods without going through the Ottoman Turks.  And they soon found it.

It was the Europeans’ Turn to Build Empires Thanks to their Taste for Chinese Luxuries and Technology

With the Turks in Istanbul and the Italians in the Mediterranean, the Portuguese, the Spanish and the Dutch looked for a direct sea route to China.  With the English close behind.  With modern ocean-going ships.  Employing a lot of that Chinese technology.  Including the compass.  And that gunpowder.  Taking them to the source of those Chinese goods.  Soon the Europeans moved in.  And began to dictate their own terms.  Cutting out the Italians.  And the Turks.  It was the end of the great Italian city-states.  The days of the great warships had arrived.  Ships bristling with decks of cannon.  Introducing the era of gunboat diplomacy.

It was the Europeans’ turn to build empires.  Thanks to their taste for Chinese luxuries.  And an insatiable appetite to use the latest in technology to help them get what they wanted.  Their dominance would last centuries.  Until the latest in technology took warfare to such heights that it plunged continents into war.  The Great War was so devastating that it wiped out a generation of people.  Bankrupted those European empires.  Destroyed the Ottoman Empire.  And left the European nations impoverished.  But they would recover.  And then do it all over again.  Only worse.  For World War II demoted the Great War to World War I.  Which turned out not to be the war to end all wars after all.

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