Cover image for Washington's farewell to his officers : after victory in the Revolution
Washington's farewell to his officers : after victory in the Revolution
Murray, Stuart, 1948-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Bennington, Vt : Images From the Past by arrangement with the Aberdeen Group, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 246 pages : illustrations ; 20 cm
Format :


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E230 .M87 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This is the story of George Washington's emotional parting with his most loyal officers on December 4, 1783, just days after final victory in the Revolution. In a moving and utterly silent occasion at Fraunces Tavern in New York City, officer after officer crossed the room to shake Washington's hand and bid their beloved commander goodbye. The story of each man's exploits in the war is vividly recounted in a patchwork of vignettes that capture the triumph and drama of the war they waged for liberty. Illustrated with period art.

Author Notes

Stuart Murray has been an author, editor, and journalist for more than twenty-five years, he resides with his family in New York's Hudson River valley.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Murray's compact narrative about Washington's 1783 farewell to his officers in Fraunces Tavern in New York includes portraits of selected leaders and notables of the revolutionary army. One is Samuel Fraunces, the tavern's owner, and Henry Knox, Nathan Hale, Baron von Steuben, and such lesser-known but indispensable officers as George Clinton and Nicholas Fish are some others. And, of course, Washington is limned. Besides the portraits, Murray furnishes highly readable narratives of such events as the Battle of Trenton and the British withdrawal from New York. The resulting brief, generously illustrated little book adds excellently to popular literature on the American Revolution. Accessible for a wide range of readers, it features an excellent bibliography for further study. Occasionally Murray lapses into a heroic-romantic tone, but then the leaders of the Revolution were heroic as they attempted something never done before and difficult of accomplishment at best--the creation of a republican form of government for a vast territory. --Roland Green

Library Journal Review

These three volumes are part of the nation's commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Washington's death. Hannaford's and Murray's books are slight both in size and substance. In The Essential George Washington, Hannaford has collected verbal "snapshots," brief comments on Washington made by sundry poets, politicians, journalists, and others, including Abigail Adams, James Fenimore Cooper, Newt Gingrich, and George Will. Murray's Washington's Farewell takes as its starting point a December 4, 1783, meeting of Washington and his officers, at which he bade farewell to his men and prepared to return to private life. Murray sketches the lives and characters of the officers who were at this convocation and discusses Washington's military career. Both books tend toward hagiography, and Patriot Sage is not far off. It opens with a preface by William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education, U.S. drug czar, and chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which states the conservative agenda of the essays collection: because the United States is in moral and political decline, it behooves us to emulate Washington in our public and private lives. The book's 12 essays touch on most facets of Washington's life--his management of Mount Vernon, his military strategies and tactics, his forging of the presidency, and his trustworthy character. One of the strongest essays is by Richard Brookhiser, author of one of the best recent biographies of Washington (Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington, LJ 2/1/96). His prose is so buoyant it nearly leaps from the page. Unfortunately, none of these three books represents a significant advance in our knowledge or appreciation of our first president. Readers interested in Washington are advised to consult books like Brookhiser's. Patriot Sage is recommended for larger public libraries; the Murray and Hannaford books are not essential purchases.--Thomas J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One A FLAG ON FORT GEORGE THE LAST BRITISH REDCOATS LINGERED on the docks at the lower tip of York Island, in no hurry to get into a boat waiting to row them to Royal Navy warships anchored in Hudson's River. It was mid-afternoon on a blustery autumn day, the water glittering with sunlight as many boatloads of soldiers made their way out to the ships. The American Revolution was won and lost, and the redcoats who had held New York City for King George the Third during seven long years were now departing in defeat.     Once the winds and tides were fair, the fleet would leave its anchorage and put to sea, carrying away more than six thousand British troops and several thousand "refugees," as American loyalists were now termed. The redcoats would be stationed elsewhere in the empire, but the loyalists found themselves on the losing side of a bitter civil war, and so were leaving their homeland forever.     There was something strange about this departure, however, because on the flagpole in nearby Fort George the British flag still snapped in the wind. For some reason, the flag had not been struck; and for some reason not all those longboats full of soldiers were heading directly for the ships. Sailors at the oars were pulling only slowly and--like the soldiers yet on the docks--seemed to be waiting for something, watching. Thousands of American spectators had gathered on York Island and over on the New Jersey shore to see the final departure of the occupying army. These people, too, all saw the British flag still flying on that flagpole in the northwest bastion of the fort.     Then the shrill of approaching American fifes and the rattle of their drums rang out from the city streets. The redcoats on the docks paused to look. Sailors in boat after boat out on the water rested on their oars, they and their redcoats turning to see what would happen next. Also watching were the British soldiers a few hundred yards away on Governor's Island, not yet evacuated, its own flag flapping. The American fifes played a familiar melody that rose above the marching drums. The British called it "God Save the King," but they knew the American words were "God Save Great Washington." This was General George Washington's victorious army entering the city, its advance guard marching in to raise the Stars and Stripes over Fort George. The Americans would be surprised to see the flag still flying there, because intentionally leaving a British flag over a surrendered fort, where it might be dishonored, was unheard of. Unheard of, too, was the defeat of the world's greatest military power by an army that had been mostly amateurs.     The column of American soldiers swung into the fort, flags flying, drums resounding across the water. Their weather-beaten uniforms looked drab compared to the brilliance of the redcoats, but the patriots were soldierly, fit, and strong. They marched well, briskly occupying the battery between the fort's walls and the water line, then hauling several polished brass field guns down there. These guns would be fired in salute when the American flag went up the pole.     First, of course, that redcoat flag had to come down.     The British onlookers could see American officers approach the flagpole and hesitate, as if confused. This was the moment the redcoats had been waiting for: that flag would never be lowered. It had been nailed to the pole. Further, the halyard had been removed, and until the Americans replaced it, they had no way to raise their own flag. There was more: the flagpole's lower cleats had been knocked off, preventing anyone from climbing up to grab the British standard.     As the officers wondered what to do next, out of the crowd stepped John Van Arsdale, identifiable by his tarpaulin cap and short jacket as a sailor. Stocky and agile, in his late twenties, Van Arsdale offered to go up the flagpole. The officers agreed, and he sprang at the pole, wrapping his legs and arms around it, but soon he slid right down. The British in the boats howled with laughter, knowing the pole had been greased with tallow. Van Arsdale tried again and again, but slipped down each time. Even an experienced sailor could not get up to tear down the flag.     The few redcoats on the docks observed all this, smirking, but were cautiously silent. They dawdled a bit longer to watch as this final and most symbolic moment of victory in the American Revolution seemed about to be ruined by a crude soldier joke. Not until the Stars and Stripes flew above Fort George could the Americans fire their cannon in salute and officially take possession of New York. Moreover, the sound of that salute would signal General Washington and his procession of officers with their staffs and bodyguard, all waiting north of the city, to begin the entry. It would be His Excellency's last military ceremony as commander-in-chief, but a greased flagpole now threatened to deny him the full glory of this moment. Infuriated, one of the Americans planted a short staff with a Stars and Stripes into the earth of the fort's ramparts and exclaimed that this was good enough. An officer apparently agreed, and cannon began to fire their salute, the blasts echoing across city and bay.     But, no, the superior officers declared, this would not do at all, and they ordered the firing stopped after three or four shots. As long as the British flag flew high on that bedeviling staff, the Americans would not allow their Stars and Stripes to take an inferior position. There were angry shouts to get an axe, and chop the damned flagstaff down. HIS EXCELLENCY, GENERAL WASHINGTON THE CANNON REPORTS CARRIED TWO miles away to the Bull's Head Tavern, on the northern edge of New York City, where General Washington was anticipating the thirteen blasts in salute to the raising of the American flag over Fort George. The time had come for the procession to begin.     Throughout eight long years fighting an almost unwinnable war, Washington had devoted his life to this moment. Even after the great victory over Cornwallis at Yorktown in October 1781 he had refused to declare the war as won. It would not be finished, he had insisted, until the last British soldier departed the United States for good. That required keeping an American army in the field for two more years and sustaining its will to fight even though neither rebels nor British were actively campaigning. It meant being ever watchful that the empire did not suddenly, unexpectedly, hurl its military weight more forcefully than ever against the former colonies. Since the announcement of the final peace terms in the spring, Washington had been waiting for the British and their loyalists to evacuate New York City, the last enemy stronghold on the eastern seaboard.     Much of those two uncertain years after Yorktown had been spent confined in lonely winter encampments up Hudson's River, a chapter of the war dominated by the struggle to keep an army in existence lest the British detect weakness or disunity and refuse to make a real peace. Washington's task had been all the more difficult because he had to contend with the mean-spirited politics and regional jealousies of the Continental Congress, which had not adequately paid the officers and men since Yorktown. Only the general's force of will and the love his men felt for him had sustained the army so long.     Even now, Congress balked at paying the troops. This past summer it had ordered Washington to furlough most of his force, regiment by regiment, unceremoniously sending them home with only their muskets, a certificate of partial payment, and a vague promise that they would be paid in full someday. The troops were dispersed quietly, as if going on leave, thus reducing the risk of mutiny, riot, or a march on Congress to demand back pay. So the valiant Continental Army simply melted away, with little formality, with even less thanks from Congress. After all they had done for America, many of the soldiers were left destitute, going home embittered and embarrassed, too often to be thrown on the charity of communities they had fought to make independent. Nor was that charity always forthcoming.     While for Washington the entry into New York was a moment of high drama and personal satisfaction, all was not as joyful as it seemed. Congress's betrayal of his army, of the men and officers who had trusted his assurances that they would be paid before being dismissed, was deeply troubling to him. For the moment, however, there was this most enjoyable ceremony to be attended to. Charged by Congress in 1775 with "the maintenance and preservation of American liberty," he had sworn to see the war through to its final scene. Not before this day would he allow himself to go home to Virginia and his beloved Mount Vernon, which he had been able to visit only once during the entire war. Today, the Revolution really was finished.     Washington had succeeded at last, against all the odds.     Yet, as he and New York's governor, George Clinton, and their entourage prepared to enter the city, it seemed something was not quite right, for the cannon reports had stopped. There had not been the full thirteen. By now, the imposing, brick-built Bull's Head Tavern was surrounded by swarms of jubilant New Yorkers eager for a look at His Excellency. The people cheered when he and Clinton mounted their horses to ride through the noisy crowd and down Bowery Lane. Followed by officers and state officials, also on horseback, Washington expected soon to meet his second in command, Major-general Henry Knox, at the head of a mounted welcoming delegation of prominent citizens, some of them former officers of the Continental Army.     This entry was not, however, New York City being taken over by the Continental Army. It was not even George Washington's triumphal parade at the head of conquering troops. Instead, Washington was here as the honored guest of Governor Clinton and the State of New York. The troops were under the direct command of Clinton and Knox, not Washington, who was soon to submit his resignation to Congress. First, the general would see to it that civil authority returned to New York, consistent with his overriding precept that military rule must always be subordinate to, and yield to, civilian rule. He and the army were here mainly to ensure the city's safe and peaceful transition to independence and civilian rule. No rioting would be allowed, no wholesale attacks on those who had remained in the city during the British occupation. There would be no lawless grab for property that had been abandoned by loyalist refugees (as many as forty thousand from several states had fled through New York to other British possessions or to Britain).     On such a festive occasion, known as "Evacuation Day," Washington was grateful to be relatively unencumbered with day-to-day duties. Let someone else manage the army now and take the organizational responsibility. He could savor this long-anticipated closing to the war.     Out on Bowery Lane there was a hearty greeting between the entourage of Washington and Clinton and Knox's party, many old friends being happily reunited. The welcoming delegation from New York all wore "a badge of distinction" pinned on their chests, a cockade made of black and white ribbon to celebrate the American alliance with France. They also wore a laurel sprig in their hats, symbol of victory and peace. The crowd of New Yorkers took delight in seeing these famous men in person, men whose names and deeds they had often heard about during the siege: Washington, the brothers George and James Clinton, Knox, Steuben, McDougall, Van Cortlandt, Lamb, Jackson, Hull, Hamilton, Fish, Varick, Tallmadge.... Many were sons of their own city and state.     The procession formed a column and set off into town, turning right from Bowery Lane onto the cobblestones of Chatham Street and led by a vanguard of militia horsemen from Westchester County. Washington was next, tall and straight in the saddle and dressed in the dark blue coat and buff smallclothes of a Continental general officer. On his spirited gray mount, he looked every bit the unsurpassed horseman he was said to be. During the most crucial battles of the war, he had practically lived in the saddle, on horseback for days at a time, tirelessly appearing at the side of his men seeming everywhere at once. Governor Clinton, riding a fine bay beside Washington, was himself a handsome figure as they rode on, followed by a few senior officers and their aides then by Knox and the civilian riders. The Westchester Light Horse flanked each side of the column.     As Washington's procession passed along Chatham Street, ever larger crowds appeared, cheering, waving, and applauding, happy folk on every side. For all the excitement, though, this was not the huge, impressive parade it might have been, with dozens of proud regiments and thousands of grinning heroes praised for their astonishing victory. After the disbandment of the army, the troops remaining to march into New York with Washington numbered only eight hundred. Composed of New York artillery and Massachusetts infantry, they had been reorganized and officially designated the First American Regiment. Earlier in the day, the main body of soldiers had marched with Knox into the city, following just yards behind the rear column of withdrawing redcoats. The Americans had sent patrols throughout the town to prevent civil disturbances while the rest of the troops and the artillery had gone down to Fort George to raise the Stars and Stripes.     Still, the thirteen cannon firing from that fort had not been heard. Had something gone wrong? NO AMERICAN WANTED the final ceremony of the war to be like this, but that insolent flag and the greased flagpole were giving the redcoats the last laugh.     There should correctly have been a British color guard and officers present to meet the arrival of the Americans at Fort George. Then the flag would have been politely lowered to the roll of drums and the playing of a British anthem with all formality and respect. That would have been followed by the Stars and Stripes rising to the salute of American cannon.     Then there came an idea, and men hustled away to an ironmonger's shop at Hanover Square to fetch nails and tools; others split a board that could be cut up to serve as cleats for climbing the pole. Something had to be done, and quickly, for His Excellency would appear soon--too soon. If the British flag were not lowered, the Stars and Stripes not raised in time, Washington, Clinton, New York, and all the United States would be embarrassed. Out in the harbor were French and American ships, their own national standards fluttering, everyone aboard waiting for the proud moment when the American flag would fly over the city, and the guns fire triumphantly.     It was infuriating. Someone had to get up that pole and yank off the hated British flag. In the meantime, the last redcoats clambered into their longboat, enjoying themselves under the circumstances--circumstances that otherwise were about as miserable as possible for the British Army. Copyright © 1999 Stuart Murray. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Part 1 Evacuation Day
A Flag on Fort Georgep. 2
His Excellency, General Washingtonp. 5
The Processionp. 14
Feasting, Fireworks, Earthquakes, and Waitingp. 26
Part 2 Washington's Farewell
No Ordinary Menp. 38
The Incendiaryp. 46
Knox and Ticonderoga's Gunsp. 54
A Miraculous Escapep. 71
The One Not Therep. 80
Defeat, Retreat, Attackp. 89
An Elusive Old Foxp. 102
The Pen of the Armyp. 114
Brandywine, Germantown, and Burgoynep. 123
Memories and Conspiracyp. 136
Valley Forge and the Baronp. 145
Monmouth and Beyondp. 159
Treason and Washington's Luckp. 175
Victoryp. 186
Part 3 The Long Farewell
The Long Farewellp. 205
End Notesp. 226
Acknowledgmentsp. 237
Selected Bibliographyp. 238
Sources of Illustrationsp. 241
Indexp. 242