The 1775 American Invasion of Canada
by Arthur S. Lefkowitz
Reviewed by Russ Lockwood
Savas Beattie, 2008, $32.95, ISBN: 978-1-932714-03-6, 380 pgs., hardback
There is a growing interest in the Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War as a source of national pride and identity and the Arnold Expedition as told through Benedict Arnold’s Army is one of the greatest adventure stories in American history. “…In short, BENEDICT ARNOLD’S ARMY is brilliant.
Benedict Arnold‘s name equates with “traitor” more than anything else, although some may recall his exploits at Ticonderoga or Saratoga before he tried to turn West Point over to the British. But in 1775, Washington entrusted him with an 1100-man expedition to Canada through the wilds of Maine. His objective was Quebec, ripe for the taking at the beginning of the Revolution. Benedict Arnold’s Army recounts this expedition and the battle of Quebec.
The first 20 pages provide a brief bio of Arnold and situation report of the Revolution. The next 180 pages or so detail the expedition from the fitting and prep work to the daring crossing of the river at Quebec. The next 75 pages outline Montgomery’s expedition to Quebec, the link up of the two American forces, and the conduct of the siege and battle of Quebec. The final 100 pages are extensive end notes (thankfully at the end and not traditional footnotes on every page — great reading in themselves), followed by a few pages of index.
In short, Benedict Arnold’s Army is brilliant. The prose sparkles, the research shines, and the historical fog enveloping this obscure expedition lifts to reveal the military gamble across a barely-charted wilderness.
I had high expectations because a previous Lefkowitz book, The Long Retreat, was excellent. I read Benedict Arnold’s Army, including the footnotes — and who reads 100 pages of footnotes — in two days. The book is that good and that hard to put down. Then I went back and re-read selected portions. With Benedict Arnold’s Army, my expectations were matched and exceeded.
Written by Russ Lockwood
Arnold’s expedition into Canada is one of the greatest American adventures ever undertaken. For most people, appreciating it as such is complicated by Arnold’s later betrayal and by the expedition’s failure. Hopefully this well reasoned, well researched, and well written book can help more Americans and Canadians better understand this event that might have united 14 colonies against the British.
With over 100 pages of source citations, including substantial use of primary sources, few Revolution authors are half as conscientious. He also traveled much of the original route and thought long and hard about his conclusions. Lefkowitz clearly wanted to get it right.
I’ll point out a couple of very minor flaws: Some of the maps could have been better. I wound up following along on a map I found on the internet at one point, which worked out OK. I also wish Lefkowitz had shared his thoughts on this question: If Arnold had succeeded in Canada, would he still have betrayed America?
Author Arthur Lefkowitz’s account of Benedict Arnold’s army marching through the Maine wilderness to attack the city of Quebec during the waning months of 1775 may very well be the definitive account of this expedition. For those, me included, who would not fit the definition of a historian this book may go into a little more detail than what may interest you.
Nevertheless, the book will be worth your time. Many of those who accompanied Arnold on this trip included veterans of the Battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775. Several who took part on this harrowing trip were called gentleman volunteers. Among them was a smallish man who distinguished himself well named Aaron Burr. The plan of attack was for General Philip Schuyler who was to first attack Montreal from Fort Ticonderoga while Arnold and his men traveled to Quebec through Maine.
Schuyler became sick along the way and had to return, and he was replaced by General Richard Montgomery. Arnold and his men suffered on their trek by having to deal with numerous hardships such as portaging their way around numerous waterfalls, insufficient food, freezing weather, and traveling through swamps. There was some question whether Arnold would defer to Montgomery’s authority when they joined forces in Quebec, but the two got along fine.
With several soldiers’ enlistments due to expire with the arrival of the new year and several attempts to get British Governor Guy Carleton to surrender the two generals combined their attack on Quebec on December 31st in a snowstorm. Although Montgomery was killed and Arnold took a musket ball below the knee and the effort to take Quebec failed this experience provided valuable training experience that went into winning American independence. This book is a valuable addition to Revolutionary War literature.
>>Read about the Army Benedict Arnold led.
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