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The United States of America: A History
Book 2: Chapter XII - Major André


The Americans had a strong fortress at West Point, on the Hudson river. It was one of the most important places in the country, and its acquisition was anxiously desired by the Eng- lish. Possession of West Point would have given them command of the Hudson, up which their ships of war could have sailed for more than a hundred miles. But that fort, sitting impregnably on rocks two hundred feet above the level of the river, was hard to win; and the Americans were careful to garrison effectively a position so vitally important.

In the American army was an officer named Arnold, who had served, not without distinction from the beginning of the war. He had fought in Canada when the Americans unsuccessfully invaded that province. This courage and skill had been conspicuous in the engagements which led to the surrender of Burgoyne. lie was, however, a vain, reckless, unscrupulous person. He had by extravagance in living involved himself in debt, which lie aggravated hopelessly by ill-judged mercantile speculations. lie had influence with Washington to obtain the command of West Point. There is little doubt that when he sought the appointment it was with the full intention of selling that important fortress to the enemy. lie opened negotiations at once with Sir Henry Clinton, then in command of the English army at New York.

Clinton sent Major André to arrange the terms of the conternplated treachery. A mournful interest attaches to the name of this young officer: the fate which befell him was so very sad. He was of French descent—high-spirited, accomplished, affectionate, merry-hearted. It was a service which a high- principled man would scarcely have coveted. But André desired eagerly to have the merit of gaining West Point, and he volunteered for this perilous enterprise.

Sept 1780 A.D.

At midnight Major André landed from the boat of a British ship of war, at a lonely place where Arnold waited him. Their conference lasted so long that it was deemed unsafe for André to return to the ship. He was conducted to a place of concealment within the American lines, to await the return of darkness. He completed his arrangement with Arnold, and received drawings of the betrayed fortress. his mission was now accomplished. The ship from which he had come lay full in view. Would that he could reach her But difficulties arose, and it was resolved that he must ride to New York, a distance of fifty miles. Disguising himself as he best could, André reluctantly accepted this very doubtful method of escape from his fearful jeopardy.

Within the American lines he had some narrow escapes, but the pass given by Arnold carried him through. He was at length beyond the lines. his danger might now be considered at an end, and he rode cheerfully on his lonely journey. Ho was crossing a small stream—thick woods on his right hand and his left enhanced the darkness of the night. Three armed men stepped suddenly from among the trees and ordered him to stand. From the dress of one of them, André thought ho was among friends, lie hastened to tell them he was a British officer, on very special business, and he must not be detained. Alas for poor Major André, they were not friends; and the dress which deceived him had been given to the man who wore it when he was a prisoner with the English, in place of a better garment of which his captors had stripped him.

André was searched; but at first nothing was found. It seemed as if he might yet be allowed to proceed, when one of the three men exclaimed, "Boys, I am not satisfied. His boots must come off." André's countenance fell. His boots were searched, and Arnold's drawings of West Point were discovered. The men knew then that he was a spy. He vainly offered them money. They were incorruptible. He was taken to the nearest military station, and the tidings were at once sent to Washington, who chanced to be then at West Point. Arnold had timely intimation of the disaster, and fled for refuge to a British ship of war.

André was tried by a court formed of officers of the American army. He gave a frank and truthful account of his part in the unhappy transaction—bringing into due prominence the circumstance that he was brought, without intention or knowledge on his part, within the American lines. The court judged him on his own statement, and condemned him to be hanged as a spy.

His capture and sentence caused deep sensation in the English army, and every effort was made to save him. But Washington was resolute that lie should die. The danger to the patriot cause had been too great to leave any place for relenting. There were (lark intimations of other treasons yet unrevealed. It was needful to give emphatic warning of the perils which waited on such unlawful negotiations. André begged that he might be allowed to (lie a soldier's death. Even this poor boon was refused to the unhappy young man. Since the awful lesson must be given, Washington considered that no circumstance fitted to enhance its terrors should be withheld. But this was mercifully concealed from André to the very last.

Ten days after his arrest, André was led forth to die. He was under the impression that his last request had been granted, and that he would (lie by the bullet. It was a fresh pang when the gibbet, with its ghastly preparations, stood before him. "how hard is my fate," lie said; "but it will soon be over." lie bandaged his own eyes; with his own hands adjusted the noose to his neck. The cart on which lie stood moved away, and poor Major André was no longer in the world of living men. Forty years afterwards his remains were brought home to England and laid in Westminster Abbey.


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