BENEDICT ARNOLD: Patriot and Traitor by Willard Sterne Randall
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BENEDICT ARNOLD: Patriot and Traitor

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Though the outlines of Benedict Arnold's life have been known for years, he emerges in all his valor, military genius, bitterness, and deceitfulness in this superb biography by Univ. of Vermont historian and former journalist Randall (A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin and His Son, 1984). Randall masterfully shows how Arnold became ""the best field commander in the war on either side,"" and evokes the feverish, sometimes desperate nature of the general's seizure of Fort Ticonderoga, his harrowing march through Maine and spirited if unsuccessful assault on Quebec, the construction of America's first naval fleet, and Arnold's inspirational leadership at the Battle of Saratoga (where a ghastly wound all but ruined his left leg). Without preaching, the author marshals considerable evidence (most discovered only recently in US and foreign archives) suggesting that history's most famous turncoat was as much sinned against as sinning In rich detail, Randall outlines the determining factors that compelled Arnold to make his notorious appointment with John AndrÉ at West Point: his enemies in the Continental Congress and the Army who repeatedly passed him over for promotion in favor of inferior officers; the court-martial that found him guilty of using his post as military governor of Philadelphia for financial gain; and the undisguisable presence of his second wife, a gorgeous Loyalist. (Randall is less successful in answering why Arnold was virtually the only major Continental commander to turn traitor, among many who suffered from politicians' interference.) Ultimately, Arnold was reviled by Americans for pillaging Virginia and Connecticut and for plotting to betray his benefactor George Washington, and by the British for abandoning the patriot cause for money and not political conviction. He spent his last years in England and Canada, trying to fend off financial ruin and attacks on his character. A gripping narrative about a revolutionary who was as human and as morally ambivalent as John le CarrÉ's Cold War spies.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1990
Publisher: Morrow