September 10, 2016
Minnesota’s history dwells on the fur trade, logging, the Sioux Uprising, the industrial revolution and onward. The Bulk of our MN history began in the mid-1800’s and thus misses two of the major defining points in United States history: the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Now that we are out east, we are coming across historical markers, battlefields and buildings that go well beyond what we have known in the Midwest. Two such places at came to life in our imaginations were the battlefields of Saratoga and of Bennington from the Revolutionary War.
The British General Bourgogne believed if he could isolate the upper New England Colonies from the rest, he would squelch the rebellion of the patriots. So, he started off in upper New York and planned on meeting another General on the other side out of Albany. Realizing his supply train was becoming unreliable and was in need, he set out to capture the patriot supplies at Bennington.
He underestimated the resistance of the patriots. The group he sent down there found themselves surrounded on a hill with no backup. This win encouraged the freedom fighters and many more flocked to their ranks and headed to Saratoga to clash with the opposing force again.
Bourgogne was even more desperate for supplies and had less troops. He decided to try bypassing a patriot encampment along a steep river bank at Saratoga. Two major clashes occurred weeks apart. The final clash resulted in the defeat of the British forces. This was the first time the unstoppable British Military had been defeated. Word spread quickly abroad. The French were persuaded to join the patriot cause because of this win and turned the tide of the war.
A couple ideas resonated in my mind concerning these places. First, the effect small actions has in life. The successful defense at Bennington created a ripple effect, that led to more manpower to win at Saratoga. This caused the French to be persuaded to join and thus win our independence.
Second, I never heard of a “convention” before. When the British were defeated at Saratoga, they did not have an unconditional surrender. They created a convention, or treaty that had the British give up their guns and go back to England as long as they promised not to rejoin the war in the colonies again. Fortunately, there were some loop holes in the agreement and the British soldiers were taken as prisoners of war instead of enjoying a safe ride back to Europe to fight the French instead.
Third, Benedict Arnold was proven to be a war hero for the patriots in this battle, though he was not supposed to have gone to the battlefront. To credit him for the significant impact he had in the battle, they erected a monument in his honor. However, because he later turned to the British side, he is considered a traitor to this day. To reflect this action, his monument has a degrading engraving and fails to mention his name.
But I had to wonder, what happened to cause Benedict Arnold to decide to switch sides? After all, he had to have been passionate for the patriot cause to lead others into battle like he did. He was passed over for promotions several times due to politics despite his heroics and injuries. He was also disappointed in Congress’s choice to not accept Britain’s Carlisle Peace Commission’s proposal in 1778. This is just scraping the surface of the complex issues surrounding Arnold’s decision to betray this country.
I take a step back and think about how true it is for the conquerors to write the history. For such a controversial war at that time, are we portraying Benedict Arnold worse that who he really was? I’ll have to look into this further. What about other wars? Do we look down upon the South for their stance in the Civil War? What are the other issues beyond slavery that history has chosen to not remember? Would we have agreed with the North or South today if it wasn’t for the slavery issue?
Until we meet again,