Benedict Arnold: Hudson Valley Traitor or Misunderstood Hero?

Soldier, spy: Was Benedict Arnold a traitor or a hero? History proves he was both



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benedict arnold

Who’s the patriot?

Benedict Arnold was immediately and thoroughly vilified in the new United States. Benjamin Franklin wrote that “Judas sold only one man, Arnold three million.” His name was effectively stricken from early military histories. (See sidebar.)

And yet “he was a great commander and a visionary,” Fleek says. His work at Ticonderoga and Quebec, including long marches through the Maine wilderness, were marvels of military ingenuity, Fleek contends, and his bravery at Saratoga helped turn the tide of the war in the Colonies’ favor. “He was a smart guy, very motivated, full of initiative — all the traits of a solid commander,” Fleek continues. “But I wouldn’t want him as my brother-in-law. His transformation was not political or ideological; it was more personal in nature. He always wanted credit, and he allowed himself to be won over because he felt he was insulted and neglected.

“But here’s the dichotomy,” Fleek continues. “Who were the traitors in this war? The true rebels in the middle of an act of sedition were the Colonists, not the British. The winners get to choose the terms, so we call ourselves patriots now. But who really were the patriots, and who were the traitors?”

Whither Arnold?

Want to walk in the boots of a traitor? Just head to the Hudson shoreline near Philipstown, just south of the Garrison Metro-North station. There you’ll find the path that America’s most notorious turncoat, Benedict Arnold, took to escape capture. You’ll also find a gazebo, historical information, and some terrific views of the river and West Point.

Two separate entrances lead to the trail. From Route 9D in Garrison, turn at the sign for the Garrison Institute down Glenclyffe Road; further along, a small parking lot above the entrance to the trail leads to the overlook where Arnold began his flight. On Lower Station Road, two stone pillars guard the entrance to the Arden Point trail, which takes travelers to the gazebo and overlook.

Along with the path, there are many other memorials to Arnold. But sometimes you have to use your imagination to see them. Like Voldemort of Harry Potter fame, Benedict Arnold was, for a long time, “he who shall not be named.”

On the battlefield within Saratoga National Historical Park, you’ll find the Boot Monument. It depicts an injured leg; the inscription reads: “In memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army, who was desperately wounded on this spot... winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution, and for himself the rank of Major General.” Guess who?

And the victory monument in the same park has four niches, three of which are occupied by statues of generals Gates, Schuyler, and Morgan. The fourth niche is empty. Guess who again?

On the grounds of West Point, in the circa 1837 Old Cadet Chapel, there are prominent plaques commemorating all of the major generals, by name, who served in the Revolution. One plaque, however, is tucked away by itself, up high near the balcony in the back. It says only, “Major general... born 1741.” Guess who once more? “The builders couldn’t deny the fact that there was another guy, but his name was so odious they wouldn’t recognize it,” says Lt. Col. Sherman Fleek.

There are also markers that do bear Arnold’s name, in Massachusetts, Maine, and along the western bank of Lake Champlain. Perhaps most ignominious of all, a plaque on the house where Arnold lived in central London calls him an “American Patriot.”

 

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