An attempt to bring understanding, if not forgiveness, to the story of Benedict Arnold (1741-1801).
Examining a variety of primary sources, including Russell M. Lea’s 2008 publication of Arnold’s war correspondence and other Arnold papers “recently discovered in Quebec,” Malcolm (George Mason Univ. School of Law; Peter's War: A New England Slave Boy and the American Revolution, 2009, etc.) dives further into the psyche of the man synonymous with the word “traitor.” His ability as a soldier, acknowledged even by the British, and continued heroics indicate a truly talented, heroic patriot who dedicated his life, lost his fortune, and suffered crippling injury for the American cause. Arnold was also rash and impetuous, and his pride and successes made many enemies. The micromanaging of the Army by the Congress made such rivalries more common, as they often appointed ill-qualified but well-connected leaders. After Ticonderoga, Arnold led a heroic trek through the bleak winter landscape to meet up with Gen. Philip Schuyler at Montreal. But Col. Roger Enos abandoned that trek and left with a third of Arnold’s force. Even so, Arnold was successful at Montreal and then built a fleet of shallow draft boats on Lake Champlain to block the British. At Saratoga, Gen. Horatio Gates disliked him intensely and confined Arnold to his tent. Not to be held back, he led the leaderless army to turn the battle, but he was also grievously injured. George Washington sent him to Philadelphia to lead, a huge mistake since Arnold had very little political ability. He was often denied pay and promotions, and a series of false accusations pushed him over the edge. Others would suffer similarly and resign their commissions, but Arnold felt the war was lost and turned to the British. The author does her best to paint her subject as underappreciated—and is mostly successful in that endeavor—and she rejects the accusations that his wife drove him to treason.
Readers will decide if Arnold’s choices were forced upon him or if he was, indeed, flawed. Malcolm provides plenty to consider.