(as William Thiele)




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Episode credited cast:
Robert Clarke
Kirby Grant
Anthony Jochim
Grandon Rhodes
Pierre Watkin


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Release Date:

8 December 1953 (USA)  »

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The plan to "lose" West Point.
9 November 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This episode of "Cavalcade of America" starred Dan O'Herlihy as Benedict Arnold, and dealt with the events of 1780 that led to Arnold's fleeing to British lines, and the execution of Major John Andre as a sacrificial goat for Arnold.

I have discussed the story from the point of it's real tragic hero: Andre. He is (justifiably) the central role in the best movie about the story: "The Scarlet Coat". But I have not really discussed Arnold much, except to dismiss his reasons (briefly) for his treason. I will use the current opportunity to review them here.

Arnold was an early American hero of the war, as he led (with Ethan Allen) the attack and capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775. He also led (with General Richard Montgomery) a remarkably hard and harsh invasion (through Maine's backwoods) into Canada, that succeeded in capturing Montreal, but came apart in front of Quebec. Montgomery was killed, and Arnold (chased by British General Sir Guy Carleton) managed to stop the British by a delaying naval battle in Lake Champlain at Valcourt Island. Subsequently the general was twiddling his fingers for awhile, but he was subsequently sent to assist General Philip Schuyler in New York, who was trying to stop General John Burgoyne's 1777 invasion of the state. Schuyler was replaced by General Horatio Gates, and Gates did not get on with Arnold. He sent Arnold to stop one of Burgoyne's lieutenants, Colonel Barry St. Leger. Arnold did so at the battle of Fort Stanwix. Then Arnold rejoined Gates, and was (with Daniel Morgan) at the two battles of Saratoga. Historian usually agree that Arnold's performance at Saratoga was his finest moment in the Revolution. Despite his problems with Gates, he led a series of attacks, and was seriously wounded in the same leg he got wounded in at Quebec. But his work did much to win the battle, and thus win the turning point of the war. But the credit went (mostly) to Gates.*

(*If you visit the Saratoga battlefield today, there is one major monument to Arnold. It shows his boot, and has an inscription that basically said that the monument is to the memory of the most brilliant and brave general in the American Armies of the American Revolution, who by his work won the battle at Saratoga and guaranteed American independence. But the monument does not give that officer's name! Everyone knows who it is.)

Arnold had one real fan - General George Washington. Washington, unfortunately, had a host of foes in the Continental Congress, who felt he should be replaced (possibly by Gates). This group never really formalized it's position, and Washington survived defeats like Brandywine and Germantown against British General Sir William Howe. When Howe vacated Philadephia, Washington put Arnold in charge as Military Governor.

It was a bad move. Arnold, even in his best years, had been involved in some questionable financial dealings. The same things happened in Philadelphia. Also, he tended to be too friendly to the Tory families who supported Howe's occupation, and married Peggy Shippen, a beautiful member of one of these families. Finally, like many New Englanders, Arnold was a staunch foe of Catholicism, and disliked the alliance with France.

In 1779 Washington faced a growing amount of evidence that Arnold's continued military government of the city was corrupt. He replaced Arnold, and (to placate him) made him commander of West Point - one of the key military posts in American hands.

One of Howe's aides in Philadelphia was Major John Andre, and he had been a close "friend" and admirer of Peggy. She became the focal point of the conspiracy. Arnold, who was angry at the shabby way he felt that he'd been treated (despite Washington's continued support of him), was willing to accept terms from British Commander Sir Henry Clinton in New York: an earldom, high military rank in the British military, and 10,000 pounds as a reward. In return for these benefits, he'd turn over West Point. And he would turn over Washington and his staff, who would be convinced by Arnold to come to the Point for a conference.

It was a devilish plot - and came very close to succeeding. If Andre had not been captured while going into the "no-man's land" between the British and American lines near Tarrytown, he would have gotten to New York City, and Clinton would have been able to follow Arnold's scheme to close the trap.

Arnold was able to flee to H.M.S. Vulture near the "boom" across the Hudson River that marked the point where the American's controlled the river. Washington did not realize at the time that Peggy was involved, and allowed her to go after her husband. But he held onto Andre, in the forlorn hope that Clinton would agree to return Arnold for Andre. But Clinton could not do it. Too many potential Tory supporters would have stopped supporting the British cause if he had (not for love of Arnold

  • he'd been too well connected to defending the Revolution until now -

but for reasons of their own safety). So Andre went to his death with dignity, lamented by everyone.

Arnold got only a smaller sum for his treason and a Brigadier General's position. The American Tories never trusted him, nor did the British. He led some deadly raids into Connecticut (near his home town of New London) and into Virginia (into Richmond). His was a doomed relationship as it was purchased, and had cost the life of such a popular figure as Andre. Clinton did what he could. After the war Arnold tried to succeed in Canada and Britain. Peggy contacted former friends in Philadelphia to see if she and their children could visit. She was told to forget it. Arnold died in 1801, requesting to be buried in his old American uniform. He supposedly regretted that he ever put on another uniform instead.

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