Benedict Arnold "He seemed the very genius of war." -Captain Ebenezer Wakefield


Benedict Arnold is well known as the traitor who nearly crippled the American Revolution. But before he betrayed his country for money, he was a respected general in the American army, with a reputation for fearlessness, determination, hotheadedness, and a short temper. In the end, his inexperience in politics became his undoing. Steve Sheinkin's biography, "The Notorious Benedict Arnold; A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery," tells the whole story: from hero to backstabber.

Before the War: the Early Years

Benedict Arnold's early years were rife with tragedy, humiliation, and danger. Benedict Arnold the VI was born January 14, 1741, one of the coldest months on record on the East coast, before it or after. He was born in Norwich, Connecticut. His parents, the Arnold's, were afraid for their child, because Benedict the V had died of fever three years before. Benedict surprised them by surviving. By the time he was ten, Benedict had began doing crazy stunts like going around in a water wheel after he got bored in line at the millers. He also enjoyed shimmying up ships masts and, when their captains came to yell at him, jumping off into the river. When he was eleven, his parents sent him to a boarding school in Canterbury. In 1753, he opened a letter that was from his mother, and told him that an epidemic of yellow fever was going around Norwich. The yellow fever killed two of his three younger sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. Benedict could not come for the funerals because he might catch the fever. After that, his stunts became more and more aggressive. For example, one day a barn near his schoolhouse caught fire. The students all rushed outside to look. Their teacher came outside, looked around, and asked where Arnold was. He was atop the burning barn, and walked from one end to the other, his arms out to balance himself. Eventually the yellow fever epidemic disappeared, but the trouble was not over yet. The Arnold's were very rich, thanks to Mr. Arnold's shipping business. But an economic slowdown in New England was destroying the shipping business. Creditors were threatening to arrest Captain Arnold for failing to pay his debts. Captain Arnold started drinking. Then their money ran out, and they pulled Benedict from school. Everybody gossiped and spoke of the collapse of the Arnold family. Thirteen-year-old Arnold's stunts became more insane, more dangerous. When his hometown celebrated a British victory over the French, Benedict commandeered a cannon, shoved in some gunpowder, and yelled, "Huzzah!" as he was almost burned by the cannon's fire. Within a year of being pulled from school, Benedict's father was jailed for failing to pay his debts. Benedict was sent as an apprentice to an apothecary for seven years, because his mother couldn't handle a wild son and a drunk man. Fortunately, Benedict knew an opportunity when he saw one. He behaved well. The only trouble was the French and Indian War, when Arnold ran away to fight the French. But then he learned his mother was very sick and could be dying, and he ran back home to be with her. She died in August, 1759. He finished his apprenticeship, and they sent him on trading voyages to Canada, the Caribbean, and Great Britain. But his father's drunkenness was getting worse. Church leaders threatened him and a justice of the peace gave an arrest warrant for Benedict Arnold Senior. Almost every night, Benedict Arnold Junior had to drag the bigger man back home. In 1762, Senior died. Arnold's family (which he was now the head of) owed mountains of debt.

The Beginnings of Revolution

When his apprenticeship ended, his master gave him some money to get his own business started. Arnold sailed to London to buy goods to get started in his own apothecary, which he opened in New Haven, Connecticut. He sold books, maps, cosmetics, jewelry, and medicines he'd been trained to make. He didn't care much at all about politics, until they threatened his business. When the French and Indian War ended, the conquerors, the British, were left with a lot of debt. They started levying taxes on the Colonies. The Colonies complained that, without representation in government, they couldn't be taxed. Arnold refused to pay taxes on his imported goods. He became a tax protester and smuggler. In January 1766, a sailor on one of Arnold's recent sailing voyages was see going into the customs house in New Haven. His name was Peter Boles. On the trading voyage before, Boles and Arnold had had some sort of argument.The commissioner was absent, but it was simple to guess what was going on. Boles had meant to inform on Arnold that he had been smuggling. Arnold found Boles, and forced him to sign a contract that said Boles must not inform on Arnold and must leave New Haven immediately. Four hours later, Boles was still there. Arnold apprehended Boles, and tying him to a post, whipped him forty times with a small cord. He was fined only fifty shillings.In February 1767, he married Margaret Mansfield, whom acquaintances described as shy and pretty. They had three sons: Benedict the VII, Richard, and Henry.

The First American Offensive

The Revolutionary War began in April 19, 1775, when British soldiers were mauled by Revolutionary soldiers on their way back from a disastrous journey to Lexington and Concord. Arnold joined the Revolution. He raided his towns powder store, and went to Cambridge with his men. The army had performed a siege of Boston, and needed heavy cannon. Arnold said he knew of a fort, called Fort Ticonderoga (Fort Ti for short). Fort Ti had heavy cannon. Fort Ti was on Lake Champlain. He led the first attack in American military history. Long story short, he took the fort, with the help of Ethan Allen, the leader of the Green Mountain boys, who also participated in the attack. Afterwards, he got no more orders, so he decided to invade Canada. It's not as crazy as it might sound. Arnold might hold the forts on Lake Champlain, but farther north was Fort St. Johns, and with it, the warship George, the largest ship on the lake. With the George, the British could easily sail down and blow Crown Point and Fort Ti to pieces. Arnold picked 35 men for the mission. They paddled upriver through the night, and in the morning, where they surprised the sleepy British soldiers and took the fort. They also took George, and, racing to load it with food and powder, pushed off and sailed back south. Before doing so, they burned the fort and the other boats. After he got back to the fort, Congress ordered Arnold to hand over control of the fort to the mellower Colonel Benjamin Hinman. He packed up his things and headed for home, but he got a message saying his wife was dead. She was just thirty. After he buried her, he got an attack of gout, and had to stay in bed for many weeks.

Fort Ticonderoga, New York

Defending the Colonies

When he got back, Washington had been declared Commander-in-Chief of the army. Washington was considering an attack of Canada, specifically heading up the Lawrence River and taking Montreal and Quebec. Arnold proposed an idea. Why not let the main army take Montreal, and have a second, smaller force take Quebec by taking old Native American trails? Washington liked it. He asked for 1,000 volunteers for Arnold's mission. He got 5,000. Arnold asked them two questions: Do you know how to survive in the woods? Do you know how to handle small boats? He picked 1,050 soldiers, mainly strong ones in their teens and twenties. He also picked Daniel Morgan, the leader of a group from the state of Virginia. He and his men could kill a man at 250 yards. The British called them widow-makers. Morgan had been in the British Army, and had annoyed an officer, who hit him with the flat side of his sword. Morgan ad turned and punched him. For striking an officer, he had received 500 lashes. Miraculously, he had survived. Now, on August 20, he was sailing up the Kennebec river with Arnold. And, as it soon became clear, most of the men had no idea what to do with the bateaux, which they were using to get supplies upriver. Men fell into the river and had to be rescued. Two men drowned. By September 17, Arnold reported that only 950 men were in fighting shape. By November 3, everyone was extremely fatigued and tired from the continuous walking through the Canadian wilderness. So, understandably, you can understand that they thought that they were hallucinating when cows started walking out of the fog. They lasted long enough so that they were strong once again to start their attack on the strongest fortress in North America. But they were nearly out of powder, so they decided to march back to meet up with General Montgomery, who had attacked Montreal. They attacked on December 30, and in the first moments of battle General Montgomery was killed by a cannon firing grapeshot. On the other side of town, Arnold was having only marginally better luck, with the British firing down on them from the wall. Arnold was shot through the leg. The Americans got over the walls, and were soon captured by the British. Arnold and his severely depleted army performed a siege. When the river unfroze, the British came after them. Arnold's army retreated. British warships blew them to pieces. Arnold's army retreated. They were blown to pieces. As they ran past Montreal, he took food and blankets and clothing from merchants in Quebec, leaving IOUs saying Congress would pay them back. He sent them to the army and ordered Colonel Moses Hazen to take responsibility for them, but he refused to. Soldiers just grabbed stuff as they ran past. Now they couldn't repay the merchants. Arnold became angry at Moses Hazen. Hazen started running a smear campaign against Arnold, calling him a thief. Finally, the army returned to Crown Point and Fort Ti, waiting for an attack that never came. Soon, they realized the British were building up a fleet. This was very dangerous, because if the British made it down the Hudson, they would split the colonies in two. Arnold argued with other top generals, saying the British should be stopped on the lake. They built the boats and prepared for battle. Meanwhile, Arnold was called in for court martial for "looting of Montreal" incident. There was another incident with an officer named Jacobus Wincoop. He had been declared Commodore-of-the-Lake when there had been no enemies. He argued with Arnold. And, like Moses Hazen, afterwards he had begun a smear campaign. The Americans had 700 men crewing 15 ships. The British had 700 experienced sailors, added to hundreds more soldiers and Native American allies. The battle actually started with a well-aimed shot cracking the mast of the Royal Savage, Arnold's biggest ship. It veered off and slammed into the rocks. At the end of the day, the news was grim. Arnold's fleet had lost two ships and 60 men, with many more wounded. To continue to fight would be suicide. So instead, Arnold decided to try to retreat. Even though he was boxed in, he new there was just enough space and depth to slip his ships through on one end of the lake, which succeeded. Then, he had to race his ships to Crown Point, 35 miles south. They didn't make it. But, fortunately, there was a rocky bay ahead were the British ships couldn't go, because they drew more water. Arnold's men ran their ships onto the rocks, and were able to escape through the shallow lake. They made it to Crown Point, but it was abandoned, because everyone had fallen back to Fort Ti. They continued on, and made it on four in the morning. The British were never able to make it through that year. Once he got home, there were rumors that Benedict cared nothing for the Revolution, only for personal glory and fame. The final straw was when Congress promoted five men who were under his command above him; Arnold sent in his resignation. On the same day, Washington asked for Arnold, saying that the British were restarting the attack they had begun a year ago on Lake Champlain. It was even bigger this time. British General John Burgoyne had taken Fort Ti and was pushing forward, and Washington assigned Arnold to stop him.

Gen. John Burgoyne

The Battle of Saratoga

General Philip Schuyler was now Arnold's commanding officer. They decided to stop Burgoyne at Saratoga, in New York (not that they had much choice). Schuyler was sacked and General Horatio Gates took over. Gates, in the coming battle, wanted to let the Americans stay in their fort when they fought the British. Arnold disagreed. Ride out and attack them, he said. Don't let them use their much-practiced battle formations. But Gates outranked Arnold, so it stayed that way. On September 19, Burgoyne arrived. The British rolled out their big guns and started firing. Arnold begged Gates to let him take out some men. Gates finally agreed, and gave orders that 2,000 men should attack. The two forces collided, and pushed each other all over Freeman's farm, a local farmer. Arnold asked for more reinforcements, but Gates said no. Gates eventually gave in, but only after Arnold rode into his tent and begged him. Gates sent in a few hundred more men. The American survivors eventually straggled back behind their own lines. Burgoyne declared victory, but his losses had been twice that of the Americans. Burgoyne was expecting reinforcements from General William Howe, but they never came. Howe never liked Burgoyne, so he decided to invade Philadelphia, the capital of the young United States. Then the unexpected happened. Gates removed Daniel Morgan and his widow-makers (the snipers)from under Arnold's command. This made no sense at all, because they fought so well together. The reason for it all lies with Gates. Gates wanted the credit for the battle of Saratoga. He was worried that Arnold would steal that from him. The next time there was battle, Arnold was ordered to stay in his tent. He refused, and rode out into the battle. Arnold ran charge after charge into the Balcarres Redoubt, controlled by the British. The Balcarres redoubt and the Breymann redoubt anchored the British position. If the American's could take one, they could flank the British army. Arnold and his men threw themselves at the Balcarres redoubt, but time and time again they were bloodily repulsed. Then Arnold noticed something. The Breymann redoubt was actually weaker. So Arnold rode his horse to the other side, through the two opposing lines' fire. He lead a charge, and gunfire erupted from its walls. He retreated, regrouped, and charged again. This time when the British fired, they hit Arnold in the leg, the same one that was shot in the siege of Quebec. It was a compound fracture. But the rest of the Americans surged forward and took the redoubt. Later, Burgoyne headed north, but his small force was surrounded by General Gates and made to surrender.

The End of It All

Meanwhile, Arnold was stuck in a hospital. The doctor's had put the leg in a fracture box, sort of a cast made of wood and presumably heavier. Also, Arnold was quite angry, because, in Gates' report, he'd made no mention of Arnold's involvement in the British defeat at Saratoga. Arnold was promoted. He was made the military governor of Philadelphia. But it wasn't enough. Gates had cheated Arnold of his fair share of the glory of the Battle of Saratoga. And Arnold was still angry. While Arnold was stewing, he was also purchasing fine wine and food, expensive furniture, and hired maids and cooks. Arnold had been rich (before the war of course), but he still had more money than he should have had. Everyone wanted to know: where was his money coming from? What everyone didn't know is that, weeks before, a merchant had approached Arnold and told him he had a ship in Philadelphia. The British were about to attack the spot where it was moored, and he asked if Arnold could save the contents of the trading ship. Arnold had agreed, but only if they shared the profit. He had sent coaches, supposed to be used only by the government of Philadelphia, to save the precious cargo. He made a massive amount of money. While Arnold was also in Philadelphia, he had caught the eye of Peggy Shippen, the daughter of a Loyalist. They chatted and fell in love. Soon after, Arnold sent Peggy a love letter. Soon after the letter, the Philadelphia Executive Council printed a list of charges in a newspaper. Arnold found a newspaper and read it. Things like "illegal purchases while shops weren't open," and, "disrespect to the leaders of Pennsylvania," stared back at him. Arnold showed Washington the paper, and Washington basically told Arnold, "Deal with it." Arnold went back to Philadelphia, and married Peggy Shippen. Then Arnold was put on trial for all those charges. He sent a letter to Washington, asking for a quick trial, and also sent a letter to British general William Howe requesting how he could help the British empire, and how much he would get paid to do so. Then the war came along and Washington put off Arnold's trial. Then an idea started cooking in Arnold's head. Why not hand the British West Point, a fort on a peninsula on the Hudson River, a fort so important Washington called it the "key to America." For this, Howe would pay him £10,000 up front, and another £10,000 for a job well done. Arnold begged and begged Washington for command of West Point. Finally, Washington gave in. Arnold's plan was moving forward. On September 16, Arnold received a significant piece of news: Washington and his staff were coming to West Point! Once again, Arnold moved his plan forward. The British warship Vulture arrived, carrying an adjutant general named John André. He sent a Loyalist named Joshua Hett Smith out to bring André, who Arnold told Smith his name was Anderson, to shore. André made it without incident, and he and Arnold talked through the night. When it was morning, the people who Smith had brought to paddle the boat refused to go back. So Arnold brought André to Smith's house and waited for another day. But during breakfast, they heard cannonfire. That morning, an American officer had seen the Vulture and decided to fire on it. He had dragged along a couple of four-pounders and fired away. They fired for two hours, and, on the Vulture, nobody was hurt, except the captain. . . by a splinter in the nose. The captain turned his ship around and drifted south, away from André, and the plans of West Point he was carrying in his boot. Arnold wrote him a pass to get him past American soldiers, and sent him on his way. André almost made it back to British territory. Almost. He was riding through no-man's-land, where there was a seemingly endless gang war between pro-British Cowboys and pro-American Skinners. When they stopped him, he could see British territory. He was that close. Three men stepped out from under a bridge he was riding under, and André took a chance. He took chance and said something along the lines of "I'm glad to see you. I'm British." Turns out, the men were Skinners. They found his papers and turned him over to John Jameson, an American at a nearby outpost. He sent the plans to Washington, and a copy of them to Arnold. Arnold got the note saying John Anderson had been taken near New York. The messenger who went to Washington accidentally missed his camp, and doubled back. Meanwhile, Washington went out for an early morning ride, as he was having breakfast at Arnold's house. Arnold, with no way of knowing whether or not Washington knew about André, ran out and ordered for a horse to be saddled. Arnold rode to the river. He made it, and jumped into his small boat and pushed off. He told his men to make for the Vulture. Washington arrived soon after Arnold left. Washington went to West Point and that was where the messenger finally caught up to him. Washington was stunned by the news. He said, "Arnold has betrayed me. Whom can we trust now?" The Vulture sailed to New York, where Arnold was not exactly welcomed warmly. All across America, Arnold dolls swung from trees and burned. There were riots. Finally, Peggy Arnold arrived in New York with the baby. Near the end of the war, Benedict Arnold moved to England. Benedict died on June 14, 1801, when he was 60. Peggy died three years later, of cancer. She was buried beside Benedict Arnold in a small church.


Arnold was a brave and charismatic man who cared a little bit too much about glory and money. Even though he betrayed the American Revolution, he saved it first.


Reckless, headstrong, brave.

Son of Benedict Arnold, Father of Edward Arnold,

Lover of glory, money, and Peggy Shippen

Who experienced pain, sadness, and fear.

Who feared poverty, shame, and ridicule

Who saved the American Revolution twice, and nearly handed General George Washington to the British.

Who wanted to be remembered as a hero, and to be rich and important

Born in Norwich and lived in Philadelphia and New Haven


  • “Battle of Quebec (1775).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Feb. 2017, Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.
  • Sheinkin, Steve. The Notorious Benedict Arnold: a True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery. New York, Roaring Brook Press, 2010.
  • Pippenger, C. E. “A New Eyewitness Account of Valcour Island Resolves the Pringle Controversy.” Journal of the American Revolution, 13 Oct. 2016, Accessed 8 Mar. 2017.

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