|After defeating British troops in Saratoga, Congress made
Benedict Arnold a
major general in the Continental Army.
wrote a commendation saying
that Arnold was a brave officer. Despite the promotion, Arnold remained at the
bottom of the list. There were four other major generals superior to him.
Arnold was soon off once again to help the northern army. Ticonderoga had
fallen back into enemy hands. British General John Burgoyne and his troops were
moving rapidly down from Canada toward Albany. Arnold fell under the leadership
of General Horatio Gates. Arnold and Gates were complete opposites. Gates
appeared cautious and calculating while Benedict was persistent and hasty. Gates
held position on an area overlooking the Hudson River. His plan was to wait for
an attack. He knew that the British were low on supplies from their long march
from Canada and planned on using that to his advantage. Arnold disagreed, urging
Gates to attack General Burgoyne during his progress. However, Gates didn’t
trust Benedict or believe in his tactics. Once the battle begun there was no
holding back. Disobeying Gates orders, Arnold led a furious attack. Upon the
barrage of bullets swarming the battlefield, Arnold was shot in the leg.
Ironically this was the same leg that had been wounded in the battle at
Montreal. Thanks to Arnold’s valiant effort General Burgoyne and his men were
faced with retreating. Over six hundred British soldiers were killed. On October
16, General Burgoyne surrendered his sword to General Gates, instead of Arnold.
This had disgruntled Arnold greatly, given that it was his brilliant, tactical
assessment that forced the British army to surrender. This had made the victory
bittersweet threw his perspective.
Following the battle, Arnold lay in an
Albany hospital for three months. Arnold left the hospital with a “fracture box”
around his bad leg. Gates distort over Arnold’s disobedience stripped him of his
rank. However, the Continental Congress restored his rank as a reward for
Arnold’s spirited efforts.
After Ticonderoga, Arnold was having problems
getting reimbursements from Congress for his expenses. Unfortunately, Arnold
lacked receipts for those purchases. Arnold felt his loyalty and honor were in
question given that Congress was slow to react to Arnold’s claim.
Washington requested that Arnold come to Valley Forge to converse his next
assignment. Upon learning the extent of Arnold’s injury, Washington decided to
position Benedict as the military governor in Philadelphia. The British had
occupied the capital city Philadelphia for nine months under the leadership of
General William Howe. In June 1778 Benedict marched into the city and quickly
ordered military law while taking possession of shops and supplies. The feeling
of power and prestige that he had always longed for was finally his.
same time Benedict had encountered a striking 16-year old girl named Peggy
Shippen. Peggy was the daughter of a Quaker, Judge Edward Shippen. Early in 1779
the two became engaged as they proposed to tie the knot in the spring. On April
8,1779 Benedict and his adored Peggy Shippen were married. As a result of
previous injuries in combat, Arnold could no longer make his dauntless rides on
the battlefield. He had not been paid in months, and money was diminishing in
its value. Arnold was forced to sit and wait since his court martial had been
Arnold’s hostility towards the Americans continued to worsen, and
Peggy fed into this resentment. They both agreed that the war was dragging on
and accomplishing nothing.
Various rumors floated around that the British
were looking for American officers that would change sides. Benedict overheard
these rumors and considered those options. He was certain that his services
would be worth a great deal of money to the British. Peggy took this opportunity
to contact her old friend, John André. At the time André was an aide to General
Henry Clinton and in charge of all British intelligence in America.
had passed since Arnold had made his first offer to become a traitor. Then early
in May 1780, Benedict began, through a Loyalist merchant in New York, to shift
his assets to London. Arnold expressed his desire to Schuler to be assigned at
West Point. Control of the stronghold would enable Clinton to split the United
States in half at the Hudson River. After Joseph Stansbury had begun another
risky journey to British headquarters, Arnold sent a letter to American
headquarters reminding Schuyler of his interest in West Point.
reached headquarters in early June, he asked a lot of questions so that he could
betray the answers. He began to write down information about the projected
invasion in Canada.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Peggy had induced the
vulnerable congressman, Robert R. Livingston, to write Washington persuading him
to confide in Arnold at West Point.
On June 12th, Arnold visited Washington
in Morristown to discuss the events to come. Soon after Arnold passed on to the
British news that the French fleet was planning to land at Newport and then
attack Canada, a phony story that Washington spread in hopes that it would lure
Clinton away from New York long enough for him to seize and capture the island
city. Benedict went to West Point for the first time, accompanied by General
Robert Howe. Howe felt that Arnold could be a weak link towards Washington’s
precious stronghold of the north. On July 31st, Washington moved his troops
across the Hudson at King’s Ferry near Stony Point, where he met Arnold.
Washington felt that it would be a waste of an excellent field officer, but
could not refuse Arnold’s request. On August 3rd Washington announced that
Arnold would take command of West Point, enabling General Howe to return to the
American line. Then on August 24th Arnold received a letter from André
indicating that the British would meet his financial demands and pay him 20,000
pounds when he surrendered West Point, all its stores, artillery, and a
battalion of approximately 3,000 men. His plan was to send troops out in
isolated groups so they could easily become surprised and captured. Benedict
then suggested that a swift British expedition could surprise the Americans,
detain Washington, and very likely win the war. However, the British failed to
take advantage of this great opportunity.
On September 11th Arnold’s barge
cautiously approached Dobbs Ferry when a swift British gunboat suddenly appeared
from the eastern shore. Then the ship began to open fire about him. Arnold was
by complete surprise, wondering if it had been a trap or was he merely caught
off-guard. All afternoon he paced the shoreline, searching the river for a
signal from Major André. He quickly wrote a note to General Washington, who was
only three miles away, explaining his attendance. Soon after he fled back to
headquarters. On September 14th, three days after his narrow escape at Dobbs
Ferry, Arnold again embarked on his journey heading south. Only this time he was
to meet up with his beloved Peggy at Joshua Smith’s house in Haverstraw. Soon
after, a courier delivered Arnold a confidential letter from General Washington
requesting a exceptional guard to be sent to King’s Ferry the subsequent
evening, September 17th, to cover the commander in chief’s voyage with his
suite. Washington planned to spend the night in Peekskill en route to Hartford
for a covert discussion with the French general and admiral. Immediately
following, Benedict informed André of his diplomacy. Unfortunately for Arnold,
André would not receive the news in time to organize an abduction of the
commander in chief. The purpose was to inform André to delay his destination
upriver until the coast was clear. Following this, Major André and Arnold met to
discuss their plan of attack on West Point. Predictably, it was when the subject
turned to money that obscurity arose. Benedict’s interests had focused on money,
thus extending the meeting for three hours. It was too late to row the major
back to his ship safely, so André mounted his horse and set off with Arnold for
Haverstraw. Suddenly, the boom of cannon reached there, and from the window they
witnessed flashes and a thick cloud of smoke arising from the Vulture. The
cannon was being fired from Teller’s Point. At the request from James
Livingston, John Lamb sent a few rounds of ammunition from West Point. André
appeared disgruntled upon finding himself stranded behind American lines. Arnold
paid little attention to his behavior, since he was already distraught with the
major for holding out on the negotiations with reference to the money.
Saturday, September 23rd, Joshua Smith arrived midday to report that he had
taken Major André overland through Westchester County.
Following the morning
of September 26th, Arnold came face-to-face for the first time with the
commander in chief of British services in North America, Sir Henry Clinton. The
congregation was awkward to say the least. General Clinton had counted heavily
on the capture of West Point to end the war and signify his glory, so he
extremely disappointed to hear that Arnold’s plan had failed. Also word of André
falling into enemy hands sent him into a disturbing tailspin. Clinton promptly
called upon his advisers to organize a full-proof campaign to obtain Major
André’s release. The same evening Sir Henry Clinton instructed Arnold to compose
a formal memorandum stating the legal argument of André’s release. General
Washington’s reply to the document reached New York on September 30th. In the
letter, Washington informed General Clinton that he was going to refer the case
to the board of generals’ office. Major André confessed that “with the greatest
candor… that it was impossible for him to suppose that he came on shore under
the sanction of the flag,”(Major André) This left the board no choice but to
sentence him to death as a spy. Shock and disbelief spread through British
Clinton ordered the preparation of a new round of appeals, but
to no avail. Major André, his hopes of salvation dashed by the return to
Jamestown headquarters, broke down under pressure and wrote a confessional to
On the morning of October 5th, the major’s personal
servant returned to New York to announce that André had been hanged three days
before, at noon in the presence of the officers and men of the Continental Army.
Originally, André suggested to General Washington that he wished to be shot like
a soldier. In New York, word had reached Sir Henry Clinton of André’s death.
Like everyone else in New York, Arnold was deeply affected by the news of
André’s death. However, Arnold was emotional for a reason different from the
others. He felt that if André had lived, he could have received a generous
reimbursement from the British for services rendered. Arnold concluded that
whatever he received now would be grudgingly given to him.
On October 9th
Sir Henry Clinton bestowed upon Arnold the rank of brigadier general in his
Majesty’s army with authority to raise his own regiment. Arnold wasn’t satisfied
with the money he had received. Then he wrote one of the most insensitive
letters in his career. In the letter Arnold asserted that Major André promised
him ten thousand pounds sterling for his services. He then stated that André was
commissioned to promise him only six thousand pounds but would use his influence
and recommend the amount he had asked for. Arnold then reiterated that “no
amount” of money was worth the sacrifices he had to make in betraying his own
country. However, Clinton’s response was swift and to the point. He remitted
Arnold a draft of 6,000 pounds.
Generous as the British were to Arnold, they
never completely trusted him as an officer in their service. Though he conducted
a raid into Virginia and led the tragic expedition to New London, the British
declined to give him a high command. After Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown,
Arnold took his family to London, where he received both respect and admiration,
but no employment. Later, he moved to Canada- to St. John, New Brunswick and
entered the shipping business.
Eventually, Arnold moved his family back to
London and tried to secure command when the war with revolutionary France broke
out. Denied an opportunity to return to military, he traded with the West
Indies, where he was greatly appreciated. Rejected once more in an effort to
help the military, Arnold died in 1801, forlorn and almost forgotten in Britain.
His wife out lived him by three years, but had the satisfaction of seeing her
children have respectable careers and attain mild fame. If none has achieved
such military importance as their ancestor, the tireless “Dark Eagle” as the
Indians called him, none has put self-interest or injured pride before honor.