Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor (2003)





Director:     Mikael Salomon

Starring:     Aidan Quinn (Gen. Benedict Arnold),  Kelsey Grammer (George Washington),  Flora Montgomery (Peggy Shippen),  John Light (John Andre),  John Kavanagh (Judge Shippen),  Tom Murphy (Major Franks).

Benedict Arnold was an American hero in the early days of the Revolutionary War.  He was an excellent general and was involved in the battles of Quebec and Saratoga.  Feeling robbed of the honor that he should have had by undeserving officers, he deliberately asked General Washington for the position of the commander of the fortifications at West Point.  It was his intention all along to give the plants of West Point to the British.  He coordinated his spy activities with British Major John Andre.  The affair was discovered when Andre was captured by some Americans in the town of Tarrytown, Westchester County, New York.



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

A third of the country are Patriots, a third are Loyalists and another third remain neutral. 

Quebec Fortress, 1776.  Benedict Arnold is promoted to Major General.  He drove his men in the dead of winter to attack Quebec where he was outnumbered 20 to 1.  He was wounded in the battle.  He almost made it possible for Canada to become the 14th state in the new American nation. 

Lake Champlain.  The American fleet led by Arnold was destroyed, but the enemy abandoned their thrust southward toward New York City. 

Saratoga, 1777.  Benedict Arnold leads the men in combat, but Gen. Gates informs him that Congress has elevated him to be first in command.  Arnold refers to the General as "Granny Gates".   Gates warns Arnold that if he attacks, he will be court-martialed.  But Arnold attacks anyway and is wounded in the leg. 

York, Pennsylvania, 1777.    George Washington is informed of a plot against him. 

Philadelphia, 1777.  Captain John Andre flirts with Loyalist Peggy Shippen, who has her eye on the captain as a possible marriage partner.  The news arrives that General Burgoyne has surrendered at Saratoga. 

Arnold visits the grave of his wife, who died of fever. 

Arnold Residence, New Haven, Connecticut.  Arnold is bankrupt.  He blames Hannah, his sister who looks after his boys.  He tells her:  "Not one more drop of blood for this ungrateful country." 

Arnold arrives at Valley Forge to see George Washington.  Washington refers to him as "my finest officer".  He tells the younger officer that he will make him military governor of Philadelphia where he can convalesce from his wound.  He tells him that he wants him to keep Congressman Joseph Reed in check.  The ambitious man had tried to oust Washington as commander of the army. 

Arnold finds Reed directing the lynching of still another Loyalist.  Reed tells Arnold that "Congress has no jurisdiction in Philadelphia."  Philadelphia was under enemy occupation for 500 days and one Loyalist a day will be hung for 500 days. 

Arnold throws a grand party for the celebration of the second anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  Both Patriots and Loyalists are invited, which upsets men like Reed.  Peggy attends the party and dances with the much older Arnold. 

Arnold puts a down payment on the Mount Pleasant mansion.  He wants three years back pay from Congress to help pay for the mansion.  Reed marches more Loyalist to the gallows. 

Peggy's father tells her to return Arnold's ring to him.  Dad objects to Arnold's poor background.  He says the man was a slave for seven years of indentured servitude; the wound in his leg will never heal; and there is talk of his malfeasance in office.

Complaints against Arnold reach Washington at Morristown, New Jersey.  Washington says that there are no laws against privateering.  Reed tells Washington that if nothing is done about Arnold that Pennsylvania may just secede from the union. 

When Arnold hears of the assaults on his reputation, he says he will resign as military governor of Philadelphia and ask for a court martial to clear his name.  Washington tells him that this court martial would have to be postponed for six months. 

Arnold marries Peggy Shippen.  Patriots throw stones at his house and burn him in effigy.  Arnold sends for help but is informed he would have to appeal to Reed for the troops.  Peggy starts pushing her husband to command Loyalist forces in America.  Arnold refuses.  Peggy then says that she has a contact to the British commander Henry Clinton through her relationship with Captain John Andre.  She urges Arnold to test the waters and offer his services to the British.  Peggy sends a note to Clinton and he tells Andre that they will test Arnold by asking him to provide the plans to the fortifications at West Point. 

Mutiny spreads among the American soldiers.  Washington is furious that General Lincoln without a fight surrendered Charleston and 5,000 men to Clinton. He is also furious that another thousand were killed at Savannah.  And, what's more, General Gates at Camden lost the entire southern army.  He shouts:  "The south is lost, lost!"

Arnold complains to Peggy that the British are telling him that "you are nothing to us without West Point."  He says that this is an insult.  He adds:  "I have lost my taste for this business."

Morristown Encampment.  Reed will give Washington a Pennsylvania regiment to put down the growing mutiny among the troops.  The Pennsylvania troops arrive and the mutineers back down.  Washington orders that ten men be selected and three of them be executed by a firing squad composed of the other seven. 

Washington has to reprimand Arnold.  He hates to do this because Arnold saved the cause twice:  once at Valcour Island and the other at the Battle of Saratoga.  He informs Arnold that he needs him more than ever.  Arnold complains that Washington's reprimand has hurt his reputation.  His boss responds that Arnold must realize that the judges were very lenient on him. 

Arnold wants 20,000 pounds from the British for giving them the plans to the West Point fortifications.  But on the other hand, Washington has offered him a great position of honor: command of the left wing of the army.  Peggy says yeah, "of a losing army".   She tells her husband that Reed and others have letters that can prove their involvement in various schemes.  Peggy keeps up the pressure on her husband and finally Arnold requests command of West Point.  It is granted.

West Point, 1780.  Arnold meets with fellow spy Joshua Smith.  At noon the next day they will meet the British ship the Vulture.   Arnold and Smith get into a rowboat to row out to the Vulture, but their boat is sunk by a blast from a British gunboat cannon under a commander uninformed about Arnold's mission. 

Peggy and her husband learn that in two days Washington will be arriving at their home on the east side of the Hudson River.  Peggy dreams of capturing Washington and his entire staff. 

Andre meets with Arnold.  One hundred dragoons are coming up from New York City to capture Washington and his staff at the Arnold home.  As they talk, the Vulture is fired upon by the Americans from shore.  The ship has to sail downstream to get away from enemy fire.  Andre was going to catch the Vulture for a ride back to New York City, but he realizes and is upset that he will now have to proceed by land.   Arnold gives him a pass to permit his passage through American checkpoints.  Andre asks for the map of the West Point fortifications.  Arnold advises against it, but Andre insists on taking the map. 

On his way back to New York City, Andre is stopped by three highwaymen with American sympathies.  Andre speaks too quickly saying that he is glad to see some British supporters.  This makes the highway men suspicious and they search Andre and find the map.  They take him to the commander of the local American troops.  The commander sends a message to Arnold and to Washington telling about Andre (who is known only as Mr. Anderson).  When Arnold receives the message, he immediately leaves to catch a ride on the Vulture.  Washington reaches the Arnold house just after Arnold leaves and is handed the note about Mr. Anderson.  Washington immediately recognizes that Arnold has betrayed him and all the Americans.  He goes inside to talk with Peggy who acts crazy and fools Washington into thinking she is completely innocent in the whole affair.

Arnold asks Henry Clinton to exchange him for Andre, but Clinton refuses this saying that a deserter (Arnold) is never given up. Clinton tells Arnold that almost all the American soldiers re-enlisted for the duration.  Arnold has united the Americans like no one else has.  He adds that Arnold has fused opposites. 

In England Arnold fights a duel with Lord Lauderdale for maligning his reputation.  Lauderdale fires in the air and Arnold misses with his shot.  He demands that the pistols be reloaded, but everyone just walks away from him. 

In 1801 Arnold dies in London at the age of 60.


Pretty good movie.  A lot of information is presented about Benedict Arnold.  If Washington loved the man so much and thought so highly of his leadership skills it is too bad he did not push for more recognition for Arnold from Congress.  This might have prevented Arnold from every betraying his country.  His resentment of the congressional slights and his wife's constantly pushing him to work with the British led to his cooperation with the British. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1651  -- the Arnold arrive in New England, settling in Rhode Island.  Benedict's father become a barrel maker. 

1730  --  the family moves to Norwich, Connecticut, the seventh largest city in the thirteen colonies.  Benedict's father sails cargo ships.  He later marries Hannah King.  Only two of their six children survive. 

1741 (January 14)  --  Benedict Arnold born in Norwich, Connecticut.  Benedict takes the name of his older brother who died.  He was the second of six children, only two of which survived into adulthood.  The father made several bad business deals and ran up a huge debt.  He started a drinking habit that led to alcoholism.  Benedict went to the Canterbury Academy. 

1755  --  at age 14, Arnold had to quite school because the family could no longer afford it.  He was apprenticed to a local druggist.  He stayed with the family and Mrs. Lathrop taught him the social graces. 

1756  --  at age 15, Arnold ran away and joined the Connecticut militia. 

1754-1763  --  the French and Indian War.  Arnold served at Lake George in the Battle of Fort William Henry, where the British were fighting off the French invasion from Canada.  It is thought that Arnold did not actually fight in the battle.  (It is believed his mother intervened and got him discharged from the service because of his young age.)

1759  --  his mother died.  His father's drinking got worse and he was arrested several times for public drunkenness.  His father had become the town drunk and it was very humiliating for Benedict. He was now responsible for the family.

1761  --  his father died. 

1762  --  Arnold became a pharmacist and bookseller in New Haven, Connecticut.  He was successful in business.  He went intro trading like his father.  He was an aggressive sea captain and became wealthy. 

1763  --  he was able to buy the old family homestead that his father was forced to sell because of his debt.

by 1765  --  he had purchased three ships and established a lucrative West Indies trade. 

1765  --  protests against the Stamp Act.

1766  --  Arnold defied the Stamp Act, engaging in smuggling.

1767  --  Arnold and another fellow roughed up a suspected smuggling informant.  He was thrown in jail and fined for the offense.

1767 (Feb. 22)  --  he married Margaret Mansfield.  The couple had three sons.  He became a smuggler to avoid unfair taxes imposed by the British. 

1775  --  Arnold was elected captain of the New Haven militia.

1775 (March)  --  the Governorís 2nd Company of Connecticut Guards was formed in New Haven.  Arnold was chosen as their captain.

1775 (April)  --  Battles of Lexington and Concord.  Arnold demand that David Wooster, a conservative, to hand over the ammunition to him.  Arnold and fifty men marched to Lexington.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts Arnold was made a colonel in the Massachusetts militia and sent him to join up with Ethan Allen in an attack on the British Ft. Ticonderoga. 

1775 (May 10)  --  Ft. Ticonderoga taken without bloodshed.  Arnold went on to help take three forts: Crown Point, Fort George and Fort St. Johns (in Quebec).  Instead of being recognized for his services, Arnold had to give command over to Colonel Benjamin Hinman.  Arnold was so furious that he resigned and returned to Massachusetts. 

1775 (June 19)  --  his wife died. 

1775 (September)  --  Arnold led one of the prongs in a two pronged offensive into Canada. (Gen. Richard Montgomery led the other prong.)  He led 1,000 men the 380 miles from Maine to Quebec in brutal winter weather.   They faced starvation but received assistance from the Indians.  

1775 (Dec. 31)  --  General Montgomery took Montreal.  Arnold and Montgomery joined forces to attack Quebec City.  Montgomery was killed and Arnold wounded.  The battle was lost.  Arnold held an inefficient siege of the city until spring 1776, when Arnold was relieved by another force.  Arnold promoted to Brigadier General.

1776 (March)  --  Gen. Thomas Gage evacuates Boston. 

1776 (October 11)  --  Arnold fought the Battle of Valcour Island, which was a naval battle.  Arnold served as both Admiral and cannoneer.  The battle delayed British plans to head down the Hudson River to New York City by a year.  Congress refuses to recognize the achievements of Arnold.  He returns to New Haven to resign.  But the British would change things with their coming raid on Danbury. 

1777 (January 12)  --  Arnold reports to duty in Rhode Island.  He had so few soldiers that he could only make defensive moves. 

1777 (April)  --  the British attacked Danbury, Connecticut and Arnold was sent to harass the British forces in the area.  In battle his horse was shot and fell to the ground and on top of Arnold's leg  injuring it. 

1777 (May)  --  because of the shifting of officers, Arnold gained command of the American forces in Philadelphia.  But Congress took command from Arnold in favor of new promoted Major General Thomas Mifflin. 

1777 (July 11)  --  Arnold resigns his commission.  But if Congress did not want Arnold, Washington did.  He transferred him up to the Northern Department because the British had recently retaken Ft. Ticonderoga. 

1777 (October 17)  --  the British are defeated at the Battle of Saratoga and the British plan to cut the New England colonies from the rest of the colonies failed.  Arnold played a vital role in the defeat of the British.  Horatio Gates was simply unwilling to fight.  On the final day of the battle Gates confined Arnold to his tent, but Arnold rode to the battle and too charge of the fighting.  He led a charge near the end of the day that broke the British lines.  He again was wounded in battle.  Burgoyne's army surrendered.  (Gates took the credit, while Arnold was in the hospital.)

1777-1778 (winter)  --  Arnold was at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania still recovering from his wound. 

1778 (June)  --  Washington appointed Arnold military commander of Philadelphia.  (France had become an ally of America and the British knew they could not hold both Philadelphia and New York City, so they abandoned Philadelphia.)  He was still a very bitter man over various grievances, including his being past over for promotion.  He tried to forge his bitterness in an extravagant way of life in Philadelphia.  He quickly fell for Peggy Shippen, the belle of Philadelphia society and involved in British espionage.  The British knew that Arnold was a general who could defeat them and they wanted Arnold out of action.

1779 (April 8)  --  Arnold wed the wealthy Peggy Shippen.  He was 38 years old, she was 18.  Only weeks after his marriage he contacts the British.  He sent messages for a year through Peggy and Captain Andre.  Arnold asked for and got 20,000 pounds from the British for the project of getting the plans to the fortification at West Point.  

1779 (June 1)  --  Arnold was court-martialed for malfeasance. 

1780 (July)  --  Arnold had sought and gotten the command of West Point not far north of New York City. Arnold then proceeded on a plan to provide the British with details of the West Point fortifications.  His plot was revealed when the British go-between was captured by three American soldiers in Tarrytown, Westchester County, New York on his way to New York City.  The plot was exposed and Arnold had to escape to the British forces.  Andre was hung in Tappen, Rockland County, New York

1780 (December)  --  with 1,600 troops Arnold succeeded in capturing Richmond, Virginia, thereby cutting off the major artery of material to the southern patriot effort.

1781 (September 8)  --  Arnold captured Fort Griswold, New London, Connecticut.  The British slaughtered the American soldiers even after they surrendered.  Arnold was unable to lead British troops.  He was never trusted and was regarded as a traitor. 

1781 (December)  --  Arnold was recalled to London.  He and Peggy received good pensions from the government.  He was shunned in England and developed a nervous disorder. 

Arnold went to Canada but failed in a financial venture.

1792  --  he had to return to London.

1801 (June 14)  --  Arnold died a pauper in London.  Soon after Peggy died. 



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