Benedict Arnold. A biography/12

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search



MAJOR Tallmadge had personal charge of André, from the hour he left his bed at Lower Salem till the day of his execution. They were both young men, and very soon conceived an ardent attachment for one another. Tallmadge thought his prisoner one of the most delightful companions he had ever seen.

They went on board the barge to go down to King's Ferry, on the morning of the 28th. The two youthful officers sat side by side on the boat's after-seat. While sailing silently past the frowning heights of West Point, with the fortress in view, Tallmadge asked André if he should have taken a part in the attack, if Arnold had carried out his plan. André answered him that he should; and he pointed out the piece of level ground on which he expected to land with a select body of troops, and from which he would have gone by a certain route up the mountain to a place overlooking the entire parade-ground of the fortress!

Tallmadge was much excited with hearing André tell what he was going to do, and asked him what was to have been his reward; "nothing but military glory," said he; "the thanks of his general and the approbation of his king, would have been a rich reward for such an undertaking."

Reaching King's Ferry, they found an escort of dragoons and started off at once for Tappan in their company. Riding along through a mountain defile, André ventured to ask Major Tallmadge what he thought would be the result of this affair, and in what light he would be con- sidered by General Washington, and a military tribunal, if one should be ordered. Tallmadge tried to evade the question for a time, but being urged for an answer, he finally said as follows:

" I had a much-loved classmate in Yale College, by the name of Nathan Hale, who entered the army in 1775. Immediately after the battle of Long Island, General Washington wanted information respecting the strength, position, and probable movements of the enemy. Captain Hale tendered his services, went over to Brooklyn, and was taken, just as he was passing the out-posts of the enemy on his return. Said I with emphasis, "Do you remember the sequel of the story?" "Yes," said André, "he was hanged as a spy! But you surely do not consider his case and mine alike? "Yes, precisely similar; and similar will be your fate!" 'He endeavored, adds Tallmadge,' to answer my remarks, but it was manifest he was more troubled in spirit than I had ever seen him before. We stopped at the Clove to dine and let the horse-guard refresh. While there, André kept reviewing his shabby dress, and finally remarked to me, that he was positively ashamed to go to the head-quarters of the American army in such a plight. I called my servant and directed him to bring my dragoon cloak, which I presented to Major André. This he refused to take for some time; but I insisted on it, and he finally put it on and rode in it to Tappan."

André was confined at Tappan in a building which is still pointed out as the "76 Stone House," and treated with the utmost kindness and sympathy. Washington reached the camp as soon as his preparations for the safety of West Point were concluded, and immediately summoned a board of general officers to inquire into the case; they were to say in what light André should be regarded, and what disposition should be made of him. This board of officers met on the 29th, the next day. Meantime Sir Henry Clinton despatched a letter to Washington from New York, covering another from Arnold, demanding the release of André on the ground of his having been invited within the American lines by an officer, under the sanction of a flag of truce. Arnold likewise argued to the same effect, insisting that he had a perfect right to send for André under the protection of a flag, and concluding that he had no doubt the prisoner would be forthwith released and sent to New York.

But neither letter moved the mind of Washington. The Board met as ordered; General Greene presided; six major-generals and eight brigadiers composed the court. André was brought before them, but told that he need answer no questions which would even embarrass his feelings. He carefully concealed everything that might implicate others in his own guilt, but frankly confessed all the facts that related to himself. On his confession alone the board made up their report, which was as follows : "that Major André, adjutant-general of the British army, ought to be considered a spy from the enemy, and ought to suffer death."

André did not expect this, yet he preserved his calmness still. His conduct was manly to the end. "I foresee my fate," said he, "and though I pretend not to play the hero, or to be indifferent about life, yet I am reconciled to whatever may happen; conscious that misfortune, not guilt, has brought it upon me."

He expressed much tender regard for Sir Henry Clinton, who, he said, "had been too good to him." He could not bear that his commander should ever reproach himself, or that others should reproach him, for the fate with which he was now overtaken. He would not leave a sting in his mind that should embitter his future days. He burst into tears while saying this, and requested permission to write to Sir Henry, which was granted. In the letter he spoke tenderly of his mother and three sisters, hoping they would be treated with kindness. Washington sent a letter to Clinton along with his, acquainting the British Commander with the finding of the court, but saying nothing of the sentence. Captain Ogden was selected to bear these two letters to the enemy, and directed to ascertain from the officer to whom he delivered them, if Sir Henry Clinton would be willing to give up Arnold on condition of André's release. Clinton received the proposal, but declared it would be both un-military and a breach of honor to surrender one who had deserted from an enemy to his own camp.

Washington made an attempt to capture Arnold, resolved, if it could be done and he could be brought back to the American camp alive, to release André and make a merited public example of the traitor himself. To this end a young Virginian named John Champe, but twenty-four years of age, and a sergeant-major of cavalry, was induced by Major Lee to peril his life, and undertook the dangerous task with a fixed determination to bring back the victim to the commander-in-chief.

In order to give the whole transaction an air of naturalness, and keep the plan a secret from his comrades, young Champe pretended to be a deserter. It was his design, as soon as he reached New York, to enlist in a corps which Arnold was at that very time trying to raise, and procure some situation in the same that would place him near the traitor's person. When the right moment came, he was to seize Arnold during the night, thrust a gag in his mouth, bind him, and carry him in a boat across the Hudson into Bergen woods, in New Jersey. To carry out this bold project, the only help he was to have was to come from a man belonging in Newark.

The whole affair was kept as secret as possible. Washington was anxious to learn its result from the time it was entered upon. But he was strenuous in insisting that on no account should Arnold be brought back otherwise than alive. "No circumstance whatever," said he, "shall obtain my consent to his being put to death. The idea which would accompany such an event, would be, that ruffians had been hired to assassinate him. My aim is to make a public example of him, and this should be strongly impressed upon those who are employed to bring him off."

Sergeant Charnpe took his cloak, valise, and orderly book at eleven o'clock at night, and, with all possible caution, went and untied his horse, sprang on his back, and was off. Major Lee then went to bed. The brave young sergeant had all sorts of dangers to run, and the chances were even, at best, if he could get beyond the lines without either detection or pursuit. The guards on the road were thickly stationed, additional watchfulness having. every where followed the discovery of Arnold's perfidy.

Major Lee had been abed but a little more than half an hour, when an officer came up to his quarters in the greatest haste and alarm, saying that one of the guard had challenged a dragoon, who, instead of giving the countersign, put spurs to his horse and escaped. In order to give the sergeant all the time he could, Lee pretended to believe that the guard must have taken somebody else for a dragoon, and thought it useless to make a stir about nothing. But the officer who brought the news persisted in his statement, until Lee found it would not do to deny him an investigation. So he told him to call up all the dragoons, and run through the roll to see if any one was missing. In a few minutes he came back bringing word that the sergeant himself was not to be found, and had carried off with him his horse, arms, baggage and orderly book.

Much against his wish, Major Lee allowed a party to set out in pursuit; but he threw as many petty obstacles in their way as his ingenuity could devise, and so managed that Champe finally had a full hour the start of them. Besides this, the party in pursuit had to stop along the route to see if they could follow the deserter by his horse's tracks; this likewise gave Champe an advantage.

They rode on in hot pursuit until the day dawned. Then they came to the brow of a hill, and strained their gaze to see if they could discover any signs of him. As luck would have it, there he was, not more than half a mile ahead! Plying the spur and urging on their horses at the top of their speed, they began very rapidly to gain on him. But just at the moment they saw Champe in advance, he happened to see them; and he also put his horse to his highest mettle. It was a fearful race. Already he saw over his shoulder that his chances for escape were small.

He was on the river road, and a couple of British galleys lay at anchor near the shore. One of his pursuers was about two hundred yards behind him. His purpose was quickly taken. He threw himself from his horse, dashed headlong into a bog, and, plunging into the river, called out to the men on board the galleys to help him. They immediately sent out a boat and took him on board.

The pursuers returned without their prisoner, but greatly chagrined at thinking that they had lost him. Champe went to New York, procured exactly such a situation as he desired, and had fixed the night on which his plan was to be carried into execution. Arnold was to be surprised at night in a garden in which he was wont to walk, taken on board a boat, and carried straight across the river. Lee was all ready and waiting at the appointed place, with three dragoons and six horses to assist in carrying out the enterprise. But all was overturned by Arnold's removing his quarters to another part of the city, on the very day which was to crown the undertaking.

Champe found much difficulty in deserting back again to the Americans, but he did so after a time, and was rewarded most generously by Washington for his bravery and the temporary sacrifice of reputation to which he had so nobly submitted. It was a deed that drew upon him universal admiration.

It was determined that the execution of André should take place at five o'clock on the afternoon of the 1st of October; but Washington received a second letter from Clinton, dated Sept. 30th, stating that there were some circumstances connected with the case which had not yet been laid before the board; and he stated that he should send up a commission on the following day to Dobb's Ferry, to lay these facts before Washington, or whomsoever he might appoint. On this account the execution was delayed; Washington was anxious to allow the prisoner every chance he had.

The next day, General Greene went down to meet the commission that were sent by Clinton, at Dobb's Ferry. They came up the river in a schooner with a flag of truce, having Colonel Beverly Robinson on board. But one landed, General Robertson, he being the only military man on board. Greene and Robertson had a long interview, but nothing new was presented : Greene left and promised to report to Washington all that had been urged.

He also bore a letter from Arnold, in which the traitor went through a long argument to show that he had a right to do as he did, and that André ought not to suffer for it. Arnold added that if André was finally executed, it would be because of the passion and resentment of the board that had condemned him; and he pledged himself to retaliate to the fullest extent on such Americans as might thereafter fall into his power. Arnold further went through the mockery of tendering his resignation as a major-general in the American army, and added, with matchless impudence, that he was actuated by the same principle, in deserting to the enemy, which had been the governing rule of his conduct during the contest!

Arnold's letter was treated with silent scorn; but Greene wrote briefly to General Robertson, saying that the conference he had had with him was reported with exactness to Washington, but that his mind was nowise changed. Robertson believed that Greene had nevertheless failed to convey every circumstance to Washington, and so addressed the latter a statement of his own; this done, he and his party returned to New York by the way they came.

By this delay, André gained a respite of nearly a whole day. He was calm and resigned, betraying no loss either of courage or spirits. His continued cheerfulness was a wonder to all who came in contact with him. During the day he drew a hasty pen-and-ink sketch of himself, seated at the table in the guard-room. The original is to be seen in the Trumbull Gallery of Yale College, together with a lock of his hair, which was taken from his coffin at the time his remains were removed from Tappan to England. He made a present of this sketch to the officer on guard. An accurate copy forms the frontispiece to the present volume.

It was now made known to him that he must die at one o'clock on the following day, the 2d of October; he received the tidings with composure, betraying nothing like fear, merely remarking that since it was his lot to die, he had a choice in the mode. Upon which, he sat down and addressed a letter to Washington, as follows :

" SIR: Buoyed above the terror of death by the consciousness of a life devoted to honorable pursuits, and stained with no action that can give me remorse, I trust that the request I make to your Excellency at this serious period, and which is to soften my last moments, will not be rejected. Sympathy towards a soldier will surely induce your Excellency and a military tribunal to adapt the mode of my death to the feelings of a man of honor.

"Let me hope, sir, that if aught in my character impresses you with esteem towards me; if aught in my misfortunes marks me as the victim of policy and not of resentment, I shall experience the operation of these feelings in your breast by being informed that I am not to die on a gibbet."

This was a touching appeal from an unhappy man, who desired to be shot rather than hanged. But Washington could give him no hope that his request would be granted. The fate of the spy was hanging on the gibbet; the board of general officers had decided that André was a spy; and, according to the laws of war, he must expect to meet with death in the ignominious manner he. so dreaded and detested. It was indeed a hard fate for him; but he had voluntarily brought it upon himself, and his punishment must serve as a standing example for the warning of others. Still, Washington was merciful, even while sternly pursuing the course of his duty; since he could not grant André's last request, he saved his feelings as much as possible by keeping him ignorant of the mode of his death to the last.

The morning of the 2d came. André was as composed as ever; all around him were sensibly filled with a sympathy that gave them indescribable pain. His servant came into his apartment, the same who had come up with his uniform from New York to tend him in his last moments, and could not keep back the flow of tears as he looked at his still pleasant face. "Leave me," said André to him, " till you can show yourself more manly."

Dr. Thatcher, who was present during the whole scene, thus graphically sketches it :--

" His breakfast being sent to him from the table of General Washington, which had been done every day of his confinement, he partook of it as usual, and, having shaved and dressed himself, he placed his hat on the table, and cheerfully said to the guard-officers, "I am ready at any moment, gentlemen, to wait on you."

"The fatal hour having arrived, a large detachment of troops was paraded, and an immense concourse of people assembled; almost all our general and field officers, excepting his Excellency and his staff, were present on horseback; melancholy and gloom pervaded all ranks; the scene was affecting and awful.

" I was so near during the solemn march to the fatal spot, as to observe every movement and participate in every emotion, which the melancholy scene was calculated to produce. Major André walked from the stone house, in which he had been confined, between two of our subaltern officers, arm in arm; the eyes of the immense multitude were fixed on him, who, rising superior to the fear of death, appeared as if conscious of the dignified deportment which he displayed.

"He betrayed no want of fortitude, but retained a complacent smile on his countenance, and politely bowed to several gentlemen whom he knew, which was respectfully returned. It was his earnest desire to be shot, as being the mode of death most conformable to the feelings of a military man, and he had indulged the hope that his request would be granted. At the moment, therefore, when suddenly he came in view of the gallows, he involuntarily started backward and made a pause. 'Why this emotion, sir?' said an officer by his side. Instantly recovering his composure, he said, 'I am reconciled to my death, but I detest the mode.'

" While waiting and standing near the gallows, I observed some degree of trepidation; placing his foot on a stone, and rolling it over, and choking in his throat, as if attempting to swallow. So soon, however, as he perceived that things were in readiness, he stepped quickly into the wagon, and at this moment he appeared to shrink; but instantly elevating his head with firmness, he said, ' It will be but a momentary pang!' and, taking from his pocket two white handkerchiefs, the provost marshal with one loosely pinioned his arms; and with the other, the victim, after taking off his hat and stock, bandaged his own eyes with perfect firmness, which melted the hearts and moistened the cheeks not only of his servant, but of the throng of spectators. The rope being appended to the gallows, he slipped the noose over his head and adjusted it to his neck without the assistance of the executioner. Colonel Scamrnell now informed him that he had an opportunity to speak, if he desired it. He raised his handkerchief from his eyes, and said, ' I pray you to bear me witness that I meet my fate like a brave man.' The wagon being now removed from under him, he was suspended and instantly expired."

His conduct from first to last was that of a polished, generous, and courageous person. His step to the gallows was firm, and he betrayed no emotion save when he was first made aware of the mode of his violent death. He was composed in his mind, and his countenance showed that he had made up his resolution to meet his fate without fear or flinching. He wore his own uniform, which was that of a British officer. After the body had been suffered to hang till life was extinct, it was taken down and buried only a few yards distant. His servant attended him till all was over, and remained till the sods were placed over his grave. The military uniform was taken from the body before burial, and given to this faithful servant.

Such was the melancholy end of a young and brave man, whose name is never mentioned save with a feeling of sympathetic regret. The news of his death was at once despatched to Sir Henry Clinton, who in turn published it to the British army. "The unfortunate fate of this officer," said he, "calls upon the commander-in-chief to declare that he ever considered Major André a gentleman of the highest integrity and honor, and incapable of any base action or unworthy conduct." Not a syllable was said respecting either the cause or the manner of his unfortunate end.

A monument was erected to the memory of Major André in Westminster Abbey, by order of the king. In 1821, his remains were disinterred, and carried over to England, where they were buried again near by the monument. In striking contrast is this with the death and burial of young Capt. Nathan Hale, the martyr spy, who was hanged by the notorious Cunningham on the morning after his capture. He was not permitted to see a Bible before he died; and the affectionate letter he had written his mother was wantonly torn in pieces before his eyes. No spot is pointed out, that can be named as the place of his burial. André expired, exclaiming that he wished them "to bear witness that he died like a brave man;" Nathan Hale's last words were, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country!"

The captors of André were recommended to the attention of Congress by Washington, as having averted the heaviest calamity that could have befallen the American arms. Congress publicly voted them patriots, presented each of them with a farm, settled on them a pension of two hundred dollars a year for life, and ordered to be struck a silver medal, bearing on one side the engraved word FIDELITY, and on the other, the motto Vincit amor Patrice. Washington presented these medals to them at head-quarters with much ceremony. It is said that Van Wart, one of the captors, was present at André's execution, and was so deeply moved by what he saw that he never wished to speak of the event afterwards.

Smith was arrested and tried on a charge of being concerned in the plot of treason; but the court found nothing against him. Yet there were some points in his conduct that have never been made clear to this day. He was either the deepest of knaves, or the greatest of fools.