Saturday, April 05, 2008
Was George Washington a Great General?
How would you rank George Washington as a general? He lost more battles than he won, and he had an occasional habit of leaving his flanks unprotected. He also could be temperamental at times.
But could anyone else other than George Washington have pulled off an American victory in the Revolutionary War?
No, says Edward Lengel, author of General George Washington, a military biography of America's first general (and later first President).
Lengel argues that Washington may have been only a mediocre battlefield tactician. Indeed, his battlefield record is "mixed." But, says Lengel in the lecture linked below, as an administrator, political general, and moral leader, George Washington was unmatched.
What Lengel points out is that there's more to generalship than battlefield tactics. Generals like Napoleon Bonaparte, Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, and George S. Patton may have been wizards on the battlefield, but that's not all there is to being a general. And this was especially true for the Continental Army in the American Revolution.
This is why Michael Lee Lanning, author of The Military 100, ranks George Washington as the most influential military commander in all of world history! Lanning admits that Washington's high ranking isn't due to battlefield brilliance, but rather to overall generalship - and the indispensable role that Washington played in winning America's independence.
For my own part, I think General Washington's battlefield tactics are sometimes UNDER-rated. It's true that Washington left his flanks unguarded at times, and that he periodically failed to properly reconnoiter the field. However, when pressed to the wall, Washington's brilliance came out.
For one thing, Washington was a masterful escape artist - as was seen in Long Island and just after Trenton (and before Princeton). He was the "Houdini" of the Revolution! For another, Washington was spectacular in sewing seeds of deception in his enemy - through espionage (he was America's first spymaster) or through clever maneuvering. And finally, Washington was audacious when he needed to be - such as at Trenton.
Most importantly (and even those critical of Washington's generalship concede this), George Washington was the most determined leader of the American cause. It's hard to imagine a more desirable concept for the leader of an army that was perpetually outnumbered, ill-equipped, inadequately trained, and poorly paid -- and up against the mightiest empire in the world.
The United States of America is here today, because of General George Washington.