Who is General Benedict Arnold?

When news of the arrival of the French at Newport reached New York, in 1780 Clinton ordered the British fleet there to bear an army to Rhode Island to attack the newly arrived enemy. He detached about eight thousand men for that service. The militia of New England flew to arms, and the French longed for the British to come; but the expedition did not go out of Long Island Sound, and soon returned to New York. Clinton now attempted, by the aid of treason, to accomplish what he had failed to do by honorable warfare. The man who played the part of a traitor to the American cause on that occasion was General Benedict Arnold, a brave soldier, but a bad man. He was ambitious of personal renown, impulsive, rapacious, unscrupulous, and vindictive; personally very unpopular, and seldom without a quarrel with some of his fellow-officers. The sad story of his treason has been so often told in detail, that we need to give it in general outline only.

Soon after the appointment to the military governorship of Philadelphia, in 1778, he married the beautiful daughter of Edward Shippen, a leading loyalist of that city. He lived in a style which caused expenditure beyond his income, and to meet the demands of importunate creditors, he engaged in fraudulent and dishonorable official acts which caused the public to detest him. Finally serious charges of dishonesty were preferred against him before the Continental Congress; and a court-martial ordered by that body to try him, found him guilty. In their sentence they treated him most leniently. It was a simple reprimand by the commander-in-chief. That duty was performed by Washington in the most delicate manner; but the disgrace awakened vengeful feelings in the bosom of Arnold. These, operating with the pressure of debt, made him listen to the suggestions of a bad nature; and he let Sir Henry Clinton know that he preferred service in the British army to that in which he was engaged. Correspondence upon the subject, which was continued several months, was conducted on the part of Sir Henry, through the accomplished Major John Andre, his adjutant-general, under an assumed name. So, also, did Arnold assume a fictitious name; and on the part of both, the correspondence was carried on in commercial phraseology. Arnold agreed to ask for the command of the strong post of West Point and its dependencies, in the Hudson Highlands, and, if obtained, to betray it into the hands of Clinton. For this service Arnold was to receive the commission of brigadier in the British army, and fifty thousand dollars in gold. It is asserted by Mr. Bancroft, that "in the course of the winter of 1778-1779, he was taken into the pay of Clinton, to whom he gave on every occasion most material intelligence."

The nefarious plot had been made known to the British minister, and he and Clinton believed that its consummation would end the war. In the spring of 1780, Arnold took measures to secure for himself the command of West Point. He enlisted the sympathies and services in his behalf of General Schuyler, Robert R. Livingston and other leading patriots of New York, pretending that his wounds would not permit him to do active service in the field, and that he was very anxious to serve his country. His professions of patriotism were so vehement that he deceived those men, and they united in recommending Washington to give him the important position. The latter had lost faith in Arnold's integrity, but could not believe him capable of treason to the cause. He finally yielded to the request of others more than to the dictates of his better judgment, and in August (1780) he placed Arnold in command of the Highland forts, with his headquarters at the house of Beverly Robinson (yet standing), opposite West Point. Then Arnold bent all his energies for the consummation of his treason, first requiring a personal interview with Andre, to make a definite arrangement about the terms of the bargain.

It was late in September before that personal interview was held. Washington, accompanied by Lafayette and Hamilton, crossed the Hudson at Verplanck's Point (where he was joined by Arnold), on his way to Hartford, to have his first personal conference with Rochambeau there. That was on the 18th. Arnold ascertained the time when they might be expected at West Point, on their return, and he resolved to bring the plot to a point ready for the final act before then. He immediately informed Clinton of the situation, and desired him to send Andre up the river to the Vulture sloop-of-war, then lying just above Teller's (now Croton) Point, to which a boat with a flag would be sent to convey the major to a selected place of meeting, between midnight and dawn. Clinton embarked troops on the Hudson, with a pretext that they were bound for the Chesapeake. These he intended to lead in person against the Highland forts.

On the morning of the 20th Andre departed from Dobb's Ferry for the Vulture; but it was the second night after his arrival, when the flag appeared, borne by Joshua H. Smith, a resident near Haverstraw. Andre had been instructed by Clinton not to change his dress and not to take any papers with him; so, with his regimentals, covered with a long surtout, he went ashore, and met Arnold in bushes at the foot of Torn Mountain, near Haverstraw, by the light of a waning moon. Dawn was approaching before the interview was ended; and the conspirators mounted horses which Arnold had provided, and rode to the house of Smith before the break of day. At sunrise, cannons were heard upon the river, and the Vulture was seen to fall down the stream, out of sight, to avoid the effects of artillery trained upon her at Teller's Point. This gave Andre uneasiness, for he would be compelled to return to New York by land.

The conference at Smith's house lasted several hours. It was agreed that Arnold should so distribute the garrison at West Point as to weaken it. When it should be known that the British troops were ascending the river, Arnold was to apply to Washington at Tappan for reinforcements; and after making a show of resistance, he was to surrender the post in time for Clinton to fall upon the approaching troops which might be led by the commander-in-chief in person. So, at one blow, Washington's army was to be ruined, and the important post to be seized by the enemy.

Andre received from Arnold a written statement of the condition of the Highland forts, and a pass for "John Anderson" (his assumed name) "to the White Plains and beyond." With the latter in his pocket and the former under his feet, in his boots, the young officer, having exchanged his scarlet uniform for a coat that belonged to Mr. Smith, buttoned his surtout up to his chin, crossed the river at the King's Ferry, and on horseback made his way toward New York on the east side of the Hudson. So far the plot had worked well. Knowledge of the conspiracy was yet locked in the bosom of a single American-the traitor himself. But difficulties soon arose. When the major had reached the vicinity of Tarrytown, sixteen miles from the strong British post at King's Bridge, and was riding in fancied security up the gentle hill from Sleepy Hollow, he was suddenly confronted by three young militiamen-John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, and David Williams-who belonged to a party of seven who were out to prevent cattle being driven from the vicinity to the British lines, and to arrest any suspicious characters on the highway. These young men were playing cards in the shadow of a wood by the road-side, when Andre appeared. Paulding, followed by his companions, stepped into the road, and presenting his bayonet ordered the well-dressed "gentlemanly traveler" to stop. Andre, supposing them to be Loyalists, said: "Gentlemen, I hope you belong to our party." "Which party?" asked Paulding. "The Lower party." Paulding answered misleadingly, "We do," when Andre said, "Gentlemen, I am a British officer, out in the country on particular business, and hope you will not detain me a minute." He then showed them his watch in token of his being an officer, when Paulding ordered him to dismount. Perceiving his mistake, Andre said: "My God! I must do any thing to get along," and then showed them Arnold's pass. "Gentlemen," he said, "you had best let me go, or you will bring yourselves into trouble, for your stopping me will detain the general's business." He told them he was going to Dobbs' Ferry to meet a person there from whom he expected important intelligence for Arnold. Paulding courteously said: "I hope you'll not be offended; we do not intend to take any thing from you; there are many bad people on the road, and you, perhaps, are one of them. Have you any letters?" He answered, "No." Then they took him into the bushes, and searched him. Andre was dressed in a blue surtout, a claret-colored body-coat trimmed with lace; nankeen waistcoat and breeches; flannel underclothes, round hat, and thread stockings, and boots. They stripped him to his shirt, but found no papers on him; and they were about to let him go, when it was suggested that something might be concealed in his boots. He reluctantly obeyed an order to pull them off, when the papers alluded to were found between his stockings and his feet. "This is a spy!" exclaimed Paulding. Andre offered them large bribes to release him. "Not for ten thousand guineas," said Paulding; and the three young men conducted their prisoner to Lieutenant-Colonel Jameson, who was in command of the nearest military post, at North Castle. Jameson, with amazing stupidity, resolved to send the prisoner to Arnold. Major Tallmadge, next in rank, suspecting the general of treachery, warmly remonstrated, when Jameson consented to confine the captive until he should receive orders from Washington or Arnold. He insisted upon writing a letter to Arnold informing him of the arrest of the prisoner. This was a fatal blunder, and led to great mischief.

That night the prisoner wrote a letter to Washington, frankly announcing his name and rank, and giving a truthful account of the whole affair. He gave the letter to Tallmadge to read, who was astonished to find that the captive was Major Andre, adjutant-general of the British army. He was finally taken to the headquarters of the army at Tappan.

While these events were occurring, Washington was on his way from Hartford. On the morning of the 25th (September, 1780), he and his attendants left Fishkill before the dawn, and rode on with speed toward the Robinson house to breakfast with General and Mrs. Arnold. When near there, the chief turned down a lane to view a battery on the brink of the river, and told his young companions to go forward and he would soon join them. While they were at the table with the general, a messenger brought a letter to him from Jameson; but instead of announcing, as he expected it would, that a British armament was ascending the river, it told him of the arrest of Major Andre. His presence of mind did not forsake him. He told his guests that business of importance demanded his presence at West Point immediately. He ascended to his wife's chamber and sent for her. There, in brief and hurried words, he told her that they must instantly part, perhaps forever, for his life depended upon his reaching the British lines as quickly as possible. Horror-stricken, the poor young creature, one year a mother but not two a bridge, swooned and sank senseless upon the floor. Arnold dared not call for help, but kissing with lips blasted by words of guilt and treason, his boy then sweetly sleeping, he rushed from the room, mounted a horse belonging to one of his guests, and hastened to the river along a byway yet known as Arnold's Path. Then he entered his barge, and directed his six oarsmen to push out into the middle of the river and pull for Teller's Point. They were ignorant of his errand, and having their muscles stimulated by a promise of two gallons of rum, they rowed the little vessel swiftly down the stream to the Vulture. Having made himself known to the commander. Arnold rewarded his faithful men with the fate of prisoners instead of the promised beverage. Clinton, despising the traitor's meanness, set them at liberty when the Vulture arrived at New York.

Washington arrived at Robinson's house just after Arnold had left. No one there, excepting Mrs. Arnold in her chamber, knew of the traitor's flight. Supposing he had gone over to West Point, the chief crossed the river, and did not return until near noon. He was met near the landing-place by Hamilton, into whose hand a messenger from Jameson had placed the proof of Arnold's guilt--the papers taken from Andre's boots, and the major's letter to Washington. Efforts were immediately made to overtake the traitor, but he had four hours the start, and escaped, as we have observed. The fugitive's wife was crazed by the shock for several hours, and her condition excited the warmest sympathy of the chief and his attendants. She pressed her infant to her bosom and lamented his fate because of the conduct of his father. "All the sweetness of beauty, all the loveliness of innocence, all the tenderness of a wife, and all the fondness of a mother," wrote Colonel Hamilton, "showed themselves in her appearance and conduct." They believed that she was entirely ignorant of his crime until it was revealed to her at the time of his flight.

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