In an act that has made his name synonymous with treason in American history, General Benedict Arnold conspired to turn his command of West Point over to the British. In return, he was to receive money and become a general in the British army. His treason was discovered when Major Andre, his British contact, was captured. Andre, seen here, was reluctantly hung as a spy.
General Arnolds career seemed to go into a nose dive after the victory at Saratoga. After his second marriage, he found himself in debt, and he harbored simmering resentment at not receiving the credit he felt he deserved for his military exploits.Thus when he was approached by the British, Arnold was receptive to abandoning the patriot cause. Arnold demanded 20,000 and a commission as a major general in the British army for giving up West Point.
Thus when he was approached by the British, Arnold was receptive to abandoning the patriot cause. Arnold demanded 20,000 and a commission as a major general in the British army for giving up West Point.
On September 21, British Major Andre came ashore in full uniform near Havestraw from the HM Vulture. There, he met Arnold to finalize the agreement. Unfortunately for them, the Vulture then came under American fire and headed away, leaving Andre stranded. Andre reluctantly donned civilian clothes and headed down the Hudson with a safe conduct pass from Arnold. Near Tarrytown, Andre was captured by three militiamen, who turned him over to the commander at North Castle. The jig was up. Andre was found carrying incriminating papers. When Arnold was notified at breakfast on April 23 that a British officer had been captured, he fled by boat to the Vulture. Andre was later hung as a spy.
|Andre's Death Journal of Dr. James Thacher.|
Major Andre is no more among the living. I have just witnessed his exit. More
Intelligence Report of Andrew Elliot
A meeting with the French generals More
|Washingtons Report TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS|
Robinson's House in the Highlands,
September 26, 1780 More
Benedict Arnold’s image as arch-traitor gets a makeover
Before Benedict Arnold betrayed his country, he was a hero.
The Battle of Valcour Island in 1776 that brought him to prominence is far less known than those fought in Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts in 1775. Arnold commanded the newly formed Colonial navy against British gunships on Lake Champlain in upstate New York. Author Jack Kelly’s thrilling book, “Valcour: The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty,” aims to restore Valcour – and Arnold – to the status Kelly argues they deserve.
By the summer of 1776, all but the most obdurate loyalists on the American continent knew that all-out war between Britain and the American Colonies had arrived. There had already been important confrontations, including the Continental Army’s surprising capture of Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain in May of 1775.
The Continental Army’s subsequent invasion of the British province of Quebec hadn’t been as successful: In the spring of 1776, its forces had been driven south in defeat. Quebec’s royal governor, Gen. Guy Carleton, wanted to take control of Lake Champlain so the British could use it to access the Hudson River – thereby allowing him to link the British forces in Quebec with those already victorious in New York. If he could accomplish that, the Colonies in the north could be cut off from those in the south, and each could be crushed in turn to extinguish the rebellion.
Lake Champlain was therefore the key, and all of Kelly’s main characters assembled there in 1776 knew it. On the British side was Carleton, a cautious, able soldier. And on the American side was Gen. Horatio Lloyd Gates, who, according to Kelly, “well understood that the line between a mob and an army is fragile, easily erased by defeat, discouragement, fear, and lack of leadership.”
As the Americans frantically raced to build a fleet at one end of Lake Champlain, two leaders stood out – and they could scarcely have been more different. Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler was in charge of the theater of war north of Albany. He was, as Kelly points out, a skilled businessman. He was tasked with shoring up an army’s shattered confidence and building a fleet fit to stand against the greatest navy the world had ever seen.
His unlikely colleague – and the star of Kelly’s book – was Arnold, commander of that new fleet. Kelly sees him as an otherworldly figure, with “a clairvoyant knack for reading a situation and reacting.” It was Arnold who inspired the frenetic shipbuilding, who drew men to the cause, and who spearheaded the plan to draw the British fleet into the shallow, narrow waters to the lee of Valcour Island, where its superior numbers and deep hulls would be impediments instead of strengths.
In the end, on Oct. 11, it hardly mattered. Even a fraction of the British force was enough to rout the Americans and send them slinking back to Fort Ticonderoga. But the British victory wasn’t complete: The Colonials had retained possession of Ticonderoga, and more importantly, as Kelly dramatizes so well, they’d displayed a scrappy battle nerve. “Carleton could not avoid the sinking feeling that a long and costly effort would be needed to subdue them,” Kelly writes. “It was what Arnold wanted his opponent to think.”
And what about Arnold? Undoubtedly, whatever good came out of the Battle of Valcour Island came from his pugnacious vitality. But four years after Valcour, he would betray his country, and his name would become synonymous with “traitor” in the American cultural vocabulary.
“Great men can be tragically flawed and still accomplish great things,” Kelly writes. “Can we honor their achievements while at the same time condemning their treachery?”
Kelly himself is sure of the answer: “An accurate view of history demands we must.”
Arnold a Traitor - History
Burning Benedict Arnold in Effigy - New York Public Library Digital Collections, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs
Benedict Arnold, despite the extraordinary efforts and sacrifices he made on behalf of American independence, is probably known best for being a traitor. In the middle of the Revolutionary War, he changed sides, abandoning the Americans’ fight for independence in return for the military rank and financial reward he received in the British army. Prior to his treason, however, Arnold compiled an impressive string of accomplishments on behalf of the colonial cause. His treason is so well known, in part, because of his bravery and meritorious service to the Continental army in the early years of the war.
The Arnold Family in Connecticut
Birthplace of Benedict Arnold, Norwich, ca. 1851 – Connecticut Historical Society
Arnold came from a proud background. His great-great grandfather was one of the founders of Rhode Island, and his great-grandfather Benedict won election as governor of Rhode Island five times. When his father Benedict Arnold III, a cooper, moved to Norwich, Connecticut, in 1730, he married Hannah Waterman King, the daughter of one of the town’s founders.
Benedict was born in Norwich on January 14, 1741—one of only two of his parents’ six children to survive childhood. He was a bold, fearless child who enjoyed physical activity. He received a good education in his early years, but left school at fourteen when his father began drinking heavily after the collapse of the family business. Arnold then apprenticed himself to a cousin who was an apothecary (an early word for a pharmacist or druggist) in Norwich, but soon ran away to fight in the French and Indian War. His mother died in 1758 followed by his father in 1761, at which point Arnold moved to New Haven and set up a store that sold books, drugs, and jewelry near Yale College.
Benedict Arnold’s shop sign from George Street, New Haven, ca. 1760 – New Haven Museum
Revolutionary War Hero
While in New Haven, Arnold met his first wife, Margaret Mansfield. They married on February 22, 1767, and had three children. Arnold became a shrewd and prosperous trader in New Haven while also joining the local militia in 1774 and being named its captain soon thereafter. In April of 1775, after learning about the conflicts at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, Arnold organized his men in preparation for a march to Cambridge to aid in the fight against the British.
After witnessing just how little firepower the colonials possessed in Cambridge, Arnold launched an attack to capture British artillery at Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775. The attack was a success, despite Arnold’s conflicts with Vermont folk hero Ethan Allen over command of the assault.
The following fall, Arnold led a grueling march through the Maine wilderness in an attempt to capture the Canadian city of Quebec. The attack, on the final day of the year, ultimately failed and Arnold received a debilitating wound to his left leg. After recuperating, he spent the remainder of 1776 withdrawing from Canada while preventing the British from advancing down the Hudson River.
On April 27, 1777, Arnold confronted British forces under former New York governor William Tryon in Ridgefield. Tryon’s forces, after burning the town of Danbury, headed back toward their ships in Long Island Sound when Arnold mounted an attack in which a witness later claimed Arnold “exhibited the greatest marks of bravery, coolness, and fortitude.” Arnold had a horse shot out from under him and repeatedly exposed himself to fire, but despite his bravery, proved unable to cut off the British withdrawal.
The Battle of Saratoga
Perhaps Benedict Arnold’s greatest military achievement came later that fall in two conflicts (on September 19 and October 7, 1777) referred to as the Battle of Saratoga. Once again Arnold’s propensity for action led him into the thick of the battle where he received a wound in the same leg injured in Quebec, but not before he helped rally troops in defeat of General John Burgoyne’s British forces as they attempted to sever New England from the rest of the colonies. The victories at Saratoga influenced the French decision to join the war against the British.
With his mobility significantly impaired by his shattered left leg —physicians at Saratoga wanted to amputate it, but Arnold refused and later suffered horrific infections and terrible pain—he requested an appointment as military commander of the city of Philadelphia in June of 1778. While there, colonists accused him of engaging in profiteering and socializing with Americans loyal to Great Britain. One of these “Tories” was Margaret (“Peggy”) Shippen, the woman who became Arnold’s second wife in April 1779.
Arnold Commits Treason
Years of dedication to the patriot cause led to little recognition or reward for Arnold. He never received appropriate credit for his actions at Ticonderoga or Saratoga, the Continental Congress repeatedly overlooked him for promotion, and his temper and confrontational style made him many enemies in the army. In addition to being brave and hotheaded, Arnold often succumbed to vanity and greed. All of these factors may have played a part in his decision to commit treason. Charged with corruption during his military command of Philadelphia and facing a court-martial, Arnold, through his wife, contacted the British command with an offer to turn the strategically valuable Hudson River defenses at West Point over to the British in return for money and designation as an officer in the British army.
A sketch of New London & Groton with the attacks made on Forts Trumbull & Griswold by the British troops under the command of Brigr. Genl. Arnold, Sept. 6th, 1781 – Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division
Benedict Arnold requested and received command of West Point from Commander-in-Chief, George Washington. He arrived there on August 5, 1780, and proceeded to weaken the garrison while feeding vital logistical information to the British. Colonial authorities accidentally uncovered Arnold’s treasonous plan after capturing British Major John André, fresh from a meeting with Arnold and in possession of the plans for West Point. Before word of the treason reached George Washington (who was on his way to visit Arnold at West Point), Arnold managed to escape to the British warship Vulture and begin his new life as a brigadier general in the British army.
A British Commander and Citizen
After joining the British army, Arnold saw limited action, mostly leading raids along the Virginia and Connecticut coasts. Arnold led a raid on the town of New London on September 6, 1781, that destroyed a number of privateering ships and colonial stores, but the burning of the town and the killing of surrendering Continental soldiers further damaged Arnold’s reputation.
Arnold set sail for England with Peggy after British general Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, on October 19, 1781. He returned to North America in 1785, seeking to establish a business in New Brunswick. His wife and children joined him in 1787, but a fire the following year destroyed his business. The family returned to England in 1791. Arnold spent his remaining years living on a modest pension and repeatedly petitioning the British government for additional funds and military appointments. He died in relative obscurity in London on June 14, 1801.
Gregg Mangan is an author and historian who holds a PhD in public history from Arizona State University.
What Made Benedict Arnold A Traitor ?
Benedict Arnold was one of the greatest American generals in the history of America. He led the American forces to great success during the Revolutionary War against the British. However, today, Arnold is remembered not as a hero, but as the biggest traitor in the American history. There is a lot of documentary proof to corroborate the fact that he betrayed his own country during the war, but what made Benedict Arnold a traitor is a more important question.
According to the historical accounts, he began to make deals with the enemy country and conspired against his own men by the year 1779. In 1780, he gave up West Point, the most important American military base, to the British in exchange of 25,000 pounds. He also accepted money to become a British spy and began to work against his own country. The documents that proved that Arnold was a traitor were seized from British army Major John Andre when he was arrested by the American troops. Arnold soon escaped to Britain and served them for the rest of his life.
But, there were several reasons that made Arnold turn against his own land. He was the one of the bravest American Generals and had achieved significant victories during the Revolutionary War. He sacrificed all his money and time to train the poorly equipped troops of America. However, his promotions were always kept off the list due to petty jealousies and politics. Moreover, instead of recognizing his efforts, he was court-marshaled by the American Government on the charges of having used the troops for his own personal reasons. This made him angry and he was determined to take his part of revenge.
According to another legend, as Arnold used his own money to train the troops, he was in heavy debts towards the end of the war. On receiving no help from his own country, he joined hands with the British for money. He received thousands of pounds to give up West Point and to become a British spy. He escaped to Britain and served them for the rest of his life. He passed away in London, England, at the age of 60, on 14 June 1801.
Benedict Arnold was one of the greatest American generals in the history of America. He led the American troops to great victory during the Revolutionary War. He sacrificed his time and personal finances for the betterment of the untrained and inadequately equipped American forces. He was a very brave man and favored by Washington. But, unfortunately, his efforts were never acknowledged by the American Government. More..
Why did Benedict Arnold Become a Traitor? A Deeper Look into his Situation
The name Benedict Arnold has become synonymous with the idea of betrayal, but how, exactly, did that happen? What did he do, and why did he do it?
Benedict Arnold was born in 1741, to a family whose ancestors were among the first to come to Rhode Island. Despite the fact that the Arnolds, as a family, were well established among the elite of that colony, Arnold’s father liked the drink a bit too much and moved his family to Connecticut. Young Arnold was desperate to escape the onus of being the son of such a man, and he left the family home in Norwich for the town of New Haven, where he worked to build an independent life and reputation, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
He became both a seagoing merchant and an apothecary, and by his mid-30s had established himself well and built a fine house, and a reputation to match. He became one of the first and most assertive patriots in New Haven, adding even more luster to his new life — although he stayed very sensitive about his upbringing, with a fragile ego that led him to several duels.
In April of 1775 he heard about skirmishes in Concord and Lexington, which led him to appropriate a portion of New Haven’s supply of gunpowder and take a company of volunteers to Cambridge. Here he convinced Joseph Warren and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety to let him take the supply of cannon and ammunition to Fort Ticonderoga.
Arnold’s Oath of Allegiance, May 30, 1778
Arnold wasn’t the only patriot who had conceived of the idea and, as a result, he ended up forming an uneasy alliance with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, and taking the fort together. On their arrival, Allen and his men became more interested in divesting the fort of its supply of liquor than in the cannon, so Arnold and some of his company went across Lake Champlain, captured a couple of British military vessels, and put the lake under American control.
The flag of the Green Mountain Boys. Photo by Amber Kinkaid CC BY 2.5
While he was gone he received word of the sudden passing of his wife, Margaret. Devastated, but not a man who could stay unoccupied for long, he sent his children to live with relatives and threw himself into the effort of liberating the colonies from British control, becoming an army officer under George Washington, and one Washington relied on heavily for the next several years.
At some point during those years, he met and fell in love with one Peggy Shippens, the daughter of a patrician family from Philadelphia who were, for all intents and purposes, Crown loyalists.
Despite the nearly 20 year difference in their ages and the broader differences between Arnold and the Shippens family with regard to politics, he was determined to make a marriage offer. He may not have had the same social clout as the Shippens’, but he was wealthy and looked like he was probably going to become even more so.
When the occupying British forces left Philadelphia, Washington assigned Arnold the task of remaining behind as a military governor over the city. Arnold remained, and took the opportunity to start rebuilding his wealth, which had taken a big hit during the course of the war. He entered into a series of somewhat shady deals as a means of re-establishing himself as a solid merchant.
Related Video: Last Survivor of Lincoln’s Final Night Goes on 1950s Game Show to Talk About It
By September 1778, Arnold still hadn’t amassed enough new wealth to make an offer for Peggy’s hand. Many among the city’s upper classes weren’t particularly enamored of the most fervent of the city’s Patriots, who were harassing them now that the British forces were out of the city.
Perhaps spurred on by not only his affection for Peggy Shippens but also by his continued need to get as far as he could from his unpleasant and rather impoverished upbringing, Arnold began to ingratiate himself with the wealthy of the city, and also to live a life of as much opulence as he could. This only served to drive the wedge further between himself and the other Patriots in Philadelphia at the time.
A head and shoulders profile engraving of Benedict Arnold
All of this earned Arnold a lot of dislike and distrust from the most dedicated patriots in the city. In particular, he was getting a lot of critical attention from an attorney named Joseph Reed, who was also known as one of the most radical of Philadelphia’s Patriots.
Reed had started out working closely with Washington, but for a variety of reasons was losing faith in him, and eventually left service with Washington to take a place as a delegate to Congress, then stepped down from that and starting prosecuting presumed Loyalists. He eventually became part of Pennsylvania’s Executive Council, using the power of his new position to further antagonize conservative Patriots and becoming ever more radical.
One of the steps Reed took was to start investigating Arnold, who was still a favorite of Washington. It was a clear show of power, both his state’s and his own, and it began to turn into his own personal vendetta.
Arnold did eventually marry Peggy Shippens, but only after borrowing a large sum of money to give her father as a settlement. It was just the beginning of his accumulation of debt, according to History.com, as he and his new wife proceeded to live a lavish lifestyle. As his debts increased, he began to feel more resentment that he wasn’t receiving promotions as fast as he felt he deserved.
This is a reproduction of one of Benedict Arnold’s coded communications with the British while he was negotiating what eventually became a failed attempt to surrender the fort at West Point in 1780. Lines of text written by his wife, Peggy Shippen Arnold, are interspersed with coded text (originally written in invisible ink) written by Arnold.
In 1780 Arnold was given the command at West Point, in New York. His bitter frustrations at feeling overlooked for promotion and underappreciated as well as his desperate desire for prosperity, this was when Arnold made his move. He contacted the head of the British Forces, Sir Henry Clinton, and offered him a deal. Arnold would give West Point to the British, along with its men.
In return, he would be given a great deal of money by the British government and a place of honor in the British Army. He would then have everything he wanted – wealth, a high standing in the military, and Peggy Shippens to share it with.
Mrs. Benedict Arnold and child
The plot, however, was discovered before it could be enacted, and at least one of the conspirators was killed. Arnold went to the British side, and led troops in actions in Connecticut and in Virginia before eventually moving to England. Even after he moved, however, he was never given everything the British promised him in exchange for his betrayal. He ended his days in London in 1801, reviled by the patriots of America, and largely invisible to the English.
Boot Monument at Saratoga National Battlefield commemorating the wounded foot of Benedict Arnold. Photo by Americasroof CC BY-SA 2.5
Ultimately, it’s hard to say if Arnold, himself, believed that he was betraying his country and the freedoms that he valued, especially in the early days of the Revolution. It could well be that he felt that the Revolutionaries internal political struggles, such as the divisions being created by men like Reed, were tearing apart any real chance of reaching their goals.
There is certainly reason to believe that Arnold increasingly came to feel that the country he had committed to so fiercely at the outset had let him down.
Although his name comes with associations of rank betrayal, his situation was more complicated than that. His actions came from a complex mix of insecurity, selfishness, love (or perhaps infatuation), disillusionment, financial struggles, and, perhaps, even a conviction that what he was doing was in the best interest of his mother country. While none of that will excuse him in the eyes of history, it may make what he did a little more understandable.
10 of History's Most Notorious Traitors
When basketball player LeBron James called a 2010 press conference to announce he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, history came to life -- in the form of a long-held insult.
After making the surprise announcement that he would leave his hometown team, LeBron was likened to Benedict Arnold. In a move history buffs immediately understood as an age-old pun, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert lowered prices on life-size wall graphics depicting James to $17.41, the same year Arnold was born.
Arnold is so infamous for his traitorous behavior that his name has become synonymous with the act [source: Melok]. Whether a traitor betrays a country, principle, person or legion of sports fans, the act of betrayal isn't soon forgotten. And in some cases, the names of history's most notorious traitors remain on the tip of the tongue.
Think modern-day politics are a mess? Consider ancient Rome. Cassius, a Roman general who exceled at his job wasn't a big fan of fellow general and Roman senator Julius Caesar.
As Caesar rose to power on a populous wave and declared himself Rome's leader for life, Cassius began to get nervous about Caesar's widespread rule. Eventually, he convinced his friend and fellow Roman general Brutus to feel the same way. Although Brutus was Caesar's friend, too, he was guided by a sense of duty that made him vulnerable to Cassius' emotional manipulation.
After Cassius sent Brutus fake letters outlining the people's support for Caesar's death, Brutus decided to act on a misguided sense of honor. On the Ides of March (March 15), 44 B.C.E., Brutus led a group of senators to stab Caesar to death on the senate floor 23 times, making Cassius and Brutus one of history's first -- and most notorious -- traitorous pairs [source: Vernon].
Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus Christ for 30 pieces of silver, and his name has been synonymous with greedy treachery ever since.
Judas was one of Jesus' 12 apostles and the account of Judas' traitorous act is recorded in the Bible's canonical gospels, which are Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Matthew 26:14-16 (KJV) reads, "Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests and said unto them, 'What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?' And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of sliver."
Jesus was targeted by the chief priests, and Judas betrayed him with a kiss. The kiss wasn't a sign of affection it was actually a signal to awaiting soldiers who immediately arrested Jesus and led him to the high priests. Jesus was accused of blasphemy, found guilty, bound and delivered to Pontius Pilate, the governor, who sentenced him to death. Soldiers stripped Jesus, placed a crown of thorns upon his head and crucified him by nailing him to a cross. Judas was so filled with remorse that he attempted to return the silver, but the priests wouldn't accept it. In the end, Judas hung himself.
Little else is known about Judas' life. Some historians believe Judas' last name, Iscariot, is closely linked to the Latin word for murderer -- sicarius -- and may not really be his family name at all [sources: Biography, Jesus Central]. In any case, "Judas" remains another word for "traitor" even today.
By the time Benedict Arnold reached adulthood, family financial constraints had forced him to withdraw from school yellow fever had killed three of his siblings and he'd become responsible for his father, a frequently incarcerated alcoholic who squandered the family's fortune.
Arnold managed to become an international merchant whose financial success was stymied by British-imposed tax acts. He fought back by joining the military group, the Sons of Liberty, at times using his own money to train and equip troops. Successful battles against the British gained him the admiration of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but also a permanently injured leg. With civilian leaders stinting on supplies for the army and popular support for the American Revolution declining, a disillusioned Arnold began to think his country might be better off under British rule.
He was appointed to run West Point, a key military position during the Revolutionary War. Arnold betrayed America by offering to sell plans of the fort, including the location of its armament stores and other war secrets, to the British for an amount that would equal $3 million today.
When the treasonous plot was intercepted in 1780, Arnold went from hero to zero. He was convicted of treason, and his name was erased from military records. Arnold began fighting for England and eventually moved to London. He spent the rest of his life trying to ingratiate himself with British trading companies and the British military. He was unsuccessful at both pursuits and died in 1801 [sources: Biography, Creighton].
Jesse James may have been one of the United State's most infamous outlaws, but the man who shot him received the rancor of generations.
James led the James Gang on a robbery spree during the late 1800s that targeted everything from banks to trains to ordinary people. The robberies continued for about 16 years across the Midwest, coming to an abrupt end in 1876 when the gang murdered two people during a botched bank robbery. Several gang members were captured, but Jesse James managed to escape, robbing just one more train in 1880 -- the same year a Missouri governor put a price on his head.
Turns out, Robert Ford, a member of James' own gang, would become a traitor. On April 3, 1882, he killed James by shooting him in the back. Ford killed James not only for the $10,000 reward he planned to split with his brother Charles, but also because the Missouri governor had promised the brothers their crimes would be pardoned.
After Ford murdered James, he didn't receive a hero's welcome as he'd hoped, or even the entire reward. Instead, he was labeled a coward and became a drifter. Ironically, Ford met his end when a fellow outlaw shot him in the chest, seeking fame for killing the ultimate coward [sources: Lofty, History].
Mata Hari may be one of history's most famous double agents, but she wasn't a good one. The "secrets" she gained from rival German and French sources were usually old news. Her real skills, it seems, were of a more personal persuasion.
Born Margaretha Zelle to a wealthy Dutch family that fell on hard times, she was parceled off to relatives, eventually married a stern man several years her senior and endured years of abuse. By the time she neared 30, she was divorced, living in Paris and calling herself Mata Hari, which means "eye of dawn" in Malaysian. She reinvented herself as a temple dancer from India.
From 1905 to 1912, Hari was credited with turning the striptease into a theatrical art form. However, as her age and weight increased, she moved from exotic dancer to courtesan. One of her wealthy French supporters recruited her to bed a German officer and find out his secrets in exchange for money. But the officer became suspicious and fed her old information. Meanwhile the French intercepted a message from Germany with Hari's code name, which made them believe she was also spying for Germany.
Hari was arrested and held in a French prison where a curious public queued into the streets to catch a glimpse of her during trial. She was sentenced to death for treason and led from her cell, head held high and refusing to wear a blindfold. Upon seeing a 12-man firing squad, she blew them a kiss before being shot and killed in 1917 [source: Noe].
Don't think a poetry prize can be controversial? The first Bollingen Prize in Poetry awarded by a congressionally appointed literary panel in 1949 is still making waves. And it's no wonder.
The recipient was Ezra Pound, an American expatriate who'd been indicted for treason against the U.S. during World War II. At the time of the award, Pound was confined to a Washington, D.C. hospital after being declared insane.
Born in Idaho, Pound became a poet and critic, and was arguably one of the most influential voices in 20th century English and American literature. As he lived and worked in London and Paris, Pound became incensed by the lives lost during World War I and the injustices he saw in the world. By 1924, he'd moved to Italy where the fascist leanings of Benito Mussolini captured his attention. Becoming increasingly radical during the 1930s and 1940s, Pound publicly supported Adolph Hitler.
As World War II broke out, the Italian government paid him to produce radio broadcasts that insulted the U.S. and supported fascism. After hundreds of these broadcasts, Pound was arrested in 1945 by Americans in Italy. He was charged with treason and spent months in a U.S. military camp writing one of his best-known works, "Pisan Cantos," before being hospitalized in the U.S.
Nine years after receiving the Bollingen Prize for "Pisan Cantos," he was released and returned to Italy, where he lived until his death in 1972 [source: Biography].
During World War II, the Japanese-American voice that emanated from the radio, attempting to demoralize American troops fighting in the Pacific, was referred to as Tokyo Rose.
And that's when things went terribly wrong for an American woman of Japanese descent. Iva Toguri d'Aquino lived in Tokyo, sent there by her family to care for an ailing relative, and was hired by a local radio station for a secretive propaganda plan -- one so secretive, she may not have known she was participating in it.
A British-born major and radio personality named Charles Hughes Cousens had been captured by the Japanese and ordered to produce a radio program that would undermine the Allies' morale. Instead Cousens designed a music-heavy show that would negate the propaganda campaign. D'Aquino and other women were recruited to participate. She took the broadcast name Orphan Ann (an homage to troops "orphaned" by their Allies in the Pacific). Many of her comments came across as humorous rather than ominous.
Despite intelligence reports that Tokyo Rose was not one person, journalists linked the woman known as Orphan Ann to Tokyo Rose. D'Aquino was taken into military custody. Even though the U.S. army found no evidence of her broadcasting secret military information, she was transported to the U.S., where she was tried for treason.
In 1949, a jury found her guilty on one of eight charges that alleged she broadcast news of American ships that were sunk. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison. She was pardoned by President Gerald Ford in 1977 [source: Pierce].
Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian army officer who was in cahoots with the Germans during their occupation of his home country during World War II.
Quisling joined the Norwegian Army in 1911, where his duties included humanitarian work in Russia and for the League of Nations. He later became minister of defense and was known for taking a strict stance on striking workers. He resigned in 1933 to pursue the formation of a National Union Party, which was an anti-union organization with fascist leanings.
In 1940, Quisling made a power grab. After meeting with Adolf Hitler, whom he encouraged to conquer Norway, he waited for the German occupation to become complete -- and then appointed himself Norway's leader. His reign lasted only a week before he was demoted by German forces to "minister president." That unfortunately, didn't stop him from sentencing almost 1,000 Jewish people to concentration camps [source: Encyclopaedia Britannica].
At the end of World War II in 1945, Quisling was found guilty of treason and executed. His name would forever live in infamy, as "quisling" became a synonym for traitor or collaborator [source: Encyclopaedia Britannica].
A womanizer who married four times. A flamboyant gay man with a penchant for drunkenness. A famous art historian knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. It may sound like the lineup for a new HBO miniseries, but these men were real-life spies during World War II and beyond. Along with two fellow Cambridge University graduates, they penetrated British intelligence agencies and turned over secrets to the Soviets.
The Cambridge Five -- Harold "Kim" Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross -- were members of the British elite and so ensconced in their communist beliefs they refused payment for their spy work.
All were hired to work in key British intelligence positions and continually alerted Moscow about British and U.S. plans, including efforts to construct an atomic bomb in 1941 and Korean War strategy, causing the deaths of many. Things started unraveling when Americans deciphered a coded Soviet message that implicated Maclean. Philby warned him, and in 1951 Maclean and the flamboyant Burgess promptly defected to Russia -- a move that left the remaining spies under a low-hanging cloud of suspicion.
Philby and Cairncross were investigated by MI6, the British foreign intelligence service, but not charged. Nevertheless, both were forced to resign. Cairncross moved to France while Philby escaped to Russia in 1963. Blunt confessed and was granted immunity to remain in England. He was stripped of his knighthood when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher publicly revealed his espionage in 1979. Maclean, Philby (who had an affair with Maclean's wife) and Burgess all lived in Moscow until their deaths, nostalgic for England. None of the five were ever charged with any crimes [sources: Boghardt,Barnes].
Here's one that took the U.S. public by surprise. Robert Hanssen, a 25-year FBI agent and church-going family man, was also a long-time double agent for the Soviet Union.
Hanssen worked as a liaison between the FBI and the office responsible for tracking the identities of spies working in the U.S. By the early 2000s, investigators believed he had spent 20 years sharing state secrets. They suspected he'd revealed the identities of dozens of Soviet agents working for the U.S. and led to the killing of several.
And Hanssen didn't stop there. He fed the Soviet government U.S. plans, including the procedures for dealing with and retaliating against a Soviet nuclear attack. Although he was paid $1.4 million and some diamonds for his efforts, colleagues said he seemed to have been more motivated by playing the spy game than by greed.
Hanssen was caught when the FBI paid a former KGB agent to disclose the identity of the mole operating in the FBI. In 2002, Hanssen pled guilty to 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy. He was sentenced to life in prison [sources: CNN, New York Times].
Author's Note: 10 of History's Most Notorious Traitors
I've always thought of espionage as something confined to the books my husband reads or a late-night James Bond movie marathon. Turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong. Spies played pivotal roles in some of history's greatest mysteries and still exist today. Makes you look at your neighbor a little differently, doesn't it?
Before Benedict Arnold was a traitor, he was a patriot
Though justifiably considered a traitor by Americans today, prior to September 1780 Benedict Arnold was justly hailed as an American hero. Two of the reasons are explored in two recent books.
Arnold’s first claim to fame is the subject of Thomas Desjardin’s Through a Howling Wilderness: Benedict Arnold’s March to Quebec, 1775 (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2006, $24.95). The plan was simple: While Brig. Gen. Richard Montgomery attacked Montreal from the west, Colonel Arnold was to take his force up through Maine and attack Quebec City from the south. If the plan was successful, Quebec would leave the British fold.
The plan was simple, the execution far from it. Arnold’s men would have to march through extraordinarily difficult terrain. Unaware that the march was actually twice as long as was shown on his maps, Arnold left Massachusetts with inadequate supplies. Poor weather made navigating up the Kennebec River difficult, and a third of his force deserted with badly needed provisions.
The expedition gradually became a death march as Arnold’s soldiers approached Quebec. There was no relief until they reached Quebec and received aid from the local population.
After Arnold combined his battered force with Montgomery’s, the Americans prepared to attack Quebec City. Although undermanned, the British held the upper hand thanks to their extensive preparations. The result was that Montgomery was killed, Arnold wounded and much of the American force captured.
Although the expedition was a spectacular failure, Desjardin argues that it showed the Americans they could “organize, endure and fight, even on the scale of a coordinated land-and-sea campaign against enemy strongholds.” The epilogue contains a compelling “What if?” exercise that is as interesting as Arnold’s story. The author posits that the failure to take Quebec may have been a blessing in disguise.
Whereas Desjardin focuses solely on the invasion of Quebec, James Nelson’s gripping Benedict Arnold’s Navy: The Ragtag Fleet That Lost the Battle of Lake Champlain but Won the American Revolution (International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, Camden, Maine, 2006, $24.95) chronicles Arnold’s career from the capture of Fort Ticonderoga through the subsequent naval battle on Lake Champlain. At the start of the rebellion, Arnold was dispatched to grab control of Fort Ticonderoga from the British and send its cannons to aid in the siege of Boston. While the mission was a success, Arnold was hamstrung by infighting and a lack of resources.
Arnold then hatched the plan to invade Quebec. While Desjardin argues that the invasion came within a hair of success, Nelson believes that once surprise was lost, the weakened American force’s prospects disappeared.
Benedict Arnold’s Navy hits its stride when Arnold, after recovering from the wounds he suffered at Quebec, returns to Lake Champlain. He quickly realizes that the British will be sending men and ships down the lake in an effort to cut the colonies in half. He orders American forces to begin constructing naval vessels to halt the invasion.
The odds, however, were heavily stacked against the Americans. The British weren’t short of trained sailors to man the fleet they were assembling at the other end of the lake.
The battle off Valcour Island on October 11, 1776, was predictably a disaster for the Americans. Although Arnold had the advantage of picking the place to fight and the fleet fought ferociously, his ships were overmatched. The scene was set for a massive invasion from the north.
That invasion finally came in 1777 under Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne. Sweeping down Lake Champlain, Burgoyne aimed his forces in a direct line for Albany. Once again, however, Arnold stepped into the breach to halt the danger to the colonies. On his own initiative at the Battle of Saratoga, he rallied the faltering American lines. The battle ended with a large British army surrendering to the Americans for the first time.
While the Battle of Lake Champlain was a defeat for the Americans, Nelson points out that by delaying the British advance, it gave the United States time to build a permanent army, rather than relying on ad hoc militia units. Though the Americans would continue to suffer setbacks in battle, an invasion from the north was now no longer a worry. If the Americans couldn’t utilize Quebec in their fight, then neither could the British.
Both books chronicle Arnold’s original strong commitment to independence. For years he suffered alongside his men, displayed extraordinary personal courage and contributed greatly to the American cause. That doesn’t erase the stain of treason, but Desjardin and Nelson prove that a measure of respect is still due him.
Originally published in the September 2006 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.
World War I – The war at sea, 1914–15 | Britannica.
|Countries in First World War||Standing Armies & Reserves in August 1914||Mobilised Forces in 1914-18|
How Did Benedict Arnold Become America's Most Infamous Traitor?
One of the oddest monuments in America is the Boot Monument in Saratoga National Park in New York, which commemorates a "most brilliant soldier" on the American side in the revoution, who was wounded and nearly lost his leg as he led troops in the defeat of the British in the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777. As the park's Facebook page explains, the hero's name was left off the monument for a reason. Benedict Arnold, despite his bravery on the battlefield, eventually switched sides and became the most infamous traitor in American history. After trying and failing to hand the fort at West Point over to the British, he joined the Royal Army and took up arms against the rebellious colonists, and even put a Connecticut town to the torch.
"There's no other story like Arnold's," says Steve Sheinkin, author of "The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery," an award-winning 2010 biography for young adult readers. "He was at the absolute top — one of the great American heroes — and fell all the way to the bottom, a kind of devil figure. And in both cases, rise and fall, he did it by himself."
Even Today, a Traitor Is Known as a "Benedict Arnold"
It's a measure of Arnold's infamy that nearly two centuries after his death, he remains so reviled that Americans still sometimes refer to someone viewed as disloyal as a "Benedict Arnold." That's true even though, as Sheinkin notes, the targets of that invective and their offenses usually don't measure up to Arnold's extreme level of treachery.
"Arnold's case is so disturbing not because he decided to back the British, which many others in America did," explains Eric D. Lehman via email. He's an associate professor of English at the University of Bridgeport, and author of "Homegrown Terror: Benedict Arnold and the Burning of New London," a 2015 book on a war crime committed by Arnold after he joined the British side. "It is because he was a hero to the American side first, because he had so many friends and comrades who fought beside him. To fight beside someone, and then to switch sides and fight against them, as he did in Virginia and Connecticut after the West Point debacle, is anathema to most people. It is so much more troubling than mere 'political' betrayal, and that is why it is so incredibly rare, particularly for a general in the army."
Lehman sees parallels between Arnold and another infamous figure in early American history, Aaron Burr, who not only killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, but also was tried unsuccessfully for treason for his role in an ill-fated plot to lure states to leave the U.S. and join a new empire.
"Both were competent war heroes who in one way or another had their careers stalled or ruined by their own actions, and then plotted against their perceived enemies in the American government," Lehman explains. "Both had the misperception or flaw that the government was the nation, and when elements in that government — in Arnold's case Congress or in Burr's case Thomas Jefferson — became antagonistic to them, they responded by trying to burn the whole thing down."
A Promising Beginning
In some ways, Arnold's traitorous nature may have been forged by resentment and frustration. Born in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1741, he spent his youth being groomed to attend Yale, but the bankruptcy of his alcoholic father dashed those dreams. He instead apprenticed as an apothecary — the 18th century version of a pharmacist — and served in the French and Indian War, before settling in New Haven, Connecticut, where he built a drugstore business and worked as a merchant and sea captain involved in the trade with the West Indies and Canada. By the time Arnold was in his mid-30s, he had become successful enough to build one of the grandest homes in New Haven, according to Nathaniel Philbrick's 2016 Smithsonian profile of Arnold. But Arnold was never quite content.
"He had great gifts of intelligence and physical prowess, but he always felt that they were being overlooked, first as a boy, then in the military during the Revolution," Lehman says. "He had the sort of prickly personality that took offense very easily. He was often threatening to quit or to fight a duel with someone who insulted him. I would say that he was certainly a narcissist, but the tragedy is that he could have gone another way. He had a lot of people pulling for him, helping him and loving him. But he ultimately chose to betray many of them."
In the spring of 1775, Arnold was serving as captain of a local militia in New Haven when the British attacked Lexington and Concord. According to Philbrick, Arnold grabbed part of New Haven's gunpowder supply and headed to Massachusetts to join the fight. Early on, Arnold distinguished himself as a competent, even gifted military leader, but one who frequently became immersed in political squabbles that stymied his rise. Arnold got Massachusetts officials to back his plan to capture Fort Ticonderoga in New York, so that the Americans could seize its 80 or so cannons. But as it turned out, Arnold wasn't the only one who wanted that artillery, and when he got to New York with his expedition, he was compelled to team up with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys. The Americans rowed across Lake Champlain from what is now Vermont and staged a daring, late-night surprise attack to seize the fort, a major early victory in the war. Though Arnold and Allen co-led the raid, Allen — who brashly demanded that the British surrender "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress" — ended up with more of the credit.
Arnold had even bigger ambitions. He pitched George Washington, the new head of the American forces, and the Continental Congress on a scheme to invade Canada, overwhelm the few hundred troops that the British kept there, and embolden Canadian colonists to join the American cause. Washington agreed, but appointed Maj. Gen. Richard Montgomery to head the effort and relegated Arnold to commanding a small force that made its way through the Maine wilderness to Quebec City. As this 1990 article by historian Willard Sterne Randall describes, the New Year's Eve assault on the Canadian city turned into a debacle, in which Montgomery was killed. Arnold, though severely wounded, managed to rally the remaining troops and continue the siege until spring, when he was ordered to return home.
Arnold went on to distinguish himself in September 1777 in the battle of Saratoga. He quarreled with Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, his commander, who tried to keep him back at headquarters as a punishment. But Arnold eventually ignored his orders and rode his horse to the front, where he led a charge that outflanked and routed a force of German mercenaries. During the fighting, Arnold was shot, and a bullet killed his horse and caused it to fall upon him, crushing the leg he'd injured in Quebec. He had to be carried off the field and walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
The Beginning of Arnold's Downfall
Arnold's courage had helped the Americans win a crucial victory, but again, he didn't get the credit he deserved. Instead, in July 1778, Washington put Arnold in charge of the city of Philadelphia, which the British had abandoned. Kept out of the action, Arnold married the young daughter of a local judge, Peggy Shippen, and the couple lived an extravagant lifestyle that was beyond an American general's means. Congress refused to pay some of his expense vouchers, and eventually, in June 1779, he was court-martialed on charges of corruption.
Though Arnold eventually was acquitted, the humiliation might have been the final straw. Even before the trial began, he secretly reached out to the British, and began communicating with British spy Maj. John Andre through coded correspondence. Arnold asked to be reassigned to West Point, the fort that served as Washington's headquarters. In September 1780, he met with Andre at a house near the Hudson River and hatched a plot to hand the fort over to the British, in exchange for 20,000 British pounds (equivalent to £3,613,470.99 or $4,674,747.42 in 2020 currency) — 6,000 if the scheme failed — and a command in the Royal Army.
But once again, Arnold was foiled by fate. Before Andre could make his way back into British-held territory, he was captured by American militiamen. Arnold learned of Andre's fate and managed to escape on the Hudson in a British ship, the Vulture, before he could be arrested. From on board, Arnold wrote a letter to Washington, complaining of "the ingratitude of my country" but asking that his former superior protect Arnold's wife from Americans' vengeance. "It ought only to fall on me," he wrote.
Arnold's betrayal of the colonial cause went beyond just his effort to hand West Point over to the British. In 1781, as a British officer, he ordered his troops to burn New London, Connecticut, just 10 miles (16 kilometers) away, where he had been born and raised, ostensibly to punish privateers who operated out of New London for capturing a British merchant ship. Arnold's forces torched 140 buildings, including residents' homes, and after capturing the fort overlooking the town's harbor, slaughtered 70 American militiamen who had surrendered.
"I think that once Arnold made the choice to go over to the British he knew he had to succeed, and was willing to do anything to make that happen," Lehman explains. "That's a dangerous place to be in for anyone, and it led him to a very dark place."
In December 1781, Arnold and his wife and children went to England, where they lived for a time in London, supported in part by the portion of the fee that he'd been guaranteed for the failed West Point plot. He later moved to Canada and tried to revive his career as a merchant. But his fortune was mostly gone by the time that he died in 1801.
"This is a classic rise and fall story," says Sheinkin. "We see them over and over, and of course it's usually some character flaw that brings the hero down. That's not just in fiction and theater — that has happened throughout history and will continue to happen."
HowStuffWorks may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article.
In New London, the city that Arnold torched, local residents traditionally return the favor by burning him in effigy each September.
Benedict Arnold: The Hero Before the Traitor
Arnold's battered ship and four other patriot vessels finally gave up the fight on October 13. After setting their fleet on fire, the Americans waded ashore in Vermont.
‘The merit of this gentleman is certainly great and I heartily wish that fortune may distinguish him as one of her favorites.’
“NEVER SINCE THE FALL OF LUCIFER HAS A FALL EQUALED HIS,” Major General Nathanael Greene declared after Benedict Arnold had defected to the British in September 1780. The New Jersey Gazette called him “a mean toad eater.” The outrage was understandable, given that Washington had lost what he considered his best fighting general.
But there was far more to the man than his treasonous acts.
ARNOLD DESCRIBED HIMSELF AS “A COWARD” until he was “15 years of age,” when, as his family’s sole surviving son, he had to step forward and become the surrogate head of household. Apprenticed to a relative, he learned the apothecary trade and opened his own store in New Haven, Connecticut, in the 1760s, then broadened his businesses to include the West Indies trade and trade with Canada, often serving as captain of his own vessels. Despite legends to the contrary, on the eve of the Revolution he was a prospering merchant. He was also a military novice, a true amateur in arms.
Arnold was an enthusiastic and resourceful defender of American rights, and in 1774, smelling war with Britain brewing, he organized some 65 New Havenites into Connecticut’s 2nd Company of Footguards. After learning about the battles of Lexington and Concord, Arnold, the elected captain, prepared to lead the footguards to the Boston area. They had uniforms, paid for by Arnold, but lacked muskets, powder, and ball—all available in New Haven’s powder magazine. But the cautious town fathers, fearing the spread of a shooting rebellion, refused the footguards entrance. Arnold gave them a few minutes to rethink matters, then informed them that his company would force its way into the magazine. Intimidated, the town fathers handed over the keys. Within a few days, the well-armed footguards arrived outside Boston, joining the thousands of other New Englanders who were gathering to pin down Lieutenant General Thomas Gage and his redcoats in the city.
The rebel forces desperately needed armament, and Arnold met with Dr. Joseph Warren and other local rebel leaders to discuss the possibility of capturing the valuable cache of artillery pieces at Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point on Lake Champlain. In early May the Massachusetts Committee of Safety gave Arnold a colonel’s commission. His orders were to hasten west, recruit a regiment, and seize the lightly defended fort from the British.
Taking the fort, Arnold believed, would not be a problem as in its “ruinous condition,” it “could not hold out an hour against a vigorous onset.” But Arnold had not anticipated having to contend with Ethan Allen and Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys. The Vermonters, operating under apparent authority from Connecticut, were already in position to take the fort when Arnold, still troopless himself, caught up with them on the east bank of Lake Champlain in early May. Arnold displayed his commission, but the Green Mountain Boys, a rough-hewn lot, laughed at him. Allen was the only leader they would follow, especially since Arnold had no troops with him. Finally, after some shrewd negotiating by Arnold, Allen agreed to a joint command. Under cover of darkness, the two led a party across the lake and easily captured the fort with no loss of life on May 10, 1775.
TOO OFTEN, THROUGH THE PRISM OF TREASON, Arnold has been portrayed as an impulsive, needlessly confrontational military leader. In reality, he was often a master of patience and restraint, concentrating on the goals he wanted to achieve. Such was the case with Allen and the Vermonters. To Arnold, they were far from enthusiastic patriots determined to secure valuable ordnance pieces for the cause of liberty. He viewed them as frontier ruffians mostly interested in plundering whatever goods they could find in the fort. And in fact, once inside the fort, the boys discovered some 90 gallons of rum, and after getting drunk, repeatedly belittled Arnold two of them apparently took pot shots at him. But Arnold showed impressive forbearance and waited until the boys drifted back across the lake to Vermont with their plunder.
In October 1776 Arnold proved himself a nimble commodore, luring a British flotilla into the confined waters of Valcour Bay, along the New York shoreline. (Niday Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo)
Concerned that a British counterforce might come down from Canada to retake the fort, Arnold seized the initiative. In mid-May he took a captured schooner and two bateaux up Lake Champlain and 25 miles into Canada, striking the British stronghold of St. John. He and his raiders seized small weapons and two 6-pounder cannons, destroyed any small craft they could find, and sailed away in a British sloop the Americans later named the Enterprise. By this one aggressive stroke, Arnold had taken command of the lake.
A month later Arnold sent a letter to the Continental Congress, advocating the invasion of Quebec Province. Having sailed his own trading vessels into Quebec and Montreal,
Arnold understood the terrain, and he accurately predicted British strategy: They would attempt to surround New England and cut off the head of the rebellion. By seizing Quebec Province, the patriots could disrupt that move and at the same time assure “a free government” fully dedicated to liberty in Quebec. Also, in the event of a long war, Canada could serve as “an inexhaustible granary.” Arnold closed his letter by laying out an operational invasion plan he insisted should be implemented “without loss of time.” He offered to take command of the proposed expeditionary force, confident that “the smiles of heaven” would soon be blessing the patriot cause.
Arnold’s energy on the wilderness trek earned him the epithet ‘America’s Hannibal’
The Congress liked Arnold’s plan but did not name him commander. As events played out, overall command of the invasion through Lake Champlain went to Congress’s designated Northern Department commander, wealthy Philip Schuyler of New York. Schuyler, though, rated Arnold’s performance in taking Fort Ticonderoga as fully meritorious, and he and others commended the young soldier to George Washington. Meeting with Arnold, Washington too saw merit in the enthusiastic young patriot.
Arnold accepted Washington’s offer of a colonel’s commission and the assignment to lead one of two patriot forces into Canada. The first detachment, under Schuyler, headed north down Lake Champlain. When Schuyler fell ill, command moved to Brigadier General Richard Montgomery. Meanwhile, Arnold’s column had to struggle through the backwoods of Maine. Arnold’s personal stamina and boundless energy on the wilderness trek earned him the epithet “America’s Hannibal” and a brigadier generalship.
By mid-November Montgomery’s force had captured Montreal, while Arnold’s contingent, after much suffering, had reached the Plains of Abraham outside the walled city of Quebec. In December the two detachments joined forces, and under cover of a driving blizzard on the last day of 1775, attempted to breach the city gates. The plan of attack, Arnold knew, was impetuous and born of desperation: With the enlistment periods of patriot soldiers ending with 1775, Arnold and Montgomery felt they had no choice but to attack before some portion of their force disappeared into the woods and returned to New England.
Montgomery, heading one column, was killed instantly by a cannon blast Arnold, heading a second, sustained a nasty wound to his left leg that knocked him out of the assault. Before the fighting was over, dozens of patriots lay dead or wounded and over 400 had been taken prisoner by the British.
But Arnold refused to quit. As his badly wounded leg began to heal, he mounted a paper siege of sorts around Quebec with the few troops he had left. He spent the winter season, as he wrote, laboring “under almost as many difficulties as the Israelites of old, obliged to make brick without straw.” Arnold even drew up plans to break into the walled city, but he lacked the necessary resources to do so. In the end, despite an ennobling effort by Congress to send more troops to Canada, Quebec Province could not be held. British and Hessian reinforcements began arriving at Quebec City during May 1776. By late June they had driven the patriot forces, now riddled with smallpox and other diseases, all the way back to Fort Ticonderoga.
ARNOLD WAS AMONG THE LAST REBELS TO LEAVE Canadian soil. He was among the first to think through operational plans to block the British military assault that was sure to come out of Quebec Province. By June 1776 that invasion was underway. Given the limited size of most 18th-century military forces, British numbers, including Hessians, were impressive. By early August some 45,000 soldiers and sailors were gathering around Manhattan Island to capture and establish it as their main base of operations another 8,000 were preparing to move out of Canada and crush patriot forces in the northern theater. By midsummer, Quebec’s Governor Carleton, with Major General John Burgoyne serving as his second in command, was assembling a flotilla of vessels to move his army into Lake Champlain, then south along the Hudson River Valley.
From Arnold’s perspective, the key was to block Carleton or, better still, to drive the advancing enemy back into Canada. Arnold worked closely with Schuyler, who functioned as the key supply officer, and with Horatio Gates, a former British field grade officer who had become a major general in the Continental army. At Schuyler’s request, Arnold agreed to serve as commodore of the rebel fleet being assembled on Lake Champlain. His first priority was to oversee the construction of enough new vessels to put on a show of defiance that might deter the expected British onslaught. Given the shortage of skilled ships’ carpenters and of such essential supplies as cordage, sailcloth, and various kinds of cannon shot, it was a daunting task.
Nevertheless, by mid-September Arnold was sailing north toward the Canadian border with nine flat-bottom, fixed-sail gundalows, each with the capacity to carry up to 45 men and a few ordnance pieces. The gundalows could only sail before the wind, not maneuver to windward. In addition, the fleet included the sloop Enterprise that Arnold had captured in 1775 and three schooners one of them, the Royal Savage, had been taken from the British during Montgomery’s advance into Canada. Later, three new row galleys—the Trumbull, Washington, and Congress—joined the flotilla. Arnold had pushed for the construction of these larger two-masted craft, with lateen sails that could swivel with the wind.
Arnold was ordered to conduct a defensive war and to take “no wanton risk” with the fleet, yet he was to display his “courage and abilities” in “preventing the enemy’s invasion of our country.” In other words, he was not to conduct offensive operations, such as sailing into Canada and attacking the British fleet then being assembled at St. John. Rather, he was “to act with such cool, determined valor, as will give them [the enemy] reason to repent their temerity” in moving on Fort Ticonderoga.
Arnold believed his only hope for retarding the British advance was to innovate, and innovate he did. Arriving near the Canadian border in mid-September, he feinted continuing north on the Richelieu River to St. John. He hoped scouting reports about the fleet’s presence and its seeming readiness for combat would reach Governor Carleton. During Arnold’s paper siege of Quebec City, he had sized up Carleton as a cautiously calculating leader, who would not take unnecessary risks, even when he held the military advantage. As Arnold had anticipated, the rebels’ bold appearance near the Canadian border caused Carleton to delay three critical weeks, giving the patriots more time to strengthen defenses at Fort Ticonderoga.
Finally, on October 4, Carleton ordered his flotilla to move out. He had been waiting for the completion of the Inflexible, a sloop of war whose 18 12-pounder cannons gave it firepower superior to that of any vessel available to Arnold. Carleton’s objective was to sweep aside what he called the “considerable naval force” waiting to defend Lake Champlain and to retake Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga before winter weather halted further operations.
ARNOLD HAD 16 VESSELS TO CARLETON’S 36, which included 28 gunboats—smaller craft that each carried one sizable cannon (12 to 24 pounders). With 417 artillery pieces in all, the British held a more than four-to-one advantage in firepower, since Arnold’s fleet mounted only 91 cannons, including small swivel guns. To make matters worse, his crews comprised mostly soldiers and few sailors, whereas the British crews were full of experienced mariners. Despite the disadvantages, Arnold knew that he would have to resist the powerful flotilla, because Fort Ticonderoga did not have the supplies of powder and ball necessary to stand up to a sustained British onslaught.
Arnold wanted to position his force in a location that would both surprise the enemy and neutralize Carleton’s crew and firepower advantages. While cruising down Lake Champlain toward Canada, Arnold had spotted Valcour Bay along the New York shoreline. To any fleet moving south, the half-mile-wide bay was hidden by Valcour Island, which rose 180 feet. By late September Arnold had nestled his fleet inside the bay in a half-moon formation. “Few vessels can attack us at the same time,” he explained, “and those will be exposed to the fire of the whole fleet.”
The morning of October 11, 1776, Carleton’s vessels, riding a crisp northerly wind, rounded the eastern side of Valcour Island, heading for Fort Ticonderoga some 70 miles away. About two miles south of the island the British finally spied the waiting Americans and hauled into the wind. That broke up their fleet’s formation, and the battle ensued as Arnold had predicted. The British flotilla, trying to maneuver against the wind, could not form into an organized battle line, so though the patriots sustained serious damage to their vessels and many casualties, their fleet was still functional when nightfall ended the fighting.
Though the British, too, had suffered losses, Carleton believed that as soon as the wind swung to the south, his flotilla could move in and finish off the rebels trapped in the bay. But as evening approached, Arnold and his captains saw that the British had left a small opening close to the New York shoreline. Taking advantage of a heavy fog, the patriot vessels formed into a single line and with muffled oars rowed through the gap. When the fog lifted the next morning, an astonished Carleton found an empty bay.
The race south was on, and on October 13 the British caught up to the damaged, slow-moving American vessels about 30 miles up the lake, near a landform called Split Rock. Here Arnold, conscious that there were still munitions shortages at Fort Ticonderoga, precipitated one of the most daring fighting moments of the young Revolution. Aboard the row galley Congress, he ordered his fleet to turn north and attack the swarming enemy vessels. For something like two hours, he and his crew engaged in close-quarter combat with three of Carleton’s vessels. The British held a fivefold advantage in firepower over the rebels, and that advantage was exacerbated when four more British craft joined in the pounding.
A 19th-century portrait of a serene, collected Arnold belies the temperament that made him a great battlefield fighter. (Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection/Brown University Library)
After two hours Arnold’s flagship, with “sails, rigging, and hull…shattered and torn to pieces,” limped away and into a small bay in Vermont territory, along with the four torn-up gundalows it was protecting. Wanting to leave nothing that the enemy might find useful, Arnold ordered all five vessels set on fire before he and his crew made their way overland, reaching Ticonderoga the following day.
Amazed at the fighting spirit of the patriots, Carleton moved his forces up to Crown Point, but then he hesitated. Burgoyne’s land force was ready to take on Fort Ticonderoga, but Carleton began to fret about supply lines back to Canada, especially with winter looming. He was no longer sure he could capture Fort Ticonderoga without grave results, possibly even defeat. So in early November the governor decided to withdraw his entire force and wait out the winter before launching another invasion in 1777. Arnold’s bravado had helped precipitate the pull-back—it was a reversal of what the governor had observed earlier that year, when patriots pulled out of Canada.
Arnold’s military brilliance and daring had helped save the patriot cause in the northern theater—at least for another year. Members of the Continental Congress called him a true hero, but demeaning voices were also raised. From Ticonderoga, Brigadier General William Maxwell, himself devoid of martial accomplishments, labeled Arnold “our evil genius to the north.” According to Maxwell, Arnold was motivated solely by personal aggrandizement, and his “pretty piece of admiralship” had wasted the patriots’ Champlain fleet. Others, assessing Arnold’s actions in 1776, disagreed: More than a hundred years later, the naval historian Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote in his classic The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783: “The little American navy on Champlain was wiped out but never had any force, big or small, lived to better purpose or died more gloriously, for it saved the Lake for that year.”
Soon after that event Arnold would again provide invaluable service to the American cause. His vision and battlefield courage resulted in the defeat and capture of John Burgoyne’s invading army at the critical Battle of Saratoga.
DESPITE BEING AN AMATEUR IN ARMS in the first years of the Revolution, Arnold established himself as a fighting general and commodore, who tenaciously outwitted superior enemy forces. But it was his treachery in the last years of the war, not his natural military genius, that earned him an accursed place in the pantheon of American military leaders.
James Kirby Martin is Cullen University professor of history at the University of Houston and the author of many books, including Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered.