This Day In History: February 19

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On February 19, 1777, the Continental Congress votes to promote Thomas Mifflin, Arthur St. Clair, William Alexander, Lord Stirling, Adam Stephen and Benjamin Lincoln to the rank of major general. Although the promotions were intended in part to balance the number of generals from each state, Brigadier General Benedict Arnold felt slighted that five junior officers received promotions ahead of him and, in response, threatened to resign from the Patriot army.

In a letter dated April 3, 1777, General George Washington wrote to Arnold from his headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey, and confessed that he was surprised, when I did not see your name in the list of Major Generals. Thinking that the omission of Arnold’s name was an error, Washington discouraged the disappointed Arnold from taking any hasty Step.

To Arnold’s dismay, he soon learned that his commander in chief was wrong, and he submitted his resignation to the Congress in July 1777, but withdrew it at Washington’s urging. Despite having the support of George Washington, Arnold continued to feel unjustly overlooked by his superiors. Finally, in 1780, Arnold betrayed his country by offering to hand over the Patriot-held fort at West Point, New York, to the British. With West Point in their control, the British would have controlled the critical Hudson River Valley and separated New England from the rest of the colonies. His wife, Margaret, was a Loyalist and would not have objected to his plans. However, his plot was foiled, and Arnold, the hero of Ticonderoga and Saratoga, became the most famous traitor in American history. He continued to fight on the side of the British in the Revolution and, after the war, returned to Britain, where he died destitute in London in 1801.