I offer this in response to manhattan’s request for good questions in GQ to counter all the bong threads. I’m not claiming it’s a brilliant question, but I did a quick search and it doesn’t seem to have been discussed before. (By the way, manny, I hope you enjoy the break.)
I’ve been doing some reading on George Washington, and it seems to me that his military skills, specifically his battle strategies, weren’t all that hot. The few battles and skirmishes in which he prevailed seem to have been guided by luck, or sometimes by an idea proposed by somebody else. Example: The artillery that proved so useful at the siege of Boston was remembered and retrieved by Henry Knox. Up until then, Washington had apparently been content to sit for weeks and weeks.
There are many more examples of battles that were lost because of poor planning on Washington’s part. Boston itself was, according to what I’ve read, a victory snatched from the jaws of disaster; Washington had planned to sail troops into the port and catch the Brits in a pincer move, an absurdly complicated strategy that was luckily abandoned, apparently, due to poor weather. I also get the impression that Washington sidelined the long-distance sharpshooters, who had been picking off British officers at extreme ranges, because he didn’t find that style of fighting to be “proper.” At any rate, after Boston came a series of defeats: Long Island, Germantown, White Plains, and so on. The dumbest move, it seems to me, was his mid-retreat decision to beef up Fort Washington at the northern tip of Manhattan Island. The rest of the island and the surrounding waterways were British-controlled, its strategic value was questionable, and its full complement of more than two thousand men was quickly, easily, and predictably captured.
But by the same token, even with defeat after defeat (with the exceptions of Trenton and Princeton), he managed for the most part to hold the army together. And, of course, he won the battle that counted, at Yorktown, though it goes without saying that the arrival of the French was the decisive factor there. If he truly had been a bad general, he would have been removed, or his army would have deserted him in droves, or both.
But then I read about Fort Necessity. This was during the French and Indian war, well before the Revolution, when Washington was still a Colonel. He apparently decided to situate this fort at the bottom of a valley, with steep hills on both sides. The French/Indian forces could sit on these hills and look down into the fort. What’s more, when it started raining, the water ran down the hills to the bottom of the valley and flooded the fort. Result: Rapid surrender. Now, I’m no expert, but this just seems like a really basic error in strategy, a total lack of forethought – you don’t put a fort at low ground with higher elevations all around.
So what’s the scoop? Has Washington’s military acumen been exaggerated, or was he on the downside of a series of narrow bad-luck squeakers? Or maybe his strategy all along was simply to outlast the bastards by whatever means necessary, knowing that eventually they’d get sick and tired and go home? What’s the deal?