Traitor or hero? Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold's name is associated most with the word "traitor," however, he was a brilliant, victorious leader during the early years of the War for American Iindependence. Arnold oversaw the construction of the gunboats on Lake Champlain and commanded the fleet that stalled the British advance on the colonies in October 1776. Some argue that Arnold's brilliance on the lake saved the colonies from an early loss to the stronger British forces.

Arnold then went on to play a pivotal role at the Battle of Saratoga in New York. While disobeying a commanding officer, Arnold took charge of three army regiments and ultimately forced a British surrender. This victory convinced the French that the American cause was not lost and they threw support to the Americans.

Arnold saw first hand the struggles of the American troops due to the lack of food, clothing, and supplies during the war. He petitioned the Continental Congress for resources, was denied, and then became disillusioned with the American cause. In 1780, Arnold conspired with the British to reveal secret defenses at West Point, NY, which proved unsuccessful. Knowing that his co-conspirator would be hanged as spy for espionage, Arnold left his family to flee the country to escape being charged with treason. He served in the British Army and in 1781 led a British attack against Virginia destroying the Virginian Navy. He remained in exile for twenty years until he died in London in 1801.

Do you think Benedict Arnold is a traitor, a hero, or both? Be sure to read more about the conflicts on Lake Champlain, Benedict Arnold, and the American Revolution in your local library. Suggested readings can be found in United States Naval History: A Bibliography.

All images courtesy Shadows and Light Design. Used with permission.