Edward G. Lengel’s title — General George Washington: A Military Life — belies his thesis. He sees Washington as a great leader who led a military life, but wasn’t a particularly convincing military leader.
The Luck of the Brave.
A lot of factors contributed to Washington’s eventual victory over the British. Certainly there was luck, as when a pea soup fog covered an inglorious retreat from Brooklyn Heights. And then there was luck compounded with pigheaded bravery. Washington repeatedly led battles by example, dodging bullets with a charmed impunity.
The Luck of the Howes.
Early on there was the luck of having in the Howe brothers opponents who fought in style. The Howes not only followed the 17th century rules of engagement, allowing the crude Continentals to better them by dint of cunning and persistence, but enjoyed long winters off in New York, dallying with the ladies while Washington reconstituted his spent forces, recruiting and training fresh armies.
Later, particularly at the decisive battle of Yorktown, there was the luck of the French — thanks to years of importuning by Franklin — who ignored Washington’s ill-conceived plan to attack New York City, and engineered and powered the siege and victory at Yorktown.
A Few Good Men.
And besides luck, there was the power of a few good men. Loyal and capable leaders like Green and Knox somehow made up for a host of listless laggards. And more amazingly, the empowering determination of a small number of patriots fighting for the liberty of their families and country overcame the world’s most professional army under conditions of hapless privation.
The Great Leader.
Of course, there was Washington the administrator, Washington the politician, and Washington the leader of men. Without Washington’s tireless concern for his troops, tireless and skillful politicking of Congress and the local Governors for men, munitions, and money, and his tireless, micromanagement of administrative details, the war could never have been won. He was a great leader, just not much of a military tactician.
Father not King.
Most amazing of all was not that Washington somehow won the war, but that he kept his eye on the prize — liberty. He could easily have been not the Father of His Country, but its first Dictator. He had the power during the Revolutionary War, but never abused it. He had the power as a first President without precedents, but relinquished it. Our freedom is a lasting tribute to his greatness!