Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold, 1741–1801, American Revolutionary general and traitor, b. Norwich, Conn. As a youth he served for a time in the colonial militia in the French and Indian Wars. He later became a prosperous merchant. An early supporter of the Revolution, he proved to be a resourceful and energetic officer. His expedition against Fort Ticonderoga joined that of Ethan Allen, and the joint command took the fort. Arnold pushed on to the northern end of Lake Champlain, where he destroyed a number of ships and a British fort. In the Quebec campaign, he invaded Canada (1775) by way of the Maine forests. After a grueling march, the exhausted force reached Quebec. Richard Montgomery arrived from Montreal, and the two small armies launched an unsuccessful assault on Dec. 31, 1775. Arnold was wounded but continued the siege until spring, when Sir Guy Carleton forced him back to Lake Champlain. There he built a small fleet that, although defeated, halted the British advance.

In Feb., 1777, Congress, despite General Washington's protests, promoted five brigadier generals of junior rank to major generalships over Arnold's head. This and subsequent slights by Congress embittered Arnold and may in part have motivated his later treason. Although he soon won promotion by his spectacular defense (1777) against William Tryon in Connecticut, his seniority was not restored. In the Saratoga campaign, his relief of Fort Stanwix and his brilliant campaigning under Horatio Gates played a decisive part in the American victory. He became (1778) commander of Philadelphia, after the British evacuation, and there married Peggy Shippen, whose family had Loyalist sympathies.

In 1779 he was court-martialed because of disputes with the government of Pennsylvania, led by Joseph Reed. He was cleared of all except minor charges and was reprimanded by Washington, who subsequently gave (1780) Arnold command of West Point. He had already begun a treasonable correspondence with Sir Henry Clinton in New York City, and now arranged to betray West Point in exchange for a British commission and money. The plot was discovered with the capture of John André, but Arnold escaped. In 1781, in the British service, he led two savage raids—against Virginia and against New London, Conn.—before going into exile in England and Canada, where he was generally scorned and unrewarded.

See biographies by O. Sherwin (1931), M. Decker (1932, repr. 1969), C. Brandt (1994), and J. K. Martin (1998); C. Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution (1941, repr. 1968); J. T. Flexner, The Traitor and the Spy (1953); W. M. Wallace, Traitorous Hero (1954, repr. 1970); N. Philbrick, Valiant Ambition (2016).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Benedict Arnold: Selected full-text books and articles

A Traitor's Epiphany: Benedict Arnold in Virginia and His Quest for Reconciliation By Lender, Mark Edward; Martin, James Kirby The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 125, No. 4, October 1, 2017
Benedict Arnold: March on Quebec By Randall, Willard Sterne American Heritage, Vol. 58, No. 5, Fall 2008
Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783 By John C. Miller Boston, Little, Brown, 1948
Librarian's tip: Chap. VI "Canadian Adventure," Chap. XXIII "The Revolution Falters," and Chap. XXIV "The Exploits of Lord Cornwallis"
Canada and the United States: Some Aspects of Their Historical Relations By Hugh Keenleyside; Gerald S. Brown Alfred A. Knopf, 1952 (Revised edition)
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Benedict Arnold begins on p. 17
Jefferson, War and Peace, 1776 to 1784 By Marie Kimball Coward-McCann, 1947
Librarian's tip: Chap. VI "The Parricide Arnold"
The Neutral Ground: The André Affair and the Background of Cooper's The Spy By Bruce A. Rosenberg Greenwood Press, 1994
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "The Arnold Enlistment"
The Counter-Revolution in Pennsylvania, 1776-1790 By Robert L. Brunhouse Pennsylvania Historical Commission, 1942
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Benedict Arnold begins on p. 64
The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 By Robert Middlekauff Oxford University Press, 1985
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Benedict Arnold begins on p. 276
FREE! The American Revolution, 1763-1783 By William Edward Hartpole Lecky; James Albert Woodburn D. Appleton, 1898
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Benedict Arnold begins on p. 403
Horatio Gates: Defender of American Liberties By Samuel White Patterson Columbia University Press, 1941
Librarian's tip: Chap. IV "Schuyler, Gates, Arnold," Chap. VII "Stillwater, September 19-October 6, 1777," and Chap. VIII "Stillwater, October 7-17, 1777"
The American Revolution By Joseph C. Morton Greenwood Press, 2003
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