There is no doubt that Benedict Arnold is a traitor to our country but he was also an American hero. Its possible Arnold could have suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) because Arnold served for four years in combat, fought in numerous battles, and was wounded twice. If Arnold had been killed in the Battle of Saratoga, instead of only being wounded, today he probably would be considered one of America’s greatest Revolutionary War heroes. Instead, Arnold’s name is reviled and his official birth certificate in Norwich, Connecticut identifies him as “the traitor.”
Arnold literally saved the American cause on numerous occasions before turning traitor. Had it not been for his command at the battles of Valcour Island, the siege of Fort Stanwix, the Battle of Ridgefield, and the Battles of Saratoga, all could have been lost and the United States would probably not exist as we know it today. Benedict Arnold was a hero in all those battles. He was Washington’s trusted friend and America’s most brilliant and beloved general.
Benedict Arnold was born a British subject, the second of six children of Benedict Arnold in Norwich, Connecticut Colony on January 14, 1741. He was named after his great-grandfather Benedict Arnold, an early governor of the Colony of Rhode Island. Arnold’s father was a successful businessman and the family moved in the upper levels of Norwich society. He was enrolled in a private with the expectation that he would eventually attend Yale University.
Arnold’s father took up drinking following the deaths of three of his children from Yellow Fever. By the time Arnold was 14, there was no money left for his private education. His father’s alcoholism and ill health kept Arnold out of the family mercantile business. After his mother died his father’s alcoholism worsened. At sixteen Arnold took on the responsibility of supporting his father and younger sister. This stress early in his life could have contributed to his later behavior.
By the time the war broke out in 1775 he was a successful merchant operating ships on the Atlantic, many of which he commanded on voyages to the West Indies. Arnold recognized sooner than most that war with Britain was inevitable and started to plan for it. He organized a Connecticut militia in New Haven and designed and paid for uniforms for it. Arnold’s militia is still in existence today, known as the Second Connecticut Foot Guard.
Arnold started his military career as a militia captain and partnered with frontiersman Ethan Allen to seize New York’s Fort Ticonderoga. The cannons and other armaments they seized were later transported to Boston and used to fortify Dorchester Heights and break the Siege of Boston. After Ticonderoga Arnold and fifty men raided Fort Saint-Jean on the Richelieu River in Quebec seizing military supplies, cannons, and the largest military vessel on Lake Champlain. These victories had significant strategic importance and impeded communications between northern and southern units of the British armies. Arnold was on his way home from Ticonderoga when he learned that his wife had died earlier in June.
Arnold received a colonel’s commission in the Continental Army for an expedition to attack Quebec City via a wilderness route through Maine with 1,100 men. He arrived at Quebec City in November after a difficult passage in which 300 men turned back and another 200 died en route. In the unsuccessful assault on Quebec City Arnold’s leg was shattered. Arnold was promoted to brigadier general for his role in reaching Quebec.
Arnold’s problem was getting along with his superior officers and he proved to be a divisive figure. Though he fought heroically in conflicts, including the Battle of Lake Champlain in 1776 and the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, he made many enemies. He often felt he did not receive the recognition he deserved and threatened to resign from the Continental Army.
Arnold’s greatest victories were the two Battles of Saratoga. Arnold had a disagreement with General Gates who then removed him from field command after the first battle. During the fighting in the second battle, Arnold disobeyed Gates’ orders and took to the battlefield to lead attacks on the British. He was again severely wounded in the left leg late in the fighting. The battle was a major American victory and proved a turning point in the war.
Congress restored Arnold’s command seniority for his valor at Saratoga. However, Arnold was worn out and in constant pain from his wounds and interpreted the manner in which they did so as an act of sympathy for his wounds and not an apology or recognition that they were righting a wrong. Arnold spent several months recovering from his injuries. He had his left leg crudely set rather than allowing it to be amputated which left it two inches shorter than the right.
He returned to the army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in May 1778 to the applause of the men who had served under him at Saratoga. This was the high point in Arnold’s career. If he had died in the battle instead of only being wounded we would today be celebrating him as a great American hero.