Washington and His Generals - Vol. 1

By Joel Tyler Headley | Go to book overview

MAJOR-GENERAL BENEDICT ARNOLD.

" Arnold'S conduct," wrote Washington, on the 18th of October, 1780, "is so villanously perfidious, that there are no terms that can describe the baseness of his heart. The confidence arid folly which have marked the subsequent career of this man are of apiece with his villany, and all three are perfect in their kind."* Such is Washington's recorded judgment on Benedict Arnold. Such is the deliberate opinion of one whose instincts of right and wrong rarely misled him, who was slow to anger and who measured every word of praise or censure that he uttered. Yet strange to say, now that nearly seventy years have rolled by, an effort is making partially to reverse this judgment, and if not to praise, to excuse or account for Arnold's last and worst overt act of crime, by attributing it to some outward and irresistible pressure, or by the recapitulation of his earlier deeds of audacious bravery. Brave, desperately brave, he certainly was. He showed it in the wilderness march of 1775, in the attack on Quebec, and at the heights of Saratoga, but more than all, did he show it on occasions which his whimsical apologists are glad to pass by unnoticed, when, with a halter round his neck, he led an invading army into the heart of Virginia; when he gazed from the belfry of the New London church on a burning village, and sanctioned the murder of Colonel Ledyard, at the storming of Fort Griswold. But of all the qualities which form the character of heroic men, that is least worthy of admiration which, however essential, is common to the beast of prey and the ruffian whose

____________________
*
Letter to President Reed, 18th October, 1780. VII. Washington'a Works, p. 264.

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