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Benedict Arnold: Hero or Traitor

Always two sides to everything, even in our history. Hopefully, lessons can be learned.

Major General  Benedict Arnold

Major General Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold: Treason

Benedict Arnold: Treason

Early Life Of Benedict Arnold

On January 14, 1741, Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut. Although his mother, Hannah Waterman King, was born into a wealthy family, his father, Benedict Arnold III, suffered from alcoholism. His problem could be attributed to the loss of three of his young children to Yellow Fever. Arnold, the son, at age sixteen, enlisted in the militia serving in the French and Indian War.

After the War, Arnold set up a lucrative apothecary business. Soon, he was at odds with the British and the Stamp Act and the Sugar Act. He joined the Sons of Liberty, defying the British. In 1775 he was elected captain of the Continental Army.

Arnold had the magic of leadership and command. As he commanded the siege of Quebec and the army paymasters could not provide the money, Arnold used his own pockets to pay the men. He even built a freshwater fleet for use on Lake Champlain to prevent the British from gaining control of the lake. Although not winning the battle, it did force the British to retreat.

Lake Champlain Battle

Lake Champlain Battle

Timeline of Benedict Arnold

  • 1764 Joins the Sons of Liberty
  • 1775 Seige of Ft. Ticonderogago
  • 1776 Battle of Lake Champlain
  • 1777 Battle of Saratoga
  • 1778 Appointed commander of Philadelphia
  • 1779 Marries Peggy Shippen
  • 1780 Correspondence with Major John Andre
  • 1780 Commander of West Point
  • 1780 Meets with Andre
  • 1780 Andre captured and hanged
  • 1780 Arnold and wife in exile in London
Battle of Saratoga

Battle of Saratoga

Commander of Philadelphia

General George Washington appointed Arnold commander of Philadelphia, aware that Arnold was being overlooked for his accomplishments and others were taking credit when it was Arnold's. Arnold was consumed by his political enemies and lack of recognition. After being seriously wounded in the Battle of Saratoga and spending four months in a patriot hospital to regain mobility, his attitude was festering like his wounded leg. He would suffer from his wounds for the rest of his life.

Arnold met Peggy Shippen, an eighteen-year-old socialite who liked first Major John Andre, but she was attracted by Arnold. Arnold pursued Peggy even though she was only eighteen, and he was thirty-eight. They did marry in 1779, and Peggy was a spendthrift, and Arnold had difficulty attempting to curb her spending, putting him into debt.

Things began piling up with Arnold, including his faith in the cause. Reed had pursued Arnold with trumpeted charges, with Washington often on Arnold's side. Washington would appoint Arnold in command of West Point with instructions to enhance the stability of WestPoint. Arnold had now made up his mind to switch sides to the British. He used Major Andre to deliver secrets and forces of West Point to the British.

Andre, on his way back to the British, was stopped and searched with papers and a map of West Point found in his boot. He was arrested and taken to the nearest military post. The documents were sent to Washington, who ordered fourteen generals to decide the case and Arnold to be arrested. However, Arnold had already fled to the British. The board of generals decided Andre was to be executed as a spy and hanged. Washington accepted the decree and offered to save his life by exchanging Arnold. The British refused, leaving him no choice but to hang Andre. Andre requested an honorable execution by firing squad instead of hanging. This was refused, and Andre was hanged on October 2, 1780. Later, Andre was reinterred in Westminster Abbey in 1821.

Andre Hanged

Andre Hanged

Major John Andre

Major John Andre

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Peggy Shippen

Peggy Shippen's father was Edward Shippen, a judge in Philadelphia and a Loyalist. Some historians believe Peggy was perhaps an instigator in Arnold's decision to switch sides. After the treason was detected, Peggy and Arnold would flee to London in exile. Peggy was a devoted wife and mother, and after Arnold died in 1801, she would repay every penny of his debts. Peggy herself died in 1804, and both are buried in St. Mary's Church, Battersea, London.

Peggy Shippen Arnold

Peggy Shippen Arnold

Aftermath of Benedict Arnold's Treason

Some historians believe that if Arnold had died in battle, he would have been remembered as a great war hero of the American Revolution. It could have been several reasons Arnold turned traitor. Was it the failure of Congress to acknowledge his contributions and give credit to others? Was it his wife Peggy convincing him to switch sides, or was his arrogance and pride constantly arguing with other officers?

The only monument erected in honor of Arnold is the "Boot" monument in Saratoga and the only monument that does NOT bear the honoree's name. The inscription reads, "In Memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army wounded on this spot 10/7/1777."

In the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the plaques recognize all the war's generals except one. Benedict Arnold's plaque reads, "Major General born 1740."

It was reported Benedict Arnold's last words were:

"Let me wear this old uniform in which I fought my battles and may God forgive me for ever having put on another."

The "Boot" Monument  Benedict Arnold

The "Boot" Monument Benedict Arnold

Arnold Grave Marker

Arnold Grave Marker

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