Chapter Twenty-Three


The Short Life Of A Spy


Rumors were rampant for the next day and a half. The British were expected from all sides, by land and by water. The weak 275-pound link in the iron chain across the river had been quickly replaced. But the fortresses were alert. The Massachusetts Militia at Fishkill had been sent to fortify the landing opposite West Point. Major General Alexander MacDougall was their new commander.

On September 27th the alleged spy, British Major John André arrived under guard at West Point. The following day, the prisoner, escorted by and in the custody of Major Benjamin Tallmadge, was taken under guard by barge to King's Ferry. Sergeant Moses Gunn was among the American soldiers assigned to guard the spy. 

At King’s Ferry, the party was met by Cavalry. From there André was taken to Tappan and confined in the Mabie House, where he was destined to live out the remainder of his short life.

The party of barges rowed by soldiers, left West Point early that morning. In the middle was the boat with André and Major Tallmadge, who sat alongside the spy on the after-seat of Moses' barge. Moses sat facing them. He couldn’t help but overhear their conversation.

Tallmadge inquired about the siege and possible capture of West Point had the plan worked.

André was noncommittal about the involvement of any others, but candid about his own. 

“How foolish,” thought Moses. “He's sealing his own fate.”

“Were you to personally take part in the attack?” asked Major Tallmadge.

"Yes, I was to have landed there, on the west shore,” he stated, pointing to a precise spot. 

“From there, my Corps and I were to traverse the mountains to the south of the parade grounds to Fort Putnam. Had the plan succeeded, it is doubtful that there would have been any meaningful resistance, give the shock of surprise and state of disarray at the fortress.”

“And how many patriots dead at the scene of this black victory?” wondered Moses.

Tallmadge asked, “And what would have been your reward?”

André replied, quite proudly, “Military glory, honor, prestige, and promotion to General perhaps.”

Then André posed the ultimate question to Tallmadge. “What, Major, is your opinion of my possible fate?”

Tallmadge reminded him of a Yale classmate of his. “Does the name, Nathan Hale mean anything to you?”

André nodded.

“Remember what happened to him?”

“I remember,” thought Moses.

“Surely you don't equate his case with mine,” said Major André.

“I assure you sir, that I do,” said Major Tallmadge.

“No less,” agreed Moses to himself.

At Tappan, André was confined at the Mabie house under heavy, twenty-four hour guard. While he awaited his fate, he wrote letters, composed music, and drew pictures.  Moses stood guard duty everyday. Tallmadge was there all the time.

On September 29, 1780, the Court Martial convened at the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church. Moses heard all the testimony, including the introduction into evidence of André’s admissions. Moses and other guards talked among themselves about the Generals of the Court. Moses knew of Nathaniel Greene, he had seen him before at West Point. He had heard of Lafayette, the Frenchman, but didn't know the others.

“What do you think they'll do?”  someone asked.

“The only thing they can do,” said Moses.

Moses’s opinion is ultimately reflected in the verdict. André was found guilty of spying and under the rules of war, the recommended sentence was death.

On September 30th, Washington approved the finding of the Court Martial of the previous day.

André’s execution was ordered for the next day, October 1st, but postponed that morning. Later that afternoon, it was rescheduled for October 2nd, at Noon.

The day before he was supposed to die, André wrote Washington and pleaded to be shot by a firing squad, and not hanged. Tallmadge had Moses carry the letter to Washington at the DeClark-DeWint House where he had his headquarters.

Moses was met by group of officers and admitted entry. George Washington recognized him.

"Well, Sergeant Gunn, what have you from Major Tallmadge?"

"A letter from the British Major, Sir."

Washington opened and read it. Moses knew its contents. Washington dropped his hands to his side and paced slowly without speaking. He shook his head pensively, heavily.  The minutes seemed like hours passing to Moses.  Washington gave him no answer.

"Thank you Sergeant, you may return."

"Any message, Sir?"

"No message, Sergeant."

On October  2nd, shortly before Noon, André dressed, and under a guard of  thirty men, in double file on each side of the road, walked on foot with a group of Officers to his doom. In front of him, Officers on horseback and a wagon containing a black coffin.

Along the route, they passed George Washington's Headquarters. Moses noticed the shutters were all closed.   Was Washington inside, he wondered?

The ceremony was brief and professional. André paid the price of treachery.

Sergeant Moses Gunn chose not to watch.

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