Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Bravest Traitor

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & TreacheryThe Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before his name became synonymous with traitor, Benedict Arnold was one of the heroes of the American Revolution, and without his reckless courage the Colonies' rebellion may have ended at Saratoga.

George Washington once wrote of Arnold "The merit of this gentleman is certainly great. I heartily wish that fortune may distinguish him as one of her favorites." He was once a byword for bravery, the quintessential American patriot and man of action - but Arnold had his enemies, and earned every one of them with his narcissism, social ineptitude, and quick temper. He was a man with great gifts and fatal flaws.

Sheinkin knows just how to tell a story, and he paints a vivid portrait of this notorious general. If we are not exactly sympathetic to Arnold's treachery, at least we understand what led up to it by the end of this compelling history, which ends with this story:

"If you visit the Saratoga battlefield, which is now a national park, you may see a very strange monument, one that perfectly symbolizes Arnold's place in the United States. It's tucked away off the main path, near tour stop number seven, the spot where Arnold led his final charge as an American general. It's a small stone sculpture of a lower left leg. No person, just a tall boot.

"A plaque reads: 'In memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army who was desperately wounded on this spot, the sally port of Burgoyne's Great Western Redoubt 7th October, 1777, winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution.'

"Nowhere does the monument mention the name Benedict Arnold."

- p. 306-307

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