Source 1: George Washington in the American Revolution
Read As you read this secondary source, think about Washington as a commander.
A Call for Leadership
After the battles of Lexington and Concord, the colonial forces, needed a commander. Members of the Second Continental Congress realized that the New England colonies could not fight the British alone. At the time, the colonial army was made up of state militias that were not very well prepared for fighting. The Congress decided to unite the all of the state militias into a single force called the Continental Army. George Washington would command the Continental Army. Since Washington was from Virginia, this decision meant that Virginia would be involved in the war. This decision also made sense because of Washington’s experience in combat.
Washington in Command
During the war, Washington and his troops traveled as far north as Fort Crown Point in northern New York. They traveled as far south as Yorktown in southern Virginia. They fought battles in the countryside and in major cities. As the war went on, Washington’s perspective on the troops changed considerably. In a letter from 1775, he described the soldiers from Massachusetts as “an exceeding dirty & nasty people.” But in a letter written after the war, he praised the patience, virtue, and determination of the troops that fought for independence.
Shortly after he took over as leader, Washington ordered a bombardment of enemy forces in Boston that drove the British out of the city. However, this victory was followed by a long and costly campaign to defend New York City. Washington knew that losing New York City to the British could cut off the line of communication between rebel forces in New England and the rest of the colonies. Washington and General Charles Lee developed a detailed plan to defend the city, but the campaign ended in a series of retreats for the Continental Army.
During the retreat, British General Charles Cornwallis decided to halt his troops from attacking Washington’s men as they crossed the Hackensack River. This proved to be a mistake. Once the Continental Army made it safely across the Hackensack River, Washington put the failed New York campaign behind him. He planned a surprise attack on Trenton, New Jersey. This attack would be a benefit for the Continental Army.
Image credit: George Washington by Charles Willson Peale, commemorating the victory at Princeton, c. 1780-1782 (United States Senate)
A Turning Point at Valley Forge
Another important time in the war came during the winter of 1777 to 1778. Washington and his troops at camped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Washington chose Valley Forge for several reasons. One reason was its location at the top of a plateau protected by hills. Another reason was that it was close to Philadelphia, which was occupied by the British. From the camp, the Continental Army could keep an eye on the British troops. During this winter, lack of food and decent clothing were serious concerns. Rain battered the wooden huts the men built for themselves to keep warm. But Washington put the time at Valley Forge to good use. The troops received valuable training from two experienced European military commanders—the Marquis de Lafayette and Baron Friedrich von Steuben. Washington also used his leadership skills to forge strong alliances with other officers and to ease the concerns of delegates from Congress who visited the camp. Through hard work and grit, Washington and his troops left Valley Forge stronger and more unified than when they arrived.