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The Papers of George Washington
13 May–4 July 1780Revolutionary War Series, Volume 26
George Washington. Edited by Benjamin L. Huggins and Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins
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With volume 26 of the Revolutionary War Series, Gen. George Washington and his troops transition from the more static affairs of winter encampment to active operations that would include two battles against the British. Throughout the volume, logistics and recruiting dominate Washington’s correspondence, but in June, active combat operations added another layer to his already heavy workload as commander in chief of the army.

When Major General Lafayette arrived at Washington’s headquarters in early May with word that a French naval squadron and army corps would be dispatched to North America, Washington began vigorously preparing for their arrival. To be ready for joint operations with the French, he wanted the states to reinforce the army. In numerous urgent letters, Washington implored the state executives to send enough recruits to produce a Continental force of 20,000 troops. But these alone would not be enough for his preferred joint operation with the French: a decisive attack on New York City, the bastion of British military strength in North America. Washington therefore asked the states to send large numbers of militiamen to supplement his Continental force. With operations imminent, he sought to prioritize the procurement of supplies and provisions, the lack of which had forced him to reduce his soldiers to half rations and often much less. Throughout May and June, Washington appealed to commissaries and governors for relief. He succeeded in keeping his soldiers fed, but just barely.

In the midst of these preparations, an alarming mutiny took place in the Connecticut regiments on 25 May. Although officers rapidly quelled the disaffected troops with the aid of loyal regiments, Washington had to write a painful letter to Congress explaining the apparent motives behind the mutiny—chiefly provision shortages and arrears in pay—and the challenges he faced to maintain order and promote the affairs of the army.While awaiting the French force, Washington monitored military developments in South Carolina, where a British army had laid siege to Charleston in April. An unrelenting bombardment prompted the city’s capitulation on 12 May, but Washington did not receive official word of its fall until the middle of the next month. In the interim, he had to contend with numerous and often erroneous intelligence reports on the situation in the South.

Shortly after the mutiny, Washington confronted a large-scale incursion of the enemy into New Jersey designed to capture his camp at Morristown or bring his small army to battle. The British offensive led to two battles, at Connecticut Farms and Springfield. Washington’s generalship proved crucial to the favorable outcome of both. Finally, intelligence gathering continued as a major concern for Washington. The temporary withdrawal of a spy from the famed Culper espionage ring forced him to seek new agents and networks to supply vitally needed intelligence on British movements and intentions in the New York City area.

The correspondence volumes of The Papers of George Washington, 1748–99, published in five series, include not only Washington’s own letters and other papers but also the letters written to him. The ten-volume Colonial Series (1748–75) focuses on Washington’s military service during the French and Indian War and on his political and business activities before the Revolution. The massive Revolutionary War Series (1775–83) presents in documents and annotations the myriad military and political matters with which Washington dealt during the long war. The papers for his years at Mount Vernon after leaving the army and before becoming president have been published in the six-volume Confederation Series (1784–88). The remaining years of Washington’s life are covered in the Presidential Series (1788–97), which includes the papers of his two presidential administrations, and the four-volume Retirement Series (1797–99), which includes his correspondence after his final return to Mount Vernon.

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