Benedict Arnold Biography





Born: January 14, 1741
Norwich, Connecticut
Died: June 14, 1801
London, England

American military general

Although he fought with skill and courage in many campaigns during the American Revolution (1775–83), General Benedict Arnold is best known as the man who betrayed his country.

Youth and family

Benedict Arnold was born on January 14, 1741, in Norwich, Connecticut. He was one of only two of his mother's eleven children to survive into adulthood. His mother had been a prosperous widow before marrying Arnold's father, a merchant. However, Arnold's father did not manage the family's money well, and they were financially ruined when Arnold was thirteen. He was forced to leave school and go to work learning to be an apothecary, a position similar to that of a modern-day pharmacist.

As a young man, Arnold was a risk-taker who looked for outlets for his energetic and impulsive (taking action before thinking things through) nature. He volunteered for the French and Indian War (1754–63), a war fought between France and England in America for control of the colonial lands, but at eighteen he deserted in order to be with his mother, who was dying. In the 1760s he traded with Canada and the West Indies as a merchant and a sea captain. He took his hot-headed nature to sea with him, fighting at least two duels while on trading voyages. He was a financial success as a trader, but he was also accused of smuggling. In 1767 he married Margaret Mansfield, daughter of a government official in New Haven, Connecticut.

Joining the Revolution

News of the battles of Lexington and Concord (April 17, 1775) in Massachusetts, the first battles of the Revolution, reached Arnold in April 1775. Upon hearing of these events he set out as the head of a company of Connecticut militia for Cambridge, Massachusetts, where George Washington (1732–1799) was gathering an army to fight the British forces. Although he marched to Massachusetts without military orders to do so, Arnold was soon given an official mission. His first military engagement was the attack the next month on Fort Ticonderoga in northeastern New York, where the British had a supply of artillery, a type of large-caliber weaponry that includes cannons. The attack operation was successful, but Arnold got little of the credit for this success. Credit went mostly to Ethan Allen (1738–1789) and the troops Allen commanded, known as the Green Mountain Boys.

Arnold's second assignment was with an expedition against Canada. Leaving Cambridge on September 19, 1775, he led his troops north through Maine into Canada. By land and water and in snow and storms, he reached Quebec, Canada, in early November. There he was joined by another troop, led by General Richard Montgomery, which had come by way of Lake Champlain and Montreal, Canada. Together the two forces assaulted Quebec on December 31, but the attack failed; Montgomery lost his life and Arnold was left with a severe leg wound. Arnold next went to Lake Champlain to prevent the British from using it as a means of traveling from Canada to New York. He lost two naval battles on the lake in October 1776, but he had effectively delayed the British in their southward movement. In the same month Congress made Arnold a brigadier general (an army officer above a colonel).

Honor and accusations

The winter of 1776–77 was an unhappy one for Arnold. His hot temper, impulsiveness, and impatience had earned him many enemies who now made all sorts of charges against him. He was accused of misconduct (poor behavior) on the march through Maine, of incompetence (failure to successfully carry out a mission) on Lake Champlain, and more. Worse yet, in February 1777 Congress promoted five other brigadier generals, all Arnold's juniors, to the rank of major general (an army officer who is above a brigadier general). Only Washington's pleas kept Arnold from resigning from the army. Fortunately, the coming of spring gave him the chance for a successful operation. While visiting his home in New Haven, Arnold heard of a British attack on American supply stations in Danbury, Connecticut. He rounded up the local militia and raced to stop the enemy. Although he got there too late to prevent the destruction of the supplies, he did force the British to flee. A grateful Congress promoted him to major general on May 2, but he was still below the other five in rank. Meanwhile, he faced a formal charge of stealing goods and property from Montreal merchants during the Canadian campaign. He was cleared of the charge, but his anger at the accusation moved him to resign from the army in July 1777.

Once again Washington pleaded with him—this time to rejoin the army. Washington needed him for service in northern New York to block a bold British plan. The British hoped to split New England from the other colonies by sending General John Burgoyne from Fort Ticonderoga down the Hudson River to New York City. Burgoyne not only

Benedict Arnold. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Benedict Arnold.
Courtesy of the
Library of Congress
.
failed in his mission but also lost his whole army, which he surrendered at Saratoga, New York, in October 1777. Arnold played a major role in the two battles that led to the British defeat. Burgoyne himself said of Arnold that "it was his doing." Congress rewarded Arnold by restoring his position in rank above the other major generals.

Arnold's next assignment was command of the military post at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which the British had left in June 1778. In April 1779 he married Margaret Shippen, the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphian. (His first wife had died in 1775.) Moving in wealthy social circles, Arnold lived expensively, spent beyond his means, and soon found himself heavily in debt. At the same time he was being charged with a number of offenses connected to using his military office for private gain. He demanded a trial in Congress, which began in May 1779. The verdict, or decision, handed down in December found him not guilty of most charges but ordered Washington to reprimand him. The general did this, but mildly, in April 1780.

End as a traitor

By this time Arnold had already started on the road to treason. Personally hurt by Congress's treatment and badly in need of money, he had begun to pass information on American troop movements and strength of units to the British in exchange for money as early as May or June of 1779. Early in the summer of 1780, he thought up a plan to turn over the important post at West Point, New York, to the English for the sum of ten thousand pounds. He persuaded Washington to place him in command there in order to carry out this scheme. However, Arnold's plan fell through when his contact, the British spy Major John André (1750–1780), was captured on September 21, 1780, with documents that showed Arnold was a traitor. André was hanged and Arnold fled to the British lines.

Arnold spent the rest of the war in a British uniform fighting his own countrymen. He went to London in 1781 and died there twenty years later on June 14, 1801, forgotten in England and despised in America. To this day, calling someone a "Benedict Arnold" in America is a way of saying that person has betrayed his or her side.

For More Information

Brandt, Clare. The Man in the Mirror: A Life of Benedict Arnold. New York: Random House, 1994.

Fritz, Jean. Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold. New York: B. P. Putnam's Sons, 1981.

Martin, James Kirby. Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Warrior: An American Warrior Reconsidered. New York: New York University Press, 1997.



User Contributions:

hehe
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Feb 29, 2008 @ 8:08 am
wow this is odd info.. its a little different fom the other sites
Emmett Evans
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Sep 13, 2009 @ 9:09 am
Isn't there some truth in the statement that Benedict Arnold founded the US Navy by building a ship in or near Whitehall for the Ticonderoga battle?
Ben Arnold
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Nov 30, 2009 @ 10:22 pm
Did he really flee to be with his mother and other sites say nothing about boats only apothecary stuff.
rain
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Jan 26, 2010 @ 6:18 pm
This helped me a big final project and I got 100 on the project. a+
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Jan 11, 2011 @ 2:14 pm
his career as an American Patriot in May 1775, when he and Ethan Allen led the brigade that captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain.


Arnold's heroics continued in September, when he led an expedition of 1,150 riflemen against Quebec, the capital of British Canada. The American commander drove his men hard through the Maine wilderness, overcoming leaky boats, spoiled provisions, treacherous rivers, and near starvation to arrive at Quebec in November, his force reduced to 650 men.

These losses did not deter Arnold. Joined by General Richard Montgomery, who had arrived with 300 troops after capturing Montreal, Arnold's forces attacked the strongly fortified city, only to have the assault end in disaster. A hundred Americans were killed, including Montgomery; 400 were captured; and many were wounded, including Arnold, who fell as he stormed over a barricade, a ball through his leg.

Quebec was only the beginning. For the next five years Arnold served the Patriot side with distinction in one battle after another, including a dangerous assault against the center of the British line at Saratoga, where he was again wounded in the leg. No general was more imaginative than Arnold, no field officer more daring, no soldier more courageous.


Yet Arnold has gone down in history not as a hero but as a villain, a military traitor who, as commander of the American fort at West Point, New York, in 1780, schemed to hand it over to the British.

Of his role in this conspiracy there is no doubt. His British contact, Major John Andre, was caught with incriminating documents in Arnold's handwriting, including routes of access to the fort. Arnold, fleeing down the Hudson River on a British ship, defended his treason in a letter to Washington, stating that "love to my country actuates my present conduct, however it may appear inconsistent to the world, who very seldom judge right of any man's actions."

But judge we must. Why did Arnold desert the cause for which he had fought so gallantly and twice been wounded? Was there any justification for his conduct?
anton
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Apr 25, 2012 @ 9:21 pm
I think everything is really subjective. There was really no "countrymen" as the early Americans were mainly British settlers on Native Indian land! As for being a traitor, perhaps in the British point of view, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and that motley crew were traitors to their mother country? They fought a war to liberate all men yet the indigenous people and the African Americans didn't taste that until much later.
sam
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Jun 3, 2012 @ 7:19 pm
Although he fought with skill and courage in many campaigns during the American Revolution (1775–83), General Benedict Arnold is best known as the man who betrayed his country.

Youth and family

Benedict Arnold was born on January 14, 1741, in Norwich, Connecticut. He was one of only two of his mother's eleven children to survive into adulthood. His mother had been a prosperous widow before marrying Arnold's father, a merchant. However, Arnold's father did not manage the family's money well, and they were financially ruined when Arnold was thirteen. He was forced to leave school and go to work learning to be an apothecary, a position similar to that of a modern-day pharmacist.

As a young man, Arnold was a risk-taker who looked for outlets for his energetic and impulsive (taking action before thinking things through) nature. He volunteered for the French and Indian War (1754–63), a war fought between France and England in America for control of the colonial lands, but at eighteen he deserted in order to be with his mother, who was dying. In the 1760s he traded with Canada and the West Indies as a merchant and a sea captain. He took his hot-headed nature to sea with him, fighting at least two duels while on trading voyages. He was a financial success as a trader, but he was also accused of smuggling. In 1767 he married Margaret Mansfield, daughter of a government official in New Haven, Connecticut.

Joining the Revolution

News of the battles of Lexington and Concord (April 17, 1775) in Massachusetts, the first battles of the Revolution, reached Arnold in April 1775. Upon hearing of these events he set out as the head of a company of Connecticut militia for Cambridge, Massachusetts, where George Washington (1732–1799) was gathering an army to fight the British forces. Although he marched to Massachusetts without military orders to do so, Arnold was soon given an official mission. His first military engagement was the attack the next month on Fort Ticonderoga in northeastern New York, where the British had a supply of artillery, a type of large-caliber weaponry that includes cannons. The attack operation was successful, but Arnold got little of the credit for this success. Credit went mostly to Ethan Allen (1738–1789) and the troops Allen commanded, known as the Green Mountain Boys.

Arnold's second assignment was with an expedition against Canada. Leaving Cambridge on September 19, 1775, he led his troops north through Maine into Canada. By land and water and in snow and storms, he reached Quebec, Canada, in early November. There he was joined by another troop, led by General Richard Montgomery, which had come by way of Lake Champlain and Montreal, Canada. Together the two forces assaulted Quebec on December 31, but the attack failed; Montgomery lost his life and Arnold was left with a severe leg wound. Arnold next went to Lake Champlain to prevent the British from using it as a means of traveling from Canada to New York. He lost two naval battles on the lake in October 1776, but he had effectively delayed the British in their southward movement. In the same month Congress made Arnold a brigadier general (an army officer above a colonel).
ZAK
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Jun 3, 2012 @ 7:19 pm
Honor and accusations

The winter of 1776–77 was an unhappy one for Arnold. His hot temper, impulsiveness, and impatience had earned him many enemies who now made all sorts of charges against him. He was accused of misconduct (poor behavior) on the march through Maine, of incompetence (failure to successfully carry out a mission) on Lake Champlain, and more. Worse yet, in February 1777 Congress promoted five other brigadier generals, all Arnold's juniors, to the rank of major general (an army officer who is above a brigadier general). Only Washington's pleas kept Arnold from resigning from the army. Fortunately, the coming of spring gave him the chance for a successful operation. While visiting his home in New Haven, Arnold heard of a British attack on American supply stations in Danbury, Connecticut. He rounded up the local militia and raced to stop the enemy. Although he got there too late to prevent the destruction of the supplies, he did force the British to flee. A grateful Congress promoted him to major general on May 2, but he was still below the other five in rank. Meanwhile, he faced a formal charge of stealing goods and property from Montreal merchants during the Canadian campaign. He was cleared of the charge, but his anger at the accusation moved him to resign from the army in July 1777.

Once again Washington pleaded with him—this time to rejoin the army. Washington needed him for service in northern New York to block a bold British plan. The British hoped to split New England from the other colonies by sending General John Burgoyne from Fort Ticonderoga down the Hudson River to New York City. Burgoyne not only



.
failed in his mission but also lost his whole army, which he surrendered at Saratoga, New York, in October 1777. Arnold played a major role in the two battles that led to the British defeat. Burgoyne himself said of Arnold that "it was his doing." Congress rewarded Arnold by restoring his position in rank above the other major generals.
Arnold's next assignment was command of the military post at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which the British had left in June 1778. In April 1779 he married Margaret Shippen, the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphian. (His first wife had died in 1775.) Moving in wealthy social circles, Arnold lived expensively, spent beyond his means, and soon found himself heavily in debt. At the same time he was being charged with a number of offenses connected to using his military office for private gain. He demanded a trial in Congress, which began in May 1779. The verdict, or decision, handed down in December found him not guilty of most charges but ordered Washington to reprimand him. The general did this, but mildly, in April 1780.
madison
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Dec 18, 2014 @ 1:13 pm
I love how this website expplains everything. this makes me learn so much about benedict arnold!

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