George Washington: Father of His Country
On February 22, 1732, one of the most extraordinary men in history was born. “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Those words by Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee perfectly describe the man who gave America its life. George Washington was completely devoted to his country, bearing massive responsibilities and never shying away from his duty. As commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and later, the first American president, Washington’s guiding hand was always there to lead the way. He was truly the “Father of His Country.”
George Washington was a proud military man and during the Revolutionary War, he distinguished himself as one of the greatest commanders in military history. It was his unwavering leadership at the helm of the Continental Army that won the struggle for American Independence. Up against the world’s premier war machine of its day, Washington faced overwhelming challenges that would have broken many men, but throughout the relentless eight-year struggle, he held his army together.
George Washington leading the Continental Army to Valley Forge in 1777. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
In June 1775, the Second Continental Congress entrusted Washington with command over the American army. He had experience from his time in the French and Indian War, but prior to his appointment, Washington had never commanded a large army in the field. Upon its inception, the Continental Army was ragtag, barely trained, and woefully unequipped. Historian William P. Kladky defined the force as “a loosely and poorly coordinated band of militias and citizen-soldiers under control of the individual states.” There were no established protocols for tasks vital to maintaining a field army such as exercising coordinated authority, supplying and feeding troops, and transportation. Adding to the list of complications was the fact that gaining the Continental Congress’ approval for anything took long periods of time. Facing these circumstances, Washington wasn’t just taking on the world’s most powerful fighting force; he also had to create a professional army of his own.
The year 1776 was one of unimaginable difficulty for Washington and his young army. In March, the commander-in-chief managed to force the British out of Boston, but as the conflict moved to New York, disaster struck repeatedly. In his first major large-scale battle against the Crown, Washington was decisively beaten. New York had to be abandoned and with Forts Washington and Lee falling to the British, some like General Charles Lee called for Washington’s removal from command. Despite these calls for change and the enormous pressure he was facing trying to keep his army alive, Washington reacted calmly. He retreated his army through New Jersey and crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Faced with true desperation, on Christmas night 1776, Washington ferried American troops across the ice choked Delaware River while battling a severe winter storm. The purpose of this difficult endeavor was to strike at the Hessian Garrison at Trenton, New Jersey. Through Washington's leadership, the bold action paid off. The commander-in-chief achieved a victory that reinvigorated the morale of his army and reignited the fires of hope in the Revolution. The saving grace at Trenton was part of a 10-day campaign led by Washington that Frederick the Great described as “the most brilliant of any recorded in the annals of military achievements.” Washington had proven that his ragtag force could meet the British on the battlefield and win.
Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
While the struggles never ceased for the Continental Army, Washington’s spirit was unbreakable. In 1781, the Continental Congress was bankrupt and cut funding dramatically. Washington couldn’t even pay the teamsters that were required to bring supplies to his troops, admitting in a letter that “we are at the end of our tether, and that now or never our deliverance must come.” Citizen support was also dangerously low and desertions in the army were intense. The situation greatly improved in late May when France provided a 6,000,000 livres gift to the Continental Army. In October 1781, with the assistance of the French army and navy, Washington achieved a victory at Yorktown, Virginia that essentially sealed the war in America’s favor.
At the conclusion of the conflict in 1783, George Washington held tremendous power, but with his duty to his country fulfilled, he honorably surrendered his military commission to a grateful Congress. Washington declared, “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action-and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.” Throughout history, many military commanders in Washington’s position seized power during times of revolution, but George Washington was not like those men. When King George III learned that Washington intended to peacefully surrender his commission, he uttered, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” Washington did and during his time on this earth, he truly was the greatest man in the world.
General George Washington Resigning His Commission, by John Trumbull. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
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