The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin (the same author who wrote Bomb) is a kids book about the rise and fall of America’s most notorious traitor, Benedict Arnold. Most people just know he’s a traitor. Most don’t know why he betrayed his country when he fought for it so hard. This book explains it all.
We start at the beginning as most biographies do with Arnold’s childhood. The son of a prosperous merchant in Norwich, CT, Arnold was known as a daredevil and a prankster. When Arnold was a teenager, his father’s business began to fail as the shipping business took a downturn. Once one of the richest families, his father couldn’t pay his debts. Yellow fever took two of his sister’s lives and his father began to drink more and more.
His father died when Benedict was 21. Determined to prove himself, he “longed for action, craved attention, and made his own rules when it suited him.” He was reckless and eager to win back the family’s name and fortune. This would explain many of his actions as an adult.
Sheinkin goes into details about Benedict’s battles and actions. He marched overland to take Quebec in freezing temperatures, undo hardships, and starvation. He dealt the British a crushing blow in the Battle of Valcour Island in 1776, and managed to escape with his men. The hero of the Battle of Saratoga, which was the turning point in the war and the first major victory in the American Revolution which convinced the French to enter on our side, Arnold was injured and suffered a limp the rest of this life. Recovery was slow and Benedict hating being out of action.
But with a character like Benedict, he made enemies. He stole others’ thunder. He made no apologies for his boldness. He was not good at playing politics and only had in mind the good of the country.
Arnold’s goal all along had been to win the war. However, he was passed up for promotions by Congress who wanted control over Washington. He was not acknowledged for his roles in the various battle of the Revolution. Accused of making money off the Revolution, he faced a court marshal. And throw in he needed money and Arnold’s character began to see a way out.
Arnold’s plan was to gain command of West Point, an army base at the time at a strategic location on the Hudson River, hand it over to the British, and get paid millions of dollars in today’s money for doing so. Never one to take blame, Arnold had convinced himself this was for the good of the country.
Through an uncanny series of fortuitous events and many see as only the hand of Providence, Arnold’s plan failed. Washington, Arnold’s biggest supporter, was shocked. Effigies burned of Arnold in all major cities. Attempts were made by the Americans to capture him and bring him to justice but all failed.
Major Andre, the British liaison for this betrayal, ended up the one hanged. Arnold ended up in Britain but was shunned. He died at the age of 60 in London.
Sheinkin writes “If Arnold had died from his wounds at the Battle of Saratoga, we would think of him today as one of the all-time great American heroes. Aside from Washington, we’d say, he did more to win our Revolution than one one. We’d celebrate his life as one of the best action stories we have–Washington never did anything half as exciting as the march to Quebec or the Battle of Valcour Island. We don’t say any of that, and it’s all Arnold’s fault.”
Great historical read on one of the America’s most misunderstood figures. Fascinating how Arnold’s plot failed literally by yards. Scary to think how the War would have played out if Arnold had succeeded. Highly recommended.