The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress

Time Line: The American Revolution
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January 15, at Washington's urging, Major General Stirling crosses the ice with 3000 men to attack the British force on Staten Island, commanded by General Wilhelm von Knyphausen. Stirling is forced to retreat without attacking because of the severe cold. Throughout the early winter Washington orders raids on British forces left in New York.

February 1, British Major John Simcoe leads two hundred of his Rangers in a foray into New Jersey. His original aim is to lure Washington out from Morristown and capture him. But Knyphausen, commanding in Clinton's absence, orders Simcoe to confine himself to raids. Simcoe reaches Woodbridge but is forced to turn back by the militia. In March, the British continue to raid New Jersey in the so-called "forage wars," keeping American inhabitants and militia in a constant state of emergency.

April 2, Washington writes Congress, reporting on intelligence he has received about movements of further British troops south. The "weak state of our force there and unhappily in this quarter also, have laid me under great embarrassments, with respect to the conduct that ought to be pursued." He estimates the Continental Army to be at a strength of 10,000, of which 2,800 have completed their term of service and more at the end of April. Nonetheless, Washington intends to send Maryland and Delaware Continental regiments to the aid of the south. George Washington to Congress, April 2, 1780

April 6, George Washington's general orders contain an account of the Major General Benedict Arnold's conviction by the Executive Council of Pennsylvania on two of four charges of malfeasance while Arnold was military governor of Philadelphia. Washington's general orders contain the reprimand he is required to make by the Council. The reprimand recognizes Arnold's "distinguished services to his Country" but describes his conduct in one of the two charges for which he was found guilty "peculiarly reprehensible, both in a civil and military view." George Washington, General Orders, April 6, 1780

June 17, British General Henry Clinton returns to New York City from the south.

June 23, General Wilhelm von Knyphausen and Clinton attempt to lure Washington's army out of Morristown. Knyphausen attacks Nathanael Greene, Philemon Dickinson, and their Continental and militia forces on June 23 at Springfield. Springfield is burned but the British abandon their position there the same day. Washington expects yet another invasion up the Hudson with West Point as a particular target. He writes Congress about the engagement at Springfield and to General Robert Howe with instructions on safeguarding West Point. George Washington to Congress, June 25, 1780 | George Washington to Robert Howe, June 25, 1780

July 11, the long-expected French squadron arrives in Newport, Rhode Island, with 5,000 troops under the command of Lieutenant General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vigneur, Comte de Rochambeau. Rochambeau declines Washington's suggestion of an immediate attack on New York. The ships and troops remain in Newport until June 1781, when they will move toward Washington's encampment in Westchester County, preparatory to a cooperative engagement with the Americans against the British.

September 25, Benedict Arnold, commander of West Point, flees to the British ship Vulture in the Hudson River. He has been planning to defect to the British and has learned that his British contact, Major John André, has been captured and that Washington is due to arrive at West Point to review the fort and its garrison. Washington, Henry Knox, Lafayette, and aide Colonel Alexander Hamilton arrive not knowing the cause of Arnold's absence and proceed with a review of the fort. They discover Arnold's defection.
Lafayette's Departure
Genl. Lafayette's
departure from Mount Vernon 1784

[between 1840 and 1860] 1 print
from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
Reproduction #: (b&w)LC-USZ62-2264
George Washington
(his family standing
on the portico in the background)
shaking hands with General Lafayette
as Lafayette's carriage waits;
In a letter to Congress the next day, Washington notes that the militia who had captured Major André had been offered a "large sum of money for his release, and as many goods as they would demand, but without any effect." In his September 26 general orders, Washington tells the officers and troops that "Great honor is due to the American Army that this is the first instance of Treason of the kind where many were to be expected from the nature of the dispute, and nothing is so bright an ornament in the Character of the American soldiers as their having been proof against all the arts and seductions of an insidious enemy." Washington also writes George Clinton, governor of New York, and John Laurens about Arnold's defection to the British. George Washington to Congress, September 26 | George Washington to George Clinton, September 26, 1780 | George Washington, General Orders, September 26, 1780 | George Washington to John Laurens, October 13, 1780

November 27, Washington writes General Anthony Wayne about depredations on the civilian populace by the Continental army. The army is often ill-supplied and sometimes starving. But Washington urges Wayne to protect the "persons and properties of the inhabitants....They have, from their situation, borne much of the burthen of the War and have never failed to relieve the distresses of the Army, when properly called upon." Washington declares that these robberies "are as repugnant to the principles of the cause in which we are engaged as oppressive to the inhabitants and subversive of that order and discipline which must Characterize every well regulated army." His November 6 general orders note the "disorderly conduct of the soldiers" with passes. George Washington to Anthony Wayne, November 27, 1780 | George Washington, General Orders, November 6, 1780

December 20, Benedict Arnold, now a brigadier general in the British army, departs New York City with 1600 men. He plans to invade Virginia.

The War in the South

On April 8, British General Henry Clinton summons General Benjamin Lincoln to surrender before beginning bombardment of Charleston, South Carolina. Lincoln responds with a declaration to fight to the last. April 13, the British begin bombarding the town, and on April 14, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his Legion and loyalist militia defeat Isaac Huger's troops at the battle of Monck's Corner outside the town. Having sealed the American army in the city, on May 8 Clinton sends another summons to surrender. Lincoln again refuses and the next evening, after further summons by Clinton, the army, according to German mercenary for the British, Captain Johann von Ewald, "shouted 'Hurrah' three times," opened fire, and all the city's church bells rang out in a seeming frenzy of futile resistance. Lieutenant Governor Christopher Gadsden, who had earlier opposed surrender, now requests that Lincoln do so to save the much damaged city from further destruction. Gadsden is supported by two petitions by citizens.

May 12, General Benjamin Lincoln surrenders Charleston, South Carolina, to British General Henry Clinton. German mercenary for the British, Captain Johann von Ewald, notes upon surrender that the "garrison consisted of handsome young men whose apparel was extremely ragged, and on the whole the people looked greatly starved." Officers are confined on land, while enlisted soldiers are held in prison ships in the harbor. A Virginia Continental regiment on its way to aid Charleston gets as far as the Santee River before learning of the surrender and then turns back to North Carolina. Clinton's proclamation to the citizens of South Carolina calls for a declaration of allegiance to the Crown. (Johann von Ewald, Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal [New Haven and London: 1979].)
Copy of April letterbook
George Washington's letterbook copy of
Benjamin Lincoln's April 21, 1780, letter

to Sir Henry Clinton expressing a willingness
to discuss terms of surrender of
Charleston. George Washington Papers.

June 5, Henry Clinton sails back to New York, leaving General Charles Cornwallis in command with orders to move into the interior of South Carolina and to finish subduing the south.

June 11, Washington writes Connecticut governor, Jonathan Trumbull, that the capture of Charleston may force the British to "dissipate their force." In a June 14 letter to James Bowdoin, governor of Massachusetts, Washington writes that the loss or "Something like it seems to have been necessary, to rouse us...." George Washington to Jonathan Trumbull, June 11, 1780 | George Washington to James Bowdoin, June 14, 1780

July 25, American General Horatio Gates arrives in Coxe's Mill, North Carolina, to take command of a reconstituted southern army. The Maryland and Delaware Continental regiments sent by Washington have arrived under command of Baron Johann de Kalb. Two-thirds of Gates's army will consist of Virginia and North Carolina militia.

August 16, the Battle of Camden, South Carolina. Gates's army marches to Camden in hope of surprising the British there but instead runs into them by mistake. De Kalb is mortally wounded, and after heavy fighting Gates is forced to retreat by Lord Rawdon and Cornwallis and their forces. Of the approximately 4,000 American troops, only about 700 are left to rejoin Gates at Hillsboro. Washington writes Thomas Jefferson, governor of Virginia, with news of the heavy loss. George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, September 11, 1780

August 20, General Francis Marion and militia attack a British detachment, rescuing the Maryland regiment captured at Camden.

September 8, British General Charles Cornwallis begins his invasion of North Carolina.

October 10, Washington writes Thomas Jefferson, governor of Virginia, on the state of the Army and on British General Cornwallis's severity in his progress through the south. Washington refers to a letter Cornwallis has written to a fellow British officer, a transcript of which Washington has received, in which Cornwallis outlines punishments for rebels. [The text of Cornwallis's letter is reproduced in annotation in the transcription linked to this document.] Washington closes his letter to Jefferson with a full history of Benedict Arnold's defection to the British. George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, October 10, 1780
News From America...
News from America, or the Patriots in the dumps.
1776 Dec. 1]
from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
Reproduction #:

October 7, the Battle of King's Mountain in North Carolina. Cornwallis sends Major Patrick Ferguson ahead of him to raise loyalist troops in North Carolina. Prior to the march to King's Mountain, Ferguson sends a threatening message ahead that he will lay waste to the land if its inhabitants do not cease resistance. This so angers southern militia that they quickly raise a force and brutally defeat Ferguson and his troops. With King's Mountain, Cornwallis begins to realize that loyalist sentiment has been overestimated in British plans to subdue the south. Washington writes Abner Nash, governor of North Carolina, about the "success of the militia against Col Ferguson." George Washington to Abner Nash, November 6, 1780

December 2, Nathanael Greene replaces Horatio Gates as commander of the American southern army. He assumes command in Charlotte, North Carolina. His officers are Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, Lieutenant Colonel William Washington (a cousin of George Washington), and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lee and his Legion. When Greene arrives in the south, he is appalled at the brutality and extent of the civil war between patriots and loyalists.

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