Sunday, September 25, 2011

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

   In June 1775, Benedict Arnold found himself in an untenable position. Massachusetts was trying to wash its hands of the Lake Champlain campaign, the Continental Congress was unsure of what it wanted to do, the Connecticut Committee appointed to oversee the campaign notified the Connecticut House of Assembly that it had postponed sending further assistance to Captain Arnold, New York was divided, and Ethan Allen hovered over the whole affair with his personal ambitions paramount. And, unbenownst to Arnold, his patron, Dr Joseph Warren, who until then had not apparently outlined Arnold's secret mission to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, became the President of the Congress and turned over the affairs of the Committee of Safety to its new Chairman, Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr.
Benedict Arnold sketch from Lossing
   Dr Church had become Chairman of the Committee in the early part of May and had personally signed Arnold's commission to take Fort Ticonderoga on May 10th. At this point it gets confusing again. Sometime in the middle of May, Dr Warren replaced Dr Church as Chairman of the Committee of Safety in what has been described as "a bloodless and even noiseless coup." I have not been able to determine the precise reason for this action or what the politics involved were. Although Drs Warren and Church were allied to each other as staunch Whigs, there was a rivalry between them and one gets the impression that they were more colleagues than friends. In any event, Church was selected by the Provincial Congress to take secret correspondence to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia asking it to assume control and support of the Massachusetts militia now besieging Boston. Church departed for Philadelphia on May 20th, 1775 and did not return to Cambridge until the afternoon of June 16th, arriving in the middle of the battle of Bunker Hill. On May 20th, Warren became President of the Provincial Congress, and on June 14th a major general in the Massachusetts militia only to die two days later at Bunker Hill. (See my post on" Dr Joseph Warren at Bunker Hill - Heroic or Foolish.")
   In the meantime, Arnold was awaiting authority from the Continental Congress to proceed with a plan he had drawn up to attack Canada. On June 15th, 1775, Arnold sent an aide to Philadelphia to outline his plans. But, on that very day George Washington was appointed as Commander in Chief of the new American Army by that Congress and it would be months before Washington could turn his attention to Arnold and his plans to invade Canada. Washington's first priority was to hasten to Cambridge and take command of the army besieging Boston.
Enterprise - Arnold's flagship
 In the absence of Drs Warren and Church, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety proceeded to undermine Arnold in a series of actions. The first was the dispatch of Colonel Henshaw to Connecticut. If Connecticut was ready to take control over the captured forts, Henshaw was to proceed to Ticonderoga and turn over command to a Connecticut officer. If Connecticut had not sent officers and men to take control of Ticonderoga, Henshaw was to tell Arnold to stay on. But on his arrival in Connecticut, Henshaw learned that it had opened up a third possibility by sending a delegation to Albany to ask New York to take control of the forts. New York was less than thrilled with the prospect of assuming responsibility for the Massachusetts-Connecticut attack on crown forts on its own territory and only wanted to make sure that the captured cannon and supplies remained in New York and were not sent on to Boston. Henshaw sent an aide to Arnold at Crown Point with a letter instructing him to guard against any surprise from the enemy and that he would receive further instructions. Arnold was left in a state of a bewildering confusion of interests and orders but could take relief in the fact that Massachusetts had not relieved him of command -yet.
  The Committee of Safety was receiving reports from a number of sources to include an account of the taking of Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen which only further increased their apprehension over the whole Ticonderoga affair. On June 12th, acting on a recommendation from the Committee of Safety, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress decided to send a an investigative committee to Ticonderoga with authority to review how Arnold had executed his commission and to give him such orders as they deemed necessary. The committee consisted of Walter Spooner, Jedediah Foster, and James Sullivan. In addition, Arnold was to turn over his command to an officer appointed by Connecticut and the three members of the special investigative committee were authorized to decide if Arnold should remain in the employ of Massachusetts and could discharge him and order him to return to Massachusetts and render an account of his actions.
James Sullivan - Member Spooner Committee, later Governor of Massachusetts

     The three Massachusetts investigators arrived at Crown Point on June 22nd and to the beleaguered Arnold they appeared to be just another delegation come in to reflect in his glory or perhaps to bring in some sorely needed cash. Nothing prepared him for the confrontation that took place abroad his flagship, Enterprise. The committee ordered Arnold to step down immediately as commander and was informed that, if he wished to remain in charge of his contingent of Massachusetts militia, it would have to be as second in command to a newly arrived Connecticut officer. Arnold flatly refused; he would resign first. There was no further negotiation. Later that day, the committee chairman, Walter Spooner, sent Arnold a note in which it was stated that "It is the expectation of the provincial congress that the chief officer of the Connecticut forces at these stations will command..." Arnold not only was to turn command of his troops over to a Connecticut officer but he was ordered  to "lay an account of your disbursements before the Provincial Congress."
   That night Arnold retired to his cabin and drafted a long letter to the Committee. He expressed his outrage in the manner in which he had been treated, stating, among other grievances, that the whole manner in which the committee had acted was "a most disgraceful reflection on him and the body of troops he commands " and was "a sufficient inducement to resign." Arnold ended the letter by offering his resignation because of the failure of Massachusetts to discharge its obligations honorably to him as well as to his men. The Congress had failed him and his men by only furnishing L100 to keep his army in the field for two months. He had advanced the army L1000 out of his own fortune and had borrowed money on his own word to pay his men when it became necessary. This had put him in a terrible financial bind.
Jedediah Foster home outside of Worcester

   Benedict Arnold then took the only action he thought he could. On June 24th, 1775, six weeks after taking Fort Ticonderoga, he disbanded his regiment and resigned his Massachusetts commission. Arnold now only wanted to go home to Connecticut, straighten out his financial affairs, and then proceed to Massachusetts to clear his name.
   He was soon to discover, however, that three days prior to his confrontation with the Spooner committee, on June 19th 1775, his wife of eight years, Peggy Mansfield, had died, leaving him a widower with three young sons.

  To be continued


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