How Benedict Arnold Went from a Hero to a Traitor

Benedict Arnold was seen as the hero of the American Revolution, but his fame soon ended once he was discovered to be a traitor. He was notorious for attempting to sell his command at West Point to the British during the American Revolution, and thus became one of the most popular traitors in U.S. history.

Benedict Arnold was a highly complex figure in American history. Before he turned out to be a traitor, he was known all throughout the land as the biggest hero of the American Revolution. Even though his actions showed his true side and that he was impulsive, tactless and hypersensitive, Arnold was also known by many as being confident, tireless, proactive and a natural leader who was admired by the men he commanded.

Recently documents that were made available by on Fold3 by researcher Karen Lee, shows both sides of the multifaceted historic figure.

A Look Back at Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold was born in Connecticut and spent his childhood there. He became a successful merchant by the time the Revolutionary War began. Wanting to serve his country, he joined up with the local militia and became their captain. The militia later travelled to Massachusetts to join with others involved in the resistance against the British.

The Raid At Fort Ticonderoga

When Arnold heard that the Patriot cause was low on arms and ammunition, he suggested to the Massachusetts leaders that he raid a poorly defended British fort, which was Fort Ticonderoga, in New York. With their approval, Arnold left on his mission in May of 1775. However, he was too late in his planning and found out that Ethan Allen was also heading to complete the exact same mission. The two men eventually agreed to a joint command and managed to successfully raid the fort together.

Under the Command of General George Washington

Later that fall, General George Washington, who was the new commander for the new Continental Army, requested that Arnold take troops to attack Quebec as part of a two-prong attack on Canada.

In a letter that was sent from Washington to Arnold, he stated “You are immediately, on their march from Cambridge, to take command of the detachment of the Continental Army against Quebec and use all possible expedition as the winter season is now advancing and the success of this enterprise, under God, depends wholly upon the spirit with which it is pushed.”

The Attack on Quebec

It was a very difficult journey, yet Arnold and his men finally arrived at their point, exhausted and starving. Still, He was determined to achieve his objective. After gaining reinforcements by additional American troops, they started their attack on Quebec.

Unfortunately, they had arrived at their point on New Year’s Eve during a heavy snow storm. The attack failed and Arnold was shot in the leg, but he still gained the admiration of his men, as seen from an excerpt from a journal in Fold3’s Pennsylvania Archives by one of the men under his command. He stated that…

“Our commander Arnold was of a remarkable character. He was brave, even to temerity, was beloved of the soldiery, perhaps for that quality only.”

Halting the British Fleet in 1776

In 1776, Arnold made a name for himself when he led a small fleet to take on British Ships on Lake Champion and halt their planned invasion of New York. Although the Americans were forced to escape the British by night and burn their own ship, the fight delayed the British enough so that they couldn’t attack before the harsh winter conditions began.

Battle of Saratoga in 1777

In one of his most famous victories, Arnold butted heads with the commanding officer, General Gates. Arnold disobeyed orders to stay at the camp and instead rallied troops and rode off, helping the Americans to gain a much-needed victory. He ended up wounding the same leg that was shot in Quebec, but contrary to popular belief, he didn’t lose a leg.

Washington Appoints Arnold As Military Governor

George Washington appointed Arnold the military governor of Philadelphia in 1778. Arnold joined the local high society, which included many people who were still loyal to the British. Arnold had fallen into debt, and unsuccessfully worked to get reimbursed by Congress for money he had spent on the war effort. He sent a petition where he asks to get repaid for his expenses on the Quebec expedition, and also asked for an allowance for his expenses as the governor of Philadelphia

The Point when Benedict Arnold Went from Hero to Traitor

Later on, Arnold got involved in some questionable behavior. He started making shady deals in order to get money quickly and sometimes he would misuse army resources and abuse his position of authority. These actions irritated his enemies within the Patriot cause and Arnold was court-mandated for his actions.

While he was eventually cleared of all charges, he was deeply offended. These events only added to his belief of injustice done toward him by those within the Patriot leadership. He even felt that they didn’t appreciate what he had done for his country.

Arnold asked for and obtained the command of West Point in the summer of 1780 from George Washington, who had always stood up for Arnold. Once West Point was under his command, Arnold met with his liaison with the British, Major John Andre. However, as Andre was returning from their meeting with the incriminating documents Arnold had provided him with, he was captured, and later hanged by the Americans.

Arnold heard of Andre’s capture and fled to the British before he could be captured himself. It was the final step in what Alexander Hamilton referred to as “the blackest treason.”