Review of The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, Volume 10
The North Carolina Historical Review
Reviewed by Caroline Cox
This is the tenth volume in the Revolutionary War Series of The Papers of George Washington, one of five series into which his lifetime correspondence has been compiled. The collection includes not only all his papers but also all letters written to him. With this book, the voluminous Revolutionary War Series, the largest of the five, reaches the summer of 1777. It was a summer of caution and confusion as Washington, husbanding his resources at Middlebrook and then Morristown, New Jersey, anxiously watched the British in New York. He tried to put together observations and conflicting reports to anticipate the next move of British general William Howe. The Continentals occasionally skirmished with the British in New Jersey, but Washington refused to let Howe draw him into an unwanted and wasteful engagement, particularly as Washington and his officers were so unsure of British intentions. Washington also eagerly awaited intelligence of British general John Burgoyne’s progress as Burgoyne advanced south from Quebec with, the Americans correctly assumed, Albany as his goal. After the American loss of Ticonderoga in early July, Washington thought that Howe would move up the Hudson River to support Burgoyne and accordingly moved his troops to New York. However, once there, he received reports that Howe and his troops had left New York City for an unknown destination. Finally, with the appearance of Howe and his army in the Chesapeake in early August, Washington realized Howe’s target was Philadelphia and promptly moved south to defend the city. While the summer was one of movement and uncertainty, it was, as Washington observed, “big with important events.”
This volume continues the high standards of editorial accomplishment set by the other volumes in the series. Some historians have criticized the editors for exhaustive inclusiveness, as many of the letters contained here are published in the collected works of other key figures of the era and other collections of Washington’s work. Other historians have objected to the extensive footnotes and annotations that lean toward mini-essays, arguing that the documents should, and can, speak for themselves. Washington did indeed correspond with every politically and militarily important person of his era, however, he also wrote and referred to many lesser-known men, and this collection not only provides easy access to the letters of such people, but the rigorous footnotes also provide vital information about them. The policy of comprehensiveness also allows the reader to keep track easily of complicated exchanges, no matter who the correspondent. The lengthy annotations that elaborate on debates not spelled out in the correspondence allow any reader to access a document with much of the knowledge that would have been available to the original recipient. This editorial policy pushes this collection from being simply one of use to the highly specialized researcher and makes it accessible to a wider readership. This invaluable series sets a new benchmark for editorial accomplishment.
University of the Pacific
Cox, Caroline. Review of The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, Volume 10 in The North Carolina Historical Review, volume 78, number 1 (January 2001), 103.