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Treason and escape of Arnold....Precautions for the security of West Point.... Trial and execution of major André.... Parties in congress.... Letter of general Washington on American affairs.... Proceedings of congress respecting the army....Major Talmadge destroys the British stores at Coram.... Army retires into winter quarters.... Irruption of major Carlton into New York ....European transactions.
LE the public mind was anticipating 1780. the great events expected from the combined arms of France and America; while the army was assailed by every species of distress, and almost compelled to disperse by the want of food; while general Washington was struggling with difficulties, and sustaining the mortification of seeing every prospect he had laboured to realize, successively dissipating; treason found its way into the American camp, and was machinating the ruin of the American cause.
The great services and military talents of general Arnold; his courage in battle, and the patient fortitude with which he bore the most excessive hardships; had secured to him a high place in the opinion of the army, and a large portion of the confidence of his country.
Having not sufficiently recovered from the wounds he had received before Quebec, and at Saratoga, to be fit for active service, and
CHAP. VI. having large accounts to settle with the conti1780. nent, which required leisure; he was, on the
evacuation of Philadelphia, in 1778, appointed to take the command in that place.
Unfortunately, with that firmness which he had displayed in the field, and in the most adverse circumstances, were not associated that strength of principle and correctness of judgment which might enable him to resist the various seductions to which his high station exposed him in the metropolis of the union. Yielding to the temptations of a false pride and giddy vanity, forgetting that he did not possess the resources of private fortune, he indulged in all the pleasures of a sumptuous table and expensive equipage.
Such habits may well be supposed incompatible with good management, and his debts soon swelled to an amount which it was impossible to discharge. Unmindful of his mili. tary character, he engaged in speculations which were unfortunate; and with the hope of immense profit, took shares in privateers which were unsuccessful. His claims against the United States were great, and to them he looked for the means of extricating himself from the difficulties into which his indiscre. tions had plunged him; but the commissioners to whom his accounts were referred for settlement, reduced them considerably; and, on his appeal from their decision to congress, a committee reported that the sum allowed by the chap. VI. commissioners, with which he was dissatisfied, 1780. was more than he was entitled to receive.
He was charged with various acts of extortion on the citizens of Philadelphia, and with peculating on the funds of the continent. Not the less soured and disgusted by these multi. plied causes of irritation in consequence of their being attributable to his own follies and vices, he gave full scope to his resentments, and indulged himself in expressions of angry reproach against what he termed the ingratitude of his country, which provoked those around him, and gave great offence to congress. Having rendered himself peculiarly obnoxious to the government of Pennsylvania as well as to many of the citizens of Philadelphia, formal charges against him were brought by the executive of that state before congress, who di. rected that he should be arrested and tried by a court martial.
Such were the various delays occasioned by the movements of the army, and the difficulty of obtaining testimony, that his trial, though commenced in June 1778, was not concluded until the 26th of January 1779, when he was sentenced to be reprimanded by the commander in chief. This sentence was approved by congress and carried soon afterwards into execu. tion. VOL. IV.
CHAP. VI. From the time the sentence against him was 1780. approved, if not sooner, it is probable that his
proud unprincipled spirit revolted from the cause of his country, and determined him to seek occasion for making the objects of his resentment, the victims of his vengeance,
Every history of the American war exhibits the importance of West Point. Its preservation had been the principal object of more than one campaign; and its loss, it was believed, would enfeeble all the military operations of the continent. Selected for the natural strength of its situation, immense labour directed by skillful engineers had been employed on its fortifications; and it was justly termed the
Gibraltar of America. . To this fortress Arnold turned his eyes as
an acquisition which would give value to trea. son, while its loss would inflict a mortal wound on his former friends. As affording the means of enabling him to gratify both his avarice and his hate, he sought the command of it.
To New York the safety of West Point was peculiarly interesting; and in that state, the reputation of Arnold was particularly high. To its delegation he addressed himself; and from a respectable member * belonging to it, a letter had been written to general Washing. ton suggesting doubts respecting the military character of Howe to whom its defence was CHAP. VI. then intrusted, and recommending Arnold for 1780. that service. From motives of delicacy this request could not be immediately complied with; but it was not forgotten. Some short time afterwards, general Schuyler, who was then in camp, mentioned to the commander in chief a letter he had received from Arnold intimating his wish to join the army, and render such service as might be in his power, but stating his inability, in consequence of his wounds, to perform the active duties of the field. The letter also suggested that he could discharge the duties of a stationary command without much inconvenience or uneasiness from his wounds. General Washington observed, that as there was a prospect of an active and vigorous campaign, he should be grati. fied with the aid of general Arnold, but did not believe there would be at his disposal any such command as that gentleman had sug. gested. That so soon as the operations against New York should commence, he designed to draw his whole force into the field, leaving even West Point to the care of invalids and a small garrison of militia. Recollecting, however, the former application on the part of a member of congress respecting this particular post, he added “that if with this previous in. formation, that situation would be more agree.
* Mr. Livingston.