A Book Review of Alexander Rose’s Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First SpyRing By Ashley Cisco United States History 201Mrs. WhitmireNovember 10, 2017 Rose, Alexander Washington’s Spies.
New York, NY: A Division of Random House, Inc., 2006-07. 370 pages.Introduction In Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’sFirst Spy Ring, Alexander Rose tells the story of the spy ring that helpedAmerica win the Revolutionary War. Rose takes us beyond the battlefields intothe secret world of double agents and triple crosses, confidential operationsincluding code breaking, and tells the story of a few spies who completed thesetop-secret assignments.
Rose focuses on four longtime friends that create theCulper Ring, one of which who was the American Major, Benjamin Tallmadge. Hereveals this operation system as a third-person point of view and exposes themethod that led America to victory against Britain also mentioning thereactions of other people to this wild method. This paper is intended to reviewRose’s book as well as his main points, evaluate the excellence of Rose’swriting and focus on any weaknesses within the story. Summary This sectioncontains a summary of Washington’s Spies:The Story of America’s First Spy Ring. Alexander Rose begins the story inthe summer of 1778, with the war expected to go in General George Washington’sfavor. Washington was desperate to know what Britain’s plan was and where theywere planning to attack next. At the time, Britain’s headquarters were locatedin New York. So, to figure out their plan Washington sent a small group of men,soon to be the Culper Ring, to New York to gain information of their militarystrategies, including future battle plans.
Going into this he acknowledgedchances of the plan be successful were unlikely. However, Washington wentagainst the odds thus unleashing his secret weapon. Washington’s spiesincluded a young Quaker, Nathan Hale, who had been educated at Yale, a sicklyfarmer who begged to retire but always supported Washington, and BenjaminTallmadge, an American military officer at the time, and Abraham Woodhull.Although each of the men proved themselves to be excellent spies, the sicklyfarmer stood out by enlisting to do whatever was necessary to assist Washington.Ironically, he proved himself to be an expert at spying.
The intelligence networksthe spies created became known as the Culper Ring. Although Washington thoughtthe men were underperforming, he gained a tremendous amount of information fromthe Culper Ring that perhaps may have never been discovered. To communicatewith Washington, the spies had to develop their own system of spy craftincluding invisible ink and attempts at cryptography. Also, the British wereaware of the Culper Ring and were determined to stop them. They would pay forinformation on the Culper Ring, and if they thought you knew something and werenot telling they would harshly punish you.
The British, unintentionally leadthe spies to learn of loyalty, betrayal, and friendship. Though Alexander Rosewas not present during this time, he provided detailed information on the lifeof spies within the Culper Ring. Author’s Arguments As stated above,Rose’s main purpose for writing Washington’sSpies is to inform the reader of how intelligent the Patriot’s spies wereby revealing the complex, secret world that helped America win theRevolutionary War. Rose’s three main points, or arguments presented were thecomplexity of the spy’s communication tactics with Washington, the importanceof remaining unidentified to the British, and the overall experience during theRevolutionary War. Communicationwith Washington during the late 1700s was hard enough, but having tocommunicate without anyone knowing was a real task. The members of the CulperRing must have been of the smartest in their generation. Cryptography, orsecret codes, was one method used.
The spies had symbols, codes, and signs usedto convey different messages undercover. Invisible ink played a huge role incryptography, the black chambers used to scan mail did not detect invisible inkwhich gave the spies a private way to exchange messages with Washington. Tointerpret the letters, the government would heat the letters and the messagewould be revealed by the spies. “There are some five hundred knownsympathetic-ink formulas, and no doubt many hundreds more could be concocted”(109).
George Washington also used encryption to pass the letters through byhaving a certain letter represent a different number, letter, or person. “Hiscode was a distant descendant of the AveMaria cipher created by a priest, Johannes Trithemius” (114). To say thatthe communication system between Washington and his spies was complex would bean understatement. Remainingunidentified to the British was also a difficult undertaking because not onlydid the spies have to remain undercover, but also, they had to gather tons ofconfidential information. From simply talking to the townspeople and gatheringwhat little they could from them, to struggling to overhear the towns meetings.
Many time the spies would pose “as a merchant” and “discuss defenses of theWest Point” with British Generals to retain information (203-204). One of thespies, Woodhull, would go between New York and Long Island everyday to collectinformation and observe the naval tactics. Dedication to the Culper Ring wasessential in being successful, and it also made the unpleasant circumstancesnot so bad for the spies. Theoverall experience for the members of the Culper Ring during their spy timeswas focused on in Washington’s Spies.Rose documents the “long and bitter experiences” the spies encountered (249).They experienced many things physically and mentally; while away from theirfamilies they experienced loneliness, and, they were faced with all thepressure that came with their job to gather information and please their boss,George Washington. Evaluation Thissection contains an evaluation of Rose’s book. Firstly, Alexander Rose did aphenomenal job of recounting the time when the Culper Ring was in action.
Hetold the stories in the perspective of each member and at some points in thestory you would feel as if you knew the men personally. Rose also presented thebook using an uncomplicated choice of words. Rose informed the reader of thetactics used by George Washington in detail, and he tells you what the spiestactics to gain information were. Although Rose does do an excellent job atinforming the reader of the tactics it almost seems as if he drags theinformation out and expands the information to far. This flaw serves as a minorweakness in his writing style. A secondweakness in Rose’s writing style is that at certain points in the story I wouldfind myself very confused and uncertain on what was going on, resulting in lotsof rereading. In the beginning of the story (chapters 1-3) I found myselfquestioning whether the Culper Ring was even truly favoring the patriots andnot the British. Personally, I feel like the side to which the group wasfavoring should be clearly stated and undoubtedly reassured throughout theentire book.
Throughout chapters 4-9 I slowly started to catch onto Rose’ssubtle writing style and comprehended much more information. In the end, I didgain information on the Culper Ring, and their method to victory. Finally,Rose sometimes went into too much detail on the situations and transitionedfrom the British to the colonies tactics in strange ways that made the bookseem unorganized. Also, he mentions other people that are important at the timebut not in the story, making it seem a bit more unorganized.
This flaw alonecan cause the reader to become frustrated and result in them taking the wrongidea away from Washington’s Spies,and this is a third weakness in Rose’s writing. Conclusion Thiscritical review has evaluated the bookWashington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by AlexanderRose. The time of the Culper Ring and American Revolution that Rose recaps isvery interesting and informative. Rose excels in educating the reader on manyhistorical figures and the cleverness of George Washington along with hisspies. However, Rose’s writing was weakened by stretching the information,vaguely expressing which side the Culper Ring favored, and carelesslytransitioning from British tactics to the patriots causing confusion to thereader and making the book seem unorganized.