"I am ever ready to do justice to the merit of the Gentn & soldier__ and to esteem, where esteem is due, however the idea of a public enemy may interpose__ "
In the spring of 1778, as John Burgoyne's Northern Army languished in captivity in New England, their commanding general sent a letter to George Washington. While it no longer survives, Washington's reply (presented in full below) indicates that Burgoyne's dispatch was a gesture of friendship. The British commander's April 4th response, which can be seen here, supports this conclusion. Washington's letter is significant in the way it shows the American commander espousing universal elements of eighteenth-century military culture. Though officially at war with the British, Washington nevertheless shows great compassion for Burgoyne, attempting to ease the sting of defeat with kind words and praise for Burgoyne's merit as an officer and a gentlemen. In the eighteenth century, European officers saw themselves as members of an elect club that was above the divisive nature of national politics, reflecting a military culture where officers of two different armies had more in common with one another than they did with the men under their command. While generally seen as a personification of American exceptionalism, it is important to remember that Washington did his utmost to follow the general conventions en vogue at the time.
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