- Pub. Date:
- McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
- Pub. Date:
- McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
In October 1776, four years before Benedict Arnold’s treasonous attempt to hand control of the Hudson River to the British, his patch-work fleet on Lake Champlain was all that stood between British forces and a swift end to the American rebellion.
Benedict Arnold’s Navy is the dramatic chronicle of that desperate battle and of the extraordinary events that occurred on the American Revolution’s critical northern front. Written with captivating narrative vitality, this landmark book shows how Benedict Arnold’s fearless leadership against staggering odds in a northern wilderness secured for America the independence that he would later try to betray.
Praise for James L. Nelson:
"James Nelson is a master both of his period and of the English language."
Patrick O'Brian, author of Master and Commander
"James L. Nelson tells this story with clarity and literary skill and with such ease and order that the reader feels he is attending a dissertation on history given by a consummate lecturer."
Ron Berthel, Associated Press, on Reign of Iron: The Story of the First Battling Ironclads, winner of the American Library Association’s 2004 Award for Best Military History
"It is, by far, the best Civil War novel I’ve read; reeking of battle, duty, heroism and tragedy. It’s a triumph of imagination and good, taut writing . . . "
Bernard Cornwell on Glory in the Name, winner of the W. Y. Boyd Literary Award
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Benedict Arnold's Navy
The Ragtag Fleet that Lost the Battle of Lake Champlain but Won the American Revolution
By JAMES L. NELSON
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2006James L. Nelson
All rights reserved.
The War Begins
In the spring of 1775, the storm that had been gathering for a decade broke at last.
On the night of April 18, British troops marched from their Boston garrison to seize colonial munitions in the nearby town of Concord. The next morning they were met on Lexington Green by a small band of American militia, the "minutemen," citizen-soldiers turned out by the alarm raised by the British regulars' approach. There, in the early morning hours, the first shots of the American Revolution were fired. By the time the British troops moved on, ten Americans were wounded and eight lay dead.
Word of the fighting swept ahead of the marching troops. Seemingly out of nowhere, an American army numbering in the thousands materialized, as every militia unit within a half day's march raced to join the action.
By day's end, the one-sided showdown on Lexington Green had become the bloody, running battle of Lexington and Concord. Colonial militia chased General Thomas Gage's British forces back to Boston, leaving 250 redcoats and 95 Americans killed and wounded along the way.
It was not the first time that colonial militia had mobilized for an alarm, but it was the first time that a genuine battle had ensued. American militia continued to pour into the countryside around Boston even after the remnants of Gage's column had returned to the safety of the city. After previous alarms, the militias had dispersed once the danger had passed, but this time the American citizen-soldiers did not go home. Rather, they stayed in the field and put the city of Boston under siege.
The suddenness of this change was reflected in the words of a young British naval officer in Boston who wrote, "In the course of two days, from a plentiful town, we are reduced to the disagreeable necessity of living on salt provisions, and we are fairly blocked up in Boston."
Almost spontaneously, the smoldering hostilities between the Americans and the British government in London had turned violent, and the American colonies were at war.
The year before, Gage had attempted to prevent the increasingly radical Massachusetts legislature from meeting. A number of delegates had met anyway and formed themselves into the Massachusetts First Provincial Congress, which, in utter defiance of the Crown, assumed governmental responsibility over the colony.
Members of the Provincial Congress were selected to form a Committee of Safety, which would oversee the militia and other matters of public concern. Following the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the Committee of Safety sent a circular letter throughout New England, calling for men to augment the militia units surrounding Boston. In short order a colonial army of thousands was mustered, the biggest army ever assembled in New England. Events began to spin out of control.
Those early days of what would become the American Revolution were an enormously confusing time. An army had come together and fought the British with no forethought, no flag or uniform, and under no unifying authority beyond the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. It was unclear who, if anyone, was in charge.
Though colonists had begun referring to themselves as Americans during the French and Indian War two decades before, the colonies themselves remained at most a loose federation, united only in their disaffection toward England's policies, and not even uniformly in that. The First Continental Congress was the only body that represented all thirteen colonies, and it had adjourned more than five months earlier, after agreeing to a boycott on trade with England and petitioning King George to redress colonial grievances. The delegates had not created anything that could be considered a federal government, and had certainly not authorized open rebellion.
The Second Continental Congress was not yet in session, and would not be for another month. The highest authorities who might speak for the rebels were the individual colonial governments, and they were making little effort to work in concert, save for their ongoing support for the beleaguered city of Boston.
Indeed, soon after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the colonies of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York nearly came to loggerheads as they raced off in separate directions. On May 5, members of the New York Assembly, acting on their own accord, sent a letter to General Gage in Boston with a request that Gage "immediately order a cessation of further hostilities, until His Majesty can be apprised of the situation of the American Colonies."
The New Yorkers were still under the impression, shared by many Americans, that King George III would put a stop to Gage's aggression if his Majesty only understood the truth. On the same day the letter to Gage was written, two members of the New York Assembly sailed for England to explain that truth to the king.
Three days before that, and to the horror of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, the Connecticut Assembly dispatched two ambassadors to meet with General Gage regarding the current crisis. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress managed to head off the emissaries, informing them that "Any proposals ... made separately by a single Colony, may produce most tremendous events with regard to America." The issues were ironed out before any real animosity developed among the colonies, but the incident served to illustrate the free-for-all nature of the opening days of the Revolution.
And into these confused and violent affairs marched Captain Benedict Arnold.
Benedict Arnold V, of New Haven, Connecticut, was descended from a long and distinguished line of Arnolds in America. The first American Arnold, William, arrived with his family in Massachusetts Bay fifteen years after the Pilgrims, part of the Puritan exodus from England. He soon left Massachusetts, following Roger Williams to Rhode Island. There Arnold and his son, the first Benedict, purchased nearly ten thousand acres of land, establishing themselves as one of the wealthiest families in the colony. By the mid-1600s, the first Benedict Arnold had succeeded Roger Williams as governor of Rhode Island. Rather than adhere to the practice of primogeniture, Benedict Arnold I divided his property among his heirs, and his son, Benedict Arnold II, did the same. Benedict Arnold III inherited only a tiny fraction of the original Arnold holding.
By the time Benedict Arnold IV, the father of Revolutionary War Benedict Arnold was born, the family fortune was greatly diminished, and the remaining property too small to be further divided. Instead, the great-grandson of the governor of Rhode Island was given an apprenticeship to a cooper and forced to make barrels for a living.
But Arnold's father was more ambitious than that. He left Rhode Island for Norwich, Connecticut, a thriving and growing town on the Thames River. There he made a good marriage to the widow of a prosperous merchant for whom he had worked, gaining not only a wife of good lineage but the merchant's business as well, which Arnold made even more prosperous. When Benedict Arnold was born, his father was a civic leader in Norwich, and the Arnold name was on its way back up among the leading families in New England.
That trajectory did not last. By the time Benedict Arnold was a young teenager, his father had started drinking hard, driven to it perhaps by the deaths of four of his six children. The fortune and the social standing of the Arnold family fell precipitously, and young Benedict's boarding-school education, which he had begun receiving in preparation for college, came to an end as the family's money ran out. Rather than an educated young gentleman, Ar
Excerpted from Benedict Arnold's Navy by JAMES L. NELSON. Copyright © 2006 by James L. Nelson. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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