America’s Monument to Its Most Infamous Traitor, Benedict Arnold

In the United States, the name of Benedict Arnold is synonymous with treason. In exchange for cash and a commission in the British army, Major General Arnold promised to betray his cause and hand over the American fort at West Point. When American leaders discovered the plot, Arnold fled.

But it’s important to note that Arnold gained his command at West Point by dint of his previous battlefield service. Arnold was a brave, daring and aggressive commander. He had helped seize Fort Ticonderoga, participated in the invasion of Quebec and led American naval forces at the Battle of Valcour Island.

General Arnold’s greatest moment came during the Saratoga campaign, which ended with the surrender of an entire British army. The senior American commander, Horatio Gates, was often indecisive and shy of battle. Arnold, in contrast, was eager for battle. He personally led a successful charge on a British redoubt. During that fight, Arnold was shot in the leg and his horse fell on him.

Had Benedict Arnold died that day, he would likely be known as one of the great heroes of the American Revolutionary War. There would be towns, counties and schools named for him.

But he didn’t die. Arnold lived on to betray his country.

Which brings us to the Saratoga battlefield and the scene of Arnold’s most heroic moment.

Part of the Saratoga battlefield area is a national park. On the grounds are assorted monuments to various leaders and events. These were, of course, all built well after Arnold’s betrayal. How does it address the critical and heroic role of America’s most infamous traitor in that battle?

Like this:

(Photo: Americasroof)

The monument to Arnold is known as the Boot Monument. That’s because it makes no mention of Arnold by name and honors the leg that was broken during the battle. 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.

John Watts de Peyster, a general in the New York State Militia during the Civil War, erected the monument in 1887. Perhaps de Peyster made it in response to the primary monument, which was erected a few years earlier. The 155-foot tall obelisk has niches for four statues. There are statues for three of the four great American leaders of the battle: General Horatio Gates, General Philip Schuyler and Colonel Daniel Morgan. The fourth niche is empty.

(Photo: Matt Jiggins)

P.S. Arnold’s name has not been completely erased from American military epigraphy. The monument for the Battle of Valcour Island mentions him by name.

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What a fantastic piece, Neatorama. I've been a huge Rev War buff for 2 decades of my life. One thing we've learned over the last 50 years or so is that second-hand accounts of battles and history through 1950 or so can be somewhat unreliable. Until that time, inaccuracies propagated from all but the most primary of sources and politics often colored "tributes". There are a great number of fantastic leaders - yes Daniel Morgan among them - but less than a few regard Schuyler, Gates (the man who lost Camden and fled the battlefield, leaving Von Steuben to die with the valiant 1st and 2nd Marylanders) or even Arnold in that light. A great many more consider Nathaniel Greene and George Washington to be the war's greatest leaders and bravest souls. Nathaniel Greene waged the southern campaign that led to Cornwallis` surrender at Yorktown. George Washington's victory at Trenton and Princeton yielded the largest surrender of troops on our soil up to that point in the war, and his management (coming in like a bullpen relief pitcher) of the battle of Monmouth - a draw - was a feat of logistics and bravery not equaled by many during any point in the war and done whilst British snipers with rifled barrels tracked him. Arnold, on the other hand, no doubt benefitted from the country's immature news transmission capabilities of the period and his own political connections, as there was no shortage of brave American soldiers - white, black and native. Their stories would not be fully revealed or even discovered until many years later.
-You guys rock, love your site. Happy new year!
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