Growing up in the United States of America, you heard a version of history that made our Founding Fathers and the generals who fought the American Revolution out to be heroes. And in many ways they were. The winners write the history, no doubt, but they did create a democracy that was the envy of the world while fighting off the greatest military power of the day.
I’ve read that if Benedict Arnold had been killed at Saratoga instead of badly wounded he would be remembered as one of our greatest heroes. There’s no doubt that he was a complicated man; aggressively ambitious to a point where he drove those he commanded, was loathed by many of his peers, but loved as a true leader by anyone who saw him in action.
Had Benedict Arnold not turned against the colonies, he would have been celebrated as one of our greatest military leaders for his raid on Quebec, the raid on Ticonderoga, the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain against overwhelming odds, the Battles of Ridgefield, Connecticut and Saratoga. In all of these, Arnold exhibited courage, persistence, strategic vision and competitive spirit critical in war. He sacrificed an enormous amount of his personal wealth and political power for the Revolution, and was a key reason the British were ultimately defeated. And yet he’s best known for his betrayal.
You can’t take omit that betrayal when considering the man. There’s no doubt that he deserved the condemnation and infamy he received and receives to this day for not just betraying the colonies, but also betraying George Washington and the troops he served with. But it’s… complicated. If Arnold weren’t such a hero in 1775-1778, his betrayal in 1780. He remains the most famous traitor in history, and the most forgotten hero.
I’ll try to visit a few of the places that Benedict Arnold made history in. Not because I admire the man, but because without him I’m not sure that the Continental Army would have won in the end. And what would our history have been then? Unlike Washington, there aren’t a lot of “Benedict Arnold slept here” placards on the sides of colonial era homes. But there are monuments to what he accomplished, and I’d like to explore a few of those in 2019.