More about America's most infamous traitor, Benedict Arnold

Recently there was a discussion about American history and the American Revolutionary War in the “It’s time mover on IMHO” string. One name that came up with Benedict Arnold. Rather than re-inventing the wheel I will post in a part of an article I wrote about a series of the Revolutionary War awards, the Comitia Americana medals. The American Continental Congress voted to award these medals to various heroes from George Washington to “light Horse Harry” Lee.

I am not here to defend Benedict Arnold. What he did initially and subsequently with the British cannot be forgiven. What I would like to do is present a bit of perspective. If there is any interest, we can export this issued further.

Here is a small part of an article I wrote from my local coin club about the Comitia Americana series.

General Horatio Gates

The Battle of Saratoga

October 17, 1777

The American victory at Saratoga was the turning point of the American Revolutionary War. It not only blunted a major British offensive but more importantly, convinced the French to join the Americans in the war effort. Ultimately French assistance in the form of funds, war materials and naval support would be one of the deciding factors in the French-American victory.

The Saratoga campaign was to have been a three-pronged British attack that was intended to separate New England from the rest of the colonies. Troops, under British General John Burgoyne, moved south from Lake Champlain. A second British contingent marched east from Lake Ontario, and third attack group was scheduled to move north from New York City. Unfortunately for the British, General William Howe decided to take his army south and capture the patriot capital in Philadelphia. The eastern advance stalled at Fort Stanwix and was never able to link with Burgoyne. That left Burgoyne on his own moving further and further south into hostile territory.

By mid-August, Burgoyne was running out of supplies. He sent a force of 700 men to scavenge for food and other materials. Much to their surprise, the British ran into a force of 2,000 men who came from the Massachusetts and New Hampshire militias and a Vermont militia force that was known by a colorful name, the Green Mountain Boys. The colonial forces dealt a heavy defeat on the British, which made Burgoyne’s situation even more dire. In addition to losing a significant number of men, his Native American allies abandoned him as well.

In the mean time George Washington sent Benedict Arnold, his most aggressive general, and Benjamin Lincoln, a man who was popular with the New England forces, to aid General Gates. Arnold had helped thwart the British attack from the west at Fort Stanwix and would play a key role in the Saratoga victory.

“The Battle of Saratoga” was really two battles. The first, the Battle of Freeman’s Farm occurred on September 19. Horatio Gates preferred to let the British force come to him, but Arnold and Daniel Morgan, who commanded a group of marksmen, took a more aggressive approach. They prevented the British from taking the high ground and took the fight to them. At the end of the day, the British won the battle but at a high cost. They suffered almost 600 casualties while the Americans lost nearly 300 men.

The two sides maneuvered for position in the coming days. During that period, Gates and Arnold disagreed sharply over strategy, and Gates sought to minimize Arnold’s participation in the battle that was to come. The second battle, Bemis Heights, was fought on October 7. The American forces, led by Benedict Arnold, defeated the British, inflicting 400 more casualties. Burgoyne attempted to retreat to the north, but his situation was hopeless. His forces were outnumbered by 3 to 1, and escape was impossible. On October 17, Burgoyne surrendered to Horatio Gates.

In the reports to Congress, Gates took full credit for the victory. Arnold’s name was not even mentioned. Arnold’s bold leadership on the battlefield contributed more to the victory than Gates’ overly cautious approach to the opportunities as they arose. On November 4, 1777 Congress voted to award a gold medal to Horatio Gates. Benedict Arnold was snubbed. This was the first of a string of events that would lead Arnold to become the most infamous traitor in American history. The subsequent reasons that led him down that path were far less justified.

The Paris Mint sent the Horatio Gates medal dies to the United States early in the 19th century. Both the French and American Mints stuck these medals in bronze. Today the Horatio Gates medal is one of the few pieces in the series where an example, struck from the original die pair, can be obtained with a reasonable amount of effort.

Here is an example of the Gates medal, struck in bronze. This piece was struck from the same die pair that was used to make the gold medal that was awarded to Gates. They didn’t fool around when they made award medals these days. This medal has a diameter of 56 mm.