Friday, February 16, 2018

Winter in Morristown with General Washington

In January 1777, General George Washington set up winter headquarters for himself and the men of the Continental Army. He was fresh off two significant victories over the British in Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey. 

The army had marched north to Morristown, New Jersey, where the hills surrounding the camp offered a good vantage point to observe the the British army which was headquartered across the Hudson River in New York City. 

Morristown’s position allowed Washington to protect the roads leading from the British strongholds in New Jersey to New England and the roads leading to Philadelphia, where the leaders of the American Revolution were headquartered.

Morristown was actually the location of two winter encampments during the Revolutionary War. Washington had first visited Morristown in 1773 with his stepson John Parke Custis. He had been passing through the town en route to nearby Basking Ridge to visit William Alexander, Lord Stirling, who would later become a major-general in the Continental Army.

Morristown National Historical Park commemorates the sites of General Washington and the Continental army’s winter encampment of December 1779 to June 1780, where they survived through what would be the coldest winter on record. The park also maintains a museum & library collection related to the encampments & George Washington, as well as items relating to pre- and post-Revolutionary America.

Reproductions of soldier cabins

Washington used some of the winter trying to reorganize and build up the Continental Army. Despite the Trenton and Princeton victories, some soldiers chose desertion over another cold winter without adequate supplies. Reenlistments were down and soldiers were returning home when their enlistments expired.

For five months, Washington maintained headquarters at Arnold's Tavern on the Green which was - and still is - the central hub of Morristown society.

Washington ordered inoculations for his militiamen during a smallpox outbreak in February of 1777 and he was very concerned with personal and public cleanliness. Nevertheless, his troops were so distressed by the disease and poor conditions of the camp that by spring 1777, many men attempted to leave and were charged with desertion.

Ford Mansion (Photo: Rob Shenk on Flickr)

Washington returned with his troops between December 1779 and June 1780 at a second encampment in a section of forest known as Jockey Hollow. The winter was bitter. He was accompanied by his wife Martha, and they were given shelter in the Ford Mansion owned by Colonel Jacob Ford, Jr. and his wife, Theodosia.

The Georgian style mansion, built in 1774, that was Washington's headquarters, is now part of the the Morristown National Historical Park.

As of January 1, 2018, the park will no longer charge a daily entrance fee, so coniser a winter visit of your own.


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