WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("Go: Washington") TO RICHARD HENRY LEE, Virginia delegate to Congress, with lengthy postscript signed ("GW--n,"), CAMP AT VALLEY FORGE [Pennsylvania], 25 May 1778. 4 full pages, folio (8 x 13 in.), neat repairs at several folds, expertly silked from the back, a very few letters just shaved at margin.
AT VALLEY FORGE, WASHINGTON CELEBRATES THE FRENCH ALLIANCE, WHICH "MUST CHALK OUT A PLAIN AND EASY ROAD TO INDEPENDANCE FROM WHICH, I HOPE, WE SHALL NOT DEPART," WARNS THAT "THE GREAT WORK" IS FAR FROM FINISHED AND OUTLINES HIS PLAN TO ATTACK THE BRITISH WHEN THEY EVACUATE PHILDELPHIA (THE BATTLE OF MONMOUTH)
A superb wartime letter penned during a most eventful period, the last weeks of the nearly disastrous Valley Forge encampment. Washington indignantly dismisses a pamphlet published in London containing forged letters by him: "every word contained in the Pamphlet was spurious," but the forgeries "are written with a great deal of art" giving "an air of plausibility, which renders the villainy greater." The unnamed author, he notes, apparently had some knowledge of Washington and his family, but "the whole is a contrivance to answer the most diabolical purposes."
The news that France and the U.S. have ratified treaties of amity, commerce and alliance (recognizing American independence), is reason for "heart-felt joy," but he cautions that "the great work" is far from finished, and speculates on Great Britain's reaction: "The favorable issue of our negotiations with France is matter for heart felt joy--big with important events--& must, I should think, chalk out a plain and easy road to Independance, from which, I hope, we shall not depart from a mistaken opinion on the one hand that the great work is already finished--or, to finish it, adopt measures of precipitation. That G. Britain would have submitted to any indignity from France, in order to seek her vengeance upon America, I have not the smallest doubt, but since the declaration of the King of France through the Marquis de Noailles they have no choice but War. But how, under their present circumstances, they will conduct it, is a matter not so easily understood, as all their ways have been ways of darkness. That they will be under a necessity of giving up the Continent, or their Islands, seems obvious to me, if the accounts we have received of the French force in the West Indies be true--Halifax & Canada will I presume, be strengthened; and if they can afford a Garrison sufficient, they may attempt to hold New York, unless every idea of subjugating America is given up, in that case, their whole resentment will be levelled at France."
Washington speculates that Philadelphia will soon be evacuated by Howe's army: "The enemy are making every preparation for and seem to be upon the point of leaving Philadelphia [the evacuation began on 16 June]." He ponders the tactical implications of the probable move: "In my own judgement, & from many corrisponding circumstances, I am convinced they are bound to New York; whether by Land or Water, whether, as a place of rendezvous or to operate upon the North River [Hudson], is not yet clear. -- Our situation here on acct. of the Sick, & Stores, is embarrassing, as I dare not detach largely to harrass the enemy in case of a Land move through the Jerseys, before they have actually crossed the Delaware, & then it will be too late, as their distance to South Amboy will be much less than ours, and no water to obstruct; to which may also be added the advantage of a days march, which they must gain of us. Were it not for the number of our Sick (upwards of 3000 in Camp) and security of Stores, which are covered by our present position, & strength, I could take such a Post in Jersey as would make their passage through that State very difficult and dangerous to them; but the impracticability of doing this, without exposing this Camp to insult & injury, is well known to them, & some part of their conduct justifies a report that at all events they will aim a blow at this army before they go off."
Washington then voices his continuing frustrations with an unresponsive Congress: "If Congress were fully impressed with the disadvantages, & real injury which the Service sustains for want of the Regimental regulations--the inconvenience to, & dissatisfaction of the Officers, on acct. of the uncertainty they are under with respect to their continuing, or not, when the reduction of the Regiments & Officers in each Regiments are made, I think they would not delay from day to day for upwards of three Months...; but I have so often, and so fully, represented this matter that I shall give them no further trouble on this head, as a body. -- Happy, I own would it be, if these regulations, & our military arrangements were made, it would be a means of relieving me from a number of perplexing applications, & the Service of much embarassment."
In a postscript, Washington comments on the dismal results of recruitment in Virginia: "...I was never called upon by the State for Officers, or directed by Congress to send [any]...but thinking such a measure might be necessary, I ordered the Officers of the disbanded Regiments, & such as had gone to Virginia on furlough, to call upon, and receive the Governor's orders with respect to the Marching of them to Camp. That something has been wrong...admits of no doubt; for out of the 1500 ordered last fall, & the two thousand this spring, we have received only 1242 which is so horrible a deficiency that I have made a representation thereof to the State." Published (from a retained copy) in Fitzpatrick 11:450-452.
Provenance: Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby's New York, 26 April 1978, lot 190) -- Anonymous owner (sale, Sotheby's, 26 April 1983, lot 87).