Skip to comments.BOOK REVIEW: GEORGE WASHINGTON’S MILITARY GENIUS
Posted on 06/12/2012 7:10:47 PM PDT by Pharmboy
George Washington is justifiably called the "Father of America" for his military and civilian leadership during the American Revolution and his two terms as America's first president, however, in the new book, George Washingtons Military Genius, General David Palmer persuasively argues that Washington's strategic military talent was key to his success.
Gen. Palmer, who is a former superintendent of West Point, attempts to bust the myths surrounding Washingtons American Revolutionary War experience and to put the accomplishments on the battlefield in perspective.
Some historians view Washington as an incompetent bungler who merely got lucky in a few engagements with the British, and basically won by surviving. Some biographers simply overlook Washingtons wartime experience and simply recognize his political leadership.
The editor-in-chief of the Papers of George Washington, Edward G. Lendel, described Washington as not a great tactician and not a creative military thinker. Lengel said of Washington as a soldier was erratic but competent.
On the other side of the coin, some have claimed that Washington was lax and unaggressive, using a Fabian strategy of non-engagement to wear down and tire out his British foes.
In George Washingtons Military Genius, Gen. Palmer claims that Washington was a masterful strategist who brilliantly adapted to the changing circumstances of the war.
The truth is that George Washington sent three very able British generals back to England, one of which, Gen. Charles Cornwallis, who went on to achieve great success commanding British armies in India.
Washingtons strategy evolved throughout the war according to Gen. Palmer, and Washingtons strategy had four distinct phases.
First, Washington used his army aggressively, taking the fight to the British. In the first phases of the war, Washington had no reason to be cautious. The British had a fairly sparse number of troops and the ranks of the Continental Army were growing fast. Washington was able to win a stunning victory in the Siege of Boston, taking the city back from the British occupiers through encirclement of the city and the placement of artillery, which were hastily brought down from Fort Ticonderoga by Col. Henry Knox.
The next step of the war came when massive British and mercenary Hessian reinforcements showed up and Washington had to act cautiously to preserve his small army. During this time he employed a number of European advisers and professional military men, like Prussian drill instructor, Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. Keeping the small American army intact was the key to sustaining the Revolution for both military and civilian morale reasons.
When French reinforcements arrived on the North American continent, Washington again turned to aggression, making his fateful siege of Yorktown, which drove the British military from the southern colonies.
Finally, when the British had been larger beaten and driven from the American colonies, Washington had perhaps his most difficult task of all in that he had to keep the American military from breaking apart and keeping them prepared for renewed British aggression. Perhaps more importantly, Washington had to prevent the military from violation the right of Congress to govern preserving the civilian control of the military.
Ultimately, Washingtons performance in the war was masterful and fox-like according to Gen. Palmer, and he is one of historys most overlooked military geniuses.
The following is the Guns and Patriots interview with the author of George Washington's Military Genius, Gen. David Palmer:
1.) Why did you decide to write George Washingtons Military Genius and what applicability does it have to Americans today?
I wrote the book to solve a mystery: Why have respected historians reached such differing assessments of Washingtons ability as a general? And why do they differ so on what the American strategy actually was?
The lessons of the book do have applicability to us today. Notably, we should have a clearer understanding of how the nation was founded. That is, we ought to be better versed in our own history. Moreover, the example of military leadership provided by George Washington should help in the education of current and future military leaders.
2.) Where do you believe Washington developed this gift for strategy? Was it during his days as a young Colonel fighting against the French? Did he have an able instructor in the art of war? Did he read specific books? Was Washington just born with innate strategic ability?
Washingtons strategic ability was developed over years:
--As a very young officer, he observed and participated in two British campaigns into the wilderness of western Virginia against French and Indian forces. He would have learned how to support a force away from its source of supplies and the necessity of security. He would have learned the relationship of time and space factors in military movement. Then, for years he was the commander of Virginias militia, charged with protecting the western frontier. He would have learned lessons then that stood him in good stead in the Revolution. For a while, he aspired to become a regular in the British armyso he studied and read. Sort of the way lawyers once read the law to prepare for practicing it later. Finally, he learned in the crucible of war itself from the British as he clashed with them, especially in 1776. By 1777 he had a strategic grasp better than that of his opponents.
3.) Washingtons greatest defeat was perhaps the at the Battle of New York/Brooklyn where he has been criticized for attempting to defend the indefensible Brooklyn Heights, which was assumed to be vulnerable to British naval landings on the East River. You claim that Washington s strategy was sound and the retreat orderly. Was there really anything else that Washington could have done to save New York ? Should he have burned the city, which had a high number of Tories, to the ground?
Defending New York was a mistake, but understandable. Until the British arrived with their expeditionary force in July 1776, Americans had no idea they would be facing so overwhelming a force. The plans for defense were established by Charles Lee, a former British officer who was considered to be the most brilliant professional the Americans had. He was not. Washington learned from that experience. Actually, Washington wanted to burn the city after he was forced to leave it, but Congress would not let him. Most of it did in fact burned shortly after the British entered, but no one has ever figured out if it was done on purpose or not. Washington was happy that it had happened.
4.) In comparison to other great commanders of his era and history in general, where does Washington place? How would you compare him to Napoleon Bonaparte?
This is impossible to do. Changes in technology over the centuries, as well as differences in geography and resources, make comparisons seem apples and oranges. However, it is feasible to measure how well a general did with what he had to work with and considering the opponents he faced. In that regard, Washington was an absolutely superb strategist, the best the United States has produced, ever. Interestingly, not long ago British scholars convened to list the best opponents their nation had faced over the centuries. Such luminaries as Napoleon and Rommel (WW II) were on the list, but, at the top was .George Washington.
5.) What is the single greatest lesson that can be learned from George Washington s military career?
Beyond a doubt, the single greatest lesson to be learned from Washingtons career is the decisive impact a great leader can have in warand peace. Without Washington in the equation, the United States almost surely would not have won the Revolution, and it surely would not have avoided a military dictatorship, or at least a serious threat of one, had he not been there at the end of the fighting to shape the peace establishment.
Somebody gets it...
Washington was a genius of a spymaster. A lot of his victories came from that. He really loved the art, and used to stage elaborate schemes to fool the enemy.
Washington at Princeton
The RevWar/Colonial History/General Washington ping list...
George Washington, genius of creation and nation-building, meet Barack Obama, genius of destruction and nation-destroying.
Which side will win out...?
Washington's second major strength was his charismatic and awe-inspiring persona, daring bullets at the very front of the battle, astride his huge stallion in full dress uniform, to rally his troops. His survival was another divine miracle.
Indeed...one of my favorite stories was the Quaker woman from Philly who gave him key information before Germantown, I believe. Another one relates to the NJ hunter/trapper (quite a character, he) who informed on troop movements. He never seemed to have trouble getting people to risk it all for him and the Patriot Cause...one reason was that they trusted him completely.
Thanks for posting this!
Agreed on the Divine Miracles.
A month or so ago on FR there was an article about a bunch of British historians having a conference. Part (or all) of the conference was to answer the question “Who was Britain’s most difficult military foe?” (Something like that) It was for all of history, so Napolean, Hitler, and a bunch of other dead guy’s whose names I forget. But they put Washington at the top of the list.
Of course I suppose they may have also observed the hand of God with Washington. That may have added a few points to the scoring system!
True--he was a great diplomat with congress, but his troops loved him which, I believe, was even more important. His troops came through for him more often than congress.
But, we quibble. The fact that people who have read about the RevWar and the General give many different answers to the question: "What was Washington's greatest strength?" only speaks well of him.
There have been tens of thousands of great Americans. George Washington is the greatest American of them all as he was the single most indispensable to the victory in the War of Independence and to the preservation of the constitutional principles of the the Revolution post war.
This is the ONLY American that should have his very own holiday. The fact that MLK is the only American with his own distinct holiday is a reflection of the nadir to which Political Correctness has sunk us as a nation.
There are many many stories about how the best marksmen couldn't hit him - many bullet holes in his coat, etc.
That God wanted him to live, and this 'Christian Nation' to be founded seems near inescapable on close examination of the almost overwhelming forces which Washington defeated.
A few years ago we visited the Delaware Crossing and heard about Washington’s exploits, and shrewdness in his Christmas attack on the British. Remarkable man, trying to keep his army together in the face of unbelievable obstacles. And, yes there were stories of intrigue from “pillow talk” messages received from girl friends of the British officers giving Washington valuable humintel in a timely manner!
Eventually, though, the north found Grant, and succeeded in wearing down the south. Lee comes out as the loser, but I think he was a worthy successor to Washington.
I was reading that Christie’s is auctioning off Washington’s own, hand annotated copy of the Constitution he used when starting work as the President. He put his name on it like you would your copy of a working paper or printed instruction manual.
Someone can get me that for Father’s day.
Thank God Ferguson never took that shot.
'During a publicity event at the Village Community Boathouse on Pier 40 overlooking the Hudson, owners of bookstores and people who were attending the BookExpo America convention at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center listened as Mr. Sullivan discussed the historical importance of Manhattans waterways.
So inspired, several of the audience members decided to try historical immersion for themselves.
Two rowboats built at the boathouse to imitate 19th-century New York Harbor craft known as Whitehall gigs left the pier loaded with booksellers, volunteer coxswains and local residents who had heard about the boathouses rowing program.
The first boat struck a pier at North Moore Street and flipped over, dumping three BookExpo conventioneers, two instructors and two others into 60-degree water, according to the Fire Department. Five of them were pinned against the pier and climbed onto it, while the other two drifted 100 yards away. Mr. Sullivan was not in the boat.
Washington made his nighttime crossing without the loss of a single life. Mr. Sullivans flotilla suffered no fatalities, either, although one woman suffered minor injuries and was treated briefly at New York Downtown Hospital, the Fire Department said. (All three BookExpo participants were back at the Javits Center on Wednesday.)'
The greatest American, period.
right, someone who defeated the world super power of it’s day with volunteer farmers is a “bungler.”
leftists (through their “historians”) know the have to destroy or rewrite the history of our conservative fathers (and mothers) to destroy the constitution and our culture. there really is no “mystery” to it.
Loyal to friends to the end, he died in 1812 helping defend his friend in Baltimore from a mob.
I have to say, though, that I never heard him called the “Father of America”, which would be an objective designation. I learned of him as the “Father of Our Country”, which is actually a term of endearment, personally felt.
I would recommend a visit to anyone who is even half-obsessed with the RevWar.
You can almost see the over mountain men coming up over the rise.
Ha! Too funny...and they should have mentioned that Washington escaped across the EAST River, and not the Hudson. But Washington had the Gloucester fishermen manning the boats—the best there were!
|GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach|
What an interesting point—never dawned on me. And yes—you are right—Father of Our Country is more personal.
... the decisive impact of a great leader... cannot be underestimated. It’s that moment a guy yells “Let’s go!” and a whole bunch of people suddenly decide they will risk life to help him accomplish the goal.
Often there are no long speeches; it’s just a moment of invitation delivered with sheer magnetism. My 2 cents.
Actually the most important thing about Washington is that almost nobody with the opportunity to become El Presidente for life, or even King, passes up that opportunity, because they think they know better than anyone else. That’s what ruins 99% of revolutions.
Congrats to your son. RLTW.
Thank you...but how did you guess the tattoo he has on the inside of his wrist? ;)
Great to hear about this new book. Too bad I heard too late for my birthday (OK, I still got other war books, though).
I don’t understand how people so denigrate Washington for the Revolution. The man was at a severe disadvantage - after all, he hardly had disciplined, steady troops from the get-go. They came from the ground up, and were constantly on a turnstile basis. Through the entire war there were constant run-aways (as opposed to “retreats”). The man had to work with virtually nothing.
Winning a war with that, you have to be pretty damn good.
FDR didn't for instance.
“Washington’s second major strength was his charismatic and awe-inspiring persona, daring bullets at the very front of the battle, astride his huge stallion in full dress uniform, to rally his troops. His survival was another divine miracle. “
The Indians trying to kill him at Braddock’s Defeat certainly thought so.
They shot two horses from underneath him and shot his clothes full of holes but couldn’t lay a scratch on him. They became convinced that the Great Spirit was protecting him.
I see Washington and Lee being quite the opposite. Washington was not a great tactician but a great strategist. Washington understood he had to keep the Continental Army alive in order to wear down the British and win the war. Lee was a brilliant tactician on the battlefield, but a disaster as a strategist. His two invasions of the north wasted resources the South couldn’t afford. His neglect of what was happening in the Western Theater arguably cost the South the war. Washington saw the big picture, while Lee was concerned only with a narrow focus on his own theatre.
A Ping! to LS...
In fairness to Lee, it is often overlooked that he was the leader of the Army of Northern Virginia.
“Finally, when the British had been larger beaten and driven from the American colonies, Washington had perhaps his most difficult task of all in that he had to keep the American military from breaking apart and keeping them prepared for renewed British aggression. Perhaps more importantly, Washington had to prevent the military from violation the right of Congress to govern preserving the civilian control of the military. “
The “British had been larger beaten” eh?
“Washington had to prevent the military from violation the right of Congress” eh?
I'd also highly recommend James Flexner's 'Washington: The Indispensable Man'
It covers Washingtion's entire life.
I was going to mention that, so I'm glad you did.
PLUS, never underestimate the visual of riding a white horse! I'm serious. He was tall and cut a dashing figure on foot, or on horseback.
I went to Washington Jr. High, and his portrait (Gilbert) hung in the front hall and in every classroom. Did you know that his eyes could follow you down the hall? Kept all of us rambunctious kids in line.
Washington contemporaries thought he was a superb general. British officers were amazed that he was able to build fortifications to surround Boston overnight, his retreat from Long Island was described as “glorious” by British officers, and Frederick the Great sent a sword to Washington in admiration of what he pulled off crossing the Delaware and defeating the Hessians in Trenton and the British rear guard at Princeton. His march from NY to Yorktown must be compared to Churchill’s march down the Rhine leading to Bleinheim during the War of Spanish Succession.
Quote: “I see Washington and Lee being quite the opposite.”
It is the difference between an Eisenhower and Patton. But you do need both to achieve victory. You need the strategist who recognizes the need to address all aspects of war both on the battlefield and in the political arena. This is the person who sees the big picture and keeps his subordinates focused. But you also need the brilliant and daring field commanders to execute the plan and, where appropriate, adapt it to changing circumstances on the ground. As a nation, we have always been blessed from the start with having both components working in concert.
After I read 'The Indinspendable Man' I ran across volume one in a used book store, and I did read it cover to cover. It took him up till the French Indian War. It was well written, but more detail than necessary to really understand the man. I decided not to go for volumes two and three.
For most of us who aren't professional historians, Flexner captured the man in "Indispensable,' and did it very well.