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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sometimes One Spy is Worth a Division

This is Steven Petrick posting.

During our "Revolutionary War" in which we sought independence from England, the British navy won most of the crucial battles.


One they lost (some call it merely a "draw") was "The Battle of the Capes."

From our standpoint, perhaps the most crucial naval battle of the war in that the French navy not only prevented the British navy from relieving Cornwallis at Yorktown, but permitted French ships to deliver supplies and equipment to the combined and American and French forces to press the siege.

I have known about the Battle of the Capes for quite a while, but recently had a data point provided that  very much changes what happened there.

According to this data point, the Colonial spy ring that Washington had arranged to be created in New York included a publishing business. The man running this business was thought by the British to be a reliable Tory.

At this critical juncture (well before the battle of course), the British revised their "Signal Books." This is the book used to read the flag signals used by ships to communicate. An extra unauthorized copy of the book was made by the publishing business, smuggled out of the city, and passed to the French such that, when the "Battle of the Capes" was fought, the French Fleet was able to read the British signals during the battle.

I do not know if this is true. There is only one data point on this (I have read of the battle, seen the Smithsonian museum's take on it when I was much younger, but until I read this in a recent book, had never previously heard of this . . . but then the whole body of work on Washington's spy ring seems to have only in the last decade or so been brought into public light).

And, no, the data point is not in the AMC TV series "Turned" (although there may be indications in the series that it is about to touch on that particular thing).

If this story proves to be true, it could truly be said that Washington's "Culper" spy ring truly tipped the scales in our favor in the war.