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The Papers of George Washington
28 October–31 December 1780Revolutionary War Series, Volume 29
George Washington. Edited by William M. Ferraro
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In volume 29 of the Revolutionary War Series, problems and frustrations dominate the final nine weeks of 1780 for Gen. George Washington—particularly the failure to strike a meaningful blow against the British headquartered in New York City and its environs. He abruptly canceled implementation of his own complex plan to assault the forts on northern Manhattan in late November, focusing instead on maintaining his troops through the winter’s chronic shortages of provisions. Unlike previous winter encampments, Washington separated his command to avoid undue pressure on any one place for food and forage, as well as to protect strategic points. The distressing situation in the southern department was also a concern, as Major General Nathanael Greene traveled to take command of the shattered army and relayed discouraging reports on the lack of immediate assistance in the form of troops or supplies. Washington, who assured his anxious subordinate in a private letter written on 13 Dec. that "the great public" was not "so unreasonable as to expect impossibilities," did all he could to put men and material at Greene’s disposal and shared the ominous news that a British expedition had sailed from New York in late December. Washington and Major General Lafayette, who sought additional support from his French countrymen and from increasingly sympathetic European countries, both realized that overzealousness in diplomacy could be counterproductive. Meanwhile, a new congressional establishment of the Continental army adopted in October and promulgated in the general orders for 1 Nov. buoyed Washington’s optimism, and he welcomed Martha Washington’s arrival at his winter headquarters and penned a rare joke involving Greene’s son approaching his first birthday in a letter to that general’s wife, Catharine. Throughout these tumultuous times, rather than become unpleasant and brittle, Washington demonstrated emotional and mental balance, attributes essential to the eventual success of the revolutionary cause.

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