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The American Revolution
Revolutionary War: Groping Toward Peace 1781-1783
George Washington to Noah Webster, July 31, 1788

As you read the following letter from George Washington to Noah Webster, keep in mind that Washington is recounting the events of the summer and fall of 1781 largely from memory (i.e., this document was written in 1788 and is not a primary source for the time it describes). What is Washington's contention concerning the strategic plan he and the French military leaders were following in the summer and fall of 1781? What is his point of view concerning the contents of official documents (as mentioned in the last paragraph) compared to an individual's memories of those events?

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Sir: I duly received your letter of the 14th. instant, and can only answer very briefly, and generally frommemory: that a combined operation of the land and naval forces of France in America, for the year 1781, was preconcerted the year before: that the point of attack was not absolutely agreed upon, because it would be easy for the Count de Grasse, in good time before his departure from the West Indies, to give notice by Express, at what place he could most conveniently first touch to receive advice, because it could not be foreknown where the enemy would be most susceptible of impression; and because we (having the command of the water with sufficient means of conveyance) could transport ourselves to any spot with the greatest celerity: that it was determined by me (nearly twelve months beforehand) at all hazards to give out and cause it to be believed by the highest military as well as civil Officers that New York was the destined place of attack, for the important purpose of inducing the Eastern and Middle States to make greater exertions in furnishing specific supplies than they otherwise would have done, as well as for the interesting purpose of rendering the enemy less prepared elsewhere: that, by these means and these alone, artillery, Boats, Stores and Provisions were in seasonable preparation to move with the utmost rapidity to any part of the Continent; for the difficulty consisted more in providing, than knowing how to apply the military apparatus: that before the arrival of the Count de Grasse it was the fixed determination to strike the enemy in the most vulnerable quarter so as to ensure success with moral certainty, as our affairs were then in the most ruinous train imaginable: that New York was thought to be beyond our effort and consequently the only hesitation that remained was between an attack upon the British army in Virginia or that in Charleston: and finally that (by the intervention of several communications and some incidents which cannot be Detailed in a letter; and wch. were altogether unknown to the late Quartermaster General of the Army, who was informed of nothing but what related to the immediate duties of his own department) the hostile Post in Virginia, from being a provisional and strongly expected became the definitive and certain object of the Campaign. I only add, that it never was in contemplation to attack New York, unless the Garrison should first have been so far disgarnished to carry on the southern operations, as to render our success in the siege of that place as infallible as any future military event can ever be made. For I repeat it, and dwell upon it again and again, some splendid advantage (whether upon a larger or smaller scale was almost immaterial) was so essentially necessary to revive the expiring hopes and languid exertions of the Country, at the crisis in question, that I never would have consented to embark in any enterprize; wherein, from the most rational plan and accurate calculations, the favourable issue should not have appeared as clear to my view, as a ray of light. The failure of an attempt agst. the Posts of the enemy, could, in no other possible situation during the war, have been so fatal to our cause.

That much trouble was taken and finesse used to misguide and bewilder Sir Henry Clinton [commander of all British forces in America] in regard to the real object, by fictitious communications, as well as by making a deceptive provision of Ovens, Forage and Boats in his Neighborhood, is certain. Nor were less pains taken to deceive our own Army; for I had always conceived, when the imposition did not completely take place at home, it could never sufficiently succeed abroad.

Your desire of obtaining truth is very laudable, I wish I had more leizure to gratify it: as I am equally solicitous the undisguised verity should be known. Many circumstances will unavoidably be misconceived and misrepresented. Notwithstanding most of the Papers which may properly be deemed official are preserved; yet the knowledge of innumerable things, of a more delicate and secret nature, is confined to the perishable remembrance of some few of the present generation. With esteem I am.
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