Too Much of a Good Thing?: Review of The Papers of George Washington, W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig, Editors; Philander D. Chase and Beverly H. Runge, Associate Editors. Revolutionary War Series, Volume 4: April-June I776, Philander D. Chase, Editor.
Date of this Version
Documentary Editing, Volume 14, Number 2, June 1992
ISSN 2476-1796 (electronic); ISSN 2167-1451 (print)
One hundred and seventy-two pages into this exemplar of many of the best aspects of contemporary historical documentary editing, Philander D. Chase prints George Washington's 29 April 1776 letter to his brother John Augustine Washington. His last letter to his brother had been penned on 31 March, the last date included in the previous volume, and thus this renewal of the correspondence afforded the opportunity to summarize the activities of the first month encompassed in this book's covers. At the beginning of the month, General Washington had been preparing to leave Cambridge for New York after a successful siege had caused the British to abandon Boston. Washington had detached reinforcements to Canada. Additional regiments were just now "Imbarking . . . for the same place," but the general was "affraid we are rather too late." Every effort, including skillful handling of the New York Committee of Safety, had also gone into fortifying New York. Pieced together from the recipient's copy in the Washington Papers at the Library of Congress and the clipped closing, signature, and dateline now at Cornell, the letter to John Augustine Washington is carefully transcribed, intelligently annotated, and handsomely printed. One hopes that John Richard Alden, who directed Chase's 1973 dissertation on Baron von Steuben and to whom the volume is dedicated, had it "in hand" in these covers before his recent death. Washington's letter to his brother, however, raises the issue of "How much is enough?," a fundamental question that must be asked of the Revolutionary War Series. One hundred and thirty- four letters to and from Washington precede it in this volume, yet this one letter succinctly summarizes the content of all those letters and provides insight into the general's rationale that is missing in their day-today detail. Military historians will want every false alarm, troop movement, promotion, question of supply, and sign and countersign presented here in so elegant and useful a way, but previous efforts to make these sources accessible suggest the title of this essay.