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The Fox and The Hound by Donald E. Markle

Donald E. Markle

Reviewed by:
On October 28, 2014
Last modified:October 26, 2014


There are numerous other “Persons of Interest” that make an appearance in this book, both on the British and the American side. Markle does a good job in whetting the reader’s interest.

The Fox and The Hound
The Fox and The Hound has a picture of General George Washington and General Charles Cornwallis on the front cover.   Another British General, Henry Clinton is said to have referred to the wily Washington as a fox because of the numerous occasions that Washington narrowly escaped his grasp – crossing rivers in the dead of night.  He may also have thought Washington a fox because of the amount of disinformation that the father of our country managed to put over on him.  Cornwallis, on the other hand, had to deal with another master of disinformation – one of Washington’s protege’s Nathaniel Greene, and he formed a similar opinion of Greene.

While Washington’s role in this book is certainly at the forefront in parts, Markle has really documented the birth of American spying as his subtitle suggests.  There was a lot more intelligence gathering going on during the Revolution than just what was being produced by the Culper spy ring around NY.

At one point Markle explains that the term spy had several different meaning and was used loosely during the American Revolution.  Spying could be a term for scouting, in which enemy intelligence may or may not have been an objective.  Sometimes the meaning of spy was what the contemporary usage implies.  The Culper ring run by Benjamin Tallmadge were such.  There are even documented cases where the British employed scout/spies to mislead American groups as during Benedict Arnold’s Quebec campaign early in the war.  Arnold’s troops wandered around the swampy forests of the North East for months because of the brutally successful efforts of the British to mislead them.

Intelligence gathering, counterintelligence, the use of propaganda, and spying all got their start in America, in large part due to the efforts of Washington and his recognition of their importance.  Markle points out at the onset of his book:

Even though the world of intelligence now has developed into a very complex and multifaceted discipline, the basic tenets established by Washington remain the basis of American intelligence efforts today.

Because of the unique nature of the United States, perhaps it was only natural that these independent colonies/states would tend to produce a very loose and decentralized organizational structure for their intelligence gathering capabilities.  In some respects this mirrored the Articles of Confederation.

Markle makes a couple of observations concerning this.  At the beginning of the war at least, this decentralization helped the Americans act upon and disseminate intelligence effectively.   The more centralized British efforts lacked local resources to handle certain intelligence related tasks.

For example, if the British obtained a copy of a rebel enciphered document, that document had to be sent to to England for decryption.  General Gage and his replacement, General Charles Cornwallis, had no capability to perform the task on this side of the Atlantic for the entire period of the war…

This was a big disadvantage, and serves as an example of the consequences of centralized command and control for the British.  Markle observes:

The major downfall of the British was the centralized system of intelligence which required all information to be reported to the upper levels of command, often resulting in irrelevant information.  When George Washington created a decentralized command structure, he wisely allowed his departmental commanders liberties to conduct intelligence operations independent of the Main Army. 

Secondly, by decentralizing the management of intelligence, such intelligence was consumed where it was needed and time was not wasted – specifically Washington’s time – on matters that were of no concern to his immediate situation.  It might also be said that this decentralized approach resulted in compartmentalization – in today’s terms “need to know.”  By carefully controlling who knew the identities of those spying – these people were better protected from potential leaks.   As was mentioned in the review of George Washington’s Secret Six, Benedict Arnold’s attempts to get the identities of American spies before defecting to the British were stymied because of this fact.

Perhaps it was for this reason that Markle chose to organize his book as he did.  The Fox and The Hound covers each geographical department separately, rather than providing a chronological overview of intelligence and counterintelligence throughout the war as whole, although there is some bleed over between departments.  This forms the basis for the only minor criticism this review has to offer.  Because of this organizational scheme the book seemed a bit disjointed in some respects.  But this could be simply because most of the histories and biographies reviewed on WWTFT are written in a chronological fashion.

Regardless of this quibble, The Fox and The Hound is chock full of interesting and often tantalizing facts which engender in the reader a desire to find out more about the people and events covered.  For instance Markle mentions that John Jay has become known as the first Chief of Counter Intelligence in the United States.  Unbeknownst to this reader, John Jay had a brother who also played a part in American counterintelligence.

… the Continental Army received a technological boost from a unique source — an American doctor and chemist, Dr. James Jay, who was living in London at the time.  He was the brother of John Jay, the American revolutionist.

In 1775, Dr. Jay, who had been knighted by George III in 1763, began to use his skills as a chemist to develop a new form of invisible ink for the use of the Continental Army in America.  His goal was to develop an ink that would not appear through the heat process and thereby make it very secure.  After many experiments Dr. Jay succeeded in his task and sent some of the fluids to his brother John in America.

The new ink which Dr. Jay called “sympathetic ink,” consisted of one fluid for writing (known as an agent) and one fluid to bring the invisible text to light (known as the reagent).  Dr. Jay’s exact ingredients are unknown; however, there is one sympathetic ink of the period (similar to that of Dr. Jay) for which the ingredients are known.  It consisted of gallic acid combined with acacia.  Both of these ingredients were in rare supply at the time, making duplication of the ink difficult.  Together they did produce the proper color when used with a reagent which could have been ferrate sulphate dissolved in distilled water.  It was recommended that fresh white paper be used to write upon.  To reveal the text, the paper was brushed with the reagent using a very fine hair brush — too heavy an application would blur the letters.

There are numerous other “Persons of Interest” who make an appearance in this book, both on the British and the American side.  Markle does a good job in whetting the reader’s interest.

1 comment

1 James { 03.17.16 at 11:19 am }

I recently purchased “the fox and the hound” and I am wondering if it is at all possible to gain access to an audio version?


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