Volume 6 documents Washington's decisions and actions during the
heart of the New York campaign--the period from late summer to
early fall 1776 when his British opponent, General William Howe,
took the offensive and outmaneuvered the American forces in and
around New York City through a series of amphibious landings. Faced
with an enemy superior in numbers, mobility, and discipline,
Washington attempted to defend New York by placing his green troops
behind fortifications on high ground and hoping that courage and
patriotism would offset their lack of experience and training. That
strategy failed at the Battle of Long Island on 27 August when
Howe's army outflanked and routed a larger American force on the
Heights of Guana. Two nights later Washington reunited his
dangerously divided army by skillfully evacuating every man and
most stores and equipment from Long Island to New York City.
During the following weeks Washington spared no one including
himself in an effort to restore order and confidence to his badly
dispirited troops. He also reassessed his strategy and concluded
"that on our side the War should be defensive" and "that we should
on all occasions avoid a general Action or put anything to the
risque unless compelled by a necessity into which we ought never to
be drawn." Reluctantly deciding to abandon New York City,
Washington narrowly avoided being forced into a disadvantageous
general engagement on 15 September when he marched his army north
to defensive positions on Harlem Heights ahead of British and
Hessian soldiers landing at Kip's Bay. Although the Battle of
Harlem Heights on the following day was an indecisive skirmish
between detachments, it raised American morale by showing that some
of their troops could and would fight well against enemy regulars
in limited actions.
Military concerns so preoccupied Washington that at times his
secretary Robert Hanson Harrison had to write the president of
Congress and other public officials for him. This volume,
nevertheless, includes four long letters that Washington wrote to
his plantation manager Lund Washington describing his situation in
New York and giving detailed instructions regarding such matters as
the sale of flour from the Mount Vernon mill, the remodeling of the
mansion house, and the planting of trees around it.
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