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Chapter Twelve. George Washington and the Philadelphia Campaign 1777

Thomas J. McGuire

Subject History » Military History

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics American War of Independence

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331035.2012.00014.x


The Philadelphia Campaign of 1777 was one of the most difficult periods in George Washington's military and political career. Militarily, it amounted to a series of disasters: two major battles and several minor engagements lost; Philadelphia captured, and its water defenses breached after weeks of siege; a worn-out, sorely tried army entering winter quarters at Valley Forge to endure more deaths from disease than from battle. On the political side, the challenges were unusually complex, as Washington's leadership was questioned by some of his generals and a few members of Congress. Negotiations with France, and the need for competent professionals, required placing French and other European officers in command positions, often creating tension between “English-speakers” and “foreigners.” Rampant, regional jealousies, and squabbles among officers over rank or seniority generated a continuous stream of resignations to headquarters, while letters complaining of insults to honor tested Washington's management skills to the limit. Not battlefield victories, but endurance and survival through hard-learned experience were the key elements of success for the United States military in this period. The irony of ending the campaign at an area named after a local forge is remarkable. Before the encampment, Valley Forge was a place where raw iron was heated, hammered, and worked through fire ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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