U.S.

August 23, 2012

Military Intelligence — this week in history

USAICoE History Office


Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge appointed by Gen. Washington

Aug. 25 1778:

In 1776, Benjamin Tallmadge followed his friend and Yale classmate, Nathan Hale, into military service and quickly became a close advisor to Gen. George Washington, who asked Tallmadge to assist in the gathering of intelligence on Long Island in August 1778. Maj. Tallmadge established a small group of trustworthy men and women, all civilians, from his hometown, and the group became known as the Culper Ring.

For their secret correspondence, Tallmadge created a simple code with 710 commonly used words. The words were written alphabetically and then numbered consecutively. He then added 53 numbers at the end to represent proper names. Thus Gen. Washington became 711, and Tallmadge, whose alias was John Bolton, became 721.

For words or numbers not in the dictionary, Talmadge created a mixed-alphabet scheme. The Culper Ring also used sympathetic inks, writing the real message in invisible ink between the lines of an innocuous letter.

Tallmadge and the Culper Ring were one of Washington’s best kept secrets of the war. They had some critical successes during the war, including uncovering a money counterfeiting operation, preventing a British surprise attack on arriving French troops, and exposing Benedict Arnold’s treason.

Their adventures were not discovered and made public until 1939.

Because of these innovations and accomplishments, Tallmadge and the Culper Ring can be credited with establishing the foundations of American military intelligence.

“This Week in History” is a feature on the Command History Office website. Those with AKO access can check out their site, https://ikn.army.mil/apps/mi_history/.  To learn more about the 2012 MI Branch and Corps Commemoration, go to the public website, https://www.ikn.army.mil/apps/mi_comm/.




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