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George Washington: American Hero


Part 2: War Hero

Beset by ill-trained soldiers, bad weather, and bad luck, Washington did his level best to win the Revolutionary War. He was often victimized by timing. His daring attack across the Delaware River on Christmas Night took advantage not only of the drunkenness of the Hessians across the river but also of the necessity to engage his men in a fight before their enlistments were up. Washington never commanded more than 10,000 men at a time, and mass desertions of 1,000 men the day their enlistment period ended were common. The victory at Trenton was secured with only 5,000 men, most of whom would have been heading for home at the end of December. The victory persuaded them to re-enlist.

He was in Pennsylvania in the first place because the British had driven him steadily south from his original position on Long Island. The British were slowly driving a wedge between the North and South, laying claim to the ports of Boston and New York as home for their reinforcements.

Washington lost battle after battle--from New York to Pennsylvania--but lived to fight another day, mainly because the honorable British allowed him to retreat after each defeat. He also implemented the French-Indian method of fighting that had worked so well for a time in the earlier war: The British, dressed to the nines in their brilliant and bright red coats, were easy pickings for their American adversaries, who were protected from return fire by the trees and rocks they stayed behind. This tactic worked for a while, but superior British numbers usually won the day. Still, the American style of fighting was an early version of guerrilla warfare, made necessary by the decrepit condition of both army and morale, and it worked. Washington won enough battles to keep his men going.

With the American victory at Saratoga, French assistance was secured. It was the French fleet's cutting off of British reinforcements that allowed Washington to trap Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown and force the surrender that ended the war. Cornwallis had ravaged South Carolina and thought he could rest easy along the Virginia peninsulas and wait for reinforcements. Little did he know that they would never come.

But the war was not the end for George Washington. Indeed, it was just the beginning. He was elected President of the Constitutional Convention and presided over the hammering out of the famous document. In 1789, he became the new nation's first president.

Next page > Long List of Firsts > Page 1, 2, 3

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