In June 1775, Congress commissioned George Washington to take command of the Continental Army besieging the British in Boston. He wrote home to Martha that he expected to return safely to her in the fall. The command kept him away from Mount Vernon for more than 8 years (with only one very brief visit while en route to Yorktown).
It was a command for which his military background, although greater than that of any of the other available candidates, hardly prepared him. His knowledge lay in frontier warfare, involving relatively small numbers of soldiers. He had no practical experience maneuvering large formations, handling cavalry or artillery, or maintaining supply lines adequate to support thousands of men in the field. He learned on the job; and although his army reeled from one misfortune to another, he had the courage, determination, and mental agility to keep the American cause one step ahead of complete disintegration until he figured out how to win the unprecedented revolutionary struggle he was leading.
His task was not overwhelming at first. The British position in Boston was untenable, and in March 1776 they withdrew from the city. But it was only a temporary respite. In June a new British army, under the command of Sir William Howe, arrived in the colonies with orders to take New York City. Howe commanded the largest expeditionary force Britain had ever sent overseas.
Defending New York was almost impossible. An island city, New York is surrounded by a maze of waterways that gave a substantial advantage to an attacker with naval superiority. Howe’s army was larger, better equipped, and far better trained than Washington’s. They defeated Washington’s army at Long Island in August and routed the Americans a few weeks later at Kip’s Bay, resulting in the loss of the city. Forced to retreat northward, Washington was defeated again at White Plains. The American defense of New York City came to a humiliating conclusion on November 16, 1776, with the surrender of Fort Washington and some 2,800 men. Washington ordered his army to retreat across New Jersey. The remains of his forces, mud-soaked and exhausted, crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania on December 7.
The British had good reason to believe that the American rebellion would be over in a few months and that Congress would seek peace rather than face complete subjugation of the colonies….
— Mount Vernon (@MountVernon) February 15, 2021