After two significant victories over the British in Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey, General George Washington marches north to Morristown, New Jersey, where he set up winter headquarters for himself and the men of the Continental Army on this day in 1777. The hills surrounding the camp offered Washington a perfect vantage point from which to keep an eye on the British army, which was headquartered across the Hudson River in New York City. Morristown’s position also 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.
In addition to tracking the British, Washington used much of his time in Morristown to reorganize the Continental Army, which had begun to shrink following the victories in Trenton and Princeton. Some soldiers chose desertion over another cold winter without adequate supplies; others refused to reenlist, returning home when their enlistments expired.
Fortunately for the Americans, Washington’s leadership on the battlefield and his growing popularity throughout the country helped attract new recruits, and Washington orchestrated changes to hold on to the new troops and make them more effective soldiers. In an effort to instill discipline, maximum punishment for soldiers rose from 39 to 100 lashes. To make committing to the army more attractive, the Continental Army promised any man enlisting for three years a cash bonus. Those enlisting for the duration of the war could look forward to a land bounty. These promises would come back to haunt the army later, but in the early months of 1777, they allowed Washington to train and then maintain a seasoned force. By the time fighting resumed, Washington’s immediate command numbered 11,000 men, including militia. In New York, an additional 17,000 Patriots agreed to fight for the cause.