UNITED STATES

Saratoga Springs, NY

The Revolutionary War Hero Who Must Not Be Named

This boot is all that commemorates Benedict Arnold’s heroic role in winning the Battle of Saratoga for the American forces in 1777

This boot, in Saratoga Battlefield Park, recognizes Benedict Arnold as a hero of the American Revolutionary War, credited with winning the decisive Battle of Saratoga in 1777. He’s unnamed because he later turned traitor.
MITCHELL SMYTH/Meridian Writers’ Group

THE MARKER, at Stop 7 on the driving tour of the Saratoga battlefield, leaves most tourists baffled.

It shows a riding boot, about twice life-size, in bas-relief, on a marble stone. The inscription reads, in part: “In memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army, who was desperately wounded on this spot...7th October 1777, winning for his countrymen the Decisive Battle of the American Revolution, and for himself the rank of Major General.”

You’d think any hero lauded like that would have his name and probably also his face carved in the memorial. But there’s no name for this “most brilliant soldier.”

A ranger back at the visitor centre supplies the answer. “The memorial is to Benedict Arnold,” he says. “We don’t give names to traitors.”

Arnold, American General George Washington’s friend and the hero of Saratoga, later switched sides and the British made him a brigadier general. That’s why, in the United States, the name is synonymous with treachery.

Rangers’ talks, a video and artifacts in the visitor centre of the Saratoga National Historical Park, which encloses the battlefield, fill in the story. They tell how, in the fall of 1777, the revolutionary army was low in morale after too many defeats by the Redcoats. British General John Burgoyne, marching victoriously south from Montreal down the Lake Champlain-Hudson Valley corridor, engaged the rebellious colonists here on the west bank of the Hudson.

The tide turned for the Americans when General Arnold disobeyed orders and led an assault on the Berryman Redoubt, putting the British and their German allies to flight.

“It was the first time,” the commentator on the video declares, “that the world’s mightiest army was defeated by the world’s newest.”

Some historians claim the victory that day decided American independence, giving the colonists a major morale boost and stopping the British drive south to recapture New York city and isolate New England, regarded as the crucible of the rebellion. It also helped secure essential foreign recognition of the fledgling republic.

In securing victory, Arnold was wounded in the leg, a musket ball having gone through the top of his boot. That’s why the memorial shows his footwear. (And incidentally, despite what the wording says, there’s no evidence Arnold was “desperately wounded” at Saratoga.)

“Had he died here,” a guide sheet to the battlefield notes, “posterity would have known few names brighter than that of Benedict Arnold.”

Elsewhere in the historical park, the Victory Monument has four niches. Three contain statues of Generals Horatio Gates, Philip Schuyler and Daniel Morgan, who commanded forces here. The fourth niche is empty; not even a boot.

Benedict Arnold died in London in 1801, at the age of 60. Bitterness at having been passed over for promotion in America played a role in his changing sides, but there have been suggestions that he came to regret becoming a turncoat. One story says that on his deathbed he said: “Let me put on this old uniform in which I fought my battles. May God forgive me for ever putting on another.”

 

ACCESS

For more information visit the Sarasota section of the U.S. National Parks website at www.nps.gov/sara/.

For information on travel in New York state go to the New York State Division of Tourism website at www.iloveny.com.