« PreviousContinue »
SERGEANT CHAMPE'S ADVENTURE.
Evidently discernible as were the difficulties in the way, no relief could be administered by Major Lee, lest it might induce a belief, that he was privy to the desertion, which opinion getting to the enemy, would involve the life of Champe. The sergeant was left to his own resources, and to his own management, with the declared determination, that in case his departure should be discovered before morning, Lee would take care to delay pursuit as long as was practicable.
Giving to the sergeant three guineas, and presenting his best wishes, he recommended him to start without delay, and enjoined him to communicate his arrival in New York, as soon thereafter as might be practicable. Champe, pulling out his watch, compared it with the major's, reminding the latter of the importance of holding back pursuit, which he was convinced would take place in the course of the night, and which might be fatal, as he knew that he should be obliged to zigzag, in order to avoid the patrols, which would consume time. It was now nearly eleven. The sergeant returned to camp, and taking his cloak, valise, and orderly-book, he drew his horse from the picket, and, mounting him, put himself on fortune. Lee, charmed with his expeditious consummation of the first part of the enterprise, retired to rest. Useless attempt! the past scene could not be obliterated; and, indeed, had that been practicable, the interruption which ensued, would have stopped repose.
Within half an hour Captain Carnes, officer of the day, waited on the major, and with considerable emotion, told him that one of the patrol had fallen in with a dragoon, who, being challenged, put spur to his horse, and escaped, though instantly pursued. Lee, complaining of the interruption, and pretending to be extremely fatigued by his ride to and from head-quarters, answered as if he did not understand what had been said, which compelled the captain to repeat it. can the fellow that was pursued be? ” inquired
the major, adding, “a countryman, probably." “No," replied the captain; " the patrol sufficiently distinguished him, to know that he was a dragoon; probably one from the army, if not cer. tainly one of our own." This idea was ridiculed, from its improbability, as during the whole war but a single dragoon had deserted from the legion. This did not convince Carnes, so much stress was it now the fashion to lay on the desertion of Arnold, and the probable effect of his example. The captain withdrew to examine the squadron of horse, whom he had ordered to assemble in pursuance of established usage on similar occasions. Very quickly he returned, stating that the scoundrel was known, and was no less a person than the sergeant-major, who was gone off with his horse, baggage, arms, and orderly-book-80 presumed, as neither the one nor the other could be found. Sensibly affected at the supposed base. ness of a soldier extremely respected, the captain added, that he had ordered a party to make ready for pursuit, and begged the major's written orders.
Occasionally this discourse was interrupted, and every idea suggested, which the excellent character of the sergeant warranted, to induce the suspicion, that he had not deserted, but had taken the liberty to leave the camp, with a view to personal pleasure; an example, said Lee, too often set by the officers themselves, destructive, as it was, of discipline, opposed, as it was, to orders, and disastrous, as it might prove, to the corps, in the course of service.
Some little delay was thus interposed; but it being now announced, that the pursuing party was ready, Major Lee directed a change in the officer, saying, that he had a particular service in view, which he had determined to intrust to the lieutenant ready for duty, and which probably must be performed in the morning. He therefore directed him to summon Cornet Middleton for the present command. Lee was induced thus to act, first, to add to the delay, and next, from his knowl. edge of the tenderness of Middleton's disposition, which he hoped would lead to the protection of Champe, should he be taken. Within ten min. utes, Middleton appeared to receive his orders, which were delivered to him, made out in the customary form, and signed by the major. “Pursue, so far as you can with safety, Sergeant Champe, who is suspected of deserting to the enemy, and has taken the road leading to Paulus Hook. Bring him alive that he may suffer in the presence of the army; but kill him, if he resists, or escapes after being taken.”
Detaining the cornet a few minutes longer in advising him what course to pursue; urging him
known what he was doing, I should undoubtedly have gotten Arnold. André has met his fate, and with that fortitude which was to be expected from an accomplished man, and a gallant officer; but I mistake, if Arnold is suffering at this time, the torments of a mental hell. He wants feeling. From some traits of his character, which have lately come to my knowledge, he seems to have been so hackneyed in crime, so lost to all sense of honor and shame, that while his faculties still enable him to continue his sordid pursuits, there will be no time for remorse."— See Thacher, Military Journal, p. 227.
Vol. III - 15
SERGEANT CHAMPE'S ADVENTURE.
to take care of the horse and accoutrements, if recovered, and enjoining him to be on his guard, lest he might, by his eager pursuit, improvidently fall into the hands of the enemy; the major dismissed Middleton, wishing him success. A shower of rain fell soon after Champe's departure, which enabled the pursuing dragoons to take the trail of his horse; knowing, as officer and trooper did, the make of their shoes, whose impression was an unerring guide.*
When Middleton departed, it was a few minutes past twelve, so that Champe had only the start of rather more than an hour; by no means so long as was desired.
Lee became very un. happy, not only because the estimable and gallant Champe might be injured, but lest the enterprise might be delayed ; and he spent a sleepless night. The pursuing party, during the night, was, on their part, delayed by the necessary halts, to examine occasionally the road, as the impression of the horse's shoes directed their course; this was unfortunately too evident, no other horse having passed along the road since the shower. When the day broke, Middleton was no longer forced to halt and he passed on with rapidity. Ascending an eminence, before he reached the Three Pigeons, some miles on the north of the village of Bergen, as the pursuing party reached its summit, Champe was descried not more than half a mile in front. Resembling an Indian in his vigilance, the sergeant, at the same moment, discovered the party, to whose object he was no stranger, and, giving spur to his horse, he determined to outstrip his pursuers. Middleton, at the same instant, put his horses to the top of their speed; and being, as the legion all were, well acquainted with the country, he recollected a short route through the woods, to the bridge below Bergen, which diverged from the great road, just after you gain the Three Pigeons. Reaching the point of separation, he halted, and dividing his party, directed a sergeant, with a few dragoons, to take the near cut, and possess, with all possible dispatch, the bridge, while he, with the residue, followed Champe; not doubting but that Champe must deliver himself up, as he would be enclosed between himself and his sergeant. Champe did not forget the short cut, and would have taken it himself, but he knew it was the usual route of our parties, when returning in the day from the neighborhood of the enemy, properly preferring the
woods to the road. He consequently avoided it; and, persuaded that Middleton would avail him. self of it, wisely resolved to relinquish his intention of getting to Paulus Hook, and to seek refuge from two British galleys, lying a few miles to the west of Bergen.
This was a station always occupied by one or two galleys, and which it was known now lay there. Entering the village of Bergen, Champe turned to his right, and disguising his change of course as much as he could, by taking the beaten streets, turning as they turned, he passed through the village, and took the road towards Elizabethtown Point. Middleton's sergeant gained the bridge, where he concealed himself, ready to pounce on Champe, when he came up; and, Middleton, pursuing his course through Bergen, soon got also to the bridge, when, to his extreme mortification, he found that the sergeant had slipped through his fingers. Returning up the road, he inquired of the villagers of Bergen, whether a dragoon had been seen that morning preceding his party. He was answered in the affirmative, but could learn nothing satisfactory as to the route he had taken. While engaged in inquiries himself, he spread his party through the village, to strike the trail of Champe’s horse, a resort always recurred to. Some of his dragoons hit it, just as the sergeant, leaving the village, got in the road to the point. Pursuit was renewed with vigor, and again Champe was descried. He apprehending the event, had prepared himself for it, by lashing his valise, containing his clothes and orderlybook, on his shoulders, and holding his drawn sword in his hand, having thrown away its scabbard. This he did, to save what was indispen. sable to him, and to prevent any interruption to his swimming, from the scabbard, should Middleton, as he presumed, when disappointed at the bridge, take the measures adopted by him. The pursuit was rapid and close, as the stop occasioned by the sergeant's preparations for swimming, had brought Middleton within two or three hundred yards. As soon as Champe got abreast of the galleys, he dismounted, and running through the marsh to the river, plunged into it, calling on the galleys for help. This was readily given; they fired on our horse, and sent a boat to meet Champe, who was taken in, and carried on board, and conveyed to New York, with a letter from the captain of the galley, stating the past scene all of which he had seen.
The horse, with his equipments, the sergeant's cloak, and sword scabbard, were recovered; the sword itself, being held by Champe, till he plunged 223
* The horses being all shod by our own farriers, the shoes were made in the same form ; which, with a private mark annexed to the fore shoes, and known to the troopers, pointed out the trail of our dragoons to each other, which was often very useful.
SERGEANT CHAMPE'S ADVENTURE.
into the river, was lost, as Middleton found it necessary to retire, without searching for it.
About three o'clock in the evening, our party returned; and the soldiers, seeing the horse, well known to them, in our possession, made the air resound with exclamations, that the scoundrel was killed.
Major Lee, called by this heart-rendering annunciation, from his tent, saw the sergeant's horse led by one of Middleton's dragoons, and began to reproach himself with the blood of the highly-prized, faithful, and intrepid Champe. Stifling his agony, he advanced to meet Middleton, and became somewhat relieved, as soon as he got near enough to discern the countenance of his officer and party. There was evidence in their looks of disappointment, and he was quickly relieved, by Middleton's information, that the sergeant had effected his escape, with the loss of his horse, and narrated the particulars just recited.
Lee's joy was now as full as, the moment before, his torture had been excruciating. Never was a happier conclusion. The sergeant escaped unhurt, carrying with him to the enemy, undeniable testimony of the sincerity of his desertion; cancelling every apprehension before entertained, lest the enemy might suspect him of being what he really was.
Major Lee imparted to the commander-in-chief the occurrence, who was sensibly affected by the hair breadth escape of Champe, and anticipated with pleasure, the good effect sure to follow the enemy's knowledge of its manner.
On the fourth day after Champe's departure, Lee received a letter from him, written the day before, in a disguised hand, without any signature, and stating what had passed, after he got on board the galley, where he was kindly received.
He was carried to the commandant of New York as soon as he arrived, and presented the letter addressed to this officer from the captain of the galley. Being asked to what corps he belonged, and a few other common questions, he was sent, under care of an orderly-sergeant, to the adjutant-general, who, finding that he was sergeantmajor of the legion of horse, heretofore remarkable for their fidelity, he began to interrogate him. He was told by Champe, that such was the spirit of defection which prevailed among the American troops, in consequence of Arnold's example, that, he had no doubt, if the temper was properly cherished, Washington's ranks would not only be greatly thinned, but that some of his best corps would leave him. To this conclusion, the sergeant said, he was led by his own observations, and especially by his knowledge of the discontents which
agitated the corps to which he had belonged. His size, place of birth, his form, countenance, color of his hair, the corps in which he had served, with other remarks in conformity to the British usage, were noted in a large folio book. After this was finished, he was sent to the commanderin-chief, in charge of one of the staff, with a letter from the adjutant-general. Sir Henry Clinton treated hiin very kindly, and detained him more than an hour, asking him many questions, all leading — first, to know to what extent this spirit of defection might be pushed by proper incitements; what
the most operating incitements; whether any general officers were suspected by Washington, as concerned in Arnold's conspiracy, or any other officers of note; who they were, and whether the troops approved or censured Washington's suspicions; whether his popularity in the army was sinking, or continued stationary; what was Major André's situation; whether any change had taken place in the manner of his confinement; what was the current opinion of his probable fate, and whether it was thought Washington would treat him as a spy. To these various interrogations, some of which were perplexing, Champe answered warily; exciting, nevertheless, hopes that the adoption of proper measures to encourage desertion, of which he could not pretend to form an opinion, would certainly bring off hundreds of the American soldiers, including some of the best troops, horse as well as foot. Respecting the fate of André, he said he was ignorant, though there appeared to be a general wish in the army that his life should not be taken; and that he believed, it would depend more on the disposition of Congress, than on the will of Washington.
After this long conversation ended, Sir Henry presented Champe with a couple of guineas, and recommended him to wait on General Arnold, who was engaged in raising an American legion in the service of his majesty. He directed one of his aids to write to Arnold by Champe, stating who he was, and what he had said about the disposition in the army to follow his example, which was very soon done; it was given to the orderly attending on Champe, to be presented, with the deserter, to General Arnold. Arnold expressed much satisfaction on hearing froin Champe, the manner of his escape, and the effect of Arnold's example; and concluded his numerous inquiries, by assigning quarters to the sergeant; the same as were occupied by his recruiting-sergeants.
He also proposed to Champe to join his legion, telling him he could give to him the same station he had held in the rebel service, and promising further advancement when merited. Expressing
SERGEANT CHAMPE'S ADVENTURE.
his wish to retire from war, and his conviction of the certainty of his being hung if ever taken by the rebels, he begged to be excused from enlistment; assuring the general that, should he change his mind, he would certainly accept his offer. Retiring to the assigned quarters, Champe now turned his attention to the delivery of his letters, which he could not effect till the next night, and then only to one of the two incogniti to whom he was recommended. This man received the sergeant with extreme attention, and, having read the letter, assured Champe that he might rely on his faithful co-operation in doing every thing in his power consistently with his safety, to guard which required the utmost prudence and circumspection. The sole object in which the aid of this individual was required, regarded the general and others of our army, implicated in the information sent to Washington by him. To this object Champe urged his attention, assuring him of the solicitude it had excited, and telling him that its speedy investigation had induced the general to send him into New York. Promising to enter on it with zeal, and engaging to send out Champe's letters to Major Lee, he fixed the time and place for their next meeting, when they separated.
Lee made known to the general what had been transmitted to him by Champe, and received in answer directions to press Champe to the expeditious conclusion of his mission, as the fate of André would be soon decided, when little or no delay could be admitted in executing whatever sentence the court might decree. The same mes. senger who brought Champe's letter, returned with the ordered communication. Five days had nearly elapsed after reaching New York, before Champe saw the confidant to whom only the attempt against Arnold was to be intrusted. This person entered with promptitude into the design, promising his cordial assistance.
To procure a proper associate to Champe was the first object, and this he promised to do with all possible dispatch. Furnishing a conveyance to Lee, he again heard from Champe, who stated what I have related, with the additional intelligence that he had that morning, the last of September, been appointed one of Arnold's recruiting-sergeants, having enlisted the day before with Arnold; and that he was induced to take this afflicting step, for the purpose of securing uninterrupted ingress and egress to the house which the general occupied, it being indispensable to a speedy conclusion of the difficult enterprise which the information he had just received had so forcibly urged. He added, that the difficulties in his way were nu
merous and stubborn, and that his prospect of success was by no means cheering. With respect to the additional treason, he asserted that he had every reason to believe that it was groundless ; that the report took its rise in the enemy's camp, and that he hoped soon to clear up this matter satisfactorily. The pleasure which the first part of this communication afforded was damped by the tidings it imparted respecting Arnold, as on his speedy delivery depended André's relief. The interposition of Sir Henry Clinton, who was extremely anxious to save his much beloved aid-decamp, still continued; and it was expected the examination of witnesses and the defence of the prisoner would protract the decision of the court of inquiry, now assembled, and give sufficient time for the consummation of the project committed to Champe. A complete disappointment took place from a quarter unforeseen and unexpected. The honorable and accomplished André, knowing his guilt, disdained defence, and prevented the examination of witnesses, by confessing the character in which he stood. On the next day, the 2d of October, the court again assembled, when every doubt that could possibly arise in the case having been removed by the previous confession, André was declared to be a spy, and condemned to suffer accordingly.
The sentence was executed on the subsequent day in the usual form, the commander-in-chief deeming it improper to interpose any delay. In this decision he was warranted by the very unpromising intelligence received from Champ-by the still existing implication of other officers in Arnold's conspiracy — by a due regard to public opinion — and by real tenderness to the condemned.
Neither Congress nor the nation could have been with propriety informed of the cause of the delay, and without such information it must have excited in both alarm and suspicion. André himself could not have been intrusted with the secret, and would consequently have attributed the unlooked-for event to the expostulation and exertion of Sir Henry Clinton, which would not fail to produce in his breast expectations of ultimate relief; to excite which would have been cruel, as the realization of such expectations depended only on a possible but improbable contingency. The fate of André, hastened by himself, deprived the enterprise committed to Champe of a feature which had been highly prized by its projector, and which had very much engaged the heart of the individual chosen to execute it.
Washington ordered Major Lee to communicate what had passed to the sergeant, with direc
SERGEANT CHAMPE'S ADVENTURE.
tions to encourage him to prosecute with unrelaxed vigor the remaining objects of his instructions, but to intermit haste in the execution only so far as was compatible with final success.
This was accordingly done, by the first oppor. tunity, in the manner directed. Champe deplored the sad necessity which occurred, and candidly confessed that the hope of enabling Washington to save the life of André, who had been the subject of universal comuniseration in the American camp, greatly contributed to remove the serious difficulties which opposed his acceding to the proposition when first propounded. Some documents accompanied this communication, tending to prove the innocence of the accused general; they were completely satisfactory, and did credit to the discrimination, zeal and diligence of the sergeant. Lee inclosed them immediately to the commander-in-chief, who was pleased to express the satisfaction he derived from the information, and to order the major to wait on him the next day; when the whole subject was re-examined, and the distrust heretofore entertained of the accused was forever dismissed. Nothing now remained to be done but the seizure and safe delivery of Arnold. To this object Champe gave his undivided attention; and on the 19th of October, Major Lee received from him a very particular account of the progress he had made, with the outlines of his plan. This was without delay submitted to Washington; with a request for a few additional guineas. The general's letter, written on the same day, 20th of October, evinces his attention to the ninutiæ of business, as well as his immutable determination to possess Arnold alive, or not at all. This was his original injunction, which he never omitted to enforce on every proper occasion.
Major Lee had an opportunity, in the course of the week, of writing to Champe, when he told him, that the rewards which he had promised to his associates, would be certainly paid on the delivery of Arnold; and, in the mean time, small sums of money would be furnished for casual expenses, it being deemed improper that he should appear with much, lest it might lead to suspicion and detection. That five guineas were now sent, and that more would follow, when absolutely necessary.
Ten days elapsed before Champe brought his measures to conclusion, when Lee received from him his final communication, appointing the third subsequent night for a party of dragoons to meet him at Hoboken, when he hoped to deliver Arnold to the officer. Champe had, from his enlistment into the American legion, (Arnold's corps,)
every opportunity he could wish to attend to the habits of the general. He discovered, that it was his custom, to return home about Twelve every night, and that previous to going to bed, he always visited the garden. During this visit, the conspirators were to seize him, and, being prepared with a gag, intended to have applied the same instantly.
Adjoining the house in which Arnold resided, and in which it was designed to seize and gag him, Champe had taken off several of the palings, and replaced them, so that with care, and without noise, he could readily open his way to the adjoining alley. Into this alley, he meant to have conveyed his prisoner, aided by his companion, one of two associates, who had been introduced by the friend, to whom Champe had been originally made known by letter from the commanderin-chief, and with whose aid and counsel, he had so far conducted the enterprise. His other associate, was, with the boat prepared, at one of the wharves, on the Hudson river to receive the party.
Champe, and his friend, intended to have placed themselves each under Arnold's shoulder and to have thus borne him through the most unfrequented alleys and streets to the boat; representing Arnold, in case of being questioned, as a drunken soldier, whom they were conveying to the guard-house.
When arrived at the boat, the difficulties would be all surmounted, there being no danger, nor obstacle, in passing to the Jersey shore. These particulars, so soon as known to Lee were communicated to the commander in-chief, who was highly gratified with the most-desired intelligence. He directed Major Lee to meet Champe, and to take care that Arnold should not be hurt. The day arrived, and Lee, with a party of dragoons, left camp late in the evening, with three led ac, coutred horses; one for Arnold, one for the sergeant, and the third for his associate, never doubting the success of the enterprise, from the tenor of the last-received communications. The party reached Hoboken about midnight, where they were concealed in the adjoining wood - Lee, with three dragoons, stationing himself near the river shore. Hour after hour passed - no boat approached. At length the day broke, and the major retired to his party, and, with his led horses, returned to camp, when he proceeded to headquarters, to inform the general of the much lamented disappointment, as mortifying as inexplicable. Washington having perused Champe's plan and communication, had indulged the presumption, that at length the object of his keen