In his latest book American Revolutionary War cryptology specialist John A. Nagy hones in on the little-known but extraordinary skills of George Washington as spymaster. Drawing on the General’s diary and correspondence, the author chronicles Washington’s espionage activities from his forays into the wilderness as a Lieutenant Colonel in the French and Indian War to his assortment of clever deceptions in the American Revolution.
As spymaster, Washington developed and fine-tuned intelligence gathering. During his 1758 campaign in Ohio, Washington learned that “there is nothing more necessary than good intelligence to frustrate a designing enemy and nothing requires greater pains to obtain."
During the course of his career he supplied false troop numbers, standardized the ways spies gathered information, formulated and used invisible ink to communicate with his staff and deployed his troops to infiltrate and intercept correspondence from the enemy.
Nagy asserts Washington’s most important espionage tool was “The Deception Battle Plan,” which fooled the British into thinking the colonists would attack the British troops in New York City when instead, he marched his troops to Virginia where they attacked the British rear flank. This maneuver secured General Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown and a final decisive victory for the Continental Army.
In Nagy’s view, Washington’s expertise as intelligence gatherer and cipher breaker are underappreciated facets of the hero’s leadership. Outnumbered by British and Hessian troops, out-armed by the enemy’s military hardware, working with a ragtag army, Washington used espionage to “level the playing field and then exploited it to the best advantage possible.”
This book is a must read for understanding how spying and intelligence shaped the American Revolutionary War and how some of these techniques are still used in contemporary clashes.
John A. Nagy died shortly after completing this book. He was a scholar-in-residence at St. Francis University and a consultant on espionage, as well as program director for the American Revolution Roundtable of Philadelphia, and an award-winning author of four other books on the American Revolution. St. Martin’s is the publisher of this 374-page book, which also includes a folio of photographs of important documents and places related to the narrative.