Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence

By John Ferling | Go to book overview

9
“THE CAPRICE OF WAR”: AMERICA'S
PIVOTAL VICTORY AT SARATOGA

THE LAST LONELY STREAKS of daylight slanted through the leafless trees as the Continental army entered Morristown, New Jersey, on January 6, 1777. This was to be the army's quarters for the winter. Twenty-six miles west of New York City, astride both the Whippany River and the post road that linked the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, Morristown was a market center for local farmers and iron miners. Situated in a region of rolling, sometimes lofty hills, the craggy narrow passes leading to the village could be easily defended, and the river that coursed through it was entirely in American hands. The village sat atop a triangular plateau. Hollows fell down two sides of the town and rugged Thimble Mountain stood tall at its back. Morristown was a carefully chosen site. The Continental army would be unassailable in these quarters.1

Morristown looked like scores of other hamlets. A church, courthouse, cemetery, two or three shops, a tavern, and perhaps fifty houses, most with lovingly tilled farm land, splayed out from the center of the village. Washington appropriated the tavern, a three-story frame structure, for his headquarters. He occupied two rooms, a bedroom for himself and Martha, who arrived in March, and a parlor. A kitchen and dining room downstairs served the residents and guests, a few rooms were reserved for visiting dignitaries and general officers, and the remainder was allocated to Washington's several aides and his military secretary, Robert Hanson Harrison, a fellow Virginian who had been his principal lawyer prior to the war. Washington had begun the war with one aide-decamp and a secretary. Soon, the number of his aides swelled. Sixteen men had already served in that capacity, some only briefly, and four who came with the

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