General George Washington: A Military Life.
Edward Lengel in his book “General George Washington: A Military Life” has given a different and definite historical account of George Washington as a military personnel. So far much has been written about in the past two centuries showing Washington as a statesman and “father of his country”, but based largely on Washington’s personal papers, this excellent book focuses at the factual portrait of a man to whom lore and legend so tenaciously cling.
To Lengel, Washington was the imperfect commander. Washington possessed no great tactical ingenuity, and his acknowledged “brilliance in retreat” only demonstrates the role luck plays in the fortunes of all great men. He was not an enlisted man’s leader; he made a point of never mingling with his troops. He was not an especially creative military thinker; he fought largely by the book.
He was not a professional, but a citizen soldier, who, at a time when warfare demanded that armies maneuver efficiently in precise formation, had little practical training handling men in combat.
Yet despite his flaws, Washington was a remarkable figure, a true man of the moment, a leader who possessed a clear strategic, national, and continental vision, and who inspired complete loyalty from his fellow revolutionaries, officers, and enlisted men. America could never have won freedom without him.
A trained surveyor, Washington mastered topography and used his superior knowledge of battlegrounds to maximum effect. He appreciated the importance of good allies in times of crisis, and understood well the benefits of coordination of ground and naval forces. Like the American nation itself, he was a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts–a remarkable everyman whose acts determined the course of history. Lengel argues that Washington’s excellence was in his completeness, in how he united the military, political, and personal skills necessary to lead a nation in war and peace.
At once informative and engaging, and filled with some eye-opening revelations about Washington, the war for American independence, and the very nature of military command, General George Washington is a book that reintroduces readers to a figure many think they already know.
In his new biography of George Washington, Edward G. Lengel has relied heavily upon the Papers of George Washington Project, in which he served as an associate editor. The project, established 1969 by the University of Virginia, where Lengel is, as associate professor of history, would eventually result in the publication of 90 volumes of Washington’s letters and personal papers. By using this invaluable resource, Lengel has been able to incorporate a good deal of new research into his book.
Unlike so many Washington biographers, the author has resisted the temptation to glorify Washington and his military career. Instead, Lengel reveals the general’s considerable tactical liabilities and failures. Foremost among these were an over-aggressiveness, bordering on rashness, and carelessness in making defensive arrangements. Especially during the early years of the American Revolution, Washington’s weaknesses as a tactician repeatedly placed his army in serious danger. More importantly, however, Lengel praises Washington’s overall strategic insight, thought, and vision.
The author shows that Washington’s personality was dominated by an all-consuming ambition, only partly fulfilled when the Continental Congress appointed him commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Often overlooked is the fact that Washington’s appointment was a political decision made primarily to gain wider support, especially in the Middle and Southern colonies. Until then, the revolution was mostly new England-based. Thus, possessing only limited military experience, Washington was a political general, and he had to learn the art of war on the job.
Lengel’s Washington emerged with a host of impressive strengths almost as soon as he took command. Early on, he became a politically savvy war leader and an able administrator. Most important, Washington greatly inspired his ill-supplied troops, who fought doggedly on as much for their commander-in-chief as to fulfill the dream of an independent nation. Washington soon came to symbolize the revolution. He served as the all-important moral foundation for the infant nation’s struggle against the world’s superpower. According to Lengel, Washington possessed all the essential qualities, in just the right balance, for leading a successful revolutionary effort against Great Britain.
Unlike so many past Washington biographers, Lengel devotes much attention to Washington’s pre-revolution years, when he served on behalf of the British during the French and Indian War. The book explores the earliest stages of Washington’s career in order to thoroughly trace his development as a military commander. For example, as a young officer, Washington proved so inept on the battlefield that he could never secure a commission in the British Army—the Virginian’s all-consuming ambition before the start of the American Revolution.
Up to now, we have forgotten Washington’s legacy before the start of the American Revolution. After General Edward Braddock’s defeat by the French, Indians, and Canadians in 1755, Washington transformed the Virginia Regiment under his command into a cadre of disciplined soldiers. Though he never could secure an officer’s commission in the King’s service, Washington, “built the first professional American military force in history [which was] one of his greatest military accomplishments.”
From the defeats and disasters of the French and Indian War, Washington learned many invaluable lessons for the future. Most of all, he found that the key to victory was a professional military force of well-trained, disciplined soldiers. The Continental Congress had to overcome its obsession with the anti-standing army ideology prevalent in the Age of Enlightenment in order to give Washington the dependable Continental regiments he demanded. Throughout the revolution, the professional soldiers (regulars) known as the Continentals served as the sturdy backbone of Washington’s Army.
General Washington’s iron will, his determination to never accept defeat, enabled him continue the resistance year after year, keeping the revolution alive during its darkest days. In this regard, Lengel summarizes Washington’s most enduring and important legacy: “But without George Washington there could have been no victory in the Revolutionary War, no United States . . . [he was] the savior of his country.”
“Lengel’s Washington is the archetypal American soldier — an amateur citizen in arms who struggles to learn an unfamiliar and demanding craft on the job — one who is at the opposite pole from the paragon described in Douglas South all Freeman’s seven-volume biography. A military historian and associate editor of Washington’s papers, Lengel presents a Washington who was not a creative military thinker, who made no contributions to the theory of war and who conducted his operations, Lengel argues, conventionally and unreflectively. He lacked an eye for defensive positions and could be dangerously rash in attack. More serious, Lengel finds, was Washington’s consistent overestimation of the fighting power of his own forces relative to the British. But though Washington was no more than a competent soldier, he excelled as a war leader.
General George Washington: A military Life, Written by Edward G. Lengel.
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General George Washington: A Military Life.. (2017, Jan 22). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/general-george-washington-a-military-life/