The tactics of persistence: george washington and the virtues of military expediency.

Julius Caesar came to power at a time when Rome’s civil wars had severely weakened its political establishment. Napoleon’s rise coincided with a transformative period of revolution and socio-economic turmoil in Europe. Eighteenth-century America was, in its way, a place of opportunity for a leader with vision and, perhaps, a sense of his own place in history. By comparison, George Washington’s rise to fame was slow and measured, even painful. Yet the lessons in persistence and courage the Virginian learned during his early years served him well when controversy and unimaginable hardship threatened to undermine the desperate venture upon which he and his fellow American colonists’ staked their very lives. As an officer in the French and Indian War, Washington suffered, and survived, defeat and disgrace. That resiliency of character which saw him through the blackest days of the Revolution made Washington a remarkably adaptable tactician, a quality often overlooked by historians who prefer to emphasize his personal charisma and courage in battle. 2 What did you learn about yourself by riding with a great military leader? I learned that it was Washington’s capacity for reflection that enabled him to consider all viewpoints and lay aside his own ego in fashioning a strategy that could defeat the British Army.In 1800, Massachusetts Congressman Fisher Ames’ eulogy spoke to the personal characteristics that Washington exhibited early in his military career. He exhibited “a maturity of judgment, rare in age, unparalleled in youth. Perhaps no young man had so early laid up a life’s stock of materials for solid reflection, or settled so soon the principles and habits of his conduct…”.1 These were not idle statements offered up in the spirit of “purple prose.” Washington exhibited the “principles and habits” of which Ames spoke during his early years, having commanded Virginia troops at the age of 21 in the French and Indian Wars. The native of Westmoreland County owed this opportunity to the influential Fairfax family, and by 1755 it was readily apparent that Lord Fairfax’s faith in the young man was well-founded. It was the 23-year-old Washington who averted disaster at the Battle of Monongahela during Braddock’s War. Overwhelmed by a combined French-Indian force, the British fell back in disorder after Braddock was killed and were on the verge of being destroyed piecemeal until Washington, at great personal risk, rode to the forefront and rallied the British/American forces.2 This would become a familiar scenario on many battlefields of the Revolutionary War. In 1758, Washington led Virginia militia in the British expedition to take Fort Duquesne. Washington was discredited after his troops were involved in a “friendly fire” incident, the Virginians and a British regiment mistaking each other for French troops. It was a testament to Washington’s prestige that his misfortune in the campaign of 1758, was not enough to put an end 3 to his military career…though it would be 17 years before he would again lead troops in the field. When it came time to face off against the British army, the lessons Washington learned during his service in the Virginia and Ohio back countries would serve him well.

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