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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
The Treason of Arnold
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


[During the year 1780 military operations were mainly confined to the South. The year opened with a very unfavorable show for the American cause. The alliance with France had not produced the results anticipated, the two years' operations of the French fleet having proved nearly useless to the Americans. The army was low in numbers, and miserably clothed; the country was without money or credit, and its paper currency greatly reduced in value. On the other hand, England had money in abundance, while the military and naval force voted for the year consisted of eighty-five thousand seamen and thirty-five thousand soldiers, in addition to those already abroad.

The earliest British operation in 1780 was the siege of Charleston, which was conducted by General Clinton, aided by a fleet which forced its way into the harbor. On the 12th of May the city was forced to surrender, and General Lincoln and the garrison became prisoners of war. From this point expeditions were sent into the country. One of these seized the important post of Ninety-Six, others scoured the State in various directions, and the cavalry under the remorseless Colonel Tarleton cut to pieces a body of four hundred Americans who were retreating towards North Carolina. The province seeming reduced to tranquillity, Clinton left Lord Cornwallis in command, and returned to New York with a large body of his troops.

Yet the people were not so tranquil as they seemed. Bold guerillabands soon collected, which gave the invaders unceasing annoyance. Chief among the daring leaders of these bands was Colonel Sumter, a dashing warrior, who not only gained minor successes, but surprised and completely defeated a large force of regulars and tories at Hanging Rock. Another of these active partisan leaders was Francis Marion, a man who has become a hero of modern romance, and who, with a force rarely exceeding from twenty to seventy men, gave the British endless trouble. Dashing from swamp or forest on the foe when in unconscious security, he hesitated not to attack bodies of British and tories two hundred strong, and usually with marked success. Self-possessed, prudent, yet daring, he took the greatest risks, yet never rashly or without judgment, and was alike successful in attack and in escape from pursuing forces.

Meanwhile, General Gates had been sent with a strong army from the North, for the relief of the Southern provinces. He met Cornwallis at Camden, South Carolina, each party seeking to surprise the other. In the battle that ensued the militia quickly gave way, and the regiments which held their ground were overwhelmed and broken by force of numbers. The rout became general, and the Americans suffered a loss of about one thousand men, with all their artillery and ammunition-wagons. Gates retreated to North Carolina, and Sumter's corps was soon after surprised and routed with great slaughter by Tarleton. The province now seemed again reduced, and Cornwallis adopted very severe measures to hold it in subjection. Yet Sumter was soon in the field again, Marion displayed an annoying activity, and a party of tories who had been levied in North Carolina and who committed great atrocities were assailed at King's Mountain by a party of militia and defeated with a loss of three hundred killed and wounded and eight hundred prisoners, the American loss being not more than twenty.

These active operations in the South had no counterpart in the North. In the previous year the British force had been withdrawn from Rhode Island, and only some slight excursions from New York took place. In July, Count de Rochambeau, with a powerful French fleet, arrived at Newport; but no enterprise of importance was undertaken, and the high hopes of aid from the French alliance still proved futile. Yet one event of the highest interest and importance occurred in the North in the autumn of this year,-the treason of Benedict Arnold.

This treasonable act had been long premeditated. Passionate, discontented, constantly persuaded that he was neglected and ill treated by Congress, demanding from that body more than it could or would grant, his disaffection grew extreme. While in command in Philadelphia in 1778, his "illegal and oppressive acts" drew on him the censure of the Council of Pennsylvania, and finally subjected him to a trial by court-martial, which sentenced him to a reprimand from the commander-in-chief. By this time his treasonable sentiments were fully grown, and he began a secret correspondence with Sir Henry Clinton, through the medium of Major Andre. Arnold assumed the name of Gustavus, and Andre of John Anderson. These letters were disguised under the form of mercantile communications.

Arnold, who wished to injure the American cause and enhance the value of his services to the British as much as possible, now applied for the command of West Point, a post of the utmost value both from its location and from the extensive supply of military stores which it held and covered. His application for this post was heard with surprise by Washington, but was finally granted. He at once privately engaged to deliver West Point to the enemy for ten thousand pounds sterling and a brigadier's commission in the British army. In the negotiations for this purpose Major Andre acted as the agent of Sir Henry Clinton. He ascended the Hudson in the sloop-of-war Vulture, secretly landed, and held a conference with Arnold, in which the terms of the treasonable action were arranged. It proving difficult and dangerous to regain the Vulture, Andre was obliged to attempt a return by land. The events which succeeded we select from Spark's "Life and Treason of Benedict Arnold."]

Having no means of getting to the vessel, Andre was compelled to seek his way back by land. The safest route was supposed to be across the river and in the direction of White Plains. Smith agreed to attend him on the way till he should be out of danger from the American posts. Thus far Arnold's passports would protect them.

All his entreaties being without avail, and having no other resort, Andre submitted to the necessity of his situation, and resolved to pursue the route by land. Arnold had prevailed upon him, in case he took this course, to exchange his military coat for a citizen's dress. It was feared that if he was discovered in the uniform of a British officer he might be stopped, and perhaps meet with trouble. And here again Smith was made the dupe of Arnold's artifices. When he expressed surprise that a man in a civil capacity and on an errand of business should come from New York in such a dress, Arnold told him that it was owing to the pride and vanity of Anderson, who wished to make a figure as a man of consequence, and had borrowed a coat from a military acquaintance. Upon this representation Smith gave one of his coats in exchange, which Andre put on, leaving his own behind. Thus clad, and covered as before with his dark great- coat, which had a wide cape buttoned close in the neck, and the appearance of having been much worn, Andre was equipped for the journey.

A little before sunset he and Smith set off, accompanied by a negro servant belonging to the latter. They proceeded to King's Ferry, and crossed the river from Stony Point to Verplanck's Point. On their way to the ferry they met several persons who were known to Smith, and with whom he conversed, accosting them in a gay and jocular humor, and assuming an air of ease and unconcern. He even stopped at a sutler's tent near the ferry, and contributed to the merriment of a party of loungers by assisting them in drinking a bowl of punch. Andre said nothing, but walked his horse slowly along, and was waiting at the ferry when his companion overtook him. Smith had tried, while on the road, to draw him into conversation about the taking of Stony Point the year before, and such other topics as he thought would interest him; but he was reserved and thoughtful, uttering brief replies, and showing no inclination to be interrogated or to talk upon any subject.

[At a late hour in the evening they were stopped by a patrolling party, led by Captain Boyd, who proved so inquisitive as to give them much annoyance. He was anxious to learn from Smith the "important business" that brought them out, warned them that the Cowboys were out below, and strongly advised them not to proceed till morning. they took his advice, partly perhaps to avoid exciting suspicion, and sought the house of one Andreas Miller, where they were told they might find quarters for the night.]

They met with a welcome reception, but, coming at a late hour to a humble dwelling, their accommodations were narrow, and the two travellers were obliged to sleep in the same bed. According to Smith's account, it was a weary and restless night to his companion. The burden on his thoughts was not of a kind to lull him to repose; and the place of his retreat, so near the watchful Captain Boyd and his guards, was hardly such as would impress upon him a conviction of perfect security. At the first dawn of light he roused himself from his troubled slumbers, waked the servant, and ordered the horses to be prepared for an early departure.

Having solicited their host in vain to receive a compensation for the civilities he had rendered, they mounted and took the road leading to Pine's Bridge. The countenance of Andre brightened when he was fairly beyond the reach of the patrolling party, and, as he thought, had left behind him the principal difficulties in his route. His cheerfulness revived, and he conversed in the most animated and agreeable strain upon a great variety of topics. Smith professes to have been astonished at the sudden and extraordinary change which appeared in him, from a gloomy taciturnity to an exuberant flow of spirits, pleasantry, and gay discourse. He talked upon poetry, the arts, and literature, lamented the war, and hoped for a speedy peace. In this manner they passed along, without being accosted by any person, till they came within two miles and a half of Pine's Bridge.

[At this place Smith decided that he would go no farther. The Cow-boys had recently been seen in that locality, and he did not care to fall into their hands. He therefore took leave of Andre, and returned with all speed to his home. On his way he saw Arnold, and gave him an account of the progress of his late companion, of whose true name and actual purpose he was in total ignorance.

The Cow-boys were a set of plunderers, belonging to the British side, who infested the neutral ground between the outposts of the two armies. They were opposed by another set of bandits, called Skinners, professedly on the American side. The populous territory, some thirty miles in width, which formed the field of operations of these merciless scoundrels, was a dangerous locality for a man in Andre's situation to cross. After parting from Smith he left the road to White Plains, and took the Tarrytown road, having reason to believe that he would there meet with Cow-boys, with whom he hoped to be safe.

It happened that same morning that seven patriotic young men had stationed themselves in ambush on this road, with the object of intercepting suspicious persons, or droves of cattle, that might be seen passing towards New York. Three of them were concealed in the bushes near the road.]

About half a mile north of the village of Tarrytown, and a few hundred yards from the bank of Hudson's River, the road crosses a small brook, from each side of which the ground rises into a hill, and it was at that time covered over with trees and underbrush. Eight or ten rods south of this brook, and on the west side of the road, these men were hidden; and at that point Andre was stopped, after having travelled from Pine's Bridge without interruption.

The particulars of this event I shall here introduce, as they are narrated in the testimony given by Paulding and Williams at Smith's trial, written down at the time by the judge-advocate, and preserved in manuscript among the other papers. This testimony having been taken only eleven days after the capture of Andre, when every circumstance must have been fresh in the recollection of his captors, it may be regarded as exhibiting a greater exactness in its details than any account hitherto published. In answer to the question of the court, Paulding said,--

"Myself, Isaac Van Wart, and David Williams were lying by the side of the road about half a mile above Tarrytown, and about fifteen miles above Kingsbridge, on Saturday morning, between nine and ten o'clock, the 23d of September. We had lain there about an hour and a half, as near as I can recollect, and saw several persons we were acquainted with, whom we let pass. Presently one of the young men who were with me said, `There comes a gentlemanlike-looking man, who appears to be well dressed, and has boots on, and whom you had better step out and stop, if you don't know him.' On that I got up, and presented my firelock at the breast of the person, and told him to stand; and then I asked him which way he was going. `Gentlemen,' said he, `I hope you belong to our party.' I asked him what party. He said, `The Lower Party.' Upon that I told him I did. Then he said, `I am a British officer out of the country on particular business, and I hope you will not detain me a minute;' and to show that he was a British officer he pulled out his watch. Upon which I told him to dismount. He then said, `My God, I must do anything to get along,' and seemed to make a kind of laugh of it, and pulled out General Arnold's pass, which was to John Anderson, to pass all guards to White Plains and below. Upon that he dismounted. Said he, `Gentlemen, you had best let me go, or you will bring yourselves into trouble, for your stopping me will detain the general's business,' and said he was going to Dobb's Ferry to meet a person there and get intelligence for General Arnold. Upon that I told him I hoped he would not be offended, that we did not mean to take anything from him; and I told him there were many bad people, who were going along the road, and I did not know but perhaps he might be one."

When further questioned, Paulding replied that he asked the person his name, who told him it was John Anderson, and that when Anderson produced General Arnold's pass he should have let him go, if he had not before called himself a British officer. Paulding also said that when the person pulled out his watch he understood it as a signal that he was a British officer, and not that he meant to offer it to him as a present.

All these particulars were substantially confirmed by David Williams, whose testimony in regard to the searching of Andre, being more minute than Paulding's, is here inserted.

"We took him into the bushes," said Williams, "and ordered him to pull off his clothes, which he did; but on searching him narrowly we could not find any sort of writings. We told him to pull off his boots, which he seemed to be indifferent about; but we got one boot off, and searched in that boot, and could find nothing. But we found there were some papers in the bottom of his stocking next to his foot; on which we made him pull his stocking off, and found there papers wrapped up. Mr. Paulding looked at the contents, and said he was a spy. We then made him pull off his other boot, and there we found three more papers at the bottom of his foot within his stocking.

"Upon this we made him dress himself, and I asked him what he would give us to let him go. He said he would give us any sum of money. I asked him whether he would give us his horse, saddle, bridle, watch, and one hundred guineas. He said, `Yes,' and told us he would direct them to any place, even if it was that very spot, so that we could get them. I asked him whether he would give us more. He said he would give us any quantity of dry goods, or any sum of money, and bring it to any place that we might pitch upon, so that we might get it. Mr. Paulding answered, `No, if you would give us ten thousand guineas, you should not stir one step.' I then asked the person, who had called himself John Anderson, if he would not get away if it lay in his power. He answered, `Yes, I would.' I told him I did not intend he should. While taking him along we asked him a few questions, and we stopped under a shade. He begged us not to ask him questions, and said when he came to any commander he would reveal all.

"He was dressed in a blue overcoat, and a tight bodycoat, that was of a kind of claret color, though a rather deeper red than claret. The button-holes were laced with gold tinsel, and the buttons drawn over with the same kind of lace. He had on a round hat, and nankeen waistcoat and breeches, with a flannel waistcoat and drawers, boots, and thread stockings."

The nearest military post was at North Castle, where Lieutenant-Colonel Jameson was stationed with a part of Sheldon's regiment of dragoons. To that place it was resolved to take the prisoner; and within a few hours he was delivered up to Jameson, with all the papers that had been taken from his boots.

[Jameson, finding the suspicious papers to be in Arnold's hand-writing, and not comprehending all that the incident signified, sent Andre under guard to Arnold, together with a letter explaining the circumstance. He was induced to recall this order and detain Andre, but the letter went on. Meanwhile, Washington had arrived in the vicinity of West Point, and sent forward two of his aides to advise Arnold of his approach. They reached there just before the letter from Jameson arrived.]

When the aides arrived at Arnold's house, they found breakfast waiting, as had been supposed. It being now ascertained that Washington and the other gentlemen would not be there, General Arnold, his family, and the aides-de-camp sat down to breakfast. Before they arose from the table, a messenger came with a letter for Arnold, which he broke open and read in presence of the company. It was the letter which Colonel Jameson had written two days before and despatched by Lieutenant Allen, and it contained the first intelligence received by Arnold of the capture of Andre. His emotion can be more easily imagined than described. So great was his control over himself, however, that he concealed it from the persons present; and, although he seemed a little agitated for the moment, yet not to such a degree as to excite a suspicion that anything extraordinary had happened. He told the aides-de-camp that his immediate attendance was required at West Point, and desired them to say to General Washington, when he arrived, that he was unexpectedly called over the river and should very soon return. He ordered a horse to be ready, and then, leaving the table hastily, he went up to Mrs. Arnold's chamber and sent for her. With a brevity demanded by the occasion, he told her that they must instantly part, perhaps to meet no more, and that his life depended on his reaching the enemy's lines without detection. Struck with horror at this intelligence, so abruptly divulged, she swooned and fell senseless. In that state he left her, hurried down-stairs, mounted a horse belonging to one of his aides that stood saddled at the door, and rode alone with all speed to the bank of the river. He there entered a boat, and directed the oarsmen to push out to the middle of the stream.

The boat was rowed by six men, who, having no knowledge of Arnold's intentions, promptly obeyed his orders. He quickened their activity by saying that he was going down the river and on board the Vulture with a flag, and that he was in great haste, as he expected General Washington at his house and wished to return as expeditiously as possible to meet him there. He also added another stimulating motive, by promising them two gallons of rum if they would exert themselves with all their strength. As they approached King's Ferry, Arnold exposed to view a white handkerchief, and ordered the men to row directly to the Vulture, which was now in sight, a little below the place it had occupied when Andre left it. The signal held out by Arnold, while the boat was passing Verplanck's Point, caused Colonel Livingston to regard it as a flagboat, and prevented him from ordering it to be stopped and examined.

The boat reached the Vulture unobstructed in its passage; and after Arnold had gone on board and introduced himself to Captain Sutherland, he called the leader of the boatmen into the cabin and informed him that he and his companions were prisoners. The boatmen, who had capacity and spirit, said they were not prisoners, that they came on board with a flag of truce, and under the same sanction they would return. He then appealed to the captain, demanding justice and a proper respect for the rules of honor. Arnold replied that all this was nothing to the purpose,- that they were prisoners and must remain on board. Captain Sutherland, disdaining so pitiful an action, though he did not interfere with the positive command of Arnold, told the man that he would take his parole, and he might go on shore and procure clothes and whatever else was wanted for himself and his companions. This was accordingly done the same day. When these men arrived in New York, Sir Henry Clinton, holding in just contempt such a wanton act of meanness, set them all at liberty.

[We have not space to give in detail the interesting events that succeeded. Some time elapsed before Arnold's flight was discovered, but when it was known, and the contents of the papers found on Andre were revealed, the whole conspiracy stood bare. Much sympathy was felt for Andre, and earnest efforts were made by Clinton and others to obtain for him a respite from the fate which awaited him. Washington was full of feeling for him, considering him a young man of great promise and ability, but his feeling for his country was greater. It would be unsafe to permit such an act to escape its proper penalty, and in his answer to Clinton he signified that Andre could be released only on condition that Arnold should be delivered up to take his place. This could not be complied with, and Andre was hung as a spy, at noon of October 2, 1781.]

Jared Sparks

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