Benedict Arnold

BENEDICT ARNOLD was one of the most distinguished generals in the American army during the earlier part of the contest of the colonies with Great Britain, and subsequently infamous as a traitor to his country, was born in Connecticut, of obscure parentage, and received an education suitable to an humble condition. The occupations of his youth were not fitted to prepare him for the functions which he was called upon to exercise in the sequel. At first a dealer in horses, he sustained losses in his trade. Eager for renown, greedy of money, the troubles of his country inspired him with the hope of acquiring fame and fortune by the profession of arms: accordingly, on the breaking out of the revolutionary war, he embraced the cause of his countrymen with enthusiasm, and took the command of a company of volunteers at New Haven. He soon won a high military reputation. Washington, encouraged by secret advices that the Canadians were inclined to make part of the Union, projected the surprise of Quebec. This hazardous undertaking required leaders at once active, vigilant, bold, and inflexibly patient. He committed it to Montgomery and colonel Arnold, as the most capable. He exhorted them, with extreme earnestness, to treat the Canadians as friends, as fellow-citizens, and to punish severely the least irregularities of the soldiery. Arnold began his march in the month of September. He conducted his small force through deserts which man had never before penetrated. The river of Kennebeck had overflowed its banks; he crossed it by swimming, or on rafts. Unknown streams presented a new obstacle: he diverted their course. The snow fell in abundance; a few hours of sun during the day were insufficient to thaw the ice formed in the long and severe nights of the northern autumn; but nothing could arrest his progress. He was always in the van with the pioneers, who cut a passage through this wild country, and, at the end of each march, had arrived before the enemy knew of his approach. He thus put in practice a maxim which he was fond of repeating: 'In war, expedition is equivalent to strength.' The last division, conducted by a man less resolute and persevering, returned; while he, at the head of the two first, sustained the courage of the soldiers, who were exhausted by fatigue, hunger and every species of suffering. After two months of toil, all impediments were overcome, and he encamped before the fortress, but with a band so much enfeebled, that he was obliged to await the arrival of Montgomery, who approached by another route. Montgomery died gloriously in an assault, December 31, 1775. Arnold was severely wounded in the leg, and forced to convert the siege into a blockade. He was not, however, to be daunted by any reverse. From the bed to which his wound confined him, he infused into the little army, the command of which had now devolved upon him, his own spirit of determination and confidence. The enterprise failed: the courage and intelligence which he exhibited throughout, placed him, nevertheless, in the first class of American officers. He served with better fortune, and still greater distinction, in the subsequent campaigns, and bore a considerable part in that in which Burgoyne and his army were made prisoners. He fought with his usual intrepidity in the engagement which immediately preceded the capitulation. The first to throw himself into the intrenchments of the enemy, he was animating his men by his example, when a ball shattered the leg already wounded at the siege of Quebec. As he was borne from the ranks to his tent, he still issued orders for the continuance of the assault. The boldness of Arnold was so great, that he was accused of a disposition to entangle himself rashly in perilous situations; b ut it could not be denied, that his rapid discernment supplied him, in the midst of danger, with the surest expedients, and that success always justified his daring. The admiration of his fellow-citizens kept pace with his services. His love of glory was accompanied with an equally strong love of pleasure and dissipation, and he was very unscrupulous about the mode of obtaining the means of gratifying it. His ill-gotten wealth he squandered in frivolous expenses, or mere ostentation. Montreal, the second city of Canada, was, under his command, a scene of injustice and rapacity, and the Canadians soon abandoned the design of joining the confederation. The attempt on Canada was abandoned, and, the wounds of Arnold being not yet healed, he could be invested only with some stationary command. Washington, though he detested his vices, did not wish to leave his talents idle. The English having evacuated Philadelphia, he directed. Arnold to take possession of that city with some troops of the Pennsylvania line, - a delicate charge for a man so prone to extend his powers, and define them according to his interests. It was not long before he displayed in this city a magnificence as foreign to the habits of the country, as it was unseasonable in the midst of the calamities of war. He even lodged in his house the French envoy and all his suite on their arrival. From this time, too, he began to profess an extraordinary attachment to the French, and great zeal for an alliance with them. To relieve himself from the difficulties into which his extravagance had plunged him, he resorted to the same oppression and extortion which had rendered his authority odious to the Canadians. Under pretense of the wants of the army, he forbade the shopkeepers to sell or buy; he then put their goods at the disposal of his agents, and caused them afterwards to be resold with a profit. He prostituted his authority to enrich his accomplices, and spabbled with them about the division of the prey. The citizens applied for redress to the courts of justice. But, with his military authority as his shield, he set at defiance both justice and the laws.