This Day in History: The failed attempt to kidnap General George Washington
On this day in 1780, Lt. Gen. Wilhelm von Knyphausen and his men attempt to capture General George Washington. Did you know that there was a plot to kidnap Washington just 20 short months before the British surrender at Yorktown?
Fortunately, the kidnapping attempt failed. Once again, the American Revolution survived what could have been a fatal blow.
The winter of 1779-80 was difficult for the American army. Supplies were scarce and the weather was harsh. The main army was encamped at Jockey Hollow, New Jersey. Yet Washington’s headquarters was a few miles away, at the home of a widow in Morristown. The British noted the separation between Washington and his army and thought they could use the opportunity to capture the Americans’ leader.
The British plan had many moving parts. One force would attack Washington’s headquarters, but other forces would attack other American outposts. The attack was originally intended for February 8, but snow delayed the maneuver until the night of the 10th and the early morning of the 11th.
The various British raids achieved mixed results, but the force directed to capture Washington encountered difficulties. The roads toward Morristown—and Washington—were covered in deep snow. The ice was just as bad and made the roads “impassable,” as later described by the Hessian leader in the plot, Knyphausen. The British were forced to retreat before the attack had even really started.
The severe winter had caused the Americans so many difficulties through the long, hard war. Yet now it also undermined the British attempt to capture Washington.
Perhaps the harsh weather was a blessing in disguise!?
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Benjamin Huggins, Raid across the ice: The British operation to capture Washington (Journal of the American Revolution; Dec. 17, 2013)
Christian McBurney, Abductions in the American Revolution: Attempts to Kidnap George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and other Military and Civilian Leaders (2016)
Letter from Major General Arthur St. Clair to General George Washington (February 11, 1780)