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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Tarnished Warrior

James Ripley Jacobs

published by
The Macmillan Company,
New York, 1938

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 2
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p1  Chapter I
Doctor by Profession, Soldier by Choice

Forty miles southeast of Washington a few fishermen live sparingly on the bounty of tourists and the sale of oysters gathered from the waters of the Patuxent. They are friendly, these folk, and talk in quiet neighborly voices about their own doings. They are not the kind who travel far in the journeyings of the mind, nor do they think deeply except on very personal things. Like their thoughts, their wants are not extensive. If life is hard, they still are happy in their brightening Maryland sunshine; usually whimsical over misfortunes, they take their turns of adversity with an easy faith in a rewarding future. When food and shelter are sufficient, they see no reason to exert themselves as do the more prosperous farmers who live across the river and in the rolling country of the hinterland.

The eighteenth century forebears of these farmers were men who often held great areas of land touched by the arms of the Atlantic. From their own wharves, boats were loaded in summer and fall with the harvest of their crops destined for Baltimore Town or ports across the sea. They were wealthy enough in this world's goods until tobacco lost its primacy and their fields wore out with constant planting. Generous to a fault, hospitable to friends and strangers alike, gallant toward women, sensitive in matters of honor, and often unskillful in barter and business, they made a pleasant people with whom to dwell.

In the days of the early Baltimores their creed was Catholicism, although members of other sects were tolerated and came to Maryland in great numbers. But with the accession of William and Mary to the throne in 1689, important changes occurred in the province: a royal government was instituted; the Church of England was established, and an irksome tax levied for its support. For years living was dangerous for those who continued to make confession to the priests  p2 still lingering among them. Sometimes they had to wear swords for their personal protection, and for a time they were permitted to worship only in special rooms of their own homes. However, after the Calverts had turned Protestant and were again governors, the Catholics, scattered here and there, were no longer considered a menace. Persecution then abated, and at the beginning of the American Revolution the Angelus was sometimes heard as Protestants returned to their homes upon the rounded hills.

As religious bigotry diminished, the planters were better able to concentrate upon matters of more worldly concern — land, hogsheads of well cured tobacco, and numbers of dutiful slaves. These were their principal interests, even if their epitaphs beneath a spreading oak would indicate far otherwise. Their kin, like many others, judged kindly in the presence of eternity.

In this Maryland of early days, James Wilkinson was born in 1757, three miles northeast of the present village of Benedict, on the south side of Hunting Creek. The arrival of another boy was welcome news to family and friends — particularly to young Joseph, who was then about three and needed a playmate. In the course of time these two boys were to have a couple of sisters. These four rounded out the family circle.1

The father, John Wilkinson, was an esteemed merchant-planter. He died when James was not quite seven, leaving to his dependents a considerable estate. The growing boy remembered little about his father except that he was oversensitive about his honor and enjoined his son to be likewise. The mother, Betty Heighe, lived until 1802, and on her devolved the task of raising the family. Having, in addition to strength of body and mind, many Christian virtues, she won from her children not only affection but a great deal of admiration.2

She and her husband both came from good English families, were followers of the Protestant faith, and often bent their heads in prayers beneath the barreled ceiling of All Saints Church. Whether merchant, planter, or doctor, their ancestors had acquired property and, with meticulous care, saw that it was bequeathed as they desired. The families seldom had many members, and each heir's portion of slaves, land, tobacco, and cattle was proportionately large. Other things of lesser value were also handed down — joiners' tools, pewter dishes and  p3 silver plate; a suit of child's bed linen; a "feather bed for Althea on her sixteenth birthday or earlier" should she marry; Bibles, concordances, commentaries and expositions of the oracles of God; "ten pounds current money of England for Elizabeth and Mary" in token of paternal affection; "a handsome suit of mourning and a mourning ring of 20s sterling price."3

Land, slaves, and valuables of this kind could come only from people of consequence. Even if their last thought was of decent burial and remission of sins, they were yet very careful to see that their possessions were reserved only for kinsmen of their choice.

With this background of piety and property James Wilkinson passed into his teens, acquiring a tolerant idea of most sects and an easy disregard for money except for the pleasure which it might bring. He doubtless knew many of the fox-hunting gentry, particularly those who ranged through his mother's plantation, and from them took some of his patterns of conduct. He learned to admire comely women who gracefully rode clean-limbed horses of pedigree. He acquired a desire for long reaches of fruitful acres and for negroes stripping tobacco and singing in the sun. He often pricked up his ears to the blowing of a cow's horn along the winding reaches of Hunting Creek, for the sound meant the visiting of relatives and friends, either at his home or somewhere along the Patuxent. His days would soon be filled with bustling interest. He delighted to see the house overflowing and guests becoming convivial around the board. He early learned to move easily among them, because they came so often and stayed so long. He sometimes wormed in below the salt and aped the manners of a man, for he matured early, this fatherless boy of keen mind and attractive ways.

When he was twelve years old, he had to leave a genial home like this and go to Baltimore for inoculation against smallpox. Here he remained a month or more while he was being successfully treated. He was thrilled; the town was different from that world of his between the Chesapeake and the Patuxent.4

The study of "inferior" mathematics and the Latin classics had no corresponding call of interest, even if David Hunter, a graduate of the University of Glasgow, was his tutor. He did not make marked progress in either; when about fourteen, he was placed under Dr.  p4 John Bond, a relative, to begin the study of medicine. The doctor had served in the French and Indian War, and delighted in telling stories of his regiment. To these Wilkinson was deeply attentive, for he was a virile lad, and all his friends were then discussing imperial efforts to tax and resistance to the British Crown. For him the lore of surgeons and apothecaries could not compete with that of soldiers and arms and shining deeds.5

Nevertheless, in the hope that he might still become a doctor, it was thought best to send him where he might enjoy the best training along the Atlantic seaboard. From Plum Point, the home of his grandmother Heighe, the lad made his way up the Chesapeake, then across the isthmus and up the Delaware to Philadelphia, the largest and most interesting city of the Colonies. He arrived here in his seventeenth year, perhaps on an autumn evening in 1773.​6 Probably there were relations or friends who met the lad and took him to their home.

In Philadelphia his eyes were opened to unaccustomed sights. Along its straight and well paved streets fine ladies and gentlemen were constantly riding in coaches or on horseback. In spite of Quaker restraint, they wore heavily powdered wigs, flaring coats of radiant color, taboured shirts, silver buckles, fine breeches, bodices, stomachers, and gaily patterned silks and satins. People of quality had not yet yielded to the pressure of patriotism and the fashion for provincial things. Humbler folk were very differently clad; their clothes were suited for rugged tasks. German and Irish workmen, redemptioners, and apprentices went about their business in stout leather breeches and woolens. Sailors clattered by in coarse jackets and ill-fitting shoes; they were hardy and brown with the weathering of the ocean, ill-smelling with grog and the fish of the sea. These people were all very new to the growing James, whose vision had been limited to his mother's plantation, Baltimore, and the sweep of the Patuxent and the Chesapeake. He would learn much from them before his course of study was ended.

Within the cosmopolitan city of Philadelphia he would also find unusual opportunities for the study of "physic and surgery." Nowhere in the New World existed such a coterie of distinguished physicians. Dr. William Shippen, Jr., father of medical science in Philadelphia, was just beginning his great aid to women through the teaching  p5 of obstetrics. Dr. Benjamin Rush, brilliant and learned in the lore of the Old World, was in the early morning of his dynamic career. These two and Doctors John Morgan, William Smith, Thomas Bond, and others induced the College of Pennsylvania in 1767 to have a regular course of medicine, which was to be followed by a year's service as interne in the Pennsylvania Hospital. At about the same time Dr. Thomas Bond originated the idea of clinical lectures. Sometimes the doctor took several students to the bedside of the sick and there made a few remarks; on other occasions the clinic was held in a large room so that a greater number might be present. Patients were in the immediate care of student-apprentices living in the same building and directly supervised by a regular physician. What these neophytes gained from experience was considered full payment for their services.7

Wilkinson's training often required his presence at the Pennsylvania Hospital. It was built of red brick during the early days of the French and Indian War through the generosity of the British parliament and many individual contributors. With its gray marble pilasters, Palladian windows, Ionic columns, and winding stairways, it was a fitting monument to skillful craftsmen and liberal donors.​8 This style of architecture, as well as other types equally attractive, was part and parcel of Philadelphia, making the city an inviting, substantial place in which to dwell. The Quakers were not only peaceful and godly; they were diligent and thorough in whatever work their hands took up. Their two-and‑one‑half-story homes, so disarmingly simple in general design, were carefully built, brick on brick or stone on stone, by men who would not prostitute their craftsmanship for personal gain.

The more prosperous Quakers and "World's People" Wilkinson frequently visited. He moved in and out among the Shippens, Biddles, Bonds, and others of equal prominence, rather avoiding the company of swaggering young blades who sometimes "lost their rudder" or "filled their heads with bees." He was careful of appearances, and, with his rare capacity for making friends easily, he tried to cultivate the esteem of worth-while people. He often raised a heavy bronze knocker beneath the fanlight of a pedimented doorway and was enthusiastically  p6 welcomed to a comfortable seat beside an open fire of glowing hickory logs.

Philadelphia, no longer a part of the frontier, had evolved a serene but somewhat complicated civilization. Wilkinson enjoyed the best of it, and the houses that he built and the gardens that he planted in after years near the edge of the wilderness seem to have their originals in his memory of earlier days. Perhaps he also echoed the wishes of Ann Biddle, that charming woman whom he later married. Maybe he hoped that by such efforts her nostalgia would be less keen for friends and home and garden along the Delaware; perhaps she would not yearn so much for the peace and comfort of the city where her early years had been so happily spent.

Oddly enough, while she was being carefully reared as a Quaker, Wilkinson was turning more and more to soldiers and splendid deeds. The very day after he arrived in Philadelphia for the first time he went out to Northern Liberties, where the 18th Royal Irish Infantry was stationed, along with a detachment of Royal Artillery. Dr. John Bond, his Maryland tutor, had kindled an interest in the British service, and recent events increased it. When he saw the Irish in their colorful uniforms on guard and parade he was greatly thrilled. Before long the officers were his friends, and he frequently spent hours with them until their departure in 1774 for Boston​9 — a hotbed of revolution.

There in December, 1773, the belligerent Samuel Adams and some of his followers had staged a $90,000 "tea-party" at the expense of the East India Company. Great Britain had tried to bring Boston to account through the "Intolerable Acts"; but she had succeeded only in angering the merchants whose port was closed and the demagogues whose mouth were shut by the prohibition of town meetings. Resentful of punishment, they began glorifying themselves and others as martyrs to the cause of liberty. In their propaganda they were successful; for the citizens received plenty of food and sympathy, and steps were taken for the meeting of the First Continental Congress.

It met in Philadelphia, September 5, 1774. The delegates assembled in Carpenter's Hall, not far from the Pennsylvania Hospital, where Wilkinson probably was. They gave greater impetus to a movement Boston had partly initiated, setting the minds of the Colonists to seething over their petition to the King, addresses to the people, and plans for suspension of trade with Great Britain. Wilkinson, always  p7 alert and in the thick of things, doubtless neglected his medicine in trying to keep up with his study of the bigwigs who passed in and out of Carpenter's Hall. If "arms was his profession and politics his hobby," when he grew older, the incidents of these Philadelphia days were enough to incite a zeal for both. He might have espoused them immediately if he had been allowed to do as he pleased.

Instead, he had to leave the City of Brotherly Love and political turmoil in the spring of 1775 and begin the practice of medicine near Monocacy, Maryland, thirty miles up the Potomac from Georgetown.​10 He was now away from stirring things and able people, just an eighteen-year‑old rustic mending bones and joints and prescribing pills and herbs. And this was at a time when his country was in rebellion, when the battles of Lexington and Concord were being fought.

He let his profession take care of itself and rode off each week to drill with an independent company. His patriotic ardor still unsatisfied, he became a volunteer in a rifle corps under Colonel William Thompson, of Pennsylvania. Before long he was with the Colonial forces investing Boston, near which the bloody battle of Bunker Hill had been fought on June 17, 1775.​11 Since then General William Howe had been sitting sluggishly by, seeing the Americans increase in numbers and seize points that enfiladed his position. He was a Whig by sentiment and loved his wine, women, and cards. He was in no mood to repeat a tactical blunder like that of Bunker Hill; he determined to evacuate Boston, and on St. Patrick's Day, 1776, the fleet weighed anchor for the chill Nova Scotia shore. With his troops went 1,000 loyalists without possessions or prospects, tearfully and forlornly huddled beneath the bellying sails.12

Wilkinson was quick to hear the news of the British departure, and before an hour had passed he and Colonels James Reed and John Stark were going over the ground where the two field officers had fought, several months before. They answered readily the questions of this interesting, affable boy; they liked to have him along, while he was delighted with the information and the attention that they gave him. He was the type of young officer that would bend or blend, tactfully courting the friendship of those who might promote his advancement.

 p8  Wilkinson remained in or around Boston until the beginning of April. As an aide of General Nathanael Greene, the best of Washington's generals, he was serving an apprenticeship under admirable auspices. He continued in this capacity until Greene's command was transferred to New York, when he was assigned to a company of Colonel James Reed's New Hampshire regiment. Toward the end of the month he was among reinforcements that were marching to the army in Canada.13

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The campaigns of Arnold and Gates in the country of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain.

[A larger, fully readable version opens here (828 KB).]

If the "fourteenth colony" was to be won, new life must be injected into the crippled forces that were already there. They had been worn down by hardships seldom experienced by heroic men. General Montgomery had been killed and Benedict Arnold had fallen while making valiant efforts to take Quebec in the midst of a blinding snowstorm on the last day of the year 1775. They had been defeated when the winter was worst and no shelter was available. Their rations were uniformly poor; clothing was scant, and their money was worthless. They had been scourged by smallpox and were soon to be demoralized further by "Apostles of Confusion" — a committee of Congress. And General David Wooster, the successor of Arnold, was an illiterate bigot without capacity. Although victory was never possible with the men and means that the Colonies could provide, more troops were being sent to Canada.14

Some time during the first part of May, Wilkinson and his company reached Albany, only to linger in the neighborhood for a few days and then start north for the St. Lawrence country. They traveled by water as much as they could, for they were encumbered with provisions and equipment, roads were poor, and wheeled transportation was scarce. Near the south end of Lake George they scrambled into bateaux, and did not disembark until near Fort Ticonderoga. At this place, after changing to other boats and stowing away more rations, they bent their oars for Crown Point. On the open stretches of Champlain's chill blue water, a storm descended upon them; they were lashed by a violent wind and pelted with hail and heavy rain. Finding a haven on the lee side of Valcour Island, they rested there until a favoring breeze began to fill their blanket sails. By the 22nd of May they were in St. Johns, a frowzy village filled with men who had dropped away from organizations en route to or from the St.  p9 Lawrence. Wilkinson attached about fourteen of these dirty, hungry deserters to his company and pushed on to Lachine, where General Benedict Arnold, according to reports, had a handful of men trying to protect Montreal. Wilkinson determined to hasten to his camp rather than to Sorel, the headquarters of the army in Canada. The distance to Arnold was shorter; his sector was threatened with immediate invasion, and few Americans had won greater praise for leadership and valor. Under him a stalwart young officer might have rare opportunities for distinction. On May 23, 1776, Wilkinson reported to him.15

Arnold could readily perceive that a youth of unusual force and ability had joined him. Not yet twenty years old, Wilkinson had brought nearly one hundred men safely up the Hudson, through Lakes George and Champlain, across a tangled stretch of wilderness, and over the St. Lawrence at one of its treacherous points. The task had required initiative, physical hardihood, and the frequent exercise of good judgment. If he had not possessed the character of a soldier he would never have courted an opportunity to suffer privations and danger merely for the purpose of bringing help to a defeated army in which many had ingloriously died. The qualities that he had shown, along with his supreme confidence and insatiable ambition, were destined to insure his rapid advancement.

Luck, too, favored Wilkinson's cause. On the very day that he reported, Arnold was badly needing reinforcements to break the hostile net that was hemming him in. No help was possible from Montreal, down the St. Lawrence, where the garrison was half clothed, nearly starved, and dying from smallpox. Farther on in the same direction, at the mouth of the Sorel, General John Thomas, sick and turning blind, had begun to withdraw his heavy guns and baggage; for General John Sullivan had not yet come from the south, bringing fresh men and new hope. Up the St. Lawrence, conditions were even more foreboding. Outlying detachments had been driven in, and now Arnold and his troops were the only ones left to bar the way to Montreal. In fear of a rumored attack he had details of men furiously digging intrenchments at Lachine when Wilkinson arrived.16

Soon outguards could hear the beat of hostile drums, and a prisoner declared the enemy were preparing to advance. It was only  p10 two days after Wilkinson's arrival, and never before had he been so close to actual fighting. He was frightened; in reality, he was no more than a nineteen-year‑old boy. About midnight he sat down and wrote to General Nathanael Green, his patron of a few months before, telling him of the "sweet situation" they were in, intimating Montreal would be abandoned and they might be taken. The letter was informing even if it did end with some stilted eloquence about duty and personal sacrifice.

Appreciating its value, Greene sent it on to General Washington, who in turn forwarded it to Congress.​17 It went quickly along a channel best designed to serve military purposes and focus attention on the writer. As a clever piece of personal publicity, no better scheme could have been devised for announcing that Wilkinson had arrived in Canada and was assiduous in his country's service.

Fortunately his prognosis was not entirely correct; Arnold's "handful of brave fellows" was not sacrificed. Colonel De Haas arrived on May 25 with five hundred Pennsylvanians, and with these reinforcements Arnold began an offensive, pursuing the British as far as Fort Anne. Here he summoned a council of war that even captains attended. Wilkinson, of course, was present, and acted as recorder of the proceedings. He and his facile pen were frequently in demand. Arnold wanted to ascend the Grand River by night and fall on the rear of the enemy at daybreak, hoping in this way to free some American prisoners recently taken. The idea was too daring for several of the senior officers, who argued that the Indians would discern the movement and begin a massacre. Only the young bloods like Captains Harmar, Butler, and Wilkinson were eager to make the attempt. The project was voted down, and Arnold, though much irritated, ceased to urge it.18

Two or three days later Arnold set out for Montreal, leaving Colonel De Haas in command at Fort Anne. On May 30, the Colonel received a peremptory order to attack a near-by Iroquois village. Another council of war followed. In spite of this order and the opposition of a few determined spirits, De Haas did nothing except retreat to Lachine. Wilkinson was sent to the General to make the best of this act of insubordination and cowardice. Arnold booked them all as cowards. Wilkinson remonstrated, declaring De Haas was to blame.  p11 Arnold meditated, and then asked him to remain for supper. Refusing the invitation, he went hungry to the lousy tavern, and, sulking, slept in his rain-drenched clothes. He was just a boy, but already his shadows were like those he would cast as an older man.19

In the morning he was order to join the Lachine troops, soon transferred to Montreal. When they arrived there, he was requested to join Arnold as an aide-de‑camp. He accepted gladly; he was flattered by "the preference of an officer, who at that period acquired great celebrity." He might have added that in this new position his peculiar abilities would find their best expression, and his chances of promotion would be considerably improved.

If he had known what was in store for him he might have declined. A few days after his appointment he was given a few men and some invoices and told to collect supplies from the inhabitants. The re­quisitions were designed to meet the needs of the army, although they included many things of value not essential for soldiers. The owners, of course, would not willingly deliver the goods and thereby forfeit any indemnity that they might expect from the British Crown. Nor did they want Continental money in payment; it had little value then and would have less after the departure of American troops. Wilkinson withered under the abuse that was heaped upon him, particularly when he tried to make away with a quarter-cask of Madeira. His thirst and strength of purpose were not so well developed as in later years. In disgust, he returned and asked Arnold to relieve him from the detail. The General did so, remarking that Wilkinson was "more nice than wise."20

Arnold knew that his sick, starved, and naked army had to be fed and clothed, and that re­quisitions upon the conquered people were his only resource, but he was not careful about the character of the articles collected or the uses to which they were subsequently put. Out of such a situation grew peculation, thefts, investigations, courts-martial, and black hatreds — a sordid story of those who would first be rich, and then perhaps be honest. Brave and resourceful, Arnold had led eight hundred men suffering incredible hardships through the lengths of the forests of Maine, and then, in the midst of a blinding snowstorm, had thrown them, ragged, hungry, and diseased, against the strongest citadel on the American continent. The tale is epic.  p12 How easy would have been his translation to a worthy place in Valhalla had his wound proved fatal in the shadow of the rock of Quebec!

Wilkinson had much to learn from this masterful man. In the critical hour of battle and the long drab intervals between, the rank and file turned to Arnold. The power of his will and the fear of his own hot anger won from his followers their last ounce of strength, whether in the open shock of arms or in the "fatigue of long hard marches; the dreariness of prolonged, uncomfortable encampments; the disappointment of defeat; the discouragements and hardships of retreat."​21 Such great qualities of leadership, Wilkinson seemed unable to acquire. Though no coward, he could not convince subordinates that he was entirely brave, that he would suffer and ignominiously die with them. His value to the service consisted in his adaptability, eagerness to please, diplomatic smoothness, and unusual strength of mind and body. He was best fitted for staff duty. Others appreciated this fact and chose him as one of their aides.

Before long Arnold sent him with important messages to General Sullivan, who, as commonly supposed, was at Sorel. When Wilkinson had traveled on his way as far as Varennes he found the place filled with redcoats — a good-sized force and only fourteen miles from Montreal. Though the British were pushing a daring offensive, nobody seemed the wiser. Once they had seized Longueuil, Chambly, and St. Johns, the whole American army might be trapped and an immediate invasion of New York made possible.22

Wilkinson quickly estimated the situation. Realizing that Arnold was ignorant of the British advance and must be immediately informed, he rode like the wind to tell him. By six o'clock that evening he was back at headquarters, and the General knew that the British were on the way to cut off his retreat. Meanwhile news had come of Sullivan's withdrawal from Sorel; consequently Arnold was free to evacuate Montreal. The movement immediately began. In two hours boats were shoving off and troops were starting on their way to St. Johns via Laprairie.23

Wilkinson was again dispatched to General Sullivan with a request for troops to cover Arnold's retreat. Not reaching Longueuil until dusk, he still had a dozen miles to go through storm and driving rain.  p13 About nine o'clock he arrived at Chambly, where he found the advance guard of the army, overcome with fatigue and demoralized by its own fears. Men were scattered here and there, buried in sleep, and without a single sentinel on watch for their safety. Not once was he challenged en route to army headquarters, where he reported the advance of the British and the dilemma of Arnold. Sullivan decided to send reinforcements of five hundred men from the rear guard commanded by Baron de Woedtke, of the sore seat and quenchless thirst; and Wilkinson was told to find him and deliver the order. Again he started out in that night of utter darkness; once he nearly fell in the river; for a time he lost his way. Woedtke could not be found — comfortably drunk somewhere, the rumor ran. Within a month or two strong liquor and scarlet women would complete the baron's dissolution. At length Wilkinson took shelter in a filthy cabin and waited until dawn would make easier his search; but he met with no better results.24

Acting on another's suggestion, he then sought aid from Colonel Anthony Wayne — the "Mad Anthony" of valorous deeds at Three Rivers, Brandywine, Germantown, and many another place. He responded with characteristic decision; stationing himself at a bridge, he halted and formed into organizations all those who came to pass over. With this nondescript detachment he started to reinforce Arnold. After two hours' marching he learned that the British had let slip their great opportunity. They were no longer sailing up the St. Lawrence, for the winds had proved contrary and the current was strong.25

Wayne, therefore, reversed his march and started back to rejoin Sullivan, cluttering the rear of his route with felled trees and demolished rebuildings. Still haunted by fears of British pursuit, his men plodded on. By June 16, they had reached a fort that Montgomery had taken the year before, and close by they found a village of canvas sheltering their own comrades in arms. For two days they remained at St. Johns, waiting for other troops and stores. Then the army of retreat, burning what it could not carry, pushed southward once more, wearily driving the cumbersome boats against the current of the Sorel toward Nut Island.

Only two lingered behind — Arnold and Wilkinson. Both rode  p14 quickly down the road to Chambly to look upon the vanguard of the army of John Burgoyne, "Lieutenant-General of his Majesty's Armies in America, Colonel of the Queen's regiment of light dragoons, Governor of Fort William, in North Britain, one of the Representatives of the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament." In spite of such a relay of titles he had few practical ideas about leading troops in the wilderness that lay before him, while the two officers in homespun, now observing his men, were well versed in the lore of forest and stream. Within a year or more the three were to meet along the waters of the Hudson, where Burgoyne would give full proof of incapacity. Once satisfying themselves that the British were not in hot pursuit, Arnold and Wilkinson galloped away, returning to the river that they had just left. After killing and stripping their horses, they loaded their dunnage into a boat, which the melodramatic Arnold shoved off with his own hand that he might be the last to leave the enemy's country. The same night they reached Nut Island, twelve miles distant, where the rest of the troops were drearily encamped.26

In this dark hour of the defeated army, the half-starved troops were so weak and exhausted that they fell asleep at the oars. Once on the low and swampy land of Nut Island, they perished miserably from malaria and virulent smallpox. Without supplies or medicines, the doctors could do nothing. The burial pits grew larger, but they were daily filled with the dead wrapped in filthy blankets. In spite of increased suffering and disaster, Sullivan refused to retreat farther until he received orders from Major-General Philip Schuyler, then commanding the Northern Department. Before long they came; on the first day of July "the wreck of the army gathered itself painfully and pitifully at Crown Point, humiliated, woebegone, and utterly demoralized."27

Arnold was not in the number. He and Wilkinson had already left on June 19 for Albany in order to carry dispatches to Schuyler, who was then commanding the area into which Sullivan and his army had come. For over a year Arnold had carried on as few men could; a leave would afford a pleasant change and might give opportunity for clearing himself of evil tales about those confiscated Canadian goods that had just arrived in Albany. He was also a widower of a few years, and, like his bachelor companion, had a turn for gayety and women.  p15 A hard journey would be well repaid if it ended on that fine estate of General Schuyler. He was an engaging host possessed of charming daughters and a lovely garden — more than enough to make laggards of good soldiers.28

Wilkinson did not remain long in the neighborhood to enjoy the pleasures that it offered. Changes in the Northern Department helped to send him soon on his way back to Lake Champlain. Major-General Horatio Gates arrived on June 27, rather puffed up over his recent promotion and assignment to the army that had just returned from Canada. He had been up to his old game of intrigue while others were suffering the worst hardships of war. When Sullivan heard that he had been superseded he asked to retire from Schuyler's department and seek the acceptance of his resignation from Congress.​29 With this shifting of generals in the already demoralized command, Gates, Schuyler, and Arnold decided to go to Crown Point and look over the situation. Thinking Wilkinson might be useful, one of them ordered him to set out quickly and arrange for their coming. After the generals had arrived and conferred, they decided to remove their bedridden forces to Ticonderoga. Of the 5,200 men 2,800 needed care hospital care. A few field officers remonstrated against the evacuation, for they believed that Crown Point should be held at all costs. Nevertheless, the movement went forward, and Arnold, Wilkinson, and others were left behind to clear the place completely of men and supplies.30

After this work was finished Arnold went to Ticonderoga and for a time used most of his energy in trying to prosecute Colonel Hazen for alleged negligence in caring for the goods that had been confiscated in Canada. When the court refused to accept the testimony of one Major Scott, principal witness for the prosecution, because of his apparent interest in the case, Arnold declared its action unjust and without precedent. Thereupon the court asked for a retraction of his statement. Arnold declared he would not comply but expressed a willingness to give the satisfaction that the "nice honor" of any member required. The wrangle grew in strength and scope. Each had hardy partisans. At the time Wilkinson thought Arnold "the intrepid, generous,  p16 friendly, upright Honest Man," and indignantly asked, ". . . is it for Men, who can't boast more than an easy enjoyment of the Continental Provision, to blast the Reputation of Him, who having encountered the greatest perils, surmounted extremest hardships, fought and bled in a Cause which they have only encumbered?"​31 Gates held a somewhat similar opinion, and showed it by dissolving the court and appointing Arnold to the important command of the squadron proposed for the defense of Lake Champlain.32

Without delay Arnold vigorously applied himself to the task of turning forests into boats and soldiers into sailors. Before long he was flying the broad pennant of commodore from the masthead of the Royal Savage, the best of his flotilla of fifteen ships. With an ill assorted lot of schooners, gondolas, and galleys, he moved north along the waters of Champlain to meet the enemy under Sir Guy Carleton, who was descending from Canada with a fleet and an army of 12,000 men. Twice they joined battle, October 11 and 13. In the first engagement the Americans held their own; in the second all their vessels were sunk. The British, however, had no reason to gloat; they had been delayed so long that they could not move southward and secure the valley of the Hudson before the winter. Again, Arnold had done well by his country.33

Wilkinson did not share in the glory of his exploits; during the summer he had retired from the General's official family. His own sickness and the friendliness of high ranking officers may have induced him to seek another connection. Once having made it, he was destined soon to see new fields of adventure opening before him.

The Author's Notes:

1 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 7‑9.

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2 Ibid., 7‑9, and gravestone records about four miles northwest of Prince Frederick.

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3 Ibid., Appendix I‑IV.

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4 Ibid., 10‑13.

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5 Ibid., 12.

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6 Ibid., 12‑13.

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7 Scharf and Wescott, History of Philadelphia, 1609‑1884, II, 1588, 1607, 1670‑1671.

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8 For a description of the hospital, see Cousins and Riley, The Colonial Architecture of Philadelphia, 212‑214.

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9 Memoirs, I, 13.

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10 Ibid., 14 ff.

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11 Ibid., 15‑16. Wilkinson was made captain, Mar., 1776, to rank from Sept. 6, 1775. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the U. S. Army, II, 1037.

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12 Wrong, Canada and the American Revolution, 307.

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13 Memoirs, I, 34, 38.

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14 Smith, Our Struggle for the Fourteenth Colony, II, passim.

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15 Memoirs, I, 39‑41.

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16 Smith, op. cit., II, 371‑395; Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 41.

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17 Memoirs, I, 43‑44.

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18 Ibid., 44‑46.

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19 Ibid., 47‑48.

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20 Ibid., 48‑49.

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21 Steele, American Campaigns, I, 39.

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22 Smith, op. cit., II, 428‑429.

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23 Ibid., 438‑439, and Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 49‑51.

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24 Smith, op. cit., II, 439‑440; Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 51‑53; Graydon, Memoirs, 139.

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25 Smith, op. cit., II, 440‑441; Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 53‑55; Moore, Diary of the American Revolution, I, 459.

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26 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 54‑55.

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27 Smith, op. cit., II, 444‑445.

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28 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 60. To Varick, July 4, 1776, Miscel. MSS., N. Y. Public Library.

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29 Gates to Hancock, July 16, 1776, Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 62; Sullivan to Schuyler, July 6, 1776, in Hammond, Letters and Papers of General John Sullivan, I, 280‑281.

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30 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 62‑64, 67; "Autobiography of John Trumbull," in Bulletin of Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Jan., 1933, pp5‑6.

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31 Wilkinson to Varick, Aug. 5, 1776. Varick Papers, Tomlinson Collection, N. Y. Public Library.

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32 Wilkinson, Memoirs, I, 70‑74; Gates to Pres. of Congress, July 29 and Sept. 2, 1776, in Force, American Archives, 5th Series, I, 649, 1267‑1268.

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33 Bulletin of Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Jan., 1929, pp16, 17. "Benedict Arnold," in Dictionary of American Biography, I, 362‑367.

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