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“George Washington and His Generals”

Through Jan. 10, 2010

Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens

3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, Va. (703) 780-2000

Though arguably best known as America’s first president, George Washington earlier displayed considerable leadership skills as commander in chief of the fledgling Continental Army. This new exhibition, cosponsored by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and the Society of the Cincinnati [], offers an unprecedented look at an important aspect of Washington’s military leadership—his complex and often convoluted relationship with his generals.

The 81 brigadier and major generals who served under Washington were a disparate lot—they came from all 13 American colonies and 10 foreign countries and often held conflicting views on how the war should be fought. Several were initially more popular with the troops and did not welcome Washington’s leadership. Thus his ability to harness their abilities and create a unified command structure remains perhaps his greatest military achievement.

The exhibit highlights weapons, uniforms and documents drawn from nearly 40 institutions nationwide. Among the most evocative: a red silk sash and brass gorget said to have been worn by Washington during his selection as commander in chief; Henry Knox’s detailed order of march for the December 1776 attack on Trenton; one of the 55 heavy cannon Knox transported from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston in January 1776 by ox-drawn sledges to help drive the British from the city; a copy of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States; and Benedict Arnold’s May 1777 commission as a major general. Paintings such as James Peale’s Battle of Princeton and Emanuel Leutze’s sprawling Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth vividly depict the commander in chief’s battlefield leadership.

“George Washington and His Generals” is a fascinating look at men who overcame materiel shortages, petty jealousies, and tactical and strategic reverses to defeat the world’s most powerful army and save a nascent America.


Originally published in the July 2009 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here