An unfortunate understanding persists that George Washington achieved greatness through his magnificent character despite a marginal intellect. Contemporaries, such as Timothy Pickering, spread this notion by pointing to how Washington relied on aides and secretaries to write so many of his letters, particularly during the Revolutionary War, and plenty of subsequent biographers and commentators have picked up on the idea. It is ridiculous to demean Washington for requiring assistance while acting as commanding general of the Continental army because that position often demanded multiple letters a day, with many involving complex or highly sensitive matters. Moreover, Papers of George Washington editors have discovered documentary evidence that Washington involved himself directly in the drafting of all correspondence and confirmed their final form with his signature. Further supporting this evidence are the innumerable textual notes in the Revolutionary War Series where Washington in his own handwriting modified words, phrases, or sentences in drafts prepared initially by aides or secretaries.
In July 1779, Gen. George Washington ordered Maj. Gen. Anthony Wayne to attack the British outpost at Stony Point, New York on the Hudson River with his light infantry corps. Wayne’s surprise attack succeeded brilliantly. Washington followed the attack on Stony Point with a strike on the British outpost at Paulus Hook, New Jersey. This offensive, though smaller than the thrust against Stony Point, was particularly bold because Paulus Hook lies directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan Island, where the British maintained more than half a dozen regiments in garrison.
After several months spent manning and equipping his new unit, Maj. Henry Lee, Jr., finally got his partisan corps into the field in August 1778. Gen. George Washington had assigned Lee to operate with Brig. Gen. Charles Scott’s light infantry brigade, the element of the army that had advanced closest to the British lines in the lower part of Westchester County. For the remainder of August and most of the next month, Lee and his corps carried out their patrol and intelligence-gathering duties, but in late September, that would change.
The winter of 1780-81 was one of the most difficult periods of the American Revolution for the Patriots, though the weather was only indirectly related to the challenges they faced. Coming in the aftermath of American defeats at Savannah, Ga., and Charleston and Camden, S.C., this was undoubtedly a military low point for the Americans. News of Benedict Arnold’s betrayal and suspicions about Ethan Allen’s loyalties raised concerns about popular support for the Patriot cause and the morale of the fighting men. The seeming unlikelihood of the situation improving further dampened spirits. Nothing captures these facts more vividly than the correspondence between Nathanael Greene and George Washington during the late autumn of 1780.