By Gerald Therrien
While we cannot defend the treasonous actions of Benedict Arnold, we can offer a defence of his wounded left leg. In the aftermath of the failed, treasonous plot and attempted capture of General Washington by Benedict Arnold and British Major Andre, at West Point every memento of his name was expunged from the garrison– Fort Arnold was changed to Fort Clinton. The soldiers in the Continental Army swore that if they caught Arnold, they would cut off the leg wounded in the nation’s service at Quebec and Saratoga, bury it with full honours, and then hang the rest of him on a gibbet! Here is a (nameless) monument to Benedict Arnold’s injured foot at Saratoga National Historical Park.
[The following story has been excerpted from the book, ‘Treason in America’, by Anton Chaitkin; and, also from ‘Forlorn Hope – Quebec and Nova Scotia, and the War for Independence’, Volume 2 of The Unveiling of Canadian History, at The Canadian Patriot]
The ABC’s of Arnold, Burr and Canada
On April 19th 1775, the ‘shot heard round the world’ was fired at the battle of Concord and Lexington as the War for Independence had begun. The Continental Congress would appoint George Washington to be the Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, and he was sent north to Boston, to assume command of the army against the invading British forces.
A few months later, Benedict Arnold would meet with General Washington to brief him on the conditions at the northern border with Canada. Arnold had been sent by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to attack Fort Ticonderoga, and along with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, they were able to force the surrender of the fort by the British garrison, and to capture the fort’s cannons that were to be sent to Boston, where they could be used to fire on the British ships in the harbor.
General Washington would appoint Arnold a colonel, and endorsed a plan for Colonel Arnold to lead an attack on Quebec with a thousand men, travelling through the wilderness, up the Kennebec river to the ‘height of land’ (the border between the United States and British Canada) and then travelling down the Chaudiere river to the St. Lawrence river across from Quebec. General Washington’s plan was that a surprise attack by Colonel Arnold on Quebec in the north, would force the British Governor-General of Canada, Carleton, to draw off men from Fort St. Jean, while General Philip Schuyler, the commander of the Northern Army, would attack the fort.
If it succeeded, it would neutralize Canada, before any British reinforcements could be sent from Britain, and it would stop Canada from being used for British invasions against New England and New York – since a British invasion from Canada, coming down lake Champlain and then down the Hudson river to New York, would split the American colonies in two – and thus split the Continental Army and their resources and supplies in two.
Benedict Arnold was, like other young men in America, caught up in the fervor and passion of the fight for freedom. But the flaw that we see in Arnold, was that his motivation came from a desire for glory, from his ambition to make a name for himself, to vainly seek the applause and admiration of others. This love of glory should be contrasted with General Washington, who didn’t seek glory or rewards or even pay, but his motivation came from his commitment to honor – to his love for justice and for the independence for his country.
Arnold’s ambition led him to attempt sometimes reckless or daring feats, that were sometimes useful, but that were still motivated by his thirst for glory. This ambition should be contrasted to the valor and courage of one of General Washington’s most trusted generals – the fearless General Anthony Wayne, who once told General Washington that ‘General, I will storm Hell, if you will only plan it.’
[Note: Anyone who is caught using that British-instigated slander of ‘Mad’ against the patriot General Wayne, shall henceforth be banned from any friendly correspondence with me, and will be written out of my will.]
A determined Colonel Arnold led his men through the wilderness to Canada, where his starving and exhausted men (called ‘les Bostonnais’ by the French habitants) were welcomed, clothed and fed by the French Canadiens. By November 13th, Arnold would make his way across the St. Lawrence river, and using the same trail used by Wolfe in 1759, would reach Quebec and begin a blockade of the walled town. Arnold had also brought with him a proclamation from General Washington, ‘To the Inhabitants of Canada’, to distribute among the population.
Meanwhile, General Schuyler was at Albany, meeting with the leaders of the Six Nation Indians (the Iroquois) to get their agreement to remain neutral during the war and to stop any attacks on American reconnoitring parties. General Richard Montgomery was left in charge of the American troops at Fort Ticonderoga, and he decided to launch an immediate attack on Fort St. Jean, before the British warships that were being built there were ready. After the surrender of Fort St. Jean, General Montgomery marched his troops into Montreal, on November 13th, (the same day that Arnold arrived at Quebec) where he accepted the town’s terms of capitulation, and also received an address of welcome from the Canadian supporters of the Americans. And recruitment began for the First Canadian Regiment of the Continental Army.
General Montgomery and his men would join up with Colonel Arnold and his men at Quebec, while Carleton prepared to withstand the siege until spring – when British ships would arrive with relief.
It was soon afterwards, that a smallpox epidemic hit the American camp – it has been alleged that the British fort commander had civilians immunized against the disease and then deliberately sent them out to infect the American and Canadien troops.
Knowing that he could not capture Quebec through siege warfare, General Montgomery planned an attack on the town to force Carleton out into battle – he would lead his troops to attack the Lower Town from the south, while Colonel Arnold would lead his men to attack the Lower Town from the north, and then joining together, they would force their way to attack the Upper Town, while the Canadien Regiment carried out a diversion, to draw the British to the walls overlooking the Plains of Abraham.
In the early morning of December 31st, they attacked. As General Montgomery led his men through a barricade along the narrow road, they were fired on by a canon from a nearby blockhouse – and General Montgomery was killed. Colonel Donald Campbell, now in command, along with Montgomery`s aide-de-camp, Aaron Burr, hastily ordered the troops to retreat.
Colonel Arnold and his men passed the Palace Gate, until they reached the first barricade and were fired on by the British. Here Colonel Arnold was wounded in the left leg and had to turn back, and Captain Daniel Morgan now led the troops, where they attacked and scaled the first barricade and took over 100 prisoners.
At dawn, Carleton sent two hundred men out the Palace Gate and onto the rear of Colonel Arnold’s troops, where they caught up to some of the troops who surrendered; and he sent more troops from the Upper Town down to the Lower Town where they encountered Morgan and his men who were now caught in the open between the two barricades under fire, and with no coming rendezvous with Montgomery, were forced to surrender.
A total of 426 Americans were taken prisoner and about 60 had been killed. Although only having six killed and one wounded, Carleton did not counter-attack but remained behind the walls of Quebec with its canon, waiting for the British ships to come in the spring.
We cannot blame this failure on Colonel Arnold, who led his men into battle, but was wounded and was unable to continue – even though the plan would not work, due to the death of General Montgomery.
But, this is the story told to us – that somehow a lucky shot hit and killed General Montgomery, his troops then retreated, and without meeting up with Colonel Arnold’s troops, the attack failed. Or is it?
Let’s go back a bit, to that mention of another traitor-to-be, Aaron Burr, at Quebec, and retrace his steps in getting there.
When Burr showed up at the camp of the Continental Army at Boston in the summer of 1775, he was refused a commission by General Washington. Burr then walked 60 miles out of camp, met up with Colonel Arnold’s troops that were leaving on their way to Canada, and volunteered to join the expedition and to pay his own way!
At Quebec, Colonel Arnold sent Burr as a messenger, through hostile British territory, to Montgomery at Montreal. (Burr then claimed to have succeeded using the assistance of a guide that he obtained from a church monastery ?!?) He arrived at the camp of General Montgomery, who was so impressed that Burr was made a captain and an aide de camp!!! and later, at Quebec, Burr was given the assignment of spy and scout behind the British enemy lines – but, one wonders for which side ?!?
However, ‘the British had somehow learned of the plan, the timing, and the place of attack. The Americans were slaughtered. Canada was lost, to remain a British base of subversive operations against the U.S.A.’
One of Burr’s followers circulated the story that ‘General Montgomery was shot dead inside the fort, and all the others who had gone inside lay dead or dying except Burr. He walked over and picked up the body of the general, and the British stopped firing as he walked out of the fort with it, in honor of such a noble and courageous act!’
Perhaps, this tall-tale gave Burr a hero’s reputation, and he was able to get a new assignment as secretary to General Washington, but after a few days, he was fired – because he had been examining documents meant only for the general’s eyes!
Burr – Painted in a Different Light
‘The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec on December 31st 1775’, was painted by the American artist, John Trumbull, in 1786.
The artist, John Trumbull, who was in London studying under Benjamin West, at the suggestion of West to paint great events from the American War for Independence, modelled this painting after West’s ‘Death of General Wolfe’. The scene of Wolfe’s death was but a mile away from the scene of Montgomery’s death.
In Trumbull’s painting, three riflemen in the left foreground (Major Jonathan Meigs, Captain Samuel Ward, and Captain William Hendricks) wore backcountry clothes and appear in shock at the death of General Montgomery – in the centre of the painting, who is being held by Matthias Ogden, while his arm is being held by Lieutenant John Humphries, both of them in their red regimental uniforms. Beside them on the left is Oneida chief Joseph Louis Cook; and behind them on the right are Lieutenant Samuel Cooper and Colonel Donald Campbell, and to the far right is Colonel William Thompson. In front of Montgomery, two of his aide-de-camps, Captains Jacob Cheeseman and John MacPherson, lie dead. According to the wonderful book, ‘Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution through Painter’s Eyes’ by Art Historian Paul Staiti, in the painting, Montgomery dies in the arms of Matthias Odgen, but Ogden was actually with Arnold’s battalion on the other side of the city – this should have been his aide-de-camp Aaron Burr!!! But Trumbull paints Ogden there instead!?! Was something known about Burr’s potential treason at Quebec, that he wasn’t put into the painting???
The Retreat from Canada
Colonel Arnold remained in Canada and continued the siege of Quebec from his sick bed, and was made a Brigadier-General. After recovering from an injury to his injured leg by a fall from a horse, General Arnold left Quebec and was sent to take command of Montreal, where he met the Commissioners to Canada, that had been sent by the Continental Congress – Samuel Chase, Charles Carroll and (the 70-year-old) Dr. Benjamin Franklin. More troops were also sent to Canada by General Washington (including the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment under Colonel Anthony Wayne).
By June, a fleet of 78 ships under General Burgoyne had arrived at Quebec, and the American army was forced to retreat. General Arnold was posted at Fort St. Jean to protect the retreat, and he left in the last boat – being the last man who embarked from the shores of Canada.
Victory at Saratoga
In October 1777, at the battle of Barber’s Field at Saratoga, General Arnold led Learned’s brigade (including the First Canadian Regiment of the Continental Army) in the attack on Burgoyne’s British troops – while General Gates never left his headquarters, two miles from the battlefield. During the battle, General Arnold was shot, in his bad leg, his horse was killed, and the leg was broken when he was pinned to the ground underneath his horse.
He would refuse to have the leg amputated and would remain many months in an Albany hospital recovering, until he was appointed the military governor of Philadelphia in May 1778, with his leg still not healed entirely and still unable to walk without a crutch.
It was at Philadelphia that General Arnold met and then married Peggy Shippen, who was the step-sister of Aaron Burr, and who had previously been courted by British Major John Andre, and through whom he began his treasonous correspondence with Andre!
Stopping Treason at West Point
In 1780, General Arnold and Major Andre (the son of a Genevan banker!) entered upon the plot to capture General Washington, as well as to capture West Point.
On September 21st, Andre sailed up the Hudson river from New York on the sloop Vulture and arrived at West Point. Joshua Smith and two farmers rowed out to the Vulture, met Andre and rowed him to shore to meet with Arnold for two hours, and they then rode to Smith’s house to continue their talk, until Andre could be returned to the Vulture the next night..
But, despite Arnold’s order not to fire on the Vulture, Colonel Livingston, commanding the 1st Canadian Regiment at Fort Lafayette on Verplanck’s Point, was worried that the presence of this British war ship invited loyalists to row out to it and to plot mischief. Livingston had a howitzer and a four-pounder dragged out onto Teller’s Point to harass the Vulture while a twelve-pounder was dragged close enough to fire and pound the ship. The Vulture dropped down-river, being hulled six times, with her sail and rigging in ruins.
Arnold’s plan to return Andre to the Vulture was also now in ruins. The traitor Arnold’s treasonous plot would be ruined by the patriotic actions of the First Canadian Regiment of the Continental Army.
Andre would be caught by the Americans and hanged as a spy. Arnold would escape on the Vulture, and was made a brigadier general in the British army. Smith would escape custody while awaiting trial and flee to London.
At the time of Arnold’s treason attempt at West Point, Burr had resigned from the army, and was studying law at the home of Thomas Smith, the brother of Joshua Smith!
In conclusion, I propose that instead of finding fault and condemning General Arnold’s actions in Canada, because of his later decay into treason, it would behoove us, as Canadian Patriots, to take up a subscription for the purpose of erecting a similar monument to General Arnold’s injured left leg!
And to prominently post a warrant for Burr’s arrest for treason! Aaron Burr delenda est!
Gerald Therrien is a researcher and historian based in Toronto, Ontario. His writings have been published on the Canadian Patriot Review since 2015 and his most recent book Canadian History Unveiled vol 1 can be purchased here.
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