Jewish World Review July 31, 2003 / 2 Menachem-Av, 5763

Jeff Elder

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How a dashing hero became a notorious traitor


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Q: If Benedict Arnold was a hero for America at the Battles of Saratoga, why did he switch sides? - Bill Johnson

A: You've hit on the fascinating part of Benedict Arnold's story, Bill: He wasn't just one of the most infamous traitors in history. Before that he was a gallant hero of the Revolutionary War.

Modern spies might engage in a little cloak-and-dagger stuff, but usually they're geeky bureaucrats who sweatily palm intelligence documents beneath fluorescent lights. Their weapons of choice are the paper clip and the laptop.

Benedict Arnold, on the other hand, was a swashbuckling field general famous for his unbending pride and willingness to take risks.

At Gen. George Washington's request, Arnold marched 600 men through the Maine wilderness in the wintertime to mount an assault on Quebec. When he was shot in the leg, he refused to be removed from Quebec and insisted on shouting battle directives from his sickbed.

Arnold led sea battles that made rival colonial officers jealous.

And at Saratoga, N.Y., where key battles in 1777 helped turn the war in favor of the Americans, he was brilliant. One of his soldiers later wrote that at Saratoga Arnold was "the very genius of war." On that battlefield Arnold's horse fell on top of him, shattering the same leg he'd been shot in earlier. He was left lame.

After all that, why would Arnold betray the country he'd served valiantly?

Money and pride.

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Throughout Arnold's military career, he was brash and impatient. He regularly clashed with superiors and colleagues. (Washington was one of his few supporters.) This curtailed his promotions and left him underpaid, bitter and unliked. For years his resentment built.

After the Battles of Saratoga, Arnold was placed in command of Philadelphia.

Suddenly in the lap of luxury, he ladled on indulgences. After years of resenting the colonial army, he began to socialize with families sympathetic to the British. Soon short of cash, he broke military regulations about finances, and yet again tussled with his colonial authorities.

Now his villainy began.

In 1779, Arnold married a young woman who was loyal to the British. He made secret overtures to British headquarters, and a year later informed the British of a proposed American invasion of Canada. He later revealed that he expected to obtain the command of West Point, N.Y., and asked the British for a small fortune for betraying this post.

Arnold's British contact, a spy named Maj. John Andre, was captured by the Americans and the plot was foiled. Arnold escaped on a British ship, leaving Andre to be hanged as a spy.

The former dashing hero was now a turncoat and a coward who even betrayed his partner in treason.

Arnold moved to England, where he was also disliked. Several of his business ventures failed. He remained there, ostracized, and ailing, until he died in 1801.

CHECK THIS OUT

_On the grounds of the Saratoga National Historic Park, there's a monument to Benedict Arnold's leg. The monument, which includes a stirring statue of Arnold's boot, sits on the spot where Arnold's horse fell on him during the Battle of Freeman's Farm, the last place he displayed patriotism and bravery before becoming the nation's most infamous traitor.

SOURCES: Encyclopedia Britannica, The Valley Forge Historical Society, "The Traitor And The Spy," PBS.

___

QUICK QUIZ

And now, a quick quiz on cars

1. What longtime pop-rock band took its name from an early truck?

2. What big Chevy, around since the '30s, was a forebear of the SUV?

3. What car company made the legendary Silver Shadow?

4. What happens more often to Toyota Camrys than to any other car?

___

ANSWERS

1. REO Speedwagon

2. The Suburban

3. Rolls Royce

4. They're stolen

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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here.

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