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Chapter Fifteen. “The most unlimited Confidence in his Wisdom & Judgement”: Washington as Commander in Chief in the First Years of the French Alliance

Benjamin L. Huggins

Subject History » Military History

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics American War of Independence

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331035.2012.00017.x


In July 1778, General George Washington's war changed. The previous month he and his army had fought Sir Henry Clinton's British army to a draw at Monmouth Courthouse. Now the alliance with France brought a new type of war – a war in which plans of military cooperation with France would necessarily dominate Washington's military thinking: a strategic war, fought not just on the American continent, but on the oceans and across the globe. On 14 July, he received his first letter from French vice admiral Charles-Hector Théodat, Comte d'Estaing, who had just arrived off the American coast with a fleet of twelve ships of the line and five frigates. “I have the honor of imparting to Your Excelly the arrival of the King's fleet,” d'Estaing proclaimed, “charged by his Majesty with the glorious task of giving his allies the United States of America the most striking proofs of his affection” (PGW, Revolution , 16:38). With these words from the French admiral, Washington became a commander in chief in a military alliance. He now had to translate the promise of the French alliance into military results. The events of the next two years tested the new military alliance between France and the United States. Washington, as the American commander in chief, was the focal point of that test. Historians have tended to overlook these important years, with one even calling them “the forgotten years” ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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