Benedict Arnold

 

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Benedict ArnoldArnold, BENEDICT, Traitor; born in Norwich, Connecticut, January 14, 1741. As a boy he was bold, mischievous, and quarrelsome. Apprenticed to an apothecary, he ran away, enlisted as a soldier, but deserted. For four years (17631767) he was a bookseller and druggist in New Haven, Connecticut, and was afterwards master of a vessel trading to the West Indies. Immediately after the affair at Lexington, he raised a company of volunteers and marched to Cambridge. There he proposed to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety an expedition against Fort Ticonderoga, and was commissioned a colonel. Finding a small force, under Colonels Easton, Brown, and Allen, on the same errand when he reached western Massachusetts, he joined them without command.

Arnold's Expedition to Canada

Returning to Cambridge, he was put in charge of an expedition for the capture of Quebec. He left Cambridge with a little more than 1,000 men, composed of New England musketeers and riflemen from Virginia and Pennsylvania, the latter under Captain Daniel Morgan. He sailed from Newburyport for the Kennebec in the middle of September, 1775. They rendezvoused at Fort Western, on the Kennebec River, opposite the site of the present city of Augusta, Me., and on the verge of a wilderness uninhabited except by a few native hunters. At Norridgewock Falls the hard work began. Their bateaux were pulled by oxen, and their supplies were carried on their backs around the falls a difficult task often repeated as they pressed towards the headwaters of the Kennebec River, often wading and pushing their bateaux against swift currents. Finally, they left that stream and crossed rugged ravines, craggy knolls, and deep morasses, until they reached the Dead River. The stream flowed smoothly on the summit of the watershed between the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic, and they moved easily over the region until they encamped at the foot of a high mountain covered with snow. Sickness and desertion now began to reduce the number of useful men. October was passing away. Cold blasts came from the north. A heavy rain fell, and the water, rushing from the hills, suddenly filled the Dead River to its brim and overflowed its banks. Some of the boats were overturned and much of their supplies were lost or spoiled. Food for only twelve days was left. A detachment was sent to get a supply, but did not return. The floods began to freeze and the morasses became almost impassable. Through ice-cold water they were frequently compelled to wade; even two women, wives of soldiers, endured this hardship. At length they reached the Chaudiere River, that empties into the, St. Lawrence. Starvation threatened. Seventy miles lay between them and Sertigan, the nearest French settlement. Leaving his troops on the banks of the upper Chaudiere, Arnold and fifty-five men started down the river for Sertigan to obtain food. Two or three boats had been wrecked just before their departure, and much of their scanty supply of food was lost. Arnold and his party reached the settlement. Indians were sent back with provisions and as guides for the rest of the troops to the settlement. When the forces were joined they moved towards the St. Lawrence; and on November 9, in a heavy snowstorm, they arrived at Point Levi, opposite Quebec, only 750 in number. Their sufferings from cold and hunger had been extreme. At one time they had attempted to make soup of boiled deer-skin moccasins to sustain life, and they ate a pet dog on the journey. In this expedition were men who afterwards became famous in American history - Aaron Burr, R. J. Meigs, Henry Dearborn, Daniel Morgan, and others.

Siege of Quebec

Benedict Arnold assisted Montgomery in the siege of Quebec, and in the engagement, he was severely wounded in the leg. Montgomery was killed, and Arnold was promoted to brigadier-general (January 10, 1776), and took command of the remnant of the American troops near Quebec. Succeeded by Wooster, he went up Lake Champlain to Ticonderoga, where he was placed in command of an armed flotilla on the lake. With these vessels he had disastrous battles (October 11 and 13, 1776) with British vessels built at St. Johns.

Benedict Arnold's Treason

Arnold was deeply offended by the appointment, by Congress, early in 1777, of five of his juniors to the rank of major-general. He received the same rank soon afterwards (February 7, 1777), but the affront left a festering thorn in his side, and he was constantly in conflict the other officers, for his temper was violent and he was not upright in all his dealings. General Schuyler respected him for his bravery, and was his trusted friend until the treason. He successfully went to the relief of Fort Schuyler on the upper Mohawk (August, 1777), with 800 volunteers; and in September and October following he was important in the defeat of Burgoyne, in spite of General Gates. There he was again severely wounded in the same leg, and was disabled several months. When the British evacuated Philadelphia (June, 1778) Arnold was appointed commander at Philadelphia, where he married the daughter of a leading Tory (Edward Shippen), lived lavishly, went deep into debt, was accused of dishonest conduct, and plotted his treason against his country. To meet the demands of servicing his debt, he engaged in fraudulent transactions, for which his official position gave him facilities, and charges of dishonesty and malpractice in office were levied against him before the Continental Congress. A tribunal tried convicted him, but sentenced him to a reprimand by the commander-in-chief. George Washington performed the duty with great delicacy, but the disgrace aroused in the heart of Arnold a fierce feeling of anger. He decided to betray his country, and, making treasonable overtures to Sir Henry Clinton, kept up a correspondence on the subject for a long time with MAJOR JOHN ANDRE, the adjutant-general of the British army. This correspondence was carried on mutually under assumed names, and on the part of Arnold in a disguised hand. Feigning great patriotism and a desire to serve his country better, he asked for, and, through the recommendation of General Schuyler and others, obtained the command of the important post of West Point and its dependencies in the Hudson Highlands. He arranged with Major Andre to surrender that post into the hands of a British force which Sir Henry might send up the Hudson. For this service he was to receive the commission of a brigadier-general in the British army and nearly $50,000 in gold. He made his headquarters at the house of Beverly Robinson, a Tory, opposite West Point, and the time chosen for the consummation of the treason was when Washington should be absent at a conference with Rochambeau at Hartford. Arnold and Andre had negotiated in writing; the former wished a personal interview, and arrangements were made for it. Andre went up the Hudson in the British sloop - of - war Vulture to Teller's (afterwards Croton) Point, from which he was taken in the night in a small boat to a secluded spot near Haverstraw, on the west side of the river, where, in bushes, he met Arnold for the first time. Before they parted (September 22. 1780) the whole matter was arranged: Clinton was to sail up the river with a strong force, and, after a show of resistance, Arnold was to surrender West Point and its dependencies into his hands. But the plan did not work as expected. The Vulture was driven from her anchorage by some Americans with a cannon on Teller's Point, and when Andre, with Arnold, at Joshua H. Smith's house, above Haverstraw, looked for her in the early morning she had disappeared from sight. He had expected to return to the Vulture after the meeting was over; now he was compelled to cross the river at King's Ferry and return to New York by land. He left his uniform, and, disguised in citizen's dress, he crossed the river towards evening with a single attendant, passed through the American works at Verplanck's Point without suspicion, spent the night not far from the Croton River, and the next morning journeyed over the Neutral Ground on horseback, with a full expectation of entering New York before evening. Benedict Arnold had furnished him with papers revealing the condition of the highland stronghold. At Tarrytown, 27 miles from the city, he was stopped (September 23) and searched by three young militiamen, who, finding those papers concealed under the feet of Andre in his boot, took him to the nearest American military post.

Benedict Arnold's Escape

The commander (Colonel Jameson) did not seem to understand the gravity of the matter, and foolishly allowed Andre (who had a pass from Arnold in which he was called "John Anderson") to send a letter to Arnold telling him of his detention. George Washington returned from Hartford sooner than he expected. He rode over from Fishkill towards Arnold's quarters early in the morning. Two of his military associates (Hamilton and Lafayette) went forward to have breakfast with Arnold, while Washington paused to inspect a battery. While they were at breakfast Andre's letter was delivered to Arnold. With perfect calm he asked to be excused, went to his wife's room, told her good bye, and, mounting the horse of one of his aides that stood saddled at the door, rode swiftly to the river shore. There he got in his barge, and, promising the oarsmen a generous reward if they would row the boat swiftly, escaped to the Vulture. Soon after his escape to the British army, Arnold published an Address to the Inhabitants of America, in which he attempted to gloss over his treason by abusing the Congress and the French alliance. He also published a Proclamation to the Officers and Soldiers of the Continental Army, in which as an incentive to desert he offered $15 to every private, and to the officers commissions in the British army according to their rank and the number of men they might bring with them.

Virginia had generously sent her best soldiers to help the Carolinians in their attempt to throw off the yoke laid upon their necks by Cornwallis. To call these troops back from Greene's army, the British, at the close of 1780, sent Arnold into Virginia with a marauding party of British and Tories, about 1,600 in number, with seven armed vessels, to plunder, distress, and alarm the people of that State. Arnold could not be used in any other way, for respectable British officers refused to serve with him in the army. He arrived at Hampton Roads on December 30, 1780. Anxious to distinguish himself, he immediately pushed up the James River as far as Richmond, when, after destroying a large quantity of public and private stores there and in the vicinity (January 5, 1781), he withdrew to Portsmouth, opposite Norfolk, and made that place his headquarters for a while. Earnest efforts were made to capture the traitor, but without success. Thomas Jefferson offered $25,000 for his arrest, and Washington deployed Lafayette, with 1,200 men, drawn from the New England and New Jersey levies, who marched to Virginia for that purpose and to protect the State.

A portion of the French fleet went from Rhode Island (March 8) to trap Arnold at the Elizabeth River and assist in capturing him. Steuben, who was recruiting for Greene's army in Virginia, also watched him. The effort failed, for Arnold was vigilant and extremely cautious. He knew what would be his fate if caught. "What would the Americans do with me, if they should catch me?" Arnold inquired of a young prisoner. " They would cut off and bury with military honors your leg that was wounded at Saratoga, and hang the rest of you," replied the young American soldier. General Phillips joined Arnold (March 26) with more than 2,000 men, and took the chief command. The traitor accompanied him on another expedition up the James River, in April, and then returned to New York, for Cornwallis, who came into Virginia from North Carolina, refused to serve with him.

When Sir Henry Clinton found that the allied armies were actually going to Virginia, he tried to alarm Washington by threats of marauding expeditions. He sent Arnold, with a band of regulars and Tories, to commit atrocities in Connecticut. Arnold crossed the Sound, from Long Island, and on September 6, 1781, landed his troops on each side of the Thames, below New London. He plundered and burned that town, and a part of his force took Fort Griswold, opposite, by storm. It was gallantly defended by Colonel Ledyard and a garrison of 150 poorly armed militiamen. Only six of the garrison were killed in the conflict, but after the surrender the British officer in command (Colonel Eyre) murdered Ledyard with his sword, and, refusing to give quarter to the garrison, seventy-three were massacred. Then the wounded were placed in a baggage-wagon and sent down the slope towards the river, with the intention of drowning them in the stream at its foot, but the vehicle was caught by an apple-tree. The cries of the sufferers could be heard above the crackling of the burning town by persons across the river. With this atrocious expedition the name of Benedict Arnold disappears from the records of our history.

Arnold went to England at the close of the war, where he was despised and shunned by all honorable men. He was afterwards a resident of St. John, New Brunswick, engaged chiefly in trade and navigation, but was very unpopular. He was there hung in effigy. His son, James Robertson (an infant at the time of his father's treason), became a lieutenant-general in the British army. Arnold's second wife, whom he married when she was not quite eighteen years of age, survived him just three years. Arnold died in obscurity, but in comfortable pecuniary circumstances, in Gloucester Place, London, June 14, 1801.

 

 

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