Secret communications and spy networks were a very important part of the process of intelligence-gathering during the Revolutionary War. Coded letters and spies often conveyed information that was pivotal to the outcomes of individual battles and the whole war itself.
This undated, unsigned letter is thought to have been written by Major Drummond of the British Army about Ann Bates, a female spy who gathered intelligence about soldiers and weapons while selling supplies in the American camp. Intelligence that she gave to the British about American troop movements led to the Americans’ withdrawal from Rhode Island in August of 1778.
Miss Jenny was another female spy for the British who infiltrated the camp of the French soldiers fighting for the Americans and gathered intelligence about the Americans’ plans to attack New York City. Because of this information, the British decided to keep their troops in New York, leaving Yorktown with too few men to defend it. When the Americans decided to attack Yorktown instead of New York City, the British surrendered the battle, leading to their disgrace and the eventual end of the war.
What were some of the methods used by armies to communicate and gather intelligence about the enemy?
Check for Understanding
Divide the class into two groups representing Loyalist and Patriot armies. Each group writes a battle strategy letter (created in a code) which the group decides upon. Create a diversion or, spy scenario allowing the opposing army to “intercept” the letter and try to crack the code. (For more about battle strategy, see the primary source set Military Aspects)