Virtual Museum of Art | Virtual Museum of History | Virtual Public Library | Virtual Science Center | Virtual Museum of Natural History | Virtual War Museum
   You are in: Virtual War Museum >> Hall of American Wars and Conflicts >> George Washington





American’s Four United Republics: Discovery-Based Curriculum

For More Information go to America's Four United Republics Curriculum


 


George Washington 
Lt. Colonel Virginia Regiment

 

"The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire."  - British statesman Horace Walpole

George Washington was commander in chief of the Continental army during the American Revolution and later became the first president of the United States serving from1789 until 1797. He symbolized qualities of discipline, aristocratic duty, military orthodoxy and persistence in adversity that his contemporaries valued as marked of mature political leadership.

Born the eldest son of Augustine Washington and his second wife Mary Ball Washington, in Westmoreland County, Va., on Feb. 22, 1732, George spent his early years on the family estate on Pope's Creek along the Potomac River. Although Washington had little or no formal schooling, his early notebooks indicate that he read in geography, military history, agriculture, deportment and composition. He showed an aptitude for surveying and simple mathematics. An early ambition to go to sea had been discouraged by George's mother.  His father died in 1743, and soon thereafter George went to live with his half brother Lawrence at Mount Vernon, Lawrence's plantation on the Potomac. Lawrence became something of a substitute father for his brother. Upon the death of Lawrence in 1752, George inherited the Mount Vernon estate.

Washington played an important role in the struggles preceding the outbreak of the French and Indian War. He was chosen by Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia to deliver an ultimatum calling on French forces to cease their encroachment in the Ohio River valley. 

By late May in 1754, Washington had reached a large natural clearing known as the Great Meadows. He made this his base camp. Grass there could provide food for his animals, and water was readily available. Soon after he arrived, he received word that a party of French soldiers was camped in a ravine not far from his position. On the stormy night of May 27th, 1754, Washington and about 40 men began an all night march to confront the French and learn their intentions. They traveled through woods so dark the men sometimes spent nearly half and hour just trying to find the trail.

About dawn, Washington met with a friendly Seneca chief, Half King, and made plans to contact the French Camp. As the French commander had not posted sentries, Washington and his men easily surrounded the unsuspecting French.

A shot was fired, no one really knows by whom, and soon the peaceful glen was filled with the crash of musketry and the sulphurous smell of powder. The skirmish lasted about 15 minutes. When it was over, 10 Frenchmen were dead and 21 captured. One escaped and made his way back to Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio. Washington's casualties were one man killed and two or three wounded.  -- National Park Service at Fort Necessity

"I fortunately escaped without any wound, for the right wing, where I stood, was exposed to and received all the enemy's fire, and it was the part where the man was killed, and the rest wounded. I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me there is something charming in the sound." -- George Washington

After the Jumonville Glen Skirmish Washington quickly threw up fortifications at Great Meadows, Pa., naming the entrenchment Fort Necessity, and marched to intercept advancing French troops. A successful French assault obliged him to accept articles of surrender and he departed with the remnants of his company.

Discouraged by defeat, Washington resigned his commission in 1754. In May, 1755, he began service as a volunteer and aide-de-camp to British General Edward Braddock. Braddock was mortally wounded and Washington narrowly escaped death. He escaped injury although four bullets ripped his coat and two horses were shot from under him.Braddock's troops were ambushed by a band of French soldiers and their Indian allies on the Monongahela River.  At age of 23, he was promoted to colonel and appointed commander in chief of the Virginia militia. His responsibility was to defend the frontier.

Washington left the army in 1758, assured that the Virginia frontier was safe from French attack. He returned to Mount Vernon, to restore his neglected estate. With the support of an ever-growing circle of influential friends, he entered politics, serving (1759-74) in Virginia's House of Burgesses. In January 1759 he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy and attractive young widow with two small children.

Alarmed by the repressive measures of the British crown and Parliament, Washington became a leader in Virginia's opposition to Great Britain's colonial policies. At first he hoped for reconciliation with Britain. In July, 1774 he presided over a meeting in Alexandria that adopted the Fairfax Resolves, calling for the establishment and enforcement of a stringent boycott on British imports prior to similar action by the First Continental Congress. As a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress 1774 and 1775 Washington did not participate actively in the deliberations, however, his presence was undoubtedly a stabilizing influence. In June 1775 he was Congress's unanimous choice as commander in chief of the newly created Continental Army when fighting broke out between Massachusetts and the British.

Washington took command of the troops surrounding British-occupied Boston on July 3, devoting the next few months to training the undisciplined 14,000 man army and trying to secure urgently needed powder and other supplies. Early in March 1776, he took command of the makeshift force and moved his army to New York. Defeated there by the combined land and sea forces of General William Howe, he withdrew from Manhattan to establish a new defensive line north of New York City. In November he retreated across the Hudson River into New Jersey. In the last months of 1776, desperately short of men and supplies, Washington almost despaired. He had lost New York City to the British; enlistment was almost up for a number of the troops, and others were deserting in droves; civilian morale was falling rapidly; and Congress, faced with the possibility of a British attack on Philadelphia, had withdrawn from the city.

Colonial morale was briefly revived by the capture of Trenton, New Jersey, a brilliantly conceived attack in which Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776 and surprised the predominantly Hessian garrison. Advancing to Princeton, New Jersey, he routed the British thereon January 3, 1777. These two engagements restored patriot morale and by spring Washington had 8,000 new recruits. In September and October 1777 he suffered serious reverses in Pennsylvania at Brandywine and Germantown. The major success of that year, the defeat of the British at Saratoga, New York in October, belonged not to Washington but to Benedict Arnold and Horatio Gates. The contrast between Washington's record and Gates's brilliant victory was one factor that led to the some members of Congress and army officers to replace Washington with a more successful commander, probably Gates. Washington acted quickly, and the plan eventually collapsed due to lack of public support as well as to Washington's overall superiority to his rivals.

After holding his bedraggled and dispirited army together during the difficult winter at Valley Forge, Washington learned that France had recognized American independence. With the aid of the Prussian Baron von Steuben and the French Marquis de Lafayette, he concentrated on turning the army into a viable fighting force.  By spring he was ready to take the field again.

In 1780 the main theater of the war shifted to the south. Although other generals conducted the campaigns in Virginia and the Carolinas, Washington was still responsible for the overall direction of the war. After the arrival of the French army in 1780 he concentrated on coordinating allied efforts and in 1781 launched the brilliantly planned and executed Yorktown Campaign against Charles Cornwallis, securing the American victory.

After the war Washington returned to Mount Vernon, which had once again declined in his absence. Although he became president of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization of former Revolutionary War officers, he avoided involvement in Virginia politics, preferring to concentrate on restoring Mount Vernon. His diary notes a steady stream of visitors, native and foreign; Mount Vernon, like its owner, had already become a national institution.

Shays' Rebellion, an armed revolt in Massachusetts, 1786 through 1787, convinced many Americans of the need for a stronger government. Washington and other Virginia nationalists were instrumental in bringing about the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to promote that end.  In May 1787, Washington headed the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and was unanimously elected presiding officer. His presence lent prestige to the proceedings, and although he made few direct contributions, he generally supported the advocates of a strong central government. Washington's attendance at the Constitutional Convention and his support for ratification of the Constitution were critically important for its success in the state conventions. After the new Constitution became legally operative, he was unanimously elected president in 1789.

Standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City, Washington took his oath of office as the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789. Washington acted carefully and deliberately, aware of the need to build an executive structure that could accommodate future presidents. Hoping to prevent sectionalism from dividing the new nation, he toured the New England states in 1789 and the South in 1791. By appointing Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury and Thomas Jefferson Secretary of State, he brought the two ablest and most principled figures of the revolutionary generation into central positions of responsibility. An able administrator, he nevertheless failed to heal the widening breach between factions led by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Because he supported many of Hamilton's controversial fiscal policies, the assumption of state debts, the Bank of the United States, and the excise tax, Washington became the target of attacks by Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans.

Washington was reelected president in 1792, and the following year the most divisive crisis arising out of the personal and political conflicts within his cabinet occurred over the issue of American neutrality during the war between England and France. Washington, whose policy of neutrality angered the pro-French Jeffersonians, was horrified by the excesses of the French Revolution and enraged by the tactics of Edmond Genet, the French minister in the United States, which amounted to foreign interference in American politics. Further, with an eye toward developing closer commercial ties with the British, the president agreed with the Hamiltonians on the need for peace with Great Britain. His acceptance of the 1794 Jay's Treaty, which settled outstanding differences between the United States and Britain but which Democratic-Republicans viewed as an abject surrender to British demands, revived condemnation against the president, as did his vigorous upholding of the excise law during the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania.

By March 1797, when Washington left office, the country's financial system was well established; the Indian threat east of the Mississippi had been largely eliminated; and Jay's Treaty and Pinckney's Treaty (1795) with Spain had enlarged U.S. territory and removed serious diplomatic difficulties. In spite of the animosities and conflicting opinions between Democratic-Republicans and members of the Hamiltonian Federalist party, the two groups were at least united in acceptance of the new federal government. Washington refused to run for a third term and, after a masterly Farewell Address in which he warned the United States against permanent alliances abroad, he went home to Mount Vernon. His vice-president, Federalist John Adams, succeeded him.

Although Washington reluctantly accepted command of the army in 1798 when war with France seemed imminent, he did not assume an active role. He preferred to spend his last years in happy retirement at Mount Vernon. In early December, Washington contracted what was probably quinsy or acute laryngitis; he declined rapidly and died at his estate on Dec. 14, 1799.



Autograph letter signed "Go: Washington" to his nephew Robert Lewis, dated from Mount Vernon, February 12, 1798. Faced with monetary woes after personally financing the office of President, Washington was forced to sell and/or lease many of his land investments. This was his only hope for maintaining and keeping Mount Vernon. The letter refers to a particular parcel of land in Virginia that contained a valuable walnut grove. Washington encouraged his nephew, who handled his financial affairs, to use the walnut grove as an added incentive to sell or lease the property. Washington suggested that his potential "…tenant is permitted to kill the Walnuts by girdling the trees, I do not believe that the Crops would sustain much injury by their standing. They would season in this manner, and a few years hence, when the navigation of the River is in a more improved state might be brought down with more ease & safety. Perhaps, upon the whole, this may be found the most eligible plan."



Letter signed ("G. Washington") as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army to Captain [Samuel] Carr, Head-Quarters [Verplancks Point, New York], 16 September 1782. 2 pages, folio, 308 x 195 mm., text in hand of Tench Tilghman (an aide-de-camp), light browning of paper.

Emphatic orders from Washington regarding a curious dilemma of considerable importance, since it involved the crucial alliance with France. Similar letters were addressed by Washington to Lt. Col. John Popkin and to Capt. Seth Bannister. The Marquis de Vaudreuil had arrived at Boston Harbor in August with a fleet of thirteen warships to aid the American cause, but some French soldiers and sailors had jumped ship and attempted to join the American forces. Washington writes: "Complaint having been made to me by the Marquis de Vaudreuil commanding the Fleet of His Most Christian Majesty in the Harbor of Boston, that numbers of his Seamen and Soldiers have deserted, and that he has reason to believe many of them are engaged in the Continental Service…[M]ake immediate Enquiry among the Recruits which may be assembled at your Place of Rendezvous, and if you discover any, either Soldiers or Sailors, belonging to the Service of France, you are to send them immediately under proper guard to Monsieur de la Tombe Counsul of France at Boston. And you are in future, on no Account whatever, to pass any Foreigner, except he can produce full and satisfactory Proof that he does not belong to the Army or Navy of France."




Start your search on George Washington.


America's Four United Republics Exhibit - Click Here


Unauthorized Site: This site and its contents are not affiliated, connected, associated with or authorized by the individual, family, friends, or trademarked entities utilizing any part or the subject's entire name. Any official or affiliated sites that are related to this subject will be hyper linked below upon submission and Evisum, Inc. review.

Copyright© 2000 by Evisum Inc.TM. All rights reserved.
Evisum Inc.TM Privacy Policy

Search:

About Us

 

 


Virtual Museum of Art | Virtual Museum of History | Virtual Public Library | Virtual Science Center | Virtual Museum of Natural History | Virtual War Museum