One of the most daring men in the patriotic army for a time was Benedict Arnold. He was brilliant, daring, but cowardly withal, mean-spirited, jealous and treacherous. His meaner qualities had not shown themselves very much in his military life and, as he had really been very brave and had been of great service to the country, Washington put him in command at West Point, one of the most important military posts in the whole country.
But the mean-hearted Arnold had already planned to betray the post into the hands of the British; and Sir Henry Clinton, a British officer, had promised to give him £10,000 in English gold for his treacherous deed.
General Clinton sent a Major André to West Point to visit Arnold and make definite arrangements for the betrayal. He reached the American lines, met Arnold, and received papers from Arnold in which his whole plans were written. Putting these papers within his stockings, he started back to the British camp.
He had passed the American lines, and had reached Tarrytown on the Hudson. Before night-fall he would be in the camp at New York, and the plan for the surrender would be in Clinton's hands. Almost free from apprehension of danger he rode on. Suddenly three men appeared in his path. Without producing his pass, he asked them, "Where do you belong?"
"Down below," answered one. "Down below" meant New York, and André was thrown off his guard by the answer. "I belong there also," he said. "I am a British officer on important business. Do not detain me." "Then you are our prisoner," answered the men.
André then produced his pass, but as by his own confession he was a British officer, it availed nothing. He offered his watch, his purse, and more valuable than either, he offered to deliver to them next day a cargo of English dry goods if they would let him pass. They were unmoved by his bribes, and already had begun to search him. They searched pockets, saddle-bags, his hat. They even ripped open the linings of his coat. The prisoner stood nearly naked in the road, yet no paper had been found. At length they pulled off his boots. His boots were empty; but they heard the rustle of paper when they were drawn off. The stockings came last, and in his stockings under the soles of his feet were found, in Arnold's handwriting, the treasonable papers, with a plan of the fort, the way to enter it—every thing, in short, that would make it easy for Clinton to get possession.
André was at once taken to the nearest officer and given up to him as a prisoner. André, true to Arnold even now, asked that he might be permitted to send a line to him. As the papers had not been read, André's request was granted; and Arnold received a note which told him of André's arrest.
Of course Arnold knew that his life was now in danger. And so, hurrying from the fort, he leaped a precipice now called Traitor's Hill, and rode to the nearest boat landing. Thus he escaped to the British lines where he put himself under the protection of Clinton.
The unfortunate André was sentenced to be hanged. Clinton did all in his power to save the young man, who was by no means as black-hearted as Arnold; but it was the army law, and nothing could be done. Washington tried to capture Arnold intending then to release André and hang him instead. The plan failed, however, and André was doomed to execution.
André wrote a very manly letter to Washington, asking that he might be shot like a soldier, rather than be hanged like a dog. Washington laid this letter before André's judges, but they would not hear of any other death than hanging for the unfortunate spy.
"Have you forgotten," said they, "how the British hanged our brave Nathan Hale—the noble Nathan Hale, whose last words were, 'I regret that I have but one life to give for my country'? Have you forgotten that they would not allow him to send one word to his mother, would not allow him to speak with his old minister?" "No," said they, "André must die as Hale died,—on the gallows."
André met death like a brave man. He hoped to the last that he might be shot and so die a soldier's death; and so when he saw the gallows awaiting him, he gave a start, shuddered, and said, "I am not afraid to die, but I hate this way of dying."
Seeing that all was ready for him, he stepped into the wagon, bandaged his own eyes, fastened the rope about his neck and said, "I pray you to hear me witness that I meet my fate like a brave man." Thus ended Major André's life, a tragedy which is one of the most touching of this whole war.
Arnold, during the remainder of the war, fought on the English side; and at its close, since no one in America had any respect for him, he went to live in England. Even there he was held in contempt by the very ones to whom he had sold himself; so that, since he was a proud man to the end, we know he must have suffered most keenly for his dastardly act.
At one time, while he was living in England, a gentleman
who was about to come to America on a visit asked Arnold
to give him some letters of introduction to some of the
leading families in America. Arnold's reply shows how
bitterly he was paying for having sold his own soul. He
said, "Alas, in all that great country which gave me birth
there is not one man whom I can call friend."