Volume 22 of the Revolutionary War Series covers 1 Aug. through 21 Oct. 1779. As it begins, Washington is focused on expanding and strengthening the fortifications at West Point, N.Y., in the wake of the British attack in June that had captured King's Ferry, New York. Although he had to concentrate his army on the defense of West Point, Washington sought to launch whatever strikes he could against the British forts on the Hudson River and bring his operations on the western frontier to a successful conclusion. To follow up the successful assault on Stony Point, N.Y., Washington planned a surprise attack on Paulus Hook, New Jersey. Maj. Henry Lee carried out the assault on 19 Aug. and succeeded in capturing the garrison and effecting a retreat back to the American lines in New Jersey. During the weeks covered by this volume, Maj. Gen. John Sullivan successfully completed his devastating expedition against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations. Though not in tactical command of the expedition, Washington, particularly in August, had to dedicate a substantial portion of his time to supervising logistical support for the expedition and defending himself against Sullivan's charges of failing to properly support the campaign.
Washington's overriding concern in August, other than strengthening the defenses of West Point, was the long anticipated arrival of British army reinforcements that would enable the enemy to renew their attack up the Hudson. After he received information confirming arrival of the reinforcements in late August, Washington pushed his defensive preparations into high gear, issuing orders designed to concentrate the main army near West Point and gather information about the reinforcements and British intentions.
But within two weeks, Washington's assessment of his intelligence reports had convinced him that the British reinforcements were too few to enable the enemy to launch an offensive. When intelligence reports of a large French fleet on the coast began to arrive in September, he turned to planning his own offensive operations.
The prospect of the arrival of the powerful French fleet of Vice Admiral d'Estaing on the American coast promised an opportunity to overcome British naval superiority. Washington first designed a limited attack on the British outposts surrounding New York City. Then, after receiving official confirmation from Congress of the arrival of the French admiral on the American coast, Washington planned a major attack on New York itself; an attack, as the letters in this volume show, which Washington designed to be decisive, to drive the British from North America, and potentially end the war.
The correspondence volumes of The Papers of George Washington, 1748–99, published in five series, include not only Washington’s own letters and other papers but also all letters written to him. The ten-volume Colonial Series (1748–75) focuses on Washington’s military service during the French and Indian War and his political and business activities before the Revolution. The massive Revolutionary War Series (1775–83) presents in documents and annotations the myriad military and political matters with which Washington dealt during the long war. The papers for his years at Mount Vernon after leaving the army and before becoming president have been published in the six-volume Confederation Series (1784–88). The remaining years of Washington’s life are covered in the Presidential Series (1788–97), which includes the papers of his two presidential administrations, and the four-volume Retirement Series (1797–99), which includes his correspondence after his final return to Mount Vernon.