The name “Benedict Arnold” is a fancy way of saying “traitor” in the United States, but Arnold wasn’t the only revolutionary to switch colors and re-embrace the English. So why is he the one who became infamous?
Because before he was a traitor, he was a brilliant leader who helped win the revolution.
1. Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga and its arsenal of cannons.
In May of 1775, the British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga numbered only about 50 men. With the rebellion gaining traction throughout the colonies, revolutionary leaders knew that capturing the fort and it’s large numbers of cannons would aid an American victory.
Then-Col. Arnold and Ethan Allen attacked the fort May 10 with Allen’s troops, the Green Mountain Boys, capturing the guns and the garrison. The guns would later be used at the Siege of Boston while the fort would become a staging ground for Arnold’s invasion of Canada.
2. He and his commander nearly conquered Canada (but the final attack went horribly).
Following the success at Fort Ticonderoga, Col. Arnold led part of an invasion force whose mission was to secure Canadian support of the war by destroying British forces in the area.
Despite setbacks like mass desertion, equipment failures, and disease, the invasion did make it to the city of Quebec with enough forces to take it. Arnold’s attempt to lay siege to the city was unsuccessful, but an opportunity for a Dec. 30-31, 1775, attack gave a glimmer of hope.
Unfortunately, the attack was a disaster. Its potential for success ended almost immediately when a single round of grapeshot killed 14 men including, Arnold’s commander and two other senior officers. On the opposite side of the city, Arnold ordered his men forward and was maimed almost immediately by a shot to his leg.
Now a brigadier general, Arnold eventually recovered and antagonized the British in the area until June 18, 1776 when he was the last American to leave Canada as British forces pushed south.
3. Arnold Created an ad hoc navy to delay the British.
As the British pursued his men, Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold knew that if he could just delay the British until winter, the Continental Army could use the frozen months to rebuild and hold off an invasion.
So he immediately began construction of an improvised navy on the shores of Lake Champlain. Even though he had no naval experience, he sent his ships out that Oct. to meet the British on the lake. 15 American vessels faced off against 25 superior British ones.
Arnold fought a delaying action as he moved south, losing 11 ships to enemy fire and burning his other four when he reached the southern shore. He then burned one of his forts, Fort Crown Point, to the ground to deny the British use of it. His action worked and the British were unable to reach Fort Ticonderoga before winter set in. This would lead to two battles at Saratoga the next year.
4. He carried the charge that won the Battle of Saratoga.
The American victory at the second Battle of Saratoga in 1777 was a turning point in the war that enabled France to openly support the rebellion and emboldened foreign powers to attack Britain in other parts of the world.
And it was Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold who led the troops against the British lines. Arnold’s superior, Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, wanted to simply wait out the British from behind fortifications, a move that would have allowed many to escape. Arnold disobeyed orders and led charges through the British ranks, saving the day and resulting in a second maiming of Arnold’s left leg.
After suffering two serious injuries for the colonies and being passed over for promotion multiple times, Arnold became deeply embittered against his own army. He would go on to try to sell the American defenses at West Point to the British, a move that would have left New York open to invasion. His plot was discovered and he was branded a traitor.