Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Different Kind of Courage part 2 of 3

Spying For the King
The British spy system was far weaker than Washington’s, because they had better scouts to gather information. A scout was a light-armed soldier sent ahead of the main body to locate the enemy and bring back detailed reports about them, such as how many soldiers they had.   If an army in the War for Independence had good scouts, it did not need to rely as heavily on spies, and if their scouts were rather lackluster, spies were required.   The British had some of the best scouts on any side in the entire war because Loyalists, especially in the Queen’s Rangers and Banastre Tarleton’s British Legion made wonderful scouts, due to their knowledge of the country.  The 17th Light Dragoons were also very useful because they were mounted and could move fast, but Washington’s cavalry scouts were rather weak (they suffered from a lack of good horses). 
General Clinton had some clever ideas to get secret messages through enemy lines.  He wrote a letter to General John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne, to be read with a special hourglass-shaped overlay.  By putting the overlay over the letter, a secret message would be revealed.  While Clinton’s letter said, “I own to you that I think the business will quickly be over now.  Sir W’s move just at this time has been capital.  Washington’s have been the worst he could take in every respect”, the overlay revealed Clinton’s true message: “I own to you that I think Sir W’s move just at this time the worst he could take.”[i]  Another idea of Clinton’s was a hollow silver bullet with a message inside.

Major John André took command as chief British spymaster in 1779 and greatly improved the British spy system.   André soon met an important leader who was planning to join the British.  His name was Benedict Arnold, and he commanded the important fortress of West Point.  Arnold believed that Congress had forgotten about his achievements at Quebec (1775) and Saratoga (1777), where he broke Burgoyne’s army without help from his commander Horatio Gates.  He was not happy with his lack of promotion while Gates, who did nothing at Saratoga, had been promoted to Major-General and was now commander of the entire Southern Department.  In addition, he was not pleased with the alliance with France, had endured a court-martial, and had married a stout Loyalist, Margaret “Peggy” Shippen. He planned to join the British, who were glad to have such a high-ranking general with them and would appreciate him more than Congress and Gates ever had, and give them West Point.  André and Arnold met several times to plan all the details, because Arnold wanted a large sum of money and a command in the British Army.  Arnold planned to surrender West Point when Washington was near, and Major Tallmadge might even be in the area.  To capture West Point, Washington, and Tallmadge, would be a war-winning blow.
Andre is visited by some Continental soldiers during his arrest
Picture by Howard Pyle
Finally, Arnold was ready to make his move.  He gave a pass for the bearer “John Anderson” to go through Continental lines and patrols.  André set out, but was stopped by three wild armed men.  Andre believed them to be British, but they were not.  They were more interested in his watch, money, and fine boots than any other cause.  When they took André’s boots off, they found a map of West Point and papers telling where the Continental troops were located.  John Paulding, the only militiaman in the trio who could read, read the papers.  The three decided to take André along to the local Continental colonel, who sent him on to Washington.  André said that he was an officer taken prisoner, not a spy, and that he was arrested while between the British and American lines, both of which statements were true.  Clinton would not exchange Arnold for André, but the Continentals needed to pin the blame on someone.  Many on both sides (including General Washington) regretted André’s death, for he was a gentleman of courage.  In fact, André and Tallmadge became good friends while André was under arrest.  After his death, he was fondly remembered by all.  The British erected a monument to his memory, gave his mother and sisters a pension, his brother a knighthood (André never married and had no children), and buried him in Westminster Abbey.  After the war, Tallmadge defended him in Congress against John Paulding, who wanted an increase in his pension for catching André (he didn’t receive it).
Arnold escaped to British lines and hunted spies in New York before becoming a less-than-remarkable British general who raided Connecticut and Virginia.  Robert Townsend quit work in the Culper Ring, worried about what might happen if Arnold arrested him.  In 1781-82, the Culper Ring silently dissolved, and its members resumed normal life.

[i] Fred B. Wrixon, Codes, Ciphers, Secrets and Cryptic Communication (New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2005)—p. 490

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