A Spy is Hanged

Today in History, September 29: 1780 – 

British Major John Andre is sentenced to death by hanging by Gen. George Washington. Andre had been the spy who met with the traitor Benedict Arnold in Arnold’s attempt to give the fort at West Point, New York to the British in exchange for a commission in the British Army. 

 Washington first offered to trade Andre for Arnold, who had fled to the Royal Navy ship Vulture. When he received no response from Britsh General Henry Clinton, Washington ordered the spy’s hanging.

The hanging was also carried out because the British had set the precedent four years earlier when they had hanged American spy Nathan Hale. 

I Regret Only That I Have But One Life to Give For My Country

Today in History, September 10: 1776 – “I regret only that I have but one life to give for my country.” Continental Army General George Washington asks for a volunteer to go undercover and spy on the British in New York. 21-year-old Captain Nathan Hale immediately steps up…America’s first spy. A Yale graduate, he would pose as a Dutch teacher and gather information on British troop strength and movements. On September 21st he would be captured attempting to sneak back to Continental lines. British General William Howe interrogated him and summarily ordered that he be hanged the next day. Before his death, young Hale made his now historic statement. His demise would result in another death. Four years later, also in September, British master spy Major John Andre would be captured by the Americans behind their lines meeting with traitor Gen. Benedict Arnold. Tried and found guilty, Gen. Washington, who actually liked Andre, reacted in kind. The British were horrified as the upstart Americans hanged Andre, using the standard set by the British with Hale.

Choices and Legacies

Today in History, August 30: 1780 – Heretofore known as a dedicated, fierce warrior for the American cause, a hero of the Canadian campaign who had lost a leg in the service of his country, 38-year-old Benedict Arnold trades these monikers in to make his name synonymous with treason. 

 On this date Arnold, who had been given the command of the fortress at West Point, offers to surrender it to the British in exchange for 10,000 pounds and a commission in the British Army.

Strapped for cash, angry over perceived slights by his contemporaries, and trying support the desires of his 21-year-old wife who came from a wealthy British family, Arnold made all the wrong choices. He would die in 1801 in London, forsaken by his country, ignored by the British, impoverished. 

If he had stood fast with his country, his name would be in the line of Washington, Greene, and Lee.

The Importance of Petersburg, VA…in the Revolutionary War

Today in History, April 24: 1781 – British General William Phillips and British General Benedict Arnold, traitor formerly of the American Continental Army, begin a march on Petersburg, Virginia with 2,500 troops. The city was defended by 1,000 scantly trained militia led by Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who had trained General Washington’s soldiers at Valley Forge and General Peter Muhlenberg. Phillips and Arnold were sent to Virginia, which had been left mostly alone previously, to divert Washington’s attention from offenses in the north. von Steuben and Muhlenberg knew they could not prevail with their much smaller, poorly trained forces, so they retreated from the city, setting up defenses in surrounding cities until they could be joined by Continental regulars. What was supposed to lead to American defeat actually were the first steps in the south that would lead to the defeat of the British.