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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Two Sides to Every Story: Benedict Arnold

With this segment of Two Sides I’m taking the concept a little differently than in the past. Usually I present two opposing sides to an issue/question, but this time I want to present the two different sides of a single person.

Benedict Arnold is known primarily to most people as a traitor to the American cause during the American Revolutionary War. Many do not know more about him than that. Arnold is one of the most fascinating characters to me during this time period, because he is so much more complex than just a traitor and I think it is worth knowing about.

American Revolutionary War Hero
Henry Bryan Hall, Sr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Benedict Arnold was a General on the side of the colonists during the American Revolution. He had many great moments during his wartime service and many of his successes were major contributors to the continuation of the War during its early years. Arnold acted valiantly during the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, an attack on Quebec, and the Battle of Valcour Island. Even when he lost the fight, he still succeeded in delaying British forward action. He had his leg broken during the Quebec initiative. Arnold’s best known battle accomplishment was at Saratoga. Going against orders, Arnold led an attack at Saratoga – which ultimately led to General Burgoyne surrendering and Arnold being shot in the same leg that was injured at Quebec. This effectively ended his military career, despite being named military commander of Philadelphia.
Traitor to the American Cause

Following Arnold’s injury, and rehabilitation, he was repeatedly passed over for promotions that he thought he should have been entitled to. Being upset with his leadership chain of command and his frequently being passed over for promotion, Arnold in 1778 agreed to work with British intelligencer John Andre, with the aid of his wife Peggy, to turn over West Point to the British. He succeeded in passing critical documents related to the defense of West Point to Andre, but fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your side) Andre was captured behind American lines with that damning information and Arnold’s gig was up. He fled to the British lines and joined their cause, but he was never really accepted there and did not find success.

Benedict Arnold’s life is divided into two distinct time periods, his heroic phase and his traitor phase. I think that it is important to view his actions in these two separate spheres. Without his successes at Saratoga, the French very likely would not have entered the war, as this battle was critical in their decision to support the Americans. And there would have been a greater chance of the American’s not winning the war. There is even an unnamed monument to Arnold at the Saratoga battlefield in the shape of his injured leg to commemorate his important successes there. But his disillusionment with his inability to have the successes he believed he deserved, and the careful promptings of his wife, led him to put his country behind his ambitions and turn his coat.

How much do you know about Benedict Arnold?  Do you think it is important to judge a person based on their last actions or based on their whole character?  Can Arnold have some redeeming qualities despite being traitor?  How do you feel about the issue of the unnamed monument to the man at the Saratoga Battlefield?

Copyright © 2015 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I know about the traitor part but other than that, I don't know much about Benedict Arnold at all! It's really interesting to me how history often seems to focus on one facet of a particular person instead of people as a whole!


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