Dave Palmer’s book George Washington’s Military Genius shines a light on Washington’s strategic acumen. The term ‘strategy’ did not exist as a term during the latter half of the 18th century. According two Palmer, the concept of strategy came about as a result of Napoleon’s impact in history. The French Emperor redefined warfare and with this redefinition came a more crystalized concept of strategy. Strategy as an activity obviously existed before this period in history, but had not been defined as a concept distinctly separate from tactics.
George Washington’s Military Genius separates the Revolutionary war into 4 distinct (and in my opinion helpful) phases. Palmer investigates Washington’s strategic approach to each phase and calls attention to the General’s remarkable ability to recognize and appropriately alter his strategy as the war progressed.
Twistification will provide a title and description for each phases as I understand it:
The opening days of the war was an emotional and desperate time. The rebellion was seeking legitimacy by any way possible by winning a victory on the field against the worlds predominant superpower. At this time you will find Washington in his most aggressive mood, searching for that initial critical victory. Fortunatly for America, Washington finds this victory by staging a daring surprise attack at Trenton that wins fame and legitimacy for the American cause around the world. This victory thrusts American to the second phase of the war…
The second phase of the war centered around keeping the Continental army on the field while avoiding utter destruction from the triple threat of the British army, bad weather and lack of support from the confederation of States. During this phase Washington transformed into ‘The Fox’. He avoided major engagements and remained just outside of the grasp of General Howe, who desperately needed to track down and destroy the continental army in order to bring an end to the war. An American victory at Saratoga (thanks Benedict Arnold!) and the subsequent alliance with France led to the third phase of the war…
The third phase of the war centered around American’s alliance with France and the much needed French naval support. Washington shifted his strategy to account for Britain’s loss of maritime dominance. Like few others (Napoleon included), Washington understood the advantages of naval support and the importance of coordinating naval and land forces in an effort to strike at the enemy while the iron was hot. After a few failed starts with an often uncooperative French navy, Washinton brilliantly coordinated a naval blockade and military assault on Cornwallis’s beleaguered forces at Yorktown. Little did Washington know at the time the war was over and the most trying phase was yet to come…
The irony of rebellions is that the essential glue that unites men against their oppressors immediately loses its adhesion once the last vestiges of oppression sail into the sunset. The world looked on America during those first critical months after the war and waited for the inevitable collapse from within.
The collapse was imminent. The average continental soldier had not been paid in some cases for years, and few Americans really appreciated the sacrifice they had made for their country. The richness of commerce and agriculture abounded and the veterans of the war rightfully assessed that this bounty was gained on the blood and sweat of their efforts. The continental congress was penniless–unable to obtain the funds necessary to pay the soldiers and stuck in the precarious situation of fearing to release the soldiers less they demand pay.
The greatest danger lay in the unrest of officers. They gathered and prepared to take their grievances by force to congress. Washington stepped in and famously saved the revolution from eating itself from within. He released the soldiers on furloughs, thereby avoiding a decommission and the subsequent payment. The fires of this trying time shaped the foundation of the Constitution. Without Washington’s leadership there would be no nation–just a loose confederation of states unable to resist the prying politics of European powers. Consider ourselves lucky that no tragedy struck during this time, since there was not a man on earth that commanded the respect and authority to bring about a new nation.
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