BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Clare Brandt, when did you first get interested in Benedict Arnold?
CLARE BRANDT: Probably in third grade when I found out what a dastardly traitor he was. Then I called my enemies on the playground by that name, as we all did I guess in those days. It was actually my husband's idea to do the book, and the minute he said the word I knew that's who I wanted to write about, and I couldn't possibly tell you why. But the minute I started doing a little bit of research I got absolutely intrigued because I wanted to know why he did it. It's like a detective story. Here was this able, intelligent, marvelous soldier, a great leader of men, very articulate in the cause of his country. Why in the world did this man give it all up and turn his coat? I had to know why. I got totally hooked.
LAMB: Is this your first book?
BRANDT: No, the second book. I wrote a history of the Livingston family of the Hudson Valley called "An American Aristocracy," which was published in 1986. That was my first book. This is my third career. I was an actor when I first came out of college, and then that of course didn't put any bread on the table so I became a teacher. I taught acting and drama and then eventually got into teaching history by way of theater history first and then just got intrigued with the whole thing. The minute I decided I was a little burned out on teaching I decided to write.
LAMB: Where did you teach?
BRANDT: I taught in independent schools in Boston and in New York at the high school level. I don't have a teacher's degree. I've never taken an education course in my life, so they wouldn't let me in a public school.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
BRANDT: I live in Rhinebeck, N.Y., 90 miles north of New York City in the Hudson Valley. It's very near West Point. It's very exciting to be on that river -- well, it's a beautiful river anyway -- but I was able to get someone local to take me in a boat and retrace Arnold's steps when he made that hair-raising escape from George Washington to the British ship in Haverstraw Bay. I was able to do that with the same kind of a tide, with a stopwatch and figure out how fast they rode and that kind of thing, which was a lot of fun. And, of course, West Point itself is very interesting.
LAMB: When did you start the book?
BRANDT: It took me six years to research and write so a long time ago. I've been living and breathing with this man for a very long time.
LAMB: When was he born?
BRANDT: 1741, in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of a prosperous merchant and trader, very high standing in the community. Norwich was then one of the biggest towns in Connecticut, and like every other town in New England, it was full of traders -- international traders who were trading to Quebec and to Europe and down to the Caribbean -- and Arnold's father was one of them. He had various siblings. When he was 10 his other brother died, and he was then the only son. He was sent away to a classical boarding academy in a town just a few miles upriver, which was a rarity in the Colonies, having a classical education. And, of course, going on to college, which he probably would have done from that school, was even rarer still. So he was well on his way up to a higher status of society, I suppose, and certainly of intelligence or of intellectualism, than even his own parents.
But then when he was 14 he was yanked back home again. Papa had become an alcoholic and had gone bankrupt, so there was no money for the education, no business for Arnold to inherit and run when he got through school, and he was put as an apprentice to an apothecary. Quite a comedown.
LAMB: I remember your writing that Benedict Arnold was born and then died. Was he the one that then . . .?
BRANDT: Oh, no. He had an older brother Benedict, who died as an infant. This was common practice in the 18th century that you gave the next child of the same gender the same name that you had given the dead baby. This, I'm sure, had to do with wanting to pass family names down. His father's name was Benedict and his grandfather's name was Benedict and so forth, so they obviously wanted to keep the name. So when the firstborn Benedict died as an infant, then the next son would have automatically received that name.
LAMB: If he were 14 then it would be about 1755, if I count right. What was this country all about in 1755?
BRANDT: It was before the end of the French and Indian wars, so that was still going on, not of course in Connecticut, although there were a lot of people who went to it, as British soldiers of course. There are even some historians who have said, other biographers who have said that Arnold ran away and went and joined up and went to the French and Indian wars. I've looked at that evidence very carefully and decided that it wasn't him, that it was somebody else. I don't think he did do that. So the country was very much in flux, but the British were firmly in control now because the French were no longer in Canada, so then it was at peace for the first time in a long time, which must have been a big relief, and very prosperous.
Business boomed the way it often does after a war, and the British then decided that now that they had Canada to administer as well, they needed some more money from these Colonies over across the water. That's when they began to enforce the laws that were already on the books about trading. That's when Arnold, who by the age of 21 had become an independent trader and merchant in New Haven -- he'd been such a good apprentice that the man he'd worked for set him up and loaned him the money. All the traders in New England started to go broke because they could no longer trade directly with Quebec and the Caribbean without being interdicted by British ships on the high seas, all their cargoes taken, and they in fact were turned into smugglers.
LAMB: When you lived in this country when he was 21 -- that would make it 1762 -- what country were you a citizen of?
BRANDT: Great Britain. You were a British citizen.
LAMB: And held a British passport?
BRANDT: I suppose so, yes.
LAMB: How many people lived here in 1762?
BRANDT: I'm afraid I can't tell you that, but it wasn't very many. It was a very small society. People knew people in other cities, by reputation if nothing else. Certainly in every town everybody sort of knew everybody, no matter how big it was. It was a much smaller society.
LAMB: Let me jump to the end for someone who has not studied Benedict Arnold. The title is "The Man in the Mirror." Where did you get that title?
BRANDT: I got it from the image I ended up really hanging the whole story on. I came to believe that the experience he had when he was a young man was very definitive for him. Although he made a grand success of his apprenticeship and his later business dealings, underneath he was a very, very insecure person who was very frightened of losing status, very frightened of not having enough money, and he became terribly self-protective. When the war came along and he became a public hero, which he did quite quickly, the pressure on him was enormous to maintain that image of the patriot and the hero. He could not brook criticism. He had a very thin skin. My contention is, to make a long story short and it's much more complicated than this, of course, that he built himself a house of mirrors which would protect him from the outside world and would show him to himself the way he wished to be. So that's really the central image of the book because I think that was the guiding factor in Arnold's life.
LAMB: How big was he?
BRANDT: Five-foot-nine-ish is as close as I can come. He was sort of stocky -- not handsome, I don't think. I think he could be very attractive when he wanted to be. I think he could be very charming when he wanted to be. The illustration which is the frontispiece in the book is the only portrait that is known to be taken from life. There are other portraits of him but they don't look much like this, and I will go with this one every time because it was done during the war and he sat for it.
LAMB: Where did you get this?
BRANDT: The portrait? I'm not sure where the original is. This is an engraving done from the original which I got at the New York Historical Society.
LAMB: In the back you've got this huge bibliography and all these source notes and all that stuff. Where did you go to find out about Benedict Arnold?
BRANDT: I don't even know where I started. I started reading some other biographies that had been written in the past, and then as all good historians do, I strip-mined their bibliographies, which is one way to start. I started asking around. I went to the libraries where I'd worked before: the New York Public Library and New York Historical. One thing leads to another leads to another leads to another, and you find yourself just following your nose. I ended up going to England to the public record office to read all the British stuff about him and about the battles that he'd fought when he was a British officer. And, of course, I went to Philadelphia where he was commandant. I also went to all the places where he fought battles and went up the Kennebeck River -- not every square inch of it, but a lot of it I went up. I went to Lambuebec in January just to see how cold it was -- it's cold -- because that's very important to me. I think it's important to know what it feels like to be in that place, as close as you can get to it. So I tried to go to the places, and I tried to go with the right season of the year.
LAMB: How many times was he married?
LAMB: How many children did he have?
BRANDT: He had a total of eight survivors. There were some babies that died young. Three by the first wife, who was a New Haven woman whom he married before the war. She died right at the beginning of the war, and then five surviving ones by his second wife, Peggy Shippen, of Philadelphia -- a 19-year-old, gorgeous Philadelphia belle.
LAMB: I'm looking for a map here. This is the earliest illustration.
BRANDT: Yes, that's Lake Champlain, where he fought two of his decisive battles. The first one wasn't really a battle. When he took over Ticonderoga with Ethan Allen in 1775, but then later after he'd led the march up the Kennebeck and they'd attacked Quebec and not taken it and they finally eventually had to get out of Canada, the British decided that they wanted to come up Lake Champlain, since it flows north, and attack the Hudson River and take over the Hudson River and sever Washington's communications with New England and not be able to use those Hudson River crossings which were crucial just for the logistics of the Army and supplying the Army. So they were going to do that in '76.
The American Army was on the run out of Canada, decimated by smallpox. It was a hideous retreat, but the success of the retreat, the fact that they brought anybody out, was in great part due to Benedict Arnold, who was superb at that kind of thing. Once he realized he had to get out, he knew how to do it and he knew how to take care of his men. So they limped into Ticonderoga with the British then paused at the northern end of the lake, and it was assumed that they were going to sail south and attack Ticonderoga before too many weeks went by so that they would then have time before the winter set in to get through to Albany, establish themselves there and then in the spring meet up with British troops from New York and take the Hudson Valley under their control.
What they decided to do -- Arnold and his superior officers Philip Schuyler and Horatio Gates at Ticonderoga that spring and early summer -- was to build a fleet to try to stop the British. Arnold was largely responsible for that. He was given command of constructing the fleet and then eventually given command of it. He constructed all these banged-together boats -- gondolas; not a Venetian gondola, but a war gondola -- and lots of bateaux and rowing boats and things like that. Lake Champlain is an incredible place to try to sail because you've got big, high mountains on both sides, so you need very maneuverable boats and he didn't have time to build very many maneuverable boats. But he smashed together this rather makeshift little fleet. They didn't have enough rope; they didn't have enough sails; they didn't have anybody who knew how to sail a boat except for Arnold. He did know how to sail a boat because he'd been a trader before the war and had sailed to the Caribbean. But he was practically the only one -- that's not true, but he was among the very few people in that fleet who knew how to sail, who knew how to point a gun on a heaving deck, who knew how to do any of those things.
He did a couple of reconnoitering expeditions with his little fleet up into the lake, and eventually the British did come down. He had put himself behind an island, and they sailed past him before they realized he was there. They had to beat back upwind to get at him, and he was able to take them on one and two at a time and fight them off the first day. They had this enormous ship called Inflexible, which they had brought over from England, taken it down, brought it around into the lake and rebuilt it at the top of the lake. That's what had taken them so long. They didn't come down till October. Everybody was expecting them in August. They didn't come till October because they wanted to wait to get this big ship built, and the reason they wanted to wait to get this big ship built was they'd heard that Benedict Arnold was building a fleet. He by then had a reputation as a formidable soldier, so in a way even though he eventually lost his little fleet, he slowed them down enough so that they did not take Ticonderoga. They didn't even attack Ticonderoga when they finally got down there. They turned and went back, and a week after they went back the lake started to freeze over. They just made it out of there or they would have been stranded for the winter.
So people have given him a lot of credit for building the fleet and for that battle that he fought -- that two-day naval battle that he fought with that vastly outmanned, vastly outgunned -- and he was able to just slow them down and do enough damage to really give them something to think about, and as a result they didn't come.
LAMB: When was his first day in the military? What year was it?
BRANDT: Well, in 1775 right away -- because even before Lexington and Concord a lot of the towns throughout the Colonies were raising militia troops, and they were drilling on the green and doing all of this -- Arnold joined the militia troop. He was instrumental in founding the militia troop in New Haven and was elected its captain, which was a great mark of prestige in the community. It meant that his men regarded him well. The minute the news of Lexington and Concord came in April of 1775 he said, "OK, boys, let's go." Most of them went with him. They didn't have to, but most of them did, and they marched up to Cambridge where they met the Continental Army, such as it was. I mean, Washington hadn't even been appointed commander. There wasn't any Continental Army. It was basically local militias who after the British had gotten back into Lexington and Concord and all that blood had been spilled on that terrible two days, they were holed up in Boston, surrounded in all the suburbs by this ragtag little group of local militias, and Arnold just wanted to go up and help.
LAMB: What happened at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts?
BRANDT: The British knew that the Continentals, the colonials, had some military stores at Concord, and the British commander in Boston, General Gage, decided that he had to go out there and either bring them away or destroy them. Boston was a powder keg at this point. The Boston Massacre had occurred. There were British troops stationed in the city, and everybody was very, very jittery. So Gage decided to go to Concord to capture these stores and bring them back or, as I said, destroy them. This was when Paul Revere made his famous ride of warning people how the British were coming and what road they were taking and all that. So they marched up towards Concord, which is west of Boston not very many miles, and when they got to Lexington Green, which is the town just before Concord, there was the local militia arranged on the green.
The local militia commander had no intention of trying to stop them because he was vastly out-manned, but he just wanted to get out there to let them know the colonials were not sleeping and the colonials were not going to let them by without some kind of show. The British commander stopped his troops and they faced each other for a few minutes, and finally the British commander said, "You must disperse or risk the consequences." They were in the process of dispersing when a shot was fired, and nobody knows who fired it. Somebody fell down dead, and there was a battle. I think there were fewer than 10 colonials who were hurt there or killed, and I don't believe any British were hurt, but maybe. I'm not absolutely sure, but it was a tiny amount. The British kept going towards Concord, but the minute word got out in the countryside that this had happened at Lexington Green and that people had been killed, everybody started gathering.
By the time the British got to Concord and destroyed the stores and packed them up and brought them back, the minute they turned around and headed back for Boston, here they were not so much confronted but they were marching down roads with stone walls on either side, and behind every stone of those walls there was a sniper. They had a horrendous time. They were picked off by the hundreds. Eventually, by the time they got back to Lexington, Gage had sent out reinforcements just because he was afraid something might happen. He hadn't heard yet. But even so, they had a terrible, terrible day and evening getting themselves back into Boston. So that was the first blood, and it was an accident as far as anybody knows.
LAMB: What was the relationship between the colonials, the Continental Army and the British troops at that point? Did any Americans serve in the British army?
BRANDT: Oh, a lot of them had. George Washington made his reputation. He was with Gen. Braddock in that disastrous march down in Virginia during the French and Indian wars. Horatio Gates had served in the French and Indian wars, and Philip Schuyler. They all had. Anybody who knew anything about warfare had learned it from the British.
LAMB: So in the British army at that time could there also have been Americans?
BRANDT: Yes. The British troops in Boston were not colonials. They were British redcoats, so they would not have been colonial troops. In other words, there would have been no men of Concord fighting against other men of Concord, no.
LAMB: And Benedict Arnold, born in this country, on his way to Cambridge, is a part of the New Haven militia.
BRANDT: Yes. "Let's go, boys." Absolutely. So he gets to Cambridge, and he manages to introduce himself to a man named Joseph Warren, who was a doctor and a member of the same Masonic lodge as Paul Revere, which is the Masonic lodge that is widely believed to have perpetrated the Tea Party, and Arnold was a Mason. The Masons in the Colonies, if you were a Mason you went to another town and you automatically were accepted by the other Masons, who tended to be not only the social leaders and the financial leaders but the intellectual leaders.
LAMB: What was a Mason?
BRANDT: A Freemason. That organization started in France, and it was anti-Catholic and it was anti-autocratic. They were great believers in individual rights and great believers in Thomas Paine and the rights of man and all that.
LAMB: Only men?
BRANDT: Oh, yes, sure. This is where Arnold, I think, picked up a lot of his rhetoric. He had very good rhetoric, but I think this is where he picked up a lot of his patriotic rhetoric, from being a Mason. Anyway, he gets to Cambridge and he manages to meet Joseph Warren, the head of the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. There is a Massachusetts Committee of Safety, a Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence, a Massachusetts Assembly. The Massachusetts Assembly was official, but all these other little ad hoc organizations sprang up to articulate grievances against Great Britain. Arnold was a Connecticut captain, and Warren was able to create him a Massachusetts colonel and to send him with a commission from the Massachusetts Committee of Safety to capture Fort Ticonderoga and to send the artillery that was there back to Boston so that the Continentals would have artillery to blast the British out of the city. They had no artillery. The British had all the artillery. So he races off to do this, but he gets halfway there and finds out that somebody else is in front of him and that Ethan Allen is there already to capture Ticonderoga.
Arnold, being Arnold, instead of saying, "Oh, that's wonderful. I'll help you," flashes his commission in front of these six or eight men who had organized the whole thing and were ready to go in their boats, and says, "Fine. I have an official commission. I will now be the commander of this." They looked at him and said, "No, you won't," and he said, "Yes, I will." By the end of it he and Allen said they would be joint commanders, although they loathed each other. But I think by the end of it words had been spoken by him, and he made implacable enemies among those men. I think he had that talent. He could be very charming and very gracious -- he was well educated; he was gently reared, all that -- but if you crossed him, I have a feeling that he had an ability to make an enemy in about 30 seconds flat.
LAMB: He would be about 34 in 1775. Was he married?
BRANDT: He was married. He had three children.
LAMB: What was his first wife like?
BRANDT: Her name was Margaret Mansfield. Her father was, I believe, the high sheriff of New Haven County. He was a very prosperous merchant and trader. He married up. He married well. I don't know what the marriage was like. All I know is that when he was on trading voyages he would constantly write to her and say, "Please, just one letter. I don't know if you guys are all right or not. I don't know whether I'm writing to the living or the dead." She appears not to have been enormously affectionate, let's put it that way.
LAMB: How does mail move around? You talk a lot about mail.
BRANDT: When he was in the Caribbean he would send it back, probably with a ship's captain that he knew who would then arrange to have it personally delivered to her. There certainly wasn't any postal service. It was all done through ships and riders and individual couriers.
LAMB: How did they communicate in the middle of a war like this?
BRANDT: That was part of the trouble. They didn't very reliably. They sent individual couriers. Military couriers would go back and forth between, but they weren't in very close touch which led to the commanders in the fields having enormous latitude. Washington as commander-in-chief could be down in Pennsylvania, and Horatio Gates and Arnold would be up fighting in Saratoga and there was no way Washington was going to be able to say, "Yes, attack" or "No, don't attack." They had to make their decisions on the field which if they won and were successful they got all the credit, but if they lost and were unsuccessful they got all the blame.
LAMB: What was the last biography of Benedict Arnold you saw of any relevance before you wrote this?
BRANDT: James T. Flexner wrote one in the '60s, I believe. There was one published about two years ago, but at that point I was right in the middle of writing this, and I was, in fact, more finished than not finished.
LAMB: Is that the Willard Stern Randall book?
BRANDT: Yes, and I didn't read it because I just thought that what I don't need now is another influence. I'm really so much into my own book here that I think it would be unhealthy for me to read that. I would like to read it now that I'm finished, and I will, because I understand it's a very good book and he is a very nice man, but I have not read it. But that's the most recent.
LAMB: What makes you think a book on Benedict Arnold will sell?
BRANDT: I think people are interested in him. I think people are interested in traitors, especially after Mr. Ames the other day, and I think what this book does -- well, the reason I wrote this book and didn't let the other books deter me from writing it was that to my satisfaction nobody had really explained why he did it. I had to know more about this man and how he could encompass all these contradictions in his character. I wanted to know what tipped him over.
Everybody says, "Oh, he did it for the money," which indeed he did. Everybody says, "Oh, he did it because he was badly mistreated by Congress," which indeed he was. Everybody says he was very discouraged because civilian support for the war was waning rapidly, which indeed it was. But every other officer in the Continental Army was in exactly the same situation and felt exactly the same way -- the same angers, the same frustrations -- but he's the only one who turned his coat and I wanted to know what it was. The minute I began to do the research I said, "There's something really personal about this man. He did this for a very personal reason, and I want to try to figure out what those are," so that's what I did.
LAMB: Where did you spend most of your time?
BRANDT: At home, in front of the computer. But I did research. I went to London and Philadelphia. I did travel around to all of the battle sites. There is a wonderful repository of American documents at Ann Arbor at the Clements Library at the University of Michigan. They bought, I think it was in the '40s -- Sir Henry Clinton was the British commander-in-chief in New York at the time of Arnold's treason. They heard -- I think this is the story they told me -- that his trunk that he took around with him was for sale at an auction in London, and they bought it sight unseen, shipped it back to Ann Arbor, opened the trunk, and inside of it was all the correspondence between Arnold on the one hand and Clinton and Major Andr‚ on the other hand during the time of the treason, and all the intelligence he was sending. Up until that time nobody had seen any of this, and up until that time nobody had known that his wife was involved. But clearly, from the documents she is. This is his second wife, Peggy Shippen.
LAMB: What year was that discovered?
BRANDT: This trunk? I think it was in the '40s or the '50s, right after World War II. I'm not absolutely sure of the year. But once that came to light, obviously, Arnold's scholarship was sort of given a whole new dimension. Now, there have been books since then, but I still felt that nobody really got down to it and figured out why this man did what he did. That was my goal for myself.
LAMB: You say you retraced all these steps. How did you physically do that?
BRANDT: Following my nose, asking around when I went up to Lake Champlain. There is a Lake Champlain maritime museum, and I got in touch with the director up there. I knew somebody who knew the director of Crown Point, and he said, "Oh, you must call so-and-so." So I called so-and-so and he said, "Oh, well, this is the person to take you out on a boat." So it's just a question of following your nose and making a lot of phone calls and setting it up before you go. But going out on a boat on Lake Champlain was just wonderful because you could understand how that battle went. So much of it depended on the wind and on the maneuverability of the ships.
I got out there in a sailing boat, one boat at the northern end and one at the southern end, and realized the minute I got out there, of course, this was incredibly difficult because it's surrounded by mountains and the sailing is very, very tricky. There are wonderful visual things. I was there in October when he fought the Battle of Valcour Island. Little mists appear that make all the islands seem to float and things like that. I don't think you can get that kind of thing until you actually go.
LAMB: You sent me on a little side trip when I read the footnote that the Philadelphia, the gondola boat, is at the Smithsonian. How did you know that?
BRANDT: I think they told me up at Lake Champlain. I think that's where I first learned about it, and of course I came down to see it.
LAMB: You did make a trip just to see it down at the Smithsonian?
BRANDT: No, I think I probably combined it with something else, with a research trip or whatever. Oh, sure, I had to see what it was like. Absolutely.
LAMB: What is the Philadelphia?
BRANDT: It was one of the gondolas at the Battle of Valcour Island in October of 1776. It was the first of the American ships, I think, to go down. The ships were drawn up in a line between the island and the mainland, and as the British beat back up towards them, as I explained, they came sort of one and two at a time, and the Americans tried to stick together and just throw everything they could at them. They didn't have a whole lot. The Philadelphia was hit and sank. I think she was hit in the afternoon and then sank after dark.
LAMB: Do you remember what year they brought that ship up?
BRANDT: No, I'm afraid I don't. It was not that long ago. They sent divers down and got her. Arnold's flagship is still at the bottom of Ferris Bay. When the battle was over and he'd finally escaped with a few ships but knew he couldn't get all the way down to Crown Point and the British were right on his tail just coming right down out of these three huge ships after these little tiny sort of ducklings going along in the lake, he managed to get himself into a bay which has a relatively narrow opening and to scuttle all of his ships and burn them. And then they made their way by land down to Crown Point, he and the few men that were left. His ship is still down at the bottom of the mud there, and divers go and visit it all the time. I gather it is very, very stiff mud, and they may never be able to raise it up. And why not leave it there anyway? I mean, it's kind of a nice tribute, I think, to him.
LAMB: From your experience, how do we do as a country when it comes to either archives or research libraries or things like the Smithsonian?
BRANDT: Very well. I've been very impressed. The Library of Congress is wonderful to work at. The National Archives is very helpful. Research libraries all over the country -- in New York, of course, the Historical Society of Philadelphia, the New Haven Colony -- they're terrific. It's fun to go to places because you can always find somebody there who's interested in what you're doing, and if you can't find it in the card catalog, they'll say, "Oh, I think I know something you'd be interested in," and they lead you down a little corridor into a dusty stack and show you some wonderful treasure. They're dying to have people come and work there, and they're terribly helpful. I think we do very well.
LAMB: Let me just ask you about a couple of things in the bibliography. Here's just one: Minutes of the Provincial Council and Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, 16 volumes, Harrisburg, 1838-1853. Have you been through that?
BRANDT: I haven't been through all of it, but I've been through the parts that pertain to Arnold, sure.
LAMB: Where do you find something like that?
BRANDT: Actually, that is in the Vassar College library, which is near where I live, and those minutes are there. I'm pretty sure that's where I got that. It's a printed source. A lot of libraries have it.
LAMB: You took six years on this book. How many days a week would you work?
BRANDT: Five. When I'm doing research, if I go on a trip, I'd work as many days as the libraries are open. When I'm home I work five days a week, starting at 8 in the morning until I can't stand it anymore. I make myself sit there for three hours, no matter what, even if nothing is coming into my head or nothing is happening. I'll go longer if it's coming out and if it's all working. With the research you can keep going all day -- I can -- just getting it in there and getting it organized and mulling it over.
LAMB: What kind of mood swings do you have on a project like this over six years?
BRANDT: Oh, bored lots and lots and lots.
LAMB: Did you ever want to give up?
BRANDT: No, because I was just too interested and I really wanted to tell his story. There are very difficult moments where you think you're never going to get a handle on it. You end up with a bulging computer with all these little disparate items of information. Some of them you got four years ago and you've practically forgotten them, and some of them you got yesterday and you can't figure out where in the world they fit. They look like they belong to a different jigsaw puzzle and that you shouldn't be bothering with them at all. Until you get a handle on it, it can be very difficult. I always write a first draft that has everything in it, and it reads about as interestingly as a laundry list. "First he did this and then he did this." I just have a chronological laundry list of everything that happened to him and that he did on every given day. Only after dealing with that and wrestling with that through just getting it down on the page, which is a chore, murky shapes begin to appear. Then you just go with those and you test them and make sure that they work before you finally decide to use them. It's really a feeling in the dark for a while, and it can be discouraging, but I always knew he was there somewhere for me, and so I wasn't going to let him go.
LAMB: Was there a magic moment or two where things really came together?
BRANDT: Yes. There was a weird one on this book. When Arnold was the commandant in Philadelphia in 1778-79, when he was courting Peggy Shippen and madly in love with her and, of course, her father wanted him to have some money and things before he would let her marry him; he was also leading a very high style of living in the capital -- carriage horses and he'd moved into the British commandant's house and all that and made himself pretty unpopular, 1778-79, just after the British had gotten out. They had been in Philadelphia for a year. They captured Philadelphia after the Battle of Brandywine in 1777 and were there for a year, and then they got out voluntarily and the Americans came back in. Arnold, because he'd been so badly wounded at Saratoga and couldn't ride a horse and couldn't fight in the field, Washington gave him the job of being commandant of Philadelphia, which was a terrible thing for Arnold. It was just awful because it demanded political acumen and tact and all those things he didn't have, and it didn't have any action attached to it, which is what he really liked.
LAMB: Let me just ask you quickly, what happened to his first wife?
BRANDT: Oh, she died in 1775 while he was away at Ticonderoga. He's in Philadelphia; he's been a widower for three years. In the meantime, though, he had courted a, I think, 15-year-old in Boston who had turned him down, Betsy Dubois. He is now 38 or 39, and Peggy is 19, and he, I think, just fell head over heels. I think she fell head-over-heels in love with him, too, because he was sophisticated and the great General Arnold, the patriot hero. I mean, why not?
LAMB: Did he have a limp, by the way, at that time?
BRANDT: Oh, yes, very much so.
LAMB: Was one leg shorter than the other?
BRANDT: The wound at Saratoga was obviously hideous, and it wouldn't heal. He was in the hospital for something like three or four months after that, and it would get better and then it would open up again. He was having operation after operation and taking out bone chips. It was just grisly. So he finally got to Valley Forge in the early spring of 1778, just as the British were about to get out of Philadelphia, and Washington just took one look at him and realized that he was not about to be able to take a command in the field and so gave him Philadelphia instead. So he went in there. Of all the big cities of the Colonies, I think Philadelphia probably had the highest proportion of Tories who, of course, had all been having a wonderful time while the British were there for a year.
LAMB: What was a Tory in that time?
BRANDT: A British sympathizer, a person who thought we should not be an independent country. So when the British left, a lot of Philadelphia Tories went with them. One of the reasons it took them about three weeks to get out of town is that I think 3,000 Philadelphians went with them to New York. The Whigs then came back into Philadelphia, and particularly the radical Whigs -- the American patriots, as they would have themselves -- were pretty angry that the Tories had been having a hightailed time with the British, and there was a very kind of vigilante atmosphere in Philadelphia. It was very ugly.
Arnold stepped into this, and as I say, he was not a tactful man and he certainly had no political skills. He liked women, he liked high living, he liked beautiful houses, he liked good food and nice wine, and he just sort of fell in with a lot of Tories, including Peggy Shippen. Now, Peggy Shippen's father had never declared himself one way or the other, but he'd been a fence-sitter and he had been, in fact, confined to the state of Pennsylvania by the authorities during the war because he was a suspected Tory.
One of these vigilante Whigs who turned out to be the head of the government of the state of Pennsylvania glommed in on Arnold and just decided that he was a closet Tory and hated him, really conceived a true hatred for this man. His name was Joseph Reed, who had been an aide-de-camp to Washington at the beginning of the war and so on. But he was a Quaker and he was a radical Whig and he was head of the government of Pennsylvania, and he made Arnold's life miserable. Arnold by this time was very short of cash, and he really needed it in order to woo and marry Peggy. He was already engaged in a number of private money-making schemes which were ethically if not legally suspect, shall we say. Reed glommed onto a couple of these things and started nosing around and doing investigations and publishing broadsides in the paper about what a rotten guy Benedict Arnold was.
So here is Arnold, madly in love, wanting money, desperate for money, not making much. All these wonderful schemes he had could have made him a lot of money, but they never made him a penny. At the same time he is sending money to Boston to support and educate the children of Dr. Joseph Warren, the man who had sent him to Ticonderoga in the first place. Arnold hardly knew Warren, and why in the world was he sending money, which he really didn't think he had, to support these kids? I couldn't figure this out. I looked in some other biographies, and they sort of relegated it to a footnote and said, "I guess he wasn't such a bad guy after all." But it kept gnawing at me, and I kept saying, "This doesn't fit, but what is Arnold trying to tell me here?" I finally said, "Wait a minute. Support and education. That's exactly what his father failed to provide for him."
I remembered that during the early days before the war, during his first marriage when he was off on trading voyages, he was constantly writing to his wife, knowing that she was being dunned by creditors and worried about her, saying, "Do this, do that, pay that bill, don't pay this bill." But he said over and over again, and when I first read these I didn't understand it, "Be sure that our children get educated. It is of the utmost importance." He wrote to her about this almost obsessively. Given his value system, which didn't really include education, particularly -- he didn't care for it for its own sake; he wasn't a great reader or a great scholar -- I thought that was kind of queer.
The minute I realized about the Warren children and then thought back to his own childhood, it suddenly wasn't queer at all anymore. This kid had really been traumatized by the fact that the rug had been pulled out from under him when he was a kid. It suddenly began to add up. When I extrapolated from that the other effects that that kind of childhood upheaval has on people, a lot of things began to make sense: the fact that he could not brook any criticism, the fact that he was desperately always worried about money, not so much for its own sake but because he felt that money was a sign that the world regarded him highly, that it valued him. He needed it for that reason as much as for the money itself. He needed people to say to him, "Benedict, you're wonderful." He needed security. He needed financial security, and he needed security of status. He didn't ever want anybody to come along again and say, "You are no longer a prosperous trader's son. You are an apothecary's apprentice." He didn't want that ever to happen again, and he was terrified that it would.
LAMB: At what moment did he become a traitor?
BRANDT: He became a traitor to the United States within two weeks of his wedding to Peggy Shippen when he wrote a letter. He sent an emissary into New York offering his services to the British.
LAMB: What year was this?
BRANDT: May of 1778.
LAMB: Where was he?
BRANDT: He was in Philadelphia. He's still commandant, just married. Sent a letter to Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander-in-chief in New York City.
LAMB: How did he get that letter to him?
BRANDT: There was a china dealer named Joseph Stansbury living in Philadelphia who was a purveyor of fine china to Philadelphia high society. Obviously, Peggy Shippen knew this guy. He was a Tory. She must have known that. Anyway, I can't believe that she didn't tell him how to send it, and she would also have told him who to send it to, which was not necessarily Sir Henry himself -- it would have been hard to get to him -- but to Major John Andr‚ who was Sir Henry's aide-de-camp and, by the way, although they may not have known it at the time, Sir Henry's spy master. So Stansbury gets to New York and goes to meet with Andr‚ and offers Arnold's services, and from then on there is correspondence. There are letters that went back and forth. They were all written in cipher or with inner lining that you put lemon juice on or held over a candle or something to find it. There were various couriers and go-betweens as the thing went on over 18 months.
LAMB: What did Benedict Arnold ask the British for?
BRANDT: He first said that what he wanted to do was just to come over. He wanted to come over and become a British major general. I think he probably thought that that would be such a terrible, devastating psychological blow that the whole American war effort would crumble and he could win the war for the British. He actually had some very good ideas of how to win the war for the British. If they'd listened to him, they might have won. They said no. They said, "Yes, we're very interested. This is wonderful, but it would be much more useful to us to have you stay where you are for the moment. Send us intelligence and, if you can, get command of a wing of the Army and make sure that we get it. Or get command of an important post and make sure that we capture it. But let's talk about this, dear boy."
At one point here Arnold wrote to Sir Henry Clinton and said, "If you will tell me your plans for the coming campaign, then I will be able to send you more appropriate information," and Sir Henry wrote back via Major Andr‚ and said, "I don't have to tell you anything. You just find out as much as you can. You're the one who approached us, now you prove yourself, and then maybe we'll talk about what you're going to do." Arnold couldn't stand it because, of course, that was exactly the way he felt that his own countrymen were treating him, and that's exactly why he wanted to go over to the British. So I think this is why later on he put Major Andr‚ in jeopardy and ended up getting Major Andr‚ hanged. I think he deliberately did a couple of things that put Major Andr‚'s life on the line.
LAMB: Major Andr‚ was hanged by whom?
BRANDT: Hanged by the American Army, in front of the Army at Tappan because he was a spy. He was caught behind lines in disguise.
LAMB: And after Philadelphia, where did Benedict Arnold go?
BRANDT: He finally resigned as commandant, and then he did begin to get better. He was able finally to ride a horse, and by this time he was negotiating with the British, and by this time the British were very interested in West Point.
LAMB: Where is West Point?
BRANDT: It's probably 50 miles north of New York City, on the Hudson River. The Hudson River goes almost straight north of New York City, and then it goes through these series of corkscrew turns around the mountains, called the Highlands. It's very, very difficult sailing and, of course, those vessels in those days didn't sail as well as ours do now, anyway. So in order to get upriver British ships had to go through the Highlands, and the Americans had put a chain across in the middle of the Highlands earlier in the war which the British had been able to break. So they chose West Point for the next place to put a chain because there is an s-curve there. It's almost 180 degrees, the first part of it, and the British would not be able to break the chain, the argument went, because in the course of making that turn they would have to reset their sails and virtually stop in the water, and then they wouldn't have the momentum to break the chain. Meanwhile, while they were sitting there as sitting ducks, all the batteries up at West Point up above on the bluff would be able to blast them out of the water. So it was very important, West Point, to the American strategy of keeping the British out of the Hudson Valley and protecting the main crossing, King's Ferry, which was a few miles to the south, which Washington desperately needed.
So Arnold and Peggy go after West Point, and she manages a few little finaglings on her own, and Arnold then goes and rejoins Washington. He hasn't been promised it yet but he's told the British that he has it, and he then goes to join the Army. They were just across the Hudson and a little bit north, I guess around Tappan, which is where they ended up a few weeks later. He gets there and Washington says, "Well, we sort of changed our strategy. We are not going to have an inactive campaign, and therefore I'm not going to give you West Point. We're going to attack New York, and I want you to lead the left wing of the Army." This was a terrific honor, and Arnold sort of blushed and fumbled and stamped around and said, "Well, yes, sir, of course," but then the next day Washington got intelligence about some British movements that made him call off the attack on New York which actually were an indirect result of some intelligence that Arnold had sent in to New York. He called off the attack and said, "If you really want West Point that badly, I'll give it to you," and that's when he got it, August 3. On September 21 he met with Major Andr‚, and four days later the whole thing blew. So he was there less than two months.
LAMB: There is a part of the book where you talk about George Washington coming to see Benedict Arnold at West Point, and then he gets out of there.
BRANDT: That's amazing. Major Andr‚ had been captured. Andr‚ had come upriver and met with Arnold, and Arnold had put him in a position where he had to go behind American lines and where he had to be in disguise. He is his contact with the British, and he then goes back to New York, but he has to go overland because his ship has gone downriver. It's a long story, but anyway . . .
LAMB: And the British control Manhattan.
BRANDT: The British control Manhattan. Westchester County, which is basically between West Point and Manhattan, is sort of a no-man's land, controlled by nobody, with a lot of roving bands of irregulars on both sides. It's a very dangerous territory, but this is where Arnold sends Major Andr‚ to make his way back to New York. So Andr‚ is stopped by some irregulars. He could have talked his way out of it quite easily, really, but he didn't think fast enough. They made him take his clothes off so they could search him, and in his boot they found plans for the attack on West Point in Arnold's handwriting, which again Arnold had insisted that Andr‚ take back to New York with him. There was no reason for him to be carrying those plans. He could have memorized that easily, but Arnold insisted it because he wanted a paper trail to prove what he had done to the British to get his money, I think.
But anyway, these guys found the papers, and meanwhile Andr‚ was behaving very foolishly. He was saying, "I'll give you my gold watch if you'll let me go." Well, that was too much. I mean, they somehow got wind of the fact that they had something important on their hands, so they turned him over to the American commander of the local post who turns out to have been a rather mule-headed and not terribly bright man who looked at these documents and looked at Major Andr‚ and said, "These are in General Arnold's handwriting," which he recognized. "I guess I'd better send the documents to Gen. Washington," who at this point was on his way back from Connecticut to the main Army in Tappan, NewYork. He had been over in Connecticut meeting with the French, and he was on his way back. This idiot in Westchester County says, "I'm going to send the papers to General Washington, because he ought to see these and figure out what's going on, but meanwhile I will send you, Mr. John Anderson," which was the name that Andr‚ was using, "up to my commander and he can dispose of you as he will."
His commander was Benedict Arnold, and Andr‚ thought he was saved. So it was a dark and stormy night, indeed literally, when Major Andr‚ was taken on his horse with a guard up towards West Point. While he's on his way, into the idiot commander's headquarters a few miles below where Andr‚ is at this point -- Andr‚ is heading north; the courier is heading east to try to find Washington with the papers -- and into the idiot's headquarters comes a major of dragoons called Benjamin Tallmadge who theoretically was the under-officer to this idiot, but Major Tallmadge also happened to be the head of General Washington's secret service. When he heard about the papers and heard about what this man had done, he said, "You crashing idiot! Why did you do this? Obviously, there is something going on here." He insisted that his superior officer, in fact, send for Major Andr‚ and bring him back, but the man insisted on sending another courier on ahead up to Arnold to tell him what had happened. Meanwhile, Washington is coming back by a different route, so the papers don't catch up to Washington.
But Arnold sits down to breakfast the next morning and gets a letter from the guy down below saying, "We have captured John Anderson carrying incriminating papers, and the papers have been sent to General Washington." He puts that note down and gets another note immediately, saying, "General Washington is on his way here to breakfast." He was expecting him for breakfast that morning. "He's examining a few redoubts up above here, and he'll be here in 10 minutes." Arnold, of course, thinks it's over. I mean, "He has the papers. He knows. He's going to get me." He raced upstairs to his wife, who was having breakfast in bed, and tells her what's happened very quickly, dashes downstairs, jumps on his horse, goes to the bottom of the hill and jumps in his barge. He has a barge with eight bargemen down there because he is across the river from West Point, living in a house off the point. They start to row up towards West Point, and he says, "No, you idiots, downriver," because he thinks that the ship that brought Major Andr‚ upriver is probably waiting for him down in Haverstraw Bay, and his only chance of getting away is to get to that ship. He orders them to row, and they rowed, I figured, an incredible amount -- my daughter used to be a rower, and we figured out with the tides for an hour and a half -- and got him there safely, leaving Peggy behind. He got to the ship and came in under her guns with a white flag or a little white handkerchief on the top of his bayonet.
LAMB: This was a British ship.
BRANDT: This was a British ship, right. He told the people on board what had happened. They were sitting there waiting for Major Andr‚, and they said, "Where in the world is he?" Andr‚ said, "Well, he's been captured," and they say, "Oh, my god, this is terrible." Before he left, before they sailed back down to New York, Arnold wrote a letter to General Washington, who by this time had gotten the papers and did know what was happening, a letter which began, "The heart that is conscious of its own rectitude cannot attempt to palliate a step which the world may censure as wrong." The guy had chutzpa, if nothing else. He never admitted that he had done anything wrong. He never admitted that he was a traitor. He never admitted anything, not until the day he died.
LAMB: Benedict Arnold went to England when?
BRANDT: He went to New York first. He then went on an expedition for the British down to Virginia, and he then went up and attacked New London, Connecticut. He went to England a couple of months after Yorktown, in December of 1781, and he got there in January. He got to London in January of 1782.
LAMB: How long did he live in England?
BRANDT: Until 1801, almost 20 years. A miserable, miserable 20 years because the Brits didn't like him either. He was a failed traitor. They wouldn't give him a job; they wouldn't give him a commission in the army. They wouldn't do anything for him. He had to go to Canada to try to set himself up as a merchant and trader, and that didn't work out. He had a miserable time.
LAMB: Then he went to Canada -- Nova Scotia?
BRANDT: New Brunswick.
LAMB: You said he had a mistress there. His wife wasn't with him?
BRANDT: No, she wasn't with him for the first couple of years.
LAMB: He had a baby by the mistress?
BRANDT: He had an illegitimate son there, yes.
LAMB: But his wife found out.
BRANDT: Well, I think she has to have. He then went to England and got her and the other kids. It was a tiny town. I can't believe she didn't find out. I don't know that she did, but I can't believe she didn't.
LAMB: What year did he die?
LAMB: Of what?
BRANDT: You know, this is embarrassing because I got a doctor to tell me what he thought it was, from the contemporary descriptions, and I now can't remember. They called it a general dropsy and a disease in the lungs. It was obviously something respiratory, and he couldn't lie down and get comfortable. I think it was something in the lungs, but I can't remember now.
LAMB: What do you think of this guy?
BRANDT: I think he was a rotten traitor, myself, but I think he's a hell of an interesting man, a wonderful character. I feel sorry for him in a way, except that he brought it on himself. He was totally lacking in self-knowledge. You have to have some compassion, I think, for a person who really is totally self-deluded about himself and about the world and who doesn't let reality in at all. It's interesting. It's not very admirable, but you have to have a little spasm of pity here and there for him, I think.
LAMB: In history, how does he fit with our other traitors?
BRANDT: I don't think he does, really, very well. If you look at the Cold War traitors, the early ones, a lot of them were doing it for ideological reasons, and I don't think Arnold had an ideological bone in his body. I think he's much closer to Mr. Ames. I think the money question is much closer. I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Ames didn't also have some very, very personal reasons for having done this. If you read a little bit that we've all been reading about his career, I can see where there is a lot of disappointment, possibly. I think there may be some parallels. Also, Mr. Ames got in touch with the Russians the same year he was married to his second, much younger wife.
LAMB: He died at age 60. How did he leave his wife and kids?
BRANDT: In debt up to their ears -- living in a grand, lavish house with a wine cellar and servants and the carriage and horses and the whole thing. By this time their oldest son was in India in the army, but the others were really quite young. There were three more boys and a girl. And Mrs. Arnold, Peggy, who had stuck by him all this time and had never admitted to anybody that there was anything the matter -- she called him the best of husbands -- she took hold, she sold the house, she sold the wine cellar, she put the whole thing up for auction, bought a few things back herself, established herself in a tiny, little house on Bryanson Street, no carriage, no horses, nothing, wrote letters to her friends saying, "There are people who have been snubbing me because I don't have what I did have before, and I can't arrive at their tea parties in carriages, but so what. I know who my real friends are now, and I don't have a single item in this house that I haven't paid for myself." She managed to arrange for all the children to be educated. She got the younger boys into military academies and things and then got cancer of the womb and died about three or four years after he did. But she was some woman -- smart, tough, very intelligent. A wonderful lady.
LAMB: We're about out of time. Can you tell us what this means?
BRANDT: Oh, that's my husband and my three children.
LAMB: Why did you do it with letters?
BRANDT: I don't know. For fun. Carl is my husband, Cameron is my stepson, and Colin and Diana are my son and daughter.
LAMB: Are you going to write another book?
BRANDT: Oh, you bet.
LAMB: About what?
BRANDT: Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. I want to know about that duel.
LAMB: Here is the book. "The Man in the Mirror" is the name of it, and Clare Brandt is the author. It's the life of Benedict Arnold. Thank you very much.
BRANDT: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1994. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.