Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hooray for George

On Tuesday, February 22, we honor 
the Father of Our Country....

With that in mind, here are

Five Things You Didn’t Know 
About George Washington

 He surrendered to the French.

In 1754, during the French-and-Indian War, when he was a young colonel in the British army, he and his troops tried to drive the French out of a crucial part of Ohio.
He tried and failed to defend his fort at the Battle of Fort Necessity. 

When the French and Indians attacked, he ordered a frontal assault in response. It failed. Young George, then a mere 22, ordered his men retreated back to the fort. They were greatly outnumbered. 

Justly concerned about being massacred and scalped, Washington surrendered. He feared his reputation would be ruined, but back in Virginia his loss was blamed on lack of supplies and support from other troops.

He wrote love poems.

At least two. Here is a dandy that he wrote to as a teenager to a young girlfriend---

From your bright sparkling Eyes, I was undone;
Rays, you have, more transparent than the sun,
Amidst its glory in the rising Day,
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you'l Find
Ah! woe's me that I should Love and conceal,
Long have I wish'd, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was't free from Cupids Dart,
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart.

Her name is hidden in the verse. The technical term for this sort of effort is an acrostic poem. (Note the first letter of each line.)

One cringes to imagine young George as a teenager in love…

His first Secretary of State may have been a traitor.

He was Edmund Randolph, and Washington fired him after the Secretary of War showed him a secret French dispatch. In a letter by the French ambassador that had been captured, he said he had received “precious confessions” from Randolph. 

This was in 1795. The U.S. government was negotiating a treaty (Jay’s Treaty) with England to resolve unsettled issues from the Revolutionary War. The U.S. was struggling to balance itself between England and France which were then at war. T

The letter also implied that Randolph was open to bribery. 

Randolph was the first cabinet secretary to resign. As he was also a Virginian, this event was a huge embarrassment, politically and personally, for Washington.

He lost New York City.

In August 1776, the British wasted no time in dealing with the rebels. They launched a naval invasion of Long Island and Manhattan (an 18th century style Normandy assault) that shattered the American army.

Washington was driven first from Long Island and then from Manhattan to the Jersey Palisades across the Hudson River. When he realized the full depth of his army’s defeat he wept “with the tenderness of a child.” Even his closest aides thought that all was lost.

There was a second—even more 
daring—Delaware Crossing.

The first crossing on Christmas 1776 was a miracle of teamwork, courage, and defiance. 

A blizzard had swept through on Christmas Eve. And was continuing. Though the British and Hessians had feared a rebel attack, they let their guard down due to the horrible weather.

And it is true that the rebels were in no condition to attack. In one regiment, 400 of 500 men had died of dysentery and malaria. When the march to the Delaware River began, most men had no idea where they were going. Washington ordered “no man to quit his Ranks on pain of Death.”

The Continentals surprised the Hessians (German mercenaries) in Trenton, routing them, causing great casualties to only “trifling” losses in combat, according to Washington. The real enemy was disease and exhaustion. 

Washington decided to regroup, crossing back to Pennsylvania across the Delaware.

That first assault was a mere raid. Now Washington met again with his senior officers. He had received word for a junior officer Cadwalader who was still in New Jersey that his men wanted to fight on. Cadwalader feared they would mutiny if the attack did not continue. He further told Washington that the enemy was panicked by the first attack and urged the commander to drive on.

In typical fashion, Washington presented the idea not as his own but as that of a junior officer. He kept his silence to encourage senior officers to debate the matter. Their men were in even more wretched shape, now from frostbite, as well as disease and exhaustion. 

The decision, however, was unanimous. Another attack was ordered for December 29. Snow continued, and it was even colder. When the rebels crossed they headed through Trenton and then to Princeton where the British suffered severe losses and had to flee to New York City, 60 miles to the north. They retreated in front of street in Princeton where I grew up as a boy, in front of the very spot where my childhood home would later be built.

(The bridge from Princeton to Kingston that retreating British troops crossed. The Kingston mill stands behind it.)

British resolve was shaken; Washington’s reputation was saved. And the colonists were on their way to victory, thanks to Washington’s daring, resolve, and leadership that brought northerner and southerner together in a common cause.

(Source: Washington's Crossing, David Fischer)