Monday, June 20, 2011

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

Late 19th century view of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga
  Down through the years, the capture of Fort Ticonderoga has been treated as an iconic event when, in fact,  the reality of what actually happened is nowhere near the legends that have surrounded it. What really happened in the early morning hours of May 10th, 1775  was that Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen, with perhaps around eighty of the Green Mountain Boys, swept past a sleeping  British sentry, overpowered a second guard and swept into the fort before the British even knew what was happening. Within ten minutes, the fort had been taken, the British garrison and about forty dependents captured, and four hundred Vermonters swarmed into the fort. Unfortunately, one of the first discoveries after capture of the fort was a a wardroom cellar underneath the officers' quarters housing ninety gallons of rum, enough liquor to keep the Green Mountain Boys drunk for three days. Allen made arrangements to send the prisoners back to Connecticut just before his boys felt compelled to celebrate their "victory" by getting roaring drink and plundering everything in the fort.

   Arnold, trapped in this drunken mess, attempted to assert his command authority. Without getting into all of the intricate details of the struggle between Arnold and Allen over who had command authority before the assault on Ticonderoga, suffice it to say that an uneasy compromise of a type of joint command prevailed before the assault. The Green Mountain Boys were not about to accept a commander that they had not elected, especially someone like Arnold, resplendent in a red uniform, who reminded them of the British officers they so despised. Not to mention that Arnold was a Connecticut citizen who held a commission in the Massachusetts militia, and that Connecticut had its own officers present with instructions to take the fort, compounded by the fact that they all were committing acts of rebellion and treason in another colony, New York, whose colonial leaders believed that Allen and his Green Mountain Boys were brigands and land thieves. A gigantic mess, but one that could be expected  now that separate and distinct colonies, with no real central authority, other than a fledgling Continental Congress still trying to come to grips with its own authority, had suddenly erupted into open rebellion against the crown.

   Arnold was thwarted in his attempt to assert control over the Green Mountain Boys' orgy of drunkenness and looting by Allen who took umbrage at anyone attempting to stop "his boys" from their "right to plunder". One wonders if Allen could have stopped them, even if he had wanted to do so. To underscore his authority, Allen had William Mott issue him a Connecticut commission so that he could keep command by authority of Connecticut ; when Arnold waived his Massachusetts commission in Allen's face, Allen could waive his Connecticut commission in Arnold's face.

   At one point, Arnold was faced with a looter who, sick and tired of Arnold's attempts to restore order and threatening the looters with military justice, leveled his musket at Arnold's chest and cocked it, threatening to kill Arnold if he continued to attempt to interfere with the looting. Arnold stared the man down and, after a few minutes, the man lowered his musket and went about his looting.

   When Silas Deane's brother arrived at the fort to assess the situation, he reported back to Connecticut that there was a war within a war at Ticonderoga. Ethan Allen and his land speculating mountain men were persecuting New Yorkers now in their power and were planning to hold the area and force their land claims on New York. Disgusted, Arnold confined himself to the officers quarters waiting arrival of his recruits from Western Massachusetts. He continued to write reports to his patron Dr Warren and the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

   Arnold, for all his skills, was politically naive. As a popular leader in New Haven, the successful and wealthy Arnold, had relied on confrontation and intimidation to achieved his purposes. He was a neophyte in the realm of political debate and backroom politics. Within twenty four hours of taking Ticonderoga, Ethan Allen taught him how to play politics for private advantage and exposed Arnold as a naive and fumbling politician. So undeft was Arnold that, by the end of June 1775, he had nearly destroyed his prospects for continuing his military career.

   While Arnold stalked the fort and fired off letters to Warren, Allen was busy writing his account of the taking of Ticonderoga. Allen's accounts varied from day to day and for four years he continued to embellish them. In his first account to the Massachusetts Congress, Allen took sole credit for the capture of Ticonderoga, did not mention Arnold by name, but said that his friend and crony James Easton had led Arnold's fifty Massachusetts troops "with great zeal and fortitude. (Arnold later charged that Easton had cowered down by the boats along the lake, pretending to dry his musket until the attack was over.) Allen also praised his attorney friend, John Brown, who was well known in Massachusetts politics, stating that he had been involved in the attack when he had actually been in a tavern across the lake during it. The two men mentioned by Allen held personal grudges against Arnold. John Brown had worked in Arnold's cousin Oliver's law office in Rhode Island and was bitter towards the Arnold family after being fired. Tavern keeper Easton, like Brown, was a self-styled militia colonel who thought that he, not Arnold, should have been commissioned to lead the Massachusetts troops and now was working hard to discredit Arnold and gain Arnold's colonelcy.

  Allen continued to write letters to various officials and individuals in Massachusetts and Connecticut, embellishing and changing his account of the campaign to capture Ticonderoga and the other forts to serve his and his allies purposes.

   Arnold wrote to Cambridge with his final report only after learning of Allen and his friends' duplicity. To his friend and patron, Dr Warren, Arnold wrote:
Beg leave to observe, I have had intimation given me, that some persons had determined to apply to you and the provincial Congress, to injure me in your esteem by misrepresenting matters of fact. I know of no other motive they can have only my refusing them commission from the very simple reason that I did not think them qualified. However, gentlemen, I have the satisfaction of imagining I am employed by gentlemen of so much candor that my conduct will not be condemned until I have the opportunity of being heard.
  To add insult to injury, on May 12th, 1775, about fifty Green Mountain Boys under Seth Warner, most of whom had missed the Ticonderoga assault, seized the British fort at Crown Point. Together, Crown Point and Ticonderoga yielded 201 artillery pieces, some 100 of which were in usable condition. Eventually, fifty-seven of these pieces, the heaviest of which weighed a ton, were manhandled across the Berkshires, then the width of Massachusetts before being set up on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston from the South. It was the placement of these guns, which threatened the British fleet in Boston harbor that forced the British to evacuate the city in mid-March 1776.

Crown Point
     All of this rancor and manuvering by Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold, James Easton, etc would play a part when Arnold returned to Cambridge and tried to deal with the effcts of all of this. It was then he would run into Dr Church.

To be Continued.