Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution

By John Ferling | Go to book overview
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PROLOGUE
“Embarked on a Most Tempestuous Sea”
July 1, 1776

On July 1, 1776, at headquarters in New York City, General George Washington awakened in the sultry pre-dawn stillness from a fitful night's sleep. Forty-eight hours earlier a Continental soldier, armed with a spyglass and posted atop a tall building on Broadway, had spotted the lead ships in a huge British armada. The long-awaited invasion of New York was at hand. By the time he retired on June 30, Washington knew that 110 sail had been counted in the fleet. He did not realize that he was about to tangle with the largest expeditionary force sent forth in the eighteenth century, but he knew that his untested Continental army was on the verge of “a hot Campaign, as he told Congress. 1

Washington arose on July 1 before reveille, which was always at 5:00 AM. As was his custom, he shaved and dressed himself, and before breakfast worked at his desk in the pink-blue glaze of dawn for an hour or more. He read the overnight reports and letters, discovering still more bad news from the Canadian front, where for weeks a broken American army had been retreating. Now he learned in a communiqué from Colonel Benedict Arnold that one-half the men were ill and lacked adequate food and clothing. General John Sullivan reported that there would not be enough healthy men to carry out the sick if the army did not at once fall back into New York. 2

Washington also discovered letters from numerous public officials. Most, like Benjamin Franklin, who wrote from Philadelphia, were ebullient. They expected the colonists's new army to repulse the British regulars and their

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