George Washington’s Secret Six: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: September 23rd, 2014 by bobmorris

George Wasington's Secret SixGeorge Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution
Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger
Sentinel/The Penguin Group (2013)

How the bravery, cunning, near misses, and initiatives of the Culper Ring “helped save our nation and shape its future”

I have read and reviewed several dozen books that examine the process that led up to the Declaration of Independence and then continued during the war that followed. However, until reading Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger’s book, I knew almost nothing about the nature and extent of organized and coordinated efforts to obtain information (i.e. intelligence data) on the British military priorities, strategies, tactics, and vulnerabilities that would guider and inform how General George Washington and his associates would wage — and eventually — win that war. And I amazed and encouraged by the fact that, thus far, more than 2,000 readers have shared their thoughts about an account of events that occurred more than 240 years ago.

Kilmeade and Yaeger remind their reader that “this is a story about ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things, people whose fears and hopes and lives were not much different from our own, and how they changed the course of history. Their humility stopped them from seeking fame or fortune because their love of country sparked their exploits.”

These are among the subjects of greatest interest to me:

o Why Washington needed the services of what became the “Culper Ring”
o How and why the members were selected
o What each contributed: Benjamin Tallmadge, Robert Townsend, James Rivington, Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe, and “Agent 355”
Note: Agent 355 was a female, one whose identify remains unknown
o Washington’s perspectives on spying
o The Ring’s most significant contributions (e.g. preventing Benedict Arnold from surrendering West Point)
o The Ring’s setbacks, close calls, missed opportunities, etc.
o Nathan Hale’s special significance
o The major differences between Arnold and George André
o Means of communication during the 1770s
o Similarities and differences between intelligence and counter intelligence then and now
o The Ring’s contributions to General Charles Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown that, in effect, ended the war

Here are Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger’s concluding remarks: “Those few who knew the Culpers’ secret kept it close, and all Washington could do was carry in his heart the gratitude he had for the sacrifices of his brave spies, which were no less meaningful for having been made in city streets and country back roads as on a battlefield. For these men and women, too, had [in Washington’s words] given their all to “establishing Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

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