One of the most famous and infamous names of the American Revolution is Benedict Arnold. But what exactly did this man do to create such a legacy for himself and is it deserved?
Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut in 1741 to a troubled family. His father who had worked as a merchant had married above his class but had ended up losing his business due to unsound practices. As a result he had become an alcoholic, unable to work and unable to support his son and wife.
His mother’s family remained supportive however, taking Arnold in as an apprentice to help the young man survive. When the French and Indian War broke out the young Arnold enlisted in the colonial militia, returning home safe and sound to begin his own trading business away from the family influence.
When the American Revolution began Benedict Arnold saw this as an ideal opportunity to prove himself as a leader of men and also to increase his personal wealth. Taking the lead of a Connecticut militia company he marched the men to Boston, eager to be seen and noticed. But instead of engaging the enemy there he swung around and joined in on the battle to capture Fort Ticonderoga instead. But it was Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys who captured not only the fort but also all the fame that went with it, leaving Arnold bitter and upset.
But he continued to seek glory in battle, leading an expedition into Canada through horrible weather conditions that would have sapped the strength of a lesser army. Instead his forces joined General Montgomery’s larger army and attacked Quebec on December 30, 1775 and fought valiantly until they were forced to retreat. During this time Arnold was wounded, but refused to leave his men.
The first inklings of Arnold’s disappointment and resentment for the men he fought alongside occurred in 1777 when he joined Horatio Gates in a combined effort to defeat the British forces that were massing in the New York area. After criticizing the General’s plans Arnold was ordered to the rear of the battle where he sulked at his mistreatment.
His banishment wasn’t for long, however. At the Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7, 1777 Benedict Arnold distinguished himself and his troops with an intense and enthusiastic attack on the British forces. But he was wounded again; and again survived the battlefield.
Arnold was given command of the city of Philadelphia in June of 1778 as a reward of sorts for his fine actions in the field. But he found himself at odds with the other military men who were also assigned there or who were passing through, leading to various personality clashes. As well his baser instincts had led him to install less-than-noble men in his command, corrupting what had once been a fine fighting unit. These accusations resulted in a court-martial for Arnold, which he survived by being cleared of almost all the charges, resulting in only a reprimand from General George Washington. But instead of being grateful for his reprieve Arnold felt betrayed and wanted revenge.
In May of 1779 he contacted the British with an offer of information for money. He had become used to an affluent lifestyle and had decided that the British could help him retain his status. He also felt that he was under-appreciated by Congress and the government in general, leading him to betray his friends and his country.
He didn’t contact the British personally with his information but used a go-between, a shopkeeper in Philadelphia who believed in the British cause. This shopkeeper, a man by the name of Joseph Stansbury, would then contact Major John Andre who worked for the British General Sir Henry Clinton.
But this all fell apart in 1780 when Major Andre was captured with the evidence on him of Benedict Arnold’s betrayal and treason. Terrified for his life Arnold ran to New York City and begged for help from General Clinton. He was allowed to take a commission in the British Army but failed to distinguish himself due to the fact that no one trusted him with any sort of responsibility.
Arnold moved to New Brunswick, Canada to live with fellow Loyalist supporters and British subjects after the war but immigrated to England in 1791. He died in 1801 a broken and poor man, his name synonymous with traitor and treason.