This was Benedict Arnold's best raid as a British general
Players do their best work when they’re in a system that works for how they play. Sometimes, they fare better with the team that drafted them. Others break out when they get traded.
Sorry for this analogy. Football is back and I’m super stoked about it.
For example, Jim Brown was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1957 and played there his entire career. He might be one of the greatest backs of all time. Then there’s Marshawn Lynch, who did his best work after being traded to Seattle and will definitely be a Hall-of-Famer.
Benedict Arnold was definitely more of a Jim Brown.
As an American general, Arnold saw massive successes early on in the war. He captured Fort Ticonderoga with Ethan Allen, captured Lake Champlain for the nascent nation, led an invasion into Canada, and was instrumental at the Battle of Saratoga.
But that was in the past. Arnold was wearing a new uniform by 1781.
In January 1781, the revolution was still anyone’s game. The morale of the Americans was at its lowest and it would be another nine months before Generals Washington and Nathaneal Greene would force British General Cornwallis into Virginia’s Yorktown Peninsula and into a general surrender.
Some 63 miles north of Yorktown, the newly-minted British Brigadier was leading a force of American Loyalists against the capital of Virginia at Richmond. The city was virtually undefended and Thomas Jefferson – Patriot governor of the colony– fled. Arnold easily captured the city, barely firing a shot.
The traitor then wrote to Jefferson that he would spare the city if all of Richmond’s stored goods – especially tobacco – were transferred to British ships. Jefferson, unsurprisingly, refused to deliver “thirty to forty ships worth” to the enemy.
Arnold ordered the city be looted and burned the next day. They then went to the surrounding areas to wreak havok. Mills and foundries were destroyed, their arms and goods were captured by the British loyalist force. Arnold then took to destroying plantations and family homes, seizing crops and slaves.
The raid lasted a full 18 days.
When Jefferson and Samson Matthews gathered the Virginia militia and caught up to Arnold’s force with about 200 men. and caused the British force so much harm, Arnold had to retreat to Portsmouth and wait for reinforcements.
Governor Jefferson put a reward of 5,000 guineas on Arnold’s head while Virginia militiamen started target practice using a model of the traitor’s head, so they’d know how to identify him in combat.
Benedict Arnold didn’t have much success as a British general. His “American Legion” of loyalists never amounted to much. The Richmond raid and his subsequent burning of New London, Connecticut, ensured he could never be redeemed in the minds of patriots.
When the war ended later that year, Arnold found himself retired on half pay, refusing to believe the war could be over and that he’d chosen the wrong side.
Word finally got to George Washington that the traitor was spilling patriot blood in his home state. Washington sent French Marquis de Lafayette to kick Arnold out of Virginia and capture him if possible. Lafayette arrived in time to prevent another attack on Richmond from the newly-reinforced British under General Cornwallis, but he was too late to capture Arnold, who was already sailing for New York.
In the end, Richmond wasn’t prize enough for Cornwallis. He instead moved south, toward Yorktown. And you know how that ended up.