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Arnold, Benedict

Benedict Arnold

Born: January 14, 1741
Norwich, Connecticut
Died: June 14, 1801
London, England

American military general

Although he fought with skill and courage in many campaigns during the American Revolution (177583), General Benedict Arnold is best known as the man who betrayed his country.

Youth and family

Benedict Arnold was born on January 14, 1741, in Norwich, Connecticut. He was one of only two of his mother's eleven children to survive into adulthood. His mother had been a prosperous widow before marrying Arnold's father, a merchant. However, Arnold's father did not manage the family's money well, and they were financially ruined when Arnold was thirteen. He was forced to leave school and go to work learning to be an apothecary, a position similar to that of a modern-day pharmacist.

As a young man, Arnold was a risk-taker who looked for outlets for his energetic and impulsive (taking action before thinking things through) nature. He volunteered for the French and Indian War (175463), a war fought between France and England in America for control of the colonial lands, but at eighteen he deserted in order to be with his mother, who was dying. In the 1760s he traded with Canada and the West Indies as a merchant and a sea captain. He took his hot-headed nature to sea with him, fighting at least two duels while on trading voyages. He was a financial success as a trader, but he was also accused of smuggling. In 1767 he married Margaret Mansfield, daughter of a government official in New Haven, Connecticut.

Joining the Revolution

News of the battles of Lexington and Concord (April 17, 1775) in Massachusetts, the first battles of the Revolution, reached Arnold in April 1775. Upon hearing of these events he set out as the head of a company of Connecticut militia for Cambridge, Massachusetts, where George Washington (17321799) was gathering an army to fight the British forces. Although he marched to Massachusetts without military orders to do so, Arnold was soon given an official mission. His first military engagement was the attack the next month on Fort Ticonderoga in northeastern New York, where the British had a supply of artillery, a type of large-caliber weaponry that includes cannons. The attack operation was successful, but Arnold got little of the credit for this success. Credit went mostly to Ethan Allen (17381789) and the troops Allen commanded, known as the Green Mountain Boys.

Arnold's second assignment was with an expedition against Canada. Leaving Cambridge on September 19, 1775, he led his troops north through Maine into Canada. By land and water and in snow and storms, he reached Quebec, Canada, in early November. There he was joined by another troop, led by General Richard Montgomery, which had come by way of Lake Champlain and Montreal, Canada. Together the two forces assaulted Quebec on December 31, but the attack failed; Montgomery lost his life and Arnold was left with a severe leg wound. Arnold next went to Lake Champlain to prevent the British from using it as a means of traveling from Canada to New York. He lost two naval battles on the lake in October 1776, but he had effectively delayed the British in their southward movement. In the same month Congress made Arnold a brigadier general (an army officer above a colonel).

Honor and accusations

The winter of 177677 was an unhappy one for Arnold. His hot temper, impulsiveness, and impatience had earned him many enemies who now made all sorts of charges against him. He was accused of misconduct (poor behavior) on the march through Maine, of incompetence (failure to successfully carry out a mission) on Lake Champlain, and more. Worse yet, in February 1777 Congress promoted five other brigadier generals, all Arnold's juniors, to the rank of major general (an army officer who is above a brigadier general). Only Washington's pleas kept Arnold from resigning from the army. Fortunately, the coming of spring gave him the chance for a successful operation. While visiting his home in New Haven, Arnold heard of a British attack on American supply stations in Danbury, Connecticut. He rounded up the local militia and raced to stop the enemy. Although he got there too late to prevent the destruction of the supplies, he did force the British to flee. A grateful Congress promoted him to major general on May 2, but he was still below the other five in rank. Meanwhile, he faced a formal charge of stealing goods and property from Montreal merchants during the Canadian campaign. He was cleared of the charge, but his anger at the accusation moved him to resign from the army in July 1777.

Once again Washington pleaded with himthis time to rejoin the army. Washington needed him for service in northern New York to block a bold British plan. The British hoped to split New England from the other colonies by sending General John Burgoyne from Fort Ticonderoga down the Hudson River to New York City. Burgoyne not only failed in his mission but also lost his whole army, which he surrendered at Saratoga, New York, in October 1777. Arnold played a major role in the two battles that led to the British defeat. Burgoyne himself said of Arnold that "it was his doing." Congress rewarded Arnold by restoring his position in rank above the other major generals.

Arnold's next assignment was command of the military post at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which the British had left in June 1778. In April 1779 he married Margaret Shippen, the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphian. (His first wife had died in 1775.) Moving in wealthy social circles, Arnold lived expensively, spent beyond his means, and soon found himself heavily in debt. At the same time he was being charged with a number of offenses connected to using his military office for private gain. He demanded a trial in Congress, which began in May 1779. The verdict, or decision, handed down in December found him not guilty of most charges but ordered Washington to reprimand him. The general did this, but mildly, in April 1780.

End as a traitor

By this time Arnold had already started on the road to treason. Personally hurt by Congress's treatment and badly in need of money, he had begun to pass information on American troop movements and strength of units to the British in exchange for money as early as May or June of 1779. Early in the summer of 1780, he thought up a plan to turn over the important post at West Point, New York, to the English for the sum of ten thousand pounds. He persuaded Washington to place him in command there in order to carry out this scheme. However, Arnold's plan fell through when his contact, the British spy Major John André (17501780), was captured on September 21, 1780, with documents that showed Arnold was a traitor. André was hanged and Arnold fled to the British lines.

Arnold spent the rest of the war in a British uniform fighting his own countrymen. He went to London in 1781 and died there twenty years later on June 14, 1801, forgotten in England and despised in America. To this day, calling someone a "Benedict Arnold" in America is a way of saying that person has betrayed his or her side.

For More Information

Brandt, Clare. The Man in the Mirror: A Life of Benedict Arnold. New York: Random House, 1994.

Fritz, Jean. Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold. New York: B. P. Putnam's Sons, 1981.

Martin, James Kirby. Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Warrior: An American Warrior Reconsidered. New York: New York University Press, 1997.

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Arnold, Benedict (1741-1801)

Benedict Arnold (1741-1801)

Sources

General

A Synonym for Treachery. In the first two years of the Revolution, Benedict Arnold made a reputation as a daring and skilled fighter, perhaps the best tactician who fought in the Revolution. His bold leadership was decisive in winning the pivotal battle of Saratoga. If the serious wound he sustained there had killed him, his military glory would be immortal. Yet few remember today his feats of arms in behalf of the Revolution, while any child knows that a Benedict Arnold is a traitor.

Background. Born in Norwich, Connecticut, Arnold was brought up in a strict religious household and attended boarding school for three years before being apprenticed to an apothecary in 1755. He joined the militia in the French and Indian War, deserted, returned to duty and deserted again. In 1762, when his parents died, he opened an apothecary shop in New Haven. Five years later, when he married into a prominent family, he was a successful businessman, trading and perhaps smuggling in the West Indies and Canada. He became captain of a Connecticut militia company in 1775 and participated in the Siege of Boston.

Years of Glory. Soon Arnold had wangled a colonelcy in the Massachusetts militia with the task of raising a regiment with which to capture Fort Ticonderoga. Ethan Allen had already set out on that mission, and Arnold joined him as a volunteer. His wife having died on 19 June, Arnold assuaged his grief by leading an expedition through the Maine woods to link up with Gen. Richard Montgomery in an attack on Quebec. The attack, launched on the last day of 1775, was unsuccessful; Montgomery was killed and Arnold wounded. Holding his position and continuing to threaten Quebec, Arnold was promoted to brigadier general. In May he had to retreat to Montreal in the face of British reinforcements. By July all American forces had been driven out of Canada and were trying to fore-stall a British offensive down the Lake Champlain and Hudson River valleys to New York. Arnold patched together a makeshift flotilla of gunboats on Lake Champlain and led them into battle at Valcour Island. In two sharp fights on 11 and 13 October 1776, his boats were destroyed. Nonetheless, he had held up the advance, and it was now too late in the year for the British to march any farther. For this feat Arnold expected promotion to major general. When it was not forthcoming, he threatened to resign but was persuaded not to by George Washington. The promotion came after he repulsed a British landing at Danbury, Connecticut, in April 1777. His finest hour came at Saratoga. Under the command of Horatio Gates in the Battle of Freemans Farm on 19 September, Arnolds troops hurled back Gen. John Burgoynes attack on the colonial left and might have destroyed the British if Gates had released troops for a counterattack. When he protested to Gates after the battle, he was relieved of his duties. The British attacked again on 7 October. Without a command, Arnold raced to the battlefield and led an attack that broke the British, sustaining a crippling wound in the process. Saratoga was the turning point of the war, and Arnold was the turning point of Saratoga.

Years of Shame. When he was able to walk again, Arnold was assigned to the command of Philadelphia. Soon he was accused of corruption and subjected to an investigation. Though he married Peggy Shippen, daughter of a prominent Loyalist Philadelphia family, he was blackballed socially. Enraged by this treatment, in May 1779 he opened a treasonous correspondence with Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander in chief. Although he received only a mild reprimand as punishment for his activities in Philadelphia, Arnold, now commanding the American stronghold at West Point on the Hudson River, determined to revenge himself by giving up the fortress to the British. After his British contact, Maj. John André, was caught, Arnold defected to the British on 25 September 1780. He was commissioned as a brigadier general of provincial troops and commanded a force that burned Richmond, Virginia, early in 1781. His last command was in his home state of Connecticut, where he burned New London. In December 1781 he sailed for London.

The Wages of Sin. As a traitor, Arnold was valuable to the British but not particularly well liked. His fellow officers disdained him, and the British government rewarded him with a small pension. In 1787 he moved to St. John, New Brunswick, and tried to emulate his former success in trading between Canada and the West Indies. His reputation for treachery was an immense obstacle to any business success. His explanation that he had acted to hasten the demise of a revolution that was politically rotten and doomed to failure was too self-serving to be convincing. It was all too evident that whatever problems Arnold had with the Congress in being slighted for promotion and being court-martialed were the fault of his own towering ambition and greed. Moving back to London in 1792, he lost heavily on privateering ventures during the 1793-1800 hostilities against the French. He even tried to obtain a command in the British Army but found himself an object of loathing in military circles. He died of dropsy in 1801.

Sources

Brian Richard Boylan, Benedict Arnold: The Dark Eagle (New York: Norton, 1973);

James Kirby Martin, Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered (New York: New York University Press, 1977);

Randall W. Stern, Benedict Arnold: Patriot or Traitor (New York: Morrow, 1990).

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Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold

Although he fought with skill and courage in many campaigns during the American Revolution, Gen. Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) is best known as the man who betrayed his country.

Benedict Arnold was born on Jan. 14, 1741, in Norwich, Conn., of a prominent family. As a young man, he worked for a druggist, fought in the French and Indian War, and engaged in trade with the West Indies. In 1767 he married Margaret Mansfield.

Career as a Soldier

When news of the battles of Lexington and Concord reached Arnold in April 1775, he set out at the head of a company of Connecticut militia for Cambridge, Mass., where George Washington was gathering an army to fight the British forces. His first engagement was the attack the next month on Fort Ticonderoga, where the British had a concentration of artillery. The operation was successful but Arnold got little of the credit, which went mostly to Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys. His second assignment was with an expedition against Canada. Leaving Cambridge on Sept. 19, 1775, Arnold led his troops the length of Maine, by land and water and in snow and storms, reaching Quebec in early November. There he was joined by another column under Gen. Richard Montgomery, which had come by way of Lake Champlain and Montreal. Together the two forces assaulted Quebec on December 31, but the attack failed, costing Montgomery his life and Arnold a severe leg wound. Arnold next went to Lake Champlain to prevent the British from using it as a highway from Canada to New York. He lost two naval battles on the lake in October 1776, but he had effectively delayed the British in their southward advance. In the same month Congress made Arnold brigadier general.

The winter of 1776-1777 was an unhappy one for Arnold. His hot temper, impulsiveness, and impatience had earned him many enemies, who now made all sorts of accusations against him—of misconduct on the march through Maine, of incompetence on Lake Champlain, and more. Worse yet, Congress in February 1777 promoted five brigadier generals, all Arnold's juniors, to major general. Only Washington's pleas kept Arnold from resigning from the army. Fortunately, the coming of spring gave him the chance for a successful operation. While visiting his home in New Haven, Arnold heard of a British attack on American supply depots in Danbury, Conn. He rounded up the local militia and raced to stop the enemy. Although he got there too late to prevent the destruction of the supplies, he did rout the British. A grateful Congress advanced him to major general on May 2, but he was still below the other five in seniority. Meanwhile, he faced a formal charge of stealing goods and property from Montreal merchants during the Canadian campaign. He was exonerated, but his anger at the charges moved him to resign his commission in July 1777.

Once again Washington pleaded with him, and Arnold reconsidered. Washington needed him for service in northern New York to block a bold British plan to split New England from the other colonies by sending Gen. John Burgoyne from Ticonderoga down the Hudson River to New York City. Burgoyne not only failed in his mission; he lost his whole army, which he surrendered at Saratoga, N.Y., in October 1777. Arnold played a major role in the two battles that culminated in the British defeat. Burgoyne himself said of Arnold that "it was his doing." Congress rewarded Arnold by restoring his seniority among the major generals.

Arnold's next assignment was command of the garrison at Philadelphia, which the British had evacuated in June 1778. He married Margaret Shippen, daughter of a wealthy Philadelphian, in April 1779. (His first wife had died some years earlier.) Moving in aristocratic circles, Arnold lived lavishly and beyond his means, and he soon found himself heavily in debt. At the same time he was being charged with a number of offenses connected with using his military office for private gain. He demanded a court-martial, which Congress convened in May. The verdict handed down in December found him not guilty of most charges but ordered Washington to reprimand him. The general did this, but mildly, in April 1780.

End as a Traitor

By this time, however, Arnold had already started on the road to treason. Personally hurt by Congress's treatment and sorely in need of money, he had begun to funnel information on troop movements and strength of units to the British in exchange for money as early as May or June 1779. Early in the summer of 1780, he conceived the idea of turning over the strategic post at West Point, N.Y., to the English for £10,000. He persuaded Washington to place him in command there, but Arnold's plan fell through when his contact, Maj. John André, was captured on September 21 with incriminating documents. André was executed and Arnold fled to the British lines.

Arnold spent the rest of the war in a British uniform fighting his own countrymen. In 1781 he went to London, where he died 20 years later on June 14, despised in America and forgotten in England.

Further Reading

The best biography of Arnold is Willard M. Wallace, Traitorous Hero (1954). Arnold's Canadian campaign is well presented by Justin H. Smith, Our Struggle for the Fourteenth Colony: Canada, and the American Revolution (2 vols., 1907). For his role in Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga see Hoffman Nickerson, The Turning Point of the Revolution (1928; rev. ed. 1967). Carl Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution (1941), discusses Arnold's treason. □

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Arnold, Benedict

Benedict Arnold, 1741–1801, American Revolutionary general and traitor, b. Norwich, Conn. As a youth he served for a time in the colonial militia in the French and Indian Wars. He later became a prosperous trader. Early in the Revolution, his expedition against Fort Ticonderoga joined that of Ethan Allen, and the joint command took the fort. Arnold pushed on to the northern end of Lake Champlain, where he destroyed a number of ships and a British fort. In the Quebec campaign, he invaded Canada (1775) by way of the Maine forests. After a grueling march, the exhausted force reached Quebec. Richard Montgomery arrived from Montreal, and the two small armies launched an unsuccessful assault on Dec. 31, 1775. Arnold was wounded but continued the siege until spring, when Sir Guy Carleton forced him back to Lake Champlain. There he built a small fleet that, although defeated, halted the British advance.

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).

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Arnold, Benedict

Arnold, Benedict (1741–1801), Continental army general and traitor.In 1755, at sixteen, Arnold fled his dysfunctional family in Norwich, Connecticut, and joined the provincial army of New York. Arnold soon tired of military life and deserted, as he did after a second enlistment in 1760, anticipating a lifelong pattern of abandoning military allegiances that failed to produce wealth, status, or fame.

A prominent merchant in New Haven, Arnold in April 1775 led his militia company to Massachusetts. In May, Massachusetts authorities commissioned him a colonel, and he helped lead the expedition that captured Fort Ticonderoga. In September, he led an army through Maine toward Quebec. The conquest of Canada failed, but Arnold's wilderness march and his later defense of Lake Champlain secured his reputation as a dashing, talented leader. After being wounded at the Battle of Saratoga (1777), Arnold commanded the Philadelphia garrison in 1778. Rampant corruption in Arnold's command led to his court‐martial in 1779, and a reprimand from Washington. Furious, and desperate for money to support a lavish lifestyle, Arnold plotted to betray West Point to the British for £20,000. The plot was uncovered in 1780. Arnold fled to the British, who commissioned him a brigadier general and gave him command of a corps of deserters, the American Legion, which he led on raids in Virginia and Connecticut (1780–81). His name remains a symbol of treason in U.S. national history.
[See also Revolutionary War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Treason.]

Bibliography

James Thomas Flexner , The Traitor and the Spy, 1953; 2d ed., 1975.
Clare Brandt , The Man in the Mirror: A Life of Benedict Arnold, 1994.
James Kirby Martin , Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered, 1997.

Jon T. Coleman

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Arnold, Benedict

Arnold, Benedict (1741–1801) American colonial soldier. During the American Revolution, Arnold commanded Philadelphia (1778) after being wounded at the Battle of Saratoga. In 1780 he became commander of West Point, a fort he planned to betray to the British for money. After the plot was discovered, Arnold fled to the British. His name has become proverbial in modern US usage for treachery.

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