Volume 9: Mar. – June 1777

Volume 9 of the Revolutionary War Series covers the spring of 1777, a period when Washington’s resourcefulness and perseverance were tested as much as they were at any time during the war. Instead of opening the new campaign as he had planned by taking the field with a reinvigorated Continental army, Washington was obliged to spend much of his time simply trying to assemble the army, pleading with state authorities to fill their recruiting quotas and with officers to bring in the men whom they had enlisted.

Matters were made worse by a high desertion rate, which Washington blamed on the failure of many officers to pay their men regularly. Painfully aware of the weakness of his army, Washington was puzzled but relieved that General Howe did not launch a major offensive during the spring. Although British raids on Peekskill, N.Y., Boundbrook, N.J., and Danbury, Conn., stirred local fears, Washington remained focused on the larger threat posed by Howe’s forces.

Employing a network of spies, Washington attempted to discover whether Howe planned to attack the strategically important Hudson highlands or politically important Philadelphia, and if the latter, whether he intended to move by land or sea. Believing that Philadelphia would be Howe’s target but unable to prove it, Washington in late May concentrated most of his forces at Middle Brook, N.J., in order to be able to move rapidly north or south as events dictated.

Unhappy officers added to Washington’s woes with complaints of ill-treatment and threats to resign. “It seems to me,” Washington wrote John Hancock in April, “as if all public Spirit was sunk into the means of making money by the Service, or quarrelling upon the most trivial points of rank.” Foreign officers, who arrived in unprecedented numbers, were the most troublesome. Often unable to speak English and having little attachment to the American cause, they demanded extravagant ranks and pay that could not be granted without disrupting and demoralizing the Continental officer corps. “The management of this matter,” Washington wrote Richard Henry Lee in May, “is a delicate point . . . . In the mean while I am Haunted and teazed to death by the importunity of some & dissatisfaction of others.”

Philander D. Chase, ed., The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series volume 9, March – June 1777. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1999.

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