Topic: Benjamin Huggins

Washington and the Governors (Part IV)

By Benjamin Huggins, Associate Editor
August 3, 2018

“Washington’s Headquarters, Morristown,” engraving by Joseph Andrews. Courtesy of New York Public Library.

I continue my survey of Washington’s relations with the state governors, but in this post, I will focus on his relations with local civil authorities. One of the best examples of Washington’s diplomacy and the positive response of civil authorities is the army’s gathering of provisions in New Jersey during the winter of 1780. In a circular letter to the states, the general set out the nature of the crisis: “The situation of the Army with respect to supplies is beyond description alarming.” He asked for “extraordinary exertions” and requested “vigorous interposition of the State.”1

To gain immediate relief, he shifted his focus to New Jersey, where the army was camped. Declaring an emergency of a “pressing and peculiar nature,” he described the state of his army in a circular letter to the magistrates of each of the New Jersey counties: “The present situation of the Army with respect to provisions is the most distressing of any we have experienced since the beginning of the War.” Both officers and men were, he explained, “almost perishing for want”; the “uncommon vigour of the Winter” had obstructed the transportation of supplies, and the magazines near camp were exhausted. Unless an “extraordinary exertion” was made in the state, “fatal consequences” were sure to ensue.

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Washington and the Governors (Part III)

By Benjamin L. Huggins, Associate Editor
April 13, 2018

In this post, I continue my survey of George Washington’s relations with the state governors. A more complicated example of the contending interests involved in Washington’s relations with the governors than those I examined in my most recent post occurred when Washington sought increased militia support from Pennsylvania for the expedition against the Iroquois. The ensuing quarrel shows an important contrast in the different concerns of the general and the governors. The political context is crucial for understanding the controversy. The Pennsylvania government was operating under a contested constitution adopted in 1776 that gave the frontier counties increased representation in the unicameral assembly. Two political factions had developed around the constitutional question. The Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council and its president Joseph Reed were members of the more radical Whig Society. They were opposed by the Republican Society moderates led by Philadelphia merchants like Robert Morris. In May, riots led by militiamen supporting the radical cause would break out in Philadelphia.

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Revolutionary War Series, Volume 26: An Interview with the Editors

By Katie Blizzard, Communications Specialist
March 9, 2018

Neither associate editor Benjamin L. Huggins nor assistant editor Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins could have anticipated the complexities involved in editing The Papers of George Washington’s Revolutionary War Series, volume 26. One such difficulty concerned the content of the documents, which included the communication of misleading or even false intelligence. And so, in anticipation of the volume’s publication later this year, I sat down with both editors—who collaborated on the volume—to examine the work behind the next installment of the series.

When Adrina began work on Revolutionary War Series, volume 26, which covers mid-May through early July 1780, she had hoped to call upon past experiences for insight into the material. Armed with a doctorate in French literature—specifically on the evolution of the enlightenments occurring in France, Britain, and the American colonies—Adrina had a strong understanding of the sociopolitical environment out of which the revolutionary ideals grew. Moreover, her experiences as an editor at The Papers of Benjamin Franklin—particularly on his papers during the year 1783—and as a project indexer for The Papers of George Washington had familiarized her with the events, people, and themes of the war. Despite such an informed contextual understanding, Adrina still found the volume 26 material challenging.

Co-editor Benjamin, who has long studied military history, encountered the same issue: the vocabulary from Washington’s Revolutionary War-era papers was obscure and particular. When editing past volumes in the series, for example, he had to learn how to discern between usage of the term “corps” in describing units of varying size.

Supplementary reading thus proved crucial to understanding the material. According to Adrina, she strove to learn more about those people, events, and terms with which she was less familiar and “looked into as many sources as possible until the job was done.” Obviously passionate about her work, Adrina poured over several primary and secondary sources in her free time in order to transcribe and annotate one of the most significant events for her portion of the volume: the surrender of Charleston, South Carolina.

Regardless of these efforts, certain documents took a considerable amount of time to annotate. For example, letters from Major General Robert Howe, which often included multiple items of intelligence, required research on each piece of news in order to contextualize and verify the information. Some of these rumors, Adrina found, could be corroborated by diaries from officers. Others could not be verified as the information was second- or third-hand, making it difficult to trace back to the original source. Occasionally, research confirmed that the intelligence was erroneous. In those instances, Adrina provided additional information as to why the intelligence had been shared with General Washington. And if all this does not sound difficult enough, Howe misspelled many of the names of individuals mentioned within these intelligences, adding an additional step to the verification process!

Faced with these cumbersome tasks, Benjamin and Adrina divided up the work by each assuming responsibility for the letters from one of the two months to be included in the volume. This required coordination of all research and annotation to ensure volume cohesion and to reduce repetition. Such logistics became particularly useful when Benjamin began writing editorial notes on the two battles that occurred in June 1780: Connecticut Farms and Springfield. In addition to working with Adrina to gather information from her half of the volume, Benjamin widened his scope of research beyond the documents and events included in the volume in order to get a broad perspective of the topics in question. According to Benjamin, he enjoyed writing these notes because they allowed him to use sources or extended quotes that typically would not be included in regular annotations. As a result, he could add commentary, such as “following this battle, the British never attempted an invasion of New Jersey again.”

Benjamin pointed out that preparing these documents for publication was rigorous and unforgiving. “It’s a complex endeavor,” he said. “The pace you have to maintain is probably even more so than a presidential volume. There’s more letters per day, and they’re sometimes very long.” Indeed, despite having only 19 days’ worth of letters, Adrina’s half of the volume alone included more than 200 documents. This is because some of those days had up to 10 letters, all of which she had to transcribe and annotate. Unfortunately, this intense production schedule was further complicated by unforeseen obstacles outside of the control of the editors, such as reduction in time allotted for editing as well as a delay in review of their volume.

Nevertheless, Benjamin and Adrina remained graceful under pressure. As Revolutionary War Series, volume 26 is slated for publication later this year, assistant editor Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins reflected on her experience: “Documentary editing is a lot like other things—the more you do it, you improve. I want to continue to improve and grow as an editor, [and] working on that volume did help me to grow, learn, and improve.…I’m grateful I had the opportunity to work on it.”

 

The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, volume 26 will be published by the University of Virginia Press in late 2018. To learn more about the volume in the meantime, read a summary of the volume and see the editors’ volume dedication.

The Forthcoming Publication of Revolutionary War Series, Volume 26

By Benjamin L. Huggins and Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins

We are excited to announce that later this year, Revolutionary War Series, volume 26 of The Papers of George Washington will appear in print. This volume covers the period between May 13 and July 4, 1780. We were honored to work daily on General George Washington’s papers and to learn more about the struggles he and his army faced in the late spring of 1780, including a mutiny in the Connecticut line and a severe shortage of provisions. As the introduction shows, despite these problems, hope was on the horizon, for Washington received word that Lieutenant General Rochambeau’s army was sailing for the American coast. We present here an introduction to our volume that covers the principal themes appearing in the letters we edited.

We are proud of our work and recognize that it would not have been possible without our support for each other and the support and love of our families. They truly have known us, loved us, and believed in us. We were unable to add a dedication to the print volume, so we include it here:

This volume is dedicated to William Huggins, Sr., and to Sharon and Pete Parnagian, whose sincere love and support have always guided us and given us strength, and to Henry (1918-1972) and Alice (1922-2011) Parnagian, beloved grandparents. You will forever be in our hearts.

 

The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, volume 26 will be published by the University of Virginia Press in late 2018. To learn more about the volume in the meantime, read an interview with the editors or a summary of the volume’s events.

Washington and the Governors (Part II)

By Benjamin L. Huggins, Associate Editor
February 2, 2018

Washington faced some of his thorniest fights with state leaders over the deployment of Continental troops. He summed up his problem in a letter to his friend Gouverneur Morris:

When I endeavour to draw together the Continental troops for the most essential purposes I am embarrassed with complaints of the exhausted defenceless situation of particular states and find myself obliged either to resist solicitations made in such a manner and with such a degree of emphasis as scarcely to leave me a choice, or to sacrifice the most obvious principles of military propriety and risk the general safety.1

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Washington and the Governors (Part I)

By Benjamin L. Huggins, Associate Editor
November 10, 2017

In this blog post I pause my series on Washington’s letters announcing pivotal moments in the Revolutionary War to look at a key facet of his generalship.

“You will, upon the whole, find many advantages by cultivating a good understanding with the Civil Authority”1

On Feb. 3, 1780, Gen. George Washington sent this advice to Col. Stephen Moylan, commander of a Continental dragoon regiment, after issues had arisen with the Connecticut state government regarding the winter encampments of the cavalry in that state. Two weeks later, as the disputes between Moylan and Gov. Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., continued, Washington told the colonel, “It is always my wish to accommodate, where no great injury can result to the service.”2

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Victory at Trenton

By Benjamin L. Huggins, Associate Editor
August 25, 2017

“The Hour of Victory,” painting by Edward Percy Moran (c. 1914). Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt.

“I have the pleasure of congratulating you upon the Success of an Enterprize, which I had formed against a Detachment of the Enemy lying in Trenton, and which was executed yesterday Morning.”

With these words, Washington announced to Congress his victory over three Hessian regiments posted at Trenton, N.J., on the morning of Dec. 26, 1776.1 For most of the previous two months the general and his army had gone from defeat to defeat, with the worst of these being the fall of Fort Washington (the subject of my last blog). Now, in one swift blow, Washington had restored his faltering reputation and lifted the army’s morale. With the British and Hessian forces in New Jersey and New York greatly outnumbering his own, Washington took a great risk in making his attack, but he felt he had to go on the offensive to restore confidence in the American cause and energize recruitment for the army.

In his report to Congress, the general outlined his attack. He had planned to assemble the army, which numbered between 2,500 and 3,000 men, at McKonkey’s Ferry on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River on the evening of December 25 and, after dark, cross them over to the New Jersey shore by midnight. His small army could then arrive in front of Trenton by dawn. “But,” Washington reported, “the quantity of Ice, made that Night, impeded the passage of Boats so much, that it was three OClock before the Artillery could all be got over, and near four, before the Troops took up their line of march.” He gave up hope of surprising the Hessians since the army could not reach the town before sunrise, “but as I was certain there was no making a Retreat without being discovered, and harassed on repassing the River, I determined to push on at all Events.”

Thereafter the attack proceeded swiftly. Washington formed the army into two divisions “one to march by the lower or River road, the other, by the upper or Pennington Road.” The general ordered each division, after pushing past the Hessian outpost guards, to march directly into Trenton and charge the enemy before they had time to form. “The upper division arrived at the Enemys advanced post, exactly at eight OClock, and in three Minutes after, I found from the fire on the lower Road that, that Division had also got up. The Out Guards made but small Opposition, tho’, for their Numbers, they behaved very well, keeping up a constant retreating fire from behind Houses. We presently saw their main Body formed, but from their Motions, they seem’d undetermined how to act.” The American troops quickly captured part of the Hessian artillery. When some of the Hessian troops attempted to escape by moving off on a road leading to Princeton, Washington “threw a Body of Troops in their Way which immediately checked them. Finding from our disposition, that they were surrounded, and that they must inevitably be cut to peices if they made any further Resistance, they agreed to lay down their Arms.”     Some of the Hessian soldiers made their escape before the Continentals fully surrounded the town, but Washington claimed the capture of 23 officers and 886 men.2 “Our Loss,” Washington noted, “is very trifling indeed, only two Officers and one or two privates wounded.”

“Plan of the operations of General Washington, against the Kings troops in New Jersey, from the 26th. of December, 1776, to the 3d. January 1777.” Map by William Faden (1777). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The general did not fail to praise his soldiers:

In justice to the Officers and Men, I must add, that their Behaviour upon this Occasion, reflects the highest honor upon them. The difficulty of passing the River in a very severe Night, and their March thro’ a violent Storm of Snow and Hail, did not in the least abate their Ardour. But when they came to the Charge, each seemed to vie with the other in pressing forward, and were I to give a preferance to any particular Corps, I should do great injustice to the others.

With only the force he brought over at McKonkey’s Ferry available for action (one division of Continentals and the Pennsylvania militia had been unable to cross due to the large quantity of ice in the river), Washington decided to forgo any further attacks as too risky. After arranging for the transport of the prisoners, Washington crossed his army back to the Pennsylvania side of the river to plan his next move. Despite Washington’s inability to continue his attack, the victory at Trenton nevertheless succeeded in clearing the British and Hessian posts on the Delaware River. Mount Holly, Bordentown, and Burlington were all evacuated.

After receiving this letter, the executive committee of Congress sent their congratulations to Washington:

We . . . rejoice in your Excellencys success at Trentown as we conceive it will have the most important publick consequences and because we think it will do justice in some degree to a Character we admire & which we have long wished to appear in the World with that Brilliancy that success always obtains & which the Members of Congress know you deserve, permit us to Congratulate you on this success & to suppose it is only the beginning of more important advantages . . . It appears to us that your attack on Trentown was totally unexpected, the Surprize compleat, & the Success beyond expectation.

Historian Chistopher Ward points out that Washington’s victory quickly became a turning point in the war: “The effect upon the American people was . . . instantaneous . . . From the depth of despair they rose to new confidence. From every direction came news of militiamen on the march to serve for two months, while the new Continental army was being organized.”3 Washington had achieved his objective.

This letter with full annotation appears in volume 7 of The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. My next blog will focus on Washington’s Jan. 5, 1777, letter reporting his next victory at Princeton, N.J., a mere eight days after Trenton.

 

Notes

  1. The Hessian regiments, totaling about 1,500 men, were the Fusilier Regiment von Lossburg, the Fusilier Regiment von Knyphausen, and the Grenadiere Regiment von Rall. Also present were a Hessian artillery detachment, fifty Hessian jägers, and twenty British light dragoons.
  1. On the return of prisoners Washington submitted with this letter, the total number of prisoners taken was listed as 918.
  1. Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, 2 vols. (New York, 1952), 1:305.

Washington’s Worst Defeat

by Benjamin L. Huggins, Associate Editor
May 25, 2017

Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

“This is a most unfortunate affair and has given me great Mortification as we have lost not only two thousand Men that were there, but a good deal of Artillery, & some of the best Arms we had.” So wrote General George Washington to his brother John Augustine Washington in November 1776 about the loss of Fort Washington.1 The fall of the bastion, with its garrison of 2,900 officers and men, on Nov. 16, 1776, was Washington’s worst defeat (excluding Charleston, S.C., in 1780, where he was too distant from the scene of action to affect the outcome). Fort Washington was located along the Hudson River on a high bluff in the northern part of Manhattan Island. Along with Fort Lee directly across the river in New Jersey, it formed the chief defense against a British naval advance up the river. Most American officers considered Fort Washington virtually impregnable.

At the time of the fort’s fall, Washington and his main army were in retreat across New Jersey, after having been driven out of lower New York by General Sir William Howe and his British army. But the American general, believing he should throw every possible obstruction in the way of British conquest of New York and New Jersey, decided to retain a garrison in the fort.2

When Washington evacuated the rest of his army from Manhattan Island, he left a garrison of 1,200 men in Fort Washington and gave orders to the garrison’s colonel “to defend the post to the last Extremity.” However, given the fort’s isolation and its vulnerability to an attack by Howe’s whole force, he later modified those orders to give discretion to Major General Nathanael Greene, the area commander, “to retain or evacuate the post as he should think best.”3

The British attacked the post with four corps on Nov. 16. The American troops defending the fort’s outer works were spread too thin, and their lines were quickly penetrated, although they inflicted heavy casualties on the attackers. The British and Hessians pushed the Continentals and militia back into the fort. Surrounded with no hope of relief, they soon had to surrender. Washington nearly became a casualty when he decided to visit Fort Washington during the early part of the engagement. Greene, writing on the 17th, explained to a fellow officer that on

Yesterday morning General Washington, General Putnam, General Mercer, and myself went to the Island to determine what was best to be done, but Just at the instant we stept on board the Boat the Enemy made their appearance on the Hill where the monday action was, and began a severe Cannonade with several field pieces. Our Guards soon fled, the Enemy advanced up to the second lines. This was done while we were crossing the River and geting upon the Hill. The Enemy made several marches to the right and to the left, I suppose to reconnoiter the fortifications and lines. There we all stood in a very awkward situation; as the disposition was made and the Enemy advancing we durst not attempt to make any new disposition—indeed we saw nothing amiss. We all urged his Excellency to come off. I offerd to stay. General Putnam did the same and so did General Mercer, but his Excellency thought it best for us all to come off together, which we did about half an hour before the Enemy surrounded the fort.4

The fall of the fort embarrassed Washington, and many, including at least one of his staff officers, questioned his military judgment.5

In his letter to his brother, Washington cast the blame for the fort’s fall on Greene. Washington had arrived “a day or two before it surrendered,” but had not, he asserted, come in time to take measures to save Fort Washington. “And what adds to my Mortification,” he wrote,

is, that this Post . . . was held contrary to my Wishes & opinion; as I conceived it to be a dangerous one: but being determind on by a full Council of General Officers, & receiving a resolution of Congress strongly expressive of their desires, that the Channel of the River (which we had been labouring to stop a long while at this place) might be obstructed, if possible; & knowing that this could not be done unless there were Batteries to protect the Obstruction I did not care to give an absolute Order for withdrawing the Garrison till I could get round & see the Situation of things & then it became too late as the Fort was Invested. I had given it . . . as my opinion to Genl Greene under whose care it was, that it would be best to evacuate the place—but—as the order was discretionary, & his opinion differed from mine, it unhappily was delayed too long, to my great grief.

By implying that he had no time to decide whether to evacuate or defend the fort, Washington misled his brother. The commander in chief had in fact arrived at Fort Lee on Nov. 13; the enemy did not attack the fort until three days later. He had ample time to make a decision. Despite his own convictions, he failed to reverse Greene’s decision to continue defending the fort.

In his official letter to Congress explaining the defeat, Washington cast himself almost as a bystander to the events. He became involved only after the British had commenced their assault. The blame again appeared to fall on Greene.6 But his own irresolution was the main reason for the defeat. Even in a private letter to his brother, he could not bring himself to mention his indecision and hesitation.

Washington’s failure to take responsibility for the defeat at Fort Washington was not one of his finest moments. I believe it stemmed from his insecure position at that time. For more on this defeat and Washington’s later account of the fort’s fall, which I believe shows his maturation as a general, see my article “Washington’s Belated Admission,” published by the Journal of the American Revolution on April 23, 2014. In my next blog post, I will look at one of the most pivotal moments of the war: Washington’s victory at Trenton, N.J., on Dec. 26, 1776, and his letter to John Hancock of the next day reporting the triumph.
 

Notes

1. “From George Washington to John Augustine Washington, Nov. 6–19, 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-07-02-0070. Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series 7:102–6.

2. “From George Washington to Joseph Reed, Aug. 22, 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-22-02-0175.  Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 22:224–27

3. “From George Washington to John Hancock, Nov. 16, 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-07-02-0118. Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 7:162–69.

4. “From Nathanael Greene to Henry Knox, Nov. 17, 1776,” in The Papers of Nathanael Greene, 1:351–52.

5. “From Joseph Reed to Charles Lee, Nov. 21, 1776,” in [Charles Lee] The Lee Papers. 4 vols. (New York, 1872–75; in Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 4–7), 4:376–77.

6. “From George Washington to John Hancock, Nov. 16, 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-07-02-0118. Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, 7:162–69.

Washington’s First Defeat

by Benjamin L. Huggins, Associate Editor
March 7, 2017

“Inclination as well as duty would have Induced me to give Congress the earliest Information of my removal and that of the Troops from Long Island & Its dependencies to this City the night before last, But the extreme fatigue whic<h> myself and Family have undergone as much from the Weather since the Engagement on the 27th rendered me & them entirely unfit to take pen in hand—Since Monday scarce any of us have been out of the Lines till our passage across the East River was effected Yesterday morning & for Forty Eight Hours preceding that I had hardly been of[f] my Horse and never closed my Eyes so that I was quite unfit to write or dictate till this Morning.

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George Washington’s First Victory

By Benjamin L. Huggins, Associate Editor
January 9, 2017

“It is with the greatest pleasure I inform you that on Sunday last, the 17th Instant, about 9 O’Clock in the forenoon, The Ministerial Army evacuated the Town of Boston, and that the Forces of the United Colonies are now in actual possession thereof. I beg leave to congratulate you Sir, & the honorable Congress—on this happy Event, and particularly as it was effected without endangering the lives & property of the remaining unhappy Inhabitants.”

General Washington sent this notice to John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, from his headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 19, 1776. The long siege of British-occupied Boston was over. The letter was one the general had long hoped to send: his first victory dispatch to Congress. He had taken command of the Patriot army surrounding Boston in early July 1775, and he had dedicated all his effort since to achieving the result he reported to Hancock on March 19.

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