Benedict Arnold’s traitorous march into Virginia

Benedict Arnold literally spent months between his betrayal and the end of the war raiding around Connecticut and Virginia.
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Portrait of Benedict Arnold and his Oath of Allegiance.
Portrait of Benedict Arnold and his Oath of Allegiance.

Do you want to know my favorite weird fact of Benedict Arnold’s life? Besides that British kindergartners now learn colors near his tomb? Well, too bad. You’re gonna learn it. And it’s your fault for clicking on a Logan Nye original. It’s that he started a trading company after the war and then was confused when few Americans wanted to trade with him. Which is weird, since he literally spent months between his betrayal and the end of the war raiding around Connecticut and Virginia.

Benedict Arnold: Hero turned traitor, treated as mercenary

For those who only know “Benedict Arnold” as a mean name to call someone who switched sides during Red Rover in elementary school, he was oddly similar to Alexander Hamilton. He grew up poor with a problematic father in the Caribbean.

As a member of the Continental forces, he became a hero. In Arnold’s case, this took the form of helping capture a British fort, launching a fleet that delayed British assaults into New York, and leading an assault that arguably won the key Battle of Saratoga.

But Arnold received dreadful injuries, especially at Saratoga. He left the frontlines and became increasingly angry with the Continental Congress. He really hated how they undersupplied troops and provided too little care to wounded veterans. So he and British Major John Andre came up with a scheme where Benedict Arnold would get 20,000 British pounds and the Redcoats would get the defenses at West Point.

Oh, does that sound like it would do absolutely nothing to help wounded veterans? And would probably make their lives worse and negate their sacrifices? Well, yeah. Benedict Arnold was pissed off and getting his piece of the pie. He wasn’t actually trying to fix the problems he had identified.

Well, except the Continental Congress. Arnold did see them as a problem, and they would definitely be solved by a British victory. Britain would likely have fixed that congress up right fast if they had won.

Understandably, the British thought he was more mercenary than a principled soldier for either side. So he and his wife got ostracized in Canada and Britain both for betraying Britain by joining the revolution and for betraying America for a pile of cash. (A pile that he only got 30 percent of, or $6,000. Lol. Sucks to suck, sucker.)

One of Arnold's coded letters. Cipher lines by Arnold are interspersed with lines by his wife, Peggy.
One of Arnold’s coded letters. Cipher lines by Arnold are interspersed with lines by his wife, Peggy.

Benedict Arnold’s straight murdering of American soldiers to get Richmond

So, your friend and mine Benedict Arnold switched sides, got 30 percent of his fee, and survived while his business partner John Andre got hung by his neck until dead in 1780.

Ah, forgot to mention that part, huh? Major Andre is dead. Don’t be sad. Literally everyone in any Revolutionary War story you hear is dead. That’s just a hazard of reading over 200-year-old history. Andre just died earlier than Washington or Arnold or John Phillips did.

But Arnold quickly went back to work. In January 1781, Arnold began raiding American forces as a British officer. Some of his raids were more successful and historic than others. And his pièce de résistance came quickly: The capture of Richmond.

The Virginia capital was virtually undefended in early 1781. Governor Thomas Jefferson learned that a British force of approximately 1,600 loyalists was barreling up the James River toward him. Arnold landed his force near the capital on January 4. And Jefferson put out a call for militiamen to guard the city.

Fortunately, thousands of American veterans farmed the area surrounding Richmond. Unfortunately, most of them looked at the new, emergency call for militia and went, “I already did my bit. It’s someone else’s turn to fight the British.”

And so only 200 defenders actually showed up. Unsurprisingly, they could not defend against 1,600 Loyalists, Governor Jefferson fled, and Arnold easily captured the city.

After the war

Arnold continued to fight his former compatriots, mostly in Virginia and Connecticut. As you might guess, this did little for his reputation in Canada and was worse than harmful to his rep in America.

Which makes it weird that, after the war, Arnold went back into trade. Specifically, he tried shuttling goods between Canada and America. One side saw him as a traitor for trying to sell West Point. The other side saw him as a traitor twice over and a mercenary to boot.

His new trade venture did, um, not do well.

Arnold, like everyone born in 1741, is now dead. Unlike most of his year group, though, he’s one of the few that we remember and whose death we toast.