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Benedict Arnold was an American hero during the first few years of the Revolutionary War. He fought bravely from the beginning of the struggle in 1775, leading troops in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and at Montreal. He organized and led an epic but ultimately unsuccessful raid through the wilderness of Maine in an attempt to capture Quebec City in late 1775. He was wounded in the final battle of this campaign.
His most famous acts of bravery were on display at the Battle of Saratoga in September and October of 1777. After being removed from command due to disagreements with army commander Horatio Gates, Arnold joined in the battle anyway, leading troops at a crucial point on Bemis Heights that helped ensure American success against British General John Burgoyne’s army. Arnold’s actions helped the American’s achieve a stunning victory that eventually led to Burgoyne surrendering his army. Arnold was considered one of the greatest heroes on the American side, rivaling even George Washington during that period. During the fighting Arnold was severely wounded in the leg and would walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
Arnold was a controversial figure within the Continental Army though, and made many enemies. This led to many grievances and hard feelings between himself and rivals within the army and government. These issues, along with influences from his Loyalist wife and friends, helped to start turning Arnold into the traitor he became. After being appointed to command of the important defensive position at West Point, New York in 1780, he plotted with the British to let the position fall into their hands. The plot was exposed in September 1780, forcing Arnold and his wife to flee to the British in New York City. Already doomed to disgrace as a traitor, Benedict Arnold accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the British Army, thus cementing his reputation as a hero turned ultimate villain to the American side.
After forming a regiment of 1,600 Loyalist American’s in New York, Arnold embarked on a mission to the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia. Sailing up the James River in early January of 1781, Arnold and his troops landed near Richmond and surprised the mostly undefended capital city of Richmond on January 5. Governor Thomas Jefferson had managed to remove many arms and other military supplies to locations outside the city just before Arnold’s arrival, although many of these were still captured and destroyed. Arnold’s troops set about systematically destroying tobacco stores, supplies, foundries, mills and any other infrastructure useful to the Continental Army in the city and surrounding countryside. This was Arnold’s signature success as an independent commander for the British. Later in January he and his troops embarked on their ships and fell back to Portsmouth until other British troops arrived and further offensive operations became possible.
After taking part in some of the campaigns around Petersburg and Richmond from March through May, Arnold returned to New York. He went on to lead a controversial expedition against the town of New Haven, Connecticut and Fort Griswold in September of 1781, not far from his childhood home of Norwich. This attack resulted in the capture of the fort, but at a very high casualty rate for the British and Hessian troops. On the American side, 130 out of the 150 troops in combat were either killed or seriously wounded. Arnold was blamed for this slaughter on both sides.
Benedict Arnold, a traitor to the American’s and never trusted or respected by his new allies on the British side, would finish out the war trying to gain military positions. He saw no further military action. After the war he went into business but was not a success, and would die in London on June 14, 1801. He was buried without military honors.