Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Meeting Notes: January 15, 2020

Pre-Guest Speaker Notes:
ARRT-R’s next meeting is scheduled for 3/18/20 at Heilman Dining Center at the University of Richmond – dinner service begins at 5:30 p.m. – the speaking program begins at 6:30 p.m. NOTE: This meeting has been canceled!

ARRT-R’s featured speaker on 3/18/20 will be Jim Christ, President of the Paoli Battlefield Preservation Fund.  Jim is also Vice President of the Philadelphia ARRT and active in the Congress of ARRTs.  He will speak on the Battle of Paoli.

Guest Speaker – Christian McBurney – “George Washington’s Nemesis: The Outrageous Treason and Unfair Court Martial of Major General Charles Lee during the American Revolution”
Mr. McBurney has written five books on the American Revolutionary War, including Kidnapping the Enemy: The Special Operations to Capture Generals Charles Lee & Richard Prescott.  He is a member of the George Washington ARRT and works as an attorney in Washington, D.C.

According to the author, absolute objectivity is required to fully understand General Lee.  His book combines the stories of Lee’s capture and imprisonment followed by his conduct at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse.

General Lee, second in command of the Continental Army, was captured by the British Army. While in British custody, General Lee prepared and submitted to his captor’s a military plan on how to defeat Washington’s army.   During his 16 months of captivity Lee continued to communicate with British officers his willingness to help negotiate an end to the rebellion. This act of treason was not discovered until well after Lee’s death.  McBurney’s opinion is that Lee’s conduct during his captivity was clearly treasonous.

After Lee rejoined the Continental Army he served as Washington’s second-in-command at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse.  Prior to the battle, Lee was given many of the Continental Army’s best troops and was tasked with attacking the rear of the British column as it moved east through New Jersey.

Once action began on June 28th, 1778 two of Lee’s subordinates began moving their troops off the field.  According to McBurney, Lee faced with possible destruction of the rest of his force ordered a retreat while conducting a delaying action.  Once Washington arrived on the battlefield the narrative became that Lee’s force was routed and that only the skill and will of Washington prevented a disaster.

Because of his tactless and relentless efforts to defend his actions in the days after the battle, Washington had him arrested and court-martialed on charges of disobeying orders, conducting an “unnecessary, disorderly, and shameful retreat” and disrespect towards the commander-in-chief.  During the court-martial Lee attempted to turn the proceedings into a contest between himself and Washington.  Lee was found guilty on all counts.  McBurney’s opinion is that Lee’s court-martial conviction was unjust and was the result of Lee’s insulting of Washington.

--Noah Rogers

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