US American History Info and Articles
George Washington in the Revolution
In electing George Washington commander-in-chief of the Continental army, the Continental Congress probably made the very wisest choice possible. Of course, this was not so clear then. For even leaders like Samuel Adams and John Adams and Patrick Henry did not know Washington’s ability as we have come to know it now. But they had learned enough about his wonderful power over men and his great skill as a leader in time of war to believe that he was the man to whom they might trust the great work of directing the army in this momentous crisis.
We have already learned, in a previous book, something of Washington’s boyhood, so simple and free and full of activity. We recall him, as he grew up, first as a youthful surveyor, then as the trusted messenger of his colony, Virginia, to the commander of the French forts west of the Alleghanies, and afterward as an aide of General Braddock when the war with the French broke out.
In the discharge of all these duties and in all his relations with men, whether above him in office or under his command, he had shown himself trustworthy and efficient, a man of clear mind and decisive action - one who commanded men’s respect, obedience, and even love.
After the last battle of the Last French War Washington had returned to his home at Mount Vernon, on the banks of the Potomac, and very soon (1759) married Mrs. Martha Custis, a young widow whom he had met at a friend’s house while he was on the way to Williamsburg the year before. With the addition of his wife’s property to his own, he became a man of much wealth and at one time was one of the largest landholders in America.
But with all his wealth and experience Washington had the modesty which always goes with true greatness. In the Virginia House of Burgesses, to which he was elected after the Last French War, he was given a vote of thanks for his brave services in that war. Rising to reply, Washington, still a young man, stood blushing and stammering, unable to say a word. The speaker, liking him none the less for this embarrassment, said, with much grace: “Sit down, Mr. Washington. Your modesty equals your valor, and that surpasses the power of any language I possess.”
Some years rolled by and the home-loving young planter lived the busy but quiet life of a high-bred Virginia gentleman. Meanwhile the exciting events of which we have been speaking were crowding upon one another and leading up to the Revolution; and in this interval of quiet country life Washington was unconsciously preparing for the greater task for which he was soon to be chosen.
In the events of these days Washington took his own part. He was one of the representatives of Virginia at the first meeting of the Continental Congress, in 1774, going to Philadelphia in company with Patrick Henry and others. He was also a delegate to the second meeting of the Continental Congress, in May, 1775.
He filled well each place of trust; and what more natural than that the Congress should choose as commander-in-chief of the American army this gentleman, young, able, and already tried and proven? He was chosen unanimously.
On being elected, Washington rose and thanked Congress for the honor, adding modestly: “I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.” No doubt in the dark days of war to follow he often felt in this way, but as the task had fallen to him, he determined to do his best and trust in a higher power for the outcome.
He refused to accept any salary for his services, but said he would keep an account of his expenses. The idea of gain for himself in the time of his country’s need was far removed from this great man’s heart!
On the 21st of June, Washington set out on horseback from Philadelphia, in company with a small body of horsemen, 49to take command of the American army around Boston. This journey, which can now be made by train in a few hours, took several days.
Soon after starting, Washington was much encouraged, as we have seen in a preceding chapter, by the news of the brave stand the provincials had made at the battle of Bunker Hill.
After three days, he reached New York, about four o’clock on Sunday afternoon, and was given a royal welcome. Nine companies of soldiers on foot escorted him as he passed through the streets in an open carriage drawn by two white horses. All along the route the streets were lined with people who greeted him with cheers.
Continuing his journey, on July 2 he reached the camp in Cambridge, and there officers and soldiers received him with enthusiasm.