Arnold, Benedict (1741–1801), an American Revolutionary War general who turned traitor. Arnold was a trusted patriot and successful commander during the early part of the Revolution, but later betrayed his country by selling his services to the British.
Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut. His youth was marked by the waywardness typical of his whole career. He twice ran away from home to fight in the French and Indian War. In 1762 Arnold settled in New Haven, where he became a merchant involved in trade with Canada and the West Indies.
Arnold joined the Connecticut militia and was elected captain of his company. Soon after the Battle of Lexington, 1775, he led his troops to the siege of Boston. In the campaigns at Ticonderoga, Quebec (where he was wounded in the leg), and Valcour Island, Arnold proved to be a bold and skilled commander. He attained the rank of brigadier general and became one of General George Washington's most trusted officers.
Ambitious and overly sensitive, Arnold felt that his services were not properly rewarded. In 1777 Congress promoted to major general five officers who were junior to him. Arnold was indignant. Only a personal plea from General Washington prevented his resignation. After victories against Loyalist forces in Connecticut, 1777, Arnold received a delayed promotion to major general, but he remained angered that it was not to a rank above the five officers promoted earlier. When a fellow officer charged Arnold with misconduct, he was further embittered, even though Congress found the charges groundless and dismissed them.
In late 1777, Arnold fought with distinction at Saratoga. Before the final battle, he quarreled with his superior, General Horatio Gates, and was relieved of his command. Defying Gates, Arnold led his troops into the fighting. He charged from place to place rallying the Americans, was again wounded in the leg, and received much credit for the American victory.
In 1779 Arnold was military commander of Philadelphia. His personal extravagances led to misconduct charges, and a court-martial did not completely clear him. Nevertheless, in 1780, Washington placed him in command of West Point, key fortress on the Hudson River.
In the meantime, however, General Arnold had sold his services to the British. Since May, 1779, he had been supplying them with valuable military information. In July, 1780, he offered to turn over West Point. On September 21, Arnold met with Major John André of the British army to arrange the details. Two days later, André was captured as he attempted to return to the British lines. Letters from Arnold were found in his possession, and the plot was disclosed.
Arnold received this news in time to escape. The British rewarded him with £6,315 and the rank of brigadier general. He soon led a British raid on Virginia, and in 1781 directed an attack on New London, Connecticut. In December, 1781, Arnold left for England with his family. Disappointed by the treatment he received there, he moved to St. John, New Brunswick, in 1787. In 1791 he returned to London; for the remainder of his life he lived in obscurity and poverty.