Maj. John Andre apprehended for spying
Sept. 23, 1780
On this week in history, Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge apprehended Maj. John Andre of the British Intelligence Service who was trying to purchase the surrender of West Point. This arrest thwarted the plans of American turncoat, Gen. Benedict Arnold, to betray the defenses of West Point to Andre. Andre was later executed by hanging, the same sentence that Capt. Nathan Hale had received from the British in 1776, although Arnold escaped to Canada.
The following biographical sketch is taken from “Spy Letters of the American Revolution,” a website focused on the intelligence operations of both the British and American armies during the Revolutionary War, based on the Sir Henry Clinton collection at the William C. Clements Library, University of Michigan. It can be accessed at http://www2.si.umich.edu/spies/index-people.html.
[John] André purchased a commission as second lieutenant in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in 1771. In 1774 he joined a regiment in Quebec, where he pursued his first love of poetry and painting. In September and October 1775, American troops laid siege to André’s fort at St. Johns. He was captured, brought back to Lancaster, Pa., and treated roughly. His days as a prisoner turned him against the American rebels. The Americans finally exchanged him in 1776, and he met up with British troops in New York City. Sir William Howe was especially interested in the information André had learned behind the American lines.
André then purchased a position as captain and become Gen. Charles Grey’s aide. He became known for behaving ruthlessly and aggressively on the battlefield.
In 1778 André joined the staff of Henry Clinton, Gen. Howe’s replacement. Clinton made him head of intelligence in April 1779. André successfully kept track of intelligence from American deserters and British prisoners who had escaped or were exchanged. André’s most famous success was the treachery of Benedict Arnold. As a result, Clinton promoted André rapidly, from deputy to adjutant general in October 1779.
Yet Benedict Arnold was also André’s downfall. Three American militiamen captured André, who was dressed in civilian clothes with a treasonous letter from Clinton to Arnold in his shoe. André was tried by court martial. Found guilty, he begged George Washington to shoot him as a gentleman instead of hanging him as a spy. Nevertheless, he was hanged as a spy in Tappan, New York on October 2, 1780.
“This Week in History” is a feature on the Command History Office website.
Those with Army Knowledge Online access can go to https://ikn.army.mil/apps/mi_history/.