An Interview with Benedict Arnold's Army: The 1775 American Invasion of Canada During the Revolutionary War author Arthur Lefkowitz
: What sparked your interest in the Arnold Expedition?
ASL: Every introductory history of the American Revolution includes some basic information about the 1775 Arnold Expedition. I became interested in the subject while reading these brief accounts, and I wanted to learn more.
: Could you briefly discuss the campaign?
ASL: Shortly after George Washington arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts to take command of the Continental Army, he learned about his officers’ interest in sending a detachment through the Maine district of Massachusetts to capture British held Quebec. He liked the idea, and he selected Benedict Arnold, an obscure and controversial Connecticut militia officer, to command the independent surprise attack on Quebec. Washington’s selection of Arnold was based on the General’s skill in identifying talented people and encouraging them. In an amazing feat of organization, Washington organized and equipped what he believed was a secret mission. Unfortunately the British were aware of his every move. (Laughing) Read my book to find out what happens next.
: Why do you think little has been written about this time period in Arnold’s life?
ASL: I believe that Arnold’s treason made historians shy away from celebrating his early contributions to the American patriot cause. Fortunately, history writing has become more pragmatic in recent years allowing a more balanced view of Arnold and acknowledging his early exploits and role as one of America’s best combat officers.
: Could you explain Arnold’s controversial behavior?
ASL: Benedict Arnold made significant unselfish contributions to the American patriot cause early in the war, including leading the 1775 Arnold Expedition and the 1776 defense of Lake Champlain. However, some historians question his leadership during the 1777 Saratoga campaign. They believe he unnecessarily risked the lives of the men who followed him when he led the dangerous attacks. But Arnold’s controversial behavior at Saratoga is a sideshow in relation to his 1780 odious treason which, on top of recent American defeats in the south and an economic crisis, rocked the Revolutionary cause to its core.
: Does Arnold’s behavior early in his life and during the war offer clues as to why he abandoned the Colonial movement?
ASL: Absolutely, in fact I emphasize this point throughout Benedict Arnold’s Army. Arnold had some serious emotional problems stemming from his youth. He was, for example, obsessed with honor and the need for recognition. He made enemies in high places easily and was not good at diplomacy. By 1780 Arnold was probably down to one influential friend: George Washington, who admired him.
: Was Arnold a good leader?
ASL: Numerous diaries kept during the Arnold Expedition reveal that he was considered a brilliant, courageous combat officer who had a gift for motivating his men. He was also concerned about their health and welfare. However, he was a poor administrator, which became evident when the Arnold Expedition ran into trouble.
: Discuss the closing chapter of your book.
ASL: Certainly, that was a chapter that I enjoyed working on. It is a summary of what there is to see in Maine and Canada associated with the Arnold Expedition. However, it is critical to study the campaign first so you can use your knowledge and imagination to get the most out of your trip. When I started this project I read travel guides to Maine assuming that I would find information about the Arnold Expedition. I never found a word on the subject in any of the guide books that I read. I made four field trips to Maine and Canada while researching this book and traveled the route during each trip, often with local historians.
: Were you able to incorporate any previously unpublished material into the book?
ASL: Yes, my book benefits from several important documents that I found during my extensive research. My most exciting find was Arnold’s manuscript letter book from the campaign. There were a few pages of hand-written notes inserted into the book explaining that Aaron Burr gifted it to the Society in 1831. Burr was a teenage gentleman volunteer on the Arnold Expedition, and his recollections of the expedition provided me with some valuable and intriguing information. My interest in Burr was one of my reasons for researching the expedition.
: Can you briefly discuss Burr’s early accomplishments?
ASL: Burr is one of the most controversial figures in American history. He was on the Arnold Expedition serving as an unpaid gentleman volunteer who hoped that his extemporary service would earn him an officer’s commission. Burr was 19 years old at the time and he was appointed a captain and aide-de-camp to General Richard Montgomery when the Arnold Expedition arrived in Canada. He went on to serve with distinction and honor as an American officer until he retired from the service as a colonel in 1779 due to his poor health. His wartime service record included leading a regiment into battle at the 1778 Battle of Monmouth.
: What about after the Revolutionary War?
ASL: I belong to a wonderful 12-step fellowship program which helped me realize that other people will help you if you are willing to ask for help. It taught me that God is alive and well and wants me to share what I have learned with people facing similar challenges. I have never met anyone who does not know an individual in their life who suffers from alcoholism. The book Under the Influence helped me recognize my own alcoholism, and I refer to this book in Flying Drunk. In the end, my mission to help others become and stay sober is what keeps me sober.
: What about after the Revolutionary War?
ASL: Burr may have been an ostentatious lawyer and politician when he fought his famous duel with Hamilton in 1804, but he was also a combat hardened, tough veteran of the American Revolution who knew how to keep a cool head and aim a pistol.
: Do you think there is a growing interest in literature on the Revolutionary War? If so, why?
ASL: Yes I do. I believe that Americans want to look back to a time where they can take pride in their country’s history. Also, George Washington has been gaining in his stature as a dedicated and unselfish leader who is known and respected today all over the world. To me, his greatest wartime contributions were his steady, calming leadership throughout the conflict, establishing the supremacy of the civilian government over the military and the humane treatment of prisoners. Our War for Independence delivers the values that people want to believe is the foundation of our nation and makes us special as setting world history on a new course of protecting personal liberties and representative government that serves the people.
: Thank you for your time, Mr. Lefkowitz.
ASL: You’re welcome, it was my pleasure.
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