Review of The Papers
of George Washington:
Revolutionary War Series, Volumes 2 - 3
The Journal of Southern History
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Reviewed by Charles Royster
These two volumes, edited by Philander D. Chase and others under the
general editorship of W.W. Abbot, take George Washington's service as
commander in chief of the Continental army through March 1776, when the
British withdrew from Boston. Washington's correspondence with the Continental
Congress, state governors, and army officers shows him beset by many anxieties.
Most important, he wondered whether he would long have an army to command.
The short-term enlistments and militia service undertaken in 1775 expired
at year's end. For months one army disbanded while another was slow to
assemble. All the while, the Americans were trying to besiege Boston,
invade Canada, and prepare defenses for New York City. Washington was
especially alarmed by his soldiers' unmilitary demeanor and his inability
to build a reliable army out of men enlisted for short terms of service.
He blamed the Americans' failure at Quebec on the use of such troops.
Washington believed that success depended on Americans' unity in resisting
British force. He urged the governor of Connecticut "to seize on
those Tories who have been, are, and that are known will be, active against
us" (Vol. 2, p. 379); he gloated over the plight of the Loyalists
in Boston when the British were leaving--"One or two have done, what
a great many ought to have done long ago--committed Suicide" (Vol.
3, p. 568). Having committed his reputation to the American cause, Washington
bitterly censured those who failed to exert themselves as wholeheartedly
as did he.
The editorial work by Chase and his colleagues has kept pace with the
growing complexity of Washington's affairs. The approach to annotation
in this series is now well established. It is especially useful in recording
the disposition of matters raised in the correspondence and in referring
to related documents elsewhere in the volumes. The longest notes usually
consist of quotations from pertinent contemporary sources. If the editors
continue in future volumes to provide no modern maps of Washington's fields
of operations, the annotation of documents describing the Continental
army's battles will present some especially intricate challenges. Even
that great exponent of the fog-of-war narrative, Douglas Southall Freeman,
relented on this point.
As an editorial undertaking The Papers of George Washington--now
expanded to four concurrently published series--vindicates by its thoroughness
and productivity the confidence that it has won from those who have supported
it and used it. Twenty-five years ago a reviewer of an installment in
W.S. Lewis's long-running edition of Horace Walpole's correspondence wrote
that Lewis's volumes had acquired an aura of inevitability. The same might
be said for the achievement of the editors of The Papers of George
Louisiana State University
Royster, Charles. Review of The Papers of George Washington:
Revolutionary War Series, Volumes 2-3 in The Journal of Southern
History, volume 56, number 4 (November 1990), 737-38.