Treason: Benedict Arnold Research Essay
After defeating British troops in Saratoga, Congress made Benedict Arnold a major general in the Continental Army. Washington 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.
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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 a 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 began there was no holding back. Disobeying Gates’s 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 through 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 honour were in question given that Congress was slow to react to Arnold’s claim.
Soon after 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.
At the 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 delayed.
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 rumours floated around that the British were looking for American officers that would change sides. Benedict overheard these rumours 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.
A year 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.
When Arnold 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 an 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 behaviour, since he was already distraught with the major for holding out on the negotiations with reference to the money.
On 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 candour… that it was impossible for him to suppose that he came onshore 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 headquarters.
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 General Washington.
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 begrudgingly be 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 the 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 outlived 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 honour.
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