Virtual Marching Tour of the American Revolutionary War

The Philadelphia Campaign: 1777

American colonies represented as pieces of a snake with the caption "join or die"

On the March to Brandywine: — Part 7 of 9

Spies and Prisioner Exchanges

The weather would be hot, humid, and rainy for the next week. Both armies, particularly the British who were unused to the extreme heat, sweltered.

Starting on September 5th, Washington spent the next few days trying to discern British plans. He recruited locals with Whig leanings as spies and deceivers. This effort was successful. British reconnaissance teams came back with faulty information planted by these American dissemblers. On the 6th for instance, British General Erskine reported that American General Sullivan was as far north as Chadd's Ford with a large posting of men. Untrue. It's likely that Erskine was misled by patriot-spies.

Understanding the value of these spies, Washington raised them to the ranks of professionals by paying them. This new spy cadre soon after revealed the hiding place of the Hessian general, Count von Donop. General Maxwell informed Washington that "Several persons have mentioned that there is a Hessian General quartered at one Fishers. This is well worth your attention and may afford a glorious opportunity." While Maxwell chafed to get at von Donop, the mission was deemed too risky.

It was also on the 5th that Washington wrote once more to General Howe suggesting a VIP prisoner exchange. Washington wanted the American General Lee swapped for British General Prescott. "As I can only attribute your silence upon this matter to your not having received my former letter I am induced to transmit you a duplicate of it, to which I beg leave to request an answer."

Washington wanted all the veteran officers he could get for the big battle he sensed was coming. Likely it was beneficial that Washington couldn't pull off the trade at this time; when the Americans did get General Lee back for the Battle of Monmouth, he performed so badly that he was reprimanded by Washington on the field of battle and later court-martialed.