Benedict Arnold Writes a Cranky Letter to His Friend Silas Deane

Near midnight on March 30, 1776, Gen. Benedict Arnold wrote to his old friend Silas Deane from his camp outside Quebec City, mostly to complain about the hunger and disease his men were suffering.

Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold

For the previous three months, Arnold had besieged the city after British defenders defeated the Continental Army in the Battle of Quebec on Dec. 31, 1775.  Attacking Quebec had been Arnold’s idea, and it wasn’t a good one. Neither was the siege.

Arnold and Deane were both from Connecticut, Arnold from Norwich, Deane from nearby Groton. As young men before the war they were both successful merchant traders and had become friends.

At the time of Arnold’s letter, Deane was in Philadelphia, though he had been recalled as Connecticut’s representative to the Continental Congress. He stayed on in Philadelphia anyway, hoping to help. Soon he would leave for Paris to seek help for the army from the French government.

Arnold’s letter began:

Camp before Quebeck, March 30, 1776.

DEAR SIR: I have often sat down to write you, and as often been prevented by matters of consequence crowding upon me,

Battle of Quebec

Battle of Quebec

which I could not postpone. I am now so much perplexed with a multiplicity of affairs that I can hardly form an assemblage of three ideas, and those, I am afraid, will not be very pleasing to you, as they convey no very agreeable intelligence, but rather matters of complaint, (which, I make no doubt, you are daily troubled with.) Without further preamble, I shall give you a short sketch of our strength, situation, prospects, &c.: From the 1st of January to the 1st of March, we have never had more than seven hundred effective men on the ground, and frequently not more than five hundred; since which we have been increasing in our numbers, as you will observe by the enclosed morning reports. Our numbers are far short of what I expected before this time, and the New-England Troops will be of very little service to us for some time, as the greatest part of them have the small-pox. That fatal disorder has got into our camp, though every method that prudence could suggest has been attempted to prevent it; a variety of orders have been repeatedly given, (some

Silas Deane

Silas Deane

of which I enclose,) and as repeatedly disobeyed or neglected. The reinforcements, (as fast as they came in,) privately prepared and inoculated, (Colonel Warner’ s Regiment and Major Cady’ s detachment in particular;) not one-quarter of the former, and very few of the latter, are fit for duty; so that the publick will incur an expense of at least twenty pounds for each of those people, who will not, on an average, have done ten days’ service to the 15th April, to which time they are engaged. Our Surgeons are without medicine; our Hospitals crowded, and in want of almost every necessary.

Arnold continued with a description of the army’s lack of strength and difficult situation. Despite their bleak prospects, Arnold declared ‘we are determined to exert ourselves.’ And to his credit, he didn’t complain about his own wounded foot.  He concluded:

It is now twelve o’ clock at night, and I dare say you will be glad when I end my dull epistle.

Arnold was recalled before he got a chance to attack Quebec City again,  and the army was routed during a retreat in May.

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