A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part VI, Chapter 62." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 62
THE STORY OF A GREAT CRIME

FOR his strange conduct at the battle of Monmouth General Lee was court-martialled, and deprived of his command for one year. Before the year was out, however, he quarrelled with Congress, and was expelled from the army altogether. So his soldiering days were done, and he retired to his farm in Virginia. He was still looked upon as a patriot, even if an incompetent soldier. But many years after his death some letters that he had written to Howe were found. These proved him to have been a traitor to the American cause. For in them he gave the British commander advice as to how the Americans could best be conquered.

Lee expelled from the army

A traitor

Thus his strange conduct at the battle of Monmouth was explained. He had always given his voice against attacking the British on their way to New York. And doubtless he thought that if Washington had been defeated, he could have proved that it was because his advice had not been followed. If in consequence Washington's command had been taken from him, he would have been made commander-in-chief and could have easily arranged terms of peace with the British.

 

But his plans miscarried. He lived to see America victorious, but died before peace was signed.

 

Lee was a traitor. But he had never been a real American. He had taken the American side merely for his own glory, and had never done anything for it worthy of record. But now a true American, one who had fought brilliantly and gallantly for this country, turned traitor, and blackened his fair name, blotting out his brave deeds for all time.

 

When the Americans took possession of Philadelphia again Benedict Arnold was still too crippled by his wound to be able for active service. So the command of Philadelphia was given to him.

Arnold made commander of Philadelphia;

There he soon got into trouble. He began to live extravagantly, and grew short of money. He quarrelled with the state government, and with Congress, was accused of inviting loyalists to his house, of getting money by dishonest acts, and of being in many ways untrue to his duty. He also married a beautiful young loyalist lady, and that was another offence.

 

Arnold was arrogant and sensitive. He grew restive under all these accusations, and demanded an enquiry. His demand was granted, and a court-martial, although acquitting him of everything except imprudence, sentenced him to be reprimanded by the Commander-in-chief.

 

Washington loved his high-spirited, gallant officer, and his reprimand was so gentle and kind that it seemed more like praise than blame. But even Washington's gracious words chafed Arnold's proud spirit. He was hurt and angry. He had deserved well of his country, and he was reprimanded. He had fought gallantly, and had been passed over for others. He had been twice wounded in his country's service, and he was rewarded by jealousy, caviling, and a court-martial.

 

Soon these feelings of bitterness turned to thoughts of treachery, when exactly is not known. But turn they did, and Arnold began in secret to write letters to General Clinton, the British commander-in-chief.

he begins to write treasonable letters

In the summer of 1780, his wound still making him unfit for active service, Arnold was given command of the fortress of West Point, which guarded the approaches to the Hudson Valley. This fortress he agreed to betray into the hands of the enemy, and thus give them command of that valley for which Burgoyne had made such a gallant and hopeless fight. For a long time Arnold carried on a secret correspondence with Major André, a British officer, and at length a meeting between them was arranged. One September night Arnold waited until all was still and dark in the fort. Then stealthily he crept forth and reached in safety a clump of trees on the bank of the Hudson just beyond the American lines. Here he lay waiting.

The midnight meeting, Sept., 1780

Soon through the darkness the British warship, the Vulture, crept up the river. Presently Arnold heard the soft splash of oars, and in a few minutes Major André stepped ashore.

 

For hours the two conspirators talked until at length all details of the plot were settled. But day had dawned before Arnold returned to West Point, and André set out to regain the Vulture, with plans of the fort, and all other particulars hidden in his boots. By this time, however, the batteries on shore had begun to fire upon the ship, and André, finding it impossible to get on board, decided to go back to New York by land.

 

It was a dangerous journey, but for a little while he crept on unseen. Then suddenly his way was barred by three Americans, and he found himself a prisoner.

André captured

"Have you any letters?" asked his captors.

 

"No," he answered.

 

They were not satisfied with his answer, and began to search him. But finding nothing they were just about to let him go when one of them said, "I'm not satisfied, boys. His boots must come off."

 

André made every kind of excuse to prevent them taking off his boots. They were hard to pull off, he said, and it would take a long time. He was already late, so he begged them not to hinder him more. But the more unwilling he was to take off his boots, the more determined were his captors that they should come off.

 

So they forced him to sit down, his boots were pulled off, and the papers discovered.

his papers are discovered

Only one of the three Americans could read. He seized the papers and glanced hastily over them.

 

"By heaven," he cried, "he is a spy!"

 

It was in vain that André now begged to be set free. First he tried persuasion, and when that failed he tried bribery. But his captors would not listen, and marched him off to headquarters.

 

Arnold was just about to sit down to breakfast, with some other officers as his guests, Washington being expected every minute to join them, when a letter was handed to him, telling him that a spy had been captured. It was an awful moment for Arnold. If André was captured then all too surely his own treachery was known. He could not stay to face the disgrace. But he made no sign. He calmly folded the letter, and put it in his pocket. Then saying that he had been suddenly called to the fort, he begged his guests to excuse him, and went out, and mounting the horse of the messenger who had brought the letter, he sped away, never staying his flight until he was safe aboard the Vulture.

Arnold flees

Very soon after Arnold had escaped Washington arrived. And when the traitorous papers which had been found in André's possession were placed in his hands he was overcome with grief.

 

"Arnold is a traitor, and has fled to the British," he said. "Whom can we trust now?"

Washington's grief

As he spoke the tears ran down his cheeks, bitter tears rung from his noble soul at the thought of this "one more devil's-triumph and sorrow for angels."

 

The chief sinner had escaped. But he had left his fellow conspirator to pay his debt. For a spy could expect no mercy. André was young, brave, and gay. He had such winning ways with him that even his captors came to love him, and they grieved that such a gay young life must be brought to a sudden and dreadful end. His many friends did their best to save him. But their efforts were all in vain. Nothing could alter the fact that he was a spy caught in the act, and the punishment was death.

 

So one morning André was led out to die. He begged to shot as a soldier, and not hanged like a felon. But even that was denied him. Calm and brave to the end he met his death.

André dies

When Arnold's treachery was known a cry of rage rang through the country. Yet in spite of his foul deed people could not quite forget how nobly he had fought. "Hang him," they cried, "but cut off the leg that was wounded at Saratoga first!"

 

Arnold, however, was beyond their vengeance, safe in the British lines. There he at once received a commission, and turned his sword against his own country.

 

Thus a brave man cast his valour in the dust, and made his name a scorn and a by-word. But who shall say that the men who belittled his deeds, and followed him with jealousy and carping, were wholly blameless?

 

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This book has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this book were the work of volunteers at
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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom