tv George Washingtons Military Career CSPAN May 9, 2020 4:50pm-6:02pm EDT
best-known american history writers of the past decade talking about their books. you can watch our weekly series at 4:00 p.m. eastern here on american history tv on c-span3. on americanext, history tv, the president and ceo of george washington's mount vernon appears in the virginia estate's education center with a life-size replica of washington. he traces the first president's military career from the french and indian war through the american revolution while also taking questions from viewers. this program originally livestreamed on facebook and youtube and is part of a series of online events intended to keep visitors connected with mount vernon during its closure to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic. mr. bradburn: here we are again. welcome back to mount vernon. my name is doug bradburn. i am the president and ceo of george washington's mount
vernon. it is my delight to have these live opportunities to talk about the story of george washington. last wednesday, we were in our museum. this is what we call our education center here at mount vernon. it focuses on the life of george washington. really a grand sense of his biography and why he matters and how he impacted the age he lives in and why his legacy still matters today. last time, we were looking at his youth, a youth that is oftentimes enwrapped in romance and myth. it is hard to get at because it is a period that is least documented, but it is an interesting period to understand george washington in the context of the 18th century. of course, he is most known to americans and perhaps to folks around the world as the great military commander, the general who led the americans through the american war for
independence, through eight long years of war. his identity as a warrior is a crucial one. we think about who was george washington, how did he think of himself and his time, and why does it matter today? george washington as a military commander is still studied regularly in the great military disciplines in this country at west point, the naval academy, as well as the war college because washington was a fundamental figure in the establishment of american tradition of leadership in arms. he was the first officer of the american army. the united states army dates its own birth to his service. the continental congress's appointment of him taking over the army. that is important to start thinking about the cultures and traditions that are part of american military power and military leadership today.
george washington also was a man of the 18th century. he lived in a very different world with different assumptions about how warfare should be conducted and what was needed. some of that, i hope, will come out as well. what was different about the way an 18th-century officer might organize troops versus today. let's get into it. i want to start where i left off last week, which is the french and indian war. george washington's military education was through the process of fighting in the french and indian war. he had no experience when he was leading men into battle. he had no experience organizing men or creating a camp or building a supply train or any of that. he learned a lot of the basics in the field through service in the french and indian war and also by many mistakes.
he had a skirmish that turned into a nasty assassination, as the french consider it. he lost one of his early commands at the battle of fort necessity, where in the french and indian war he had the virginia regiment surrounded by british with no native american allies, and ultimately had to surrender his post. yet he survived to go on to great things in the french and indian war. he would go on to become known as a very respected officer, and a respected colonial officer, particularly by virginians, but also by colonials throughout north america. in part, this had to do with his battle which is often called braddock's defeat. general edward braddock, the great british -- he was not great. in fact, he was an inexperienced but long serving british commander who was sent to attack
fort duquesne in 1755. george washington served as a volunteer on his staff. braddock had his great meeting with a number of royal governors in alexandria. john carlisle was related to george washington through marriage, so washington's brother, you'll remember, married into the fairfax family. john carlisle was married to a daughter of william fairfax, so george washington was very much on the radar of people in alexandria when braddock was looking for some expertise. and he agreed to volunteer. braddock agreed to staff him. it served braddock's army, ultimately, because washington
was able to lead the retreat after braddock's army was caught by an ambush of well-prepared native americans, some of their french allies -- mostly a native american victory, and one of the worst defeats in british history. braddock's army was decimated and washington was able to guide this retreat through chaos only a few miles away from the course of the ohio river, which was their goal. washington comes back and finds virginia in a position where it is completely undefended. one of the things braddock's army did when they marched out west, they built a big road to make it easier for braddock to bring his army out there. but once they were defeated, that road became a highway for native americans to come rushing back into the virginia frontier and spread out and assault the virginia settlers in the shenandoah valley. without any protection, the colony of virginia begged george
washington to come back into service to become the head of the virginia regiment again, and he ultimately, reluctantly, did come back in to be a colonel of the virginia regiment with a new plan, a strategic plan intended to defend the frontier. virginia set a series of forts. washington found himself in an incredibly challenging position for next few years, which was a defensive one where he had only about 1000 men. he was supposed to have about 2000 men, but it never was that many, across multiple forts in the shenandoah valley intended to cover 400 miles of frontier. and of course native americans are not stupid. they are not just going to attack the forts. they go around those and attack settlements. they would carry away captives, steal goods, and basically make civilian life dangerous on that frontier and keep the whole colony on edge.
and washington was in a difficult position of having to defend this frontier. one of the things he did learn was how to command men, train men, fight in the indian style in the woods, using light infantry tactics, learning how to track native american groups, and obviously learning a lot about supply and morale and motivation. in fact, some of the early essences of george washington the leader we see developing in this period. there is an episode at one of the forts that washington is in charge of where he had been away for a while and comes back. there have been drunken carousing by some of the officers at this fort. washington has to go through the process of court-martial, where the officers convene and try other officers for misbehavior, and he has to exercise punishment. after that, he writes an address to the officers of the virginia
regiment which basically says that it takes more than the title to make the officer. and that he will make it his duty to serve with the utmost respect to the rules of comportment and training, but will also expect that of the others as well. he also says he will punish with severity, but at the same time, he looks forward to rewarding the merit of the best, the brave and most meritorious. that notion of it takes more than the title to make an officer, and that he was going to reward merit, but punish poor behavior, was a key to understanding washington's sense of what leadership means in that environment. he puts an emphasis on training and on reading. in fact, he lists a number of books officers should read. you will see this throughout his own experience as a military leader, the importance of
training, of reading. the other thing about the french and indian war i want to bring up before we get into the american revolutionary war more generally is that george washington really becomes alienated from the british world for the first time during his experience of the french and indian war. he trained the virginia regiment over these three long years of bloody campaigns, as he called them. and it made them into a very highly regarded, professional regiment. they are not a militia unit. they are an established military unit at a provincewide level, but they are not what is called the regular british establishment. they are not part of the british army per se. they are a provincial regiment. what that means is george washington's commission as a colonel is not as effective when he is around an officer who has
a king's commission. a king's commission at the level of captain is supposed to be able to have authority over whichcial colonels, george washington saw as a huge insult, an insult to his honor. so there is a constant concern that these provincials are going to end up serving alongside regular troops and the officers would be raided. washington was trying to get his whole regiment put on a british establishment recognition, which would equalize his own status within the british army more generally, the british imperial forces collectively, but would also do the same for his fellow officers. he had about 60 to 70 fellow officers in the virginia regiment. this comes to ahead a couple of times throughout the course of the french indian war. he fails to get this recognition. he gets quite close.
he thinks the great opportunity has emerged with the appointment of a new british commander in chief in about 1756 or 1757, which is john campbell, the new commander-in-chief of all the british forces in north america. john campbell is a scotsman. he is also a nobleman, the earl of loudoun. which is john campbell, the new he is appointed commander-in-chief, but he is also the royal governor of virginia, which is important because the royal governor of virginia represents the throne in the virginia colony. virginia is mostly run by what are called lieutenant governors. we have a royal governor in virginia, he appoints a he is lieutenant governor, and that lieutenant governor goes and lives in williamsburg and runs the colony on behalf of the actual governor, who most of the time is an absentee governor. he stays in scotland or england collecting his salary for being
the royal governor, but not actually doing anything. in this case, the royal governor of virginia, the real royal governor, is coming to the colonies. he is also the commander-in-chief of all the forces. here is george washington thinking, this is perfect for me because i am the colonel of the virginia regiment. i have that connection to this royal governor. plus i have been serving in this war, so have that connection to the commander-in-chief. plus i have got all this experience in fighting in this war. and he has this strategic idea he wants to bring to his superiors. he wants to go on the offensive. he cannot defend the frontier of virginia over 400 miles. thenows if they can take
forks of the ohio -- where the french built fort duquesne, that is the launching point of native american raids. this is where native americans are coming from canada and further west and all over, getting supplies, and being able to then launch raids into the frontier of pennsylvania, virginia, north carolina, and further south. if you can take fort duquesne, you can cut off the whole region's ability to sustain region's ability to sustain native warfare on the frontier. washington knows this. fort duquesne is the hive they have to destroy. the only way to stop the raiding is to take over the fort. he wants to go on a mission. he wants to convince the new commander-in-chief lord loudoun. he writes a flattering letter to names his forte after loudoun.
how the greatest generals and greatest men are delighted that you are now in charge. he goes to philadelphia, where loudoun is, and tries to set up a meeting. and loudoun is the commander-in-chief of the british army. this is like some random colonel trying to talk to the head of the joint chiefs of staff with an idea about what they should be doing. that typically is not the way that these decisions are made. so washington is put on ice. here he is cooling his jets for two weeks in philadelphia trying to get the attention of lord loudoun. he is finally allowed in to see him, and what does loudoun do. loudoun says i have no interest in hearing your ideas, young man. washington is only 24 at the time. from loudoun's point of view, he has very little experience in arms, and he is a provincial to
begin with. not only that, washington's virginia blues, this regiment he has trained over these years that he is so proud of, he is going to have to lose some of his men. those will be sent to south carolina. washington emerges from this meeting completely humiliated and angry, and he writes what i call the smoking gun letter, that he writes to the lieutenant governor of virginia, who has been working with him for years. he says i cannot concede that americans, only because they are not british, will be denied the rights of british subjects. essentially saying, how come we are not treated equally with the british? he goes on to point out there is no other regiment in his
served's service that three campaigns without recognition. that idea that americans are not lesser than the british come through very powerfully. i think this is the crucial moment, if anyone was to ask why does george washington become a rebel against the king who he had served in the french and indian war, this experience with lord loudoun is one of those moments you can point to and say, there is george washington being treated like a dog and he will never forget it. ultimately, of course, the french and indian war, washington does participate. one other thing about loudoun. to give you a sense of the character of john campbell, earl of loudoun. benjamin franklin said of lord loudoun that he is like st. george on the tavern sign, always on horseback, but never going anywhere. you get the sense of this man who played at being a great
soldier but never really did much, and in fact he did not. ultimately washington does get to participate in a successful march on fort duquesne. he goes with the forbes campaign in 1758. in that campaign, he believes he has a major impact on helping to lay out the line of march. he has experience with this sort of wood fighting. he does not get what he wanted from forbes. he wanted forbes to take the same route that braddock did, the virginia route. forbes took a longer but flatter route through pennsylvania, and ultimately had the same success. the french left the fort before the british arrived, so they arrived at an empty fort and were able to secure it. that success basically ended the french and indian war in the south. it was correct. once you took duquesne, the french had no way to project power south of the great lakes.
when that was over, george washington resigned his commission. it was clear that his ambition in military was not going to be in the british army. he resigned his commission, es martha marri washington and embarks on his next career as a virginia planter. it is really interesting to see that as connected. he is turning his back on a military career that has been denied him, essentially, through the idiocy of the british in his interpretation. now he is going to become that virginia planter that he never had been. to do that, he brings martha washington to mount vernon and the next phase of his life begins. let's fast-forward to the american revolutionary war. why don't i take a question as a way to get into it, as a way to think about george washington as a soldier in the american revolution.
>> washington was one of history's greatest generals. who were his mentors and how did he learn strategy? mr. bradburn: the question is about washington, considering the fact that he is one of the greatest generals in american history -- i would submit that he is and why we have to think werem in that way -- who his mentors in arms, how did he learn? george washington obviously learned by doing. one of the incredible things you see about him is that he will fail. he will blunder and make mistakes, but he clearly learns from his experiences in the french and indian war and also in the american revolution. he was also a great reader of all the military books of the age. he learned a lot from braddock and the officers that surrounded braddock, including people like
thomas gage, who he will later face off against in the boston theater. he read all the latest treatises. he started focusing on the sort of petite war tracts, light infantry, guerrilla warfare we might call it today, that was emerging in the literature of the 18th century. in the 18th century, the european mind of warfare was fairly stuck in a tendency that had basically existed for almost 100 years. the technology had not really changed much. the british were using the musket that was basically like the musket they were using in 1705, that marlborough was using in the wars around the 1710s, the brownback musket. you would mass firepower in groups of ranks of infantry.
the goal was to outmaneuver, outnumber the other team's infantry. it was very static in the way they were thinking about tactics at the time. washington is learning from this european tradition through their manuals, which emphasized drill, which emphasized lines of men with muskets who would march close together and shoot close together at point-blank range, and then charged by the bayonet. this is how european battles have been fought for almost 100 years from the evolution of the bayonet onto the musket, which got rid of pikemen centrally. cavalry was used in minimal ways as well in these major 18th-century european battles.
washington could learn about that tendency of warfare. but he also learned from the ancients as well. interestingly he read julius caesar during the french and indian war. caesar, the commentaries on gaul, which washington was reading when he was defending the british frontier, caesar was defending the roman frontier. caesar was talking about the challenges of defeating an enemy, in this case the german tribes, that fought in a different way than the romans have been fighting. in a sense, washington is learning from these treatises and tracts, the great military figures in the 18th century. you had the ancients like fabius, who was able to defeat hannibal, you have caesar, the
gustavus adolphus, william of nassau, prince eugene, frederick the great. in washington's time, frederick the great is the living greatest general of the age. frederick the great is the epi tome of the highest level of what tactics have approached by the middle of the 18th century. the prussian army that frederick controlled, heavy infantry that were very well trained, emphasis on highly trained, expensive, permanent armies that you would not use very often. hopefully many of them would not die because they were so expensive to train. 18th century warfare tended to be focused on siegecraft. europe was dotted with fortresses and castles that controlled the different rivers.
fortresses -- when you think about strategic battles and fighting in europe, you are thinking about seizing rivers and fortresses. these armies move slowly. their supply lines can only be a couple of days away at most. they require a tremendous amount of powder and food and horses. when military -- one historian described 18th-century armies as shackled by their supply lines. imagine a giant man walking with shackles on. these armies moved very slowly. most battles that we think about in the 18th century are great sieges rather than set pieces. you will see a major change in this in the 19th century with napoleon. the american revolution is fought in a time of these older sensibilities about what warfare looked like in the 18th century. washington is schooled in that tradition through reading these
generals he served in the french and indian war, but also, through the american revolution, he evolves in his own thinking and understands how to command at a high level. the real challenge he will face in the american revolution is he never commanded anything more than 2000 men. that is tiny compared to being the commander in chief of an army. even though he often does not have that many men directly under him, we will see, like in the new york theater, when washington commands about 25,000 men spread across different areas, he makes some fundamental mistakes about how to arrange that army. which probably has as much to do about his inexperience than anything else. how about another question? >> what kind of reputation did
washington have among the soldiers versus at home? mr. bradburn: there question is the reputation of washington amongst the soldiers versus beyond the soldiery. there is an implicit question about what was his reputation to the enemy. this aspect of his reputation is important to recognize. he was ultimately beloved by the soldiers. a lot of his political power within the army, the fact that he never lost his command, had to do with the fact that there was this huge core of not only everyday soldiers, but the officer core that loved washington and believed he could do no wrong. this came through experience of working with him. he was very much a great listener, welcoming of other points of view, promoting men of great talents. he had a great eye for talents. when it came toward the regular soldiers, he was there. he stayed with the army in a way
that generals in the 18th century did not do. so he is at valley forge in the winter. he is at morristown through two brutal winters. he never takes a furlough. even those three days he comes to mount vernon, he is preparing for the arrival of the army. he is not going on a vacation. they say that 90% of doing a job is showing up. washington showed up, and that has an impact. the other thing he did when he was there, and he was not the kind of general -- he wasn't an omar bradley, he is not going around shaking hands trying to be one of the guys. but he is doing what is expected of him. he is not trying to go into people's tents and be one of the guys in the middle of their adversity. he is trying to find them food. he is trying to find them clothing. he is writing letters.
he is getting the local authorities mobilized to support the forging of this army. he is actively seen as trying to make life better for the army. and he is not the one they blame when they do not have shoes or clothes or gunpowder or guns. they blame the continental congress, the states, the politicians, who are either corrupt or incompetent, but here is washington doing his damnedest. washington is very popular amongst soldiers, and much of that spreads into the american people as well. there is a reason he is the most trusted man in america by the end of the war. it isn't just the soldiers, it is the story they tell about him when they go home. these soldiers do not serve for most of the war. they serve for short periods and then they go back to being a farmer. stories of washington are spread by word-of-mouth. it is likely that everybody knew somebody who could claim to have served with george washington,
or whose father or brother or uncle or cousin had served or seen him or talked about seeing him. it is a remarkable thing. i do want to mention his reputation amongst his opponents. the british made some critical mistakes at the very beginning of the american revolutionary war by underestimating the americans. when i say the americans, i mean all of the patriot army, the idea that colonials could ever fight. who served inge, america his whole career, would basically say of new englanders, they will be bold in council, but they don't show any stomach in battle. they really do not know how to fight and they are not going to be able to stick this out. they extend that for too long, thinking about the americans in that way. they have no respect at all for
their ability as soldiers. part of this -- there is good reason for that because the european army has to train infantry for two to five years before they can be expected to stand in a line, taking fire and winning a set piece battle. colonials have never been able to do that. they don't have bayonets on their rifles. they might snipe at officers from trees, but that is no way to win a battle. the british have good reason to think they have the advantage, but what they did not bargain for was the fact that the americans had tremendous leadership in george washington that was flexible, that was able to train up troops, that had other resources they could draw on. ultimately, george washington is seen as one of the greatest captains of the age. one of the great generals in world history.
particularly after he turns the tide of the battle in 1776 by crossing the delaware and those 10 days in which he not only crosses the delaware and defeats the hessians, he maneuvers around a larger army and wins the battle of princeton. because of the way he sets up his troops afterwards, he forces the british to lose all of new jersey. it is considered by frederick the great, the greatest military figure in europe, as some of the finest 10 days of generalship seen in history. in the courts of europe, the name of george washington all of a sudden becomes this reputation of great generalship to be studied and admired in fairly romantic terms. that attitude spreads amongst the british generalship over time, that washington is not some american bungler, that he
is actually a challenging foe to fight and defeat. it is a great question. >> how often did washington get home to his wife during the war years? mr. bradburn: washington did not get to home at all during the war years. home came to him. george washington had a very close enslaved man, william lee, a valet, who served with him throughout the war. this is someone washington knew from mount vernon. he had been his personal manservant. they have been in the hunt together in virginia and were now together in war. that familiarity was part of washington's day-to-day life in the camp. but also martha washington came to him every year. she came through great hardship across terrible roads, through danger, put herself in danger,
to come to the winter camps and bring supplies. she also mobilized women's support for the war, making cartridges, making money, and was a crucial part of washington's experience of the war during the wintertime, when all he had was stress. could he make his army survive another winter? could he make sure they are training so they would be alert and active when the british would go on their campaign? martha was there to calm his mood and make him into a better man and a better leader. in fact, the officers, in washington's experience, would often celebrate when martha arrived in camp because it would make him a little easier to deal with. little less angry, a little less wound up. he tended to be a control freak, in trying to have his hand in everything, and i think martha
leavened his personality. that is a good question. >> i heard that it was hugh mercer's idea to cross the delaware to suprise the hessians. any truth to that? mr. bradburn: there is a lot of people who claim it to be their idea, including washington himself. let's set the stage a little bit. george washington, in probably his only major strategic blunder of the whole war, is in the new york theater. the british are sending an expeditionary force to destroy this rebellion. george washington is set up under the guidance of charles lee, one of the commanders put in place of the defense of new york. washington is in command of about 25,000 troops in manhattan and long island. what he does -- and it is
strategically important for a lot of reasons -- the hudson river is crucial. you can't let the british control the hudson. new york is an important port. it is dominated by loyalists, so it is important to keep control of the area. the continental congress wants george washington to defend new york. so washington is there. new york is an island and is surrounded by navigable waterways for hundreds of miles. george washington has no navy, so an amphibious assault could outflank them at any given time, particularly given the ability of the american army to move rapidly and effectively. so george washington stations all of his troops on either manhattan and long island. it is a huge strategic blunder because general howe could simply have landed on manhattan
island and outflanked george washington and destroyed the whole army. it is hard to see how washington could have escaped, if at all. but fortunately howe was not that enterprising of a commander, so he fought in long him on and fought manhattan island and allowed washington to escape destruction. it is a series of losses. washington loses. but he does have a successful retreat. they don't ultimately lose the core of their army. he loses a series of battles and skirmishes in manhattan, although they do hold ground in crucial moments. washington is going to learn a lot in these losses. he is going to learn the value of maneuver. he sets up in manhattan very strong positions and howe just outflanked him every time. he also understands the value of training. his troops cannot move effectively on the battlefield. he needs to train them to
function as a proper infantry unit that can move without becoming chaotic, they can move and fight, that can not only hold ground in a trench, but fight effectively on a battlefield without losing sense of order and panicking. he also learns the value of naval power. these are three crucial things he will need to triumph in the revolutionary war that he is allowed to learn in these series of losses, this blunder. let's get to the main point. his army ultimately does escape from manhattan, although he loses 3000 men at fort washington. that loss is the big loss. now howe has something to claim victory about, because seizing new york, a town of 20,000 people -- we think of new york city as this incredible
metropolis. new york city is a port in north america. it is an important and valuable place, but in european eyes, for howe to say i won this port is not a great victory without capturing a big chunk of george washington's army, which he was able to do at fort washington. it is a huge blow to morale, to the cause, and a great celebration for british arms in that campaign. washington is escaping from howe through new jersey, retreating back towards philadelphia, and being chased by the british across new jersey. his army is disappearing. men are leaving. their enlistments are coming up at the end of the year anyway. they have been beaten. they are tired. the army ultimately dwindles to 3000 from 20,000.
this army sort of melts away like the snow. and washington, as early as late november of 1775, is trying -- sorry, late november 1776 -- dr. bradburn: washington starts thinking about the need to counteract the news of the loss of port washington. that fell at the end of november . without loss washington knew he needed something to change the narrative. a counterattack of some kind. he starts looking for opportunities. that is ultimately what is presented to him with trenton. the british are essentially chasing colonials across the delaware river. all of new jersey almost. they are going into winter quarters. their behavior was terrible in
new jersey. there is plunder, there is destruction of property. you have one of the signers of the declaration of independence has abjured his signature and declared loyalty in the crown. it is a huge propaganda challenge, but the militia starts rising. washington is being fed intelligence about the possibility of an attack. that leads to the incredible decision to cross the delaware and turn the tide of the war, which washington did. in 10 days he turns the tide of the war and transforms the narrative. of course, general mercer died at the battle of princeton. mercer is bayoneted to death. mercer is well-dressed in colonial uniform, he refuses to surrender, and he is bayoneted.
,ost of the other america bedraggled, ragtag army. mercer would have stood out in a really grand way. that made people think that this was possibly washington. that's a good question about whether mercer could get credit. i don't think you can say it was mercer's idea alone. there were others. the general in pennsylvania washington himself, his staff. , there was a lot of people looking for an opportunity. sticking with the crossing, what type of watercraft did the army used across the delaware? dr. bradburn: the crossing of the delaware, we think of it with this beautiful painting from the 1850's. the painter was a german immigrant who painted this paintingnary history
at the metropolitan museum of art. you can see it online on our webpage. you can imagine, if you remember it, it is washington crossing the delaware he is standing -- i don't remember how he is standing exactly. but he is standing, looking forward behind the vista of this massive river clogged with ice, which is much larger than the actual delaware. and he is in this boat which is being rowed by all of these other people. some of whom represent real people like james monroe, who was in the crossing and got wounded. but also others who are meant to be indicative of the diversity of america. there is a woman in there. there is an african-american member. of the marblehead regiment. there is a scotsman, you can tell by his dress. he is painting an interesting
story about america's greatness in the 1850's, emphasizing immigrants and diversity and washington's leadership, and really creating a great historical memory and interpretation, but it is not really what happened. the question is about, how did washington actually crossed the delaware? it would have been very different style boats. flat boats and what are called durham boats, they are shallow draft boats that are used for carting things across the river. it was actually a mishmash of different craft. the americans had collected all of the craft they could, making sure the british could not get them. bringing them together. it is ever kind of craft you can imagine. mostly these flat cargo boats. washington likely would have been seated in a different fashion. there is a good painting by a -- is it cussler?
which shows what it might have looked like. again, we have that in our winter patriots movie. you can see a representation of that. in the snow. it was a remarkable crossing, nonetheless. it took many hours longer than washington hoped. it almost led to disaster. question? >> was there ever a time during the war, that washington's life was in grave danger or that he faced being captured? dr. bradburn: was there ever a time during the war were washington's life was in grave danger? the answer is, yes. there are at least three documented moments in which people were afraid that washington was taking risks with his body in the face of enemy gunfire, that was not considered to be smart, given that he was the indispensable man. one was in the battles in manhattan, where he was so upset at the retreat of the americans
that he started wanting to assault the lines himself. and throw himself into danger there. and cried, are these the men with whom i am to defend america? the line that is quoted in the hamilton musical. in fact, it is one of the great artistic renderings of the chaos and intensity of those series of losses. they are moving rapidly and they are fighting and they are dying and they are actively engaged. the other one is at the battle of princeton. famously, where washington gets within 30 yards of the british line, where a very experienced british officer who goes into
battle on horseback. that's the british model. they are much more disciplined and they are defeating this pennsylvania militia, and washington comes himself on horseback and rallies the troops. rally to me boys there are just , a few of them, and we will have them presently. something like that. there's a story told about how one officer closes his eyes and can't bear to see washington being shot dead, which he assumes has to happen. washington is out there right between the lines who are firing back and forth. but ultimately it carries the day. the other time in the revolutionary war that i think about -- perhaps one is monmouth, but i don't think he was in danger of close arms. at yorktown he is also known for getting up on top of the trenches that are surrounding
yorktown, with his spyglass, observing the battle. while there are shells landing around him, bullets whipping through the air. officers are asking him to come away, general come away. he will say something like, "you can retire to the back if you like, i feel perfectly fine." washington led from the front when it was necessary. famously, at the defeat of braddock, in the french and indian war, he had holes through his hat, a number of horses shot from under him, but yet wasn't scratched. george washington was never wounded throughout his many years of war. >> we got a question from william.
he would like to know what happened to general lee. was he captured or did he desert? why was the general allowed to command? dr. bradburn: let's start with the first one, which is the question about charles lee. was he captured or did he desert to the british. charles lee is an interesting figure and not well-known today. he was british, but he was also an adopted virginian. he was not related to the virginia lee family that we think of. he was an english-born man. he served in the french and indian war. he also serves in europe at the court of european princes as a military expert. he has a lot more military experience than george washington and he has a huge grudge toward the british. he thought he was treated poorly by them. he is also a very eccentric guy.
he is known to also have no friends, but his dog. he's got about 20 dogs. he is a bachelor, although he has a native american wife and he has a native american name, called boiling water. quick to rage, but also probably quite a genius, when it came to military affairs. washington depends on him and the congress love him. john adams thinks that he is very important to the americans and they really wanted him to help washington, because he knows a lot about siege warfare, he knows the european style of fighting. he is given high command early on. he is essential in the defense of charleston, in the early phase of the war when it successfully defeats a british invasion, although they will later be conquered. he was also put in charge of the defense of new york and does whatever but he considers to be
considersrybody to be a capable job with very little resource. charles lee also has a very different, and i would say revolutionary, notion of what the american strategy should be. he thinks it is a waste of time to try to fight the british in a traditional, european manner. george washington argues that the americans need to have a proper army that is able to fight in the european way. partly he sees it as the clear way to contain the british and to fight the british properly, but also it is political. if they have a real army, they can be considered a real country. like, the europeans will give them respect. whereas charles lee early on is emphasizing the importance of what we would call guerrilla warfare or, bringing the war into the countryside, of the army melting away into the mountains and letting the
british alone, and the americans fighting it out in this way. also, kind of a revolutionary idea of how they should be the republican way of fighting. charles lee is interesting. there's a great essay. the military historian contrasts washington and charles lee and their visions for warfare. anyway, charles lee in the flight across new jersey does a couple of things which are questionable. it is clear that washington is not capable of managing this war. washington has lost new york, lee is not responding to george washington's inqueries aggressively. ultimately, what lee finally does start to bring his troops and try to meet up with washington's troops in new jersey, he is careless. he ends up getting himself captured at a crossroads by the british. trying to sneak out of the house
and, ultimately, ends up as a prisoner of war. now, there are many historians -- there is much confusion about this. lee, it looks like, participates with the british in helping them while he is captured, think about the weaknesses of the american army. what we might consider to be traitorous behavior. this is something that comes to light much later. then lee, ultimately, is exchanged. he comes back into the american officer corps in an important role in 1778, when george washington is trying to figure out a way to take advantage of the british abandonment of philadelphia. the british, remember, they took philadelphia in 1777. they abandoned it after the
french come in on the side of the americans. now the theater of war has changed. this is in just these 13 colonies. 13his isn't just these colonies. the british have to think about their west indian colonies, their african posts, they have to think about the world. the french and them are going to fight on a much bigger scale. it is seen as foolish to hold onto the town of philadelphia. so that army is going to march from philadelphia to new york in 1778. george washington wants to take advantage by harassing that army, at best finding a location to attack with this better trained army. now he has an army that has been training at valley forge, etc. so what happens? the british are marching back to new york. charles lee is put in charge of a big section of the army. washington wanted to put lafayette in charge of that
wing, but he had pressure to put lee in that position. lee claimed he could not serve if he was put in a position where he was not in command of this. after he had opposed the idea of attacking the british the whole time. so lee never agreed with that, , but then he begs to be in charge of the army. of course, lee bungles it. when the battle of washington . washington interprets lee's behavior as being, shall we say, timid and not aggressive enough. that lee is not pressing an advantage and is retiring in the face of enemies, when washington believes he should be holding his ground or assaulting. so, washington dismisses him on the battlefield and there is later a very public court-martial. and that court-martial lee's , reputation is destroyed. although he is not ultimately convicted. that is the end of charles lee as a significant figure in the american revolutionary story.
so i don't think there is , evidence that he goes over to the british. he is captured. but while he is in british hands it is highly questionable what , his behavior is. i think he thinks at that moment, which most people did, that the american cause was lost. it is the same moment washington's army is losing debt has dwindled to 3000 people. it is right before the crossing of the delaware. lee is likely looking for an escape hatch at that point. and probably later regrets it. good question. oh, this is a three-part. the second one was about, who was it about? >> why does washington allow arnold to live? dr. bradburn: why did washington allow benedict arnold to live? he did not capture benedict arnold. he would have executed benedict arnold if he could have gotten his hands on him. that is probably a thing that kept him up at night. and enraged.
because arnold had not only been a trusted commander, and one of the great operational battlefield generals in the american revolution and a hero to boot. campaign,the canada the loss at bell core island. the incredible loss that slows down the british. essential at the battle of saratoga and trusted by george , washington. george washington wrote to him one of his favorite quotes from cato in which he said, you've -- he said,'tis not in mortals to command success but you have done better you deserve it. , he loved arnold. he knew arnold was one of the great generals. arnold was impatient and really disliked the french. arnold ultimately betrays, in a hideous way, the american cause. it's one thing to go over to the british, but he did it in such a way as to get washington -- as to try to get george washington captured.
two try to get west point captured, an important fortress controlling the hudson. then, not only does he go over to the british, but he becomes a british general and attacks the chesapeake, attacks virginia , and attacks it in a devastating manner. so arnold is notorious and washington would have liked nothing better than to string him up by the neck as a traitor to america if he could have gotten his hands on him. that is why he let arnold live because he never got him. , arnold ultimately goes on to live a despised life in britain as well. >> the last question is, why was general gates allowed a command? dr. bradburn: well, grainy gates, as he was known, had his supporters. he was an eminent figure and had the support of many in congress. ultimately has great success at the battle of saratoga. there are many who thought gates would be a better
commander-in-chief. it was a small number who made these rumblings. people were upset that washington couldn't win the battle of germantown, although troops considered it a great success. they had actually surprised the british. and scare them into staying into it -- in philadelphia that was . of course after the great , victory of saratoga, so washington's achievements by the untrained eye looked diminished in the face of gates. washington is pressured to put gates in command, and he ultimately puts him in charge of the southern army, and gates makes a complete hash of it. i think there is some statement of gates after the loss at cowpens -- a battle in the south that gates loses.
he basically does not stop for 100 miles in his retreat. as someone mentioned, the only thing gates won in the south was a horse race. nathanael greene is put into place. we know how that would go. green famously would lose all the time, but said we lost, we regroup, and we fight again. he understood that the british army couldn't replace their army. so any costly victory was as good as a defeat to cornwallis in that campaign. so he put gates in charge because there was political pressure. once gates show he was incompetent, never again. -- he never again would those have an important command. are three very good questions. let's get another. >> were washington and hamilton as close as they were in the musical? dr. bradburn: joy asks a question about how close were washington and hamilton? the musical is wonderful. i love the musical. it's a beautiful piece of art,
but it is shakespeare history. right? it's like shakespeare's great history plays. henry the fifth, the battle of agincourt. it captures the spirit of the story, but it does it in a way that of course has to take all , kinds of liberties with the actual truth. george washington's relationship with alexander hamilton in the american revolutionary war has been the subject of great biographies. ron tero spout graffiti is wonderful, as well as forced mcdonald's biography before that, which i think is as good on the financial work of hamilton as anything written about hamilton. chernow's biography but, there's a lot of romance placed upon hamilton in the revolutionary war.
he was in a to george washington. george washington had many aids through the war. he was an important aid and washington recognized his genius. hamilton had his close group of friends. but he wasn't indispensable to george washington by any stretch of the imagination. he is responsible for winning the american revolution, which is what you might think watching the play. george washington's relationship with hamilton was interesting, and it was testy. washington lost his temper with hamilton and hamilton, being a prideful man, basically resigns. washington tried to apologize. hamilton refused and left the army. hamilton had to beg washington to let him back to be a part of the yorktown campaign. there was no sense of like, i've got to have my right hand man. that's ridiculous. george washington was going to win yorktown whether hamilton stayed in er was on the dark or side of the moon. that said, hamilton clearly has to be recognized as a man of great valor and as a hero of the war.
the fact that he did lead that assault in the yorktown campaign, he was given that command by lafayette. lafayette commanded the american army of that wing. the thing to remember about lafayette -- sometimes people forget -- lafayette was an american officer who happened to be french. he was not a french officer in the employ of king louis. the french army was led by rochambeau. lafayette was an american officer. that is what makes him unique in the story. there's the french army, so lafayette in charge of the american wing at the battle of yorktown. then there is a whole french wing at the battle of yorktown as well. it is lafayette that gives hamilton command to attack the redoubt.
clearly washington's relationship with hamilton is close. any trust of any course ultimately he becomes his first secretary of the treasury. i think it is in that period where you would say hamilton and washington become crucially inseparable in the way that they are working together to assure the success of the american experiment. it is through that cabinet period, i think, and historians tend to project that back on the american revolutionary war, in which hamilton is not in that position of leadership, but is a trusted aide. >> we have time for one more question. dr. bradburn: this hour has flown by. >> how old was general
washington when he resigned his commission? dr. bradburn: how old was george washington when he resigned his commission? this is one of the important things to know about george washington, the soldier. george washington, at the end of the american revolutionary war, resigned his commission and went back into civilian life. throughout the war he had deferred to civilian authority, although he was given more power by the continental congress, almost unlimited dictatorial power in where the army was, ultimately, through the war. there were some that wanted him to become a king, or imagined a possibility he might become the lord protector of the united states, like oliver cromwell did at the end of the english civil war. but george washington promised to give back his commission, and he followed through. the british, after the treaty in 1783, finally leave new york in november 1783.
by december 22, george washington has resigned his commission into the hands of the continental congress. completing this incredible act, to assure that america would be a government of laws, and not a government of men. a republic, not a monarchy. a place that believes in liberty, not a place that would be dictated by a benevolent dictator. or tyranny washington is crucial, and this made his worldwide reputation. the question is, how old? in 1783, he was born in 1732. who can do the math? he is 51 years old when he does that. he became the commander-in-chief of the continental army when he is 42 years old. he is a 42-year-old man, he ends up resigning when he is 51. there is a lot to know about
george washington the military leader. it is a crucial part of the story of his evolution as a great leader. it is a crucial part of the story of our american military history as well. and washington is not infallible. but he is a tremendous political general. he is a great strategic general. i would argue, he is not as bad a tactician as many historians like to say. they say, he was not a good tactician and they will point to some blunders at long island and germantown. some issues that can be certainly identified, but in the context of the 18th century and the options he had, he is as good as any out there in that mode of fighting. and he beat everyone the british sent at him. he ultimately wins the war, which is how you measure great generalship. who wins the last battle, not
who wins the first battle. there is a lot of luck, and a lot of things people can't control once people start pulling guns out. on the strategic level, george washington understood the different phases of that war. there's different things that the americans were striving to do before they declared independence. there's different things they were doing in between declaring independence and when the french came in. once the french came in, he had a different way to think about what is going to happen. and what americans after yorktown, he has a whole different way of thinking about what is his important role. washington showed tremendous flexibility in strategic thinking and the way it was executed. that needs to be emphasized. flexibility in military leadership is as important as any other quality, and washington had it in spades. there's probably no other american general that was as good a political general.
eisenhower is probably his closest match, given his theater. different nations and alliances, different levels of government from the local to the state, to the national, to the international. george washington and eisenhower share that grand strategy challenge, that george washington mastered effectively and will use that to become the first president of the united states. certainly the model for presidents for years to come. thank you so much for the time we have spent together today. i look forward to answering more of your questions offline. keep sending men in -- keep sending your questions and. remember, there is lots of resources on mountvernon.org. if you are interested in this, you can really go into the rabbit hole. from articles, interactive maps, to movies, to the actual primary documents, and also interviews
with some of the great historians. much better than i am and who have written in depth about it. i think of the gentleman warrior , and general palmer, who a lot of you can find his work on our webpage as well. it is a fascinating place to look. i would also recommend, you like these videos, subscribe to our newsfeed. let everyone else know, together we can be inspired by arafat past and thick about the country we want to be as we get through the current crisis we are in today. we can do great things when we work together as americans and as americans being good in the world. this is a crisis which we will ultimately tell great stories about. the way americans came together. the way valued heroes came in and fought this disease on the front line. our incredible doctors and nurses. and medical people. and the folks who are the grocery stores, who are out
there working. thank you so much for your work. i look forward to welcoming you back to about vernon on the better side of this. >> this is american history tv, exploring our nation's past, every weekend on c-span three. next, and our weekly series, the civil war, gettysburg national military park ranger carlton smith talks about the role of confederate general james long street in the 1865 appomattox campaign. using maps and describing troop movements he outlines the general's path during the retreat from richmond through the surrender at appomattox courthouse. the talk was recorded in january, 2015, by the national park service. at 7:00 p.m. eastern, rear of washington journal, in american history to be studied session for high schoolers taking the advanced placement u.s. history exam. our guests were matthew ellington and jason stacy, co-authors of fabric of a nation, a brief history with skills and sources for the ap
course. they slain how this years exam is structured, provide strategies for the free response answers -- they explain. demonstrate how to analyze historic dock myth and respond to questions. at 8:00 p.m. in his lectures in history. george mason professor and sam levesque teaches a class about u.s. politics and economics of the early cold war. at 10:00 p.m. eastern, 7:00 p.m. pacific on our weekly series, reel america, in 1965, the u.s. army produce a five hour, 10 part documentary, army in action , focusing on the army's activities from world war i through the korean war. to mark the 75th anniversary of ve day, we show episodes 4-8, covering u.s. involvement in world war ii, from the pearl harbor attack through the surrender of japan. all that coming up by here on american history tv. karlton: on behalf of the