Thomas Fleming continues his exploration of early American military history with an examination of George Washington s generalship. Although Washington has long been an American icon for his service to his country and for his value as a symbol of the Revolution, Fleming believes that Washington deserves far more credit as a general than he has often received. Washington was the key to military victory, the sine qua non of the American cause, for he understood when others around him did not–the strategy, imagination, and leadership that would be necessary if America were to gain the ultimate triumph.

HOW GOOD A GENERAL WAS GEORGE WASHINGTON? If we consult the statistics as they might have been kept if he were a boxer or a quarterback, the figures are not encouraging. In seven years of fighting the British, from 1775 to 1782, he won only three clear-cut victories at Trenton, Princeton, and Yorktown. In seven other encounters–Long Island, Harlem Heights, White Plains, Fort Washington, Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth–he either was defeated or at best could claim a draw. He never won a major battle: Trenton was essen­tially a raid; Princeton was little more than a large skirmish; and Yorktown was a siege in which the blockading French fleet was an essential compo­nent of the victory.

Most contemporary Americans, even if unacquainted with these sta­tistics, are inclined to see General Washington as a figurehead, an inspiring symbol whose dedication and perseverance enabled his starving men to endure the rigors of Valley Forge and Morristown winter quarters. He wore the British out by sheer persistence, with little reference to military skill, much less genius. The recent spate of books devoted to how Washington’s image was invented either by himself or by skillful propagandists bolsters this idea. Almost as misleading is our post-Vietnam fascination with guer­rilla warfare and comparisons of our defeat in Southeast Asia with the British failure in America. If American guerrillas defeated the British, Washington the general seems almost superfluous.

A general’s ability to inspire his men is not, of course, to be discounted, and Washington unquestionably had this gift. But in the final analysis, the great captains of history are rated on their ability to conceive a winning strategy and devise tactics to execute it. Does Washington, the man the British called “a little paltry colonel of militia” in 1776, belong in this select group? The answer is complicated by Washington’s character. He was, as the historian J.A. Carroll has pointed out, “not an architect in ideas; he was essentially a man of deeds.” He never set down in a neat volume his mili­tary (or political) principles. The best way to grasp his superior qualities, Carroll maintains, is to examine his thoughts and actions at climactic moments of his career.

To judge his generalship this way requires a look at the strategy of the Revolutionary Army when Washington became its commander on July 3, 1775. By that time the Americans had fought two battles, Lexington­ Concord and Bunker Hill, from which their politicians and soldiers drew ruinously wrong conclusions. At Lexington-Concord they saw proof that militia could spring to the defense of their homes and farms and rout British regulars on a day’s notice. At Bunker Hill they thought they had found a secret weapon, the entrenching tool, that would enable them to inflict crippling casualties on the attacking British even if, at the very end of the battle, the Americans ignominiously ran away.

In fact, the minutemen who fought at Lexington and Concord were a well-trained rudimentary army that had been drilling and marching for six months. They outnumbered the British five to one and knew it-a fact that added immensely to their elan. At Bunker Hill the overconfident British commander, William Howe, ordered a frontal assault on the entrenched colonials. Why the Americans assumed he would repeat this mistake in the future remains a mystery. As early as March 17, 1776, when the Americans outflanked the British defenses in Boston by seizing Dorchester Heights and fortified them with cannon dragged from Fort Ticonderoga in New York, Howe demonstrated he had learned his lesson by evacuating the city–something he had planned to do anyway.

A corollary to these ideas was the conviction that the war would be settled in one tremendous battle–what in the eighteenth century was called “a general action.” Thus there was no need to sign men up for long enlistments–a year was considered more than enough time. There  was even less need for a large regular army, which might endanger the liberties of the embryonic republic. Militia could operate as well as regulars from behind Bunker Hill-like barricades. As Israel Putnam, the commander at Bunker Hill, summed it up: “Cover Americans to their chins and they will fight until doomsday.”

Still another corollary–though the term may be paying too much of a compliment to the Continental Congress’s foggy military thinking–was the idea that if the Americans could push the British off the continent, the war would be won. So Washington obediently detached some of his best regiments and officers, such as Daniel Morgan and Benedict Arnold, to wrest Canada from royal control–a campaign that consumed close to half the 20,000 regulars Congress had empowered him to enlist. And the British evacuation of Boston was hailed as a stupendous victory, for which Congress issued Washington a medal.

Washington did not question these strategic assumptions–or Congress’s order to abide by a majority vote of his generals in councils of war–until mid-1776, when the main theater of conflict shifted to New York. Congress told him to defend the city; he did it Bunker Hill-style. On Brooklyn Heights and at various points around Manhattan, his men expended immense amounts of energy building forts on which the British were expected to impale themselves. One, on the comer of Grand and Greene streets, was appropriately named Bunker Hill.

Meanwhile, in mid-July, William Howe proceeded to land 25,000 men unopposed on Staten Island, underscoring the idiocy of Congress’s conti­nental redoubt strategy in a war with the world’s dominant sea power. Washington had only about 10,000 regulars to defend a city surrounded by rivers that permitted the enemy to land where and when they chose. The rest of his 23,000-man army was militia.

A few weeks later Howe shifted his field army to Long Island and defeated the Americans in a battle of feint and maneuver. Faking a frontal assault in order to pin Washington’s men in their entrenchments, Howe swung half his army in a night march around the exposed American left wing, creating rout and panic.

A shaken Washington was able to move his surviving troops to Manhattan by night. But a few weeks later Howe outflanked the American forts on lower Manhattan, landing at Kips Bay (now Thirty-fourth Street) after a ferocious naval bombardment. The Connecticut Militia guarding the shore fled without firing a shot. Washington, watching this stampede, cried out, “Are these the men with which I am to defend America?” Again, most­ly thanks to British sloth, Washington managed to extricate the bulk of his army, this time to strong positions on Harlem Heights, where a brisk skir­mish with British patrols temporarily steadied their collapsing morale.

During “hours allotted to sleep,” Washington began rethinking the strategy of the war in a series of letters to the president of Congress. Henceforth, he wrote, the Americans should “avoid a general action or put anything to the Risk, unless compelled by a necessity into which we ought never to be drawn.” Their goal should be “to protract the war.”

In cutting terms, Washington demolished congressional prejudice against a large standing army. It was imperative to recruit regulars com­mitted to serve for the duration, and end their dependence on militia. “Men just dragged from the tender Scenes of domestick life, unaccustomed to the din of arms,” had no confidence in themselves or their officers on a battle­ field. They were impatient and impossible to discipline, and they infected the regulars with similar vices.

But Washington and his generals were themselves still infected with the Bunker Hill virus, which they now called “a war of posts.” When Howe outflanked him again, landing troops on the Westchester shore of the Hudson who threatened to trap the Americans on Manhattan Island, Washington retreated to the hills around White Plains. Behind him he left almost 3,000 regulars in Fort Washington, overlooking the Hudson at present-day 181st Street. These men were supposed to deny the British full use of Manhattan Island and the river.

At White Plains, Howe did little more than feint an attack, then detached a hefty portion of his army to assault Fort Washington. Masterfully combining artillery with flank and frontal attacks, the British took the fort in two hours, bagging irreplaceable regulars and scores of can­non. A chagrined Washington confessed there had been “warfare in my mind” about whether to evacuate the place. He had let Major General Nathanael Greene, at this point one of the leading Bunker Hillists, talk him into leaving them there.

That bitter pill purged the last vestige of entrenchment-tool illusions from Washington’s mind. Two weeks later General Greene was across the Hudson River in Fort Washington’s New Jersey twin, Fort Lee, when he learned from a local farmer that four or 5,000 British troops had crossed the river at Dobbs Ferry, a few miles to the north, and were march­ing on the fort. Greene rushed a dispatch to Washington in Hackensack, asking for instructions. Should he stay and fight it out? Instead of a written answer, he got General Washington in person on a lathered horse. His instructions were one word: Retreat. Cannon, food, ammunition–every­thing was abandoned.

That was the day Washington began fighting a new kind of war in America. He was just in time, because in New Jersey the British, too, had some new ideas. Having demonstrated their ability to defeat the American army almost at will, they launched a campaign to win what post-Vietnam Americans would call hearts and minds. Along their line of march, they dis­tributed a proclamation offering rebels pardons and guaranties against “for­feitures, attainders and penalties.” All they had to do was appear before a British official within 60 days and sign a statement promising to “remain in a peaceable Obedience to His Majesty.” New Jersey, the British hoped, would become a model of how to defuse the Revolution. It had a large per­centage of Loyalists who would support a restoration of royal government and back the king’s troops against “the disaffected.”

At first Washington thought he had a good chance to defend New Jersey. He had brought 2,500 regulars across the Hudson with him, leaving some 7,000 men in Westchester to bar the British from the Hudson Highlands and New England. New Jersey had 16,000 militiamen on its muster rolls. He asked Governor William Livingston to call them all out. He told the commander of the Westchester force, Major General Charles Lee, to cross the Hudson and join him for a stand on the Raritan River around New Brunswick.

These hopes rapidly unraveled. The British reinforced their  invading army until it was 10,000 men strong, under the command  of  one  of their most aggressive generals, Lord Charles Cornwallis. Charles Lee, a head­ strong compound of radical political opinions and careening military ambition, ignored Washington’s request to join him. Meanwhile New Jersey’s militia declined to turn out. Not a single regiment responded to the gover­nor’s call. Only about 1,000 individuals showed up at mustering sites, almost as useless as none at all. It was grim evidence of the power of Britain’s shrewd combination of carrot and bayonet.

On November 29, Washington was in New Brunswick with an army driven by three months of retreat and defeat. Some militiamen broke into stores of rum and got drunk. Others, mostly Pennsylvanians, deserted in droves, although they had been paid to stay until January 1. Those whose contracts expired on December 1 announced they were going home then, no matter what was happening to the glorious cause.

Soon down to 3,000 men, and with the British crunching toward the bridges over the Raritan, Washington told Congress, “We shall retreat to the west side of the Delaware.” Although New Jersey and the rest of the country saw this decision as mere flight, Washington was still thinking strategically. He wrote Charles Lee that he hoped the British would pursue him and attempt to pacify New Jersey by detaching garrisons across the state. He planned to “lull them into security” and, when he saw an oppor­tunity, “beat them up.”

The Revolution in New Jersey slid toward collapse. The legislature dis­banded. As many as three to 400 people a day flocked to British army posts to renew their allegiance. Brigadier General Alexander McDougall wrote from Morristown: “This state is totally deranged, without Government or officers, civil or military…that will act with any spirit.” Another contemporary observer remarked that at this point the British could have bought New Jersey for 18 pence a head.

Finally realizing that the fate of the infant nation was at stake in New Jersey, Charles Lee crossed the Hudson into Bergen County. He was not encouraged by what he encountered along his line of march: The mass of the people were “strangely contaminated” with loyalty to the king. He urged Congress to recruit a new army immediately by drafting every mili­tiaman it could find. A few days later Lee was captured by a British caval­ry patrol and the remnants of his force straggled across the Delaware to join Washington’s handful.

Major General Israel Putnam, the architect of Bunker Hill, was also wan­dering through New Jersey telling everyone the war was lost. The current army was about to disband, he said, and even if Congress could raise another one, there was no hope of resisting the British “in the plain country to the southward.” Without a hill to fight from, Putnam was devoid of ideas.

Washington took a different view. In a letter to General William Heath, who was guarding the Hudson Highlands, the American commander in chief wrote that “the defection of the people…has been as much owing to the want of an Army to look the Enemy in the face, as any other cause.”

In this offhand, intuitive way, Washington enunciated the central idea of the strategy that would win the American Revolution. It merits his inclu­sion in the select circle of great revolutionary generals who invented a new kind of war–with an additional laurel for conceiving this winning strategy while most of the others around him were losing their heads.

This central statement coincided with the rest of the new strategic ideas Washington had enunciated in the previous chaotic months of defeat and disillusion: recruiting a regular army for the duration, protracting the war, never risking a general action, retreating until the enemy exposed a part of its army to insult or destruction.

Washington swiftly demonstrated his ability to implement tactics to match his strategy. He ordered General Heath to invade northern New Jersey from the Hudson Highlands, seize arms, and intimidate the many Loyalists the British had encouraged to come out of hiding there. He gave Alexander McDougall three of Charles Lee’s Continental regiments to sup­port a fairly good turnout of militia in Morris County. Finally, he marshaled the 2,500 shivering regulars under his command and led them across the ice-choked Delaware River on Christmas night of 1776 to kill or capture two-thirds of the 1,500-man royal garrison at Trenton.

A few days later, Washington again invaded New Jersey. Cornwallis came at him with 9,000 men. On January 2, 1777, Washington wheeled his army around the British left flank by night and chewed up three regiments at Princeton, then headed for the royal army’s main base at New Brunswick. The frantic British abandoned west Jersey and marched all night to get there first. They flung themselves into defensive positions around the town-only to discover that Washington had slipped away to winter quar­ters in Morristown. There, he coolly issued a proclamation announcing that anyone who had switched sides could return to the cause by showing up at any American post and pledging fresh allegiance to the United States.

With an army to look the enemy in the face and British power reduced to a narrow enclave along the Raritan, New Jersey’s revolutionary ardor underwent a magical revival. British commissaries and foraging parties were ambushed on the roads. Loyalism beyond the army’s enclave col­lapsed. Brilliantly combining military force and patriotic persuasion, Washington had rescued the state–and the country.

Recruiting for a new army revived in the rest of the nation, and General Howe glumly reported to London that he now saw no hope of end­ ing the war “but by a general action.” Here was irony indeed: Washington had maneuvered the British into adopting the flawed strategy with which the Americans had begun the war.

Washington had already decided that a climactic battle was precisely what Howe was never going to get. And for the next five years he stuck to his strategy despite criticism from hotheads in Congress and in the army, who still envisioned a general action as the answer to everything. In early 1777 Congressman John Adams, who fancied himself a military expert, was still drinking toasts to “a short and violent war.”

When the British tried to advance across New Jersey that summer to assault Philadelphia, they found Washington’s army on the high ground in the center of the state, waiting to pounce on them–and absolutely declining to come down from the hills to give all-out battle. A disgusted Howe abandoned the stunned Loyalists of east Jersey as he had deserted those in the west after Trenton and Princeton, marched his army to Perth Amboy and sailed them down the coast, then up Chesapeake Bay to attack Philadelphia in a roundabout fashion.

Howe found the hard-marching American army waiting for him in line of battle on Brandywine Creek, apparently ready to offer him the general action he wanted. But Washington positioned his men to give them the whole state of Pennsylvania into which to retreat if–as it transpired–vic­tory eluded them. He followed the same policy a few weeks later at Germantown. Retreat, a dirty word in the American vocabulary in 1776, was no longer considered disgraceful. When the frustrated Howe settled into winter quarters in Philadelphia, former Bunker Hillist Nathanael Greene exulted that British rule in America did not extend beyond “their out-sentinels.”

Meanwhile, to make sure the British did not conquer America piece­ meal, Washington was extending his central strategic concept of an army to look the enemy in the face. When a British army under General John Burgoyne descended from Canada in 1777, Washington sent some of his best troops, in particular a regiment of Virginia riflemen under Daniel Morgan, to help Major General Horatio Gates’s Northern Army. These men played a crucial part in the victory at Saratoga, inspiring thousands of mili­tiamen to tum out to support the regulars. Although the regulars did almost all the fighting, the militia blocked Burgoyne’s line of retreat and destroyed his supply lines, giving him no alternative but surrender.

Washington followed the same strategy in the South when the British shifted their main effort to that region in 1779. They swiftly pacified Georgia and ensconced a royal governor in Savannah. Washington detached one of his most dependable generals, Benjamin Lincoln, and some of his best regiments to meet the threat, but the British trumped this hand by trapping Lincoln and his army in Charleston and forcing them to surrender–a victory that more than balanced Saratoga.

Grimly, Washington detached more regulars he could not spare and assigned them to an army led by Horatio Gates, the victor at Saratoga. They inspired another good turnout of militiamen, but Gates made the mistake of putting the amateurs into line of battle alongside the regulars at Camden. A bayonet charge routed them, exposing the regulars to defeat.

This time Washington riposted with his best general, Nathanael Greene, who had learned a great deal about the art of war at Washington’s side since sponsoring the disaster at Fort Washington in 1776. Although he began with barely 800 ragged regulars, Greene adapted Washington’s strat­egy to the South, summing it up admirably in a letter to the guerrilla leader Thomas Sumter:

The salvation of this country don’t depend upon little strokes nor should the great business of establishing a permanent army be neglected to pursue them. Partisan strokes in war are like the garnish of a table, they give splendor to the Army and reputation  to the officers, but they afford no national security….You may strike a hundred strokes and reap little benefit from them unless you have a good army to take advantage of your success….It is not a war of posts but a contest for States.

Greene soon demonstrated what he meant. He dipatched 350 regulars to South Carolina under Daniel Morgan when the state was on the verge of total surrender. These regulars rallied enough militiamen to win a stunning victory at the Cowpens and reverse the momentum of the war.

While Washington supported armies to the north and south, he never forgot New Jersey. The state remained the cockpit of the Revolution for him. In three out of five years, he made it the site of his winter quarters. In the other two years, the ones he spent at Valley Forge and at Newburgh in Westchester, he was never more than a day’s march away. The payoff came in June 1780, when swarms of New Jersey militiamen turned out to join 3,500 Continentals in stopping a 7,000-man invading army. After two bloody collisions at Connecticut Farms and Springfield, the British with­ drew and never invaded the state again.

One thing should now be apparent: Washington’s strategy was far more complex than guerrilla warfare. Instead, it posited a regular army as an essential force to sustain a war, aided when necessary by guerrilla ele­ments. In spite of his criticism of militia, Washington used them through­out the war. He had no other choice. He soon resigned himself to never achieving the 40,000-man army Congress voted him in the aftermath of Trenton and Princeton. For most of  the war, he was lucky  to have a fourth of that number under his command. He called out militia again and again to flesh out his forces, but he never depended on them the way he and his fellow generals had in 1776. In 1780 he told the president of Congress that militia were useful “only as light troops to be scattered in the woods and plague rather than do serious injury to the enemy.” This kind of fighting, which he called petite guerre–a first cousin of the Spanish word guerril­la-war, as his lieutenant Greene made clear, never decisive.

In 1778 Washington met the greatest challenge to his strategy. It came from Charles Lee, who returned from British captivity with a plan to dis­band the regular army and commit the country to a guerrilla war. Washing­ton rejected the idea as firmly as he turned aside proposals for summoning all the militiamen within reach and hurling them and the regulars at the British for the one big battle John Adams and other fire-eaters wanted.

Washington got the most out of his thin line of regulars because he sel­dom used them in a European way–and because he was generously endowed with a trait essential to a great general: audacity. It runs like a bright thread through his whole career, beginning with his dawn attack on a French patrol on Virginia’s frontier in 1754, a burst of gunfire that started the Seven Years’ War. Even in early 1776, during the stalemated siege of Boston, he startled his Bunker Hill–infatuated colleagues by proposing a dawn assault across the ice of Back Bay on the entrenched British–a gamble that might have ended the war on the spot. A council of war voted him down.

Trenton and Princeton were, of course, masterpieces of audacity, but not enough credit has been given to Germantown. Here, just four weeks after losing a major battle on the Brandywine, he hurled his entire army in four columns at the main British camp. Only the confusion generated by an early-morning fog prevented him from winning. In Europe, it was Germantown as much as Saratoga that convinced France the Americans were capable of winning the war and were worth the risk of an alliance.

Even after he went into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Washington’s audacity continued to manifest itself. He insisted on constant skirmishing and harassment of the enemy in Philadelphia. Although driven to cries of exasperation and despair at the way Congress failed to feed and clothe the army, he found time to plan a winter attack on the British, which Nathanael Greene narrowly persuaded him was too “hassardous.”

By this time Washington had stopped paying much attention to Congress’s military thinking. He refused to split up his army to give various parts of the country an unfounded feeling of security. Not even the presi­dent of Congress could persuade him to station some units closer to the politicians’ 1778 headquarters in York. “It would give me infinite pleasure to afford protection to every individual and to every spot of ground in the whole United States. Nothing is more my wish … [but] I cannot divide the army. If this is done I cannot be answerable for the consequences,” Washington wrote. For the same reason he vetoed a plan to give the mar­quis de Lafayette a chunk of the main  army and let him invade  Canada  in 1778.

But Washington never stopped looking for a chance to strike at an exposed British position. In July and August of 1779, when the war in the north seemed stalemated, he struck two ferocious blows. First, bayonet­ wielding light infantry under Anthony Wayne killed or captured the entire garrison at Stony Point on the Hudson. A month later Washington’s favorite cavalryman, Light-Horse Harry Lee, repeated the performance against the smaller British outpost at Paulus Hook in present-day Jersey City.

Surprize [sic] was one of the favorite words in Washington’s military vocabulary, and he was constantly studying ways to improve his technique for achieving it. Because the enemy expected surprise attacks at dawn, he recommended midnight. “A dark night and even a rainy one if you can find the way, will contribute to your success,” he told Anthony Wayne, advice Wayne put to good use at Stony Point.

But Washington tempered his audacity with caution. When Benedict Arnold wanted to organize an assault on British-held Newport in 1777, Washington told him to forget it unless he had “a moral certainty” of suc­ceeding. More and more, as the war dragged on, he sought to avoid giving the British even the appearance of a victory. He was ever aware of the importance of maintaining popular support. This not only was important politically but was a vital part of his military strategy. Militia would not turn out for a loser.

In this context, Brandywine, which seems at first glance to contradict Washington’s determination to avoid a general action, fits his strategy of maintaining an army to look the enemy in the face. He recognized that in the struggle for hearts and minds up and down a 2,000-mile-long continent, there were times when the Americans had to fight even if the odds were heavily against them. To have allowed the British to march into Philadel­phia without a battle would have ruined the patriots’ morale.

A similar blend of pugnacity and public relations motivated the last major battle under Washington’s command-Monmouth in June 1778. The French had entered the war, and the panicky British abandoned Philadelphia to retreat to New York. Now more than ever Washington was disinclined to risk everything in a general action. But he sensed the need to strike a blow. After a day of ferocious fighting in nightmarish heat in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, satisfied that he had won the appearance of a vic­tory, he let the redcoats continue their retreat.

To maintain civilian morale, Washington at one point suggested Congress provide the army with “a small traveling press” to supply “speedy and exact information of any military transactions that take place.” When the bankrupt Congress refused, Washington did the next best thing. He fur­loughed an ex-newspaperman, Lieutenant Sheppard Kollock of the Con­tinental artillery, and set him up as editor of the New Jersey Journal, which at least stabilized public opinion in the cockpit state.

On another front Washington displayed an audacity–and an imagina­tion–few generals have matched. Throughout most of the war, he was his own intelligence director. He proved himself a master of the game, running as many as a half-dozen spy rings in Philadelphia and New York, and con­stantly urged his fellow generals to follow suit. “Single men in the night will be more likely to ascertain facts than the best glasses in the day,” he wrote to Anthony Wayne in 1779.

One of the keys to his victory at Trenton was his use of a double agent, John Honeyman, to give him a thorough briefing on the enemy’s de­fenses–and to lull the local commander with stories of the American army’s collapse. At Valley Forge, Washington manufactured documents in his own handwriting full of returns from imaginary infantry and cavalry regiments. Double agents handed those documents over to the British in Philadelphia, convincing them that the main army had been reinforced with 8,000 men and was too strong to molest.

In July 1780 Sir Henry Clinton decided to launch a preemptive attack on a French army that had just landed at Newport. A brilliant idea, it might well have succeeded if one of Washington’s best New York agents had not rushed him news of the plan. Clinton actually had his men aboard ships when he was distracted by the capture of some “secret” papers that showed Washington was planning an all-out attack on New York. The jit­tery British general reluctantly abandoned his coup de main.

The Yorktown campaign was the ultimate proof of the genius of Washington’s generalship. The idea of trapping Cornwallis in the little tobacco port came from the French commander, the comte de Rocham­beau; Washington was skeptical of its chances for success. But the  execu­tion of the plan depended totally on Washington’s tactics and strategy. First he befuddled Sir Henry Clinton with a veritable blizzard of false informa­tion about an attack on New York. Then he took the huge gamble of march­ ing his men south in a long, exposed line through New Jersey. Benedict Arnold, by that time a British general, begged Clinton to attack, but Sir Henry declined another encounter with “the bold persevering militia of that populous province” and let Washington march to victory.

Perhaps the most appealing thing about Washington’s strategy was its strong link to freedom. It eschewed the militaristic idea of hauling every man into the ranks at the point of a gun. It rested instead on faith in the courage of free men. It was a realistic faith: He did not expect men to com­mit suicide in defense of freedom, but he did believe men would take grave risks if they thought they had a reasonable chance of succeeding.

Looking back later, Washington, an innately modest man, was often inclined to attribute victory to the “interposition of Providence.” But those who study the evidence, and ignore the statistics, are inclined to think Providence wore the shape of a tall Virginian who had the brains to con­ceive a way to win a war when it was on the brink of being lost–and the ability to provide the leadership that converted this strategy into a military victory won by free men.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 1990 issue (Vol. 2, No. 2) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: George Washington, General

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