History of the Arnold-Andre Affair
This image depicts the Capture of Major John Andre.
The reasons for Benedict Arnold's treason continue to prompt historical debate. Certain facts are indisputable. When Arnold opened his correspondence with the British in May of 1779, he was seriously injured from battle wounds, and deeply in debt with no hope of reimbursement from Congress. Immediately before opening his correspondence with the British, Arnold faced a court martial and censure for private use of military property. He had also just married a much younger big-spending Tory socialite, who used to be good friends with the British Chief of Intelligence, Major John Andre. By the mid-twentieth century, archival evidence was available to affirm the involvement of Arnold's new wife, the former Margaret "Peggy" Shippen.br>
This image of a letter from Arnold to Andre contains notations by Peggy Shippen Arnoldbr>
Arnold already had debts, enemies, and a problematic wound from Saratoga when Washington appointed him Commandant of Philadelphia following the British evacuation in 1778. In Philadelphia, Arnold was constantly in contact with the bureaucrats who refused to repay the money he put out to support campaigns he led. He also was unable to excel in the situations where he was most successful--battlefield leadership and interactions with common soldiers.br>
Arnold resigned his command following censure on March 19, 1779. In May, he sent for Joseph Stansbury, who had held several positions of power, including command of the watch, during the British occupation of Philadelphia. Exactly why Stansbury remained in Philadelphia after the British evacuation, or why Arnold chose to approach Stansbury is unclear, although Peggy Shippen Arnold would have known Stansbury carried letters between the lines for Tory socialites and their British beaus after the evacuation. Stansbury, with the help of a friend, managed to approach Major John Andre, the British Chief of Intelligence and one of Commander Sir Henry Clinton's top aides.
John Andre's initial response to Arnold indicated that he expected Arnold to remain in his post within American lines and to provide the British with intelligence about American troop movements and plans. Andre's reply connected Arnold's ability to supply intelligence with increased financial awards. Andre also indicated that some of Arnold's terms could not be readily met, such as his demand for equivalent rank in the British Army.
Arnold was not particularly pleased with Andre's response, particularly in terms of his loss of rank if he were to switch sides. The two men would correspond on the terms of Arnold's treason until the end of the following Summer, when plans shifted to making a move. Part of the delay in the correspondence reflected Andre's five month trip during the Winter and early Spring of 1780 to South Carolina to participate in the siege of Charleston.
With Andre's return from Charleston the negotiations took off. Arnold offered the British top rate intelligence, including the news of the French Fleet's arrival. Clinton and Andre offered Arnold some latitude in how he chose to defect, but they indicated he should plan to do it in the area of their next campaign. When the correspondence experienced challenges, Willard Sterne Randall documented how Peggy Shippen Arnold stepped in to continue the plot.
By June of 1780, Arnold was reporting to the British the Americans next move, including the anticipated arrival of the French Fleet. The summer of 1780 also saw Arnold embrace a suggestion to take command of West Point, which seemed odd because it was not the typical front line command he preferred, but it was a fort that controlled possession of the Hudson River Valley and the Continent. Arnold wrote Clinton of the certainty of his receiving this post on July 7, 1780, even though it was far from definite still. On July 11, 1780, the same day Arnold was informed of the French Fleet's arrival, the Culper Spy Ring was reactivated by Major Tallmadge, the American Intelligence Chief. The following day Arnold wrote Andre with the news. Three days later, Arnold wrote officially offering to sell the British the fort at West Point. On July 30, 1780, Arnold officially received command of the fort, and on August 15, 1780, Clinton agreed to Arnold's deal for the final price of 20,000 pounds sterling.
Whether or not the Americans already suspected Arnold by this point is unclear. It is certain that by June of 1780, the American leadership was intensely suspicious. Tallmadge wrote to the Governor in charge of supplying West Point on June 15, 1780, warning to expect a sudden strike, with insider knowledge. Writing in the fall of 1780, Hamilton related to his fellow aide and close friend that the plot seemed to go back to "last" June. During this period, the timeline of letters exchanged Andre and Arnold overlaps patterns in the Culper correspondence. The Culpers are credited with providing warning to the Americans of Arnold's treason. While this is not entirely established, since successful spies leave few if any traces behind, the Americans were intercepting Arnold's correspondence.
Histories offered by archivists affiliated with the Sir Henry Clinton Papers indicate Arnold's letters with intelligence throughout during July did not seem to be reaching Clinton, who was not acknowledging Arnold's reports but continued to ask for more intelligence. Historian Carl Van Doren established American Intelligence was intercepting Arnold's correspondence by August 30, 1780. Arnold's September 3rd letter appeared to be gibberish when it was uncoded, clearly someone had tampered with the message, and Arnold outright claimed as much in his September 7th letter. These letters were particularly important since they discussed the logistics for Arnold and Andre's personal meeting to finish arrangements for the deal. That meeting was finally called off when British gunboats mistakenly fired on Arnold's approaching boat on September 11, 1780.
A second attempt was arranged for September 23, 1780. Arnold continued to weaken West Point's defenses and on September 19, 1780, Sir Henry Clinton readied his war ships to support an attack on West Point. Arnold enlisted the help of Joshua Hett Smith, a questionable figure who was definitely a double, if not triple, agent. Smith was the only American spy willing to work with Arnold, which suggests Arnold may have been set up by the suspicious Americans. Smith's actions were also key to both the failure of Arnold's plans and the capture of Major Andre. For example, Smith, who was in charge of the logistics to retrieve Andre, failed to include Andre's accompanying experienced field agent in the accommodations, forcing Andre to leave the agent behind. Smith's actions regarding Andre's boat and rowers are also extremely odd, if not suspicious.br>
This sketch was drawn by Major Andre, depicting his crossing of the Hudson River.br>
Smith's home, on the banks of the Hudson River, was the meeting place for Arnold and Andre on September 21, 1780. On the morning of September 22, 1780, as Andre prepared to return to New York, American gunners fired on Andre's ship, the HMS Vulture, forcing her downriver. Andre was stranded, and forced to travel over land to the area further down the river where the Vulture now lay. Smith had previously forced Arnold to use his neighbors and their boat to retrieve Andre, claiming there were no other boats available, even for the Commander of West Point. However, despite this scarcity of boats, he seems to have let his neighbor and their boats leave the meeting, offering them the choice to go home if they were bored or tired, which these brothers took.
Arnold wrote Andre passes to get him through the American lines, and left Smith to guide Andre safely back. Smith insisted Andre change out of his uniform, a key factor in determining Andre's status as a spy, which allowed him to hang. Smith also deliberately took Andre on an indirect route definitely north into territory unquestionably held by the Americans, right under West Point itself. At the same time, witnesses all remembered Smith being especially chatty, talking excessively to everyone the travelers met, almost as though he was determined to make a lasting impression.
Smith left Andre on the morning of September 23rd, just past Croton near Tarrytown at Pine Bridge, directing Andre to take one fork in the road ahead, but Andre decided to take the other, probably because he was suspicious of Smith. On this path, Andre traveled through the no-man's land between the two armies, ruled by gangs of bandits claiming vague affiliations to either Army's side. Andre encountered three of these "highwaymen" loosely affiliated with the American side, and through a series of poorly played moves, identified himself as a British officer, believing the men to be affiliated with the British. Then realizing his mistake, Arnold claimed to be on official business, and waved Arnold's pass. If Andre had simply shown Arnold's pass from the start, it is unlikely events would have unfolded as they did. The suspicious "highwaymen" searched Andre, who offered great reward money for his release, hoping to find items of value. Only one of the men could read, and he alerted the others to the strange papers Andre was carrying, including plans of West Point. The "highwaymen" or questionable militia members, brought Andre to the commanding local officer, Colonel John Jameson, a Virginian with a penchant for following military protocol. Jameson wanted to send Andre to Arnold, given that Arnold was his commander and Andre carried Arnold's pass. Jameson decided to send the papers found on Andre to Washington, and send Andre to Arnold. However, Major Tallmadge, Jameson's immediate subordinate, returned that evening to hear the news of Andre's capture and immediately broke protocol, criticizing Jameson's decision and arguing strongly for Jameson to bring the matter directly to Washington, questioning Arnold's loyalty. Tallmadge even offered to take full credit for the plan so there would be no risks to the protocol-concerned Jameson. Jameson agreed to send an express rider to overtake Andre, and bring Andre back to their outpost, but he insisted on sending Arnold another letter updating him of the events. This letter afforded Arnold the opportunity to escape to the Vulture and British lines, before Washington arrived for breakfast.
Early historians like Benson Lossing and Henry Cabot Lodge remarked on Washington's calm when he was informed of Arnold's treason, and Lossing noted the confusion expressed by Washington's entourage when he went directly towards the river near Arnold's home instead of proceeding directly to the house where he was expected for breakfast. This choice was odd considering Washington had yet to receive Jameson's dispatches on the capture of Andre, still known only as John Anderson, the name on his pass, which he used corresponding with Arnold. Andre finally confessed the truth at Tappan, where he was held prisoner, although before his confession Major Tallmadge's Memoirs record Tallmadge's recognition of Andre's military bearing.
Arnold left Andre to face trial as a spy, which was incredibly controversial, both because of Andre's charming personality and Arnold's cowardly behavior. The Americans made it known that they would gladly trade Arnold for Andre, but the British had a longstanding offer of protection for any American who would change sides, and abandoning Arnold meant reneging on that agreement. The situation was also controversial, since it involved a British adjutant general meeting with another General, the whole situation had a decidedly different flavor than that of a civilian sneaking around military lines. Andre's officer status could do little to change the facts--Smith ensured that Andre was out of uniform in civilian dress, unquestionably behind enemy lines, the very definition of a spy. Andre was held prisoner for several days, moved to Washington's Headquarters and later Tappan, and guarded exclusively by Major Tallmadge and Alexander Hamilton, one of Washington's aides who handled much of the Culper correspondence. Perhaps these were just the officers available, but given their high profile jobs and Washington's need for intelligence and dispatches immediately following Arnold's flight, it is an odd choice. However, it did result in a fascinating anecdote. Andre asked Tallmadge what the American expected would happen, and Tallmadge replied with the story of his dear friend from Yale, the famous Nathan Hale, who was tried and executed by Andre's friend General Howe in 1776. Tallmadge ended the story, "similar will be your fate."
Tallmadge's prediction was accurate, as Washington modeled his actions on Howe's, but moved to show more mercy by offering Andre a trial, unlike Howe with Hale. Andre stood trial before fourteen leading American generals, including Nathanael Greene, Lord Stirling, Henry Knox, the Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steubon, John Glover, Robert Howe (the previous commander of West Point), and eight others. On September 29, he was found guilty as a spy. That same day, he wrote Clinton to reassure him and absolve him from guilt.br>
This is the image of the letter Andre wrote his commander, following his conviction.br>
Andre also wrote to Washington, requesting to be executed in the more honorable manner of a soldier--by firing squad--rather than hanged. However, Washington could not honor this request without breaking the rules of warfare, which were key to his justifications on how to handle the Andre affair. Andre did not hear the news until immediately before his execution on October 2, 1780. At his execution, he proved true to character, asking the audience to remember that he died bravely, instead of speaking to his country or cause. However, his plight and courage moved many on both sides of the war, and left Arnold even more despised by the British. Clinton, who already disliked Arnold, blamed him for the death of his favorite aide.
Something in the proceedings of Andre's trial suggested to Arnold that his plans were betrayed and he began a witch hunt throughout New York City and Long Island for spies. Many were captured and held, including Hercules Mulligan, who sometimes contributed to the Culper Spy Ring. The early October Culper correspondence indicates many of the ring members were in hiding to avoid capture by Arnold, although by mid-October, at least one of their more valuable members was captured.
Arnold's treason forced Washington to shift the focus of the war to the Southern Campaign. Arnold knew the American situation in the north too well to wage a successful campaign around New York, which was always central to Washington's plans for victory. Within a year, the stalemate was broken by the surrender of British General Cornwallis at Yorktown. Arnold remained despised on both sides of the war, while Andre was regarded with pity.
In a strange end note to the story, when one of the captors of Andre applied to Congress in 1817 to increase the pension Congress already gave him, Tallmadge vehemently denounced this request, claiming that the man was already sufficiently rewarded for what real patriotism he had shown. Historians find this very odd, although a few have suggested Tallmadge was greatly moved by Andre's plight or may have had his own plans to capture Andre--perhaps even down the alternate path Andre avoided out of suspicion for Smith.