Learning History: A Revolutionary September

1 – The Currency Act (1764)

5 – 1st Continental Congress met in Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia. Meeting continued until October 26th (1774)

8 – Battle of Eutaw Springs (1781)

11 – Battle of Brandywine (1777)

15 – British occupy NYC (1776)

19 – Battle of Saratoga at Freeman’s Farm (1777)

General Horatio Gates, pompous and full of himself, felt it was about time he replaced American General Schuyler. So on the rolling hills of Bemis Heights, he took command of an army who had just alluded Bristish General John Burgoyne once again. Gates didn’t want input from others, and took a particular dislike to Benedict Arnold. In September of 1777 the 7,000 Americans were entrenched at Bemis Heights. Arnold thought they should attack right away. Burgoyne wasn’t as confident in himself or his soldiers after so many mishaps. But Gates said no, and that was an order. He remained safely behind his entrenchments and wanted Burgoyne to come to him. Arnold continued to pester Gates for a chance to attack. Gates finally acquiesced and allowed Arnold to take Daniel Morgan’s sharpshooters to attack at Freeman’s Farm. In this first encounter the skills of the sharpshooters were put to the test. As they picked off the advanced guard one by one, the British became nervous and started to retreat. But then they received reinforcements right at this crucial time so they turned and  advanced again. This time the Americans were pushed back, being signaled to retreat by Daniel Morgan’s famous turkey call. The British pushed forward but were overconfident. The sharpshooters were given enough time to climb into the trees and use their double barreled rifles to pick off every officer save one. The rain of bullets forced the British to rethink their strategy. Next they tried for a bayonet charge. With so many redcoats, Arnold knew he needed help. He sent for Gates to send reinforcements but Gates refused. Arnold had no choice but to retreat back to the safety of Bemis Heights. He was angry with Gates, who finally decided to send him more soldiers, but it was too late. The battle was not lost however. The British had lost 600 men; the Americans only half that number. With Burgoyne being weakened, an attack could have finished the battle. But Gates stayed behind his security for another month until the British came to him. This time however they were stronger and held a position north of the Americans that allowed them to fire cannon on anyone who came close. Arnold once again pushed to attack. This time Gates wouldn’t even let him be part of the plan. They had disagreed many times since the last battle, and Arnold was angry at Gates for having taken credit for the success. Gates sent Daniel Morgan instead and his sharpshooters once again saved the day. As the patriots pushed forward, the British turned once again to bayonets, but they were trodden down by the American muskets. Burgoyne began to retreat. This was the chance for Gates to end this once and for all. But he hesitated and did nothing. Arnold could stand it no longer. He came galloping forward on a tall brown horse and commanded the army to follow him.  Despite having no authority, the soldiers respected Arnold and followed his call. They cheered as he drove against the Hessians who had showed a slight weakness. They fell. Next he saw British General Simon Fraser move forward. He asked for the best sharpshooter and got Tim Murphy. Tim climbed a tree, aimed at the general, and shot his target on the third try. Fraser’s men were left with no leadership, and cowered back behind their earthworks. Arnold comandeered the soldiers of another general and pushed forward until they had driven the British back. His last task was to use two more regiments against the famously cruel Breymann. Breymann showed his men that they would not be able to retreat, running his saber through four men who had slacked off. Another soldier was so sickened by this sight that he turned his own gun on Breymann and killed him. With no leader once again, the retreat was imminent. At this moment Gates sent a messenger to Arnold commanding him to return to camp. Because he had been injured by a bullet through his thigh, Arnold followed orders and returned. The battle slowly ended. The Americans had lost 150 men to the British’s 600. Burgoyne was forced to surrender at Saratoga. Gates again took credit for the glorious victory, and was believed for a time to be a great hero and leader. But all truths emerge. In 1780, at the battle of Camden, Gates would go on to show his true colors when he retreated in disgrace. For his traitorous act he was removed from the army for 2 years and never again was the great general he had thought himself.

19 – Washington’s farewell address. Read it. It’s not too long and it’s worth it. (1796)

23- Treason (1780)

GENERAL ORDERS – Headquarters, Orangetown, Tuesday, September 26, 1780

“Treason of the blackest dye was yesterday discovered! General Arnold who commanded at West Point, lost to every sentiment of honor, of public and private obligation, was about to deliver up that important Post into the hands of the enemy. Such an event must have given the American cause a deadly wound if not a fatal stab. Happily the treason has been timely discovered to prevent the fatal misfortune. The Providential train of circumstances which led to it affords the most convincing proof that the liberties of America  are the object of Divine Protection.”

Washington, in sending out this announcement, hid well his disappointment and shock of discovering Benedict Arnold’s treason.  He liked the man, and felt him one of his close friends. It was a treason for man and country. But the capture of Major Andre, Adjutant General of the British Army, clearly left no room for error in what had happened.

On the morning of September 23rd, three patriot militiamen had posted themselves on the Old Post Road close to Tarrytown. It wasn’t an official posting. They were there to try and stop whoever was stealing cattle and driving them over British lines.  At about 9:30 am, they saw a lone rider approaching, and stopped him to ask where he was going. It was Major Andre on his way to New York, after having secretly met with Benedict Arnold. Andre mistakenly thought the men were Loyalists, keeping guard for the British, because one of them was wearing a Hessian hat.  He began talking freely. The three men were immediately on their guard and forced Andre off the horse and out of his clothes. They found papers in his stockings, written in the handwriting of Benedict Arnold. Knowing he was caught, Andre tried to bribe the men with his horse and watch as payment for releasing him. They refused and instead took him to the nearest American post, North Castle. Washington soon met with Andre and learned of the plot between him and Arnold to take West Point for the British. Arnold had made a detailed report of the number of guards, cannon, ammunition, and French  reinforcements at West Point as to allow it’s easy surrender. His note also mentioned that he required 20,000 pounds of money for his act. With such incriminating evidence, there was nothing Washington could do. Andre was hung, which was punishment for a spy. Upon learning of Andre’s capture, Arnold raced down the Hudson River and boarded the British ship Vulture. He had narrowly escaped his own capture, and became the infamous turncoat we all learned about in 7th grade history class. But there is always another side. Arnold had not been treated well in the Patriot Army and was passed up for positions he deserved. He was also court-martialed when speculation began about him using the army’s supplies for his own personal use. This was found to be false. During this time, he also met and married Peggy Shipman, a Loyalist who was an important part of aiding her husband to commit treason.  No matter what the excuse, it turns out that treasonous acts aren’t a way to make friends. He served under the British for the rest of the war but was never given any important military command, nor was he trusted. He moved to England, where he lived, unappreciated and sometimes in contempt until his death in 1801. His businesses failed and he was passed up for a military career when fighting broke out with the French. He died at age 60, hated in America and virtually unknown in the country he gave up everything for.

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