by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger
Sentinel (reprint edition), 2014
The premise of George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the Revolution is intriguing: George Washington was able to rally from his defeat by the British in New York City in 1776 by cultivating a top-secret group, the Culper Spy Ring. Through the use of an intelligence network, Washington was able to compensate for America’s lesser firepower and “save” the American Revolution.
Poppycock. The co-authors, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, in their poorly researched book, want their readers to believe that six spies hanging out in and around then British-occupied New York City between 1776 and 1783 somehow, miraculously, “saved the American Revolution.” Sorry, this yarn doesn’t even come close to adding up to that kind of resounding result. Plus, it’s a gross insult to the leadership of General George Washington, his staff, and to the brave, fighting men of the Continental Army to suggest such a silly scenario.
None of my criticism is meant to take away from the skill and courage of those six America spies, but their efforts were tenuous at best and very hard to connect to any real war-related successes. For example, let’s take a closer look at chapters, 11, 12, 13, and 14, and one of the major premises of the book. These four chapters deal with the treachery of the traitor, General Benedict Arnold, and his connection to his British counterpart, the repulsive Major John Andre.
Andre was then in charge of the counterspy network for the imperial Brits, headquartered in NYC. The authors describe him in glowing terms as that “dashing young major.” The simple truth was that Andre was a notorious “war criminal.” I’ll get to that controversial issue in just a moment.
First, Arnold, in June, 1780, decided to defect to the Brits. He had been passed over for promotions and had gotten married, in Philadelphia, to a flaming Tory, Peggy Shippen. Wounded at the battle of Saratoga, in October, 1777, he was a very bitter man with a large chip on his shoulder.
Arnold had Washington appoint him to command the critical fortress at West Point, located north of NYC, on the Hudson River. His British’s contact was Andre. The clever scheme centered on Arnold turning West Point over to the Brits, and hopefully, to quickly capture Washington and his high command. It almost worked. Control of West Point meant control of the Hudson River Valley to the Brits, that split the American forces.
The plot was foiled, by accident, when Andre was captured, on September 23, 1777, by three American militamen and was found to have plans of Arnold’s betrayal hidden in his stockings. The notion that the American spies in NYC had anything to do with this seminal matter is simply preposterous. The co-authors are way off the mark with their claim on this important issue, along with other allegations submitted in the book.
Andre, since he was captured out of uniform, was considered a spy, an offense punishable by death. After a trial, he was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. The turncoat Arnold got wind of the botched efforts and quickly escaped by barge down the Hudson to board the “HMS Vulture.”
To read a detailed, documented and authoritative accounts of one of the darkest act of treachery in our history, I recommend: Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, by William Sterne Randall; and Major Andre by Anthony Bailey.
Getting back to that miserable cad, Andre. The co-authors refer to him as a man with “gallant manners and a sense of honor.” What planet are these guys living on? Andre was previously second in command to an elitist scoundrel named Major Gen. Charles Grey.
On the evening of September 20th, 1777, Grey’s troops launched a surprise night time attack on the camp of General Anthony Wayne located at Paoli, near Philadelphia (present day Malvern). More than 2000 American soldiers were stationed there. The Brits gave “no quarters,” in their blood-stained and vicious attack, and “at least 53” Americans were slaughtered trying to surrender. No mercy was shown by Grey and/or Andre. The massacre later became a rally cry for the patriots. To learn more about this mass butchery, check out the “Battle of Paoli” by Thomas J. McGuire.
Here’s an ugly truth. The Brits treated the American rebels as traitors and held them in the lowest possible regard. To prove it, just look at what happened to the American POWs. More than 11,500 prisoners died in captivity aboard sixteen British prison ships then docked in New York harbor during the conflict. A “Martyrs’ Monument” was erected to their sacred memory. It stands in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, NY.
I should have known not to buy this book, when I noticed blurbs of unctuous praise on its cover coming from the likes of that God-awful Neocon, Donald Rumsfeld; Dubya’s Brain, Karl Rove; and even (triple gasp) – Donald Trump!
To sum up, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the Resolution, suffers from a badly flawed premise and some very poor research. It lacks serious scholarship. There are no footnotes. The co-authors repeatedly make up quotes. This book is a mega disappointment. I’m giving it, out of a sense of mercy – one star.
Bill Hughes is photojournalist and author. His book, “Baltimore Iconoclast,” can be found at: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000076922/Baltimore-Iconoclast.aspx