233. A Gloomy Outlook for the
Patriot Cause in 1780. During the long
war of the Revolution from Lexington in 1775 to Yorktown
in 1781, there were many times when it seemed as if
it were really of no use for the Americans to fight
for independence. Of these years probably 1780
was the darkest.
We have just read of the sad disasters
in the south during this year. If “hope
long deferred maketh the heart sick,” surely
our forefathers had at this time ample cause for discouragement.
It seemed to many, no doubt, that the policy of the
British Parliament of “tiring the Americans
out” might succeed after all.
Financial matters were in a deplorable
condition. Congress had no authority to raise
money by taxation to carry on the war. Sometimes
the colonies responded to the call for money from
Congress; oftener they did not. There were paper
promises enough issued by Congress and known as continental
currency, but they had sadly fallen in value.
Washington, it is said, once remarked that it took
a wagon-load of it to buy a wagon-load of provisions.
Samuel Adams tells us that he paid two thousand dollars
for a hat and a suit of clothes.
A tradesman, to show his contempt
for it, papered his shop with continental currency.
The current phrase, “not worth a continental,”
has survived all these years as a reminder of the
deplorable condition of our finances at this time.
No wonder the famishing and half-frozen soldiers in
Washington’s army, when paid off in the flimsy
stuff, were mutinous at times, and that the desertions
averaged more than a hundred a month.
234. Arnold the Traitor. In
the midst of all the trials of this “year of
disasters,” the country was startled by the disclosure
of a plot of the blackest treason. The recklessly
brave but unscrupulous Arnold proved himself a traitor
of the deepest dye.
Born in Connecticut, he was early
known as “a bad boy.” From earliest
childhood he was disobedient, cruel, reckless, and
profane, caring little or nothing for the good will
of others. While he was apprentice to an apothecary
he enlisted in the colonial army, but soon deserted.
Afterwards he set up as druggist in New Haven, but
wasted the money he earned and ended the business
by becoming bankrupt.
235. His Brilliant Military
Career. When the startling news from Lexington
thrilled all the country, Arnold raised a company of
soldiers and was appointed captain. Soon he became
colonel and aided Ethan Allen in the attack on Forts
Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Next he was sent
to assist General Montgomery in the assault on Quebec,
where he proved himself a valiant soldier. He
received a severe wound in the leg while gallantly
leading his men. For these useful services, Congress
made him a brigadier-general.
Soon after this, Congress bestowed
upon five prominent brigadiers the distinguished rank
of major-general, but Arnold was not one of them.
He felt slighted and became very jealous. Washington
wrote him a kindly letter, which partly appeased his
During the Burgoyne campaign, as we
have read, Arnold won special renown for his splendid
bravery at the battle of Saratoga, where he was again
wounded. For his signal valor in this battle he
was now made a major-general. But even this probably
failed to satisfy him; for there were still five others
superior to him in rank.
236. The Beginning of his Wicked
Career. As his wounded leg needed rest,
Arnold obtained from Washington, in the summer of 1778,
the command of Philadelphia, lately evacuated by the
British. During his nine months there his conduct
was bad. His manners were haughty and insolent.
He lived with costly extravagance far beyond his means,
drove a fine coach and four, and gave splendid parties.
His associates were largely among the Tories, and
he married a Miss Shippen, a bitterly disloyal young
woman. His intimate friends were now for the most
part the enemies of his country.
Arnold’s expensive habits of
living soon brought him deeply in debt, and when the
storekeepers urged payment of their bills, he contrived
dishonest methods of obtaining money belonging to the
government. Formal charges of misconduct were
made; he was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to
the very mild punishment of a public reproof by the
Commander-in-Chief. This reprimand Washington
performed as gently as possible, sparing his feelings
by combining high praise for his past heroism with
censure for his late misdeeds.
Arnold was angry. He had hoped
to escape all censure. You may know how black
a villain he was from the fact that, in his speech
in court, defending himself, he spoke of his past
services in battle and promised even more faithful
devotion in future to his dear country, which he said
he loved as his own life. It came out afterwards
that even then he had been for months secretly exchanging
letters with Sir Henry Clinton, and plotting how to
betray his country! His letters were signed “Gustavus,”
and were secretly sent by his wife. The replies
from Clinton purported to be from “John Anderson.”
237. Secretly plans to betray
his Country. Arnold knew that of all things
Clinton most longed to get possession of West Point;
for it was the key of the river northward up to Lake
Champlain, and it also controlled the crossing between
New England and the Middle States. Arnold studied
how to betray it, and by one bad act to satisfy both
his revenge and his greed for money.
The first thing to do was to change
the sullenness that had marked his behavior since
the trial. He at once became cheerful, loudly
patriotic, and so eager to help his dear country!
Next he contrived to persuade some prominent officers
to induce Washington to appoint him to the command
of West Point. Not suspecting his treachery, Washington
gave him the place. He took command in August,
238. Arnold and Andre meet,
and plot Treason. Now Arnold’s plot
began to ripen. But Clinton wanted to be very
sure of what he was doing. He concluded to send
a trusty officer to meet Arnold and settle the plan
beyond doubt. So he selected the Adjutant General
of his army, a brilliant young officer, Major John
Andre, who knew all about it thus far, for he was
the “John Anderson” who had, under Clinton’s
directions, answered the “Gustavus” letters.
On the morning that he started, Andre
had a parting lunch with his fellow officers, with
wine-drinking and song-singing a right jolly
time! Ah! if he could only have foreseen!
Andre was an estimable young man, brave, educated,
accomplished, a poet, an artist, and brought up in
the best society of England.
Andre went up the Hudson in the sloop-of-war
Vulture. After the moon went down, and it was
dark enough for such a deed, a boat came silently
from the west shore near Haverstraw, and took back
from the vessel a tall young man wrapped in a black
cloak. Arnold met him on the bank and led him
into a thicket of fir trees. There, like two ugly
spirits of evil, they crouched in the darkness, and
talked over the details of the dastardly deed.
Arnold, eager for British gold, haggled
for a higher price. They plotted the utter ruin
of the patriot cause, till, at the earliest streak
of dawn, boom! boom! sounded some cannon! The
traitor was frightened! One of our shore batteries
was firing a few shots at the Vulture, so that she
had to drop down stream a few miles. Andre therefore
could not return directly to the Vulture, but was
obliged to remain hidden all that day.
The plans had all been arranged.
Clinton was to send up a fleet with soldiers to West
Point, and Arnold was meanwhile to have removed most
of his troops from the fort on some pretense, so that
Clinton’s force could easily capture it.
Arnold gave Andre some papers to carry to Clinton,
maps of the fort, with instructions how to approach
and take it.
Sir Henry had warned Andre not to
receive any papers from Arnold nor to put on any disguise.
Andre for some reason did not obey these orders.
He may have suspected that, after all, some trap was
planned to deceive the British, and thought best to
carry back papers in Arnold’s own handwriting.
At all events, it was a fatal mistake for poor Andre.
239. Capture of Andre.
Andre wore long riding-boots. Between his stockings
and the soles of his feet he put these papers.
He took also a pass from Arnold to carry him through
the guards. The Vulture having dropped down the
river, Andre crossed over and set out on horseback
to go back to New York on the east side.
All went well until he reached the
vicinity of Tarrytown. At this time the region
was infested with “cowboys” and “skinners,”
who under the pretense of keeping up a partisan warfare
for their respective sides used to steal whatever
they could find.
On this morning several men from the
American army had been sent out to look after the
“cowboys.” As Andre rode along, three
of this party sprang from the bushes, leveled their
muskets at him, and ordered him to halt. They
were young men, and their names were John Paulding,
David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart. One of them
happened to have on the coat of a Hessian soldier
whom he had captured. This may have misled Andre
and prompted him to make a blunder.
“Gentlemen,” said Andre, “I hope
you belong to our side.”
“Which side?” asked Van Wart.
“The lower party,” answered
Andre. “I am a British officer on urgent
duty, and hope you will not detain me.”
Then the three patriots ordered him
off his horse. Andre saw his mistake. He
showed them Arnold’s pass, but they insisted
on searching him. They examined his saddle, took
off his coat and vest, but finding nothing wrong,
were about to let him go, when Paulding said:
“Boys, I am not satisfied; his boots must come
Andre objected: “his boots
were very tight he must not be detained you’ll
suffer yet for what you are doing.”
But off came the boots, and out came the fatal papers!
“Boys, this fine fellow is a spy!” exclaimed
Andre offered his captors his splendid
gold watch, his horse, and a thousand dollars in money,
if they would only let him off. The three common
soldiers proved true to themselves and to their great
cause and refused a bribe. Believing their captive
to be a spy, they took him to their commander, Colonel
240. The Arch Traitor makes
his Escape. This officer made the blunder
of sending a messenger to Arnold with a letter saying
a certain John Anderson had been arrested! The
horseman found the arch traitor at breakfast with
several of his prominent officers as his guests.
His beautiful young wife was presiding with charming
grace at the table.
Arnold, concealing his terror, left
the table, kissed his sleeping babe, told his fainting
wife he might never see her again, seized a horse,
galloped to the river, sprang into a boat, and urged
the oarsmen by their love of money and rum to row
him to the Vulture. When the boat reached the
vessel, the traitor was so mean as to hand over the
poor oarsmen as prisoners. But the British captain
generously sent them back.
Washington arrived at Arnold’s
house a few hours after he had escaped, and when the
papers in Arnold’s handwriting were shown him,
his hand shook; he was overwhelmed with amazement
Turning to Lafayette, with tears running
down his cheeks, and choking with grief, he cried
“Arnold is a traitor, and has
fled to the British! Whom can we trust now?”
It was only for a moment. The
next instant Washington had recovered his iron self-control.
241. What became of Arnold. Washington
contrived an ingenious plan to capture Arnold, but
it failed. The traitor got his reward; he was
made a major-general in the British army and received
thirty thousand dollars for his villany. But
the gold turned to ashes in his hands. Everybody
despised him. Men pointed the finger of scorn
at him, saying, “There goes Arnold the traitor.”
A member of Parliament, in the midst
of a speech saw Arnold in the gallery, and, pausing,
said, “Mr. Speaker, I will not go on while that
traitor is in the house.”
Washington had, all the years before,
been Arnold’s steadfast friend. He admired
one who could fight with such energy, and who never
knew fear. After the treason it is said that
Washington could never mention the traitor’s
name without a shudder.
“What do you think of the doings
of that diabolical dog?” wrote Colonel Williams,
the gallant southern fighter, to General Morgan.
“Curse on his folly and perfidy!”
said the noble-hearted General Greene. “How
mortifying to think that he is a New Englander!”
242. Andre’s Sad Fate. The
three faithful men who captured Andre were highly
honored. Each received a silver medal from Congress,
with a life pension of two hundred dollars a year.
Their graves are marked by worthy monuments.
But poor Andre! what became of him?
He was tried within a week by a court-martial of fourteen
generals and condemned to death as a spy.
“We cannot save him,”
said the kindly old veteran, Baron Steuben. “Oh
that we had the traitor who has dragged this gallant
young officer to death, so that he might suffer in
his stead!” Andre wrote a full and frank letter
to Washington, urging that he was not really a spy.
All Americans felt deep pity for him because of his
youth, his virtues, his many accomplishments, his
belief that he was serving his country, and because
he had been the victim of a villain.
But Americans could not forget that
the British, four years before, had captured a brave
young American officer, Captain Nathan Hale, and hanged
him as a spy without any manifestation of pity or sympathy.
The officer who commanded the escort
that brought Andre across the Hudson to the main army
was a college classmate of Hale. As the young
officers rode along on horseback, mention was made
of Hale’s sad fate.
“Surely,” said Andre,
“you do not think his case and mine alike!”
“They are precisely alike,”
answered the officer, “and similar will be your
Washington, who shed tears when he
signed the death warrant, would gladly have saved
Andre’s life; but the stern rules of war and
the good of the American cause left no room for mercy.
His execution was put off one day, it is said, in
hope that Arnold might be captured and made to suffer
in his stead.
Andre bravely faced the awful event,
and on the morning of the day of his death conversed
freely and even cheerfully. He was disturbed only
about the mode of his death; he begged to be shot as
a soldier, and not hanged as a spy; but the grim custom
and rules of war forbade.
243. Arnold dies in Disgrace. Arnold
lived in London for more than twenty years after his
foul treason. No doubt they were years of bitter
remorse and self-reproach. His wife proved herself
a devoted woman. Arnold’s children and
grandchildren all felt keenly the disgrace that rested
upon the family.
As the traitor came to his final sickness,
his mind seemed to recall the days when he fought
for his country with distinction. He thought of
the steadfast friendship that Washington once cherished
for him. After Saratoga, this friend had presented
him with epaulettes and a sword-knot, and put
them on with his own hand. The old uniform in
which he had fought his battles, and which he wore
on the day he escaped to the Vulture, had been carefully
kept during all these years of disgrace.
Just before his death the desolate
old man called for these sad reminders and put them
“Let me die,” said he,
“in this old uniform in which I fought so many
battles for my country. May God forgive me for
ever putting on any other!”
Thus perished the man who, with the
exception of Washington and Greene, prior to his infamous
deed, had done perhaps more efficient service for
the cause of our independence than any other American
Think of the contrast between the
deep infamy of an Arnold and the patriotic grit and
unselfishness of those ragged, half-starved Pennsylvania
soldiers who rose in mutiny during the next winter.
Mad Anthony Wayne had led some of these men at the
storming of Stony Point, and he was dearly beloved
by them all; yet they would not obey even him.
As Wayne was speaking to them, two
men, who had been sent by General Clinton to tamper
with the mutineers and offer a bounty and high pay
if they would enlist in the British army, were detected.
The soldiers in their wrath turned these emissaries
over to their general, and they were hanged as spies.
“Tell General Clinton,”
said these men who had not received a cent of pay
to send home to their families for over a year, “that
we are not Benedict Arnolds.”