Wednesday, January 29, 2014

SPECIAL = "George Washington's Secret Six"

"The British were being played, and from the least likely of corners.  But they remained oblivious to the double-dealings in their midst.  The parties went on.  The coffeehouse debates continued as the officers went about surrounded by their circles of admirers. Major Andre's silly love poems were composed and published in Rivington's "Royal Gazette". The wine and words flowed freely as they bantered about their plans. The Army was in garrison -- comfortable, amused and completely oblivious to the fact that any shopkeeper, newspaperman, or charming lady in their midst was listening, remembering, and plotting,"

- Brian Kilmeade
The place was New York City.  The time was the Revolutionary War in America.  The British Army under Sir William Howe had occupied this, the largest city in North America since September of 1776.  General George Washington, commanding the rag-tag collection of professional soldiers, officers, and militiamen calling itself the American Army was camped outside of New York, smarting from the way in which he and his army were run out of that city, and looking for a way to get back in. The British had made their Headquarters there and in spite of  Washington's fervent hopes of ejecting them, they would in fact remain there for the entire war. Washington absolutely had to find some way of penetrating inside New York and gathering intelligence on what the Brits were up to.  And how he managed to do so is the subject of  the truly fascinating book "George Washington's Secret Six - the Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution." by Brian Kilmeade of Fox News and Don Yaeger.    

The "Culper" Spy Ring 

Through correspondence between Washington and the spies or between the spies themselves, and through careful examination of business records. Kilmeade and Yaeger have compiled a richly detailed, and compelling tale of courage and sacrifice in the heart of the enemy: in British-occupied New York City. They tell the story of six ordinary colonial citizens, known as the "Culpers": Abraham Woodhull, a gentleman bachelor farmer, and Robert Townsend, a gently-natured Quaker merchant and reporter for a British publication; the Royal Gazette. They tell of the owner of that publication, and of a popular coffeehouse, James Rivington (above) who was viewed by his countrymen as an outspoken loyalist to the Brits. We learn about Austin Roe and his tavern, and Caleb Brewster, a tough longshoreman who ferried much of the information to the Americans. And most interestingly of all (to me, anyway) we learn of a woman who has never been identified, known only as agent "355" in the correspondence. This young lady of society was able to pick up important scraps of information by flattering self-important British officers who thought of themselves as impressive lady's men while unaware of just how useful they were being to this lady. 

Anonymous Heroes

Between them, they provided information that: foiled a British attempt to flood American markets with counterfeit currency, and stopped a British plan to ambush the troops of the French when they joined the American cause. In one remarkable instance they were able to acquire a copy of the British Naval Code Book, and present it to French Admiral D'Estaing in time to aid him in 
defeating the British fleet off of Yorktown Virginia.  This wound up cutting off the escape of Cornwallis' Army for the decisive victory of the war. And perhaps most importantly, they provided the information which enabled their leader, American Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Codenamed "John Bolton", left) to break the plot by Benedict Arnold to hand over the American fortress at West Point to the British.  And we see how most of these "moles' wished to stay unknown for their brave and heroic service to our country at the moment of her birth.  

All in all, Mssrs. Kilmeade and Yaeger have given us a fascinating look at a chapter of American Revolutionary history about which little has been written before this book's publication last Fall.* It reads like... well like a spy novel, which is afterall exactly what it is.. only it's true!! I can strongly recommend it for anybody who likes a good tale whether they prefer fiction or non-fiction.  It is a top-notch read!!!

You can get it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or most any bookstore or in Kindle or other online formats.

by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Sentinel, Publ. by the Penguin Group, New York, 2013.

* = When I wrote this book review last January, I was unaware of the book "Washington's Spies" by the author David Rose published by Bantam Books in 2006.  Of course Mr. Rose's book is the basis for the fascinating TV series "Turn" presently being shown on the AMC Cable TV Network. I am watching "Turn" with the same interest that I am sure many of you are.  It is a very well done series, so I'm glad that it is showing a light on this chapter of American History just as Mr. Kilmeade's book has done.  As far as Mr. Rose's book goes... how it compares to Mr. Kilmeade's book, and how well the TV series translates this to our living rooms.. well that will have to wait until I have read Mr. Rose's book.  But I am presently engaged in that very enterprise, so keep an eye on this Blog and hopefully by the end of this month, I will have something to tell you about that.  BUT...... one thing I can tell you: the AMC series definitely has it wrong in one particular detail - the character of Abraham Woodhull was a bachelor during the whole of the Revolutionary War period; he did not marry until 1781 (according to Wikipedia - so I'm guessing that this character of his wife was invented by the writers for dramatic reasons... I guess I'll have to find out about that.  But in any event... keep an eye on this Blog.. I'll have something to you about this soon....

- Brian T. Bolten, May 8, 2014.

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