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Blooding at Great Meadows: Young George Washington and the Battle that Shaped the Man

By Alan Axelrod; Running Press, 270 pages, $22.95

George Washington has been called the father of our country, founder and patriarch, all phrases that conjure up an image of a man who is stoic, noble and sagacious. We see him every day on our most common denomination of currency, and his features are carved into the granite of our nation’s famed Mount Rushmore. For nearly all Americans, George Washington is the proverbial Marble Man, constant and unchanging.

In order to understand the real Washington, however, we must chisel away the granite veneer, not to expose feet of clay, but to recognize flesh and blood. We should try to envision a tempestuous young man, filled with boundless enthusiasm and ambition; a man who had to constantly strive to control a raging temper and who wanted nothing more than to be accepted and recognized by his peers. This is the George Washington that readers meet in Alan Axelrod’s Blooding at Great Meadows, a fast-paced and compelling look at the young Virginian’s service during the earliest phases of the French and Indian War.

Axelrod’s Washington is not always deliberate and prudent. In May 1754, while on a mission to the Ohio Valley that was claimed by both England and France, the young commander rashly attacks and defeats a small French scouting party, thus precipitating a war that would eventually engulf the entire world. Only after the smoke of battle clears does Washington learn that the French commander who had been killed in the fight carries a diplomatic pouch. His initial victory is quickly followed by a humiliating defeat at the hands of the French at Fort Necessity in present-day western Pennsylvania. As the author clearly shows, victory and defeat—the bookends of war—forged the character of George Washington and provided him with the leadership skills that became crucial during the American Revolution.


Originally published in the December 2007 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here