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Military Secrets

Benedict Arnold Letter to John André, July 12, 1780. Henry Clinton Papers.

Benedict Arnold Letter to John André, July 12, 1780. Henry Clinton Papers.

In this letter, Benedict Arnold provided John André and Sir Henry Clinton with useful information about American troop movements and other behind-the-scenes information. At the beginning of the letter, Arnold also referred to previous information he had provided to the British at the expense of General George Washington. First, in a letter dated June 7, 1780, he had provided Captain Beckwith, the aide to Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen who commanded New York when Clinton was in absent on other campaigns, with important information about French involvement in the war. While dining with General Washington, Arnold learned that 6000 French troops, led by the Comte de Rochambeau, were going to arrive in Newport, Rhode Island to assist the American cause. The Marquis de Lafayette, a French soldier and stateman who fought for the Americans, had just returned from France and promised to loan more French ships and troops to Washington. Second, Arnold also referred to a false proclamation, which was engineered by Washington and Lafayette to fool the British. Washington and Lafayette planned to deceive Clinton by releasing a proclamation to the Canadians announcing that the French and Americans would combine forces to attack British Canada. The proclamation urged French people in Canada to join with the French troops in the American cause against the British. Washington, trusting Arnold, gave Arnold a draft of the proclamation to print and distribute 500 copies. Arnold sent one to a printer and another one to Joseph Stansbury. Arnold’s close friendship with Washington yielded much secret information for the British.

Arnold also provided some updated information about Washington’s plans. He specified that Washington planned to join forces with the French and attack the British in New York. Indeed, Rochambeau landed on July 12, 1780, and Washington moved to join him on July 31 when he crossed the Hudson River at King’s Ferry.

[Hudson River near Verplanck’s Point], [ca. 1770s]. Henry Clinton Papers.

In addition to intelligence, Arnold also hinted that he once he took command of West Point, he could supply even more useful services to the British. This story unravels in the next letter. As a commander of West Point, he suggested how he could communicate with British officers without anyone detecting that he was a spy. A British officer could voluntarily be taken prisoner, brought to West Point for Arnold, then released on parole so that the officer could take information from Arnold back to the British.

The final parts of the letter hint at Arnold’s motivations for betraying the American cause. He disclosed his general feeling about the impact of the war on American resolve and morale. He thought that Americans were tired of the war and would give up soon if they did not see any substantial benefit. He thought that the last few struggles were futile and showed American weakness and discouragement. Furthermore, Arnold again emphasized that he expected substantial and urgent payment for his services.

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See the Letter:  Benedict Arnold Letter to John André, July 12, 1780

See the Method:  Secret Code

See the Timeline:  1780