- The Papers of George Washington. Revolutionary War Series. Volume 14: March-April 1778
Like clockwork, a new and welcome volume of The Papers of George Washington appears annually. And every year academics and general readers alike can count on the best scholarship possible. In the latest installment of Washington's Revolutionary War papers, that is just what they get. This volume covers March and April 1778, when Washington and the Continental army continued their long winter encampment at Valley Forge. With this volume the editors reveal General Washington and his army's day-to-day camp operations, his plan for the spring campaign, and his efforts to free prisoners of war, as well as the general's personal life.
The opening of this volume finds Washington holding his band of troops together while preparing for the upcoming military season. The general confronted the most basic and serious problems while attempting to keep his troops from deserting. "By death and desertion," Washington writes, "we have lost a good many men since we came to this ground, and have encountered every species of hardship that cold, wet, & hunger, and want of Cloaths were capable of producg—not withstandg & [End Page 297] contrary to my expectations we have been able to keep the Soldiers from Mutiny or dispersion" (234). This is the Washington of lore, holding together the Continental force during its hour of trial.
Holding the troops together became Washington's moral and practical duty, and the reader comes to understand their devotion to him. Yet this volume also demonstrates Washington's devotion to administrative leadership. This becomes clear in the issue of prisoner exchange between American and British forces. In the spring of 1778 both sides desired the release of their soldiers from the enemy's prisons. Washington wanted and needed his imprisoned troops, yet he broke off negotiations when he concluded that American officers were suffering indignities at the hands of General William Howe. In particular, Washington grew increasingly angry at the treatment of captured American General Charles Lee. Promises of Lee's release proved to be disingenuous, and Washington repaid in kind by refusing to release British Colonel Archibald Campbell, writing that his action was a "consequence of your discrimination to the prejudice of General Lee" (159). Both officers were released in April 1778, yet further negotiations were stymied over the issue of treatment of ranking officers. This is Washington, hard as nails, refusing to budge regardless of his weaker position.
Although the military-minded Washington dominates this volume, hints of the private man emerge from these pages. A revealing example is in the letters of Lund Washington, Mount Vernon's manager and the general's cousin. When Lund planned a sale of Mount Vernon's slaves, the general interceded. Lund wrote, "with regard to Sellg the Negroes Mention'd, you have put it out of my power, by saying you would not sell them without their Consent" (429). This is the principled Washington. Washington was not an abolitionist by any means, but we can faintly make out the man who eventually will arrange his slaves' freedom.
Dealing with only two months of Washington's life, this volume amounts to the proverbial snapshot. An intense, focused, and determined man emerges from these pages. Some may have trouble following the issues since so many span several volumes. This particular volume, the fifty-second of a projected ninety, contains over 500 items of varying importance. Continuing their goal of offering the most comprehensive edition, the editors include nearly every item for March and April 1778 (all items written by Washington are included). The editors stress that all documents will be available in a CD-ROM edition (still being prepared), although one wonders whether an internet edition, similar to other ongoing projects, would be more useful and accessible. [End Page 298]
Along with the Thomas Jefferson and James Madison papers, the Washington papers serve as the model for documentary editing projects. What makes this series so impressive...