History From America's Most Famous Valleys
A MILITARY JOURNAL
During the American Revolutionary War,
From 1775 to 1783.
Describing Interesting Events and Transactions of this period;
with numerous Historical Facts and Anecdotes
From the Original Manuscript
By James Thacher, M. D.
Second Edition, Revised and Corrected.
Boston, Published by Cottons & Barnard, 1827.
MAJOR GENERAL BENEDICT ARNOLD.
This extraordinary man is already recorded in our revolutionary history, in the character of a valiant and intrepid officer, and in the next page as a sordid and infamous traitor to his country. He was a native of Connecticut, where he was known as a half bred apothecary, a retailer, a skipper, and a jockey. Under pretence of bankruptcy, he committed perjury with the view of defrauding his creditors. But his mind was formed for bold and desperate enterprise, and he was chosen captain of a militia company of volunteers, and on hearing of the battle at Lexington, he marched with his company and arrived at head quarters, at Cambridge, about the last of April, 1775, where he was promoted to a Colonel. He immediately repaired to the vicinity of Lake Champlain, and united with Colonel Allen and his party, who were preparing to execute their plan for taking possession of the British garrison at Ticonderoga. This enterprise was crowned with success, without bloodshed, and an immense quantity of valuable ordnance and munitions of war was taken, for the use of our army. After which, he proceeded down the lake to St. John's in a small schooner, and seized by surprise an armed sloop of superior force, which he brought off with several prisoners. In September following, Colonel Arnold was invested with the command of eleven hundred men, destined on a very extraordinary and arduous expedition, no less than penetrating through the unexplored wilderness to Quebec, by the route of Kennebec river. Colonel Burr, late Vice President of the United States, was with this party. The expedition was attended by the most distressing circumstances which can be imagined, during which Arnold conducted with unexampled resolution, and the soldiers exercised the greatest fortitude and patience, and accomplished an undertaking almost incredible. The men were obliged to drag their batteaux over falls, up rapid streams, over carrying places, and to march through morasses, thick woods, and over mountains, for about three hundred and twenty miles. A part of the detachment, consisting of about three hundred men, under Colonel Enos, returned to Cambridge to avoid absolute starvation in the wilderness. Some of those who persevered were compelled to feed on dogs, which they devoured without sparing legs or skin, and also their cartridge boxes, leather breeches and shoes. Colonel Arnold appears to have defeated his own object by an imprudent act. He entrusted to a transient Indian a letter to a friend in Quebec ; the Indian betrayed his trust, and delivered the letter to the British commandant, who immediately adopted measures for defence, and to oppose their march. In December, 1775, Colonel Arnold having reached the vicinity of Quebec, was second in command under General Montgomery, and led a party in the boldest and most spirited manner to the attack of the city of Quebec, by escalade, where he received a wound by a musket ball in his leg, and the brave Montgomery was slain. In January, 1776, Arnold was promoted to the rank of brigadier, and had the command of the miserable remains of our army, and retreated to Crown Point. He took from merchants, at Montreal, goods to a very considerable amount, under circumstances which implicated his honour and character. He ordered Colonel Hazen to take charge of the goods, but conceiving that they were taken unjustly from the proprietors, he refused to comply. On the retreat of the army, part of the goods were pillaged, in consequence of which, Colonel Hazen was subjected to a trial, but was honorably acquitted. This affair excited much indignation among several respectable officers, who having received abusive treatment from Arnold, demanded of General Gates, who now commanded in chief, that he should be arrested and brought to trial ; but Gates viewing him as a brave and valuable officer, was determined that he should command our fleet on lake Champlain, and therefore waived all complaints exhibited against him. After Arnold was invested with the command of our fleet, Sir Guy Carlton proceeded up lake Champlain with a superior force, and a furious contest ensued. No man could have conducted with more intrepid bravery than did General Arnold. By his valorous conduct he acquired the highest applause ; but being overpowered, he was obliged to retreat with the Congress galley, which he commanded, and four gondolas which he ran on shore and blew up, in despite of every effort of the enemy to prevent it. He even displayed a nice point of honor in keeping his flag flying, and not quitting his galley till she was in flames, that the enemy should not board and strike the American flag. In April, 1777, General Tryon commanded an expedition from New York, consisting of about two thousand men, to destroy a deposit of stores at Danbury, in Connecticut. General Arnold, by a forced march, reached the scene of action, and with his usual impetuosity engaged the enemy, and when within a few yards a whole platoon was leveled at him, by which his horse was killed ; a soldier was advancing to thrust his bayonet through him, when with great presence of mind he took his pistols from his holsters and shot him down. Having mounted another horse, that also was shot through the neck. Congress resolved, that a horse properly caparisoned be presented to General Arnold, as a token of their approbation of his gallant conduct, in which he had one horse killed and another wounded. In May following, he was created a Major General. When in August, 1777, General St. Leger invested Fort Stanwix, General Arnold marched at the head of a detachment from Fort Edward, to raise the siege, but the enemy alarmed at his approach, abandoned the enterprise before his arrival. In September a serious difference took place between him and General Gates, who commanded our army at Saratoga. A conscious superiority on one side, and an arrogant temper on the other, sufficed to render the contention almost irreconcilable. The consequence was, that Arnold in a rage requested to be discharged from under the command of General Gates, and the latter immediately gave him a passport to repair to General Washington's head quarters, though a battle with Burgoyne was daily expected. He postponed his departure, however, till the sanguinary conflict at Bemis's heights commenced, October 7th, when he betrayed great agitation and wrath ; rushing into the field of battle, and acting the part of a desperado, he exposed himself in the most rash and intemperate manner. In the heat of the action, when our troops were gaining advantage, General Arnold ordered Lieutenant Colonel Brooks, at the head of his regiment, to force the German lines, which was instantly obeyed, and they boldly entered at the sallyport together, where Arnold received a wound in his leg, and his horse was killed under him. He had so little control of his mind, that while brandishing his sword in animating the officers and soldiers, he struck Captain Pettingill and Captain Brown, and wounded one of them on his head, without assigning any cause. These gentlemen, the next day, requested Colonel Brooks to accompany them to Arnold's quarters, to demand an explanation ; he disavowed all recollection of the fact, and denied that he had struck an officer, but when convinced of it, readily offered the required apology. It is but justice to confess, that by his military frenzy, or romantic heroism, Arnold contributed to the honor and success of the day. General Washington had a high sense of his gallantry, and presented him a pair of elegant pistols. After the evacuation of Philadelphia by the British army, General Arnold was entrusted with the command in that city. Here his display of connubial gallantry, as in the field his martial spirit, was crowned with honor and success. His addresses were auspiciously received, and he was honored with the hand of the then celebrated Miss Shippen, one of the most elegant and accomplished ladies in the city, but of a tory family. His whole soul now appeared to be engaged in the promotion of his own interest and aggrandizement. He occupied the house of Governor Penn, the best in the city, and this he furnished in a rich and splendid style. His carriage and equipage were equally splendid, and he rioted in the luxury and pageantry of a nobleman. " Proud of the trappings of office, and ambitious of an ostentatious display of wealth and greatness, the certain mark of a narrow mind, he had wasted the plunder acquired at Montreal, where his conduct had been remarkably reprehensible, and had dissipated the rich harvest of peculation he had reaped at Philadelphia, where his rapacity had no bounds. He deliberately seized every thing he could lay his hands on in the city, to which he could affix an idea that it had been the property of the disaffected party, and converted it to his own use."*
Unmindful of his military station, he engaged in various speculations and in privateering, in both of which he was unfortunate. He made exorbitant demands on government, in compensation for public services, and made bitter complaints against Congress, pretending that he suffered injustice from their hands. The commissioners, appointed to liquidate his accounts, rejected a large proportion of his demands as being unjust and unfounded, and for which he deserved severe reprehension. He was charged, by the citizens of Philadelphia, with gross acts of extortion, and of peculating on the public funds ; and he was at length so notorious for his follies and vices, and so audacious in his reproaches against what he termed the ingratitude of his country, that the general voice demanded an investigation of his conduct. The government of Pennsylvania, as well as many respectable citizens, exhibited formal charges against him, and Congress directed that he should be arrested, and tried by a court martial. He was sentenced to be reprimanded by the Commander in Chief, which being approved by Congress, was carried into execution accordingly. The emoluments of his office, with all his embezzlements, proved inadequate to his exigencies, and his funds being exhausted, he was unable to meet the demands of his creditors. Thus he evinced a mind destitute of both moral principle and political integrity. Rebuffed and mortified in his vicious pursuits, he became soured and disaffected to our government and cause, and the most malevolent and rancorous spirit agitated his unprincipled bosom, restrained by a want of opportunity to indulge his revenge. At the opening of the campaign in June, 1780, the Commander in Chief offered him the command of the left wing
* History of the American Revolution, by Mrs. M. Warren.
of our army, to which his rank entitled him, but this he declined under the pretext that the wound which he received at Saratoga, rendered him incapable of active service in the field. He solicited the station of commander of the garrison at West Point, and in this request he was indulged by the Commander in Chief, who still had confidence in him as a military officer. He was now invested with a situation which furnished him with the meditated opportunity of executing his treasonable purpose, and avenging himself on his country, and the glorious cause of freedom. He engaged in a secret correspondence with Sir Henry Clinton, and actually agreed to put him in possession of the important garrison at West Point.
The British general appreciating the importance of the acquisition, immediately closed with him for the stipulated sum of ten thousand pounds sterling, and sent Major John Andre, his adjutant general and aid de camp, to negotiate the arrangement for the surrender of the post. A British sloop of war, called the Vulture, conveyed him up the North river within twelve miles of West Point, and in the night of the 21st of September, 1780, by direction of General Arnold, this gentleman was brought on shore under the fictitious name of John Anderson. Arnold received him on the beach, and conducted him to the house of Joshua Smith, within our lines, and the night was spent in ripening the infamous plot for execution. The following night it was attempted to reconduct him on board the Vulture, but the boatmen who had been seduced to bring him on shore, utterly refused to perform the service, and a return to New York by land was the only alternative. Arnold furnished him with numerous papers containing- all the necessary information respecting the garrison, and a passport, naming him John Anderson, on public business, with which he proceeded on his journey.
Having reached Tarritown, on his route, Andre was suddenly arrested by three militia men, who finding the above mentioned papers concealed in his boots, immediately delivered them into the hands of Lieutenant Colonel Jameson, the commanding officer on our lines. With the view of giving Arnold an opportunity to escape, Andre had the address to induce Colonel Jameson to inform him by letter that John Anderson was taken on his way to New York. On this being received by express, the guilty traitor, struck with the pressing danger of his situation, instantly informed his wife that he had received some letters, which obliged him to flee his country for ever, and desired her to retire and remain in her chamber. He now called earnestly for a horse, and mounted the first that presented ; and instead of the usual path, he took a shorter route, riding down a very steep and dangerous precipice, to the landing. This has since been called " Traitor's Hill." The barge being in readiness, he sprang into it, and ordered the boatmen to proceed down the river, and he was soon on board the Vulture, which Andre two nights before had left, and which immediately sailed with their prize for New York. Arnold was apprized that General Washington, being on his return from a journey to Hartford, intended to visit him that day, and he was momentarily expected; accordingly, his Excellency arrived soon after Arnold had absconded, and not finding him at his quarters he passed over the river to West Point, to view the works, and with the expectation of finding him at his post; but being disappointed, he returned to Arnold's quarters, where he still found that no one could account for his absence. But in a few hours despatches arrived from Colonel Jameson, announcing the capture of Major Andre, and this was accompanied by his own letter of confession. The mysterious affair was now developed. Arnold's treason and elopement admitted at once of explanation. An officer was immediately sent to our fort at Verplanck's Point, with orders to fire at Arnold's barge ; but it was too late, she had already reached the Vulture. In about an hour and a half after Arnold had absconded, Dr. Eustis, who had charge of the hospital in the vicinity, was called to the assistance of Mrs. Arnold, whose situation was alarming. He found her at the head of the staircase, in great dishabille, her hair disheveled, knowing no one, and frantic in the arms of her maid, and Arnold's two aids, struggling to liberate herself from them. She was carried back to her chamber, and fell into convulsions, which lasted several hours. In a lucid interval she inquired of the Doctor if General Washington was in the house, expressing a wish to see him. Believing that she intended to say something which would explain the secret of Arnold's unaccountable absence, he hastened below, gave notice of her request, and conducted the general to her chamber, who remained no longer than to hear her deny that he was General Washington, and to witness the return of her distraction. When Arnold deserted his post, a corporal, by name James Lurvey, was the cockswain of his barge. After their arrival on board the Vulture, and Arnold had held an interview with the officers in the cabin, he came on deck and said to his bargemen, " My lads, I have quitted the rebel army, and joined the standard of his Britannic Majesty ; if you will join me, I will make sergeants and corporals of you all, and for you, James, I will do something more." Indignant at the offer, Lurvey promptly replied, " No, Sir, one coat is enough for me to wear at a time." A worthy example of fidelity in the corporal, and a cutting sarcasm on the guilty traitor. Two only of the crew remained, and they were British deserters. The brave corporal, with the remainder of the men, returned, not however in the barge ; Arnold had the meanness to retain that for his own use, and gave them a miserable boat in exchange. After his arrival on board the Vulture, he addressed to General Washington the following letter :-
" On board the Vulture, September 25th, 1780.
" Sir,-The heart which is conscious of its own rectitude cannot attempt to palliate a step which the world may censure as wrong; I have ever acted from a principle of love to my country, since the commencement of the present unhappy contest between Great Britain and the colonies ; the same principle of 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.
" I have no favor to ask for myself; I have too often experienced the ingratitude of my country to attempt it; but from the known humanity of your Excellency, I am induced to ask your protection for Mrs. Arnold, from every insult and injury that the mistaken vengeance of my country may expose her to. It ought to fall only on me ; she is as innocent and as good as an angel, and is incapable of doing wrong. I beg she may be permitted to return to her friends in Philadelphia, or to come to me, as she may choose ; from your Excellency I have no fears on her account, but she may suffer from the mistaken fury of the country.
"I have to request that the enclosed letter may be delivered to Mrs. Arnold, and she permitted to write to me.
"I have also to ask that my clothes and baggage, which
are of little consequence, may be sent to me,-if required, their value shall
be paid in money. I have the honor to be, with great regard and esteem,
" Your Excellency's most obedient, humble servant,
" B. ARNOLD.
" His Excellency, General Washington."
" N. B. In justice to the gentlemen of my family, Colonel Varrick and Major Frank, I think myself in honor bound to declare, that they, as well as Joshua Smith, Esquire, who I know is suspected, are totally ignorant of any transactions of mine that they had reason to believe were injurious to the public."
Mrs. Arnold was permitted to go unmolested to her husband at New York, and to take her chariot with her. Arnold had the audacity to remonstrate to General Washington against the execution of Major Andre, and to attempt to intimidate him by threats of retaliation, should the unfortunate prisoner suffer ; but his Excellency treated both the traitor and his affrontive letters with sovereign contempt. He nest published an address to the people of the United States, in which he pretended to ascribe his defection from the American cause to principle, of which it is well known that he ever has been destitute. He attempts to vindicate his conduct by the ridiculous pretence that he was actuated by motives favorable to the interests of his country, by bringing the war to a speedy termination, as though the destiny of America was doomed to be at his disposal, and that he was authorized to decide the fate of millions. In his artful address he labored to palliate his own guilt, and to influence others to follow his vile example. He execrated with peculiar bitterness our alliance with France, and accused Congress of tyranny and usurpation, and a total disregard of the interest and welfare of the people. Not satisfied with this insidious appeal to the people, he addressed by proclamation " the officers and soldiers of the continental army who had the real interest of their country at heart, and who were determined to be no longer the tools and dupes of Congress or of France." As inducement to the American officers and soldiers to desert the cause which they had embraced, he represented that the corps of cavalry and infantry which he was authorized to raise, would be on the same footing with the other troops in the British service ; that he would with pleasure advance those whose valor he had witnessed, and that the private men who might join him, should receive a bounty of three guineas each, besides payment at their full value, for horses, arms and accoutrements. He endeavored to paint in lively colors the deplorable condition of our country, and to reprobate our Congress as oppressors, and their authority as tyrannical. " You are promised liberty;" he exclaims, " but is there an individual in the enjoyment of it, saving your oppressors ? Who among you dare speak or write what he thinks against the tyranny which has robbed you of your property, imprisons your persons, drags you to the field of battle, and is daily deluging your country with your blood ?" Again, " what is America now but a land of widows, orphans and beggars ? As to you who have been soldiers in the continental army, can you at this day want evidence that the funds of your country are exhausted, or that the managers have applied them to their own private uses ? In either case, you surely can no longer continue in their service with honor and advantage. Yet you have hitherto been their supporters in that cruelty which, with an equal indifference to yours as well as to the labor and blood of others, is devouring a country that from the moment you quit their colors will be redeemed from their tyranny." These proclamations failed of the effect which they were designed to produce, and notwithstanding all the hardships, sufferings and irritations which the Americans were called to encounter, " Arnold remains the solitary instance of an American officer who abandoned the side first embraced in the contest, and turned his sword on his former companions in arms." " I am mistaken," says Washington in a letter to a friend, " if at this time Arnold is undergoing the torments of a mental hell. From some traits of his character which have lately come to my knowledge, he seems to have been so hacknied in crime, so lost to all sense of honor and shame, that while his faculties still enable him to continue his sordid pursuits, there will be no time for remorse." "This man," says Hamilton, " is in every sense despicable. In addition to the scene of knavery and prostitution during his command at Philadelphia, which the late seizure of his papers has unfolded, the history of his command at West Point is a history of little as well as of great villanies. He practised every dirty act of peculation, and even stooped to connections with the sutlers of the garrison to defraud the public." A respectable officer, in a letter to a friend, speaks of Arnold in the following language. " It is not possible for human nature to receive a greater quantity of guilt than he possesses. Perhaps there is not a single obligation, moral or divine, but what he has broken through. It is discovered now, that in his most early infancy, hell marked him for her own, and infused into him a full proportion of her own malice. His late apostacy is the summit of his character. He began his negociations with the enemy, to deliver up West Point to them, long before he was invested with the command of it, and whilst he was still in Philadelphia ; after which, he solicited the command of that post from the ostensible cause that the wound in his leg incapacitated him for an active command in the field." His papers contain the most authentic and incontestible proofs of his crime, and that he regarded his important employments only as affording him opportunities to pillage the public with impunity. The crimes of this unprincipled conspirator are thus summed up. Treason, avarice, hypocricy, ingratitude, barbarity, falsehood, deception, peculation and robbery. He aimed to plunge a dagger into the bosom of his country, which had raised him from the obscurity in which he was born, to honors which never could have been the object even of his hopes. He robbed his country at the time of her deepest distress, having directed his wife to draw all she could from the commissaries' store, and sell or store it, though at a time when the army was destitute of provisions. He robbed the soldiers when they were in want of necessaries, and defrauded his own best friends who trusted and had rendered him the most essential services. He spoke contemptuously of our allies, the French, and his illiberal abuse of every character opposed to his fraudulent and wicked transactions, exceeds all description. For the sake of human nature it were to be wished that a veil could forever be thrown over such a vile example of depravity and wickedness. An effigy of Arnold, large as life, was constructed by an artist at Philadelphia, and seated in a cart, with the figure of the devil "at his elbow, holding a lantern up to the face of the traitor to show him to the people, having his name and crime in capital letters. The cart was paraded the whole evening through the streets of the city with drums and fifes playing the rogue's march, with other marks of infamy, and was attended by a vast concourse of people. The etfigy was finally hanged for the want of the original, and then committed to the flames. Yet this is the man on whom the British have bestowed ten thousand pounds sterling as the price of his treason, and appointed to the rank of brigadier general in their service. It could scarcely be imagined that there was an officer of honor left in that army, who would debase himself and his commission by serving under or ranking with Benedict Arnold ! In January, 1781, Arnold was by Sir Henry Clinton invested with the command of one thousand seven hundred men, supported by a naval force, on an expedition to Virginia, where he committed extensive ravages on the rivers and along the unprotected coast, plundering the plantations to the extent of his power. According to report, he shipped off a cargo of negroes, which he had stolen, to Jamaica, and sold them for his own emolument. Having taken an American captain prisoner, he inquired of him, what the Americans would do with him if he should fall into their hands ; the officer replied, they would cut off the leg that was wounded at Saratoga and bury it with the honors of war, and hang the remainder of his body on a gibbet. In September, 1781, Arnold was again vested with a command and sent on a predatory expedition against New London, in Connecticut, his native state. After taking possession of the fort, they made a merciless slaughter of the men who defended it, and destroyed an immense quantity of provision, stores and shipping ; sixty dwelling houses and eighty four stores were destroyed, and about one hundred inhabitants were deprived of their habitations, and most of them of their all. This terminated the career of this monster of wickedness in America. At the close of the war, he accompanied the royal army to England. " The contempt that followed him through life," says a late elegant writer,* " is further illustrated by the speech of the present Lord Lauderdale, who, perceiving Arnold on the right hand of the king, and near his person, as he addressed his parliament, declared, on his return to the commons, that however gracious the language he had heard from the throne, his indignation could not but be highly excited, at beholding, as he had done, his majesty supported by a traitor." " And on another occasion, Lord Surry, since duke of Norfolk, rising to speak in the house of commons, and perceiving Arnold in the gallery, sat down with precipitation, exclaiming, ' I will not speak while that man,' pointing to him, ' is in the house.' "
He purchased in England a quantity of goods which he brought over to New Brunswick ; the store and goods took fire, and the whole were consumed ; but according to report, they were insured to a much greater amount than their real value. After this event no further laurels remained for him to achieve; he recrossed the Atlantic, and died in London, June 14th, 1801.
* Alexander Garden, Esquire. Anecdotes of the Revolutionary War.
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