Volume 8: Jan. – Mar. 1777

Volume 8 of the Revolutionary War Series documents Washington’s first winter at Morristown. Situated in the hills of north central New Jersey, Morristown offered protection against the British army headquartered in New York City, although it enabled Washington to annoy the principal enemy outposts at Newark, Perth Amboy, and New Brunswick. Endeavoring to discover Howe’s intentions for the next campaign, Washington refined his intelligence-gathering network in New Jersey and New York during the winter months and kept a watchful, if distant, eye on the British armies in Rhode Island and Canada.

Most of the remainder of Washington’s time and efforts were directed toward the reorganization of the Continental army, which dwindled away rapidly following the victories at Trenton and Princeton. Unwilling to face the usual hardships of winter or the dangers of a new outbreak of smallpox, many men returned home when their enlistments expired. Desertion also rose dramatically, and Washington was reluctantly forced to depend upon militia. Congress’s resolution to raise sixteen additional Continental regiments to supplement the eighty-eight regiments that it had ordered to be raised for the duration of the war the previous fall, along with the election of five new major generals, boded well for the future but did not keep Washington from complaining in January that “all our movements have been made with inferior numbers, & with a mix’d, motley crew; who were here today, gone tomorrow, without assigning a reason, or even apprising you of it. In a word, I do not think that any Officer since the Creation ever had such a variety of difficulties & perplexities to encounter as I have–How we shall be able to rub along till the New Army is raised I know not.”

To Washington fell the time-consuming tasks of making the numerous appointments of field officers, drafting instructions and recruiting orders for them, and writing a host of letters to the chief executives of the states urging them to expedite the raising of regiments. By mid-March Washington’s army in New Jersey numbered only about 4,000 troops, nearly two-thirds of which were militia enlisted only to the end of the month.

Other important matters demanding Washington’s attention included the reorganization of the hospital department and the creation of new hospitals, the reorganization of the commissary and clothier generals departments, the appointment of a wagonmaster, the establishment and placement of a new “Magazine, Laboratories, & Foundery for casting Cannon &c.,” and continuing negotiations with the British on prisoner exchanges. The volume closes in late March with the good news that a much-anticipated shipment of arms, ammunition, and cloth had arrived from France for the Continental army.

Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., ed., The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series volume 8, January – March 1777. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1998.

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