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Kidnapping the Enemy: The Special Operations to Capture Generals Charles Lee and Richard Prescott Hardcover – December 19, 2013
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"This book proves that special operations, then as well as now, are filled with nail-biting suspense, reckless heroism, and hair-breadth escapes."Dennis Conrad, co-editor, Naval Documents of the American Revolution and Papers of General Nathanael Greene.
"This book is the first to present a detailed study of the Revolutionary War's two most famous captures, giving a detailed account of the planning, execution and impact of these events that were widely celebrated when they occurred. In both cases, a combination of careful planning, opportunism and martial luck came into play making these small-unit operations as exciting as the war's major battles." Don N. Hagist, author, British Soldiers, American War, Voices of the American Revolution.
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The arrogant and obnoxious General Charles Lee flits across the pages of many books and movies about the American Revolution. Textbooks are often illustrated with the famous cartoon showing Lee with his little doggies. Movies like "The Crossing," portray Washington's frustration upon hearing that Lee had either been captured, or gone voluntarily, with the British at Basking Ridge.
Lee was an accomplished former British military man who became an American patriot. As second-in-command, he believed himself superior to George Washington, often bad-mouthed the General,and sometimes disobeyed a direct command,skirting around an order.
On the night of 12 December, 1776, Lee decided to stay with a small detachment of his men at Widow White's Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. British Commander General William Howe, knowing Lee was on his flank, set reconnoitering parties in the field.On 13 December Lee was captured by a party of these British dragoons. This book tells the story of Charles Lee's imprisonment, his downfall and his death.
Lee's story is balanced with the less well-known story of the American capture of Major General Richard Prescott at the Overing house in Middletown, Rhode Island. Barton's Raid, resulting in Prescott's capture, was the outstanding special operation of the Revolutionary War and still ranks as one of the greatest in American military history.
Christian McBurney has written a very straightforward, carefully-researched book about the the individuals who were captured and the negotiations for their exchange. McBurney has done a good job of talking about what happened to them both while imprisoned and after exchange.
Neither man was a very likeable person, but the economic downfall and eventual death of General Lee, whose body was found protected by his sleeping dogs, was a poignant end to the life of a very proud man. Prescott continued his British military career but was not honored. His death in 1788 went mostly unreported by the British news.
An especially nice feature of this book is McBurney's look at what happened to Harcourt, who was responsible for Lee's capture, and to Barton, that very stubborn man, who had captured Prescott.
Good book. Straight-forward narrative, excellent appendix, notes and bibliography.
Both captured generals were fascinating characters, being appointed to their positions more from social status than military merit. Revolutionary America had yet to completely undo the social order and class structure inherited from England.
The story of the General Prescott’s capture is fascinating. He was the despised commander of British Forces occupying Newport and all of Aquidneck Island. William Barton, a lowly hatter in Providence, RI, who was fighting with the Rhode Island militia, learns the location of Prescott’s night quarters – a farmhouse outside Newport – and concocts a daring plan to take a group of militiamen in whaleboats all the way from Tiverton, RI, through the anchored British fleet in the middle of the night, then proceed overland by foot to overcome guards and capture the general in his nightclothes. It’s an operation that would make a Navy Seal proud.
The dramatic capture made Barton an instant national hero, but his story doesn’t end there. McBurney goes on to relate his sad plight following the Revolution, brought on largely because of his stubborn adherence to principle. Amazingly, Barton is rescued from his difficulties by none other than the Marquis de Lafayette, who served with Barton while commanding French forces during the Battle of Rhode Island. The Marquis was on his “grand tour” of America in 1825, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, when he learned of Barton’s troubles and was able to resolve them. As is often said, “You couldn’t make this up!”
“Kidnapping the Enemy” is a well written and well-researched history of some under appreciated operations early in of the American Revolution. That, matched with interesting human stories makes this book a great read.
Garry Plunkett, Tiverton, RI
I enjoyed this well researched book and look forward to reading
more works by this author.