1776

George Washington Character Analysis

George Washington is the central character of 1776. One of the only Founding Fathers who played an active role in fighting in the Revolutionary War, Washington was widely regarded as an intimidating yet charismatic and inspiring leader. He comes from a prominent family in Virginia, and he’s one of the richest men in America (though he’s not, as it’s often said, the richest). At the time when the book is set, he’s relatively young (only in his forties), but he’s already had an impressive military career fighting against the French. While McCullough seems to respect Washington greatly, he emphasizes Washington’s flaws as well as his virtues. Washington is a talented strategist, but he’s inexperienced in commanding a large army. (his only military experience has been with smaller, more agile forces). Washington is, above all, a realist, who assesses his options soberly and pragmatically. And yet he can be foolish and overly ambitious. For example, during his time commanding the American forces stationed in New York, his rashness leads directly to the death and capture of thousands of American soldiers. In all, McCullough’s portrait of Washington is more nuanced than that usually found in American history books. Washington is a talented man, McCullough suggests, but he’s not perfect. Although he makes major tactical errors and frequently doubts his own abilities, he ultimately succeeds in defeating the British and wins a name for himself as one of the great heroes of the Revolutionary War.

George Washington Quotes in 1776

The 1776 quotes below are all either spoken by George Washington or refer to George Washington. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon & Schuster edition of 1776 published in 2006.
Chapter 2 Quotes

He knew how little money was at hand, and he understood as did no one else the difficulties of dealing with Congress. He knew how essential it was to the future effectiveness of the army to break down regional differences and biases among the troops. But at the same time he struggled with his own mounting contempt for New Englanders.

Related Characters: George Washington
Page Number: 40-41
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He was a builder by nature. He had a passion for architecture and landscape design, and Mount Vernon was his creation, everything done to his own ideas and plans. How extremely important all this was to him and the pleasure he drew from it, few people ever understood.

Related Characters: George Washington
Page Number: 46
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In restraining Washington, the council had proven its value. For the "present at least" discretion was truly the better part of valor.

Related Characters: George Washington
Page Number: 54
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Washington was a man of exceptional, almost excessive self-command, rarely permitting himself any show of discouragement or despair, but in the privacy of his correspondence with Joseph Reed, he began now to reveal how very low and bitter he felt, if the truth were known.

Related Characters: George Washington, Joseph Reed
Page Number: 64
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Chapter 3 Quotes

Washington's performance had been truly exceptional. He had indeed bested Howe and his regulars, and despite insufficient arms and ammunition, insufficient shelter, sickness, inexperienced officers, lack of discipline, clothing, and money. His patience with Congress had been exemplary, and while he had been saved repeatedly by his council of war from his headlong determination to attack, and thus from almost certain catastrophe, he had accepted the judgment of the council with no ill temper self-serving histrionics.

Related Characters: George Washington
Page Number: 111
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Chapter 4 Quotes

Furthermore, as he knew, discipline was hardly improved, and too many of the new troops were raw recruits as unruly as those of the summer before. Some who were lauded as shining examples of patriotism looked hardly fit for battle, like the Connecticut unit comprised entirely of "aged gentlemen."

Related Characters: George Washington
Page Number: 120
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[George Washington] felt compelled now to violate one of the oldest, most fundamental rules of battle, never to divide your strength when faced by a superior force. He split his army in roughly equal parts on the theory that he could move men one way or the other over the East River according to how events unfolded.

Related Characters: George Washington
Page Number: 152
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Chapter 5 Quotes

Remember officers and soldiers that you are free men, fighting for the blessings of liberty- that slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men.

Related Characters: George Washington (speaker)
Page Number: 159
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Washington never accounted for his part in what happened at the Battle of Long Island, and for many the brilliant success of the night escape would serve both as proof of his ability and a way to ease the humiliation and pain of defeat. The Americans could also rightly claim that they had been vastly outnumbered by a far-better-trained army, and that given the odds against them, they had, in several instances, shown exemplary courage and tenacity.

Related Characters: George Washington
Page Number: 194
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Chapter 6 Quotes

There was no ringing call for valor in the cause of country or the blessings of liberty, as Washington had exhorted his troops at Brooklyn, only a final reminder of the effectiveness of bayonets.

Page Number: 209
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Washington, in his report to Congress, called it an accident […] Beyond that he said no more.
Nor was Washington to say anything about Captain Nathan Hale, who was "apprehended" by the British the day after the fire and, it appears, as part of the roundup of suspected incendiaries.

Related Characters: George Washington (speaker), Nathan Hale
Page Number: 223
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Rather, in eighteenth-century military fashion, he hoped to maneuver Washington onto the open field, and then, with his superior, professional force, destroy the Yankee "rabel" in one grand, decisive victory.

Related Characters: General William Howe (speaker), George Washington
Page Number: 233
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Washington is said to have as he watched the tragedy unfold from across the river, and though this seems unlikely, given his well-documented imperturbability, he surely wept within his soul.

Related Characters: George Washington
Page Number: 244
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Chapter 7 Quotes

Possibly, Washington was more hurt than angry. Later he would tell Reed, "I was hurt not because I thought my judgment wronged by the expressions contained in it [the letter], but because the same sentiments were not communicated immediately to myself." Possibly the charge of "fatal indecision of mind" also hurt deeply, because Washington knew it to be true.

Related Characters: George Washington (speaker), Joseph Reed, General Charles Lee
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:
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George Washington Character Timeline in 1776

The timeline below shows where the character George Washington appears in 1776. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Sovereign Duty
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...America began earlier in 1775, in April, with bloodshed at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. George Washington of Virginia is the commander of the American troops. However, it takes a month before... (full context)
Chapter 2: Rabble in Arms
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...American troops are untrained. British soldiers consider them “a rabble in arms,” and even George Washington privately says that they’re “raw materials” for an army. Yet the American troops outnumber the... (full context)
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...to get “the lay of the land,” and hire cartographers to map the area. George Washington has spent little time in Massachusetts, but he knows the British are planning another attack.... (full context)
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Within his first month of command, George Washington realizes that he needs to introduce more discipline. Soldiers are whipped for laziness. But even... (full context)
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A sizeable portion of the American army is black. George Washington, a Southern slave owner, didn’t want blacks serving in the army, but out of necessity... (full context)
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By midsummer, American troops from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania have joined Washington’s army. Many of these men are “backwoodsmen of Scotch-Irish descent.” They’re skilled gunmen, but largely... (full context)
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By the end of the summer, Washington’s troops are in a state of decline. Their morale is low, and they continue to... (full context)
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George Washington resides in a mansion near Harvard University. There, he speaks with his officers and corresponds... (full context)
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George Washington was born in Virginia in 1732, the great-grandson of John Washington, an English emigrant, and... (full context)
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In 1759, Washington “retired” from military life and took over his father’s plantation in Virginia. He married Martha... (full context)
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Washington was a charismatic leader, but he also knew his limitations. At the time when he... (full context)
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In September 1775, Washington begins making plans for a surprise attack on British forces in Quebec. He also wants... (full context)
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The next morning, George Washington meets with his head generals, including General Charles Lee, who fought alongside Washington in the... (full context)
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If asked why they’d chosen to fight, most of Washington’s men would probably say that they wanted to defend their country. They saw the British... (full context)
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On October 18, delegates from the Continental Congress, including Benjamin Franklin, confer with Washington and decide not to approve an attack on British troops in Boston, since this would... (full context)
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The weather is getting colder, and rations are getting scarcer for Washington’s men. Washington finds it difficult to get over his bias against New Englanders—every day, they... (full context)
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Washington first meets Henry Knox in July 1775, and he’s impressed with Knox’s intelligence. In the... (full context)
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As Knox is leading his men out to Fort Ticonderoga, the weather gets colder. Washington realizes that his men need to conserve their gunpowder. Snow falls in November, suggesting that... (full context)
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...year comes to an end, many American soldiers have the opportunity to leave the army. Washington, knowing that many will choose to leave rather than reenlist, sends a letter asking the... (full context)
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In the weeks leading up to reenlistment, Washington and his generals try to incentivize his troops to reenlist, but they continue to show... (full context)
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...stay behind—possibly as many as 9,000—and new soldiers arrive, many of them from distant colonies. Washington declares that his army is now a “Continental Army,” uniting people of many colonies under... (full context)
Chapter 3: Dorchester Heights
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...and don’t know that the Americans are running low on supplies. On January 14, George Washington writes a letter to Joseph Reed, explaining that his army is near collapse. He lists... (full context)
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In the week before writing his letter to Reed, Washington takes an important step. With the approval of the Continental Congress, Washington sends General Charles... (full context)
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...recover it and returns with all the cannons, and thousands more guns. This event strengthens Washington’s trust in Knox and gives the American troops momentary hope that the stalemate in Boston... (full context)
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George Washington is encouraged by the retrieval of the cannons, but he knows that his army is... (full context)
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...defend their position and build fortifications. To distract the British from the noise of building, Washington suggests artillery fire from Cobble Hill. He allocates 3,000 men to fortify Dorchester and another... (full context)
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The operation begins with Washington’s troops firing on Boston. The British fire back, though neither side does much damage. For... (full context)
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...that the English are leaving Boston. That afternoon, they march into Boston. The next day, Washington begins a survey of the city to assess the damage. He finds that the British... (full context)
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...Boston. By March 27, it’s announced that the ships will be sailing to Halifax. Meanwhile, Washington sends the good news to the Continental Congress, which designs a gold medal in Washington’s... (full context)
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The assault on Dorchester has been a resounding success for the American army. Washington has defeated William Howe, a far more experienced general. Furthermore, he’s waged a military campaign... (full context)
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Emboldened by his success, George Washington begins sending troops to New York in anticipation of another British invasion. Many of the... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Lines are Drawn
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Washington’s troops march through Massachusetts toward New York. By early April, they have reached Rhode Island,... (full context)
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George Washington knows that he’ll face challenges in New York unlike any he faced in Boston. In... (full context)
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...city: the Loyalists and American factions are both prominent. When he arrives in New York, Washington recruits five divisions of soldiers. However, he worries about the population in Long Island, which... (full context)
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Washington also recognizes that his soldiers from Boston are tired and worn-out from marching and fighting.... (full context)
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Washington and his army arrive in New York on April 13 and immediately take residence at... (full context)
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...over the deaths, a group of soldiers tears down the brothel and starts a riot. Washington condemns his soldiers’ behavior and enforces a strict evening curfew. Later on, a smallpox epidemic... (full context)
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General Charles Lee has told Washington that the troops will need to be ready to defend New York from a naval... (full context)
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On May 18, Washington receives word that British ships are preparing to invade New York. The message turns out... (full context)
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...it’s discovered that a group of Loyalists in New York are conspiring to assassinate George Washington. American troops take to the streets to attack everyone suspected of being a Loyalist, and... (full context)
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...to much celebration. The soldiers sense that the war has “entered an entirely new stage.” Washington and the members of the Continental Congress are now officially treasonous, meaning that they’ll be... (full context)
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...reminder of their weakness. Two British ships sail up the Hudson, past New York, and Washington orders his troops to fire their cannons. The British ships fire back, causing mass panic.... (full context)
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...has never been higher. The British troops are well-fed and confident that they can defeat Washington’s forces. The British want revenge for the defeat in Boston, and they ridicule the Declaration... (full context)
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...Howe sends a British soldier, waving a truce flag, to deliver a letter to George Washington. At first, Washington’s troops won’t accept the letter, since Howe has addressed it to “Mr.... (full context)
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Washington meets with Captain James Paterson, who offers Washington the letter—though Washington again refuses to read... (full context)
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Washington tries to predict how the British will most likely attack his troops in New York.... (full context)
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Nathanael Greene becomes dangerously ill, and Washington is forced to relieve his favorite general of his duty as a commander. In Greene’s... (full context)
Chapter 5: Field of Battle
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Later in the morning, Washington receives word of the British arrival. However, he’s told (incorrectly) that their troops number in... (full context)
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...march out to meet the British. British forces still haven’t invaded along the Hudson, but Washington guesses that this is only because of the storm on the night of the 21st.... (full context)
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When Washington arrives in Brooklyn to join his troops, he’s appalled by their disorderliness. He also receives... (full context)
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...the British landed in Long Island, and still there has not been battle. At night, Washington writes a letter to his wife, Martha Washington. What he writes to her is anybody’s... (full context)
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...British forces capture five American scouts; however, the scouts refuse to give up information about Washington’s troops. By dawn, the British troops have made it to Bedford Road. Amazingly, they’ve marched... (full context)
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Washington arrives in Brooklyn around 9AM, just before the second half of the British army arrives.... (full context)
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By the morning of August 28, Washington and his troops have retreated into Brooklyn, near the East River. Washington has called additional... (full context)
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By noon on August 29, Washington gives an order for all available boats to be rounded up, announcing that there are... (full context)
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...rides to the frontlines, looking for his commander, General Thomas Mifflin. Scammell tells Mifflin that Washington is waiting for the arrival of “the last remaining troops.” Mifflin is confused, but Scammell... (full context)
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By the time the frontline troops arrive at the river, Washington is still loading troops into the boats. Washington is appalled that the frontline troops have... (full context)
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George Washington deserves credit for engineering a brilliant escape from Brooklyn. But of course, he also bears... (full context)
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...back in New York from the East River, many of them haven’t slept for days. Washington is so tired that he can’t even muster the energy to write a letter to... (full context)
Chapter 6: Fortune Frowns
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Back in Manhattan, Washington’s troops begin to despair. Riots break out throughout the city, with gangs of soldiers looting... (full context)
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Washington sends a letter to the Continental Congress in which he raises the possibility of leaving... (full context)
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...the afternoon of September 14, the British army has moved north, to Harlem Heights, and Washington is forced to prepare for another battle. (full context)
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...their bayonets. Notably absent from the speech is any trace of the inspirational rhetoric that Washington uses for his troops. (full context)
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...late afternoon, well over 10,000 British troops have landed. The Americans continue to flee, infuriating Washington. (full context)
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George Washington rides to Harlem Heights. There, he and Nathanael Greene witness the British chasing the American... (full context)
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Washington and his troops are now based out of Harlem Heights, the rocky area overlooking the... (full context)
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...the fire is so deadly is that there are no warning bells left in New York—Washington had them melted down to make cannons. By the next morning, the fire has burned... (full context)
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In his letters to the Congress, Washington claims that the fire was a “lucky accident.” However, as part of the investigation in... (full context)
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In Harlem Heights, American soldiers are deserting every day. Washington seems calm, even though he’s secretly frightened that his army is about to be defeated... (full context)
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...American army by water. On October 12, they send an armada up the East River. Washington quickly realizes that his army is doomed unless he acts fast. Using Lord Stirling and... (full context)
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On October 16, Washington holds another military council: John Sullivan, Lord Stirling, Mifflin, and Henry Knox are all present.... (full context)
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On October 18, while Washington’s forces march toward Westchester, the British land at Pell’s Point. The British forces immediately encounter... (full context)
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...the British forces (along with the Hessian mercenaries) march to White Plains, where they fight Washington’s troops, who are based at the top of Chatterton’s Hill. As a result, the British... (full context)
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Washington’s forces retreat to the Bronx River after the Battle of Pell’s Point. To their surprise,... (full context)
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Washington decides to divide his troops into four groups. He allocates 7,000 troops to remain under... (full context)
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In November, the British receive two critical pieces of information. First, the plans for Fort Washington are delivered by Captain William Demont, who has defected from the American army. Second, a... (full context)
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On November 16, Washington crosses the Hudson with his generals on a scouting mission. They hear the noise of... (full context)
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The defeat at Fort Washington is perhaps the most crushing blow the Americans are dealt during their time in New... (full context)
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Soon after capturing Fort Washington, General William Howe sends troops to Fort Constitution, now named Fort Lee. Washington gets word... (full context)
Chapter 7: Darkest Hour
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On the morning of November 21, George Washington and his troops move into New Jersey. His men are “broke and dispirited.” He sends... (full context)
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Unbeknownst to Washington, Joseph Reed sends a secret letter to Charles Lee. In this letter, Reed implores Lee... (full context)
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Another challenge arises for Washington: his enlistments will soon be free to return home, having served in the army for... (full context)
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One of the problems Washington and his army face is that the colonies are reluctant to donate troops to a... (full context)
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On the British side, the taking of Fort Washington catalyzed a major shift in strategy. General Clinton is reassigned to invade Rhode Island. Clinton... (full context)
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...American troops to Brunswick (later known as New Brunswick), but not to go any farther. Washington leads his troops past Brunswick without trouble. He reunites with Lord Stirling’s troops, many of... (full context)
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...letter for Joseph Reed from General Charles Lee. Thinking the letter might have important information, Washington opens it. In the letter, Lee expresses that he shares Reed’s concern over Washington’s “fatal... (full context)
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On December 1, 2,000 of Washington’s troops leave the army rather than reenlist. Washington sends another letter to General Charles Lee,... (full context)
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...to a lack of clear orders from General Howe, doesn’t advance for six days, giving Washington and his troops the time they need to flee. This six-day pause is a huge... (full context)
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...Brunswick and march to Trenton, New Jersey. Aware that the British are on their way, Washington orders another retreat across the Delaware River. For hours, his men try to lift heavy... (full context)
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It’s likely that the British soldiers will cross the Delaware and seize Philadelphia. Washington expects General Charles Lee to march toward him, providing much-needed troops. However, unbeknownst to Washington... (full context)
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Washington is furious when he learns of Charles Lee’s arrest. He’s also dismayed when the Continental... (full context)
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Washington doesn’t realize that General William Howe is suspending military operations. He sends spies to infiltrate... (full context)
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Despite clear evidence to the contrary, George Washington refuses to accept that the war is over. He knows he needs to make decisive... (full context)
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On Christmas Eve, Washington confers with his generals to go over the final details of the attack. The army... (full context)
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...was to have made it across the river by midnight. But instead of pulling back, Washington decides to continue with the attack. (full context)
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Washington leads 2,400 of his troops toward Trenton. He learns that some of his men’s guns... (full context)
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The Americans begin their attack on Trenton at 8AM. Washington’s troops have been cold and wet all night. They’re exhausted and some of their weapons... (full context)
Washington has just won a huge victory. The defeat of the Hessians in Trenton inspires his... (full context)
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Washington learns that the British troops are marching out to New Jersey. He decides to “go... (full context)
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...there, he leads a force of 5,500 men out to Trenton. Left with no choice, Washington and the American troops leave Trenton. But instead of retreating, Washington leads his army to... (full context)
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On January 3, George Washington and his troops attack British forces two miles outside Princeton. This time, the attack is... (full context)
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1776 ends with two astonishing victories for Washington’s troops. The attack on Trenton is rightly seen as a turning point in the war—the... (full context)
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...only two of the general officers who had been involved in the Siege of Boston (Washington and Nathanael Greene) are still serving. Henry Knox also continues to fight for the American... (full context)
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...military and financial support from France and the Netherlands. At the same time, it is Washington and his army who win the war—not the French or the Dutch. Washington isn’t a... (full context)
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...a year of disease, hunger, and desertion—with “all-too-few victories.” Especially for those who served alongside Washington from 1776 until the end of the war, the American victory against the British “seemed... (full context)