Benedict Arnold Biography

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Benedict Arnold Biography

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Benedict Arnold: America’s Greatest Traitor

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According to a popular legend, in his last days, Benedict Arnold regretted having betrayed his own country during the war. Although no military honor was offered to him during his funeral, the procession had 4 state carriages and 7 mourning coaches. He was initially buried on the grounds of St. But, as legend has it, his remains interred in an unmarked grave hundred years later, during the Church renovations. As a legacy, he left a considerable part of his property for his illegitimate son, John Sage, and a part of his estate to his wife. Benedict Arnold was one of the greatest American generals in the history of America. Early on, Arnold distinguished himself as a competent, even gifted military leader, but one who frequently became immersed in political squabbles that stymied his rise.

Arnold got Massachusetts officials to back his plan to capture Fort Ticonderoga in New York, so that the Americans could seize its 80 or so cannons. But as it turned out, Arnold wasn't the only one who wanted that artillery, and when he got to New York with his expedition, he was compelled to team up with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys. The Americans rowed across Lake Champlain from what is now Vermont and staged a daring, late-night surprise attack to seize the fort, a major early victory in the war.

Though Arnold and Allen co-led the raid, Allen — who brashly demanded that the British surrender "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress" — ended up with more of the credit. Arnold had even bigger ambitions. He pitched George Washington, the new head of the American forces, and the Continental Congress on a scheme to invade Canada , overwhelm the few hundred troops that the British kept there, and embolden Canadian colonists to join the American cause. Washington agreed, but appointed Maj. Richard Montgomery to head the effort and relegated Arnold to commanding a small force that made its way through the Maine wilderness to Quebec City.

As this article by historian Willard Sterne Randall describes, the New Year's Eve assault on the Canadian city turned into a debacle, in which Montgomery was killed. Arnold, though severely wounded, managed to rally the remaining troops and continue the siege until spring, when he was ordered to return home. Arnold went on to distinguish himself in September in the battle of Saratoga. He quarreled with Maj. Horatio Gates , his commander, who tried to keep him back at headquarters as a punishment. But Arnold eventually ignored his orders and rode his horse to the front, where he led a charge that outflanked and routed a force of German mercenaries. During the fighting, Arnold was shot, and a bullet killed his horse and caused it to fall upon him, crushing the leg he'd injured in Quebec.

He had to be carried off the field and walked with a limp for the rest of his life. Arnold's courage had helped the Americans win a crucial victory, but again, he didn't get the credit he deserved. Instead, in July , Washington put Arnold in charge of the city of Philadelphia, which the British had abandoned. Kept out of the action, Arnold married the young daughter of a local judge, Peggy Shippen , and the couple lived an extravagant lifestyle that was beyond an American general's means. Congress refused to pay some of his expense vouchers, and eventually, in June , he was court-martialed on charges of corruption.

Though Arnold eventually was acquitted, the humiliation might have been the final straw. Even before the trial began, he secretly reached out to the British, and began communicating with British spy Maj. John Andre through coded correspondence. Arnold was a descendant of John Lothropp through his maternal grandmother, an ancestor of six presidents. Arnold's father was a successful businessman, and the family moved in the upper levels of Norwich society. He was enrolled in a private school in nearby Canterbury, Connecticut , when he was 10, with the expectation that he would eventually attend Yale College.

However, the deaths of his siblings two years later may have contributed to a decline in the family fortunes, since his father took up drinking. By the time that he was 14, there was no money for private education. His father's alcoholism and ill health kept him from training Arnold in the family mercantile business, but his mother's family connections secured an apprenticeship for him with her cousins Daniel and Joshua Lathrop, who operated a successful apothecary and general merchandise trade in Norwich. Arnold was very close to his mother, who died in His father's alcoholism worsened after her death, and the youth took on the responsibility of supporting his father and younger sister.

His father was arrested on several occasions for public drunkenness, was refused communion by his church, and died in In , Arnold was attracted by the sound of a drummer and attempted to enlist in the provincial militia for service in the French and Indian War , but his mother refused permission. The French had besieged Fort William Henry in northeastern New York, and their Indian allies had committed atrocities after their victory. Word of the siege's disastrous outcome led the company to turn around, and Arnold served for only 13 days. Arnold established himself in business in as a pharmacist and bookseller in New Haven, Connecticut , with the help of the Lathrops.

In , he repaid money that he had borrowed from the Lathrops, [18] 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 , he formed a partnership with Adam Babcock, another young New Haven merchant. They bought three trading ships, using the profits from the sale of his homestead, and established a lucrative West Indies trade. During this time, Arnold 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 Sugar Act of and the Stamp Act of severely curtailed mercantile trade in the colonies. He was convicted of disorderly conduct and fined the relatively small amount of 50 shillings; publicity of the case and widespread sympathy for his views probably contributed to the light sentence. Arnold benefited from his relationship with Mansfield, who became a partner in his business and used his position as sheriff to shield him from creditors. He wrote that he was "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?

Arnold began the war as a captain in the Connecticut militia, a position to which he was elected in March His company marched northeast the following month to assist in the siege of Boston that followed the Battles of Lexington and Concord. He proposed an action to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety to seize Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, which he knew was poorly defended. They issued him a colonel's commission on 3 May , and he immediately rode off to Castleton in the disputed New Hampshire Grants Vermont in time to participate with Ethan Allen and his men in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga.

A Connecticut militia force arrived at Ticonderoga in June; Arnold had a dispute with its commander over control of the fort, and resigned his Massachusetts commission. He was on his way home from Ticonderoga when he learned that his wife had died earlier in June. The Second Continental Congress authorized an invasion of Quebec , in part on the urging of Arnold—but he was passed over for command of the expedition.

He then went to Cambridge, Massachusetts and suggested to George Washington a second expedition to attack Quebec City via a wilderness route through Maine. He received a colonel's commission in the Continental Army for this expedition and left Cambridge in September with 1, men. He arrived before Quebec City in November, after a difficult passage in which men turned back and another died en route. He and his men were joined by Richard Montgomery 's small army and participated in the 31 December assault on Quebec City in which Montgomery was killed and Arnold's leg was shattered.

His chaplain Rev. Arnold was promoted to brigadier general for his role in reaching Quebec, and he maintained an ineffectual siege of the city until he was replaced by Major General David Wooster in April Arnold then traveled to Montreal where he served as military commander of the city until forced to retreat by an advancing British army that had arrived at Quebec in May.

He presided over the rear of the Continental Army during its retreat from Saint-Jean, where he was reported by James Wilkinson to be the last person to leave before the British arrived. He then directed the construction of a fleet to defend Lake Champlain, which was overmatched and defeated in the October Battle of Valcour Island. However, his actions at Saint-Jean and Valcour Island played a notable role in delaying the British advance against Ticonderoga until During these actions, Arnold made a number of friends and a larger number of enemies within the army power structure and in Congress.

He had established a decent relationship with George Washington, as well as Philip Schuyler and Horatio Gates , both of whom had command of the army's Northern Department during and Only action by Arnold's superior at Ticonderoga prevented his own arrest on countercharges leveled by Hazen. Brown was particularly vicious, publishing a handbill which claimed of Arnold, "Money is this man's God, and to get enough of it he would sacrifice his country". General Washington assigned Arnold to the defense of Rhode Island following the British seizure of Newport in December , where the militia were too poorly equipped to even consider an attack on the British.

Washington refused his offer to resign, and wrote to members of Congress in an attempt to correct this, noting that "two or three other very good officers" might be lost if they persisted in making politically motivated promotions. Arnold was on his way to Philadelphia to discuss his future when he was alerted that a British force was marching toward a supply depot in Danbury, Connecticut. He led a small contingent of militia attempting to stop or slow the British return to the coast in the Battle of Ridgefield , and was again wounded in his left leg. He then continued on to Philadelphia where he met with members of Congress about his rank.

His action at Ridgefield, coupled with the death of Wooster due to wounds sustained in the action, resulted in his promotion to major general, although his seniority was not restored over those who had been promoted before him. Washington refused his resignation and ordered him north to assist with the defense there. On 13 August, Schuyler dispatched him with a force of to relieve the siege of Fort Stanwix , where he succeeded in a ruse to lift the siege.

Leger with news that the approaching force was much larger and closer than it actually was; this convinced St. Leger's Indian allies to abandon him, forcing him to give up the effort. Arnold returned to the Hudson where General Gates had taken over command of the American army, which had retreated to a camp south of Stillwater. He was again severely wounded in the left leg late in the fighting. Arnold said that it would have been better had it been in the chest instead of the leg. Congress restored Arnold's command seniority in response to his valor at Saratoga.

Arnold spent several months recovering from his injuries. He had his leg crudely set, rather than allowing it to be amputated, leaving it 2 inches 5 cm shorter than the right. He returned to the army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in May to the applause of men who had served under him at Saratoga. The British withdrew from Philadelphia in June , and Washington appointed Arnold military commander of the city. Arnold began planning to capitalize financially on the change in power in Philadelphia, even before the Americans reoccupied their city. He engaged in a variety of business deals designed to profit from war-related supply movements and benefiting from the protection of his authority. Arnold demanded a court martial to clear the charges, writing to Washington in May "Having become a cripple in the service of my country, I little expected to meet ungrateful returns".

Arnold lived extravagantly in Philadelphia and was a prominent figure on the social scene. Historians have identified many possible factors contributing to Arnold's treason, while some debate their relative importance. According to W. Wetherell , he was:. Did he become a traitor because of all the injustice he suffered, real and imagined, at the hands of the Continental Congress and his jealous fellow generals? Because of the constant agony of two battlefield wounds in an already gout-ridden leg? From psychological wounds received in his Connecticut childhood when his alcoholic father squandered the family's fortunes?

Or was it a kind of extreme midlife crisis, swerving from radical political beliefs to reactionary ones, a change accelerated by his marriage to the very young, very pretty, very Tory Peggy Shippen? Wetherell says that the shortest explanation for his treason is that he "married the wrong person". Arnold had been badly wounded twice in battle and had lost his business in Connecticut, which made him profoundly bitter. He grew resentful of several rival and younger generals who had been promoted ahead of him and given honors which he thought he deserved. Especially galling was a long feud with the civil authorities in Philadelphia which led to his court-martial. He was also convicted of two minor charges of using his authority to make a profit.

General Washington gave him a light reprimand, but it merely heightened Arnold's sense of betrayal; nonetheless, he had already opened negotiations with the British before his court martial even began. He later said in his own defense that he was loyal to his true beliefs, yet he lied at the same time by insisting that Peggy was totally innocent and ignorant of his plans. Arnold had an extremely ambitious and jealous personality. He knew that he was distrusted and disliked by senior military officers on both sides.

Washington was one of the few who genuinely liked and admired him, but Arnold thought that Washington had betrayed him. As early as , there were signs that Arnold was unhappy with his situation and pessimistic about the country's future. Peggy Shippen… did have a significant role in the plot. She exerted powerful influence on her husband, who is said to have been his own man but who actually was swayed by his staff and certainly by his wife. Peggy came from a loyalist family in Philadelphia; she had many ties to the British. She… was the conduit for information to the British. By July , Benedict Arnold was providing the British with troop locations and strengths, as well as the locations of supply depots, all the while negotiating over compensation.

He also began to insist on a face-to-face meeting, and suggested to Arnold that he pursue another high-level command. Arnold was rebuffed by Congress and by local authorities in requests for security details for himself and his in-laws. Arnold's court martial on charges of profiteering began meeting on 1 June , but it was delayed until December by General Clinton's capture of Stony Point, New York , throwing the army into a flurry of activity to react. The Commander-in-Chief would have been much happier in an occasion of bestowing commendations on an officer who had rendered such distinguished services to his country as Major General Arnold; but in the present case, a sense of duty and a regard to candor oblige him to declare that he considers his conduct [in the convicted actions] as imprudent and improper.

Angry and frustrated, Arnold resigned his military command of Philadelphia in late April. Discussions had not borne fruit between Schuyler and Washington by early June. Arnold reopened the secret channels with the British, informing them of Schuyler's proposals and including Schuyler's assessment of conditions at West Point. He also provided information on a proposed French-American invasion of Quebec that was to go up the Connecticut River Arnold did not know that this proposed invasion was a ruse intended to divert British resources.

On 16 June, Arnold inspected West Point while on his way home to Connecticut to take care of personal business, and he sent a highly detailed report through the secret channel. By early July, he was back in Philadelphia, where he wrote another secret message to Clinton on 7 July which implied that his appointment to West Point was assured and that he might even provide a "drawing of the works Clinton was concerned that Washington's army and the French fleet would join in Rhode Island, and he again fixed on West Point as a strategic point to capture. Excited by the prospects, Clinton informed his superiors of his intelligence coup, but failed to respond to Arnold's 7 July letter. Benedict Arnold next wrote a series of letters to Clinton, even before he might have expected a response to the 7 July letter.

In a 11 July letter, he complained that the British did not appear to trust him, and threatened to break off negotiations unless progress was made. These letters were delivered by Samuel Wallis, another Philadelphia businessman who spied for the British, rather than by Stansbury. On 3 August , Arnold obtained command of West Point. Neither side knew for some days that the other was in agreement with that offer, due to difficulties in getting the messages across the lines. Arnold's letters continued to detail Washington's troop movements and provide information about French reinforcements that were being organized.

On 25 August, Peggy finally delivered to him Clinton's agreement to the terms. While en route to West Point, Arnold renewed an acquaintance with Joshua Hett Smith , who had spied for both sides and who owned a house near the western bank of the Hudson about 15 miles south of West Point. Once Arnold established himself at West Point, he began systematically weakening its defenses and military strength. Needed repairs were never ordered on the chain across the Hudson.

Troops were liberally distributed within Arnold's command area but only minimally at West Point itself or furnished to Washington on request. He also peppered Washington with complaints about the lack of supplies, writing, "Everything is wanting. His subordinates, some long-time associates, grumbled about Arnold's unnecessary distribution of supplies and eventually concluded that he was selling them on the black market for personal gain.

In an ironic twist, Heron went into New York unaware of the significance of the letter and offered his own services to the British as a spy. He then took the letter back to Connecticut, suspicious of Arnold's actions, where he delivered it to the head of the Connecticut militia. General Parsons laid it aside, seeing a letter written as a coded business discussion.

Four days later, Arnold sent a ciphered letter with similar content into New York through the services of the wife of a prisoner of war. This meeting was thwarted when British gunboats in the river fired on his boat, not being informed of his impending arrival. Major Benjamin Tallmadge was a member of the Continental Army's Culper Ring , a network of spies established under Washington's orders, [] and he insisted that Jameson order the prisoner to be intercepted and brought back. Beverley Robinson 's former summer house on the east bank of the Hudson.

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