The printed word, as much as the trials of battle, forged George Washington the soldier and was central to his efforts to create disciplined, effective armies.
The war stories told by his half-brother, Lawrence Washington, an officer in the Virginia militia likely ignited Washington’s interest in a military career, but printed histories may have also inspired him. One of the earliest books he purchased, at age 15, was A Panegyrick to the memory of his Grace Frederick, late Duke of Schonberg, a celebration of the exploits of a 17th-century German soldier.
As commander of the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War (1755–1758) and later as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army (1775–1783), Washington took a studious approach to war and urged his men to do likewise. Unruly subordinates, unresponsive superiors, and his own inexperience spurred him to seek counsel from the writings of ancient and modern warriors. He instructed his officers, both in his official orders and private letters, to study military treatises. When morale was low, he deployed the powerful words of pamphleteers and playwrights to buoy the army’s spirits and rekindle their commitment to the cause.