Treason is a central theme in volume 28 of The Washington Papers’ Revolutionary War Series. In a letter dated Sept. 26, 1780, George Washington informed Lieutenant General Rochambeau, who led the French forces at Rhode Island that “General Arnold, who has sullied his former glory by the blackest treason, has escaped to the enemy. Washington expected to add the renowned Vermont militia commander Ethan Allen to that catalog, however, when he told Gov. George Clinton of New York in early November “that I have given discretionary powers to seize and secure a certain person, should it appear upon further investigation necessary.”
“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.
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.
With this letter of August 31, 1776, Washington reported his first defeat to Congress. Four days previously, British forces under General William Howe had defeated the advanced elements of Washington’s Continental Army deployed along the Heights of Guana on Long Island. Now, the weakness of the fortifications on Brooklyn Heights, where Washington had approximately 9,500 troops, and the fear that British warships might enter the East River and cut his communications with the city of New York had compelled him to evacuate the island.2 (Washington’s reference to his “Family” meant his military aides-de-camp and secretaries.) But the defeat was also one of Washington’s greatest moments of the war.
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.
Having looked at George Washington’s Revolutionary War diaries in my previous blog posts, I now turn to his Revolutionary War correspondence. In this and future posts, I will be offering my perspective on pivotal letters in Washington’s war career. To start, I focus on his letter to his friend Burwell Bassett, written on the eve of Washington’s departure to take command of the Continental Army.
In my most recent blog post, I mentioned that General Washington kept two diaries during the Revolutionary War: his weather diary (which he maintained from January to June 1780) and his journal kept from May to early November 1781. In this post, I want to discuss the latter diary.
The First American primarily focused on Washington’s role in the Revolutionary War, encouraging reflection on Washington’s extraordinary persistence in fighting and leading despite hardships and failures. But it was one specific instance that provoked my deeper appreciation for Washington as a leader who could balance noble ideals and everyday practicality.
“Why did the British soldiers wear red? That doesn’t seem very smart.”
It might have been Matt, sitting at the very back of the classroom, who asked the question; or it might have been Caleb, a couple of desks away. But it definitely was Sonia who immediately shot her hand in the air with a ready answer.
“It was so the blood wouldn’t show on their uniforms,” she responded knowingly.
March 23, 2016 Over the weekend, several of our editors and staff attended the fifth annual Conference of the American Revolution, hosted by America’s History, LLC in Williamsburg, where Director Edward G. Lengel gave a presentation on the Battle of Germantown. Other leading historians lectured on topics ranging from Washington […]