October 2d.Major André is no more among the living. I have just witnessed his exit.2 It was a tragical scene of the deepest interest. During his confinement and trial, he exhibited those proud and elevated sensibilities which designate greatness and dignity of mind. Not a murmur or a sigh ever escaped him, and the civilities and attentions bestowed on him were politely acknowledged.
Having left a mother and two sisters in England, he was heard to mention them in terms of the tenderest affection, and in his letter to Sir Henry Clinton, he recommends them to his particular attention.
The principal guard officer who was constantly in the room with the prisoner, relates that when the hour of his execution was announced to him in the morning, he received it without emotion, and while all present were affected with silent gloom, he retained a firm countenance, with calmness and composure of mind. Observing his servant enter the room in tears, he exclaimed, "Leave me till you can show yourself more manly."
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 drest 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, and the scene was affectingly awful. I was so near during the solemn march to the fatal spot, as to observe every movement, and share in every emotion which the sad 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 fixt on him, who, rising superior to the fears of death, appeared as if conscious of the dignity 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 fitting 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 stept 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 he took 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 fimness, which melted the hearts, and moistened the cheeks, not only of his servant, but of the throng of spectators.
When the rope was appended to the gallows, he slipped the noose over his head and adjusted it to his neck, without the assistance of the awkward executioner. Colonel Scammel now informed him that he had an opportunity to speak, if he desired it; he raised the 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; it proved indeed "but a momentary pang." He was drest in his royal regimentals and boots, and his remains, in the same dress, were placed in an ordinary coffin, and interred at the foot of the gallows; and the spot was consecrated by the tears of thousands. Thus died in the bloom of life, the accomplished Major André the pride of the royal army.
THE HISTORIAN LECKY'S VIEW
3The execution of Major André is, indeed, one of the saddest episodes of the American war, and in the judgment of many it left a deep stain on the reputation of Washington. The victim was well fitted to attract to himself a halo of romantic interest. Tho only twenty-nine, he had already shown the promise of a brilliant military career. He was a skilful artist; and the singular charm of his conversation, and the singular beauty of his frank, generous, and amiable character, endeared him to all with whom he came in contact, and was acknowledged by no one more fully than by those American officers with whom he spent the last sad days of his life. Nothing could be more dignified, more courageous, more candid, and at the same time more free from everything like boasting or ostentation, than his conduct under the terrible trial that had fallen upon him, and it is even now impossible to read without emotion those last letters in which he commended to his country and his old commander the care of his widowed mother, and asked Washington to grant him a single favorthat he might die the death of a soldier and not of a spy.
At the same time it is but justice to remember that he suffered under the unanimous sentence of a board consisting of fourteen general officers, and that two of theseSteuben and Lafayettewere not Americans. Nor can the justice of the sentence in my opinion be reasonably impugned. An enemy who was in the camp for the purpose of plotting with the commander for a corrupt surrender, and who passed through the lines in a civilian dress, under a false name, and with papers conveying military intelligence to the enemy, did unquestionably, according to the laws of war, fall under the denomination of a spy, and the punishment awarded to spies was universally recognized and had been inflicted by both sides in the present war.
The argument by which the English commander endeavored to evade the conclusion seems to me destitute of all real force. Arnold, he said, whatever might be his faults, was undoubtedly the duly constituted commander at West Point. Everything André did was done at his invitation or under his direction. As general he had a full right to give passes; and a British officer who landed under a flag of truce which he had given, who came to the camp at his request, who left it with his pass, and who, even in assuming a false name, was only acting by his direction, could not, according to the general custom and usage of nations, be treated as a spy. The obvious answer was that Arnold was at this time deliberately plotting the destruction of the Government which employed him, and that no acts which he performed with that object and for the purpose of sheltering an active colleague, could have any binding force as against the Government which he betrayed. As a matter of strict right, the American sentence against André appears to me unassailable, and it is only on grounds of mercy and magnanimity that it can be questioned.
1 General Heath, a witness of the hanging of André, had been assigned to the command of the Hudson River posts in 1779, and except for a short interval, remained there until the close of the war. His memoirs were published in 1798 by authority of Congress.
2The hanging of André took place at Tappan, a hamlet in Rockland County, N. Y., south of Nyack. A monument, erected there by Cyrus W. Field, was several times partly destroyed and then restored. It is now more than twenty years since it was last molested. A monument to André stands in Westminster Abbey, London.
3 From Lecky's "American Revolution." Published by D. Appleton & Co. By permission of Mrs. Lecky and her late husband's English publishers, Longmans, Green & Co., and of D. Appleton & Co.