In September, 1780, a terrible shock was given to the confidence of their army by the discovery of the treachery of Benedict Arnold. To anyone who attentively follows the letters of Washington, it will appear evident that there was no officer in the American army of whom for a long period he wrote in terms of higher, warmer, and more frequent eulogy. Arnold was in truth an eminently brave and skilful soldier, and in the early stages of the struggle his services had been of the most distinguished kind. In conjunction with Colonel Allen, he had obtained the first great success of the war by capturing Ticonderoga and Crown Point in the summer of 1775. he had fallen wounded leading the forlorn hope against Quebec on the memorable day on which Montgomery was killed. In the gallant stand that was made at Ticonderoga in October, 1776, he had been placed at the head of the American fleet, and his defense of Lake Champlain against overwhelming odds had been one of the most brilliant episodes of the whole American war. He took a leading part in the campaign which ended with the capitulation of Saratoga, led in person that fierce attack on the British lines on October 7, 1777, which made the position of Burgoyne a hopeless one, was himself one of the first men to enter the British lines, and fell severely wounded at the head of his troops. No American soldier had shown a more reckless courage. Hardly any had displayed greater military skill or possest to a higher degree the confidence of the army; and if the wound he received near Saratoga had proved fatal, Benedict Arnold would have now ranked among the very foremost in the hagiology of American patriotism.
There were men, however, in Congress who greatly disliked him, and seemed to feel a peculiar pleasure in humiliating him; and in February, 1777, when Congress appointed five major-generals, Arnold was not on the list, tho every one of the officers appointed was his junior in standing. Washington was extremely displeased at this marked slight shown to one who, as he truly said, had "always distinguished himself as a judicious, brave officer, of great activity, enterprise, and perseverance." The letters of Arnold show how keenly he felt the wrong, and he spoke seriously of throwing up his commission, but was dissuaded by Washington. A few months later he displayed the most splendid daring in a skirmish with the English near Danbury, and his horse fell pierced by no less than nine bullets. Congress then granted him the promotion that had been hitherto withheld, and presented him with a horse as a token of his conspicuous gallantry, but he never regained his seniority.
The wound which he had received near Saratoga was painful and disabling, and he for a long time could only move about with assistance. Being incapable of taking an active part in the war, Washington placed him in command at Philadelphia after that city had been evacuated by the English, and he there fell under new and powerful influences. His first wife had died in the summer of 1775, when he was in the midst of his Northern campaign, and, in April, 1779, after a long courtship, he married Miss Shippen, a young lady of great beauty and attraction, who belonged to one of the leading families in Philadelphia, and to a family of Tory sympathies. He loved her deeply and faithfully, and there is something inexpressibly touching in the tender affection and the undeviating admiration for her husband, which she retained through all the vicissitudes of his dark and troubled life.
He mixt much in the best society at Philadelphia, and altho the more decided loyalists had been driven into exile, the social atmosphere was still very Tory, and many of the best and most respected citizens were secretly sighing for the overthrow of what they regarded as the revolutionary tyranny, and for a return to the settled condition of the past. He kept open house, plunged into expenses far greater than he could meet, and, like many other American officers, entered into several enterprises which were not military. He speculated largely. He took part in various commercial undertakings. He had shares in privateering expeditions, but his speculations do not appear to have been successful, and he was sinking rapidly into debt. Party spirit ran furiously at Philadelphia, and Arnold, who had nothing of the tact and self-control of Washington, soon made many enemies.
A long series of charges against him were laid before Congress, some of them deeply affecting his honor, and amounting to little short of an imputation of swindling, while others were of the most trivial description. Congress referred the matter to a committee, which reported in favor of Arnold; but, in spite of this report, Congress insisted on sending Arnold, on some of the charges, before a court-martial. The proceedings were greatly delayed, and nearly a year passed between the promulgation of the charges and the final decision, and during all this time the commander of the chief town in the States and one of the most distinguished generals in the American service, was kept in a condition of the most painful and humiliating suspense. He resented it fiercely, and was little mollified by the result of the court-martial. On all the graver charges he was acquitted, and he was condemned only on two counts of the most petty character. He had exceeded his powers in giving a passport to a vessel containing American property which was in Philadelphia while that town was occupied by the English, and he had, on one occasion, employed public wagons to convey some of his private property. This, the court-martial said, ought not to have been done," tho Arnold had no design of employing the wagons otherwise than at his own private expense, nor of defrauding the public, nor of injuring or impeding the public service." For these two offenses he was condemned to the great humiliation of a formal and a public reprimand.
Washington, who was obliged to execute the sentence of the court-martial, did the utmost in his power to mitigate the blow, and nothing could be more skilful than the language with which he made his reprimand the vehicle of a high eulogy on the services and the character of Arnold?.2 While the sentence of the court-martial was in suspense, another stroke had fallen which affected both his fortune and his reputation. During his command in Canada, be had often acted as commissary and quartermaster. Much public money had passed through his hands, and he had large claims upon Congress. His accounts were examined at great length, and after great delay, by the Board of Treasury and by a committee of Congress, they were found to be in much confusion, which was possibly due to the hurry and turmoil of an active campaign, and a large part of the claims of Arnold were disallowed. How far the sentence was just, it is now impossible to say. . . .
Early in 1779 he had sent some letters to Clinton under the name of Gustavus, in which, without revealing his name or his rank, and without making any positive overtures, he had exprest his dislike to the French alliance, and had from time to time given the British commander pieces of authentic intelligence. On the English side the correspondence was chiefly conducted under a false name by Major André, the Adjutant General of the British army, a young officer of singular promise and popularity. After the sentence of the court-martial, Arnold appears at last to have fully determined to go over to the English, and he was equally determined not to go over as a mere insignificant and isolated individual. Ambition, cupidity, and revenge must all be gratified. At Saratoga he had done much to ruin the British cause. He would now undo, and more than undo, his work, annihilate by an act of skilful treachery the only considerable army in the North, restore America to peace and to British rule, and make himself the Monk of the Revolution. Few great plots have more nearly succeeded. Tho there had been murmurs about the leniency of Arnold to Tories and about the admission of Tories into his society, his fidelity to the American cause seems to have been quite unsuspected, and Washington especially looked upon him with the most perfect confidence. On the plea that his wound was not yet sufficiently cured, Arnold excused himself from serving actively with Washington in the field, but he asked for and easily obtained the command of West Point, which included all the American forts in the highlands, and was the essential key of the whole American position. He arrived at West Point in the first week of August, and lost very little time in concerting with Clinton for a surrender of the post to the British.
Clinton has been absurdly blamed for listening to these overtures, but he only acted as any general of any nation would have acted, and he would have deserved the gravest censure if he had neglected such an opportunity of bringing to an end the desolation and the bloodshed of the war. It was necessary to send a confidential agent to arrange the details of the surrender and the terms of the bargain, and this task was committed to André. Arnold invited him to come within the American lines, but both Clinton and André. himself positively declined the proposal, and Clinton was determined that nothing should be done that could bring André. under the category of a spy. A British sloop called the Vulture, with André. on board, sailed up the Hudson River to within a few miles of the American camp; and Washington having just left the camp on a visit to the French commander at Hartford, a boat, with muffled oars, was sent by Arnold a little before midnight to the Vulture to bring André. to shore. The boatmen were wholly ignorant of the nature of their mission. They were furnished with a passport authorizing them to pass freely with a flag of truce, but they were told that it was of public interest that the expedition should be secret.
Arnold and André. met at a lonely spot on the bank of the river.3 The meeting was on the night of September 21. André wore his uniform, covered by a blue great-coat, and the spot where the interview took place was outside the American lines, so that if they had been arrested there, André. could not have been treated otherwise than as a prisoner of war. The nights, however, were still short, and the daylight having dawned before the affair was fully arranged, it became necessary either to leave it unfinished and risk the dangers of a second interview, or else to seek some place of concealment. Arnold then induced André. to enter the American lines and take shelter in the house of a man named Smith, who was devoted to the American General, and who had already been employed to bring André to shore. He remained there during the day, and in the evening, all being arranged, André prepared to return.
In the meantime, however, the Vulture had been noticed with suspicion by the American soldiers, and had been compelled to change her position in consequence of a cannon which was brought to bear on her. The risk of carrying André back by water was so great that Smith refused to incur it, and the only chance of safety was to return by land to New York, a distance of about thirty miles. To accomplish this object André. exchanged his British uniform for a civilian's dress; he obtained from Arnold a pass enabling him under the name of John Anderson to traverse the American lines, and he concealed in his boots unsigned papers written by Arnold containing such full and detailed information as would enable Clinton without difficulty to seize the fortifications of West Point. On the evening of the 22d he passed the American lines in safety under the guidance of Smith, and slept in a house beyond them, and the next day he set out alone to complete his journey. It is strange to think how largely the course of modern history depended upon that solitary traveler, for had André reached New York, the plot would almost certainly have succeeded, and the American Revolution been crusht. He had not, however, proceeded far, when he was stopt by three young men, who were playing cards near the road.4 They have been called militiamen, but appear, according to better accounts, to have been members of a party who were engaged in cattle stealing for their own benefit. Had André produced at once his pass, he would probably have been allowed to proceed in safety, but in the confusion of the moment he believed that the men were British, and he proclaimed himself a British officer. Finding his mistake, he then produced his pass, but his captors at once proceeded to search him, and tho they found little or no money, they discovered the papers in his boots, and altho André promised that they would obtain a large reward if they released him, or took him to New York, they determined to carry him to the nearest American outpost. Colonel Jamieson, who commanded there, recognized the handwriting of Arnold, but he did not realize the treachery of his chief, and he sent a letter to Arnold, informing him that papers of a very compromising character had been found on a person just arrested, who carried a pass signed by the General. The papers were sent on to Washington, who was now returning from Hartford.
Arnold was expecting the arrival of Washington, and his house5 was filled with company when the letter, announcing the arrest of André arrived. For a moment he is said to have changed countenance, but he quickly recovered himself, rose from the table, and telling his guests that he had an immediate call to visit one of the forts at the opposite side of the river, he ordered a horse to be at once brought to the door. He called his wife upstairs, and, after a short interview, left her in a fainting condition, mounted his horse, galloped at full speed down the steep descent to the river, and, springing into a barge, ordered the boatmen to row him to the middle of the stream. They obeyed his command, and he then told them to row swiftly to the Vulture. He was going there, he said, with a flag of truce, and as he must be back in time to receive Washington, there was not a moment to be lost. As he passed the American batteries he waved a white handkerchief as a sign of truce, and in a short time, and before any rumors of his treason were abroad, he stood on the deck under the British flag.
1From Lecky's "American Revolution." Published by D. Appleton & Co. By arrangement with Mrs. Lecky and her late husband's English publishers, Longmans, Green & Co., and with D. Appleton & Co.
2 Washington's words to Arnold were these: "Our profession is the chastest of all. The shadow of a fault tarnishes our most brilliant actions. The least inadvertence may cause us to lose that public favor which is so hard to be gained. I reprimand you for having forgotten that in proportion as you had rendered yourself formidable to our enemies, you should have shown moderation toward our citizens. Exhibit again those splendid qualities which have placed you in the rank of our most distinguished generals. As far as it shall be in my power, I will myself furnish you with opportunities for regaining the esteem which you have formerly enjoyed."
3 In the Joshua Smith house, on the west bank of the Hudson at a place still called Treason Hill.
4 A monument on Broadway, in Tarrytown, New York, now marks the place where André was stopt.
5The Robinson house, opposite West Point, burned a few years ago.