The Role of Espionage in the American Victory in the War for Independence

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Publication Date

Spring 2021


General George Washington’s role as spymaster is rarely researched. Washington knew that the inferiority of the Continental Army to that of the British in terms of size, training, and resources, meant that Britain had the upper hand in the war. This paper seeks to demonstrate the importance of Washington’s development of spy networks and his skill at deception as key factors in winning the war. The role of intelligence in the War for Independence is often overlooked by leading historians, such as John Ferling and Robert Middlekauff. Quinnus G. Caldwell and Robert Gates tend to agree that Washington’s talent for deception was a key factor in aiding the war effort. Edmund R. Thompson argued that Washington’s success in the war came from his direct handling and management of the Culper Spy Net. Alternatively, Raymond J. Faunt and Morton Pennypacker argue that the incorporation of patriotic civilians with military officers and their willingness to support Washington created opportunity for success, but merely assisted in the overall result. What seems certain among them, and the focus of this research, is without his own skills of deception, his masterful utilization of intelligence to divert the British, and his strict adherence to secrecy the spy network of the American Revolution provided the advantages needed to thwart one of the most impressive imperial regimes history has known.


Category B - Award recipient

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