Many visitors to The Hasbrouck House overlooking the Hudson River are surprised to learn that George Washington spent 16 and a half months headquartered and living in this fieldstone farmhouse in Newburgh, New York after the Siege of Yorktown (September 28-October 19, 1781).
To many the Siege of Yorktown, Virginia, was the end of the Revolutionary War. Although this decisive American/Franco victory did ultimately bring about the end of the war, it was not the end. In hindsight, the Siege of Yorktown created the path to Newburgh and victory! After all, the peace treaty was not signed until September 3, 1783—almost two years after the Yorktown victory. General Washington knew he and the military could not remain idle and expect to win.
After Yorktown, the British regained the strategic upper hand on land and sea. Naval superiority had been compromised by the French with de Grasse’s victory in the Battle of the Capes in September 1781, but the British would reassert themselves with the defeat of de Grasse’s fleet in April 1782.
On land, three major American cities remained in the possession of the British after the siege. New York City had been taken in 1776 in a series of terrible losses. Savannah, Georgia had been captured in late 1778. Charleston, South Carolina, the gem of the South, had been lost on May 12, 1780.
In early 1782, the conflict awaited George Washington’s next move. His first inclination had been to liberate Charleston. After a conference with French Commander-in-Chief Rochambeau, Washington changed his mind. In a letter to Congress five days after Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, Washington outlined his reasons to Congress and informed them of his next move:
“…having no means of water conveyance, the transportation by land, of the army, with all their baggage, artillery, ordnance, stores and other apparatus necessary for the siege of Charleston, would be impracticable and attended with such immense trouble, expense and delay, exclusive of the necessity of naval co-operation [with the French] to be sufficient to deter me from the undertaking, especially as the enemy, after regaining Naval superiority on this coast, could reinforce or withdraw the garrison at pleasure…Our Operations against the enemy in this state being concluded it becomes my duty to inform Congress…[that] I shall myself, with the troops of the States to the Northward of Pennsylvania, return to my former position on the North River.”
The to which Washington refers is the Hudson River, and his “former position” was the Newburgh area—the best place for Washington to go for both his army and the defense of our country. The New York City contingent of British troops was the largest in North America. Newburgh was in a sense out of reach of the British Navy because of the Great Chain at West Point, but the “North River” still held strategic importance as the British had tried earlier in the war to divide the states by conquering the North River.
Loyalties and money played a role, too in Washington’s decision. The area around Newburgh was almost 100% patriotic. At earlier points in the war, Washington had headquartered where local loyalties were not so plain. In those areas, supplies were harder to come by and Congress could provide little to no financial support, so friendly country was a necessity. Around Newburgh, patriot supply lines and depots, communication lines, contractors, etc. had already been established earlier in the war.
Looking back on Yorktown, one can be forgiven for thinking the war was over, but that is only in hindsight. Had Washington thought that, we might be swearing allegiance to Queen Elizabeth today. After Yorktown, Washington worked hard to keep the army well positioned, battle ready, and under control. Newburgh gave him a relatively safe place from which to watch the British, strategically defend the country, and present a unified front at a time when internal turmoil threatened to undo all the hard work already done in defeating the British.
Come to Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh to find out the rest of the story. For more information contact Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site in Newburgh NY at 845-562-1195 or find us on Facebook.
Post by Lynette Scherer, State Parks Recreation Aide at Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site