In Feb., 1777, Congress, despite General Washington's protests, promoted five brigadier generals of junior rank to major generalships over Arnold's head. This and subsequent slights by Congress embittered Arnold and may in part have motivated his later treason. Although he soon won promotion by his spectacular defense (1777) against William Tryon in Connecticut, his seniority was not restored. In the Saratoga campaign, his relief of Fort Stanwix and his brilliant campaigning under Horatio Gates played a decisive part in the American victory. He became (1778) commander of Philadelphia, after the British evacuation, and there married Peggy Shippen, whose family had Loyalist sympathies.
In 1779 he was court-martialed because of disputes with civil authorities. He was cleared of all except minor charges and was reprimanded by Washington; nevertheless he was given (1780) command of West Point. He had already begun a treasonable correspondence with Sir Henry Clinton in New York City, and now arranged to betray West Point in exchange for a British commission and money. The plot was discovered with the capture of John André, but Arnold escaped. In 1781, in the British service, he led two savage raids—against Virginia and against New London, Conn.—before going into exile in England and Canada, where he was generally scorned and unrewarded.
See biographies by O. Sherwin (1931), M. Decker (1932, repr. 1969), C. Brandt (1994), and J. K. Martin (1998); C. Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution (1941, repr. 1968); J. T. Flexner, The Traitor and the Spy (1953); W. M. Wallace, Traitorous Hero (1954, repr. 1970).
Benedict Arnold, engraving by H.B. Hall, 1865.
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Arnold is considered by many to be the best general and most accomplished leader in the Continental Army. Without Arnold's earlier contributions to their cause, the American Revolution might well have been lost; but after he switched sides, his name became a byword for treason in the United States.
Arnold distinguished himself early in the war through acts of cunning and bravery. His many successful campaigns included the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga (1775), victory at the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain in 1776, the battles of Danbury and Ridgefield in Connecticut (after which he was promoted to Major General) and the Battle of Saratoga in 1777.
In spite of his success, Arnold was passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress while other general officers took credit for his many accomplishments. As his personal debts mounted, Congress investigated his accounts, and charges of corruption were brought by political adversaries. Frustrated, bitter, disaffected by the assaults on his honor and strongly opposed to the new American alliance with France, Arnold changed sides. In July 1780, he sought and obtained command of West Point in order to surrender it to the British. Arnold's scheme was detected when American forces captured British Major John André carrying papers that revealed Arnold's plan.
Upon learning of André's capture, Benedict Arnold escaped down the Hudson River to the British sloop-of-war Vulture, narrowly avoiding capture by the forces of General Washington, who had departed for West Point immediately upon learning of Arnold's plan. Arnold received a commission as a Brigadier General in the British Army, a good annual pension of £360, and a lump sum of about 17 times that amount.
In the winter of 1782, Arnold left the army and moved to London with his second wife, Margaret "Peggy" Shippen Arnold. He was well received by King George III and the Tories but frowned upon by the Whigs. In 1787 he entered into mercantile business with his sons Richard and Henry in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, but returned to London to settle permanently in 1791.
The Arnold family was well off until the future general's father made several bad business deals that plunged the family into debt, and became an alcoholic, forcing his son to withdraw from school at 14 because the family could not afford the expense.
His father's alcoholism and ill-health prevented him from training Arnold in the family mercantile business, but his mother's family connections secured an apprenticeship for Arnold with two of her cousins, brothers Daniel and Joshua Lathrop, who operated a successful apothecary and general merchandise trade in Norwich.
Arnold was ambitious and aggressive, quickly expanding his business. In 1763 he repurchased the family homestead that his father had sold when deeply in debt, and re-sold it a year later for a substantial profit. In 1764 he formed a partnership with Adam Babcock, another young New Haven merchant. Using the profits from the sale of his homestead they bought three trading ships and established a lucrative West Indies trade. During this time he brought his sister Hannah to New Haven and established her in his apothecary to manage the business in his absence. He traveled extensively in the course of his business, throughout New England and from Quebec to the West Indies, often in command of one of his own ships.
The Stamp Act of 1765 severely curtailed mercantile trade in the colonies. Arnold initially took no part in any public demonstrations but, like many merchants, continued to trade as if the Stamp Act did not exist, in effect becoming a smuggler in defiance of the act.
On the night of January 31, 1767, Arnold took part in a demonstration denouncing the acts of the British Parliament and their oppressive colonial policy in which the effigies of local crown officials were burned. He and members of his crew roughed up a man suspected of informing on smugglers. Arnold was arrested and fined 50 shillings for disturbing the peace.
The oppressive taxes levied by Parliament forced many New England merchants out of business. Arnold himself came near to personal ruin, falling £15,000 in debt.
Arnold fought a duel in Honduras with a British sea captain who had called him a "d—d Yankee, destitute of good manners or those of a gentleman". The captain was wounded, and apologized.
Arnold was in the West Indies when the Boston Massacre occurred on March 5, 1770, but later he wrote "very much shocked" and wondered "good God; are the Americans all asleep and tamely giving up their liberties, or are they all turned philosophers, that they don't take immediate vengeance on such miscreants".
On February 22, 1767, he married Margaret, daughter of Samuel Mansfield. They had three sons, Benedict, Richard and Henry. Margaret died during the revolution, on June 19, 1775, while Arnold was away following the Battle of Ticonderoga. Arnold's sister Hannah took the children in.
On April 21, 1775, when news reached New Haven of the opening battles of the revolution at Lexington and Concord, a few Yale College student volunteers were admitted into the guard to boost their numbers, and they began a march to Massachusetts to join the revolution. During the march Arnold met with Connecticut legislator Colonel Samuel Holden Parsons. They discussed the shortage of cannons in the revolutionary forces and, knowing of the large number of cannons at Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, agreed that an expedition should be sent to capture the fort. Parsons continued on to Hartford, where he raised funds to establish a force under the command of Captain Edward Mott. Mott was instructed to link up with Ethan Allen and Allen's Green Mountain Boys at Bennington, Vermont. Meanwhile, Arnold and his Connecticut militia continued on to Cambridge, where Arnold convinced the Massachusetts Committee of Safety to fund an expedition to take the fort. They appointed him a colonel in the Massachusetts militia and dispatched him, and several captains under his command, to raise an army in Massachusetts. As his captains mustered troops Arnold rode north to rendezvous with Allen and take command of the operation.
Shortly after the formation of the Continental Army in June 1775 Major General Philip Schuyler, commander of the Northern Department, developed a plan to invade Canada overland from Fort St. Johns at the northern end of Lake Champlain, down the Richelieu River to Montreal. The objective was to deprive the loyalists of an important base from which they could attack upper New York. General Richard Montgomery was given command of this force.
Arnold proposed that a second force, in concert with Schuyler’s, attack by traveling up the Kennebec River in Maine and descending the Chaudière River to Quebec City. With the capture of both Montreal and Quebec City he believed the French-speaking colonists of Canada would join the revolution against the British. General George Washington and the Continental Congress approved this amendment and commissioned Arnold a colonel in the Continental Army to lead the Quebec City attack.
Just before leaving for Maine, Arnold learned of the death of his first wife Margaret. He stopped in New Haven to see to the welfare of his children, and asked his sister Hannah to mother them.
The force of 1,100 recruits embarked from Newburyport, Massachusetts on September 19, 1775, arriving at Gardinerston, Maine, where Arnold had made prior arrangements with Major Reuben Colburn to construct 200 bateaux, on September 22. These were to be used to transport the troops up the Kennebec and Dead rivers, then down the Chaudière to Quebec City. A lengthy portage was required over the Appalachian range between the upper Dead and Chaudière rivers.
The British were aware of Arnold’s approach and destroyed most of the serviceable watercraft (boats, ships, gunboats, etc. etc.) on the southern shore. Although two warships, the frigate Lizard (26 guns) and the sloop-of-war Hunter (16 guns), kept up a constant patrol to prevent a river crossing, Arnold was able to procure sufficient watercraft, and crossed to the Quebec City side on November 11. He then realized his force was not strong enough to capture the city and sent dispatches to Brigadier General Richard Montgomery requesting reinforcements.
On September 16, 1775, Montgomery had marched north from Fort Ticonderoga with about 1,700 militiamen. He captured Montreal on November 13. Montgomery joined Arnold in early December, and with their combined force of about 950 soldiers, they attacked Quebec on December 31, 1775. The colonial forces suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of General Guy Carleton, governor of Canada and commander of the British forces. Montgomery was killed leading an assault along with all but one of his officers (Col. Donald Campbell) who ordered a retreat; Montgomery's force never got close to the walls. Arnold's force on the other side of the city were left by themselves without the help of Montgomery. While attacking Arnold was wounded in the leg, but stayed on the battlefield encouraging his troops on. Daniel Morgan's rifle company, the most successful of the American troops, fought inside the city until Morgan was cornered and forced to surrender. Many others were killed or wounded, and hundreds were taken prisoner.
The remnants, reduced to some 350 volunteers and now under the command of Colonel Arnold, continued an ineffectual siege of the city until the spring of 1776, when reinforcements under Brigadier General David Wooster arrived. Upon being relieved of command, Arnold retreated to Montreal with what remained of his forces.
In the same year Arnold met and seriously courted the daughter of a well known Boston loyalist, Betsy Deblois, described as the belle of Boston, but she did not accept his repeated proposals.
On April 26, 1777, Arnold was on his way to Philadelphia to meet with the Continental Congress, and stopped in New Haven to visit his family once again. A courier notified him that a British force 2,000 strong under Major General William Tryon, the British Military Governor of New York, had landed at Norwalk, Connecticut. Tryon marched his force to Fairfield on Long Island Sound and inland to Danbury, a major supply depot for the Continental Army, destroying both towns by fire. He also torched the seaport of Norwalk as his forces retreated by sea.
Arnold hurriedly recruited about 100 volunteers locally. He was joined by Major General Gold S. Silliman and Major General David Wooster of the Connecticut militia, who together had mustered a force of 500 volunteers from eastern Connecticut.
Arnold and his fellow officers moved their small force near Danbury so they could intercept and harass the British retreat. By 11 a.m. on April 27, Wooster’s column had caught up with and engaged Tryon’s rear guard. Arnold moved his force to a farm outside Ridgefield, Connecticut, in an attempt to block the British retreat. During the Battle of Ridgefield that followed, Wooster was killed. Arnold injured his leg when his horse was shot and fell on him.
The Battle of Bemis Heights was the final battle of the Saratoga Campaign. Outnumbered, out of supplies, and cut off from retreat largely by Arnold's doing, Burgoyne was forced to surrender on October 17, 1777.
During the fighting, Arnold was wounded in the same leg as at Quebec and below the buttock. The History Channel commented that if his wound had been mortal he would be remembered as a hero, not a traitor. Arnold himself had said it would have been better had it been in the chest instead of the leg.
Historians agree that Arnold was instrumental to the successful outcome of the Saratoga campaign, showing courage, initiative, and military brilliance. He is said to have single-handedly cut off Burgoyne's attempt to escape in the decisive Battle of Bemis Heights. But Arnold received no credit because of bad feelings between him and General Horatio Gates. Even though Arnold was vital in winning the final battle of Saratoga, Gates vilified him for exceeding his authority and disobeying orders. Arnold made no secret of his contempt for Gates' military tactics, which he considered too cautious and conventional. Many of the Continental Army's senior officers agreed on Arnold's assessment of General Gates.
A monument in Saratoga National Historical Park was erected in recognition of Arnold's victory, heroism and for the injury he sustained during the campaign. However, due to his later treachery, it does not bear his name, only a cryptic dedication to "the most brilliant soldier of the Continental army... winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution and for himself the rank of Major General." It is the only war memorial in the United States that does not bear the name of the man commemorated
After the British withdrew from Philadelphia in June 1778 the Continentals occupied it and Washington appointed Arnold military commander of the city. In June he learned of the Franco-American alliance, which he strongly opposed because of his earlier experiences in the French and Indian War. Ironically, it was the victory at Saratoga, in which Arnold played a decisive part, that convinced France's King Louis XVI to agree to the alliance and aid the Americans in their war.
By then, Arnold was embittered and resentful toward Congress for passing him over for promotion and not approving or refunding his wartime expenses; Arnold himself had paid nearly all of the expenses of his force's campaigns in Canada. Arnold threw himself into the social life of Philadelphia, hosting grand parties and falling deeply into debt. His extravagance drew him into shady financial schemes and into further disrepute with Congress, which investigated his accounts. He also faced corruption charges filed by the Pennsylvania civil authorities at the instigation of a man politically connected to the Continental Congress, whom Arnold had stripped of command at Ticonderoga.
On June 1, 1779, he faced a court martial for malfeasance (and was convicted of two misdemeanors). "Having become a cripple in the service of my country, I little expected to meet [such] ungrateful returns," he complained to General George Washington.
On March 26, 1779, he met Peggy Shippen, the 18-year-old daughter of Judge Edward Shippen. Peggy had been courted by British Major John André during the British occupation of Philadelphia. Peggy and Arnold married within two weeks, on April 8, 1779.
Arnold learned of André's capture when Col. John Jameson, to whom André had been delivered, notified him of his capture. He fled to the Vulture, the British ship which had brought André, on the Hudson River, with the help of John Borns. Arnold wrote a letter to Washington, requesting that Peggy be given safe passage to her family in Philadelphia, a request Washington ensured.
The British made him a brigadier general in the British forces, with an annual income of several hundred pounds, but only paid him £6,315 plus an annual pension of £360 because his plot had failed. At the time the full pay of a colonel in active service was 24 shillings per day (£438/annum), of which 18 shillings were deducted for subsistence (£328/annum) Had the plot succeeded, British forces would have been in position to divide the northern and southern American forces, and potentially end up defeating the revolution.
Reportedly when presented with evidence of Arnold's betrayal Washington was calm.
In December, Arnold was recalled to England with various other officers as the Crown de-emphasized the American theater for others which were deemed more important. In London he aligned himself with the Tory Party, advising King George III to renew the fight against the Americans. In the House of Commons, Edmund Burke expressed the hope that the government would not put Arnold "at the head of a part of a British army" lest "the sentiments of true honor, which every British officer [holds] dearer than life, should be afflicted." When the Whigs in parliament eventually compelled the king to make peace with the Americans, the government of Lord North fell, and Arnold lost favour in London.
Benedict Arnold pursued interests in the shipping trade in Canada from 1787 until 1791, when an angry mob overran the front lawn of his home, burning an effigy labeled "traitor", and troops were required to disperse them. Returning to England, he was unable to obtain a desired military command, and in July 1792 he fought a bloodless duel with the Earl of Lauderdale after the Earl had impugned his honour in the House of Lords.
On his death bed in Gloucester Place, legend has it that Arnold said "Let me die in this old uniform (Colonial) in which I fought my battles. May God forgive me for ever having put on another"; but this may be fictitious, as James Martin notes. Arnold was buried at St. Mary's Church, Battersea in London, England.
Some American sources maintain that he died poor, in bad health, and essentially unknown, though one obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine records that his funeral procession boasted "seven mourning coaches and four state carriages". He left a small estate, reduced in size by his debts, which Peggy undertook to clear.
The house on Gloucester Place where Arnold lived in central London still stands, bearing a plaque which describes Arnold as an "American Patriot".
Arnold attempted to justify his actions in an open letter titled To the Inhabitants of America. In a letter to his former friend Washington, he stated, "Love to my country actuates my present conduct, however it may appear inconsistent to the world, who very seldom judge right of any man's actions."
Benedict Arnold is a paradoxical figure in American history. While there can be no doubt as to his eventual loyalty to the Crown, neither can there be any doubt as to his role as a hero in the Battle of Saratoga. It was Saratoga which persuaded the French, who had been skeptical of the colonists' chances, to intervene in the war on the American side. This alliance tipped the balance and ultimately helped ensure the American victory.
On the battlefield at Saratoga, a lone monument stands in memorial to this man, but there is no mention of his name on the engraving. The inscription reads: "In memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental army, who was desperately wounded on this spot, winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution, and for himself the rank of Major General."
Another memorial to Arnold resides at the United States Military Academy. It bears only a rank, "major general," and a date, "born 1740." The name has been left out. That the plaque exists at all is tribute to the undeniable contribution he made to American independence before changing sides.
and with Peggy Shippen, he raised:
Benedict Arnold appears in several of Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Kenneth Roberts' best selling books. Arnold features prominently in Arundel, which takes place during the campaign to capture Quebec early in the American Revolution, and again in its sequel, Rabble in Arms. He also appears briefly in Oliver Wiswell, which tells the story of the American Revolution from the viewpoint of a young Loyalist.
Science fiction writer H. Beam Piper paid tribute to Arnold's crucial role in his story He Walked Around the Horses, an alternative history in which Arnold was killed during the attack on Quebec in 1776, and as a result of his absence the British won at Saratoga and subsequently the entire war, retaining their control of the 13 colonies.
Arnold appears in the 1979 John Barth novel, LETTERS.
In the biography "Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Hero Reconsidered" by James Kirby Martin, Arnold's military achievements are commended.
In 1968, No Way Back, the very last episode of the classic science-fiction series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, had the modern submarine Seaview taken back in time to the War of Independence. There the sub is boarded by soldiers led by Arnold (Barry Atwater) and André (William Beckley). Arnold is an unpleasant man and a bully, while André is a cultured gentleman.
Arnold appears as a major character in the 1955 film The Scarlet Coat which documents his defection to the British.