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HOW DID WASHINGTON’S FLEDGELING ARMY DEFEAT THE BRITISH?

by General Canwell Jeffington

(Jun. 28, 2011) — I could tell that Washington was almost euphoric that I had agreed to spy for him.  He had other reasons to be encouraged as well.  His troops had emerged from the Hell of the winter at Valley Forge.  Their supply lines were open, their supplies had increased, his troops were now well fed and clothed and Baron Von Steuben had done an excellent job of training Washington’s irregulars into a cohesive and capable fighting force.  They demonstrated their new skills at the battle of Monmouth where Washington’s troops had slowed down General Clinton’s retreat from Philadelphia to New York.  It wasn’t a win by any standards, but they proved they could attack British forces in the open without the advantage of surprise and hold their own.  Yes, they had to retreat, but they still inflicted significant damages on the British’s baggage trains and rear guard with attack-and-retreat and flanking maneuvers.  They might have inflicted much heavier damages on the British at Monmouth if it hadn’t been for the ill-advised, if not negligent commands of General Lee.   Washington literally took over command from Lee and turned an almost certain rout into a draw.

Under Washington’s able leadership the Continental army had learned some very valuable lessons.  The British troops were well trained and there was no way Washington’s untrained irregulars could take on the British in a full, head-to-head frontal assault at the start of the war.  However, if Washington’s army could weaken the British a little every day, but grow stronger as time passed, it could shift the balance in Washington’s favor.  Thus began small skirmishes, ambushes and hit and run tactics with the British that nibbled away at their forces and supplies.  Most of British supplies came by sailing ship from England.  They were vulnerable to attack on the high seas from the French, as well as to attack when unloading cargo, or supplies being carried overland to the troops in the field.

(Since the current federal government, some 233 years later, is so much more powerful than the hopelessly divided electorate, those contemporary Americans in the early 21st Century reading these words, could learn a lot from the lessons Washington had to learn the hard way, in the war that launched individual freedom onto the world stage that still survives today, albeit in a somewhat diminished form.  But take heart, the hot blood of patriots still courses through your veins and freedom will be yours again.  But you must take a page from Washington’s book and take on state and local governments with peaceful ambushes and hit and run tactics, in that you are not strong enough to take on the entire Federal government …. yet!  But you will be soon.  And just as in the Revolutionary War, only a small minority will reclaim freedom for all Americans.)

I was suddenly jerked awake from my musings when Washington looked at me with a sly smile and said: “Canwell, I believe we have broken over the hump on this war.  We’re more battle ready than we have ever been.  Thanks to Benjamin Franklin, the French entered our war with the British back in February and their help has been invaluable.  The British General, Henry Clinton, whom you know personally, has more than defeating the Americans on his mind.  My Culper ring spies have told me that the French have taken advantage of Great Britain’s fight with the Americans to attack Britain on the high seas of the Atlantic and across the Channel, and France is also interrupting supply shipments to America.

Spain is itching to get into the war with Britain as well, having smelled blood.  Britain is being forced to fight three wars at one time.  Clinton has to take this war south to protect British interests along the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida coasts from French and Spanish ambitions.  He will have to dispatch a good portion of his troops and ships to those locations, thereby depleting his forces in the North.  I believe this war is heading south and I need intelligence to know where he intends to strike next so that I can strategically deploy my forces.  I want you to get that information for me.  Can you do it?”

I thought for a moment knowing what this assignment meant, both in the danger of being discovered as a spy, but what such information could do for Washington in defending the southern colonies and eventually winning the war.  Without much hesitation, I uttered a confident, “yes!”

I would have to make my way back to New York where Clinton had garrisoned his troops after the harrowing march from Philadelphia and then convincingly explain my absence.  It wouldn’t be too difficult in that I only had to plant some false details of my recent sojourn with the wives of the officers, who would then relay it to their husbands.  I had done it before.

I asked Washington “when do you want me to leave?”   Washington replied, “as soon as you can.”  I responded with, “I’ll leave at dawn tomorrow as it is almost dark now.”  Washington said his goodbyes and then yelled at the adjutant to come into his office as I was headed out the door.  I wouldn’t see Washington again for more than a month.

The next morning I left for New York in a heavy downpour.  Actually, it was a relief from the oppressive heat of that summer in 1778.  It would take at least three days by horseback to get from Washington’s headquarters to New York.  I didn’t relish the trip.  Nevertheless, I had timed it so that I would arrive in New York after night fall so that I could slip into my quarters quietly without arousing suspicion.  The next morning I could ride into the garrison in full military dress and descend upon the ladies court where I was always welcome.

I was mulling over the details of my absence as I rode, so that I wouldn’t slip up and say something that could be questioned.  Three nights later I slowly walked my horse down the quiet street to my New York residence well after midnight.  As I approached the house I could tell there was the flicker of candle light coming from behind the curtains in the windows.  No one should be up at this hour and no one should even be in my residence.  My mind raced at who it could be.  I tethered my horse outside and walked up the stairs to the front door.  I opened the door slowly and looked in.  I was totally unprepared for what I saw and it appeared that the occupants were as equally unprepared.

John Andre’, aide de camp to British General Henry Clinton, rose abruptly from his horizontal position with an incredulous look of surprise and embarrassment on his face.  General Clinton’s wife pulled the covers up over her face and rolled over.  My mind ran wild with the possibilities of this discovery and how it might aid my implementation of Washington’s assignment.  Fate had delivered me an opportunity that only in my wildest dreams I could have imagined…..

Until next week at this same time when I will relay more details of my exploits as a spy for General Washington ….. from the Jeffington Files.

I remain yours in liberty,

Taken from the pages of “The Jeffington Journal
http://www.narlo.org/jeffington.html

General Canwell Jeffington,
Special covert military attaché to General George Washington
During America’s Revolutionary War