Benedict Arnold

The country through which the Hudson flows was the principal theatre of the war. A station in this quarter would, he thought, best answer his purpose. He was well acquainted with the localities. He examined, with minute attention, in what spot, by what operations, he could most beneficially second the enterprises of the British, and which was the most important position to betray into their hands. New York was, at this time, in the hands of the British, who had assembled there the greatest part of their troops. The fortress of West Point, a military station of very great importance, is distant twenty leagues from this city. Arnold aimed at the chief command of this post, with a view of betraying it into the hands of the British, with the garrisons, and the arms and immense stores which were deposited there; for Fort Clinton contained, besides the ammunition necessary for its own defense, the stock of powder of the whole army. The command of the fort had been entrusted to general Howe, an officer of tried courage, but of limited capacity, who could be employed elsewhere without inconvenience to the service. The wounds of Arnold did not as yet allow him to mount on horseback; they did not disqualify him, however, for conducting the defense of a citadel. He had early secured the patronage of some of the leading men of the State of New York, and Washington was prevailed upon to consign West Point to him. Being a traitor to his own country, he was apprehensive lest those to whom he was about to sell himself, might prove treacherous to him. He felt anxious to receive the price of his ignominious bargain at the moment of its ratification; but he could extort nothing more than a promise of 30,000 pounds sterling, and the assurance that he should be maintained in the British army in the rank of brigadier-general, which he already held. About a month previous (July 10, 1780,) the first division of the French army arrived at Newport, in the State of Rhode Island. The situation of the English became every day more and more critical. Sir Henry Clinton had relinquished his projected expedition. He urged Arnold to fulfill his engagements, and supposed the thing easy for a general who was master of the forts and the river; but there were, in fact, numerous obstacles in the way, and of these the presence of the commander-in-chief was the most serious. Arnold knew his vigilance and activity. He insisted, therefore, with Clinton on the necessity of deliberation, adding, however, that all should be in readiness to improve the first favorable opportunity. A young officer of foreign extraction served in the British Army. He was endowed with all the qualities which render a man useful to his country, and dear to society. This was JOHN ANDRE, adjutant-general of the British army. General Sir Henry Clinton had taken him as his aid-de-camp, and did not disdain him as a counselor. To him Clinton committed the business of negotiating with Arnold. A correspondence ensued between Arnold and Andre, under the names of Gustavus and Anderson. Mercantile relations were feigned, to disguise the real object, and an American, whose dwelling stood between the lines that separated the two armies, served as a common messenger. At this period the rumor began to spread of a second division of the French army having sailed, and that Washington only awaited its arrival to begin the siege of New York. The marshal de Castries, who then administered the department of the marine with so much reputation, had, in fact, advised the French envoy of the approaching departure of a second expedition. Clinton caused Arnold to be told that it was time to act; that a day must be fixed for the surrender of the forts; and that, if time were given to the allies to effect a junction, it might no longer be in the power of Arnold himself to fulfill his engagements. He asked, also, plans of the forts, and the instructions necessary for the safe guidance of the British troops when they were sent to take possession of West Point. Arnold replied to these new importunities in the language concerted with Andre: Our master goes away the 17th of this month. He will be absent five or six days. Let us avail ourselves of this interval to arrange our business. Come immediately and meet me at the lines, and we will settle definitively the risks and profits of the copartnership. All will be ready; but this interview is indispensable, and must precede the sailing of our ship.' It was thus that Arnold apprized Clinton of the approaching departure of the commander-in-chief. Washington had, in fact, given a rendezvous to count de Rochambeau, general of the French land forces, and to the chevalier de Ternay, commander of the squadron. They were to meet at Hartford, in Connecticut, to confer about the operations of this and the ensuing campaigns. But Arnold was not correctly advised as to the period of Washington's departure, and the mistake led to important consequences. He had, in other letters, solicited an interview with Andre, and he now exacted it as a condition indispensable for the prosecution of the enterprise. Hitherto, everything had succeded beyond his hopes. There had been a total absence of those mysterious rumors, and vague surmises, which accompany, and seem to portend, a great conspiracy. Never had so momentous a plot been more felicitously brought so near to its execution. This profound secrecy was owing to the precaution of Arnold, in not having unbosomed himself to any of his own countrymen, and in admitting only Andre and Robinson as correspondents.