Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Benedict Arnold/Dr Benjamin Church Jr Confrontation - Part Three

Osprey Men-at-Arms drawing of Benedict Arnold in the uniform of Captain of the 2nd Connecticut Foot Guards.

   The electrifying news that the two British Forts in New York had fallen with little effort was brought to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in the saddlebags of Ethan Allen's friend, John Brown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Naturally Allen's version quickly became the accepted version of the taking of Ticonderoga and the delegates were soon writing home calling Allen a "hero of the revolution." The euphoria  with which Brown's news had been initially greeted soon turned to consternation since many politicians were not prepared for the provocative act of seizing British forts and Crown property. The Continental Congress set up a committee on New York military affairs to be headed by the forty-three year old delegate from Virginia, Colonel George Washington. Allen and Arnold were instructed to take a complete inventory of everything taken from the Crown's fort and be prepared to return everything if peace negotiations were successful. Obviously, the Congress was not aware of the looting that had occurred. In a May 18th, 1775 resolution, the Congress urged the New York Provincial Congress to ask New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut to send in reinforcements, since the Continental Congress was not sure it had the authority to do so itself. This request, however, only created more controversy since New York, badly split over taking part in what they saw as a Massachusetts-bred revolt, had been officially ignoring all requests for aid by Allen and Arnold. But now, for the first time, the New York Committee of Safety joined with New England in opposing the Continental Congress's recommendation that Ticonderoga and Crown Point be evacuated thus leaving the New England and New York frontiers undefended.
   The Massachusetts Committee of Safety which had, until now, not publicly acknowledged Arnold's role in the campaign, now praised his efforts. The Committee Chairman, Dr Joseph Warren, according to the journal of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, wrote to Arnold that the Committee "highly approved" of his conquests and further had learned that Connecticut and New York were making "ample provisions" to reinforce him. (Reading between the lines, Arnold could determine that this was the Committee's way of saying that Massachusetts would not reinforce him.) Dr Warren went on to state that he and the committee were chagrined to hear of the command dispute between Arnold and Allen  and that Allen had, in three consecutive letters to them, asked to be relieved of command. The committee assured Arnold that it placed the "greatest confidence" in his "fidelity, knowledge, courage and good conduct"; they asked that he "at present dismiss the thoughts of quitting your important command." The letter, spread over the minutes of the Congress, clearly stated that Arnold was in overall command of the revolutionary forces on the frontier, especially in the absence of any conflicting commission from another colony's congress.
   In the meantime, the energetic Arnold set his sights on Canada. The British had a seventy ton sloop, a vessel essential for mounting a counter-assault on Ticonderoga and Crown Point from Canada, as well as a garrison of unknown size in the fortress town of St Jean, 25 miles into Canada. Arnold decided on a pre-emptive strike and, on about dawn on May 18, 1775, Arnold and about 35 men overwhelmed a sergeant and twelve regulars guarding the old and decaying French works at St. Jean. More importantly, Arnold seized the sloop from a sleeping crew of seven. Seizing another nine bateaux, five of which were sea (lake) worthy, Arnold made his escape back to Ticonderoga.

Fort St Jean - 1775

   Arnold was beside himself with joy and a sense of accomplishment. But the larger consequences of his actions eluded him. Americans under Arnold had now wantonly attacked a British fort 25 miles into Canada: the third flagrant act of rebellion by Arnold in eight days. When this news hit London, British officials, not surprisingly, concluded that the colonists were irrevocably committed to war. As a result, they were less willing to take seriously the conciliatory overtures of more cautious provincial politicians, who would keep trying to reconcile differences with the parent nation.

   We now have a situation for which the word confusion must have been invented. There was no clear cut command or political authority wishing to take responsibility for the Lake Champlain region in New York. Arnold was caught between the conflicting aims of the Continental Congress, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, the Connecticut Provincial Congress, New Hampshire and the various New York factions, not to mention his feud with Ethan Allen; all of whom clashed with his own ambitions. But our story is concerned primarily with the Massachusetts Provincial Congress which now decided to further muddy the waters. Foremost on the agenda for this Congress was to extricate Massachusetts from its commitments, especially its financial ones, in the Lake Champlain area. As a first step, the Congress wanted to see the records relating to the Committee of Safety's decision to send Arnold on "a secret warlike enterprise to the westward." Not sure "of the relation Colonel Arnold then stood, and now stands in to this colony," including his authority to raise a regiment to be in the pay of" Massachusetts, the delegates placed Arnold under their jurisdiction, at least until they shed him of all responsibilities in the Lake Champlain region. This, of course, meant getting rid of Arnold, and possibly even his regiment, as well.

   The Massachusetts Provincial Congress had the problem of funding  the massive siege of Boston, obviously its first priority.

    It now angled to have Connecticut and New York to take complete charge of the Champlain theater of war.  The delegates send a Colonel Henshaw to Watertown where the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was meeting to inform them of this development. The likelihood of Connecticut actually doing this was of little concern to Henshaw.

   It was obvious that Massachusetts was trying to wash its hands of Arnold, even, at one point, sending a communication in which it referred to Arnold as "Captain Arnold," his rank in the Connecticut militia.

  To be continued.


1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. This is complicated stuff, but you are telling the story in comestible chunks! In my reading so far to date, I have some sympathy for Arnold. He seems to have rarely, if ever, gotten his due. Of course, that's no excuse for treason, but one has to wonder ...

    I have new biography of Ethan Allen to read. I wonder if any of this will be covered in it. I'll have to move it up in the queue.

    Looking forward to the next iteration.