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This Glorious Struggle: George Washington's Revolutionary War Letters

This Glorious Struggle: George Washington's Revolutionary War Letters

by Edward G. Lengel

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George Washington wrote an astonishing number of letters, both personal and professional. The majority—about 140,000 documents—are from his years as commander in chief during the Revolutionary War, from 1775 to 1783. This Glorious Struggle presents a selection of Washington's most important and interesting letters from that time, including many


George Washington wrote an astonishing number of letters, both personal and professional. The majority—about 140,000 documents—are from his years as commander in chief during the Revolutionary War, from 1775 to 1783. This Glorious Struggle presents a selection of Washington's most important and interesting letters from that time, including many that have never been published.

Washington's lively and often surprisingly candid notes to his wife and family, friends, Congress, fellow soldiers—and even the enemy—chronicle his most critical tactical and strategic decisions, while offering a rare glimpse of the extremes of depression and exultation into which he was cast by the fortunes of war. The letters are arranged chronologically and give a dramatic sense of the major phases of the war, from Boston, Trenton, and Valley Forge, to Monmouth and Yorktown.

The more personal missives show us a Washington who worried about his wife's well-being and who appreciated a good joke and a well-laid table, not to mention the company of the ladies.

This Glorious Struggle brings Washington to vivid life, offering a fresh and intimate sense of this most towering American figure and the critical role he played in the creation of our country.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

This selection of General Washington's letters constantly reminds us that the course of the American Revolution need not have gone as it did and that when "history" happens, there's no knowing how it will turn out: Benedict Arnold's treason might have succeeded in delivering West Point to the British, for instance, and Washington might have been replaced as commander. But reading here, you come to understand why the Colonies prevailed and why Washington achieved his semi-legendary stature. These letters, mostly to prominent military and political figures, reveal Washington's skill as a soldier, diplomat, and politician. Lengel (assoc. editor, Washington Papers Project) provides a brief note for each selection, giving its context as needed. The letters themselves cover a variety of subjects, such as details of enemy troop movements, views of French grand strategy in North America, propaganda intended to find its way into print, general orders, exhortations to the troops, and private ruminations. Lengel stresses that his book is by no means exhaustive. Nevertheless, his choices are superb, covering the highlights of Washington's Revolutionary tenure while illustrating his extraordinary personality. Although many academic libraries that own the comprehensive volumes of Washington's papers may opt not to buy this abbreviated offering, it is recommended for those without the series and for public libraries.
—Richard Fraser

Boston Globe
“Man of destiny and hands-on commander, this is the Washington revealed in the extraordinary collection of letters assembled -- with excellent context-setting notes, and the original spelling and style -- by University of Virginia professor Lengel”
Lengel’s selection permits readers to trace the Revolutionary War as Washington experienced it.

Journal of Military History
[This Glorious Struggle] is a history of the war at first hand by its most important participant, presented by a scholar who is both an expert on the subject and a master of his craft.

The Boston Globe
Man of destiny and hands-on commander, this is the Washington revealed in the extraordinary collection of letters written, and general orders issued, during the Revolutionary War, and assembled—with excellent context-setting notes, and the original spelling and style—in This Glorious Struggle, by University of Virginia professor Edward G. Lengel.... The documents stand as the raw material of history. But they also offer, in the flirtatious notes to female admirers and the ruffled-feathers communications to British commanders, a very personal portrait.

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Read an Excerpt

This Glorious Struggle
George Washington's Revolutionary War Letters

Chapter One


June 16
Address to Congress

On May 9, 1775, George Washington arrived in Philadelphia to attend the Second Continental Congress, to which he had been elected as a delegate from Virginia. He found the city abuzz with talk of war. On April 19, American militiamen and British redcoats had fought a series of skirmishes near Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts; and now a swarm of Yankee minutemen was assembling to besiege the British garrison in Boston. Congress, hitherto preoccupied with political matters, now had to contemplate and prepare for a full-scale war with Great Britain—America's erstwhile imperial master, and the most powerful country in the world. The delegates debated how to recruit and equip an American army, and wondered who they could find to lead it. Washington, a French and Indian War hero, was the only truly military man in Congress; but although he wore his old uniform from time to time, he made no overt attempt to seek command of the army.

On June 14, John Adams brought the debates to a head by announcing that the time had come for Congress to appoint a commander in chief of the army. Adams declared "that I had but one Gentleman in my Mind for that important command, and that was a Gentleman from Virginia who was among Us and very well known to all of Us, a Gentleman whose Skill and Experience as an Officer, whose independent fortune, great Talents and excellent universal Character, would command the Approbation of all America, and unite the cordial Exertions of all the Colonies better than any other Personin the Union." Washington, sitting near the door, fled the room as soon as he realized that Adams was alluding to him. On June 15, the delegates nevertheless unanimously selected him by ballot.

Washington's acceptance speech, delivered to Congress on June 16, struck some delegates as a little "too modest." Yet Washington's self-doubt was sincere. After the speech ended, choked by tears, he told Patrick Henry that "From the day I enter upon the command of the American armies, I date my fall, and the ruin of my reputation."1

Mr President, Tho' I am truly sensible of the high Honour done me in this Appointment, yet I feel great distress, from a consciousness that my abilities & Military experience may not be equal to the extensive & important Trust: However, as the Congress desire it I will enter upon the momentous duty, & exert every power I Possess In their service & for the Support of the glorious Cause: I beg they will accept my most cordial thanks for this distinguished testimony of their Approbation.

But lest some unlucky event should happen unfavourable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every Gentleman in the room, that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think my self equal to the Command I am honoured with.

As to pay, Sir, I beg leave to Assure the Congress that as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to have accepted this Arduous emploiment at the expence of my domestick ease & happiness I do not wish to make any proffit from it: I will keep an exact Account of my expences; those I doubt not they will discharge & that is all I desire.2

June 18
To Martha Washington

Martha Washington burned almost all of her correspondence with her husband shortly after his death. Among the few letters that survived—either because she had misplaced them, or because they held a particularly special place in her heart—were the two letters that George wrote to her just before departing to take command of the army in Massachusetts.

Philadelphia June 18th 1775.

My Dearest,

I am now set down to write to you on a subject which fills me with inexpressable concern—and this concern is greatly aggravated and Increased when I reflect on the uneasiness I know it will give you—It has been determined in Congress, that the whole Army raised for the defence of the American Cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the Command of it. You may beleive me my dear Patcy, when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment I have used every endeavour in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the Family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my Capacity and that I should enjoy more real happiness and felicity in one month with you, at home, than I have the most distant prospect of reaping abroad, if my stay was to be Seven times Seven years. But, as it has been a kind of destiny that has thrown me upon this Service, I shall hope that my undertaking of it, is designed to answer some good purpose—You might, and I suppose did perceive, from the Tenor of my letters, that I was apprehensive I could not avoid this appointment, as I did not even pretend to intimate when I should return—that was the case—it was utterly out of my power to refuse this appointment without exposing my Character to such censures as would have reflected dishonour upon myself, and given pain to my friends—this I am sure could not, and ought not to be pleasing to you, & must have lessened me considerably in my own esteem. I shall rely therefore, confidently, on that Providence which has heretofore preserved, & been bountiful to me, not doubting but that I shall return safe to you in the fall—I shall feel no pain from the Toil, or the danger of the Campaign—My unhappiness will flow, from the uneasiness I know you will feel at being left alone—I therefore beg of you to summon your whole fortitude & Resolution, and pass your time as agreeably as possible—nothing will give me so much sincere satisfaction as to hear this, and to hear it from your own Pen.

This Glorious Struggle
George Washington's Revolutionary War Letters
. Copyright © by Edward G. Lengel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Edward G. LengeL is editor in chief of the Papers of George Washington and a professor at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books, including General George Washington and This Glorious Struggle. A lecturer on Washington and the Revolutionary War, Lengel is also a historical consultant, advising on such works as the History Channel's own comprehensive documentary. He is a frequent radio and television guest—appearing on C-SPAN, CBS, and NPR, among others—and is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines in the vein of military history and American heritage. He lives with his family in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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