May 10, 2018
Fort Ticonderoga was crucial for the survival of the American Revolution. While its position on Lake Champlain was strategically important for the patriots, the munitions stored inside were invaluable. Two men understood its importance, and without them, the American Revolution may have been lost.
The British held the northeastern New York fort known for its crucial defensive location between the colonies and Canada since the French and Indian War. Built by the French under the name Fort Carillion, the British eventually captured the fort, renaming it Ticonderoga for the Iroquois word “between two waters”.
Two patriots, one a soldier and one a rebel, would conduct the crucial expedition against the fort. The Connecticut Committee approached Ethan Allen, leader of the Green Mountain Boys militia in Vermont, to orchestrate a campaign to take Fort Ticonderoga. The Boys were formed in 1770 to defend the property rights of Vermonters from New Yorkers. However, when the British attacked the colonies, they realized they had a higher calling. Allen gathered 100 Boys along with 60 others, who elected him colonel, and headed across the border to New York.
At the same time, Captain Benedict Arnold approached the Massachusetts Committee of Safety requesting permission to attack Fort Ticonderoga. He argued the fort would put the Continental Army in the position to attack Quebec. The Committee agreed, commissioning Arnold as a colonel, and sent him north.
While en route, Arnold learned of Allen and his militiamen. Racing to meet them, he arrived just before they planned to cross Lake Champlain. Arnold attempted to take command of the expedition, but Allen’s men refused to participate unless Allen was in control. Rather than battle amongst themselves, the two men formed a tenuous agreement to both lead the campaign against the fort.
About 80 men, including Allen and Arnold, arrived on the shores near Fort Ticonderoga as the their boats returned to retrieve the remaining militia. The day before an informant reported the fort's walls were in disrepair, their gunpowder was wet and only a small number of British forces guarded the structure. Yet they anticipated reinforcements arriving anytime. Therefore, as dawn quickly approached on May 10, 1775, the two colonels decided to attack while surprise was still on their side.
As the Patriots approached the fort, the only guard on duty raised his musket to fire. The weapon misfired, causing the guard to run off. With no opposition, they stormed the fort, easily capturing and disarming the roughly 50 sleeping soldiers. With their eyes set on the officers’ quarters, the two colonels, followed by a handful of others, raced up the stairs. They reached Lieutenant Jocelyn Feltham’s room first, who demanded to know what authority allowed them to enter the fort. Allen replied, “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!” The fort’s commander, Captain William DeLaPlace, eventually exited his room in full uniform and surrendered his sword.
The first Patriot victory in the Revolutionary War commenced without a shot fired. However, it is not the end of the story for Allen and Arnold. Following the Ticonderoga victory, Allen’s men quickly began plundering the fort and consuming their liquor supply. Too arrogant over the victory, Allen did nothing to discipline his men, and the Green Mountain Boys were far too rowdy to listen to strict military man Arnold.
While the men celebrated their victory, Allen’s Lieutenant, Seth Warner, captured the nearby Fort Crown Pointe on May 11. Likewise, Arnold took a few men north on Lake Champlain and captured Fort Saint-Jean on May 18. However, discovering that reinforcements were on their way, the Patriots collected all the supplies they could on their boat and a captured British sloop of war before setting back towards Fort Ticonderoga. Late to the fight, Allen passed Arnold on Lake Champlain determined to hold the fort Arnold had just abandoned. His reckless and disorganized assault led to a quick defeat.
While Allen licked his wounds, Arnold returned and took command of Fort Ticonderoga. Despite his victories, Arnold’s command was taken from him. This setback caused him to resign his commission, knowing he deserved the position due to the critical role he had played and for financing the expedition with his own money. To add insult to injury, when he arrived home he discovered that his wife had died only days earlier.
As Arnold faced his own personal battles at home, Colonel Allen and Lieutenant Warner were in Philadelphia to make the Green Mountain Boys an official regiment of the Continental Army with plans to invade Quebec. After they raised troops, Warner was overwhelmingly voted commander while Allen failed to receive any leadership position. His attitude and actions following the capture of Fort Ticonderoga likely led to the vote. Initially upset, Allen eventually joined the mission as a civilian scout.
Allen arrived in Quebec in early September. Brigadier General Richard Montgomery instructed Allen to raise support and troops among the Natives and the Canadians. After rallying the troops, he set out for the Battle of Longue-Pointe. On September 25, 1775, Allen was captured, and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of the British.
Shortly before Allen was taken captive, Benedict Arnold met with General George Washington and proposed an attack on Quebec City. Months later, Arnold’s men met up with General Montgomery’s troops, striking the city on December 31. During the Battle of Quebec, General Montgomery was killed and Arnold’s leg was severely wounded.
In spite of his injury, Arnold held Montreal for the next year, greatly impeding British advancement towards Fort Ticonderoga. During this time, Arnold strengthened friendships and developed enemies. Captain John Brown had fought with Arnold and was suspicious of him ever since the Battle of Ticonderoga. Brown became the first to press charges against Arnold, claiming, "Money is this man's God, and to get enough of it he would sacrifice his country”. Yet nothing came of Brown's accusations.
Despite his military victories, Congress bypassed Arnold for a promotion to major general. With full backing from General Washington, Arnold returned to Philadelphia to challenge his rank with Congress after Washington refused his resignation. However, word of British forces threatening a supply depot in Connecticut sidetracked him. During the Battle of Ridgefield, he once again was wounded in his leg while Major General Daniel Wooster lost his life. As a reward for his bravery, and as a result of Wooster’s death, Congress promoted Arnold but declined to restore his seniority. Frustrated, Arnold again penned his resignation on July 11 as news reached Congress that Fort Ticonderoga had fallen and was once again under British control. Fortunately, Henry Knox retrieved the bulk of the fort’s artillery in December of 1775. (see ) Knox’s decisive actions of delivering the weapons to Washington in Cambridge allowed the Patriots to drive the British out of Boston.
Once more refusing Arnold's resignation, Washington ordering him back north to defend the area. Under General Horatio Gates, Patriots engaged in two battles at Saratoga. (see ) Despite more disagreements with fellow officers, Arnold's leadership is credited with winning the second battle, resulting in Britain's General John Burgoyne surrendering on October 17, 1777. However, Arnold injured his left leg a third time. The multiple injuries meant he risked amputation, but Arnold insisted on letting it heal. As a result, his left leg became 2 inches shorter than his right. His heroic leadership won him applause as he returned to Valley Forge in May of 1778, where he joined numerous soldiers in taking the first recorded Oath of Allegiance to the United States.
As the British forces abandoned Philadelphia in June, Washington appointed Arnold as its military commander. (see ) Despite his military victories and oath of allegiance, Arnold began to take full advantage of his new position. He immediately began conducting lucrative war related business deals with the city’s Tories. This led local political leader Joseph Reed to level charges against Arnold. A court martial trial occurred in December of 1779, and Arnold was cleared of any wrong doing save for two minor charges. However, Arnold’s downfall was already in motion.
While in Philadelphia, Arnold fell madly in love with 18-year-old Peggy Shippen, a Loyalist sympathizer. Shortly after their marriage on April 8, 1779, Arnold began meeting with several Loyalists and eventually Major John André, Britain’s new spy chief. Arnold, who became a member of the Sons of Liberty following the Stamp Act of 1765, was now in secret negotiations with the British to sell his loyalty. (see and ) Peggy helped deliver messages between Arnold and André, who was actually a former suitor.
When Arnold was appointed to command West Point, he saw his opportunity. He immediately offered the American stronghold to Britain for the right price. Shortly after arriving on August 3, 1780, they agreed on the terms and Arnold began sabotaging the fort’s military defense and strength.
The following month, André met with Arnold near West Point to gather information and drawings of the fort. He unexpectedly was forced to return to New York by land, leaving with a pass from Arnold in his coat pocket and the plans for West Point in his boot. On September 23, three militiamen stopped André and found the documents. The critical intelligence was immediately relayed to General Washington. As Arnold prepared to have breakfast with Washington, he received word of André‘s capture. He immediately fled before Washington arrived at his home.
Washington tried to secure a prisoner exchange of André and Arnold, but the British refused. As a result, André was convicted at a military tribunal and hanged in New York on October 2. (see ) Arnold continued fighting in America, but now as a Red Coat rather than a Patriot. If captured, Washington gave Marquis de Lafayette strict orders to hang Arnold as they did André. (see )
The remainder of Arnold’s life was full of bad business deals and lawsuits, which resulted in an ever deteriorating reputation. However, during the French Revolution, he helped the British before being captured and imprisoned. (see and ) He escaped after bribing the guards, barely eluding the hangman’s noose. Other than a short time in Canada, he spent the remainder of his life in London where he died on June 14, 1801. His body was moved after a church renovation and was placed in an unmarked grave.
As for Allen, following his capture in 1775, he spent the next few years primarily on prison ships, first in Ireland and then off the coast of New York. On May 3, 1778, he was transferred to Stanton Island and released a few days later as part of a prisoner exchange. Receiving the largely honorary title of colonel, it did not come with an immediate active command. As his services were never called for, Allen’s role in the Revolutionary War quietly ended.
Back home, Allen discovered his beloved Vermont had declared independence in 1777 and maintained neutrality during the Revolution. Allen addressed the Continental Congress to make Vermont the 14th state. Upon their refusal, Allen took his argument to the Canadian governor to make Vermont a British territory. The governor also declined. For Allen to so quickly offer Vermont to the very country that held him prisoner for years, only went to further damage Allen’s already reckless reputation.
Like Arnold, Allen’s first wife passed away and he fell passionately in love with and married a Loyalist. Nevertheless, the war was over so the political effects were insignificant. Captain Daniel Shays did appeal to Allen during his 1778 rebellion. (see ) However, Allen questioned Shays’ true motives and declined. Allen died February 12, 1789, and was buried in Green Mount Cemetery in Burlington, Vermont.
Liberty, Allen and Arnold were not perfect men. But when pushed, ordinary people do some extraordinary things. Like America, these men represent the good and the bad. Both were denied promotions and commands because of their reputations. However, if not for these men, America might not have won her freedom.
For decades, colonists pleaded with King George III to have their grievances addressed. (see , , , , ) However, when the British came after the colonists’ guns, the line had been drawn and crossed. (see and ) Both Allen and Arnold answered the call to fight the oppression.
Regardless of his recklessness, Allen is still respected by most as a Patriot. However, the name Benedict Arnold will always be synonymous with traitor despite his pivotal victories at Ticonderoga, Quebec, and Saratoga. Unfortunately, today’s Progressives want to only focus on the mistakes and negative aspects of our founding. This is to justify eradicating the , and starting all over in a socialist society. But history is history, Liberty, and we must study it all. Because despite her flaws, there is no other country that has given such freedom and opportunity to the world than America.
That’s my 2 cents.
A TALE OF TWO PATRIOTS