The Revolutionary War

Tuesday, September 19, 1780

Dashing young Major John Andre was being toasted by the British commanding officer, Sir Henry Clinton in New York.  Andre was the talk of all the British officers, since he was on the verge of negotiating the surrender of the American fortress, West Point, through the traitor Benedict Arnold. The officers and their wives were in full regimental regalia for the gala. 

Surrounded by admirers, Andre was exuberant. Face glowing with wine, he made witty responses to the toasts, sang the popular drinking song How Stands the Glass Around, and poked fun at the rebel generals. 

Sir Henry gave careful direction to his young officer: “Under no circumstances are you to trade your uniform as a British officer for any other clothing. Go under a white flag. Meet in a neutral zone. Do not enter the American lines. Wear your uniform at all times. Your agreement with Arnold is not to be put into writing. Carry no incriminating papers of any kind.” 

Smiling, Andre assured his chief that he would be careful. Sir Henry solemnly shook hands with him and they parted. Andre’s mission had a good change of success. He could legitimately hope for knighthood from a grateful King George III. The fleet was ready to sail at a moment’s notice to deliver a crushing blow. And with Arnold opening the doors of West Point, a quick and bloodless surrender should follow. 

The first attempted negotiation between Arnold and Andre was to take place aboard the British ship H.M.S. Vulture. Deciding that a white flag was no way to keep a traitor’s meeting secret, Arnold refused to approach the ship as Andre had directed, so an English gunner fired on Arnold.

Angered, Arnold was determined that in a second attempt, it would be Andre who took the risk. 

Alone with Andre, Arnold asked directly, “Are you fully authorized to negotiate and act?”  Pulling back his cape to reveal his rich regalia and quality boots, Andre declared that he was. 

When the thin light of dawn caught the two still discussing details, Andre saw his adversary clearly for the first time. Proud, hawk-like General Benedict Arnold; a corsair; hard and resourceful; dangerous as an enemy; and possibly even more dangerous as a friend.

Arnold pressed the younger man to return to his quarters, guaranteeing him safety and re-boarding H.M.S. Vulture that night.  Andre was uncertain, but had little choice under the spell of the powerful American.  

When a zealous colonial officer attacked the Vulture, the getaway ship was driven off. Andre would have to return another way. 

Arnold urged upon Andre the carefully drawn papers that detailed the weaknesses of the West point fortress. Having gone to much trouble to get them, and believing that something written had to be given to Sir Henry Clinton to convince him of Arnold’s genuineness, the shrewd American insisted on Andre carrying the diagrams. Inside his socks, the six thin sheets of paper seemed safe. 

“Since you have to return by land, you must get out of that uniform,” warned Arnold.

“I have been given strict orders to keep my uniform on at all times,” countered Andre. 

“You must take it off – it is a dead give away,” thundered Arnold. 

“I can’t,” shouted Andre. 

Arnold stared at him. “It is for your safety. If you are seen in that uniform within our lives, you will be arrested.”  “I came here at your request, under your protection,” retorted the younger man.

When Andre remained unwilling, Arnold told him bluntly, “For God’s sake, don’t you understand? Unless you removed that uniform you may be shot by the nearest sentry. 

Andre had not expected this. He reeled . . . and blinked. Heavy-hearted, he yielded to Arnold, a decade his senior. 

Hunger for place and power, the goad of ambition had thrown these two men together for a few short hours. Now the bond between them had grown as strong as life and death. Each held the other’s fate in his hands.  Both maneuvered in the shadow of the gallows. 

The next day, Andre rode north, increasing his distance into enemies territory with every step. In direct violation of Sir Henry’s orders, he carried documents–which if discovered–would condemn him.  

Up the road, Isaac Van Wort had drawn lots and lost – he must stand the first watch. John Paulding and David Williams rested in the shade not far from a bridge. 

Noticing a stranger coming–our Major Andre–Van Wort resolved to stop him, having noticed the fine boots. The three soldiers stripped the Englishman to his undergarments, and noticed the sagging socks. Andre was captured. The papers found. 

Andre was in serious trouble. His trial carefully listened to his explanation of the traitorous liaison with General Benedict Arnold, querying him specifically about the clothing he was wearing when captured, the white flag and under whose authority he had crossed into American territory. Young Andre had disregarded the clear orders of his commander, a man with greater knowledge of the rules of war. 

The moral of this true account is that being a chameleon can be dangerous. Andre had not anticipated the unexpected. He fell under the control of the more powerful Arnold. He was “in over his head” as younger adults sometimes are when they disregard what older leaders and loving parents tell them. Parents have had more experience handling the unexpected. Having been under pressure many times, they tend to have better perception of issues. And they see long-range implications. 

Scripture directs that we should be submissive one to another. Abraham modeled the humility of such followship well saying, “If you go to the right, I will go to the left.  If you prefer the left, I will go to the right” (Genesis 13:9).  

Submission is so foreign to our natures that the holy Spirit—after He had stated the command to be mutually submissive (Ephesians 5;21)–invested many verses to explain it (see Ephesians 5:22-6:9).  Proverbs 3:5 & 6 and I peter 5:5 & 6 may also be applicable.   

The sagging socks told their tale. Had he kept his uniform on, he would have been 

treated like a prisoner of war. What a pity that just thirteen days after being toasted by 

the British high command, Andre was hung as a spy.