Wednesday, September 24, 2014
SEPTEMBER 24 = Benedict Arnold Escapes
"Washing- ton could not agree with one of his aides that Arnold must, after the catast- rophe, be under- going the torments of a mental hell. He wants feeling! From some traits of his character which have lately come to my knowledge, he seems to have been hackneyed in villainy, and so lost to all sense of honour and shame that while his faculties will enable him to continue his sordid pursuits there will be no time for remorse."
This, in proper 18th century verbiage was George Washington's way of saying that Benedict Arnold was a scumbag who cared only for himself. On today's date, September 24, in 1780 General Benedict Arnold of the Continental Army having been unmasked as a traitor, just barely managed to escape capture. Arnold had been negotiating with the British to hand over the American fortress at West Point, New York, when his main partner on the British side, Major John Andre' had been captured with incriminating documents hidden in his shoe (above). The plot then quickly unraveled leading Arnold to run for his life.
Benedict Arnold - A Very Strange and Difficult Man
One could scarcely invent a man stranger and more mercurial than Benedict Arnold (below). Born in 1741 to a merchant father, he was given the name of an older brother who had died before him and seemed to spend his life enviously living in the shadows of others. Joining the Americans in 1775 as an officer he rose rapidly by showing imagination, bravery and a shrewd tactical sense. But a persistent sense of insecurity left him always feeling slighted. Congress promoted
Arnold Turns Traitor...
"Arnold, a heroic and valiant soldier, was a low, sly Iago among traitors, but this defector was also the most senior mole in espionage history. His betrayal poleaxed (knocked back)Washington. Even his peers, who thought him arrogant and snotty, had respected his undoubted martial talents, and none suspected him capable of treachery of the blackest dye." - Alexander Rose
During the spring of 1779, Arnold took the step of nursing his grievances and his wounded pride into actual treason. He sent for John Stansbury, a loyalist merchant in Philadelphia, and through him made overtures to Sir Henry Clinton (the British commander in New York) that his "co-operation" (his word) was for sale. But the Brits held
Major Andre' Travels North to Get the Goods
"Those who argued against him pointed to his quick temper, his growing pessimism toward the success of the American war effort, and his apparent motivation by glory and personal gain. Col. John Brown, one of Arnold's rivals, prophetically wrote of him in 1777: 'Money is this man's God, and to get enough of it, he would sell his country.'" - Brian Kilmeade
Arnold haggled with the Brits for the exact amount of cash he should get for his skulduggery; at first 10,000 then 20,000 pounds was his price. And he sent out orders that a certain James Anderson traveling from British lines on business was to be given safe passage through American lines. On the evening of Thurs. Sept. 21, Arnold ordered a boatman, Joshua H. Smith, to row out on the Hudson to pick up Anderson aboard the British sloop Vulture (below). James Anderson
Andre' is Discovered and the Plot Unravels
The officer in charge of the post was one Colonel John Jameson. James Anderson was obviously the man about whom Gen. Arnold had written the orders that he be given safe passage. But here he was with these incriminating documents - in Arnold's handwriting - stuffed in his sock, heading for British lines instead of coming from them. Jameson, quite puzzled, and fearful of drawing a rebuke from Arnold for appearing to question his orders, hedged his bets by sending Anderson on to Gen. Arnold, sending a note ahead of the prisoner to Arnold
Culper Spy Ring which was sending intelligence from New York City about British activities. Tallmadge had also gotten the order concerning this Mr. Anderson, but where Jameson was merely puzzled, Tallmadge smelled a rat. With considerable difficulty Tallmadge, convinced his doubtful Colonel at least to recall Anderson. Upon meeting Anderson, he was able to discern by his manners that this was a military gentleman. After being told that the documents found hidden in his sock were going to Washington, Andre', on the 24th, realizing his situation asked after dinner for pen and paper, and wrote out in a letter to Gen. Washington a confession of the whole plan.
Arnold Receives Word.... Washington Does Too
"When I received and read the letter (for he handed it to me as soon as he had written it), my agitation was extreme, and my emotions wholly indescribable." - Major Benj. Tallmadge
Tallmadge's reaction when James Anderson gave him his letter to George Washington in which he finally confessed his true identity: "Major John Andre', Adjutant General to the British Army." may have been extreme agitation. But it must have paled compared to Arnold's reaction when early on this date, Sept. 24, he got Jameson's letter. He learned that James Anderson had been captured and these papers he
A short time later, Washington arrived at West Point. Of course, he had been expecting to meet Arnold who, following breakfast was to take him on an inspection tour of the fort. But Arnold was not there. Hamilton told him that Arnold had received a letter and had to go tend to something. This was a strange way for Arnold to treat his Commander, but as Brian Kilmeade has pointed out: "Arnold was, admittedly, something of a strange man." But when Arnold was not there following his inspection, Washington knew that something was
Arnold Escapes, Andre' Does Not
Arnold had indeed escaped. Major Andre' was not so fortunate. Although negotiations were conducted with the British authorities for Andre's release, it wouldn't work. Andre' had been captured in civilian clothes and as such had to be court-martialed as a spy and given the death penalty. The only deal which Washington would accept was a prisoner exchange: Arnold for Andre' but of course the Brits could not agree to hand Arnold over... this would only serve to warn off any others who might spy for the British. So Andre', who impressed everyone on the American side with his wit and courage as he faced the
"George Washington's Secret Six" by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager, Sentinel Publ., New York, 2013.
"Washington's Spies" by Alexander Rose, Bantam Books, New York, 2006.
"Secret History of the American Revolution" by Carl Van Doren, Viking Press, New York, 1941
"General Washington's Spies" by Morton Pennypacker, Long Island Historical Society, Brooklyn, New York, 1939
"Memoir of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge" by Col. Benjamin Tallmadge, Arno Press, N.Y., 1968
"The Neutral Ground" by Bruce A. Rosenberg, Greenwood Press, London, 1994