George Washington was Englands greatest military foe. I don't get it

According to about 70 historians in England, Washington was Englands greatest military foe.

How was Washington a greater foe than Napoleon? Napoleon doubled the size of the US just by selling Louisiana. That doesn’t even take into consideration the invasion of Egypt, or the alliances against Britain, or the embargo, etc.

What is the motive of the historians who claimed Washington?

Well, the British beat Napoleon.

I’ve never heard anyone say that! I think it’s rather a silly claim.

Napoleon was a far greater threat to Britain. I have heard people say that Napoleon was history’s greatest soldier, in the sense that Nelson was history’s greatest sailor. Britain was very lucky to have Nelson, else Napoleon would have been a far greater threat.

Washington was fairly effective, but not of Napoleon’s caliber.

We argued that recently; Napoleon didn’t even make the top 10.

That is strange, I guess the one argument you could make is that Washington beat the British, while more well known military foes ultimately were not victorious in their wars against Great Britain.

From the linked article:

I’d be curious as to how many of the “70 guests” were actual historians–or even readers of history. That both Washington and Collins beat Bonaparte seems absurd. (I suspect that it might be because actual British troops only faced Bonaparte at the very end, where they won–when British troops faced French troops in Iberia, Bonaparte was elsewhere.)

There is no one I would more want to command my army if I was facing certain defeat than Washington, who had a nearly miraculous ability to save his army in all manner of catastrophes, but he really only beat the British on a couple of rare occasions and he finally got the victory at Yorktown only after the French managed to pull out one of their rare naval upsets over the Royal Navy.

Was Napoleon American?

There’s ya answer…

I’ve gone back and forth in my life when it comes to Washington. When I was younger I thought Washington was overrated. Later on, I looked at it differently.

All of the British generals who did well in the Revolution fighting against American troops in traditional battles were decent enough commanders, some were very good commanders. However, I doubt any single one of them could have taken the opposite side (commanded the continentals) and won against the British forces commanded by some other general.

A big part of Washington’s problem in direct confrontation is just because he was going up against a trained professional military force with men who were not nearly as well trained and only semi-professional (sometimes not even receiving regular pay as often as they should.)

Washington’s real brilliance, aside from some blundering here and there, is he recognized precisely his weakness against the British and fought the war on the terms most favorable to his strengths. That’s pretty much the core of what it means to be great strategist.

Of course, I do think the historical view of the American Revolution: that it was a great upset with an upstart colonial power beating the world’s pre-eminent power, isn’t entirely accurate.

At the time I believe the UK had 8-10m people, the colonies had 2.5m. This wasn’t really a case where the British had to subdue a small country, the colonies had a lot of people, and most importantly a ton of land. Compare the size of the thirteen colonies to the British Isles or even some of the bigger theaters of war in Continental Europe that the British had fought in prior to the Revolution. The colonies were large and decentralized, the British had a massive supply line. Longer than the supply line for any major war they had fought in to that point. Because of the size of the colonies, they had to actually move substantial military forces that whole distance. Because of the decentralized nature of the colonies, there was no transportation or commerce hub which when captured would “knock out” the colonists. Instead the British could capture New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Charles Town and etc but ultimately those victories were hollow because the capture of those cities didn’t actually weaken the ability of the colonists to keep fighting.

The colonists had long been self-sufficient on the staples of life, and thus the British weren’t going to have any sort of hope of beating the colonists through attrition. Even the things that needed to be shipped in, the entire American Atlantic seaboard is just far too large to fully blockade in the 18th century by any navy that existed at that time.

Yes, it seems that anyone willing to pay 15 pounds could show up and vote.

Huh. I would have thought it would be Robert the Bruce/Wallace or maybe some of the earlier Welsh princes. I know the Scots in particular scared the hell out of the English…hell, even in the failed '45 revolt the English were crapping their pants there for a while.

But yeah, I certainly would have put Napoleon at the top of any list of English boogie men. Or maybe Cromwell, depending on ones perspective. :stuck_out_tongue:


Though he should have ;). George Washington went even earlier.

I’m not sure I agree. At least not consistently, witness the battles of Long Island ( '76 ) or Brandywine ( '77 ).

We discussed GW a bit in GQ a few years ago. He was if not the perfect man for the job, a pretty damn good one. But not necessarily for his military brilliance.

Washington never came close to attacking/invading Britain, and a lot of other historical figures did precisely that. You could make a better case for William the Conqueror being England’s greatest military foe. Not only did he conquer the place, his titular descendants are still in power 946 years later! Now THAT’s a “greatest military foe”!

The question was for someone 17th century or later. Ignoring the more or less non-military conquest during the Glorious Revolution, no ones successfully invaded Britain in that window.

Washington’s victory started the fall of the British Empire. One by one it lost it’s other colonies or granted them independence, or whatever they call it. He was the model for every other mob of British outcasts to politely give the finger to good old Mother England. Of course he was their greatest foe.

I don’t think anyone dates the fall of the British Empire to the end of the Revolution. From wikipedia: “Between 1815 and 1914, a period referred to as Britain’s “imperial century” by some historians,[82][83] around 10,000,000 square miles (26,000,000 km2) of territory and roughly 400 million people were added to the British Empire”, that’s hardly an Empire in decline.

Indeed while they lost the American Revolution, the British arguably won the larger European war of which it was a part. They hung on to most of the more valuable parts of the Empire despite the cordinated effort of the other major European powers to take it from them.

And I can’t really think of anyone that followed the model of the American Colonies in getting out of the Empire.

Sure. But can’t you see how the British historians see a change in the course of events. This wasn’t a war against a foreign nation, it was a rebellion for independence from within. England has plenty of history of other nations attempting to conquer it, and internal rebellions to take control. But Washington led the rebellion that succeeded, and seperated a piece of the kingdom. British historians aren’t going to see their greatest foe as some cheese eating surrender monkey, they’ll think it’s another Englishman.

Washington makes a strange sort of sense. He helped remove what is probably Britain’s most valuable former colonial possession.

The British Empire actually reached its height at the end of the 19th century, and did not really start declining until after WWI.

A British Historian won’t even think anyone is a “cheese eating surrender monkey”. They’re a bit more honourable than that.

I may be wrong, but I believe part of the problem - and something a lot of Americans don’t seem to get to grips with (see also: not caring so much about the American Revolution in history class, there’s far more important things to do) - is that it just wasn’t seen that way. With the benefit of hindsight one can see how what became the US would be a useful place, but it wasn’t the jewel in the Empire’s crown.