George Washington believed that Divine Providence was guiding the creation of a new nation in his war against the British empire. The Almighty, however, was otherwise occupied during “Benediction,” leaving Benjamin Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster to demonstrate their inferior and borderline incompetent skills in the dark arts.
An ambush has been set for Capt. John Simcoe in Rocky Point, and the Americans have the decided advantage in intelligence: They know the time and place of the trap, and as interested third party Robert Rogers says while peering through his telescope, Simcoe should be a dead man marching. Simcoe’s precarious position was arranged by the unholy alliance between Major Edmund Hewlett and the Setauket branch of the Culper ring. They baited Simcoe with the false clue that a local Tory named Beekman was really Samuel Culper, and Caleb set off with a motley crew in advance to lie in wait and surprise the Queen’s Rangers at “Culper’s” estate. You’d think Caleb would have a near fool-proof plan to finish off Simcoe after failing once before. As he says later on, “The bastard slipped through my fingers. That won’t be happening again.”
Okay, so here’s the plan: row to Rocky Point in advance of the Queen’s Rangers, brutalize Beekman — a childhood nemesis who once bullied the Setauket heroes — and his family… and then wait in their dining room for the soldiers to arrive. Now I haven’t studied 18th-century military tactics, but this strategy seems unwise even by modern Nerf-gun standards. For one, Caleb doesn’t really have an exit strategy, and he does not fully grasp all the possible scenarios. For example, we know that Simcoe and his Rangers torched Samuel Townsend’s stable at Oyster Point, and it’s likely that British forces burned down rebel homes and farms quite frequently. So what was Caleb’s plan if Simcoe arrived with torches and just set the place ablaze? What if Simcoe just barricaded the doors shut or shot the men, women, and children who tried to escape the inferno?
Now, to be fair, Simcoe didn’t do that. Instead, he and his men simply surrounded the mansion, a maneuver that does not necessarily make him Thucydides. But Caleb and his gang of rank amateurs panic when they realize their precarious position and see the uniformed men on horseback. They flee, right into enemy fire, and only Caleb and his Native American comrade make it back to the rowboat. To repeat, THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE AN AMBUSH. Caleb was so inept in his leadership that you can’t even justify giving Simcoe credit.
At Washington’s headquarters, Ben is busy trying to one-up his Setauket pal in disgrace. He had eagerly volunteered to murder Rev. Worthington, the British agent identified by Robert Townsend, and Gen. Washington gave Ben the green-light to make it look like an accident. With the good reverend intent to take a trip through the New Jersey wilderness to visit his church, Ben puts his plan in motion, dressing in civilian clothes and heading out of camp to track Worthington from a distance. A fair ride away, Worthington dismounts to make a traitorous intelligence drop, and Ben is there to catch him in the act. Pistol drawn, Ben insists that Worthington read the secret message aloud. Again, let’s quickly discuss what did not happen, but could have. Instead of reading the secret message as ordered, Worthington could’ve torn up the evidence and made it impossible for Ben to ever know what the intelligence was. He could’ve eaten the letter to keep it out of Ben’s hands. In other words, Ben was sloppy. He couldn’t even make what happened next look like an accident. When Worthington sneered that Washington was a fool, Ben shot him dead in a rage. I can think of 1,001 ways that John André would’ve handled this better, including backing off altogether in order to see who picked up Worthington’s drop.
NEXT: Ben’s failure comes back to haunt him