Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'Treason of the Blackest Dye': The Arnold-André Affair, 2


The drama of Benedict Arnold and John André continues. Three new players will soon make their appearance:

George Washington, 48, towering, cool-headed commander in chief of the Continental Army, one of America's wealthiest men. His unfailing dignity, courtesy and composure endear him to all who serve under him.

Lt. Col. John Jameson, 29, from Culpeper County in Virginia. A wounded veteran of the Pennsylvania Campaign, he is temporarily in command of Col. Elisha Sheldon's Connecticut regiment of dragoons patrolling the enemy lines.

Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, 26, in charge of Washington's secret service. After graduation from Yale in 1773, he became a teacher in Connecticut. Two years later, he joined the Continental Army and distinguished himself in several battles. He is Washington's trusted confidant in espionage matters.

Readers familiar with today's military will be struck by the comparative youthfulness of the officers participating in the André affair. The new republic that was in the process of being born was indeed a "young" country.

For readers interested in following André's route in Westchester and Putnam counties after his capture, it is given here in detail.

Saturday morning, September 23, 1780. Near a short bridge on the Albany Post Road north of Tarrytown, three patriot militiamen--John Paulding, Isaac Van Wert and David Williams--are holding an unarmed rider. He claims to be John Anderson, and he carries a pass signed by Major General Benedict Arnold, commander at West Point. But he also carries, hidden on his person, detailed descriptions of the defenses of that stronghold.

Paulding fires his musket, a signal for the five other members of the scouting party to join them. "We have taken a prisoner, searched him and found papers in his stockings," Paulding tells the others. "We don't know what to do with him." After a brief discussion, the militiamen decide to take him to the nearest American outpost. On the way, the dejected prisoner tells his captors, "I would to God you had blown my brains out when you stopped me."

Saturday, September 23, late afternoon. The prisoner is turned over to Lt. Col. John Jameson at Wright's Mills in North Castle. (A monument at High Street and Greenway Road in Armonk marks the site). Jameson finds himself in a dilemma. A week earlier, American military outposts had been alerted by Arnold to be on the lookout for a John Anderson coming from New York City. They are to escort him to Arnold's headquarters at the Robinson house in Garrison. Arnold had taken this step in case André decided to travel overland rather than by ship.

Jameson is puzzled. This John Anderson came from the wrong direction and had been brought to him from behind the lines. He is also carrying documents that Jameson considers "of a dangerous tendency." Despite the evidence--but in keeping with the order to deliver John Anderson to Arnold's headquarters--he decides to have Lt. Solomon Allen and a squad of dragoons bring the prisoner to Benedict Arnold, his commanding general.

André has still not revealed his true identity. For him, the prospect of being delivered to Arnold is almost too good to be true. Jameson also dispatches a rider carrying the captured documents to General Washington, who is believed to be somewhere on his way to Peekskill from Danbury, Connecticut.

That evening, Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge returns to Wright's Mills from a patrol near White Plains. Jameson fills him in on what has happened. Tallmadge immediately deduces the truth: If Arnold was anxious for a meeting with Anderson and Anderson has been found to be carrying military secrets in Arnold's handwriting, it means that Anderson has already met with Arnold. Arnold must be engaged in a treasonous conspiracy. Tallmadge argues heatedly with Jameson, who outranks him, and persuades him to have Anderson brought back to Wright's Mills.

Sunday, September 24, morning. In the nick of time, the dragoons bringing Anderson to Arnold are intercepted in Van Cortlandtville, only an hour away from the Robinson house, and return with him to Wright's Mills. Jameson, however, stubbornly insists on notifying Arnold of Anderson's capture. Lt. Solomon Allen is dispatched to the Robinson house carrying a letter describing the detention of John Anderson.

Unable to locate Washington, the rider carrying the incriminating documents returns. The American general has unexpectedly made a detour to Fishkill to inspect its defenses. Washington's eventual destination is known to be Arnold's headquarters at the confiscated Robinson house in Garrison. The rider is now sent there with the papers. Ironically, Arnold's fate will be decided in a dramatic race of messengers worthy of a D.W. Griffith movie. Major Tallmadge interviews John Anderson. From his soldierly bearing, it is obvious he is "an officer and a gentleman," and probably of some importance. For safety, Tallmadge convinces Jameson to move the prisoner to South Salem, farther away from the British lines.

With an escort of twenty heavily armed dragoons, Tallmadge and Anderson ride north through the Coman Hills and Bedford Village to the unit's headquarters in the South Salem house of Squire John Gilbert (marked by a plaque on Main Street near Bouton Road).

Sunday, September 24, 3:00 p.m. So long as there has been a chance he might be turned over to Arnold, André has kept mum about his identity. But when Tallmadge purposely tells him the documents he carried have been sent to the American commander in chief, he decides to reveal his identity. From South Salem, André writes a letter to Washington: "The person in your possession is Major John André, Adjutant General of the British Army," he tells him. Careful not to name Arnold, however, he admits he had "agreed to meet, on ground not within the posts of either army, a person who was to give me intelligence." He adds he "was betrayed into the vile condition of an enemy in disguise within your posts" and asks that he be "branded with nothing dishonourable, as no motive could be mine but the service of my king, and I was involuntarily an impostor."

Monday, September 25, morning. The messenger carrying Jameson's fateful letter arrives at the Robinson house as Arnold and his staff are sitting down to breakfast. His face a blank, Arnold scans the letter quickly and orders the messenger to say nothing of Anderson's capture. He rushes upstairs to kiss his young wife and baby goodbye. Because his plan has collapsed, he tells her she must fend for herself.

Arnold orders a horse to be saddled. Leaving word that he has been called to West Point, he rides down a path to the dock at the river. His eight oarsmen and coxswain are waiting with his officer's barge. He orders them to row not to West Point, but down river--he must reach the Vulture at once.

Once aboard the British ship, Arnold tries to induce his boatmen to switch sides, promising them advancement in rank. He is unsuccessful. His coxswain, Corporal James Lurvey, says scornfully, "No, sir, one coat is enough for me to wear at a time." A vindictive Arnold insists that the nine men who saved his neck be made British prisoners of war.

From the Vulture, Arnold sends a letter to George Washington. In it he tries to justify his defection, assuring Washington of his wife's innocence and enclosing a letter for her. He adds a postscript affirming that his two military aides. Lt. Col. Richard Varick and Maj. David Solebury Franks, and Joshua Hett Smith "are totally ignorant of any transactions of mine." Both Varick and Franks had been uneasy about Arnold's activities as the new commander of West Point, but concluded that he was engaged in nothing more dishonorable than profiteering. Varick would later serve as Mayor of the city of New York from 1789 to 1801.

Monday, September 25, noon. Washington arrives at the Robinson House at about 10:30 a.m. with a party that included Lafayette, Henry Knox and Alexander Hmilton, and is told that Arnold has left for West Point. After breakfast, Washington crosses the river, only to discover that Arnold has not been seen there. In the meantime, the second messenger has arrived at the Robinson house with the incriminating documents. Washington returns about four in the afternoon. His aide, Alexander Hamilton, greets him with the stunning details of Arnold's treachery.

Among the papers that had been carried by Anderson are a summary of the Continental army's strength, a report of the troops at West Point and vicinity, an estimate of the forces needed to garrison the defenses properly, a report on the ordnance on hand, the plan of artilley deployment in the event of an attack, a copy of the minutes Washington had sent to Arnold on the council of war held on Sept. 6, and a report by Arnold on the defects of the West Point defenses. Washington is then handed the letter identifying John Anderson as André. When he learns that Arnold received a message at the breakfast table just before his sudden departure, Washington knows the worst.

"Whom can we trust now?" Wasington asks. He quickly overcomes his momentary despair. Taking command of the situation in characteristic fashion, he orders two officers to ride the sixteen miles to Verplanck's Point to intercept Arnold. They are unsuccessful; Arnold's barge has already passed.

The entire Continental Army is put in a state of readiness in expectation of a British attack. Washington orders Gen. Nathanael Greene, commanding the main body of troops at Tappan, to send troops to bolster the King's Ferry defenses. To forestall rumors, Greene later informs the army what has happened in a general order that opens with, "Treason of the blackest dye was yesterday discovered."

Washington summons Col. James Livingston, commander of the posts at Verplanck's Point and Stony Point, replacing him with Col. John Lamb, commander of artillery at West Point. An officer untainted by involvement with Arnold must hold the pivotal King’s Ferry. Livingston arrives and convinces Washington of his loyalty. It was Livingston who sent the cannon to Croton Point that drove off the Vulture days earlier.
Joshua Hett Smith, André's escort through northern Westchester, immediately comes under suspicion. Smith has gone to Fishkill to join his wife and family. Lt. Col. Jean Baptiste Gouvion, a French military engineer and designer of West Point's defenses, rides to Fishkill to arrest him. At midnight, as his men surround the house, Gouvion bursts into Smith's bedroom. He marches the hapless prisoner on foot to the Robinson house, eighteen miles away.

Mindful of the danger of an escape or an attempt by the British to free André, Washington orders Jameson to send him under a heavy guard to the Robinson house . "He had better be conducted to this place by some upper road rather than the route through Crompond," he tells him. "I would not wish Mr. André to be treated with insult, but he does not appear to stand upon the footing of a common prisoner of war and therefore he is not entitled to the usual indulgencies they receive, and is to be most closely and narrowly watched."

Tallmadge, three other officers and a formidable force of a hundred dragoons leave South Salem with André on an all-night ride through a drenching rain. Just before reaching North Salem, however, they are intercepted by a courier carrying new orders. To avoid loyalist marauders believed to be in the vicinity, their route takes them through Purdy's, Croton Falls, Mahopac and the Red Mills (now Mahopac Falls).

After a brief stop at James Taylor's tavern in Van Cortlandtville (later called the Dusenberry Tavern abd the Gardner Hollman House) they head north over Bald Hill , or Drake's Hill (now Gallows Hill), past Continental Village on the King's Highway orPostRoad, then over the Old West Point Road to the present Route 9, south for a half mile to Cat Rock Road (Route 403), and down this road to the river road (Route 9D). From here a short ride south brings them to the Robinson house in Garrison. (The house burned in 1892; a historical marker identifies the site.)

Tuesday, September 26. André and Smith arrive separately at the Robinson house. Washington declines to see André, but he does get the details of his capture and of the disagreement between Jameson and Tallmade over how this should be reported. Washington now writes to Congress to tell them of the momentous events of the previous five days.

André and Smith are brought to West Point. Tallmadge, a skilled intelligence officer, refuses to allow the prisoners to talk to one another. André is placed in a casemate in Fort Putnam; Smith is housed in the military police hut.

Wednesday, September 27. Lt. Col. John Jameson, whose letter about André's capture enabled Benedict Arnold to escape, writes an apologetic and self-serving letter to Washington. "I am very sorry I wrote to General Arnold. I did not think of a British ship being up the river, and expected that, if he was the man he has since turned out to be, he would have come down to the [British] troops in this quarter, in which case I should have secured him."

Thursday, September 28, morning. André and Smith are brought in separate boats from West Point to Stony Point. On the way, André asks Tallmadge what he thinks will happen to him. Tallmadge has gotten to like his prisoner but cannot avoid the memory of the 1776 execution of Nathan Hale, his Yale classmate, by the British.

"Surely, you do not consider his case and mine alike?" André asks.

"Yes, precisely similar, and similar will be your fate," Tallmadge tells him, prophetically. They arrive at the King's Ferry dock, the same spot from which André had started his journey only six days before. Here an impressive escort of American dragoons meets them. The two prisoners reach Tappan in the afternoon. Smith is held in the Dutch Reformed Church, and André is kept in a room in the Mabie Tavern (now known as the 1776 House). André will be tried first.

Washington arrives in Tappan and orders a board of general officers to take testimony. Their task is to decide whether André should be considered a prisoner of war or a spy. The verdict will determine whether he lives or dies. The curtain now comes down on the second act in the drama of Benedict Arnold and John André.

(To be continued and concluded in Part 3)

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