Throughout the history of the United States of America, the American Revolutionary War was undoubtedly the event that was most impactful and decisive towards the ultimate fate of this country. Without it, this country wouldn’t have seen its formation in the first place. It began in the 1750’s and 1760’s, when British colonists who settled in the 13 colonies became fed up with British rule, taxation, and laws set on them. For example, when the taxes for tea were imposed on the colonies, a large majority started revolting, and strived for liberty from the British, so that they could govern themselves and create their own laws.
As a result, many who lived in the colonies, including famous patriots, eventually sparked a revolution until a full-out war broke out between the colonies (the Continental Army) and the British. Within the group of patriots who participated in the American Revolution, figures like George Washington are often remembered for their great success and courage in leading their troops to victory in many battles throughout the war (such as Washington helping the Continental Army win the Battle of Yorktown, and ending the war with a decisive British surrender).
However, one person that is often overlooked as a someone who betrayed their side, rather than a person who had a great effect on the war, is Benedict Arnold. Born in 1741, when you hear his name, you will most likely associate him with the word “traitor,” but in reality, Arnold was more than just that. Although it is true that he did switch to the British, he still benefitted the Continental Army greatly before his betrayal, and even Arnold’s betrayal itself had a profound effect on outcome of the Revolutionary War.
From the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 to the Betrayal at West Point in 1780, without Benedict Arnold, the war wouldn’t have turned out the way that it did. Arnold’s contributions during the Revolutionary War include the battles he fought before his betrayal, his betrayal itself, and the way many of his actions had an influence on other battles and events during the war. Before his eventual betrayal in 1779, Benedict Arnold had the greatest influence on the outcome of the Revolutionary War through the battles he fought for the Continental Army.
Arnold started out as part of the Sons of Liberty, a group of people who secretly opposed British taxation laws. However, he soon became a militia captain of Continental Army when the war began. The first conflict that Arnold took part in was the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga, during which he joined forces another militia captain named Ethan Allen (“Ethan Allen Captures”). Together, during the night of May 9, 1775, both men and their militia crossed Lake Champlain towards Fort Ticonderoga, New York, which was currently under British control, and just as the sun rose, launched a surprise invasion of the fort.
As a result of Arnold and Allen’s strategic and careful planning, the British commander stationed at the fort surrendered before any blood was shed, and with only one militiaman being minorly injured. Although this engagement was brief, it marked the first decisive victory for the Continental Army against the British, and served as a morale booster for the rest of the Americans that the British could be beaten. In fact, after their victory at Ticonderoga, Allen and Arnold were even able to seize cannons and other artillery from the fort.
The artillery increased the Continental Army’s military strength, and were utilized to lead the Americans to multiple victories in future battles (“History. com Capture”). Therefore, not only did Benedict Arnold take part in leading the Continental Army towards their first victory, but he also helped boost both the military strength and the confidence of the rest of the army, so that they could carry on to win the war.
The second, and arguably most important battle for Benedict Arnold that he took part in was the Battle of Saratoga. As well as displaying an instance during which Arnold’s actions led to the victory for the Continental Army, it also marked the beginning of Arnold’s decision to turn his loyalty away from the Americans and towards the British. The Battle of Saratoga was split into two parts, one taking place about a month after the other, throughout both which Arnold was an infantry commander who served under General Horatio Gates.
On September 19, 1777, British General John Burgoyne and his troops launched their first attack on Gates’ army near a clearing in New York called Freeman’s Farm. Under immense fire from the British, Gates ordered his men to hold back in a defensive position until the British approached close enough for a counterattack (“Arnold and Gates Argue”). However, realizing that the British could easily outflank them, Arnold defied orders, and after a long argument, Gates finally allowed him to carry out a more offensive approach, and begin an attack against Burgoyne’s troops.
Although the British were still eventually able to force the Americans to fall back, Burgoyne’s army suffered a larger loss than Gates’ infantry, and had Arnold not started his attack, the Continental Army would’ve faced a lot more casualties. Thanks to Arnold’s quick thinking, the British were now weakened, making their next attack on October 7 easier to thwart off. During the second assault, Arnold once again ignored orders from Gates to hold back, but for the better, as he and his troops were able to push Burgoyne back until he finally surrendered ten days later.
This was a major turning point for the Continental Army, since through this victory, they were able to successfully induce the French to join the war as their ally (United States). With the assistance of the French, who had a developed military, the Continental Army was able to eventually win the war against the British (@MountVernon). Though Arnold had a substantial involvement in the Continental Army’s effort to successfully force the retreat of Burgoyne in 1777, he was demoted by Gates after his defiance against him, and also wasn’t recognized for his efforts as much as he had hoped for.
This played a huge contribution, along with other personal events in Arnold’s life, to his eventual treason against the Continental Army. Even though the majority of Benedict Arnold’s actions influenced the American Revolutionary War in favor of the Continental Army, a series of events led to him turning to the British, which served as both a disadvantage and an advantage for the Americans during the war. It started in May of 1778, when George Washington assigned Arnold as the commandant of the city of Philadelphia.
There, Washington fell in love and married a young woman named Peggy Shippen, who was believed to have introduced Arnold to British Major John Andre (“Battle of Saratoga”). As Arnold’s leg had been injured during the Battle of Saratoga, Arnold lived with Shippen in Philadelphia free of any military intervention for the next year or so in order to recover. However, soon, Arnold and Shippen began to fall into debt, forcing him to engage in illegal means of earning profit. When this was discovered, Arnold was charged with corruption (“Benedict Arnold”).
Even though George Washington was able to free Arnold from many of his charges, his reputation had already been ruined. This, along with not receiving the recognition he felt he deserved for the Battle of Saratoga, pushed Arnold over the edge, and in May of 1779, Arnold started to negotiate with Andre and the British. In the end, for a reward of money and command in the British Army, Arnold agreed to weaken the defenses at West Point, an important American fort, so that a later attack on the fort by the British would increase their chances of victory (Bio. om). However, before being put into place, the plan was discovered and foiled, and Andre was hanged for espionage. But before Arnold was able to be captured, he managed to retreat back into the safety of British forces. As Arnold was such an important asset during the American Revolution, his treason meant that the Continental Army had lost someone who could’ve helped the Americans achieve victory in many of the later battles in the war.
Even though the Continental Army were victorious in the end and gained their independence from Britain, having Arnold as a commander would’ve made this effort much easier. If Arnold was able to outsmart Gates, who had been in the military for around 28 years during the Battle of Saratoga, this proves that Arnold’s intelligence would’ve likely provided the Continental Army with a major strategic advantage over the British had he not committed treason. Despite this, Arnold’s betrayal, surprisingly, actually served to boost the morale of many soldiers of the Continental Army.
As many of them had already given up hope for winning the war, the outrage caused by Arnold’s betrayal was enough to give the soldiers enough of a reason to keep fighting, and to despise the British even more for taking one of their bravest and most intelligent leaders. And although after switching sides, Arnold only had a minor contribution to the war, the effect he did have prior his betrayal reach beyond the battles he faced, as his actions also influenced many of the other battles of the American Revolution (which Arnold didn’t actually take part of) to turn out the way they did.
Arnold’s contributions to the American Revolution following his betrayal of the Continental Army were very minimal, but this is made up by the effect the actions he took before his treason had on other battles and events during the war, not only the he directly fought it. After his escape from the hands of the Continental Army subsequent to the discovery of his betrayal, Arnold had completely defected, and was now living behind British lines.
Although Arnold and his family were offered handsome amounts of money, pensions, and land by the British, he was never fully trusted by them. Therefore, Arnold was never allowed into important military positions. When he finally moved to London, England in 1781, Arnold and his wife found some appreciation from the British residents, but even here, many considered his decision to betray his own side to be an immoral act (“Benedict Arnold”). Throughout the next few ecades, Arnold and his son moved to Canada, and then back to London, until Arnold’s health began to deteriorate in 1801. On June 14, he finally passed, and brought his characteristics of a forgotten hero and a treacherous person to his grave. Though it is obvious Arnold lost his position as a hero after his defection, the actions he took while he was still a loyal and effective leader in the Continental Army benefitted the Americans a lot, not only in terms of the battles he was part of, but many other battles that he influenced them to win.
For example, later in 1775, following Arnold’s contribution in the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga, the cannons that he and Allen were able to seize were then used by the Continental Army during the Siege of Boston, a military campaign to drive the British out of Boston (“History. com Capture”). The artillery gave them an advantage over the British, and in the end, they were, to the delight of the Americans, forced to retreat from the city. Another example, and a more prominent one, is the effect Arnold’s contribution to the American victory during the Battle of Saratoga had on the rest of the war.
As a direct result of this victory, the French were finally persuaded to join in as an ally of the Continental Army, This was especially vital during the final major battle of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. Had the French not joined in during the battle and provided naval support, George Washington’s army would’ve been outnumbered by the military strength of Cornwallis, the British General during the battle, and victory would have been in the hands of the British (History. com Siege).
And most importantly, all of this wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of Arnold. Had he not taken his actions during the Battle of Saratoga, it would’ve been lost, and the French wouldn’t have come to our aid. Had Arnold not helped take control of Fort Ticonderoga, the Continental Army wouldn’t have had the firepower they needed to force the British out of Boston. The British would’ve been able to take the upper hand, and the likely and eventual defeat of the Continental Army would’ve made the ormation of the country we know today as the United States impossible.
Through the battles that the Continental Army fought during the Revolutionary War, they were able to gain independence and freedom from the British, and form the country of America. After developing its own government, laws, and economy, this country has become one of the most successful in the world, and the “land of the free. ” However, none of this would have been possible without some of the most important, and even unlikely contributors during the war, as exemplified the actions of Benedict Arnold.
Being one of the most well known traitors during the war, Arnold’s key contributions before his treason, and even the effect he had on the war during his betrayal, are often disregarded. Throughout his life, actions such as the battles he helped win during his time as a leader in the Continental Army, his eventual decision to switch to the British, and the influence his actions had on other events during the war, were all vital for the Continental Army to end the war in victory in the early 1780’s.
And while it is true that Arnold’s contributions towards the war following his betrayal were very minor, and he lived out the rest of his life as a largely contemptible figure, his earlier actions were great enough to push the Continental Army, a infantry of militia formed by English colonists, towards achieving their independence from the British Empire, the most powerful nation in the world during this time.
We can call many of Benedict Arnold’s actions unpatriotic, but in the long run, the essentiality of his contributions during the war for the Continental Army to finally win their long conflict with the British is sufficient to label him as a hero of the American Revolution.