Continued from page 1

The exchange was finally made on April 5, 1778. Washington, his wife and several officers gave Lee a celebratory dinner. However, the forced amity did not last long. Lee thoroughly botched his part in a battle at Monmouth Court House, N.J., missing an opportunity to deal the British a perhaps fatal blow. An angered Washington used harsh language — that Lee had made “an unnecessary, disorderly and shameful retreat.” A court martial convicted him and “suspended” him from the army; Congress later dismissed him outright. Lee spent his last years in penury on a Shenandoah Valley farm. He died in 1782, at aged 51, unmourned.

The tangled story told by Mr. McBurney, a tax lawyer with the firm Nixon Peabody, is superbly researched and presented in lively prose that makes for easy reading. In the text, he promises a future full biography of “Mad Lee,” a book I look forward to reading.

Joseph C. Goulden is the author of 18 nonfiction books.