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Americana Corner: ‘Arnold has betrayed us’
tom hand new

Lieutenant Colonel John Jameson, who commanded the unit that had captured the British spy Major John Andre, ordered an aide to take word to General Benedict Arnold about Major John Andre’s capture. He sent another aide to find and inform General George Washington as well.

On Sept. 25, shortly after dawn, General Washington arrived at the outskirts of West Point and inspected the outer works of the fort. He sent two aides ahead to inform Arnold that Washington’s party would be at his headquarters for a late breakfast.

Due to a series of delays, the messenger sent by Jameson to Arnold with news of Andre’s capture did not arrive until that morning, just as Arnold was sitting down to his own breakfast with his wife Peggy and Washington’s two aides. Arnold quietly read Jameson’s letter at the table, but the shock on Arnold’s face was palpable.

He called Peggy upstairs and informed her that their scheme had blown up and that he must flee immediately. Informed that Washington was approaching, Arnold raced downstairs passed the startled aides, mounted his horse, and announced he was going to prepare for Washington’s arrival. Instead, he went to the river and ordered his bargemen to take him downriver and fast.

Washington arrived a few minutes later and was surprised to find Arnold away from headquarters, but assumed General Arnold had a good reason for his absence. Late that afternoon, as Washington was cleaning up from a long day, the messenger that Colonel Jameson sent out to find Washington with news of Andre’s capture finally arrived. He gave Jameson’s packet to Washington’s aide, Colonel Alexander Hamilton, who read the shocking contents that implicated Arnold.

Hamilton informed Washington of Arnold’s deception and the commander slumped in his chair. Hamilton later stated he had never seen Washington so visibly shaken, and he asked Hamilton to summon General Knox and General Lafayette who were traveling with him. As they entered the room, Washington, feeling the deepest sadness imaginable, uttered, “Arnold has betrayed us.”

Major Andre, by all accounts a true gentleman and capable officer, was hanged by Washington’s orders on October 2. Prior to execution of sentence, Washington offered British commander Sir Henry Clinton a trade of Andre for Arnold, but Clinton refused. Ironically, the reason given by Clinton was that surrendering the arch traitor would not be considered honorable.

Peggy, when finally shown into General Washington’s presence, pretended to not recognize Washington even though she had known him since she was 14. She put on a performance as if she had lost her mind, screeching about someone trying to kill her baby and never seeing Arnold again. Washington, clearly flustered by her antics and feeling sorry for her, became convinced of her complete innocence.

Washington had Peggy escorted back to Philadelphia, but she was not welcomed there and finally ended up in New York City with her husband. Peggy eventually had five children with Benedict that survived to adulthood, and all four boys became officers in the British Army. Peggy died with modest means in 1804 at the age of 44.

Within days of his escape, Benedict Arnold was made a Brigadier General in the British Army. He had the audacity to write to General Washington and claim that he had changed sides in the war for the “love of my country” and that Peggy was “as innocent as an angel.” He also asked the General if he would be so kind as to forward his clothes to him in New York. That did not happen.

In 1781, British General Benedict Arnold led Redcoat detachments on two raids, one to Richmond, Virginia and the other to New London, Connecticut. Not surprisingly, both were daring, and both were successful.

Following Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, General Arnold and Peggy sailed for London where they remained for four years. Arnold was offered no further opportunities in the Army and his efforts to make money in the private sector went nowhere. Even by the British, he was viewed as a mercenary who had acted dishonorably against his friends and country.

In 1785, the Arnold’s sailed for New Brunswick, hoping for a fresh start. But, in typical Arnold fashion, Benedict soon became embroiled in lawsuits and controversy. After his fellow townspeople burned him in effigy in front of Peggy and the children in 1791, the family returned to London.

He next took up privateering and successfully fought against the French in the Caribbean over several years. Arnold’s health began to decline, and he died in June 1801. Despite being one of the great battlefield generals of his age, Benedict Arnold was not buried with military honors.

So why should the saga of Benedict Arnold matter to us today?

Benedict Arnold was an incredibly talented man but always with an eye on his own self-interest. Arnold was not a man to be denied what he felt he deserved, and he always justified his actions in his own mind.

His terrible deceit was the culmination of several years of perceived slights. When his country failed to give him the rewards he felt he deserved, Arnold simply betrayed it.

Perhaps the key takeaway is that for those with self-interest as their primary motive, especially those in powerful positions, almost any treachery is possible.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”,

Love of country leads me.

Ford Field and River Club resident Tom Hand is an Army veteran and West Point alumnus. You can read more of his work at www.americanacorner. com.

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