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April 22, 2024

The Hero and the Traitor - a Tale of Selfish Courage 02

By Van Lee

Part 2, Rise of the Traitor

Though Arnold had gained the rank of Brigadier General and had George Washington's complete trust, things were not as rosy looking as he would have hoped. Arnold had always had the reputation of a rogue and often had to fight for what he thought he deserved, both monetarily and in terms of respect. He had moved to Montreal and was later forced to evacuate, heading back into the colonies. As the summer drew near, he began to face legal issues. As his forces left Montreal, they seized goods from shops and he was later accused of illegally seizing those goods. Arnold's defense was that another officer had not taken control and Arnold was in a position where he had no other choice but to plunder the stores for his troops to have supplies.

Hazen, the officer Arnold had accused, demanded to be court-martialed in order to clear his name. Arnold, in his anger, vented his anger on the court and the court demanded an apology, something that Arnold's pride would not allow to happen. The court ordered Arnold's arrest and in the end General Horatio Gates pushed to have Arnold exonerated because Arnold was need in the north. Arnold was given a small fleet of ships at Ticonderoga. While there, Arnold lost 10 of 15 ships and many blamed him for the losses. But like in previous engagements, merely surviving frustrated British efforts and earned the rebels much needed time.

As winter came around, Arnold was once again assaulted by military compatriots with an axe to grind. Several charges were brought against him and he spent most of the winter defending himself. In the meantime, subordinate officers were promoted over him. Arnold felt robbed of what was rightfully his and Washington approached Congress over why the others were being promoted over Arnold. Washington himself felt frustration over the fact that Congress had promoted the others without so much as a mention to Washington, let alone asking his input on their performance or qualifications.

Washington failed at making any gains for Arnold with Congress and Arnold decided to go to Philadelphia himself to confront Congress. On his way there, he and his men routed British forces that had burned Danbury. In light of this, Congress decided to promote Arnold to Major-General, but they would not give him seniority. On top of this, Arnold was still having problems with reimbursements from Congress. He decided that the effort was not worth the trouble and in July 1777 he resigned from his position.

At the same time Washington had recommended Arnold to go to Ticonderoga to aid General Schuyler. Arnold felt it was a good opportunity and asked that his resignation be put on hold. Congress allowed it, but still refused to give him his seniority. This was a major source of contention and Arnold would always be angered over the slight. He arrived at Ticonderoga to become embroiled in a contest of power between Horatio Gates and Schuyler. Arnold supported Schuyler in the end because he felt that Schuyler was being slighted similar to the way he was.

Arnold volunteered to take Fort Schuyler and managed to convince the British that he had several thousand men for the attack. In reality he only had less then one thousand, but the rouse worked and when Arnold entered the fort, it had been evacuated. Arnold returned to the main force to find that Gates had someone managed to take command of the main force. It was not long before Arnold and Gates were at odds.

Arnold wanted to take his force and assault Freeman's Farm at Saratoga. Gates refused to give him extra troops and remained cautious. Gates even went so far as to remove some of Arnold's troops without telling him and in a report to Congress refused to acknowledge Arnold's part in the action thus far. To add insult to injury, Gates removed Arnold's command due to insubordination. Arnold was relegated to his tent and his aides tried to keep him informed of the situation around Saratoga. With no positive news coming in, Arnold left his tent and took his horse into the battle, despite not having a command. The troops, many who were his former troops, were inspired by his actions and rallied around him. Arnold, backed by Daniel Morgan's men, pushed through the center of the enemy position. Victory was in clear site. But right before assured victory, Arnold's horse was shot from under him and he fell, injuring the same leg that had been previously injured. This stopped immediate victory, but the actions still led to Burgoyne surrendering a few days later. A direct effect of this victory was the French coming to the aid of the Colonies.

Congress finally agreed to restore his seniority, but by this time, Arnold was bitter and refused to forgive them. His leg wound was so severe that the one leg was now nearly crippled. He spent the winter at Valley Forge, signed an oath of allegiance while there, witnessed by Henry Knox. Washington sent Arnold to Philadelphia, which had recently been evacuated of British forces, to be commandant of the city.

While in Philadelphia, Arnold would meet key individuals that would lead to his later actions, the actions that would ultimately leave him forever branded as a traitor. He met Peggy Shippen, the daughter of Judge Edward Shippen and they were loyalists. Arnold was drawn to her and pursued her. She had previously been pursued by the British officer Major John Andre, but in time Arnold managed to win her over. The marriage gave Arnold significant social status in Philadelphia, but it was something that would work against him. They lived well beyond their means and seizing the opportunity, Arnold began some shady business dealing in real estate, shipping, and even using government property for his own personal gain. In Arnold's mind he was justified, after all, he felt that Congress had robbed him of money over the course of the war and had held him back in many ways.

Arnold was court-martialed and found guilty of using government wagons for personal gain and issuing a pass to a ship that he would later invest in. Even Washington came down heavy on him for the actions. At some point, Arnold was introduced to elements of the British military and was offered more then 10,000 pounds and a commission in the British Army. Arnold felt that the British were offering what the Continental Congress refused, money, respect, and recognition. Arnold seized upon the opportunity.

His wife put him in contact with Major John Andre who was an adjutant general and the intelligence chief to Sir Henry Clinton. As a test of his new found loyalty to the British, he was to give them West Point. As it happens, Washington had pushed to give Arnold the left wing of the main army. A short time earlier, this would have been seen as a coup and the ultimate recognition of his ability in Arnold's eyes, but he still felt slighted by Congress and opted to follow the more profitable course over the more noble one. He used his bad leg as an excuse not to take the command and wanted command of West Point instead.

Andre was to meet Arnold to close the deal. While Andre was with Arnold, American forces engaged the ship (the Vulture, a somewhat appropriate name considering the business that was going on) that Clinton used as his headquarters. The ship was forced to retreat and Andre was forced to leave the area on foot. Arnold gave him a pass and Andre left with secret documents for Clinton hidden in his sock. Andre was stopped by American troops and despite the pass they searched him, finding the documents. He was arrested as a spy.

Arnold heard of the capture and quickly fled, making his way to the Vulture. Andre himself was tried and hung as a spy. The Despite failing at handing over West Point, Arnold received substantial payment. He received money, land in Canada, a pension for him and his wife and children, and a military commission as a British Provisional Brigadier General. Still, the British recognized the fact that Arnold had betrayed his cause and would never trust him with any command of importance. Since they wouldn't allow him to fight he took his family to London. He met some who admired him, and surprisingly enough many who didn't. He could find no work either. Many didn't like him because he had betrayed his cause, even if it was in their favor. Most people recognize that if you are willing to betray one cause, you can be just as easily bought to betray the next. Arnold took his family back to Canada. He was met there with contempt by many. He tried to re-enter the shipping business, but never could get it to take off. Fighting later began between the British and the French and Arnold tried once again for military service, but he was denied once again.

Arnold's entire military career had revolved around prestige and money. He felt that he was never paid enough and that Congress owed him money. He felt that he was always overlooked and never got the respect he deserved. In some degree he was right and had a right to feel slighted to some degree. But he let it get the better of him and he betrayed his cause, even his friends such as George Washington, for a chance at money and prestige. In the end he got a quick pay-off, but his actions prevented him from ever becoming a successful businessman again. His betrayal destroyed any chances of real trust and he was effectively locked out from a military command, so he would never earn glory in battle. In the end he died poor and barely remembered except as a synonym for betrayal. All he wanted in the Continental Army and all he hoped to gain from the British led to nothing. He made his career in the hopes of gaining money and fame and he ended it hoping the same thing. Arnold was indeed a courageous man. His actions can arguably be the greatest of anyone to lead to American victory (in terms of military actions and creating resolve in the Americans when he betrayed them). But in the end, his motivations were selfish, his courage and ability a commodity to be purchased. The story of Benedict Arnold is indeed a tale of "selfish courage."

Article © Van Lee. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-02-13
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