Refusing the Commander in Chief

Henry Lee, oil on canvas painting by Charles Willson Peale (ca. 1782).

At the end of March 1778, the general offered Virginia cavalry officer Henry Lee, Jr., a new assignment. The young captain had recently distinguished himself leading his troop of dragoons in a skirmish at Scott’s Farm near Valley Forge, Pa., as well as conducting foraging operations to supply the starving army at its Valley Forge winter encampment. Writing through his aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton, George Washington made Lee the offer of joining his military family as an aide-de-camp. The proposition entailed a promotion to lieutenant colonel. Few officers, whatever their personal feelings, would have dared to turn down such an offer from the commander in chief, but that is exactly what Lee did.

“His Obliging Partiality for Me”: George Washington Meets Rochambeau, September 1780

Washington first met Lieutenant General Rochambeau, whose French soldiers were stationed near Rear Admiral Ternay’s French fleet at Rhode Island, to plan strategy during a nadir of the American Revolution. Aspiring to take New York City from the British in 1780 before the onset of winter, Washington expected during the first two weeks of September that French reinforcements from Europe or the West Indies would soon arrive. He learned instead on September 16 that a British fleet from the West Indies had recently reached the vicinity of New York City.

History Has Its Eyes on Hamilton

Is Hamilton an academic, perfectly accurate historical interpretation? Of course not. But what it does do is use catchy tunes—and primary sources—to make history accessible and entertaining to a new generation of Americans. And after recently attending a performance of the show, these documentary editors wholeheartedly agree.

Correcting the Record: George Washington and the Hartford Conference, September 22, 1780

At a strategy conference in Hartford on September 22, 1780, with General Rochambeau and Admiral Ternay, George Washington replied to a question from the French commanders. He requested additional French reinforcements following Patriot defeats in the Southern states. He and the French commanders agreed to a strategy by which to win the war at Hartford. Historians, however, have overlooked the Hartford conference because Benedict Arnold’s treason came to light a few days after it, and the few scholars who did study the conference misconstrued its principal document.

A Documentary Dilemma: Editing the Farewell Address

Senior Editor David Hoth’s guiding principle in documentary editing is to display the evidence without influencing a reader’s conclusions. His current focus, George Washington’s Farewell Address, complicates that principle. This document is included in Presidential Series volume 20 and arguably is one of Washington’s most significant contributions to the institution of the U.S. presidency. Hoth’s research into its preparation led him to suggest that we “cannot assume what has always been assumed” of this document.

A Tale of Two: The General and The Little Lion

A history enthusiast myself, I wondered how historically accurate the musical is, and how much in the historical record it dramatizes for the sake of entertainment. As a research specialist at the Washington Papers, I was particularly interested in how the musical portrays the relationship between Washington and Hamilton. It seemed to me that Miranda had accurately captured the mutual respect, trust, and loyalty of the two, while being cautious about depicting their friendship more informally.