Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 29, 1975 · Page 89
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 89

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 29, 1975
Page 89
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G. Washington: RightMan ,. · . - . _. t - ^ for the Job ByDonMcLeod ' Associated Prets Writer The Continental Congress needed a man who could be trusted with the first American. Army, a man who wa's competent, but most of all politically acceptable. It chose George Washington. The future father of his country was not a dashing figure as he rode into camp 200 years ago this week to take command of the makeshift army besieging the British regulars in Boston. Washington's military record was more one of survival than victory. He was not bold, being given to doubt and self-deprecation.- He took reverses hard. He knew melancholy and gloom. Choosing him as the nation's highest officer was a political compromise at best, and he knew it. But George Washington, Virginia planter, gentleman and part-time soldier, also was proud,-steady, determined, and he had a sense of destiny. If he knew despair, he never gave in to it. He already had shown the traits that would win the war for him and independence for the United States. George Washington, despite the politics of his appointment, was the man for the job, perhaps the only man in America who could beat the best army in the world with a motley gaggle of ragged provincials. He faced an impossible task. He had to mold hundreds of loosely organized New England musketeers and backwoods riflemen into an' army under the guns of the British army and navy. On discovering that his supplies amounted to no more than nine rounds per man; it is reported that "for half an hour, he did not utter a word." ; ; : But somehow he did it. He created an army out of chaos. Led it from one defeat to another, kept it going when all others would have given up. And won the war. George Washington was a peculiar blend of all that made Americans of 1775 cherish" theinndeperid- ence, fight to secure it and win. He was truly an American creature. He grew up in a country that was still new and raw. He was trained on its frontier, on its rich earth and in its business exchanges. Washington was born in tidewater Virginia in 1732 when it had passed the frontier stage, but was not yet as civilized as the urban North: He knew wealth and he knew hard times. He had advantages and influential friends, but he was largely self-made. His father died when George was 11, leaving him in the care of a mother who was protective, possessive, restrictive, jealous and selfish. Her apron strings were smothering. All her life, Mary Bell Washington resented, rather than encouraged, her son's rising star. She felt success made him neglect her -which he never did. So George, as boys do, became restless. He was a dutiful son, but he spent as much time as possible with his favorite brother, or with friends and relatives. By the age of 15 he had become a competent surveyor who preferred the woods to life with mother on the farm. Like most American founders he spent a portion of his life learning from the frontier. 'As .a boy, Washington almost accepted appointment as a midshipman in the British navy. He was al- .ready packed when he backed out '.'in consequence of the earnest solicitations" of his mother. " Probably at this early age Washington developed the spirit of controlled .rebellion that also characterized the American nation as it sought independence in history's most orderly revolution. Destined for a gentleman's education in England, Washington lost his chance at the death of his father. He received only what would be a grammar school education today. But he never ceased the process of self-education. ^Washington's time bh'the frontier Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington is in Smithsonian Institution. as surveyor and soldier also gave him that typical American love^of the land, particularly the virgin . forests of the West, which in those days extended only to the Appalachians. British interference with the activity of speculators and settlers:on the western frontier, often cited as a leading cause of the Revolution, touched Washington personally. Eventually he inherited his "beloved Mount Vernon from his eldest brother, Lawrence, and became a progressive farmer; concerned with soil conservation and crop diversification ,--:' something almost unheard of in the America of his day. ' " = - r. Unhappy with the handling of his tobacco by British agents, who had a monopoly, Washington planted less tobacco, turned to simple manufacture, developed a fishery on the Potomac River, planted wheat, and operated a mill. ,,;.:;:'': As befitted a rising young man of property, Washington dabbled; in politics, until it became a consuming interest. He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and emerged a leader in that rebellious clique that gave fundamental philosophy and leadership to the Revolution. Washington was chairman of the meeting in Alexandria, Va., in the summer' of 1774 that adopted the Fairfax Resolves, the basis of the . Continental Association through which the Continental Congress began binding the colonies into a nation. It was while sitting in Congress that Washington heard his name discussed ( as a potential military commander!-He-feft' ffie^Vobm so his friends could discuss him without embarrassment.. The discussion was political. Moderates wanted a man without /dangerous ambitions, one not likely to take the army and make himself a dictator. But the man who led the war would be at times virtually a dictator, so he must be trustworthy.:.:' ;.:··.;·.. . . , ·;-. : - · : - . The South must be brought to the cause. A Southern commander might do the trick. But he must be one acceptable to the North. Washington did riot openly seek the job, which is one of the reasons he got it. Seeking the job would have been immodest. But he did wear his military uniform to Congress. Was that a signal of defiance to the British or a reminder of his military record? He wanted the command, but he wouldn't ask for it. He thought it would come to him, but he expressed genuine modesty. He was a man ready to be great but not if it meant betraying his'deeply felt sense of what a gentleman should be.: ·' -·.,' ' ; . . . ; . . · · .' . . : . "Though I am truly sensible of the high honor done me in this appointment," he said, "yet, I "feel great distress from a consciousness that my abilities and military experience may-not be equal to the extensive and important trust." His abilities and experience wer.e just what was called for! They had not produced any great successes,, but they had tempered the man for the job ahead. Washington began his military career in 1753 with an expedition to a British post on the Allegheny River that had been seized by the bring back the message that the French would not give up. But the winter expedition gained Washington, at the age of 21, a reputation as a resourceful and daring leader. The next year, during the French and Indian War, Washington ambushed a French patrol. He was later trapped at Ft. Necessity in Pennsylvania and forced to surrender, ; But;his reputation as ^warrior, and his good SenSe^ were growing. ·+· .^'···'~'-:^ : ': ' '.··'· When Gen. Edward Braddock led a British army against the French, Washington went along as aide-decamp. Braddock and most of his men were slaughtered, but Washington distinguished himself in saving what could be saved of the expedition. · . The" massacre wasi a horror that Washington never forgot, but he drew instruction from it; Washington had great admiration for the British officers, but little for the British enlisted soldiers Who broke and ran while the coloniais'trieB to fight. V w . . ; . i r v · · ; . - . » : v For the rest of the French arid Indian .War, Washington served as commander of the Virginia militia, seeing little fighting, but learning a lot about military inanagement. A colonial force ori home defense was a tough school for young Col. Washington. It taught, him all he would need to know about handling ornery, independent, roughneck colonial troops.; Time and again during the Revolution his personal hand put down rebellion, rioting, and mutiny. - These were the virtues, the training, the experience, and the reputa- tiotfthat Washington took to the rebel camp at Cambridge, Mass., on July 3,1775. . It was a Sunday, and the camp was quiet. There was no triumphal reception, no ceremony. v Washington dearly loved pageantry and pomp. But on that day he was just a man reporting for work. He met his officers, and the next day they got down to winning a ~ ' ' '

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