"I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.”
"An accomplished man and gallant officer."--Gen. Washington to Colonel John Laurens, regarding Major John André; British Officer, convicted spy and Christian Gentleman, October 1780
If you've been watching "TURN: Washington's Spies", you'll have heard of him there. His case was also discussed in the debate over military tribunals.
Although Maj. André was caught behind our lines in civilian clothes carrying Benedict Arnold's plans to betray West Point, his personal character was such that it caused Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton to plead--unsuccessfully--with Gen. Washington for his life. "Never perhaps did any man suffer death with more justice, or deserve it less," said Hamilton.
[Sec. Hamilton would later reverse roles with Pres. Washington over leniency in the Whiskey Rebellion pardons. Hamilton could not complain too much, however--it was his advocacy that created the presidential (vs. congressional) pardon.]
Even Washington called André "more unfortunate than criminal".
In his "Military Journal during the American Revolutionary War", Army Surgeon James Thacher, M.D. recounted André's final moments, having been previously convicted by military tribunal several days earlier:
"October 2d.-- Major André is no more among the living. I have just witnessed his exit. 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 recommended them to his particular attention. The principal guard officer, who was constantly in the room with the prisoner, relates that when the hour of 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 dressed himself, he placed his hat upon 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 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 participate in every emotion which the melancholy 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 fixed on him, who, rising superior to the fears of death, appeared as if conscious of the dignified deportment 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 conformable 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 stepped 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 taking 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 firmness, which melted the hearts and moistened the cheeks, not only of his servant, but of the throng of spectators. The rope being 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 dressed 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 ..."
Those tears were shed by hardened American soldiers for an enemy intelligence officer--amazing.
* Gen. Washington could not believe Arnold guilty of treason despite the letters in André's boot. Washington sent Arnold a note, and Arnold fled. Who knows? Had Washington caught his true quarry, Benedict Arnold, perhaps the Major's life might have been spared.
* After his conviction, Maj. André wrote this poem, found in his pocket after his death. It explains why he was able to meet his fate with such dignity:
Hail, sovereign love, which first began
The scheme to rescue fallen man!
Hail, matchless, free, eternal grace,
That gave my soul a Hiding Place!
Against the God who built the sky,
I fought with hands uplifted high,
Despised the mention of His grace,
Too proud to seek a Hiding Place.
Enwrapt in thick Egyptian night,
And fond of darkness more than light,
Madly I ran the sinful race,
'Secure' without a Hiding Place.
But thus the eternal counsel ran:
"Almighty love, arrest that man!"
I felt the arrows of distress,
And found I had no hiding place.
Indignant Justice stood in view.
To Sinai's fiery mount I flew;
But Justice cried, with frowning face:
"This mountain is no hiding place."
Ere long a heavenly voice I heard,
And Mercy's angel soon appeared;
He led me with a beaming face,
To Jesus, as a Hiding Place.
On Him almighty vengeance fell,
Which must have sunk a world to hell.
He bore it for a sinful race,
And thus became their Hiding Place.
Should sevenfold storms of thunder roll,
And shake this globe from pole to pole,
No thunderbolt shall daunt my face,
For Jesus is my Hiding Place.
A few more setting suns at most,
Shall land me on fair Canaan's coast,
Where I shall sing the song of grace,
And see my glorious Hiding Place.