If you’ve heard the name Benedict Arnold, it’s very likely one thing comes to mind: traitor.
The name Benedict Arnold is now synonymous with traitors, treason, and betrayal—and with good reason.
Here are 8 interesting facts about how this 18th century military officer became one of the most vilified characters in U.S. history.
Benedict Arnold: 8 Facts about the Military Traitor
1. He was the fifth Benedict Arnold.
Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut, in January, 1741. His name was shared with his father, great-grandfather, and three other family members. His great-grandfather—the original Benedict Arnold—was the first governor of the colony of Rhode Island, under the Royal Charter of 1663.
The first governor was a wealthy and highly respected land owner, who would serve as governor several times before his death. He, like many of the family, was buried at the Arnold Cemetery at Newport.
2. He hadn’t planned to enter politics or the military.
By the time Arnold had turned 26, he had worked as a pharmacist, owned a general store, and moved into the shipping industry. He bought three merchant vessels, and used them to trade goods in Canada and the West Indies. Later, reports would show that these ventures made Arnold heartily opposed to British taxation laws, and ultimately drove him to smuggling, an interesting fact about Benedict Arnold.
3. One of his trading trips ended in a duel.
Whilst on a voyage to the Bay of Honduras, Arnold was invited to a party by a British Captain Croskie. He forgot to RSVP, and missed the party. Croskie was not impressed, and insulted Arnold for his lack of gentlemanly manners. Arnold—offended by how the Brit received his apology—challenged the other man to a duel.
Croskie fired first, but missed, and Arnold fired his shot—grazing Croskie. A doctor, who was at the ready to treat the losing duelist, treated Croskie. Croskie came back for a second try at young Benedict. Arnold told Croskie that if he missed this time, Arnold would kill him. The captain backed down, apologizing to Arnold.
4. He failed to capture Canada.
In 1775, George Washington sent Arnold—one of the most trusted men in his inner circle—to lead a military march on Quebec, an interesting fact about Benedict Arnold. America believed at that point that Canada would be willing to join them in reclaiming control of the country from England. They were wrong.
Arnold led his campaign through Maine and up to attack Quebec City, while Brigadier General Montgomery took his men to Montreal.
The entire campaign went badly. Arnold’s map wasn’t properly designed, and the distance between Maine and Quebec City was too far for the amount of rations the army had carried. His soldiers had to resort to eating dogs, squirrels, and chewing leather to stave off their hunger on the arduous march.
The weather was also much worse than they had planned for—severe gale-force winds, storms, and flash flooding destroyed their equipment along with their morale.
The failed campaign reached Quebec City in November, with only half the soldiers it had started with. Some had deserted, many had died, many were too ill to continue to Quebec and had sought refuge along the way. When the Americans began their assault on the city, reinforced by Montgomery and his army, 400 of their men were captured—including Montgomery—and Arnold almost lost his leg. Despite their massive defeat, the American’s remained in Quebec until 1776. In May of that year, British forces arrived to drive them back across the Canadian border.
5. He had another chance to prove himself against the British.
After America’s massive defeat in Quebec, Britain decided to capitalize on the opportunity to push forward. They built a new fleet of ships to advance towards the southern shores of Lake Champlain—where Arnold and his soldiers were waiting.
The army Arnold led built ships of their own, to accompany the four vessels captured earlier.
In October , 1776, the 15-strong American flotilla went against the British, and were able to hold them back temporarily.
British forces had superior weaponry, and eventually eliminated 11 of Arnold’s 15 ships, and more than 200 rebel soldiers. Although eventually, the Americans had to retreat, their bravery and courage were able to buy rebel forces some time to prepare for an invasion.
6. He had an unlucky leg.
After Arnold’s leg was injured during the battle at Quebec City, he needed to spend considerable time recovering. The leg had mostly healed before the battle at Saratoga, where he was shot in the same leg. The bullet passed through, and killed his horse, who then fell and rolled over the leg with the bullet wound—crushing it.
Arnold, who was serving as Major General at the time, spent many months in hospital, but his unlucky leg never fully recovered, a crazy fact about Benedict Arnold.
7. He signed a loyalty oath before he betrayed his country.
In 1778, in front of witnesses, Arnold signed and swore an oath of loyalty to his army, the Continental Congress, and his country.
Several months later, George Washington—in an attempt to give Arnold a role that wouldn’t put too much pressure on his severely wounded leg—sent him to Philadelphia as military commander.
Arnold wasn’t comfortable with the American contingent in Philadelphia, and it is well known that he gravitated more towards the British sympathizing upper class. It is there that he met, and married, Peggy Shippen in 1779.
His new and extravagant lifestyle, coupled with his new pro-British wife, drew judgment and suspicion, and Arnold was court martialed in 1779. The court martial process was mainly due to accusations of illegal trading, and misuse of government resources. He was cleared of all charges, but shamed by the process.
It was around this time that Arnold was growing pessimistic about the rebellion’s chance of success. In tandem with his wife’s position on the war, and her connections with British political characters, Arnold made the first move to switch sides and join the British.
8. He abused his longest lasting friendship.
Benedict Arnold used his close relationship with George Washington—who was known to join him for breakfast when they were in the same area—to gain command of West Point. In 1780, Washington agreed to give his friend the post. Less than 30 days later, Arnold offered the fort to the opposition for the current equivalent of $4.8 million.
The level of treason committed by Benedict Arnold has seen him go down in history as the biggest traitor of all time. Historians have long pointed out that his betrayal of his army at West Point wasn’t a one-off deal—he continued to lead assaults on Virginia and Connecticut (his home state)—long after his treason was discovered. His betrayal was deep, as he actively fought against—and killed—men he had led for over a decade.
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