11/25/09 - washington's blunders

In today's excerpt - early in the American Revolution General George Washington's blunders and misjudgments led to terrible battlefield losses in New York and in the Brandywine River Valley and put his job in jeopardy to General Horatio Gates whose stirring victory at Saratoga had been crucial to American prospects:

"Washington's string of blunders [in New York] was certain to lead to recriminations perhaps even to calls for his removal. Already aware of the displeasure among some in Congress, he discovered on the last day of November that even some in the army had lost confidence in him. On that day, a letter from General Charles Lee arrived for Joseph Reed, Washington's former secretary, now the army's adjutant general. As Reed was away from headquarters on a mission, Washington, who was desperate for information, tore open Lee's letter. What he read was lacerating. Washington's 'fatal indecision' Lee had said, in his customarily caustic manner, would doom the American army.

"From things that Lee said, it was also clear that Reed, heretofore Washington's closest confidant in the army, shared Lee's views. (Reed, with pitiless honesty, had told Lee that Washington's 'indecisive Mind,' had been among the army's 'greatest Misfortunes' and he added that had it not been for Lee, Washington's army would never have escaped Manhattan.) One of the few men with the backbone to criticize Washington to his face, Lee had already told the commander that he was foolish to act on the advice of his generals, most of whom were 'Men of inferior judgment.' Though Washington was unaware of it, Lee had also urged General Horatio Gates to hurry to Washington's side to 'save your army' as 'a certain great Man is most damnably deficient.' ...

"[The next year after his loss at the Battle of the Brandywine] Washington was besieged with rumors that a 'Strong Faction' within Congress wished to remove him and name Gates as the new commander of the Continental army. Washington did not know precisely what was occurring behind the curtain in Congress, but he probably knew that some congressmen believed—as Pennsylvania's Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, put it—that the army 'under General Gates [was] a well regulated family,' while 'Washington's [was but an] imitation of an Army' that bore the look of 'an unformed mob.' Some proclaimed that Gates had 'executed with vigor and bravery,' attaining 'the pinnacle of military glory.' Washington's command, according to the whispers, was characterized by such 'negligence' that it was hardly surprising he had been 'outwitted,' 'outgeneraled and twice beated [sic].' It was unsettling enough to have congressmen complain about his leadership, but atop that Washington soon learned that some of his officers had lost confidence in him.

"Washington did not know the full extent of the disaffection with his leadership. But he knew enough to become convinced that he was in the maw of a great crisis."


John Ferling


The Ascent of George Washington: THe Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon


Bloomsbury Press


Copyright 2009 John Ferling


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