Aug 142019
 

General Lee, second in command in the Continental Army led by George Washington, was captured by the British in December 1776. While a prisoner, he prepared and submitted to his captors a military plan on how to defeat Washington’s army as quickly as possible. This extraordinary act of treason, arguably on a par with Benedict Arnold’s heinous treachery, was not discovered during his lifetime. Many historians shrug off this ignoble act, but it should not be ignored. Less well known is that throughout his sixteen months of captivity and even after his release, Lee continued communicating with the enemy, offering to help negotiate an end to the rebellion.  Revolutionary War historians and biographers of Charles Lee have treated him as either an inveterate enemy of George Washington or a great defender of American liberty. Neither approach is accurate, in order to fully understand the war’s most complicated general, objectivity is required. In his new book, Christian McBurney relies on original documents (some newly discovered) to combine two dramatic stories involving the military law of treason and court-martials, creating a balanced view of the Revolution’s most fascinating personality.

Date to be determined!!

After Lee rejoined the Continental Army, he was given command of many of its best troops with orders from Washington to attack the rear of British General Henry Clinton’s column near Monmouth, New Jersey. Lee intended to attack on June 28, 1778, but retreated in the face of Clinton’s bold move to reverse his march. Two of Lee’s subordinate generals—without orders and without informing Lee—moved more than half of his command off the field. Faced with the possible destruction of the balance, Lee ordered a general retreat while conducting a skillful delaying action.

Many historians have been quick to malign Lee’s performance at Monmouth, for which he was convicted by court-martial for not attacking and for retreating in the face of the enemy. This was a miscarriage of justice, stresses McBurney, for the evidence clearly shows that Lee was unfairly convicted and had, in fact, by retreating, performed an important service to the Patriot cause. The guilty verdict was more the result of Lee’s having insulted Washington, which made the matter a political contest between the army’s two top generals—only one of them could prevail.

Christian McBurney has written five books on the American Revolutionary War, including Kidnapping the Enemy: The Special Operations to Capture Generals Charles Lee & Richard Prescott. His published articles include one in MHQ: The Journal of Military History, on the British attempt to abduct George Washington, which was nominated by the U.S. Army Historical Foundation as best magazine article for 2017. He also publishes Rhode Island’s leading history blog (www.smallstatebighistory.com). He is an attorney in Washington, D.C.

Jul 232016
 

Presentation Date: November 21, 2016

George Washington called such efforts “honorable” and supported attempts to kidnap the British commander-in-chief (twice), Benedict Arnold (after he turned traitor), and Prince William Henry (a future king of Great Britain).  Of course the British did target Washington at his Morristown NJ winter headquarters by British dragoons who crossed the frozen Hudson River.among other military and civilian leaders of the United States.

Join us on Monday, November 21st as we welcome back Christian McBurney who will talk about his new book “Abductions in the American Revolution“.  A short business meeting will start around 7:15pm. The presentation will start at 7:30pm. MaGreks Pub and Grill will be running a 1/2 price special on burgers that night. We encourage you to join our membership for the very small and reasonable tax deductible amount of $20.  If you join before December 2016, you only pay $15 in celebration of our 15 year anniversary.

Christian was raised in Kingston, Rhode Island in a home built in 1809.  In high school, he wrote a book on the history of Kingston, which was not a bad effort for a teenager!  He graduated from Christian McBurneySouth Kingstown High School in 1977 and from Brown University in 1981. At Brown, he wrote a 300-page undergraduate history thesis on colonial South Kingstown planter society.  After graduating from New York University School of Law in 1985, he embarked on a career as an attorney.  Currently, he is a partner with the law firm of Arent Fox LLP.  He live with my wife, Margaret, in Kensington, Maryland, where they have raised three wonderful children, Ryan, Kyle and Victoria.  He has renewed his interest in history writing by writing the adult version of the history of Kingston, which was published in 2004.  Please go to http://christianmcburney.com/ to learn more about Christian McBurney.

The tactic of kidnapping enemy leaders, used in recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, dates to the American Revolution.  New Jersey governor William Livingston performed a patriotic service by going to considerable lengths to avoid numerous abduction attempts.

Abductions in the American RevolutionSometimes these operations succeeded, as with the spectacular captures of Continental Army Major General Charles Lee, British Army Major General Richard Prescott, Connecticut’s Brigadier General Gold Selleck Silliman, Massachusetts’s Brigadier General Peleg Wadsworth, and North Carolina’s Governor Thomas Burke. Sometimes they barely failed, as with the violent attempt by British secret service operatives against Major General Philip Schuyler, the mission by British dragoons against Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, and even John Champe’s plan to nab Benedict Arnold in New York City.

Some of the abducted, such as signer of the Declaration of Independence Richard Stockton and Delaware’s Governor John McKinly, suffered damage to their reputations. The kidnapper risked all—if caught, he could be hanged—and some were, including Isaac Hayne in South Carolina, William Riddle in North Carolina, and Joseph Bettys in upstate New York.

This book covers more than thirty major attempted and successful abductions of military and civilian leaders from 1775 to 1783, from Maine to Georgia, and including two in Great Britain.